(Principles of Fellowship—Considering Objections)
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.—What are some of the objections that are brought to oppose close communion or terms of communion?
Answer.—There are several objections that are brought which have an appearance of plausibility often because of the use of Scripture.
First, there are those objections based upon supposed Scriptural inferences which, they say, demonstrate the kingdom of God consists only in a spiritual disposition and a religious conversation, cf. Rom. 14:17, 18.
These verses contain Paul’s complaint against the impositions of those Judaizers who were seeking to bring the people of God into bondage again to the law as a ceremonies forming part of the substance of the worship and service of God, Gal. 2:4. The apostle is instructing those tempted by such impositions about the nature of the New Testament dispensation, Heb. 9:10.
Second, it is claimed that close communion is contrary to those passages would enjoin us to a mutual love and forbearance, cf. Rom. 14:19, 20.
Although our charity ought not to be restricted only to party, cf. 1 Cor. 1:12, 13; yet, genuine charity is such that it does center and rejoice in the truth, 1 Cor. 13:6. We are required to put forth ourselves to obtain and preserve unity and concord amongst the brethren, Rom. 12:18; however, this is never to be done at the expense of holiness, truth or order, Heb. 12:14; 2 Cor. 13:8.
Third, it is suggested that men have introduced terms of communion and restricted ecclesiastical membership based upon self-interest or through some other misguided impulse contrary to the catholic principle of admitting all upon their appearance of being Christian, cf. 2 Cor. 5:17.
That there are men who seek to form communions for their own profit and selfish gain is nothing new, 1 Tim. 6:5. Yet, it must be asked if this is a charitable construction to put on the effort of those who wish to restrict church fellowship to a visible and objective basis, cf. 1 Sam. 16:7 with Acts 2:42. The importance of discerning the Lord’s body is crucial to the well-being of the entire body, Num. 16:20-24; 1 Cor. 11:29, 30.
Fourth, it is objected that this principle based upon confessionalism is simply impractical and that the only way the church will ever be united is for all to be reduced to an outward profession of faith without seeking definition so as to remove outward factions and divisions, cf. Acts 2:38.
This plea is much along the lines of seeking to make communicant membership hinge upon membership in the invisible church, cf. Eph. 1:10. And, herein, is the very problem with this position—it confuses the invisible church with the visible church in such a way that it makes the visible church unnecessary in the matter of salvation, contrary to Scripture, cf. Gal, 4:26, 27 with Rom. 10:10. True religion is that which makes itself manifest, Acts 8:37, 38. Those who plead for communicant membership based upon being members of the invisible church at once act with too much presumption, Rom. 8:24; and, without any sense of the true religion, 2 Thess. 2:13, 14.
Fifth, it is objected that these principles induce men to study smaller points, or circumstances, while their minds are diverted from the great truths and practices of Christianity, Col. 2:6.
This objection studies much that distinction many wish to make between essential and non-essential in doctrine, contrary to the example of Scripture, Ex. 10:26. Every revealed truth of Scripture is to be afforded a place in the scheme of salvation, 2 Tim. 3:16. Although some doctrines are foundational, Heb. 6:1, 2; yet, we should not be deceived into thinking that anything God reveals is optional, Matt. 28:19, 20.
Sixth, it is objected that we are not to receive any to doubtful disputations, Rom. 14:1; yet in the pride of many words is contention, Prov. 13:10. So it better to agree upon those things which all do.
If the intention of the apostle’s words was to implead this principle, it is impossible to see how he is squared with himself, cf. Rom. 16:17, 18. He speaks here of the controversy in his day concerning Jewish ceremonies and commends the Gentiles to bear with their Jewish brethren whose esteem for Moses still overclouded their comprehension of their liberty in the Gospel, Gal. 5:13.
Seventh, it is objected that this position is contrary to the apostle’s admonition in Romans 15:7.
Nonetheless, it is certain that this cannot mean admit those who are openly hostile to Christ, cf. Col. 1:21. Nor has God given any infallible rule whereby we might know who is and who is not regenerate, Rom. 11:2. It is absurd to demand that that which is known only to God, real inward Christianity, be the test of admission to the church, however, we have every reason to conclude both our election and that of others when tested by the doctrine and practice of the Gospel, 1 Thess. 1:4, 5. Perhaps, most importantly, he does not say we are to receive whom Christ has received to the glory of God but we are to receive one another as Christ received us. This passage is teaching us to receive one another in the truth while forbearing with Jewish believers who had not yet left off Moses’ ceremonies. It is a far different thing to bear with Jews during a change of covenant administration versus tolerating false doctrine and profane practice.
Eighth, it is objected that imposing terms of communion and enforcing close communion we, in effect, excommunicate some whom the Lord receives to mercy, cf. Num. 23:8.
It is not fair to describe those as possessed of a credible profession of faith who refuse to submit to authority in Christ, 2 Thess. 3:6. Further, they, by refusing submission, excommunicate themselves, Phil. 3:15-19.