Home > Systematic Theology > A Treatise on Church Order: Communion- Chapter V- Section IV

A Treatise on Church Order: Communion- Chapter V- Section IV

CHAPTER V

COMMUNION

SECTION IV–OPEN COMMUNION

We have seen that the Lord’s supper has been committed to the local churches for observance and perpetuation; and that local churches, if organized according to the Scriptures, contain none but baptized persons. It follows hence, that baptism is a pre-requisite to communion at the Lord’s table. The position which baptism holds in the commission, determines its priority to the other commanded observances therein referred to, among which church communion must be included. This is the doctrine which has been held on the subject by Christians generally, in all ages; and it is now held by the great mass of Pedobaptists. With them we have no controversy as to the principle by which approach to the Lord’s table should be regulated. We differ from them in practice, because we account nothing Christian baptism, but immersion on profession of faith, and we, therefore, exclude very many whom they admit. But there are Baptists, who reject the principle that baptism is a prerequisite to communion, and maintain that nothing ought to be a condition of communion, which is not a condition of salvation. They hold that all pious persons, baptized or unbaptized, have a right to the Lord’s supper. Their practice is called open or mixed communion, and the arguments in defence of it will now claim our attention.

Argument 1.–The Lord’s supper, when instituted by Christ, was given to persons who had never received Christian baptism, and therefore baptism cannot be a prerequisite.

The first supper was administered to the apostles. Some of these had been baptized by John; and, since the disciples made by Jesus in his personal ministry, were also baptized, we are warranted to conclude, that all the apostles had been baptized. If it be denied that John’s baptism, and the baptism administered under the immediate direction of Christ during his personal ministry were Christian baptism, we call for proof. Until the distinction is established, the argument has no foundation.

But there is another way in which the argument may be met. We have every certainty, which the nature of the case admits, that the apostles were not baptized after the institution of the Lord’s supper. From this time to the ensuing Pentecost, when they entered fully on the work assigned them, their history is so given as to exclude all probability that they were baptized in this interval; and, if they were qualified to enter fully on their work, without another baptism, another baptism was unnecessary; and was therefore never afterwards received. Mr. Hall, the ablest advocate of open communion, says: “My deliberate opinion is, that, in the Christian sense of the term, they were not baptized at all.”[24] When Paul was made an apostle, before he entered on his work he was commanded to be baptized. From some cause, the other apostles were not under this obligation. We account for the difference, by the supposition, that they had already received what was substantially the same as the baptism administered to Paul. But, if we are mistaken on this point, it is still true that the eleven apostles were not under obligation to receive any other baptism; and their case, therefore, differed radically from that of persons who are under obligation to be baptized, and are living in neglect of this duty. The latter may be required, and ought to be required, to profess Christ according to his commandment, before they are admitted to church-membership and communion; but the eleven apostles, from some cause, whatever it may have been, were under no such obligation. The cases are not parallel; and, therefore, the argument fails.

Argument 2.–The argument for strict communion, from the position of baptism in the commission, proves too much. If it proves that we ought not to teach the unbaptized to commune at the Lord’s table, it proves also that we ought not to teach them the moral precepts of Christ included in the words, “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”

The apostles were commanded to preach the gospel to every creature. In executing their commission, it became their duty to instruct the ignorant and them that were out of the way. They adapted their instructions to every man’s character and circumstances To the impenitent, they said: “Repent, and be baptized.” To the unbaptized disciple, they said: “Why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized.” The baptized disciple they taught, according to the requirement in the commission, to observe all things whatsoever Christ had commanded. The- impenitent were not to be taught to observe all things which Christ had commanded. The advocates of open communion deny that they have a right either to baptism, or the Lord’s supper; but why? The same moral precepts which are to be taught to the baptized disciple, may be taught to the impenitent. We may, therefore, retort, that if they exclude the impenitent from baptism and the Lord’s supper, their mode of reasoning will prove too much, and will equally exclude them from instruction in the moral precepts of Christ. If it be just to argue from the order prescribed in the commission, that baptism belongs to those only who have been made disciples; that order equally proves, that the baptized only ought to be taught to observe all things that Christ had commanded. Some things that Christ commanded might be taught to the unbaptized, and to the impenitent; but the full observance of all Christ’s commands, was to be enjoined on the baptized disciples. Had the commission read, “Make disciples of all nations, and teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you,” baptism and the supper would have been included together among the things commanded, and no inference could have been drawn from the commission as to the proper order in which they should be observed. But the separation of baptism from all the other things which Christ had commanded, gives it a peculiar relation to the other things enjoined in the commission; and the order in which it is introduced cannot but signify the proper order for our obedience.

Argument 3.–The fact that, in the primitive times, none but baptized persons were admitted to the Lord’s table, is not a rule to us, whose circumstances are widely different. Then, no converted person mistook his obligation to be baptized. Had he refused baptism, the refusal would have proved him not to be a disciple; and now nothing ought to exclude from communion, but that which disproves discipleship.

The argument admits that, if all understood their duty, baptism would always precede the communion, as it did in apostolic times. How far it is our duty to tolerate disobedience to Christ’s commands, and produce a church order unknown in the days of the apostles, in accommodation to error or weakness of faith, is an inquiry which will come up hereafter.

Argument 4.–The supper commemorates the death of Christ: baptism represents his burial and resurrection. The order of the things signified is the reverse of that in which they are observed. Hence, the order of observance ought not to be considered necessary.

Baptism represents the burial of Christ, but not to the exclusion of his death: “Know ye not, that as many of us as were baptized into Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into death.” The supper represents the death of Christ; but not to the exclusion of his burial and resurrection. Without the resurrection, the sacrifice would have been unaccepted, and the memorial of it useless. Moreover, the supper directs the thoughts to the second coming of Christ, and therefore supposes his resurrection. The same great facts of Christianity are represented by both rites, though in aspects somewhat different; and, therefore, no valid argument can be drawn, from their objective signification, to determine the proper order of their observance.

But while both rites direct our faith to the accepted sacrifice of Christ, they do not signify our relation to it in the same manner. Baptism represents a believer’s dying to sin, and rising to walk in newness of life. It signifies the change by which he becomes a new creature. The supper represents the believer’s continued feeding on Christ; and therefore presupposes the change which is denoted by baptism. It follows, that the subjective signification of the rites, so far as any valid argument can be drawn from it, determines the priority of baptism.

If there were anything in the objective signification of the rite furnishing ground for an argument in favor of its preceding baptism, it would tend to establish that precedence as universally necessary, rather than occasionally justifiable.

Argument 5.–Communion at the Lord’s table is a token of brotherly love. To refuse it to any true disciple of Christ, is contrary to the spirit of brotherly love, and to the command of Christ which enjoined it.

Christ has commanded us to love every true disciple; but not to give to every one this particular token of love. Neither the law nor the spirit of brotherly love, can require us to treat our brethren otherwise than he has enjoined. We give them the love, and withhold from them the token, in obedience to the same authority, and in the exercise of the same fraternal spirit. If a right participation of the communion were the appointed means of salvation, and if baptism were necessary in order to this right participation, it would be the highest manifestation of brotherly love, to maintain firmly the practice of strict communion. Our firmness might correct an error in our brethren, which, in the case supposed, would, if persisted in, be ruinous to their eternal interests. A false tenderness might incline us not to disturb their misplaced confidence; but true Christian love would direct to a contrary course. Now, we are bound to perform every duty with the same careful regard to the divine will, as if salvation depended on it; and the true spirit of Christian love will incline us to guard our brethren against what is sinful, as well as against what is ruinous. Hence, the argument from brotherly love utterly fails to justify the practice of mixed communion, if that practice can be shown to be contrary to the mind of Christ.

Further, the argument from this topic must be inconclusive, until it be proved that brotherly love cannot subsist without a joint participation of the Lord’s supper. But there are surely many modes of testifying and cherishing the warmest affection toward erring brethren, without participating in their errors. We may be ready, in obedience to Christ, to lay down our lives for our brethren– though we may choose to die, rather than, in false tenderness to them, violate the least of his commandments.

Argument 6.–A particular church differs from the church universal, only as a part differs from the whole; and, since Pedobaptist Christians are parts of the true church, they ought to be admitted to membership and communion in the particular churches.

That particular churches differ from the church universal, only as a part differs from the whole, is assumed by Mr. Hall, in his defence of mixed communion. This assumption, made without proof, is the fundamental error of his scheme. It begs the question. We call the atmosphere of a place, that part-of the whole atmosphere which chances to be at the place; and if a local church is, in like manner, that part of the universal church which chances to be at the place, the question about communion is virtually decided. We cannot argue that the communion of a church shall be denied to any who have the full right of membership.

We have seen elsewhere, that the universal church is not the aggregate of the local churches, and is not strictly homogeneous with them. Hence the assumption which is fundamental to mixed communion, is erroneous.

Argument 7.–To exclude a Pedobaptist brother from communion, is substantially to inflict on him the punishment of excommunication, the punishment inflicted on atrocious offenders. Such is not the proper treatment of a fellow disciple, whose error of judgment the Lord graciously pardons.

When an advocate of open communion excludes from the Lord’s table an amiable neighbor, who does not give evidence of conversion, the exclusion is not regarded as a punishment. Neither ought our exclusion of the unbaptized; much less is it right to speak of it as the punishment inflicted on atrocious offenders. The churches have no scale of penalties adjusted to different grades of crime. When they excommunicate, they withdraw their fellowship, and this may be done for wrongs of very different magnitude. There is no necessity to class the error of pedobaptism with the most atrocious of these wrongs. The church which excludes a Pedobaptist from the Lord’s table, does not design to inflict a punishment on him, but merely to do its own duty, as a body to which the Lord has intrusted one of his ordinances. The simple aim is, to regulate the observance according to the will of the Lord.

Argument 7.–To reject from communion a Pedobaptist brother whom God receives, is to violate the law of toleration laid down in Romans xiv. 1-3.

The application of this rule to the question of receiving unbaptized persons to church-membership, has been considered, p. 96. The result of the examination was unfavorable to the admission of such persons; and the reasons which exclude them from church-membership, exclude them from church communion. Regarding the Lord’s supper as an ordinance committed to the local churches, to be observed by them as such, the question, who are entitled to the privilege of communion, is decided by a simple principle. None are to be admitted but those who can be admitted to the membership of the church.

The argument does not claim that persons do right in communing while unbaptized, but it pleads for a toleration of their error. Since this is the plea which open communion Baptists chiefly rely on, it deserves a full examination.

It is a difficult attainment in religion, to preserve one’s purity untarnished, while mingling with the men of the world, and exercising towards them all that benevolence and forbearance which the gospel enjoins. Our duty to mankind requires that we should not retire from the world, nor cherish a morose and misanthropic temper. In avoiding the error on this hand, there is danger of falling into the opposite one, and becoming too much conformed to the world. Vice is apt to appear less hateful in those whom we greatly love; and even the frequent sight of it, if we are not on our guard will make its deformity less in our view. Hence arises a great need of much watchfulness and prayer, in those who practice that pure and undefiled religion, which requires them, on the one hand, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to go about doing good to all men; and, on the other hand, to keep themselves unspotted from the world.

There is a still severer trial of Christian principle. We meet it in our intercourse with Christian brethren, who love our Lord Jesus Christ, and in general obey his commandments; but walk disorderly in some matters which are deemed of minor importance. If these brethren are supposed by us, to have more spiritual knowledge than ourselves, there is much danger, lest, through the confiding nature of Christian love, and the readiness to esteem others better than ourselves, we be betrayed into their errors. Had their violations of duty been greater, a suspicion of their piety might have been awakened, and we might have been put on our guard. The man of God, who prophesied against the altar at Bethel, could not be induced, by the wicked king of Israel, to eat bread, or drink water, in the place; yet the old prophet, who came to him in the name of the Lord, found it easy to prevail. Had even he proposed some deed in itself highly criminal, the truth of his pretended message from God would have been suspected. But to eat bread and to drink water were things in themselves lawful; and the man of God too readily yielded to the old prophet, as his superior in the knowledge of the divine will, and ate and drank in violation of God’s prohibition.

If we ought to guard against being led into error by our intercourse with good men, when no wrong is suspected, much more ought we, when the existence of wrong is known. But toleration implies wrong; and, if mixed communion be defended on the plea of toleration, the very defence admits that there is wrong somewhere. It becomes us, therefore, to take good heed, lest we be implicated in the wrong. The very names, toleration, forbearance, are commended to us by our sense of God’s forbearance and longsuffering toward us; and the motives for their exercise are irresistible when their object is a brother in Christ. Towards such an one, how can we be otherwise than tolerant and forbearing? Shall we persecute him? God forbid. We would rather lay down our lives for him. Shall we indulge in any bitterness, or uncharitableness towards him? We will love him with pure heart fervently. Shall we, in any manner, prevent him from worshipping and serving God according to the dictates of his conscience? The very thought be far from us. Even if he err, to his own Master he standeth or falleth. We, too, are fallible and erring; and we will fervently pray that the grace which pardons our faults may pardon his also. What more do toleration and forbearance require?

When a church receives an unbaptized person, something more is done than merely to tolerate his error. There are two parties concerned. The acts of entering the church and partaking of its communion are his, and for them he is responsible. The church also acts when it admits him to membership, and authorizes his participation of the communion. The church, as an organized body, with power to receive and exclude members according to rules which Christ has laid down, is responsible for the exercise of this power.

Each individual disciple of Christ is bound, for himself, to obey perfectly the will of his Master. Whatever tolerance he may exercise towards the errors of others, he should tolerate none in himself. Though he may see but a single fault in his brother, he ought, while imitating all that brother’s excellencies, carefully to avoid this fault. He may not neglect the tithing of mint, though he should find an example of such neglect accompanied with a perfect obedience of every moral precept.

In like manner each church is bound, for itself, to conform, in all its order, to the divine will. How much soever it may respect neighboring churches, which may have made high attainments in every spiritual excellence, it must not imitate them, if they neglect or corrupt any of Christ’s ordinances. No argument is needed to render this clear.

The members of a church, who understand the law of Christ, are bound to observe it strictly, whatever may be the ignorance and errors of others. For them to admit unbaptized persons to membership, is to subvert a known law of Christ. Though there be unbaptized persons surpassing in every spiritual excellence, and though the candidate for admission excel them all, yet the single question for the church is, shall its order be established according to the will of God, or shall it not.

It may be asked, whether the persons whom we admit to membership and communion are not, in many cases, guilty of omitting duties more important than baptism. It may be so: and if a church sanctions these criminal neglects, it partakes in the guilt of them. Shall it, to escape the charge of the greater guilt, voluntarily assume that which is less? If Christ has given a law for the organization of churches, we have no right to substitute another, because it would be, in our judgment, more accordant with the proper estimate of moral actions. If the members of the universal church had been left to congregate into small societies, according to their spiritual instincts, if I may use the expression, and not according to a revealed law, these societies might be left to determine, by moral excellence merely, who ought to be admitted. But since it has seemed good to the Christian lawgiver, to prescribe rules for church organization, these rules should be observed. Each church should aim, in its church order, to exhibit a model of perfection to the world, though its several members may be conscious of imperfections in themselves. They should aim, as individuals, to come up to the full measure of their individual responsibility, and strive, each one, to exhibit a model of perfect obedience. If the organization and discipline of the church are not perfect, yet each member should aim to be perfect. If each member is not perfect, this lessens not the obligation to render the organization and discipline of the church perfect.

But may not each individual be left to his own conscience, and his own responsibility? He may be, and ought to be, so far as it can be done without implicating the consciences and responsibilities of others. If each were left wholly to himself, the discipline of the church would be nothing, and the power to exercise it would be attended with no responsibility. But the church is under an obligation, which cannot be transferred, to regulate its organization and discipline according to the word of God, which enjoins, on the one hand, to be tolerant and forbearing towards weak and erring brethren; and on the other hand, to keep the ordinances of God as they were delivered.

The argument for toleration is founded on the words, “Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye…For God hath received him.” It is a full reply to this argument, that God’s receiving of the weak in faith furnishes the rule, as well as the reason, for our receiving of them. That God receives a man in one sense, can be no reason that we should receive him in a sense widely different. God receives an unbaptized weak believer as a member of his spiritual church, and we ought to receive him in like manner. We ought to regard him as a brother in Christ, and a fellow heir of the same inheritance. His interests should be near to our hearts, and we should welcome him to all that spiritual communion which belongs to the members of Christ’s body. So, when God has received a baptized weak believer to local church-membership, we are bound to receive him in like manner, and allow him to sit with us at the table of the Lord; a privilege which, through the imperfection of church discipline, the vilest hypocrite may obtain. Unless we keep in view this important distinction, in applying this rule for toleration, it will indeed admit the unbaptized weak believer to ceremonial communion, but it will, with equal certainty, admit the hypocrite to that communion which is spiritual.

Argument 9.–The advocates of close communion are accustomed to invite Pedobaptist ministers to preach in their pulpits. To hold this pulpit communion with them, and at the same time to deny them a place at the Lord’s table, is a manifest inconsistency.

If we admit the conclusion of this argument, it does not prove close communion to be wrong. Some Baptists admit the validity of the argument; and avoid the charge of inconsistency by refusing to invite Pedobaptist ministers into their pulpits. Their views will be examined hereafter, Chapter X., section 5, and we shall then attempt to show that what has been called pulpit communion, may be vindicated in perfect consistency with the principles on which strict communion at the Lord’s table is maintained.

Argument 10.–The communion table is the Lord’s; and to exclude from it any of the Lord’s people, the children of his family, is an offence against the whole Christian community.

There is a table which the Lord has spread, and to which every child of his family has an unquestionable right. It is a table richly furnished with spiritual food, a feast of fat things, full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. This table the Lord has spread for all his children, and he invites them all to come: “Eat, O friends; drink, yea drink abundantly, O beloved.” Any one who should forbid their approach would offend against the community of God’s children. The guests at this table have spiritual communion with one another; a species of communion which belongs of right to every member of the church universal.

There is another table which the Lord has commanded his people to spread in each local church. It is not, like the other, covered with spiritual good things, but with simple bread and wine. It is not, like the other, designed for the whole family of the Lord, but for the particular body, the local church, by whom, in obedience to divine command, it has been spread. Though human hands have set out the food, yet the table is the Lord’s, because it is designed for his service, and prepared at his command; and the will of the Lord must determine who ought to partake. He knows best the purpose for which he commanded it; and, whatever may be the feelings of the guests, they have no right to invite to his table any whom the Lord has not invited.

We are aware that the practice of strict communion is considered offensive by a large part of the Christian community. We lament this fact; and if the arguments which have been adduced in defence of our practice, have failed to produce a conviction of its propriety, we would still crave from our brethren the forbearance and toleration for which they plead in behalf of the weak in faith. We conscientiously believe that we are doing the Lord’s will; and we would gladly invite every child of God to unite in our simple ceremonial observance, if we had the divine approbation. But we believe that the purpose for which the observance was instituted, and the divine will by which it ought to be regulated, require the restrictions under which we act.

Does not the offence taken at our course indicate that the offended party estimate ceremonial communion too highly? To the rich feast of spiritual good which the Lord has spread, we rejoice to welcome every child of God; and we gladly accept an humble seat with them at the bountiful board. When with open hearts and hands we give this welcome, why will they be offended, if we do not also give them a crumb of our ceremonial bread, and a drop of our ceremonial wine? If the elements possessed some sacramental efficacy, there would be an apparent reason for their complaint; but regarding them as a token of union in a church organization to which our brethren object, and into which they are unwilling to enter, the ground and consistency of their complaint do not appear.

When Pedobaptists complain of our strict communion, we would remind them that they hold the principle in common with us, and practice on it in their own way. If they have aught to object, let it be at that in which we differ from them, and not at that in which we agree. The contrary course is not likely to produce unity of opinion, or to promote that harmony of Christian feeling which ought to subsist among the followers of our Lord.

When Baptists object to strict communion, we would propose the inquiry, Whether they do not attach undue importance to the eucharist, in comparison with baptism. Mr. Hall calls the eucharist a principal spiritual function.[25] In this view of it, he complains that the privilege of partaking in it should be denied to any. Is it more spiritual than baptism? If not, why should baptism be trodden under foot, to open the way of access to the eucharist? When both ceremonies were supposed to possess a saving efficacy, the proper order of their observance was still maintained; much more should it be maintained, if both are mere ceremonies. If baptism were a mere ceremony, and the eucharist a principal spiritual function, the arguments for open communion would have a force which they do not now possess: but our brethren will not defend this position.

[24] Hall’s Works, Vol. i., p. 303.

[25] Vol. i. p. 322.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

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