PCUSA General Assembly Committee OKs overture allowing unbaptized to receive Lord’s Supper

“…not yet baptized persons who present themselves … be warmly received and invited into conversation on the significance of the sacraments.”

The Theological Issues Committee (No. 16) on Tuesday substantially amended and then sent to the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly pastoral advice on how to deal with unbaptized individuals who seek to receive the communion elements.

The committee changed the title of overture 16-06 to “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper,” which reflected the desire and practice of many committee members to invite and to allow the non-baptized to participate in the Lord’s Supper, despite the stipulation in the Directory of Worship that the sacrament is open only to “all the baptized faithful.”

The new proposed wording (in italics) says: “That the invitation to the Lord’s Supper be gracious and hospitable” and the “not yet baptized persons who present themselves … be warmly received and invited into conversation on the significance of the sacraments.” The overture was approved by a 49-5 vote.

Original provisions of the pastoral advice strongly linked the Lord’s Supper to the Sacrament of Baptism as part of the invitation to the table. Such reference was deleted by the committee, although the deletion does not change the anything in Chapter 6 of the Book of Worship in the Book of Order.

Pastoral advice was presented by the Office of Theology and Worship in response to proposals in 2006 to remove the baptism requirement in the Book of Order.

Before completing its business on Tuesday, the committee rejected overture 16-03, which sought to add to the Directory of Worship words of John Calvin that “God pronounces that he adopts our infants as (H)is children, before they are born.” Eleven individuals had appeared before the committee on Theological Issues and Institutions speaking in favor or opposition to the measure. The overture advocate and others in favor supported the addition as a statement of theological comfort for parents whose children had died by stillbirth or miscarriage or abortion before being baptized.

Opponents of the proposal argued that the use of Calvin’s words would establish the personhood of an unborn child, and affirm that life began upon conception. That, they said would change the current policy of the PCUSA, which claims no certain knowledge of those issues.

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution recommended disapproval on the same grounds, as well as contending that the use of texts cited in the rationale (Psalm 139, Matthew 1:18 and Jeremiah 1:5) relied upon reading Scripture in only one of several ways they could be interpreted.

The vote to disapprove was 41-12, with two abstaining.

In other business, the Theological Issues Committee approved overtures 16-02, which amends section 4 of the Book of Worship inserting text focused on prayer, and rejected 16-04, which would have added questions for the presbytery during an installation service. Overture 16-02, if approved by GA, would advance to the presbyteries for a vote.