A question regarding Lord's Supper attendance
What can we as members do when we see our church heading the wrong way in regard to the Lord's Supper?
Back in the days of Rev. Lamain, it was very rare to have new attendants. (For other readers, Rev. Lamain was a minister in Grand Rapids, MI, during the 1950 – 1980’s. ATV) It was such a sacred thing, that it was whispered from person to person. Today, we regularly have new attendants every time.
If it were really true, it would be truly wonderful! However, you don't see a bit of change on most--or any--of these attendants, and most of the women are worldly Jezebels in dress and walk. It feels like a freewill atmosphere.
People have talked to the minister but to no avail. Some have left the church. If we talk to anyone, we immediately get accused of judging and "well, why aren't you there?"
We are not judging, per se. We are seeing the church go in a totally wrong direction and our mouths are tied shut because we are not allowed to "judge."
Besides prayer, what can/could be done? I realize ministers always go through the judging/tattling of "she shouldn't be there" stuff, and they can't stop anyone from coming, but the Lord's Supper is not a bit holy for many of us anymore.
(Later Sarah wrote me another e-mail to which I was to refer in my answer. In order to do that, I need to paraphrase the last part of this second e-mail.) One main purpose for my question is to determine whether the way I was brought up was overly strict, too hard, and whether the way is "easier" than I was led to believe. I know that I am to be blamed for not searching as I should be. Maybe if the ‘way is not so hard, I would try harder.’ But maybe the devil tells me that. However, we were always taught you could search the Lord, read the Bible, pray and even be sure you are converted and still not be so.
Thanks for sharing your concerns about your church. I hope that these matters you bring up flow from a personal concern about your soul as well as about the glory of God’s cause and Word. Often I hear people making all kinds of comments (right or wrong) about 'others' that attend while they themselves live on year after year under the external calling of God's Word without heeding God's command to repent and believe (Acts 17:30). In other words, we can be busying ourselves so much about 'others' who we feel do wrong or the church we fear is going into the wrong direction, while we place the far bigger issue of ourselves into the background. I hope you are one of those who sigh and cry about your own sins as well as the sins of others within and without church.
You began with making reference to the fact that in Rev. Lamain's days it was 'whispered from person to person when someone attended the Lord's Supper for the first time.' But was that the right Biblical reaction? If someone genuinely repents from sin, all of heaven sings! (Luke 15:10) Why should the church on earth whisper?
Perhaps you counter that it was such a holy event to attend the Lord's Supper and hardly anyone ever joined those who already attended. I agree that the Lord’s Supper is holy and that attending the Lord’s Supper is one of the most sacred acts of worship done on earth. But we also need to be careful not to make attending the Lord's Supper more than what God makes it to be. Let’s be reminded that attending the preaching of God's Word (the speaking of God) is also a very holy act. When the LORD God commanded Moses to 'sanctify the people' (Ex. 19:10-11) they were coming to hear the speaking of God's law. Do we consider coming to church or hearing God’s holy law and Gospel in that way? Is it Biblical to elevate the Lord's Supper above the preaching of God's Word? What about holy Baptism? Do we value that sacramental sign as holy as the signs of the Lord's Supper? We don’t 'whisper' when we share with each other that 'so and so was baptized yesterday?' Yet it also a very sacred act when a child receives the ‘mark of the covenant, the Name of the Triune God, on the forehead. Every Sunday we are reminded not 'to take (or bear) God's Name in vain. Do we realize that when we as 'baptized people' live or act in sinful ways, we also ‘bear the Name of the LORD in vain?’ Or do we realize what a sin it is when God has come so near to you with His merciful tidings of grace and you reject Him? We can also ‘hear ourselves a judgment’ as others may eat and drink themselves a judgment by attending the Lord’s Table.
With those few thoughts I aim to correct common thinking or impressions that aren’t right. Elevating the Lord's Supper above the administration of God's Word or Holy Baptism is unscriptural. It may even create an unhealthy spiritual life and tends to promote Lord's Supper avoidance among the little ones or babes in grace in the family of the Lord's people. Even though you may have grown up with seeing only older or few members attend the Lord's Supper, that doesn't make it right. It is a very sad sign when very few full members in a church attend the Lord's Supper. That either means many are unconverted and on the way to hell as they have despised and neglected so great salvation. Or it means that the Biblical requirements of the Lord's Supper are so distorted that only those dare to attend who have received some 'elite spiritual privilege.' Is that what the Lord Jesus intended when He instituted the Lord’s Supper?
Where the first attendees to the Lord’s Supper men advanced in faith and assurance or babes in grace? As I understand it, those men were even very unclear about the nature of Jesus’ death and atonement. But one thing all eleven knew, “Lord, to whom else shall we go; Thou has the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.’
However, it can also be a very sad sign when everyone or very many attend the Lord’s Supper without a serious regard for the ‘Divine right’ of the experiential life of faith or without a due impression of the holiness of communion. That can be due to a lack of ‘searching preaching’ in which the work of the Holy Spirit within the born again soul is preached. It is not all ‘gold that shines’ and so also many that may shine with punctual and squeaky clean religious lives, may be nothing more than ‘dressed up dead bones.’ If such searching of the heart is lacking, then often ‘outward membership’ becomes the only requirement churches insist on before one can attend.
One of the concerns that occasioned your questions is that ‘manner in which many attend the Lord’s Supper’. The ‘air’ in your congregation is becoming so casual and worldly-looking among those who attend the Lord’s Table. Of course I don’t know what you exactly define as ‘worldly Jezebels in dress and walk’ but I guess you refer to dress-styles, jewelry, make-up of the female participants. First, be careful to use such ‘strong and condemning labels’ to describe fellow members of your church. It doesn’t promote any healthy discussion for with such labels you put someone into a very bad category of women. I am sure that’s not really what you meant. Yet you are concerned about the way these Lord’s Supper attenders dress? It isn’t clear in your letter that this applies also to the male attenders.
I am firmly convicted that appropriate dress codes need to be maintained for all church attendance and not just for the Lord’s Supper. What is fitting for hearing the Word of God or coming to church is also fitting to attend the Lord’s Supper! Making different dress requirements for attending the Lord’s Supper creates unbalanced thinking. We need to ‘dress upwards’ to reflect that we attend a very important occasion. Coming in casual clothing which you wear when you go to school or shop or relax isn’t appropriate for the Lord’s house. Notice Peter in John 21. Peter didn’t have a problem laying down his ‘outer garment’ while fishing, but the moment he perceived that the Lord Jesus stood on the shore, he puts on his outer garment again. That’s showing respect for the Lord before whom we come. We do this also with special occasions like a wedding, out of respect for the couple. Needless to say, coming to church is far more important than a wedding. In our clothing style we reflect our respect for the person we meet with. This applies equally to the Lord’s Supper.
But we need to remain in balance. When I bow before the Lord in private, I have no problem doing this in regular daily clothing. Clothing is obviously not a limited issue for God. He is ultimately looking at the heart. Is the spirit humble, thankful, submissive, genuine, sincere, reverent?
Often we define worldliness in terms of styles, jewelry, make-up and certain activities. But be careful with limiting worldliness with that definition. Using that measuring stick, then many of people in church are super-godly for they dress very sober and stay away from certain activities that the world indulges in. But Paul defines worldliness in Rom. 12:2 as “And be not conformed to this world: but ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…” The root sin of ‘worldliness’ is to think, value, feel and act like the world. It is first of all the issue of the heart. To God ‘worldly people’ are impious, greedy, unthankful, discontent, selfish, indulgent, haughty, proud, excessive, covetous, materialistic, hypocritical, unrepentant and unbelieving. I need to correct myself constantly on my definition of worldly people. A young man in his beautiful tie and suit coming to church may appear very nice. But if you see or hear him during the week at work, among his buddies and how he spent his Saturday evening, then he is utterly ungodly and worldly even though he never misses a church service in his beautiful suit. The young woman who may herself dress attractive, modest, decorates herself with a piece of modest jewellery, and wear clothing may be more fashionable than some of others in church is sometimes looked upon as ‘worldly.’ But during the week she makes phone calls to encourage fellow members who are struggling, refrains from yakking on the phone about everyone else to share the latest gossip, sacrifices her time to speak to a neighbor about God, makes daily time for personal devotions, wrestles in prayer for the unsaved in her (church) family and takes the time to speak to her children about God and His Word. She may be far more godly in God’s eyes than the others who hold to all the traditional ways. The point I am trying to make is that ‘worldliness’ is so much more than what we generally define it.
However God has spoken clearly about His will for clothing. The principles how to cloth for both men and women are modesty, soberness, concealing (covering), distinct, fitting for the occasion and charitable to our weaker fellow members. We would do well to discuss these Biblical principles more. It is the issue of ‘modesty and soberness’ that you find are missing in those ‘new attendees.’ I agree that those issues needs to be addressed. (You can check on this website to see some more in-depth answers on the clothing issues).
I also plead for soberness and for an appearance style which shows that we are clearly staying within the boundaries of God’s revealed will. And that applies to both men and women. Though I also think we need to accept the fact that time changes styles and that we don’t need to appear as if we came from a ‘former historical time-zone.’
You feel in some ways offended and concerned. Have you, Sarah, spoken personally to those with whom you feel offended? Perhaps you object that ‘they don’t know me.’ Indeed, that is a problem. If there is no personal relationship with the person, it is hard to step up to them. Still, you have that obligation as you are part of the church family. I suggest you call one of them and request the following, “ (name), is it possible that we could have a face to face talk together? What I want to talk about with you is that I feel really concerned about you were dressed when you attended the Lord’s Supper. I realize that it the heart that matters but I struggle to see how the outside doesn’t matter. Since it burdens me, I would really like if we can discuss together in friendly way. What would be a good time for us to meet?” Using this method allows the other person to know what you want to talk about; gives her/him time to consider your point even though you haven’t stated them (that’s half the work done) and then you both come to the meeting somewhat prepared. Make sure you communicate your concern in loving and humble way. If you come with the ‘sledge hammer’ approach you will never build a relationship because you ask any builder what a sledge hammer is good for! Speaking about the ‘heart issues’ and hearing what actually may live in a person, can be so eye opening. We so quickly put people in to ‘boxes based on their outward appearances.’ To some extent that is natural because we reflect something of our heart and priorities in how we behave or look. Still we can be so wrong in our assessment. I recall the story of a Synodical meeting way back in the 50’s. One delegate from a Canadian church was very offended with one delegate brother of a church in the USA. This USA brother was wearing a blue suit and grey/blue tie instead of the ‘all black suit and tie.’ However, after getting acquainted with him, he recognized he was a dear and esteemed brother in Christ. The clothing color didn’t really matter at all anymore and that is still the truth.
You made the comment ‘it feels like a free will atmosphere.’ I suppose that you base that on the fact that many and perhaps far younger members attend the Lord’s Table. But I would be careful to label that as ‘free-will atmosphere.’ Again, it so derogatory to give anyone this label of heresy. “Free-will teaching” is such God dishonoring presentation of the Biblical truths of God’s sovereignty in a lost sinner’s salvation that I would feel terribly offended and hurt if anyone would label me that. So I advise you not to use such terms in venting your concerns and burdens with the direction you feel the church is going.
As I alluded to before, it may be that you grew up in a time that the Lord’s Supper was far too easy neglected and avoided by the Lord’s people because there might have been an unbiblical understanding of the Lord’s table. Often a very high degree of personal assurance or certain spiritual experience was required before someone was deemed ready to attend. I am glad that this view is challenged. None of the first attendees were men that were assured of their personal salvation or forgiveness of sin. None! All of them were standing in the ‘baby shoes’ of the Gospel understanding and yet Jesus reached to them the tokens of bread and wine to strengthen their faith in Him and His work. Attendees at the table of the Lord are to be no strangers of a personal conviction of their misery and of the only One Who can deliver them from such great misery. Besides that, they should be able to testify before God that they have an inner resolve to live before God and man in all holiness and uprightness.
Where such inner life is found, it cannot remain hidden in how they value and act within their families, at work, in society and also in church. It is a great concern when people speak about being saved without knowing they were lost or speak about it as if it is the most natural thing to be saved! Or when they confess openly that they believe in the Lord Jesus as their Savior but they don’t show this confession in devoted obedience to their Lord. For when we truly love Him, we will keep His commandments; at least, it will be our greatest desire and battle!
Lastly, your additional paragraph also sheds some light on your inner struggle. It doesn’t sound like you have much hope for the ‘way to be truly saved is so hard and unreachable!Even if you do all the right things you may still be nothing more than a hypocrite. Now that is true! Yet remember a hypocrite is someone who lives a double life. He is different on the inside than he is on the outside. And he knows that! All he does is try to make an impression to gain acceptance. Though none of us are without the sin of hypocrisy, not all of us are hypocrites in the sense that we really are trying to deceive others or God. We can be genuine while we struggle with the sin of hypocrisy.
So are you really trying to deceive everyone with your walk and talk? On the outside ‘good Reformed’ but on the inside an absolute idol worshipper in exercise? That would be terrible and God will one day expose you. Or do you really want to walk in the ways of God, hating and fleeing sin, seeking Him and His Kingdom, obeying Him in private and public? Is the sin of your heart a hated reality that you wrestle against in prayer? Are you coming to church as soul that cries, “Lord, visit me with Thy salvation …?”
Yes, but … all that isn’t enough! True. You won’t be acceptable with God on basis of any of that. For if we seek to settle the issue of guilt with God by our own doings, all we try to do is pay Him with debts! There is but one ground on which you can stand and come to your holy and just God! That ground is the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ! Sarah, all that God asks that we be saved is that you repent from your sins and wash yourself as Naaman in the river of free grace in Jesus Christ. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” For many that sounds too easy. Isn’t more needed to be saved? Don’t I need to have some ‘experience first’ before I can believe that God would be merciful to me?
No, you don’t need that to qualify yourself for His mercy and grace. He offers full and instant forgiveness to any sinner that repents. Former Kalamazoo preacher, Rev. Van Dijk used to say, “It is so hard to be saved because it is so easy!” So, yes, you may have a wrong understanding of the nature of the Gospel salvation by a prejudiced mindset. Take the time to study Rom. 10 prayerfully. It is one of the clearest chapters about the God’s Gospel method of salvation.
Sorry, this took a while to answer and write. May God bless you and your church.