(Principles of Fellowship—The Governing of Church Communion)
For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions (i.e., schisms) among you; and I partly believe it. (1 Cor. 11:18)
Question.—Are order and discipline necessary to the honor and edification of the visible church?
Answer.—Even the wildest enthusiasts admit the need for some kind of order and discipline in their assemblies. This universal practice is founded on several unerring (i.e., undeceiving) principles: 1.) The present condition of human nature requires it, Rom. 8:7; 1 Pet. 2:13, 14. Because man is endued with reason he is a subject capable of being governed, Rom. 13:1. There are many mere pretenders to Christianity in the visible church, whose defiled hearts are always ready to send forth streams of impurity, to the discredit of their profession, 2 Thess. 3:6. Even the saints of God have a powerful law working in their members, which is a root of bitterness that springs up to trouble the church, Rom. 7:23. All of these considerations unite to demonstrate the necessity of an order and discipline to be observed in the visible church both to preserve her purity and support her credit before the world, 1 Cor. 14:23-25. 2.) Order and discipline are the appointed ordinance of Heaven for the use of the church, Col. 2:5. Additionally, we are told this involved some kind of governments set up in the church, 1 Cor. 12:28. 3.) Order and discipline are in many ways useful to the visible church; for her honor, Rom. 2:24; for her purity, 1 Cor. 5:6; for her comfort, Isa. 35:3, 4.
Question.—Is a credible profession of godly walking sufficient to recommend someone for admittance, or continuance, as a member of a particular church?
Answer.—That this is the prevalent practice of the stricter evangelical churches today is without doubt. Before answering the question, it is important to stress several things: 1.) We do not dispute that members of the visible church ought to be supposed real Christians before being received into communion in any particular fellowship, Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 1:2. 2.) A credible appearance of godly conversation is a clear foundation for a charitable opinion of another person, or persons, being real Christians and loving them as brethren, Col. 3:12-15; Gal, 5:14. 3.) Such an appearance is absolutely necessary to entitle a person to visible communion and no substitute can supply its lack, in order to render church fellowship safe or rational, 1 John 2:6. 4.) This appearance, however genuine, is not sufficient to recommend persons, either for the admitting of them to, or continuing in, the communion of particular churches—unless there is professed subjection to the system of church order and discipline in that communion, 2 Cor. 9:13; Eph. 5:24; 1 Thess. 5:14.
The proof of this position arise from these plain facts: 1.) Church communion is formed by mutual agreement and consent of the members to adhere to one system of faith, to observe one system of worship, and to walk under one church administration, Amos 3:3. 2.) Harmony of church administration in worship, discipline and conversation, is necessary for the edification of her members and her appearing respectable in the eyes of the world, 1 Cor. 14:33. God is in no way the author, abettor, or encourager, of any disorderly or irregular management, which has a natural tendency to throw worship into confusion and breed disorder in the church, 1 Cor. 7:15; 11:16; Rom. 15:33. 3.) Christians cannot walk together in love for their mutual edification and comfort, in a state of church fellowship, unless they have stricter connections than bare credible appearances of Christianity, John 13:34, 35. Nature itself teaches us to establish more intimate social alliances upon principles of prudence, exhibiting care and management, Luke 14:28-30. 4.) The example of primitive Christians, in the apostolic age, confirms these observations. It is clear they either submitted to, and observed the ordinances of gospel worship, and the holy fellowship delivered by the apostles; or else they refused and refusing, they were branded for not walking orderly, 1 Cor. 11:2; Rom. 16:17; 2 Thess. 2:14, 15; 3:6, 7.
This view is further confirmed when we consider that the church is a term frequently used to comprehend those called out of the world lying in wickedness, 1 John 5:19; in order that they might be set apart to the service of Christ, Eph. 5:25, 26. Thus, the church is to be made up friends of Christ, who make her visible through observing his commands, John 15:14. Yet, there are many who appear friends and offer an external homage which bears no correspondence to the end and design of the church, Rom. 9:6. They grow, for a time, as tares among the wheat, making fair profession of the name of Christ, Matt. 13:24-30. The design and carnal hearts of those, which blaspheme by their profession, are open to Christ, Rev. 2:9. These are not to reckoned members of Christ’s mystical body and by drawing the bonds of fellowship more and more into conformity to Christ, these are encouraged to show their true character—and leave, 1 John 2:19. On the contrary, the visible church, as the society of Jesus, evidences its obedience to him by rendering church membership visible in fellowship, Heb. 10:25—and this fellowship is to their edification and being made steadfast in the faith, 1 Thess. 5:11; Acts 2:42.