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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
R. M. Dudley
Georgetown, Kentucky, 1892
"And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?"—Luke 6:46.
This sermon is devoted to a discussion of the question of Closed Communion. In one word, this is our plea:
We ask, for ourselves, the simple liberty to administer the ordinances of the Lord's House in such a way as our consciences tell us that His Word requires.
We ask the charity of others that they recognize our right to do this, and that they charge our course to this motive alone—not to bigotry, uncharitableness, or illiberality. We ask no more, and surely there will be granted no less, than this. We do not arrogate to ourselves a wisdom or piety superior to others; but, "with malice towards none, and charity for all," we ask that we be allowed to follow our conscientious convictions in all matters pertaining to the Kingdom of Heaven. As it is by the Word of God that we are to be approved or condemned, we feel bound to follow that Word just where it leads us.
There are many plausible objections to Closed Communion, which are persistently thrust forward with a skill and energy "worthy of a bitter cause." These have been answered over and over again; but as the thoughts of men are particularly occupied with the objections to Closed Communion, rather than with its true meaning and significance, there is no alternative but to expose their unsoundness once more. The strongest objections will be selected and their full force given to them.
First.—"It is the Lord's Table; you have no right to prevent the Lord's people from approaching it."
It is strange to see how differently different minds will reason and conclude from the same premises. To my mind it appears that, because it is the Lord's table, is the greatest of all reasons why we have no voice in the matter one way or another, to say who shall, or who shall not come to it. We can afford to be generous with what belongs to us, but with what belongs to another, we have no right to do anything at all, save what he has directed.
If the Table were ours we might have some discretion as to what we would do with it. Or, if the Table were the Lord's, but he had left the administration of it to our choice, still we might have some discretion about it. But the Table is the Lord's, and he has left the directions for the administration of it in the New Testament, and we must do as he has said, or prove recreant to our trust. I agree with those who urge this objection, that the Table is the Lord's. "Therefore," say they, "it should be open to all." My mind works in the exactly opposite direction. The Table is the Lord's ; therefore, I have no voice in the matter at all, except to follow the directions he himself has given us. The reader can decide which conclusion is right.
Moreover, a fallacy lurks under this specious plea in that it asserts what no recognized body of Christians, believes, that no other qualification is necessary but conversion; whereas it is almost universally conceded that baptism is a qualification for the Supper. The objection properly stated would be this ; "It is the Lord's Table; you have no right to prevent the Lord's baptized people from approaching it The objection thus stated (and it covers a fallacy when not thus stated), carries its own answer along with it; for it clearly implies that the Lord's unbaptized people have not the Scriptural qualifications for the Supper.
Second.—"The Scriptures say: 'Let a man examine himself;' from which it is inferred that, if he is satisfied with his own fitness and right to the Supper, we have no right to interpose a barrier."
The fallacy of the objection becomes apparent when we remember that altogether a different state of things exists among us today, from what existed when Paul penned these words. We have a score of different sects, each claiming to be the Church of Christ, and this language is so interpreted as to make it mean that if the members of one of these sects are satisfied with their fitness and right to the Supper, that that entitles them to admission to the Supper, whensoever and by whomsoever spread.
According to this we may have intercommunion not only of Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Congregationalists, Reformers and Baptists, but of Catholics, Trinitarians, Universalists, and so on; because, according to his own examination of himself, each one is satisfied with his right to the Table. But who, among evangelical Christians, believes in carrying intercommunion that far? Nobody! And so it turns out that the objection is not believed by the very ones even in whose mouths it is formed!
Besides, let it be remembered that this language was not addressed to a score of sects, for the purpose of leaving the question of fitness for the Supper to the individual determination of each, as the objection supposes; but it was addressed to the members of one church, (Corinth), and was designed to prevent the very thing which this objection tacitly sanctions. At Corinth, the Supper had been greatly abused, and the source of this abuse was the idea that each might act for himself.
Against this Paul protests. Hear what he says: "Wherefore, whosoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep, [have died]." Instead of sanctioning loose communion, this language enjoins carefulness, strictness; and instead of leaving each individual merely to be satisfied with himself, it expressly commands him to examine himself lest he be guilty of a violation of the ordinance, and so bring condemnation, and perhaps sickness and death.
But passing all this by, is it pretended by those who urge this objection that the right of individual judgment, flowing from individual self-examination. shall supersede the right of judgment by the whole collective body of the church? Certainly not, I suppose. Then, if not, suppose there should be a conflict between the judgment of an individual as to his fitness, and the judgment of the church, which should yield? Does Jesus Christ expect nothing of his churches, and everything of individuals ? Should an individual override the conscience of the whole church?
May a church seek refuge from the responsibility of having tolerated a known violation of the requirements of the Divine Word under the plea that every man must judge for himself? The answer is, When the requirements of the law are made known, churches are responsible for themselves, as well as an individual for himself. And it is as unmanly and as unfaithful in a church, as in an individual, to try to shirk the responsibility or performance of a delicate and unpleasant duty.
The Lord's Supper is a church ordinance, and the laws governing that ordinance have been plainly revealed; and it is the duty of an individual to examine himself, and so eat and drink; and it is the duty of the church to enforce the laws which have been left to her to administer. In 1 Cor. 5:11, this duty of the church .s distinctly urged and commanded: "But now I have written unto you not to keep company if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat." This means "not to eat at the same table with such: whether at the love feasts (Agape) or in private intercourse, much more at the Lord's table."
That the communicant should he be a converted man, a baptized man, a church member, is as plainly declared in the Scriptures as that lie should be a moral man, and just in his deportment. If it is the province and duty of the church to judge the communicant as to his possession of a part of these Scriptural qualifications, and the apostle distinctly asserts that it is, no less can it be the province and duty of the church to judge the communicant as to his possession of all the Scriptural qualifications. And if the church has not this right, aye, if this duty does not solemnly rest upon her, then the Lord's Table is a prey to designing men, and the church herself is impotent to determine or preserve her own character.
Third—Another common objection which we hear is this: I do not believe that it is right to separate Christian people. I think they ought to meet together at the Lord's Table.
1. It is difficult to see the consistency of the outcry against Closed Communion, while separation into different denominations is at once tolerated and justified. If the Lord's people can consistently come together at the Lord's Table, what reason is there for their living in and maintaining separate Church establishments? If their differences should not keep them apart at the Lord's Table, why should they anywhere? To say that there may be consistent intercommunion between the different sects is to brand them as being so many schismatics.
Upon the basis of the consistency of intercommunion, one of the greatest sins of the Christian world is its division into so many sects; because there can be no consistent intercommunion except between those churches whose views of divine truth are so accordant that membership in the one may justly entitle an individual to membership in the other. But for two such bodies to live apart is not only schism, but it is a wicked consumption of talent and wealth which might otherwise be employed in the evangelization of the world.
But if the diverse denominationalism of the Christian world is not a rank and crying sin, intercommunion is a sham, all the worse that it wears the cloak of piety and love. And such a sham it is when two persons sit down side by side at the Lord's Table, while in their hearts there is a lack of Christian confidence and fellowship, and so a betrayal of their honest convictions, and a moral cowardice that shrinks from the responsibility of standing by one's principles.
2. This objection seems to overlook the fact that Christians are already separated, and that independently of the Table, But for this separation, whether at the Table, or elsewhere, we allege that Baptists are not responsible. Let us look at separation at the Table. It has already been seen that the question between the bulk of the religious world and Baptists is not one of communion at all, but of baptism.
Now there is a common ground between them, upon which they may meet and compose their differences, and that ground is the validity of immersion. Those who practice otherwise admit the validity of immersion, for they accept it without hesitation, and occasionally practice it. But they say that another act will suffice, and, as more convenient and popular, they prefer it. Baptists cannot see it in this light. It appears to them that immersion alone is baptism; that to speak of baptism by sprinkling is as much a solecism as to speak of running by crawling.
Others can conscientiously practice immersion; Baptists can not conscientiously practice sprinkling. Which should yield? Should conscience yield to convenience, or convenience yield to conscience? Should principle yield to preference, or preference to principle? Now, as a Baptist, I am frank and bold to say that, if our positions were reversed, I would gladly yield to them. If we believed that either immersion or sprinkling was valid, and they could not conscientiously accept immersion, but sprinkling only, we would cheerfully relinquish our preference for immersion as the more beautiful and expressive rite, and practice sprinkling.
Not for a moment would we allow our convenience and preference to weigh in the balances against their conscience and principle; but instantly they should be relinquished, that we might strike hands in fellowship and love upon this question. But while our brethren are in this position to yield without the sacrifice of principle, we are not. Which of us is the more responsible for the separation? By just as much as conscience should be above convenience, as principle should be above preference, by just so much does the responsibility of the separation not rest upon Baptists.
Fourth.—It is objected that Baptists make too much of baptism. It is not a saving ordinance; why make such an ado about it?
If we were disposed to retort, we might say that the charge comes with bad grace from those who practice sprinkling or pouring; since it was the belief that baptism is a saving ordinance that first led to the change in the primitive practice, in such cases as the sick, when baptism was deemed impracticable and dangerous. Yet that they might not die without the regenerating fluid, in such cases sprinkling or pouring was substituted for baptism. Baptists have neither unduly exalted nor debased the ordinance of baptism. They keep it just where the Master put it.
The same with the Supper. They do not seek to exalt the Supper above baptism. Both are divine ordinances, and were established by the same lips. The Master placed one at the entrance of the church, the other within the church. No one has the right to run over the one ordinance, baptism, to get to the other, the Table. All the commands of Jesus are full of power, sweetness and beauty. Obedience is the test of love, in small matters as well as great. A command to pick up a pin is as sure a test of love as a command to put out a fire that is burning down a house,—perhaps a surer one. To put out the fire is of so great importance that it would be done without a command; whereas, the command to pick up a pin carries with it no reason for obedience save that it is commanded.
But underlying this question about baptism is one that is not of minor importance,—the Headship of Christ. If Christ ordained immersion, have we any right to change it? The Catholic Church says: "Yes; and we have done it."
Calvin says on Acts 8: 38: "They went down into the water. Here we see the rite used among the men of old time in baptism; for they put all the body into the water. Now the use is this, that the minister doth sprinkle the body or the head. . . . It is certain that we want nothing which maketh to the substance of baptism. Wherefore the church did grant liberty to herself since the beginning to change the rites somewhat excepting the substance." (Edinburg: by Calvin Translation Society, quoted by Jeter.)
But if we claim the right to change what Christ has ordained, where will the matter end? Where has it landed the Catholic Church, which arrogates to herself the right to change the laws of Christ? Look at her today and contrast her with the teachings of God's word, and let that be our answer.
Jesus Christ is the head of the Church and the King in Zion, and among the last words which, he caused to be spoken is a curse upon him who should "add to" or ''take away from the words of the book." Rather let my hand or tongue be palsied than do or attempt such a thing.
We conclude as we began. Baptists simply ask for themselves the liberty to administer the ordinance of the Lord's House in such a way as their consciences tell them that His Word requires. They ask their fellow Christians of other names to recognize their right to do this, and charge their course to this motive alone, not to prejudice, bigotry, uncharitableness, or an affectation of a superior piety or wisdom.
The practice of Closed Communion is the logical result of the principles which they have learned from the Scriptures. If they are wrong, either in the principles themselves, or in their practical application, we think they have the candor and manliness to acknowledge the wrong, when it is pointed out to them.
On a question like this, argument is more agreeable to them, and more becoming those who differ from them, than harsh words and bitter upbraidings. They desire to live on terms of brotherly kindness with all Christian people. They do not shrink from criticism and investigation They would be glad to have the world study their principles in the light of God's Word, and will cheerfully abide the result.
To my Baptist brethren I say, we should remember that we have naught to gain, but everything to lose by compromising the principles which we hold. Should fidelity to God's Word lend us to separation from those we love as well as our own lives, we should still be firm; remembering that true love to Jesus, as well as to our friends, should lead us to stand firmly by the truth.
Baptists have accomplished a noble work for the world. We do not believe that their mission is ended. Our fathers suffered imprisonment, stripes, banishment, death, that they might bequeath to us the rich legacy which we enjoy.
Shall we barter that legacy for popular applause? The early Christians were the "sect everywhere spoken against."
Our Master bore suffering and shame for us. If our principles bring reproach upon us, let us bear that reproach. Let us be careful to avoid bitterness and unholy strife. Let our lives abound in patience, forbearance, gentleness, goodness and truth, while we commit ourselves, not to men, but to God, who judgeth righteously.