(Directions Concerning Communion of Saints and Church Relation 1)
If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. (2 John 10, 11)
Question.—What is the first direction to be studied?
Answer.—The first direction is that Christians ought to be cautious in forming religious connections because: 1.) Christians are to strive not to live single and unconnected from religious society, Heb. 10:25. They are to press into the kingdom of heaven, Luke 16:16. Even by going forth by the footsteps of the flock, Song 1:7, 8. Thus, they must not live in neglect of any commanded duty but rather seek to the putting on of every holy temper and walking in every divine institution, Matt. 16:24. None should separate themselves from the great cloud of witnesses who, in the apostolic age, associated themselves in church-connections as soon as they gladly received the word, Acts 2:41. Christians should not reject the benefit of godly society while they are on their way to the everlasting fellowship of life, Phil. 2:1, 2. 2.) Christians must consider well the principles, constitution and practices of the church with which they intend to join, 1 Cor. 10:15. There are some distinguishing characteristics of a true church which ought to be seriously considered before entering into actual communion with any part of the professing visible church, 1 Thess. 5:21. It is neither safe nor honorable to join with any body that refuses to stand upon the truths of the gospel corrupting or denying fundamental articles of the faith, 1 Tim. 3:15. It is dangerous and contrary to a spiritual disposition to join with any religious body that authorizes worship that is taught and enjoined by the authority of man, John 4:24. The true church is careful to keep the ordinances of the Bible unalloyed with human services and rites, Lev. 10:3. Additionally, there should be a reasonable prospect of growth in grace and the edification of the soul, 2 Pet. 3:18. It is also both prudent and necessary that Christians consider the effectual exercise of discipline in making a proper distinction between what is precious and vile, Jer. 15:19. The purpose of which is to enforce boundaries both doctrinal and practical, Rev. 2:2, 6, 14, 15. Lastly, there should be a consideration of whether or not a church is tyrannical in her discipline, 2 Cor. 10:6 with 2 Tim. 2:25. 3.) Christians should seriously consider what ends and purposes they seek by joining themselves to a congregation, Matt. 11:7. The heart is deceitful and, therefore, men should take care that their motives and aims are honorable and principled, 1 John 2:19. The proper end and motive should be to profess and contend for the system of sound principles which constitute the true religion, Jude 3. This should be according to that form of sound words exhibited by her from the sacred oracles, 2 Tim. 1:13. This should be coupled with a desire to observe the simplicity of gospel-worship, Matt. 15:8, 9. Within this relation, there should be a desire to maintain and submit to the impartial exercise of church discipline, Heb. 13:17. Finally, there needs to be a wish and hope to promote and preserve a holy conversation and a religious communion amongst the brethren, 2 Pet. 1:5-7.
Question.—What is the second direction to be studied?
Answer.—The second direction is that Christians ought to be steadfast in maintaining their religious connections because the association of those who heard the apostolic preaching was not temporary or occasional, Acts 2:42. Failure to study steadfastness always issues in instability and occasions many attendant errors because: 1.) This neglect subverts one of the main designs of fellowship and renders the ministry of the word fruitless, 2 Pet. 1:8. Besides the discouragement offered to them that seek the good of their souls, such provoke the Lord and do injury to their own souls, 1 Thess. 5:12, 13. 2.) This neglect of constant attendance represents a breaking of solemn obligations before the Lord to walk with their brethren in all the services of their social relations, Mal. 3:16. The engagement is always to be such as testifies the union and communion of those saints which enter this relation, 1 Cor. 10:17. 3.) This neglect is a cause of offense in the church of God whereby others are instructed by this example to be careless in regard for their own souls, 3 John 11. Now, if an action of but an indifferent nature becomes sin when done with offense, how much more this action which disregards the ordinance of God, Rom. 14:20? 4.) This neglect causes a real prejudice and hurt to the church because it weakens the hands and hearts of those contending for the truth and it is a symptom of the increase of iniquity in the hearts of those who are so careless, Matt. 24:12. 5.) This neglect has many pernicious effects upon those who succumb to such laxity of practice as the power of godliness usually decays in proportion as people are lax and negligent in stated duties of religious communion, Tit. 2:14; Rev. 3:15, 16.a