Catechism Before Communion

August 26, 2014 at 3:22pm

All baptized persons, when they come to age and discretion are not admitted to the Lord’s Table; but such only as either upon examination are found to have a competent measure of knowledge in the principles of religion.

– Alexander Henderson, The Government and Order of the Church of Scotland, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 39

Forasmuch as at the special desire of the Kirk, a [96 question] form of examination before communion was penned and formed by their brother Mr. John Craig, which is now imprinted and allowed by the voice of the Assembly.

– Alexander Peterkin,The Booke of the Universal Kirk of Scotland, 1839, p. 359

Forasmuch as at the special desire of the Kirk, a form of examination before communion was penned and formed by their brother Mr. John Craig, which is now imprinted and allowed by the voice of the Assembly; Therefore, it is thought needful that every Pastor travail with his flock, that they might buy the same book and read it in their families, whereby they may be better instructed, and that the same be read and learned in doctor’s schools in place of the little catechism.

– Alexander Peterkin, The Booke of the Universal Kirk of Scotland, 1839, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 359

This form of Examination before the Communion, penned by Mr. Craig, was allowed by this Assembly; and ministers willed to recommend it to their flocks, and to families, and to be learned in Lecture­Schools instead of catechism.

– David Calderwood, The True History of the Church of Scotland, 1678, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 268

It was the Apostolic practice, and the Old Testament practice before that, to require extensive catechetical instruction before allowing one to partake in the feast of the Lord’s Supper (and the Passover which the Lord’s Supper replaced). It is a certain sign of ecclesiastical degeneration when those poorly informed in the chief doctrines of the scriptures are allowed to partake. And allowing those who knowingly or ignorantly embrace sundry heresies detracts from the unity and health of the church. How can two walk together unless they be agreed?
The early church respected this principle. Accordingly, Schaff records in History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, p. 255 that two to three years of catechism was the norm before adults could partake. For instance, the council of Elvira alludes to the custom of making it last two years and the civil law fixed it at this (Justinian, Novel. cxliv). And children were typically catechized several years before partaking some time beginning after the age of twelve. There had to be an understanding of the chief doctrines through catechetical instruction, an assent to them, and a profession to follow Christ as personal Lord and Savior by seeking to live consistent with the doctrines. “Catechumen” was the term in the early Church assigned to those undergoing a course of preparation for the purpose of partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

The word occurs in Gal. vi, 6: “Let him that is instructed in the word, [ho katechoumenos, is qui catechizatur] communicate to him that instructeth him [to katechounti, ei qui catechizat] in all good things.” Other parts of the verb katicksein occur in I Cor., xiv, 19; Luke, i, 4; Acts, xviii, 24. As the acceptance of Christianity involved belief in a body of doctrine and the observance of the Divine law (“teach, make disciples, scholars of them”; “teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you”, Matt., xxviii, 20), it is clear that instruction must have been given to the adult converts from paganism, as well as children preparing for Christian adulthood. The church fathers rebuked the heretics for disregarding such catechetical instruction before initiation into communion. As Tertullian noted: “one does not know which is the catechumen and which the faithful, all alike come [to the mysteries], all hear the same discourses and say the same prayers” (quis catechumenus, quis fidelis incertum est; pariter adeunt, pariter audiunt, pariter orant), “Catechumens are initiated before they are instructed” (ante sunt perfecti catechumeni quam edocti.–“De Praeser.”xli, P.L., II, 56) As the church degenerated over the centuries, the standards for catechetical instruction before communion were made increasingly lax. The Protestant Reformation reversed that trend, and thus lifted the requirements for partaking in the Lord’s Supper to their Biblical norms. An example of a Reformation catechism required before communion is one drawn up by John Craig (1512-1600) and approved by the Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1592. Before one would be allowed to partake of communion, one would have to be catechized in and understand the answers to the questions posed in the catechism, which covered the chief doctrines of scripture. If one failed to understand the doctrines, then one would be ineligible to partake due to ignorance. If one disagreed with some of the answers to the catechism, then one would be ineligible to partake due to scandal (for it is scandalous to professedly disagree with any of the chief doctrines of scripture). John Craig’s Catechism can be read at

The Westminster Assembly concurred with this Reformation policy concerning communion.

Hence we reading in the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q. 173. May any who profess the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s supper, be kept from it? A. Such as are found to be ignorant or scandalous, notwithstanding their profession of the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s supper, may and ought to be kept from that sacrament, by the power which Christ hath left in his church, until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.

So those who were ignorant or scandalous were not allowed to partake of communion. A distinction should be made between sin versus ignorance and scandal. Given our remaining sinful nature, we sin every moment at least in thought, for we neither love Christ as much as we ought, nor hate and reject sin as much as we ought. But scandal is an observable, unrepentant course of life and/or professed belief, contrary to the Biblical doctrines outlined in the Westminster Standards. And ignorance is an insufficient understanding of the doctrines of scripture, such as are laid out in the Catechism. (Those who do not even understand the chief doctrines of scripture cannot possibly examine themselves in any meaningful way.) The Westminster Shorter Catechism came to function, like Craig’s earlier Catechism, in outlining the chief doctrines of scripture, so that people would be sufficiently informed to be able to examine themselves, and hence be eligible for communion. But those who rejected some of those doctrines were rightly regarded as scandalous. Here is a list of examples of scandal cited at the time:

“(W)e are also very sensible of the great and imminent dangers into which this common cause of religion is now brought by the growing and spreading of most dangerous errors in England to the obstructing and hindering of the begun Reformation, as namely (beside many others) Socinianism, Arminianism, Anabaptism, Antinomianism, Brownism, Erastianism, Independency, and that which is called (by abuse of the word) Liberty of Conscience, being indeed Liberty of Error, Scandal, Schism, Heresy, dishonouring God, opposing the Truth, hindering Reformation; and seducing others” (Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 1638-1649 Inclusive, p. 333). “

Without reformation, such were not allowed to partake in communion, along with those who were ignorant. Such was the historic policy of the Church of Scotland, along with the other reformed churches of the Reformation.

But most Protestant churches in the following centuries have crept back into error. There is widespread heresy in modern Protestant churches, and there is little doctrinal unity which should characterize the communion feast. Any true reformation of the churches must include a reformation of this aspect of church life. Catechism must precede communion.

The above taken from Iain Borowicz’s FaceBook page