(Church Communion and Toleration)
And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches. (Acts 15:41)
Question.—May the church, as defined as a communion, or fellowship, of joint profession and conversation, tolerate in her members the practice or profession of anything she herself acknowledges to be sinful?
Answer.—Anything, whether of greater or lesser importance, regardless of whether or not it is still controverted amongst Christians, if it is really sinful and acknowledged by the church to be so, must be considered by that body to be opposite to those truths and duties professed, Rom. 14:22, 23. When the church condemns anything judicially, she is justly considered as holding it to be sinful—either it itself, or on account of offensive circumstances attending it, Acts 15:28. It cannot be supposed that a person would have been admitted a member of the church of Antioch, who should have refused the common burden of the church, Acts 15:30, 31. Additionally, no person could reject those decrees without being in some degree liable to the charge which the synod brought against the Judaizers, Acts 15:24.
If the church ought, according to the Lord’s express command, to teach her members to observe all things He taught, Matt. 28:20; then, she has an obligation to include the observance of those things, as far as the visible church-state will permit, in her terms of communion, Acts 16:4, 5. This is necessary for the following reasons:
1.) This is the appointed means of individuals progressing, or prospering in the truth and cause of God, 2 Chron. 20:20. The testimony of the church declares what is required to be believed, 1 John 4:6; and it is through belief of this that men are established, or confirmed, in the faith, Isa. 7:9; Acts 15:41.
2.) To exclude any of these things would be contrary to the watchful care the church ought to exercise over all her members, Lev. 19:17. This is the love that the church owes to all men, especially them of the household of faith, Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39.
3.) Toleration of contrary views and practices is contrary to and inconsistent with the good order of any society, 1 Cor. 14:40. When the church declares anything sinful, she declares it to be, on that matter, inconsistent with the great purpose for which she was designed, and with her testimony against the enemies of Christ, 2 Pet. 1:12. It stands in contrast to the professed appointed order of the house of God, Ezek. 43:12.
4.) Allowance, or toleration, of contrary views and practices declares the body to be characterized by something less than that abhorrence of sin which is the mark of all believers, Ps. 97:10; 101:3; 119:104, 128. In fact, it evidences the character of the unbeliever, Ps. 36:1-4.
5.) This toleration is inconsistent with the due maintenance of the testimony for the truth, which appears when we consider whom this toleration admits to church communion, 2 John 10, 11. For, if a church admits to her communion one person who obstinately rejects something which she herself acknowledges to be a truth or a duty of God’s word, she, in principle admits all who reject her testimony for the truth, Rev. 2:14-16, 20. All of which is against the apostle’s holy caveat, 1 Cor. 1:10.
6.) It is a toleration contrary to all those texts of scripture that warrant separation from corrupt churches and disorderly walkers, 2 Cor. 6:17; 2 Thess. 3:6. If we ought not to continue our fellowship with persons that walk disorderly, we ought much less to receive such into our fellowship, Eph. 5:11.
Question.—What should the terms of communion include?
Answer.—The need for terms of communion, like hedges or walls, is necessary to build up the spiritual Jerusalem and take away her reproach, Neh. 2:17. Like walls, they define the limits of the city, or community, of faith and provide points of defense from which attacks upon the truth may be repelled, Ps. 122:6-8. The walls of the church are build up by the divine determination, Ps. 51:18, 19. These terms should include the following:
1.) A primary recognition of the supreme authority of the Scriptures, of the Old and New Testaments, in all matters of faith and practice, 2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
2.) A recognition that these Scriptures and their true interpretation (i.e., understanding) are not two diverse things, Acts 8:30, 31.
3.) A profession that there is a body that exists by divine right and functions according to the divine ordinance, Ezek. 43:10, 11.
4.) An acknowledgment of the binding nature of the obligations and duties of this moral person, 2 Sam. 21:1, 2.
5.) An acquiescing in and approbation of the testimony of that body in contending for the truth and against all error, especially in her members, Rev. 12:11; Phil. 3:16, 17.
6.) A promise to seek to walk in a manner becoming the profession of the gospel in obedience to the commandments of the Lord, Col. 2:6.