The Original Attitude Toward the Lord’s Supper
The Signs of the Times, August 6, 1885
It has been remarked that it is quite uniformly believed that baptism is an initiatory rite. It is therefore not a church ordinance in the same sense the Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance. The supper is for those only who are fully church members, and it is to be celebrated repeatedly; of this it is said: “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Baptism being initiatory, it is a means of constituting a person a member of the church, but it does not necessarily constitute a person a church member. This is accomplished only by the action of the church. From what has already been said it is evident that the church has control of its own membership. It must exercise discipline; it must withdraw from those who walk disorderly; he that will not hear the church is to be unto them as a heathen man and a publican. Of course it is to determine who may become members. When Paul “assayed to join himself to the disciples” at Jerusalem (Acts 9:26) they would not receive him until he was recommended by Barnabas. And Paul’s order given to the Church of Rome is evidence that they exercised due care over their membership, or as to whom they received into their fellowship.
Romans 14:1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye.” “Admit the weak brother to Christian fellowship.” Bible commentary.
“The design here is to induce Christians to receive to their fellowship those who had scruples about the propriety of things.” etc. Barnes. “He exhorted the pastors and members of the church at Rome, to receive among them as a brother, the weak believer.” Scott. “Receive to your fellowship.” Clark. “Give him your hand as the old Syriac version renders it; count him one of you.” Dean Stanley.
As the Lords Supper belongs to church members only, it becomes important that we understand who are church members, or who are entitled to the privilege of communion. We say then, (1) No one can be a member of the church until he has been accepted by a vote of the church. (2) No one can be a member of the church until he has been baptized.
As we are treating of the visible church, or the church as an organized body, we are speaking of those qualifications, which may always be ascertained to a certainty. We hold as a matter of course that the church should not accept anyone to its membership without suitable evidence of his fitness for the position. Repentance and faith are almost are almost universally recognized as requisites to Christian character. But beyond this brief statement too brief to indicate the position of the church or of the candidate each denomination of professed Christians has some definite declaration of its faith; some peculiar expression of faith and practice, which it requires that all its members shall endorse and receive. Were this not the case they could not possibly satisfy even their own minds that there is any existence. Which is to say that different denominations attach different ideas to the words repentance and faith, and become the peculiar basis of their organizations. With some, repentance is but a vague indeterminate word, but there is not nearly that difference of opinion in regard to repentance that there is in regard to what constitutes faith – the faith of the gospel.
Our rule of testing the qualifications of members is briefly stated in the concluding part of the message of Revelation 14:9-12 “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” These terms express the whole sum of every possible duty of fallen man; the commandments of God, the moral law “summarily contained in the ten commandments” (Webster), the duty of man under all circumstances, but now broken therefore convicting all the world of sin. And the faith of Jesus, comprising all that is peculiar to the gospel of Christ as a remedy for sin; as the means of pardon, of restoration to obedience and imparting a hope of eternal life through Christ our Lord. In a word, we have in these the sum total of all pure morality and all true religion.
It is our firm belief that a person ought to have in his life and purpose a well-defined religious experience – a conviction of sin by the aid of the Holy Spirit and a fixed determination to walk in the truth – before he should be accepted to church membership. But while these are among the requisites to membership, they do not impart to any individual the privileges, which belong exclusively to church members. We speak now especially of that which we consider the third gospel ordinance- the Lord’s Supper. Many seem to suppose that, whatever may be their church relations, or if they have no relation to any church, they are entitled to the privilege of “communion” by virtue of their conversion; by reason of what they “feel” or have “experienced,” rather than by virtue of their conformity to the rules and regulations laid down for the guidance of the church and of church members. Against their claim we enter our hearty protest.
We deeply regret that such loose views have so largely obtained as they have throughout the land. It is to be lamented that the obligations of church membership are so lightly regarded as they are by multitudes of professed Christians; but we can expect nothing else where individuals claim, and are often allowed to receive, the benefits and privileges of church membership without taking upon themselves its obligations or showing a willingness to bear its responsibilities. They profess to be followers of Christ but they lightly regard His teachings in regard to His Church – His body. To such His words appeal: “And why call me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” Luke 6:46.
And we go farther. We may admit all that these individuals claim in regard to their conversion; we may admit that they are truly converted, and are accepted of God as believers in His Son, and yet not admit that they are entitled to the privileges of church members, unless they formally and properly become church members. This we cannot admit without breaking down every rule of church government and denying that he church has any control of its membership, or that it has any right of discipleine and of a determination as to who are and who are not members. Let it them b distinctly understood that evidence is not, of itself, evidence of a right to the privileges of sacramental communion. Were this to be received as sole or sufficient evidence of such right, it would become the means of breaking down all the church authority, and of destroying all the safeguards which the Lord has seen fit to set around His church. We think this proposition cannot be controverted. True, it may be contrary to the feelings of many well-intended Christians; but feelings are no argument, no test of duty. It cannot be denied that every Scripture ordinance has been changed or entirely ignored under the guise of pious feelings. There is no security in these matters except in strict conformity to divine instructions.
An individual is not a member by a vote of the church without baptism; neither is he a member by baptism without a vote of the church. And to baptize a person with the understanding that he shall be voted into the church at some future time is irregular. Baptism is an initiatory rite, must be under the control of that authority which accepts and rejects members, and not under the control of a minister, the pastor, or the officers of the church. The church alone can authorize the elder or pastor to administer baptism.
These remarks on baptism are made in this connection only because it is a prerequisite to partaking of the Lords supper. That it is so has been the opinion of the church in all ages. Some opinions which are no popular have become so by a struggle; but as far as we know there has never been a question raised on this point. It is not possible to draw a contrary view from the Scriptures.
But this directly involves the subject of communion with all denominations. Many charitably disposed brethren, in the kindness of their hearts, consider themselves under obligation to admit to our communion, or to go to the communion, of those who appear to be honest, pious people. It is then pertinent to inquire of such, would you admit those same people, on the ground of their piety, to membership in your church? To be consistent with the Scriptures, and with their own faith of the scriptures, they would have to reply, we could not admit them to our church as members unless they should first be baptized, and should conform to the requirements of our church, But then the inquiry further arises, Is it consistent to admit to the privileges of church members, those who have not the qualifications to become church members? If you cannot fellowship them as members, how can you fellowship them not being members?
In order to make our investigations practical, it will be proper to answer queries and objections which have actually been raised on the subject. Thus it is said, it is the Lord’s supper – the Lord’s table – not ours, and we have no right to exclude any who wish to come and who profess to be the Lord’s servants. But that is the very reason why we would be careful, and even exclusive. If it were our own table, we would admit many whom we cannot now admit. If the church were our own arrangement, we would accept many on the score of kindness, sympathy, and favor, whom we cannot now accept. But it is indeed the Lord’s church, and the Lord’s table, and as those to whom the truth and the ordinances are committed, we are in duty bound to keep the church as pure as may be possible, and admit to the Lord’s table those only whom we would admit to the Lord’s church. We might with equal propriety argue that baptism is the Lord’s ordinance, and we have no right to deny it to any applicant who professes a desire to follow the Lord. And the church is the Lord’s church, and we have no right to deny admittance to any who profess to be the Lord’s servants. But to follow out this rule would soon make the table a common table, and bring the church and its ordinance into contempt. We cannot believe that any person will put forth claims which lead to such results, if he will use reason and examine the Scriptures as to our obligations to the Lord and to His house.