High Church Protestantism

High Church Protestantism September 29, 2016

You don’t need to become an Anglican to have a high view of the visible church. Reformed Protestants, for example, take the visible church seriously, so much so that evangelicals commonly regard Calvinists as overly scrupulous (or kill joys). But if you do think that creeds matter, ordination sets someone apart for holy work, and that the sacraments are not merely symbols but bonds of communion, then you may have a little high church Protestantism in you.

One way to illustrate the point is Scott Clark’s recent post on whether Christian colleges should administer the Lord’s Supper:

As wonderful as Wheaton College is, it is not the church. Ministers are not authorized to administer communion anywhere there may be a gathering of Christians for prayer and devotion. A Christian college is not authorized to admit people to the visible institutional church in holy baptism. She is not authorized to exclude people from holy communion (excommunication). Our Lord distinctly and clearly gave that office and authority to the visible, institutional church (Matt 18:17). I suspect that most Christian colleges know this and thus would not presume to administer baptism or excommunication. Why then do they administer communion? Because of their background in Pietism. They see the Supper as an expression of their unity and communion more than a holy sacrament in which believers are fed by the true body and blood of Christ. The Apostle Paul, however, clearly indicated that it is possible for one to participate improperly in communion to his own harm and to the harm of the congregation (1 Cor 11:27-29). We call this “fencing the table.” In my experience, in broadly evangelical settings, there is no real awareness of the necessity of fencing the table, i.e., of restricting the table to believers who have made a profession of faith in the true church. This, however, is the Reformed understanding of how the table should be administered. At the Synod of Dort, the Reformed Churches restricted communion thus:

61. Only those shall be admitted to the Lord’s supper who, according to the usage of the churches which they join, have made confession of the Reformed religion, together with having testimony of a godly walk, without which also those who come from other churches shall not be admitted.

This understanding of the close (not closed) administration of Supper is largely foreign to modern evangelicals but exists still in some confessional Lutheran churches and in some Reformed bodies.

In other words, the church is special and when believers worship after the invocation of God’s presence, something different and more meaningful happens than when two or three evangelicals get together to talk about faith.


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