March 1, 2023
Sometimes my reading moves into arcane subjects. One of the benefits of being retired is getting to read what you want as opposed to what you must. This week I began researching the history of communion tokens in the colonial Presbyterian Church. Since we will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper this coming Sabbath, it seemed a good topic for my weekly musings.
The practice of using communion tokens goes back to John Calvin, who said that care must be taken to prevent “the profanation of the Lord’s Table.” Thus, the leaders of the local churches would go out among the members before the administration of the Sacrament and examine them as to knowledge of Scripture, the Catechisms and past behavior. Only when they were satisfied that the congregants were worthy would they issue them a token which admitted them to the Lord’s Table.
Colonial times saw the practice imported from Scotland and northern Ireland. Communion was celebrated once or twice a year with several congregations gathering for the event. It lasted for three to five days, called a Communion Season, and was the precursor to camp meetings and revivals, enjoyed by our Methodist and Baptist brethren and sistren.
The use of communion tokens continued until the late 1800s. Perhaps the leaders grew weary of examining the communicants or perhaps they grew weary of examining themselves…who knows? At any rate, our theology of the Sacrament has become expansive enough to recognize that all are equally unworthy and therein lies the miracle of grace. No more tokens needed. Only a willing and contrite heart in need of spiritual sustenance.
I don’t know about you, but I feel just a bit more enlightened. You never know what wonderful bits of ecclesiastical whimsey might grace this space. Stay tuned!
I bid you peace!