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Communion at the Lord's Table Confined to Church Members


We have briefly stated our reasons for holding what is popularly called "close communion"; and we desire to make an appeal to the candid judgment of all who maintain the opposite view. It is not strange that there should be differences of opinion among sincere Christians on this subject. Human judgments are so imperfect, and are warped by so many influences of education, interest, association, and taste, that we need not be surprised that they reach diverse conclusions. The primitive churches, under the instruction and supervision of the apostles, fell into many serious errors. Indeed, liability to mistakes on religious, as well as on other subjects, is inseparable from human ignorance, and enters into man?s earthly probation. We say these things, not to extenuate the evils of error, but to inspire the erring with the spirit of candor.

Suppose, then, that the Scriptures do teach?as we have endeavored to show that they do?that the apostolic churches were composed exclusively of baptized believers; that baptism was uniformly immersion; that none but the baptized were admitted into the fellowship of the churches, and that the Lord?s supper was administered within the churches, and only to their members?what is the duty of Christians, having a clear and settled conviction that that was the divinely established order? Shall they adhere to it, or shall they, in deference to the views and feelings of brethren whom they love, and whom they would not willingly offend, depart from it? Shall they be governed by their own views or by the opinions of others in a matter so grave and important? Let us examine the subject with care.

It is evident that no church or churches, no association or convention, no prelate or pontiff, has a right to annul an ordinance of Christ or to revoke an order which he has ordained. If Christ has made immersion a prerequisite to church member. ship and placed communion within the church, then it is plainly the duty of his disciples, if they understand his arrangement, to give the weight of their example and their influence to its support. On this point there surely should be no difference of opinion among those who acknowledge the supreme headship of Jesus.

Among the disciples of Christ there are wide differences of opinion as to the order mentioned. Some persons believe that sprinkling or pouring, as well as immersion, is baptism; others that the sprinkling of an infant is Christian baptism. Some that baptism is not a Christian ordinance, and others that baptism is not a prerequisite of church membership or of a participation in the Lord?s supper. This conflict of views brings up new questions for the consideration of Christians?questions unknown in apostolic times, and consequently not specifically decided in the Scriptures. What is to be done in this exigency? Certainly no party can reasonably claim that its opinions are infallible, and that persons who dissent from them are either ignorant or bigoted. The obvious duty of all Christians, arising from this diversity of views, is not to reproach or persecute each other, but to confess their liability to err, study the Scriptures with greater diligence and candor, give to others full credit for their intelligence and piety, and follow the convictions of their own understandings. Believing, as we do, that immersion is a prerequisite to partaking of the Lord?s supper, we feel bound, not only to follow that rule, but to do what we can to extend its authority; but we do not condemn or dislike Christians who dissent from our views. We think they are erring brethren, and would gladly reclaim them from their error; but we love them for the truth which they hold and the many Christian virtues which they display.

We have somewhat against our open communion brethren, whether they be Baptists or Pedobaptists. They go too far for the truth, but not far enough for consistency. There is no conscientious bar to the fellowship of intercommuning churches. Whatever may be their differences of opinion concerning doctrine or church organization and discipline, they are not such as to interfere with their fellowship and communion at the Lord?s table. They have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one communion table. Why should they have different churches? It may be said, that it is said, that they prefer different forms of church government and modes of discipline, and there is no good reason why they should not indulge their preference. Episcopalians like prelacy and liturgical services; Presbyterians hold to an eldership and presbyterial form of church government, and Methodists must have an itinerant ministry and love feasts; but these differences involve no breach of fellowship or communion. They are all substantially of one church. They are, as it is often said, different regiments in the same great army, and under the same invincible Commander.

Now, this friendly diversity appears very well; but let us look a little more carefully into it. Where it leads to no unholy rivalry, and secures a brotherly and efficient cooperation, it is quite consistent with the principle of free communion. But take the case of a town with a population of fifteen hundred. It would make an admirable parish for a single pastor. He might be generously supported, and all his powers would find sweet and constant employment in feeding his flock. Such towns and villages are scattered all over the land. Yet you will scarcely find one in which there is not a Methodist, a Presbyterian, and an Episcopal church, and sometimes several other intercommuning churches. All the congregations are small, feeble, struggling for existence, and perhaps supported in part by the contributions of their wealthier sister churches of the cities. They maintain three or four or five pastors, to do what one could do as well, or even better. They go to the expense of erecting and keeping in repair as many houses of worship as they have churches and pastors, when one could conveniently accommodate all the worshippers. Nor is this all, nor the worst. Constituted as human nature is, there must be rivalry, and, in many cases, antagonism and irritation between the different sects. The Episcopalian eagerly seeks proselytes, because his church is the true church and has the genuine apostolic succession; the Presbyterian pleads for the extension of his church, on the ground that its government is according to the scriptural pattern; and the Methodist is quite sure that all believers, and seekers, too, will find through his church the plainest, straightest, and safest way to heaven. We do not censure them for holding these views, provided they have been received after due examination and are maintained with becoming modesty. We have great respect for conscientious convictions. The point we make is this: These different opinions present no bar to communion. Those who hold them have no conscientious scruples about entering into a common fellowship and communion. It surely will not be maintained that persons who commune together occasionally cannot do so statedly and continuously; or that those who can consistently commune together cannot belong to a common church and submit to a common discipline. They may prefer certain forms of ecclesiastical government and certain modes of worship; but their preferences lie not in the way of their fellowship and communion. Love, candor, and a desire for the glory of Christ could easily adjust these differences. All might join the oldest, or the strongest, or the most convenient church, and manifest their zeal for the unity of the church and the honor of their common Lord by holding their peculiar views in abeyance; or they might organize a church: retaining some of the distinctive tenets and practices of the several sects uniting in its formation. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Now, when our intercommuning Pedobaptist brethren shall follow out their own principles?blending the feeble churches of the towns and villages into a common body, to promote their efficiency and to save expense?shall, in short, show more solicitude to unite the discordant churches than to build up their several sects?we shall be strongly impressed with their consistent zeal for Christian union. While, however, they keep up, at vast labor and expense, their sectarian folds in our towns and villages, we must conclude that either their logic or their love is defective.

It may be asked: Are not the Baptists equally eager to maintain churches in towns where the people are already amply supplied with Pedobaptist preaching? Perhaps they are. They certainly ought to be. The cases, however, are widely different. The Pedobaptist churches are of a common communion?they are branches of a common church?their members are kept apart by no conscientious convictions. Baptists occupy entirely different ground. They differ from their Pedobaptist brethren on church organization and Christian ordinances, and these differences are deemed, whether wisely: unwisely, of sufficient moment to justify and to demand a breach of ecclesiastical fellowship and communion. Baptists having, as they conceive, scriptural views of the formation and discipline of churches, which are of great importance to the progress and final triumph of the kingdom of Christ, deem it their duty, without any abatement of their love to their Christian brethren who dissent from these opinions, to maintain and propagate them, not only by tongue and pen, but by pursuing a course in perfect consistency with them. They do not hesitate, therefore, to found and support churches in towns or neighborhoods well supplied with Pedobaptist churches and pastors, because it is considered their duty?at least, the duty of such of their members as truly believe in Christ?to be baptized and unite with Baptist churches. This conviction is neither bigotry nor intolerance. Do not Pedobaptists believe that Baptists should have their children baptized and become members of Pedobaptist churches? If they do not, they are not loyal to their own creeds; and we are pleased to say that Baptists, certainly with very few exceptions, have a firmer conviction of the truth of their distinctive principles. It all comes to this: If our principles are true, we are right in maintaining them, and all Pedobaptists?that is, all believers?should accept and be governed by them; and if, on the other hand, pedobaptism and open communion are scriptural, then Baptists and all other persons should accept these principles and govern themselves accordingly. If our readers should be led to a candid, thorough, and God-fearing examination of these subjects, in the light of divine revelation, our end will have been gained.

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