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Communion at the Lord's Table Confined to Churches


Baptism and the Lord?s supper are alike in being instituted or positive rites, deriving their authority solely from the will of the Lawgiver. Their observance is required, not because they are essentially right, but they are right because they are divinely required. They differ widely, however, in several respects. Baptism is an individual duty. The command is: "Repent and be baptized every one of you." The Lord?s supper is a social or ecclesiastical duty. This is indicated by the term "communion," or joint participation, by which it is expressed. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" Baptism is a duty not to be repeated. Churches may celebrate the Lord?s supper as often as time and opportunity may permit, and inclination may prompt. There is no law prescribing how frequently it shall be observed. "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord?s death till he come." Baptism is preparatory to church membership, as we showed in another article. The Lord?s supper follows baptism. To this rule there is no exception. No unbaptized person, so tar as the Scriptures testify, ever partook of the Lord?s supper. It was never spread but in the Lord?s house, and never approached except by those formally admitted into his family.

Information concerning the observance of the Lord?s supper in the primitive churches is not very full, but quite sufficient to guide the humble and docile. The feast was instituted by the Lord Jesus on the night previous to his crucifixion. Only the apostles, who constituted the church in its incipiency, partook of it. That they were baptized by John, or by the disciples acting under Christ?s authority (John 4:1, 2), there can be no reasonable doubt. It is not essential to the validity of our argument, however, to show that they were baptized. The first baptizer was necessarily unbaptized. In the introduction of Christianity, there might have been more than one unbaptized administrator of the ordinance, though we do not suppose there were. In the organization of the churches there might have been, and doubtless there were, measures adopted, from the necessity of the case, which were not intended to be perpetuated in the regularly constituted churches.

The place of the Lord?s supper in the divine economy is clearly indicated in the apostolic commission. Teaching, faith, baptism, instruction in all Christian duties, is the divinely prescribed order of service. Faith should precede baptism. The first public duty enjoined on a believer is baptism; but faith does not more certainly precede baptism than does baptism precede church membership and communion at the Lord?s table. This order is clearly prescribed, and assuredly should be followed, unless some obvious and solid reason can be furnished for departing from it.

On two points we may be certain: The apostles understood their commission, and they executed it. Their example is, therefore, an authoritative exposition of it. The first church was organized in the city of Jerusalem, and we have a pretty full account of its formation and worship furnished by the Spirit of inspiration, for the guidance of the churches in all ages. Preaching, repentance, baptism, church membership, the Lord?s supper, worship, was the order followed. "Then they that gladly received his (Peter?s) word were baptized?were added unto them (the disciples in Jerusalem)?continued steadfastly in the apostles? doctrine and fellowship (in the teaching of the apostles and in cooperation with the church)?and in breaking of bread (communing at the Lord?s table, called breaking of bread, as that was a noticeable part of the service; Acts 20:7)?and in prayers," or the public worship of God. Can there be any reasonable doubt that in this primitive, true, model church baptism preceded church membership, and church membership the breaking of bread? In other words, the Lord?s table was placed within the church, and the unbaptized had no access to it.

The only other place in which the Lord?s supper is mentioned in the inspired history is Acts 20:7: "Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow." We have here merely an incidental allusion to the Lord?s supper. It is, however, perfectly accordant with what we learn of the ordinance from the Scriptures. "The disciples"?doubtless the church?"at Troas"?the ancient Troy?"came together to break bread," or partake of the Lord?s supper. It is fair to conclude that this church was composed, as were all the churches of whose membership we are informed, of baptized believers.

There is no distinct reference to the observance of the Lord?s supper in the apostolic epistles, except in the first letter to "the church of God" at Corinth. There had been in that church an abuse of the ordinance. It had not only been converted into a common feast, but into an occasion of excess. "When ye come together into one place," said Paul, "this is not to eat the Lord?s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper; and one is hungry and another is drunken." Their feast was no longer "the Lord?s supper," but a bacchanalia. The church was reproved in sharp terms for permitting this shameful desecration of the ordinance. "What?" said the indignant apostle; "have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not (that is, the poor)? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not." This language implies more than it expresses. The apostle not only did not praise, but sternly rebuked this profanation of s sacred institution. The apostolic judgment was divinely approved; for on account of this perversion many among the Corinthian Christians were "weak and sickly," and many slept or died. The church could not have been justly held responsible for this desecration of the supper, if it had not been authorized to exercise full control over the communicants.

It may be noticed that the apostle says to individual church members: "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup." It is not only the duty of the church collectively to maintain the purity of its communion, but of its members individually to partake of it with due self-examination and reverence. It should be borne in mind, however, that this exhortation was addressed to members of the church in Corinth; and we have elsewhere shown that it was composed exclusively of baptized believers. It was not, then, to men of the world, not to unbelievers, not to pious persons without the pale of a church, but to church members?baptized believers?that the injunction was given to partake of the Lord?s supper with self-examination (1 Cor. 11:17-34).

The authority for the communion of church members at the Lord?s table is clear and indisputable; but, as already stated, in all the Scriptures no instance can be found of its administration, except within a church, and to regularly admitted church members. These unquestionable truths convinced the Christian world for eighteen centuries that baptism is a prerequisite to communion at the Lord?s supper. On no one point, until quite recently, have Christians been so united in opinion as on this. Catholics. Greeks, Protestants, sects, orthodox and heterodox, disagreeing on almost all other articles of faith, were united on this. Baptists, in defending their close communion, had only to avail themselves of the argumentum ad hominem. They could say to their Pedobaptist friends: You require baptism as a condition of communion at the Lord?s table; we do the same. The only difference is that you admit infant sprinkling to be valid baptism; we do not. Our difference respects the nature of baptism, not the terms of admission to the Lord?s table.

In the early part of the present century, the eloquent Robert Hall, of England, in the advocacy of open communion, took the ground that there is no connection between baptism and the Lord?s supper; that the supper may as well precede baptism as baptism the supper. This is certainly the point on which the question of free communion hinges. This Hall admits: "If we supposed there were a necessary, unalterable connection between the two positive Christian institutes, so that none were qualified for communion who had not been previously baptized, we could not hesitate for a moment respecting the refusal of Pedobaptists, without renouncing the principles of our denomination" (Vol. I., page 403). We have shown that baptism preceded the supper in the order prescribed by the apostolic commission; that the supper was administered in the primitive churches, and that they were composed exclusively of baptized believers; that all instructions concerning the administration of the ordinance were directed to a church and its members; and that these facts convinced the Christian world for eighteen centuries that baptism is a prerequisite to the Lord?s supper; and we now submit that the onus probandi lies on those who claim the right of the unbaptized to partake of it. It is a divinely instituted feast. Only those can properly share in it whom Christ has invited to it. If the unbaptized?persons having no church connection?claim the privilege of partaking of it. let them show divine authority in its support. In what chapter and verse is it recorded? Let us have the law, or the precedent, or the principle, or the logical inference to confirm their right. We repeat that in all the oracles of God there is neither proof nor semblance of proof that the Lord?s supper was ever administered but within a church and to its baptized members.

It may be replied that partaking of the Lord?s supper is not more dependent on the previous performance of baptism than are prayer, praise, and other religious duties. This is a mistake. These are moral duties, obligatory on all men, at all times, and in all places. They were practiced before the institution of baptism and after its institution, by those who had not as well as those who had received it. The Lord?s supper was instituted within and for the church, and none were admitted to its privileges without baptism.

We submit, then, that those who partake of the Lord?s supper without baptism do so without divine warrant, on their own authority, and on terms that would lead to the abrogation of all church order and discipline.

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