(Arguments For the Practice Considered 4)
Why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions? (Song 1:7)
Question.—But didn’t Christ attend the Jewish synagogue though the worship was corrupted there?
Answer.—It is alleged that there were many corruptions in the Jewish church and yet Christ himself attended the ordinances, cf. Matt. 12:9. The reasons are quite obvious. As a nation, the Jews were selected to be the depositories of the only divine system of religion in the world, John 4:22. To have separated from them, would have been, either to relinquish the system, or to resort to another plan for its preservation than that which God had appointed, and a plan inconsistent with the divine arrangements for the coming of Messiah, Rom. 3:1-3. The solemn festivals could be celebrated nowhere but at Jerusalem, Zech. 14:16, 17; and none of the public ordinances of religion could be dispensed by any who were not of the tribe of Levi, Num. 16:4-11. Because no secession could take place, but at the expense of removing the ordinances of the visible church, God sent his prophets to testify against corruptions, Neh. 6:7; and it was enough if the faithful adhered to the testimony of the prophets, Neh. 9:26, as afterwards to the ministry of John the Baptist, and of our Lord, till the time appointed for what Paul calls “the reformation,” Heb. 9:10. At that time, a new order of things, warranting and demanding separation from the adherents of Judaism was to be introduced, Mal. 3:16, 17; 4:5, 6.
Now, Christ was born king of the Jews, Matt. 2:2; he was born a member of the Jewish church, Gal. 4:4; was regular in his attending sanctuary service, Luke 4:16; and was never found joining occasionally with others in their respective forms of worship, John 4:22. Attendance of temple worship afforded convenient opportunity to preach the Gospel and make known his character as Savior, Mark 6:2; John 2:14-16.
Further, it must be remembered that the constitution of the Jewish church was of according to the pattern, Heb. 8:5. Though Christ upbraids the Jews for many things, yet nowhere does he charge them with corrupting the constitution of the church nor with tampering with the Scriptures, cf. Acts 7:38.
Question.—Isn’t it true that the apostles didn’t require separation from corrupt churches in their time?
Answer.—Though we acknowledge many corruptions in the churches of Corinth, Galatia and Asia Minor, yet no separation was commanded or necessary because the churches were still under apostolic authority, 1 Thess. 2:13. In fact, the very epistles addressed to them were the means employed to reform them, cf. 1 Cor. 5:1-6 with 2 Cor. 2:6, 7.
The existence of secession is prospectively recognized in the apostolic writings, and the lawfulness of it, when other measures for effecting reformation are defeated is clearly asserted and enjoined as a duty, 2 Thess. 3:6, 14; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; Acts 19:9; 2 Cor. 6:14; Rev. 3:11.
Additionally, when we consider that Christ sharply reproves some churches, cf. Rev. 2:5, 14; 3:16, how can we join with such communions and escape the charges laid to their accounts?
Question.—Doesn’t chapter XXVI of the Westminster Confession support the practice of occasional hearing?
Answer.—When the Confession states that, “all saints… are obliged to the performance of such public and private duties as conduce to their mutual good,” several things must be kept in mind. First, there is no mutual good following attendance on the administration of ordinances, which, because of their unscriptural constitution we have no reason to expect the divine blessing, Jer. 23:21, 22. Second, if no other term of communion is required than visible saintship, then persons of “upright” appearance must be admitted out of almost every denomination, contrary to Scripture, cf. Amos 3:3; Phil. 1:27.
When the Confession states that we are to be “united to one another in love,” this cannot be understood as precluding those commands to separate from those who walk disorderly and not according to the apostolic rule, cf. Rom. 16:17, 18. Likewise, we must understand that phrase “saints by profession.” There is not acceptable saintship by profession in a faithful communion that allows one to continue in error, cf. 1 John 4:6.
Lastly, we should consider the words, “Which communion, as God affordeth opportunity, is to be extended to all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.” These words are taken almost verbatim from Scripture, 1 Cor. 1:2. We must interpret according to the sense and not merely the sound of words, Neh. 8:8. Unity of sentiment in religion, for which they so much contended, shows beyond possibility of doubt, that the communion of which they speak can be considered as extending only to those engaged in the same cause and testimony of Jesus, Ezek. 11:19; Acts 4:32.