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course of the whole discussion and to gain a clear view of the present position of the question,—the Scriptures were first commended to us in general as the Word of God by the testimony of the Spirit. Upon this basis they were employed according to the recognized principles of hermeneutics and they yielded a self-consistent system of religious doctrine. In its coherency with itself, this system had the first proof of its truth. But it has been successively compared with other spheres of truth, historical, experiential, philosophical, and has been found to be harmonious with them also. Thus it has the highest evidence of its truth, which consists essentially in the ultimate harmony of ideas. Its truth is its authority. It binds us because it speaks the truth. It has authority over us at points where we have not yet examined its entire truthfulness, because it has always spoken the truth hitherto. This is the meaning of the word “authority" when applied to a book such as the Scriptures. We need, however, to add certain elements to our study not yet introduced, and so must pass to consider, next, the nature and limitations of the authority of the Scriptures.
BY A BAPTIST DIVINE.
It is unfortunate when popular interest in a subject is worn out before the truth is reached. Possibly this may be the case with close communion. But I am so thoroughly convinced that the untenableness of the practice as it stands has not been sufficiently exposed, that I am inclined to incur the risk of a doubtful welcome for the sake of getting at the truth of the matter.
The proposition I undertake to establish is, that close communion, as represented by its ablest apologists, is a jumble of false assumptions and bad logic; and that self-consistency, reason, and Scripture require Baptists, either to abandon the practice in favor of open communion, or else to withdraw Christian fellowship from pedobaptists;—which, I would not presume to suggest. This proposition I shall argue from the Baptist point of view. That is to say, I shall assume the scripturalness of Baptist tenets on all other points but this one. I shall take my stand with Baptists and endeavor to show that the fundamental postulates of their own faith are totally incompatible with the present practice of close communion.
NATURE OF THE PRACTICE. The word "communion," as employed in the discussion of this subject, is embarrassed by an ambiguity of meaning. Etymologically and primarily it signifies the spiritual state of
1 [To be followed, in the April number, by a presentation of the reasons for restricted communion.-Eds.)
VOL. LII. NO. 205. 7
those persons who have something in “common" (Latin communio, from communis, common); a state characterized by feelings of mutual sympathy and good will, and by a tendency to harmonious co-operation and unity of action. In this sense it is synonymous with "fellowship,” or the spiritual state arising from being "fellows," or comrades. Christian communion or fellowship is the spiritual state of those who have a common religious faith and experience; who are fellowdisciples of Christ. But communion is also another name for the Lord's Supper. And herein is an ambiguity upon which many a specious argument has gone to pieces. To avoid this ambiguity I shall discard this use of the word, and speak of communion only in the sense of fellowship.
The predominant idea of communion is a spiritual sympathy. That held in common, whatever its nature and whether it be in spiritual or in temporal things, gives rise to feelings of mutual appreciation and regard and to a consciousness of spiritual oneness, which are the essence of communion. But communion seeks to express itself, and the normal expression is in common action,-co-operation, affiliation, union, organization. This formal expression of communion is itself, in strict literalism, also a communion. Thus there are two concurrent communions,—the spiritual and the formal;—or, perhaps better, two elements,-a soul and a body,—of the one communion. We are more or less conscious of the spiritual side of Christian communion; but we are chiefly conversant with its formal element, its co-operative activities. The former is a spontaneous impulse of the soul begotten below consciousness under favoring circumstances by the operation of natural laws. We do not directly deal with or control it. But for whatever we may do in conjunction with others we are directly responsible. Of communion as expressed in action we are divinely put in trust. And to this primarily all scriptural regulations of communion refer. In connection with
1 Century Dict., Communion, def. 4; Fellowship, def. 3.
this alone do we mention “terms." Our voluntary affiliations and co-operative activities are the subject matter of the communion controversy. And the fact that our earthly fellowship has a voluntary element, and that the best of men are liable to error in judgment and in action, places the discussion of this fellowship upon a distinctly different basis from that of our anticipated communion in heaven.
The adjective“ close” does not mend the ambiguity above noticed in the word communion. Close communion is an expression that may mean, either generally a restricted fellowship, or more particularly a restricted observance of the Lord's Supper. The conceptions are different; and, while the nature of the practice indicated is sufficiently obvious, the popular title of it has not only two distinct meanings, but also an uncertain tendency to oscillate to and fro between them. To illustrate:-Good Baptist writers make statements like the following: “We have Christian fellowship for pedobaptists, but not church fellowship"; and, " It is not our communion, but our baptism, that is close.” According to the first of these statements, Close Communion is a withholding of church fellowship; according to the second, it is non co-operation at the Supper. The significance of this difference of conceptions will appear further on. Meantime I shall evade the ambiguity by using the title close communion only as a quasi proper name, and in connections where the meaning of the terms composing it has no bearing upon the argument.
The word “church" is a translation of the Greek ÉKKanoia, assembly, and, like it, is used to express two leading Christian concepts: first, the spiritual body of Christ, embracing in its membership the whole number of the redeemed, --the universal, invisible church; and, secondly, a company of persons who profess to have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and who, thinking they discover in one another the scriptural marks of discipleship, affiliate themselves together in obedience to the commands of Christ for Christian work
and worship,-the visible, local church. “Besides these two significations of the term church,” says Dr. Strong,1 “there are properly in the New Testament no others.” “The prevailing usage of the New Testament gives' to the term exkinoia the second of these two significations. It is this local church only which has definite and temporal existence."2 No other sense of this word is employed by Baptists in the discussion of close communion. They do not use it to designate any association or organization of local churches or of their members or representatives, or any other earthly body but the local church.
As baptism is enjoined in immediate connection with conversion, and as in its nature it is the formal announcement and beginning of the Christian life, the church may rightly be conceived of as a company of baptized believers. Baptism, however, is no more essential to Christian discipleship or to church membership than is obedience to any other divine command; and obedience in general, or an "orderly walk," is with Baptists as indispensable to the continuance, as baptism is to the beginning, of church relations.
I may now indicate the nature of close communion, in outline, as follows:
Baptists decline to unite with pedobaptists (not to mention others) in the observance of the Lord's Supper, for the reason that the Supper is a church ordinance, and therefore none but persons maintaining an orderly walk as members of a New Testament church are entitled to partake; and pedobaptists, not having been baptized (immersed), are not duly qualified for church membership; and the churches composed of such unbaptized persons are not, strictly speaking, New Testament organizations. Sister Baptist churches, however, are scripturally constituted, and their members in good standing are duly qualified, and are admitted to the communion table. But this signifies only that there is no church
1 Theology, Part vii. chap. ii. ? Ibid.