Recovering The Reformed Communion

John Anderson (c.1748 - 1830) was born just south of Scotland's border near Tweed (perhaps the River Tweed, or Berwick-upon-Tweed).  He grew up in the "Associate" (1733 Secession) Church of Scotland (cf. Erskines).

Licensed and commissioned by the church in Scotland, Anderson arrived in Pennsylvania to assist the development of the Associate Presbytery of Pennsylvania (which was to form the Associate Synod of North America in 1801). He was ordained in 1788, serving as pastor for various congregations in the Beaver County area.

In 1794 Anderson was appointed to be the founding professor of the first Presbyterian seminary in the United States [the third theological seminary overall; the first being a Dutch Reformed seminary in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1784, and the second being a Roman Catholic seminary in Baltimore, Maryland in 1791].  This Presbyterian seminary eventually became what is today known as Pittsburgh Theological.

Anderson was said to be only 5 feet tall with a poor voice for public speaking, but he was a godly, powerful intellect and influential church leader.  He served as pastor and professor until 1819, retiring for poor health. Anderson's tremendous work, Alexander and Rufus: Dialogues on Church Communion, was first published in 1820.

Part One (initial 200 pages or so) of this book ably articulates the old school, confessionally reformed & presbyterian doctrine of "close communion."  This biblical doctrine is contrasted with the contemporary, latitudinarian teaching which holds
"that there may be several articles in the public profession of a particular church, which, however clearly founded on the Holy Scriptures, are not essential or necessary to salvation, and therefore ought not to be terms of church communion. 'The obviously vital doctrines of the gospel,' say they, 'which whoever renounces cannot be a Christian, are a sufficient basis of sacramental communion.' This scheme... has too long prevailed in the protestant churches, and deprived them, in so great a measure, of their purity and true glory."
(from the author's Preface)
Alexander and Rufus is available online at googlebooks and internet archive in its two editions. It is also copy-reprinted in its original 1820 version by Kessinger Publishing [here, amazon]; and copy-reprinted in its 1862 version by Still Water Revival Books [here and here].

What Anderson writes in this book can help the reformed churches realize that "while corruption is the native consequence of latitudinarian schemes, scriptural order in sacramental communion tends to make the visible church a heaven upon earth to the faithful, terrible as an army with banners to her enemies, and to her King and Head for a name, for a praise and for glory."  This is the way forward for churches wanting to reform and to be reformed according to the Word of God; the way to recover the Reformed confession and communion.

An essay by Anderson addressing the same topic, Of the Church's Toleration of Any Thing Sinful (1780) is also now available online.

also see PART 2


Daniel said...

Is there such as thing as “close baptism” like “close communion”?

If not, what is the logical difference as to why “close” should apply to one sacrament and not the other?

If so, would you view that people should abstain from baptism in churches that don’t practice “close baptism” the same way you think people should refrain from communion in churches that don’t practice “close communion”?

Baus said...

No, "close" would not apply to baptism... because as a different sacrament with different symbols, meaning, and criteria, it doesn't refer.

Read a little about this view of communion, and it will be clearer to you, I'm sure.

Chris Cole said...

It should be clarified that the "organization" referred to here is actually the RE-organization of the Associate Presbytery. The original presbytery had merged with the Reformed Presbytery to form the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. That merger greatly offended the Seceders back in Scotland, so they sent Anderson to build a new Associate Presbytery. That send group eventually merged with the northern branch of the ARP Church to form the United Presbyterian Church of North America in 1858, then the United Presbyterian Church USA in 1958, and finally the Presbyterian Church USA in 1983. A tiny remnant of the Associate Presbyterian Churches was absorbed by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America in 1969. THE RPCNA and the southern branch of the ARP Church continue to the current day.

Baus said...

Yes, thank you, Chris.

The exact lineage is somewhat ambiguous in most charts I've seen, such as this one:

By the way, I notice you are in the Hanover Presbytery. I have been told that these churches, as most Presbyterian churches today, do not observe close communion. Is that correct?

timblack1 said...

Daniel, I suppose Baptists' practice of rebaptizing people who had formerly only been baptized as infants is similar to close communion, and (for an interesting contrast) protestants' accepting Catholic baptisms is closer to the latitudinarian end of the spectrum than close communion is.

Baus said...

Tim, I don't see the connection as you draw it. How do you see a parallel of any kind?

timblack1 said...

Let me know whether this comparison doesn't actually hold:

Close communion: only accepts a person to communion if they are a member of a church of like faith and practice.

Baptist rebaptism: only accepts a person's baptism if they are a member of a church of like faith and practice.

Baus said...

Tim, I don't think it quite holds.

Close communion's criterion is the church's Confession of faith [statement of doctrine].

Baptist rebaptism's criterion is credible profession of gospel.

At best, I suppose you could say close communion is more "restrictive" than latitudinarian schemes of communion, and baptist baptism is more "restrictive" than pedobaptism. But they are differently restrictive along different lines relative to differing conceptions of the respective sacraments.

In any case, if you are able to read any of Anderson's work, I'd love your feedback.

Daniel said...


So then you are making a distinction between the criteria for membership and the criteria for "close communion"? I didn't see that in the parts of Anderson that I read. Where was that?

Also, isn't it framing the debate a little bit to call it a latitudinarian form of communion, because isn't being a latitudinarian mean you basically don't think doctrine is that important. It is not incongruous to believe doctrine is important and to also believe in "close communion" is not required by scripture.

It would be similar to say Presbyterians baptize their infants like Catholics do. That immediately discredits the paedobaptist position just by the label. People could disagree with "close communion" and not be latitudinarian.

Baus said...

Daniel, the historic doctrine & practice of confessional Reformed and Presbyterian communion denies that credible profession of the gospel is alone a sufficient basis for admission to that sacrament. We call affirming such a "non-close" view latitudinarian.

This much is stated clearly in the Preface. It only gets clearer after that. (hint: Rufus is the good guy).

At the bottom of page 4, Alex asks Ruf what is his notion of church communion. Rufus' answer that follows is a good summary of the doctrine defended in Part One.

Kaalvenist said...


I'm a member in the RPCNA, and tend strongly to our old position regarding terms of communion and close communion. On this point, virtually all dissenting Presbyterians (Covenanters, Seceders, ARPs, UPCNAers, etc.) were agreed: At the very least, they did not admit individuals to communicant membership (and adult baptism, in the case of unbaptized adults) without a profession of adherence to the subordinate standards of the church; and they did not admit individuals to the Lord's supper, or their children to baptism, unless they were communicant members of the church, continuing to profess adherence to the subordinate standards.

"Alexander and Rufus" is masterful. I would also recommend Anderson's essay on church communion, "Of the Church's Toleration of any thing sinful."


Daniel said...

Thanks for that clarification Sean. I was waiting for that answer to my question. In which case, timblack1's analogy holds pretty well since the requirements for adults for both sacraments are the same.

Anybody have any answer to my other question I raised earlier? Does the term latitudinarian typically only apply to one's view of communion today, or does it still have other connotations? I certainly understood that Greg was calling it latitudinarian and that's what it is referred to in Alex and Rufus, I just didn't know if there was another term for it since I was under the impression that latitudinarian meant much more than just an "un-close" view of communion.

Baus said...

Daniel, I'm not sure what "pretty well" holds with Tim's analogy.

A person's baptism is not accepted on the basis of their membership, and the close-communion "terms of communion" is not membership in a 'like' church.

In any case, the term latitudinarian can & has been used in various ways, sure.

PCA Historical Center said...

The term latitudinarian first shows up in late 17th-century Anglican discussions, particularly in regards to worship but also in respect to doctrine and polity.

Wayne Sparkman
Director, PCA Historical Center

Baus said...

Wayne, yes, thanks for mentioning one prominent use of the term.

You're referring to (capital L) "Latitudinarianism"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latitudinarian in distinction from the way Anderson and other consistent confessionalists have used it. Like the term "liberal" or "Liberal," it has been used in various ways.

I suppose many non-close communionists wouldn't like to be thought of as latitudinarian, however the shoe may fit.