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Is Open Communion Demanded for the Edification of the Churches?


The Scriptures furnish no certain example of the intercommunion of churches. The nearest approach to it was the case of Paul breaking bread with the disciples at Troas. He was a divinely authorized founder of churches; but whether he was a member of any local church, in the sense in which the phrase is now understood, is very doubtful. If he was a member of any church, we do not know which it was. If intercommunion was practiced by the members of the primitive churches, it was, we suppose, granted as a courtesy, and not claimed as a right. There was no law requiring it, and no example, if the doubtful one of Paul above referred to be omitted, encouraging it. It might have prevailed?its prevalence, so far as we can discern, would have been consistent with the constitution and discipline of the churches?it was simply a matter of choice and of courtesy. We may reasonably take it for granted that, had it been necessary or even desirable for the edification of the churches and the increase of brotherly, love, the Scriptures would contain some precept, or example, or intimation for its enforcement. For the joint participation of the Lord?s supper by members of the same church, they furnish ample authority; but on the intercommunion of churches they maintain a profound silence.

What, in the light of observation, is the value of open communion? It is, we think, but little prized by those Christians who accept it as an article of their creed. In discussing the subject with Baptists, they lay great stress on it; but practically they attach little importance to it. In the cities, the members of the different Pedobaptist sects rarely commune with one another. Why should they do it? They have regular communions in their respective churches, and do not need to go beyond them to secure the benefits of the Lord?s supper. In country churches, where religious worship is held infrequently, and the Christian sects are more thrown together, instances of the intercommunion of the members of different denominations are more likely to occur; but, even in these cases, we have yet to learn that the privilege is much prized or productive of much benefit.

Why, then, do Pedobaptists plead so earnestly for open communion? We wish not to be uncharitable; but we cannot close our eyes to the principles which govern human nature. Doubtless there are many who plead for open communion with a catholic spirit, believing that it is promotive of brotherly love; but this cannot be said of all its advocates. It answers several purposes besides those which charity would accomplish. It has a great semblance of liberality, which, we have shown, is in many cases a mere semblance. It contrasts very favorably with what is represented to be the narrowness and bigotry of close communionists. We, it is said, place no bar to the Lord?s supper?we invite all his friends to it?all who desire to do so may partake of it; but it is left to be inferred that close communionists are governed by a very different spirit?they surround the Lord?s table with unwarrantable barriers, claim for themselves peculiar privileges, and unchristianize people as good as themselves. Nor is this the only use made of the doctrine of open communion. Baptists maintain that all believers, even those baptized in infancy, should be immersed on a profession of their faith. Young converts, with the New Testament in their hands, if they have not received a thorough Pedobaptist drilling, are almost sure to conclude that they should go to the water, and not that the water should be brought to them, for baptism. The baptizing by John "in the river Jordan," and the going down of both Philip and the eunuch into the water for baptism, quite satisfy the minds of warmhearted, obedient new converts that baptism is immersion: and it is not easy, in some cases, to efface this conviction. Close communion, however, is an admirable weapon to combat the supposed error. Are you willing to be shut out from comn-1union with your kindred and friends, and to confine your Christian fellowship to a sect whose views on the subject of communion fall, in liberality and freedom, so far below those of other Christian denominations? This is an appeal to young converts which strongly impresses their feelings. Their sympathies are warm and lively, and they would be pleased to commune with the whole world. They have yet to learn that, not their own feelings, but the Word of God, should be their guide in religious matters?that "charity rejoiceth in the truth." While the duty of baptism is in no wise dependent on the terms of communion, it is fair to conclude that thousands have been turned away from immersion on a profession of faith by the impression that immersionists are narrow and illiberal in regard to communion at the Lord?s table.

Open communion, on the part of Baptists, is not only unauthorized, but impolite. If it were divinely required, there should be an end to all controversy on the subject. If it were merely permitted, churches should be left to the exercise of their own taste and judgment in deciding on the expediency of its adoption. We believe that it is substantially forbidden; but that, if it were not, it would be impolite for Baptists, with their responsibilities and aims, to practice it. They believe that on them devolves the duty of restoring the ordinances of Christ to their primitive simplicity, design, and order, and of promoting the organization of churches according to the apostolic model. This is their mission, and they should avoid, whatever tends to defeat it. Open communion clearly leads in this direction.

The experience of the English Baptists has shed much light on the influence of open communion on the prosperity of churches. The practice is advocated mainly on the ground that it promotes brotherly affection and cooperation among evangelical Christians, and a candid examination of Baptist principles. These are certainly very important ends to gain; but let us inquire in what degree they are secured by the measure. We will ignore the fact that these objects might quite as easily, and, as we think, far more scripturally, be secured by the abandonment of infant sprinkling and a return to the primitive practice of immersion. Conceding that for their attainment Baptists shall adopt the practice of open communion, what will be the result?

Mixed church membership follows open communion by a logical necessity. Communion at the Lord?s table is a test of church fellowship. If Christians commune together, they may surely cooperate in whatever is needed to support and extend the communion. The adoption of open communion brings, not peace, but discord, to Baptist churches. It opens the question of mixed church membership, by which many of the English Baptist churches have been agitated and rent asunder. Of these churches, some are close communion, some are open communion, some are of mixed membership, and not a few are battling over the subject of mixed membership.

Yielding on the question of open membership? as yield they must, if they accept open communion, and are capable of feeling the force of an argument?the churches are met by the inquiry whether their officers shall be limited to Baptists. Why should they be, if the churches are composed of Baptists and Pedobaptists, immersionists and sprinklers? It is unreasonable, unjust, and offensive, if a church is composed of a mixed membership, to insist that its officers shall all be of one party. Such unfairness cannot be maintained. As a matter of fact, Baptist churches, adopting mixed membership, soon accept Pedobaptist deacons and pastors.

Even this concession does not put an end to controversy. The question necessarily arises: Why should a church, composed partly of Baptists and partly of Antibaptists, and having officers of either party, be called a Baptist church? The name is false, misleading, and cannot be reasonably defended for a moment. With the distinctive principles of Baptists, their name must take its departure. We know not how many, but certainly quite a number, of English Baptist churches, under the influence of open-communion principles, have ceased to be Baptist churches. The church in Bedford, to which John Bunyan ministered, is a notable instance of the transforming power of open communion.

The influence of open communion and mixed membership is decidedly unfavorable to the progress of Baptist principles. They are not adapted to a carnal and worldly taste. They are accepted only on divine authority, and that authority, to exert its proper influence, must be frequently held up to the attention and pressed on the consciences of men. They are pleasing to the humble, self-denying, and devout; but they are distasteful to the proud, the gay, and the fashionable. These would peril their salvation sooner than they would be publicly and. solemnly immersed in attestation of their loyalty to Jesus. It is not so with pedobaptism. It strongly appeals to parental affection, does not offend the most delicate taste, is recommended by the graces of poetry and the charms of painting, and is practiced by thousands as a beautiful and seemly ceremony, who do not admit its divine authority. It is entrenched in the creeds and honored in the practice of the most numerous, respectable, and influential Christian sects. It needs no advocates. Its history and associations give it influence and secure its perpetuity.

The obvious effect of mixed communion and mixed church membership is to stop the mouths of Baptist ministers concerning their distinctive principles. Suppose a minister is pastor of a mixed church. He derives his support partly from those who believe and partly from those who reject his peculiar principles. His influence, his happiness, and his usefulness depend on his securing the confidence, affection, and cooperation of the members of his church, of all parties. Can he be expected to preach plain, pointed sermons on the duty of all believers to be immersed, and on the evils of infant baptism? Why, the very act of receiving Antibaptists into the communion of the church is a public and solemn admission that Baptist principles are of little worth and need not be contended for. A few ministers of deep conviction and of great boldness may rise above these embarrassments, and give faithful utterance to their principles; but it is contrary to all the motives that govern human action to imagine that the number of such preachers could be great, or that the bravest would not be hampered by their associations. That such is the perplexing and restraining influence of mixed church membership, we were fully convinced by our observations on English Baptist meetings. Their leaders, men of learning, eloquence, and power, were constrained, by the courtesy due to a mixed membership, to avoid any vigorous utterance of distinctive Baptist principles.

If these be the influence and results of open communion, it is not surprising that persons who believe that the peculiar views of Baptists are erroneous should favor the practice. They are governed by sound policy. They pursue the wisest course to counteract the influence of Baptist principles. With their views, they act consistently. We only question the validity of their claim to any special liberality in their course. That Baptists are unwilling to adopt a practice whose logical results are open church membership and a renunciation of their distinctive principles and name, especially when in doing so they forsake the order of the primitive churches, is surely not wonderful. If their principles are scriptural, it is their plain and solemn duty to avoid all measures that tend to hinder their influence, and employ the most suitable means to secure their spread and triumph.

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