committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

BAPTIST PRINCIPLES RESET

PART 1

CHAPTER 13.

Incidental Points Pertaining to Close Communion.

 

We are often asked by persons, heartily accepting Baptist principles in the main, why the immersed members of Pedobaptist churches and the members of churches practicing immersion are not invited to commune in Baptist churches. We admit, say they, that baptism is a prerequisite to communion; but these believers have been immersed, and some of them by duly qualified Baptist ministers?why, then, should they not be admitted to the Lord?s table? The question is important, and deserving of candid consideration.

Faith and baptism are conditions precedent of a participation or the Lord?s supper; but they are not the only terms of admission to it. We have endeavored to show that the supper is a feast within, and not without, a church, designed for all its members, and only for its members, or for members of other churches maintaining the same terms of communion. The exercise of discipline and the privilege of communion are coextensive. In the apostolic churches, none were permitted to commune who were not subject to ecclesia8tical discipline. Paul, in the exercise of his apostolic authority, required the church at Corinth to put away from among them the incestuous member; and afterwards, when he furnished proofs of his repentance, to restore him to their fellowship (1 Cor. 5:1-5; 2 Cor. 2:5-8). This transgressor was, for a time, excluded from a participation of the Lord?s supper (1 Cor. 4:11). By common consent, this act of exclusion from a church is called excommunication; that is, expulsion from communion. So thoroughly is this truth embedded in the popular mind, that communion and church membership are expressions used interchangeably. A member of a Presbyterian or an Episcopal church is called a communicant of the church.

Piety and baptism do not constitute one a member of a Baptist church. He must, in order to become a member of it, seek admission into it, adopt its essential principles, and submit to its discipline. To continue a member of it, he must walk in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, if not without blame, at least without gross and persistent departures from them. "Now we command you, brethren," said Paul, to "the church of the Thessalonians," "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly and not after the tradition which he received of us" (2 Thess. 3:6). To walk "disorderly" is to live in vice, or in willful transgression. By "tradition" the apostle meant the doctrine or teaching which he and his associates had received from Christ and imparted to the Thessalonians. To walk "disorderly" is, we judge, to walk "not after the tradition" received from the apostles. The latter phrase is explanatory of the former. No command can be more imperative than that laid on churches to withdraw from disorderly walkers, who respect not the teaching of the apostles. "We command you," said Paul and his companions, not in their own names, but "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly," &c. This withdrawal was to extend to "every brother"?rich or poor, high or low, kinsman or stranger?who walked "disorderly"; that is, persistently pursued a course contrary to the apostolic teaching. No plea of friendship, ignorance, or expediency can set aside this law.

We must now inquire whether the connection of immersed believers with Pedobaptist churches, or with other religious bodies, deemed unsound in doctrine or irregular in practice, is disorderly walking and contrary to apostolic teaching. In this argument, we must take for granted the truth of Baptist principles. Conceding that churches should be composed exclusively of immersed believers, and that communion at the Lord?s table should be restricted to church members, is the course of Baptists in uniting with Pedobaptist churches, or with other bodies, not sound in faith and practice, orderly and according to apostolic "tradition"? We think not. Their course is not in harmony with the admitted principles. They voluntarily withdraw themselves from a church scripturally organized, and give their influence and labors to the support of principles which they admit to be false. In principles, they are Baptists; in profession and influence, they are Pedobaptists. Clearly it is their duty to support and disseminate the principles which they admit to be true. We believe, say they, that only believers are proper subjects of baptism, and nothing is baptism but immersion; but their example is at war with their convictions. In short, they concede that Christ has established one order for the constitution of his church, and they, for convenience or respectability, or from indifference to his authority; follow another. Such a course could not have been pursued in the apostolic times without incurring the charge of walking "disorderly," and "not after the tradition" received by the Spirit of inspiration.

It may be pleaded, in behalf of these inconsistent Baptists, that they are pursuing the course dictated by their consciences. We are not considering specially what is their duty, but what is the duty of the churches in regard to them. We do not judge these irregular Baptists. We consider them in error; but what allowance is to be made for their lack of information, their temperaments, their associations, and their peculiar circumstances, we know not. Their Master will judge them. Let them have due respect for their conscientious convictions. These may govern their own conduct; but they are no guide for the churches. They should be controlled by the Scriptures, honestly and intelligently interpreted and faithfully applied. If these teach that communion should be limited to churches, that churches should withdraw from all disorderly walkers, and that those walk disorderly who abandon churches scripturally constituted, to support those that are defective and irregular in their formation, then the duty of Baptist churches regarding these erring brethren is clear and imperative.

It is a pity that all Christians cannot commune together. We have no sympathy with those who believe that divisions among churches are good. They are evil, and are fraught with incalculable mischiefs. It is certainly to be deplored that all Baptists cannot commune together, according to the inspired order. Their identity of principles, interests, and aims should draw them together; and we wish to address some remarks to Baptists unconnected with regular Baptist churches.

There can be no union and communion between these parties without a yielding on one side or the other. The mountain must go to Mohammed, or Mohammed must come to the mountain. The denomination cannot yield its principles. They are grounded in its convictions, incorporated in its literature, and are the bond of its union. No man nor set of men, no arguments nor influence, can swerve it from its long-cherished doctrines. The mountain cannot go to Mohammed. There can scarcely, however, be any insuperable obstacle to the union of individual Baptists with Baptist churches. These irregular Baptists may deem it their privilege?they can hardly consider it their duty?to commune with Pedobaptists. There is no divine law requiring them to commune in churches whose baptisms they consider invalid. It is their duty to partake of the Lord?s supper in the prescribed order; but surely there is neither precept nor example binding them to commune in Pedobaptist churches. Admitting, for the sake of the argument, that it is their right to do so, still they would violate no law, sacrifice no principle, and do no injury in declining to exercise it. Mohammed can come to the mountain.

As matters stand in this country, a Baptist cannot commune, however much he may desire it, in both Baptist and Pedobaptist churches. He must make his election between them. Either he must unite with Pedobaptists, and give his example, influence, and labors, indirectly, at least, to the support of pedobaptism, or he must join the Baptists and enlist his energies in support of their principles. It is strange that he should hesitate for a moment in making his choice. With Baptists he differs on a single point?the terms of admission to the Lord?s table; from Pedobaptists he dissents on the conditions of church membership and on the subjects and act of Christian baptism?Principles deeply affecting the form and prosperity of the churches.

A Pedobaptist church is no home for a Baptist. Many years ago, we were conversing with a minister of another denomination, a most fiery advocate of open communion. We said to him: "If I were a member of your church, holding the principles that I do, and deeming it my duty to maintain and make proselytes to them, what would you do with me?" He promptly replied: "We should expel you." "That would be according to your discipline," said I; "but should I unite with a Baptist church, and propose to commune with you, would you admit me to your communion?" He frankly answered: "It would seem to be inconsistent."

The truth is, no earnest Baptist can long remain in a Pedobaptist church. It is only by ignoring his principles or keeping them in abeyance that he can be received into such a church. If he is intelligently convinced of their truth and importance, and deems it his duty?as undoubtedly he should? to disseminate them, he will soon find that he is an unwelcome member. The church will have no use for him, if he speaks in disparagement of infant baptism and pleads for the immersion of believers. They would excommunicate him, as a teacher of false doctrine and a disturber of the peace of the church. There is but one consistent course for a Baptist, and that is to be a member of a Baptist church, and labor, lovingly and faithfully, by all the means within his power, to defend and diffuse his principles.

 
 
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