Communion Tokens

My professor in Reformation and Modern Church History made a passing comment this semester regarding communion tokens which I couldn’t recall ever hearing about. Turns out there’s actually quite a bit of information on this practice. I did a little google action and up comes a number of hits. Here’s one quote I found on the history of the practice of communion tokens. The quote is also a link to the page it came from where you can find out more.

“Communion tokens were first recommended by John Calvin with the intent that no unworthy person would be admitted to the communion service. They were first used in the Reformed Church of France in the year 1560. The Dutch used tokens in Amsterdam as early as 1586. England and Ireland began to use communion tokens near the end of the 16th Century when authorities found it useful to know who did or did not conform to the legal form of worship of the state church. The Catholic churches in France may have been using tokens as early as 1613.

But it was in the Presbyterian churches of Scotland that communion tokens were most widely used. Many believe that there was a second reason for using tokens, to protect communicants from betrayal by spies during periods of religious persecution. The use of communion tokens in the Presbyterian churches of Scotland began during the reign of the Stuarts in 1605. The conflict between church and state continued until the reign of William and Mary and the establishment of the Presbyterian Church as the Church of Scotland in 1690. For nearly 50 years, the Presbyterians had been forced to meet in glens or other secluded places at long and irregular intervals to celebrate the communion service. When the struggle between the church and state finally ended, the use of tokens was by then considered to be an essential part of the Scottish communion service. Communion tokens were used in the Presbyterian churches of Scotland until World War I and a few of the Reformed Presbyterian Churches in the United States and Canada may have used tokens until about 1950. A number of churches have issued tokens in recent years, but these are normally replicas to commemorate a church centennial or some other important event.

Communion tokens have been used in Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Italy, Africa, India, South America, the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Churches in at least 24 states in the United States issued communion tokens. But it was in Scotland where the tokens had their deepest roots with over 5000 different types being recorded.”

  1. Valerie (Kyriosity) May 20

    I think I prefer being in a congregation where the elders will chase you down if you don’t partake of the meal rather than this ecclesiastical approximation of “Vere are your papers?!”

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