By J. Parnell McCarter



We read in the Westminster Larger Catechism that those who are ‘scandalous’ ought not to be allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper, until they have manifested their reformation:

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,[1110] until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.[1111]


What does the Westminster Larger Catechism mean by ‘scandalous’, and does it include those who are unrepentantly Baptist?  Consider these facts:


1. It was the general practice of the reformed churches before the 1640s when the Westminster Standards were written to forbid communion to those who rejected infant baptism.  For example, in Calvin’s Geneva, those who dissented from the reformed confession (which included a statement for infant baptism and against the Baptist error) were excommunicated and forbidden communion:


“Since the evangelical faith had only recently been preached in the city, and there were still many Romanists, the ministers also urged excommunication on the grounds of failure to confess the faith. The Confession of faith, which all the citizens and inhabitants of Geneva... must promise to keep and to hold had been presented to the Council on 10 November 1536. Let the members of the Council be the first to subscribe and then the citizens, in order to recognize those in harmony with the Gospel and those loving rather to be of the kingdom of the pope than of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Those who would not subscribe were to be excommunicated” (T.H.L. Parker, John Calvin: A Biography, Westminster Press, 1975, p. 63, emphases added). 



2.  Consistent with the general practice of the reformed churches before the 1640s, the Protestant Church of Scotland which had been formed through the ministry of the Reformer John Knox also forbade communion to those who held to the Baptist error, denouncing the error in strong language as quite scandalous.  For instance, here is an excerpt from the Scots’ Confession of 1560:


Chapter 23 To Whom the Sacraments Appertain

We confess and acknowledge that baptism appertains as well to the infants of the faithful, as unto those that be of age and discretion. And so we damn the error of the Anabaptists, who deny baptism to appertain to children before that they have faith and understanding.[1] But the supper of the Lord we confess to appertain to such only as be of the household of faith, and can try and examine themselves, as well in their faith, as in their duty towards their neighbors. Such as eat and drink at that holy table without faith, or being at dissension and division with their brethren, do eat unworthily:[2] and therefore it is, that in our kirks our ministers take public and particular examination of the knowledge and conversation of such as are to be admitted to the table of the Lord Jesus.


3.  The Heads of the Form of Examination before Communion of the Church of Scotland of 1592 make it abundantly clear that to be qualified for communion, one had to deny the Baptist error and affirm the reformed doctrine concerning baptism.  Here is question 65 in that examination, which no Baptist could affirm, and so no Baptist could pass the examination:


“Q. 65. How then are infants baptized? A. Upon the promise made to the faithful and their seed, Gen. 17:7, 10.”



4.  The National Covenant of Scotland, which was approved by the Church of Scotland in 1638, re-affirmed the doctrines of the Scots’ Confession of 1560, with its strong denunciation of the Baptist error, and making clear that those who rejected its doctrines should not enjoy the privileges of membership, which included partaking of the Lord’s Supper.  Here is a quote from the National Covenant:


“And decerns and declares all and sundry, who either gainsay the word of the evangel received and approved as the heads of the Confession of Faith, professed in Parliament in the year of God 1560, specified also in the first Parliament of King James VI., and ratified in this present Parliament, more particularly do express; or that refuse the administration of the holy sacraments, as they were then ministrated; to be no members of the said kirk within this realm, and true religion presently professed, so long as they keep themselves so divided from the society of Christ's body. “



5.  In the Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland of 1638-1649, there is listed those errors which were considered dangerous to the Reformation.  Here is that list:


“Nevertheless, we 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) Socinianisme, Arminianisme, Anabaptisme, Antinomianisme, Brownisme, Erastianism, Independency, and that which is called (by abuse of the word) Liberty of Conscience, being indeed Liberty of Error, Scandal, Schisme, Heresy, dishonouring God, opposing the Truth, hindering Reformation; and seducing others “ (The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, [1638­1649 inclusive], 1682, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 333).


Among the errors listed above are those peculiarly associated with Baptists (aka Anabaptists at that time in Scotland), such as church independency and rejection of infant baptism.  Brownism is an error common to Baptists as well, for it is the congregationalism prevalent among the Baptists.



6.  In the Solemn League and Covenant is listed scandalous errors.  Here is an excerpt:


“II. That we shall, in like manner, without respect of persons, endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy (that is, Church government by archbishops, bishops, their chancellors and commissioners, deans, deans and chapters, archdeacons, and all other ecclesiastical officers depending on that hierarchy), superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of Godliness; lest we partake in other men's sins, and thereby be in danger to receive of their plagues; and that the Lord may be one, and his name one, in the three kingdoms. “


It should be noted that errors which cause schism in Christ’s visible church were considered dangerous.  The Baptist error necessarily leads to schism because Baptists separate from reformed churches to set up separate congregations where infants are not baptized and which lack Presbyterian church government. 



7.  Based upon the previously presented facts, as well as many others that could be presented, it is sufficiently clear that the church of the Reformation, including the Presbyterians which prepared and adopted the Westminster Standards, did not allow Baptists to partake in the Lord’s Supper in the reformed churches, for the Baptist error was considered scandalous.   The Church of Scotland took the position that those should be censured who published opinions contrary to the doctrines of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Baptist error is certainly contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Here is how they ruled:


“The Assembly constitutes and ordains that from henceforth no sort of person of whatsoever quality or degree be permitted to speak or write against the said Confession, this Assembly or any Act of this Assembly, and that under the pain of incurring the censures of this Kirk(The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland , [1638­1649 inclusive], 1682, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 51). 


This view was echoed by Westminster commissioner George Gillespie, when he wrote:


“That which is not only sinful in itself, but a great dishonour to God, a great scandal to the church, and withal a disobedience to the lawful ordinance of authority, may and ought to be punished by this Christian and reforming parliament. But their offence which still refuse to take the covenant is not only sinful in itself, but a great dishonour to God, and great scandal to the church, and withal a disobedience to the lawful ordinance of authority.” (CHAPTER XVI. of "A Treatise of Miscellany Questions," pp. 85-88 from The Works of George Gillespie volume 2)