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Occasional Communion


Occasional Communion

James Dodson

"For everyone to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper, without distinction or selection, is a sign of contempt that the Lord cannot endure. The Lord himself distributed the supper to his disciples only. Therefore anyone not instructed in the doctrine of the gospel ought not to approach what the Lord has instituted. No one should be distressed when his Christianity is examined even down to the finest point when he is to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper.  It should be established as part of the total state and system of discipline that ought to flourish in the church that those who are judged unworthy should not be admitted."—John Calvin, "Letter on Various Subjects" (Calvin’s Ecclesiastical Advice)

MR. EDITOR,—I wish to call the attention of the ministers and members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church to the subject of occasional communion. It is confidently commended as an admirable means to heal divisions, and bring into one fold the scattered flock of the Redeemer. The unity of the church is exceedingly desirable. Her broken and enfeebled condition has nearly destroyed her moral influence, and placed those who love our Lord Jesus in a position seemingly hostile to each other. Good men, in all denominations, are weary of the strife. True religion is reproached. The sinner and the thoughtless beholding so much jealousy, and even bitterness, among professing Christians, despise religion, regard all professors as hypocrites, and strengthen themselves in their rebellion. The various plans to promote unity should be carefully examined, and whatever tends to unite true believers should be diligently, perseveringly, and believingly, followed by every Christian.

Of the various schemes proposed to accomplish this object, that of Ammonius Saccus has been received with the greatest favour, and exercised the most extended influence in the Christian world. He was a very learned man, who flourished in the second century. Occupying a commanding position as teacher in Alexandria, he proposed a plan to unite the various sects both in philosophy and religion: and bring the pagan and the Christian into one visible church fellowship. His scheme was simple. He maintained that the great principles of all philosophical and religious truth were to be found equally in all sects; that they differed from each other only in their method of expressing them, and in some opinions of little or no importance, and that by a proper interpretation of their respective sentiments they might easily be united into one body. In order to this, the fables of the priests should be removed from paganism, and the comments and interpretations of the disciples of Jesus from Christianity, and the object would be gained. Multitudes received these doctrines with favour. The distinction between truth and error being abolished, the offence of the cross was removed, and his disciples greatly increased.

He made almost superhuman efforts to accomplish the union; but he died before its consummation. His doctrines did not perish with him. They spread far and wide, and his disciples are at present numerous, active, jealous and persevering. Their creed is, "One religion is as good as another. The difference is in things not essential. If Christians would only lay aside their sectarianism, a union could easily be effected." Sectarianism is supposed to be the only foe to ecclesiastical union; and occasional communion in the word and ordinances is confidently expected to destroy this remaining enemy. Indeed, its value can hardly be over-estimated! If the ministers and members of the various denominations, notwithstanding their hostile creeds, different modes of worship, and opposing forms of government, can unite in the ministrations of the sanctuary, or at the table of the Lord, they cannot continue to regard doctrine, mode of worship or form of church government, as among the essentials of Christianity! They will gradually learn to view all religions as alike, and the whole affair being only a matter of convenience, there will be nothing to quarrel about, the church will have peace, and her members dwell together in delightful harmony! The jealousy arising from hostile creeds will cease, the bitterness occasioned by testifying against all corruptions and human inventions in religion no longer exist, the happy period, so long promised and so ardently desired, shall arrive, "When the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain!"

Occasional communion has already accomplished so much in abating our zeal for the faith once delivered to the saints, and in lessening our abhorrence of corrupt doctrine and modes of worship, that the most sanguine expectations of its friends seem likely to be realized. And those who suggest a doubt on the subject, or refuse to swim with the current, are viewed with suspicion, sometimes with dislike, as if they were really hostile to the unity, harmony, and prosperity of the church.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church has borne much of this reproach. She maintains that the Church should have terms of Christian communion,—that those opposed to these terms should not be admitted to church-fellowship,—and that occasional communion should not be extended to persons who should not be admitted to constant fellowship. Adhering to these great principles, she has not acceded to the open communion scheme, nor as yet has she been active in any of the alliances, plans of union,& c., &c., which of late have occupied so much time and talent in the Christian church. She has viewed these movements with deep interest, hoping and praying that all discussions might tend to convince of the value and necessity of making revealed truth the only basis of union. She cannot much longer remain a spectator. The question has now become a practical one. If we wish to maintain our position, we must examine anew its strength, and establish our defence. The question must be met and argued. None of our ministers or members, so far as known to me, advocate occasional communion with those who refuse our terms of church fellowship, yet some of the ministers do practise it, and not a few sessions connive at the practice in their members. The question should be carefully examined. And if, on examination, we find that we have no warrant to apply the measuring reed to the temple, the altar, and the worshipper, we should, as honest men, confess the sin of our past course, purge our subordinate standards, and reform our practice. Delay is dangerous. Occasional communion is at this moment sapping our strength, and striving to overturn our system of truth and order. Vows are lightly esteemed; adherence to the doctrine and order of the church gradually becoming a matter of convenience; discipline for breach of vow rendered almost impossible; and apostacy distressingly frequent. Those who practise occasional communion often going on to entire at abandonment of the fellowship and testimony of the church. Stumbling blocks are thrown in the path of the young. They see the inconsistency between the doctrines of the standards and the practice of occasional communion, and believing it better not to vow, than to vow and not pay, they refuse to acknowledge their baptismal obligations. To maintain our vow is by many considered bigotry, and to speak against occasional communion is interfering with the right of conscience, and breathes a spirit of persecution. Surely, then, dear brother, we should examine this question, and if we cannot defend the doctrines above quoted, we are bound, as honest men, if we would free our skirts from blood, to cease binding ourselves and the members of the church to terms of ecclesiastical fellowship for which we have no authority. On the other hand, if we find that from every brother that walketh disorderly we should withdraw, it is hoped that those who adopt the standards will abandon their practice of occasional communion, that in future we may live in love, walk by the same rule, and strive together "for the faith once delivered to the saints."

Hoping to hear soon from some of your correspondents on this important subject, I remain your fellow-labourer.—(1852).