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But there are some who would not ask the man who says “I am a Christian,” a single question as to his faith or character, and would at once admit him to Church membership; and others, not admitting him to membership, would give him free access to the Lord's Table. We come here on”a wider and more fundamental difference. And as a counteractive of such views, we shall endeavour to lay down and defend what we think are foundation principles. History is said to repeat itself; but if the views to which we now refer should gain currency in the Congregational body-of which we have no fear-history would reverse itself. The Presbyterians and the Independents in the Westminster Assembly differed on the terms of communion as much as on other questions. Principal Baillie wrote of the Independents in October, 1644, as follows :-“Which is worst of all, they avow they cannot communicate as members with any congregation in England, though reformed to the utmost pitch of purity, which the Assembly or Parliament are like to require, because even the English, as all the rest of the Reformed, will consist of but professors of the truth, in whose life there is no scandal; but they require to a member, beside a fair profession, and want of scandal, such signs of true grace as persuade the whole congregation of their true regeneration.” “Profession without scandal" was all that the Presbyterians of two hundred years ago thought it right to require. The words put into the “Confession," strictly interpreted, implied much more. But "profession without scandal" has been the popular rule in Scotland ever since ; even “scandal" often being practically but little hindrance to Church membership. It is on this subject that Scottish Congregationalists have had more than on any other to act the part of a “protesting” Church. And their views of Christian communion have, more than
cause, retarded their numerical growth. But of late years Scottish Presbyterians have made great progress on this question ; and many faithful ministers will be found now, both in the Free Church and in the United Presbyterian, who aim honestly at having a spiritual membership. And shall we, English Congregationalists, now change places with them? Our forefathers demanded “signs of true grace,"—such signs as would satisfy the“whole congregation,” or Church. They may have erred in some of their modes of demanding these “ signs,” and may thus have made admission to Church membership unnecessarily difficult to timid souls. But may we not free ourselves, or rather have we not already for the most part freed ourselves, from what was harsh or offensive in their modes of Church action, without sacrificing their fundamental principle ? Shall we substitute Principal Baillie's “profession without scandal” for “ signs," or evidences of personal spiritual religion? or shall we even go below the requirement of the Presbyterian Principal, and throw our Church doors wide open to all who may choose to enter in ? We believe the heart of our ministry and of our Churches is too healthy to . be moved by arguments in support of such an issue.
I. We lay it down as a first foundation principle, that a Christian Church is an Organised Society; not a mere assemblage of persons who may choose
to come together, when and as they please, for instruction and worship, but an association of persons on the basis of a common faith, for purposes which they are unitedly agreed, and with laws, more or less explicit, by which the persons so associated regard themselves bound. We do not profess to give a definition of an “Organised Society" that cannot be objected to as in some point defective. But the terms we have used are sufficient for our purpose. And what is deficient in them may be made up by illustration. The Christian people who assemble in Surrey Chapel are a Church. They are an organised body, having such office bearers as their Church purposes-instruction, worship, government, and the spread of the Gospel around them—render necessary. Those who constitute this organised body recognise certain laws, laws which they believe to be Christ's, whether put or not put into any other form than that in which we find them in the New Testament, as binding on them all. While the Christian people who assemble in Surrey Chapel are a Church, the people, even if Christian, who assemble on every Lord's-day in St. James's Hall, are not a Church. The same hymns sung, the same prayers offered, the same minister preaching the Gospel, yet the assembly in St. James's Hall is not what the assembly in Surrey Chapel is-a Church. It is not an organised body, whose constituent members are associated on a defined basis and for defined ends. The members of the assembly in St. James's Hall do not constitute an organic whole, and have no relation to one another but an hour's bodily proximity.
It can scarcely be necessary to prove that not St. James's Hall but Surrey Chapel contains the anti-type of the “ Churches” of the New Testament. They were not assemblies such as heard St. Paul preach the Gospel on Mars Hill, no member of which was in any way related to another, and every member of which went his own way when the discourse was ended. They were organised bodies, with their chosen office-bearers, with commonly understood laws and commonly understood ends. The Apostle Paul finds his illustration of their organic unity in the human body. we have many members in one body,” he writes to the Christians at Rome, 66 and all members have not the same office ; so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Rom. xii. 4, 5.) And, if this and other Scriptures may be accepted as describing the unity by faith of the entire body of Christ, it has a special reference to the unity of particular Churches. The “schisms in the body," against which Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor. iii. 3, xii. 25), were schisms in the one Church at Corinth ; and it is in remonstrating against these that he dwells on the unity of the body, which “is not one member but many.” And, speaking of those who assembled in one place to partake of the Lord's Supper, he thus describes their unity: “We, being many, are one bread and oné body; for we are all partakers of that one bread.” (1 Cor. x. 17.) But the historic facts are themselves sufficient to prove that the Apostolic Churches were not mere assemblies, but organised associations. In one instance we find Paul authorising a special“ commissioner” to “set in order things that were wanting" in Churches that were imperfectly organised.
II. These Organised Societies were endowed with and exercised the right of admitting into their membership and excluding from it. They were endowed with this right by their Lord and Master, and by Him, too, they were instructed how to exercise it. This we say on the ground of what His inspired servants did and taught. Enough for our present purpose to refer to such scriptures as Rom. xiv. 1-4: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations . . for God hath received him.” No man entered the Roman Church by his own mere will—he must be “ received” by the Church. The consent of the Church was as necessary to his admission into the society as his own desire and purpose. And the Church was instructed to receive every man of whom it could be said, that “God hath received him.” This opened the door to all genuine Christians, whatever minor differences regarding days and meats might exist among them; and it opened the door to none but genuine Christians. This surely implied not the right merely, but the duty of requiring evidence of Christian character. As to the right and duty of exclusion, enough to refer to our Lord's words in Matt. xviii. 17, and to Paul's command to the Corinthians: “Put away from yourselves that wicked person.” 1 Cor. v. 13. In fact, as to the right of admission and exclusion, it belongs of necessity to every organised society. No such society can exist without it.
III. The Lord's Supper is that one act of public worship by which the early Churches were separated from the world, or from those who were not of their own number. Why, it is asked, should men be permitted to join us in services of praise and prayer, and not with equal freedom in the service of the Lord's Supper? From the converse of this question—not admitting men indiscriminately to join us in the Lord's Supper, why should we allow them to join us indiscriminately in praise and prayer ?—some have drawn the conclusion that praise and prayer should be confined to the special assemblies of the Church; and, on the premise that prayer, praise, and the Lord's Supper, being all spiritual services, there is no difference between them, this conclusion seems to us far more legitimate than that of those who would associate with men indiscriminately in them all. The Separatist who will not join in prayer and praise, any more than in the Lord's Supper, with a promiscuous assembly, is more logical than the Communist (we have to find a suitable term) who will join with a promiscuous assembly in the Lord's Supper as well as in prayer and praise.
But is there no difference between these services ? Granted that they are all sacred, all solemn, all spiritual, is there not something in the very nature of the Lord's Supper which singles out and separates from others them that observe it, as those that are redeemed and saved by the blood of Christ, and as those who have received Christ to be their Priest and King ? We might plead that the presence of men in a service of praise and prayer does not necessarily imply their participation in it. But even if they do participate, and we know it, shall we forbid them to sing, or shall we refuse to sing with them? Do they, when they sing, make such an avowal of personal faith in Christ as would be implied by partaking of the Lord's Supper? Does our union with them in spiritual song imply what our union with them at the Lord's Table would imply~-a recognition of Christian brotherhood ?
We think we see a material difference. But we rest our conviction, that a practical difference ought to be maintained, mainly on these facts (1) That the assemblies of the early Churches for general worship and instruction were open to unbelievers as well as believers, and (2) That in the Lord's Supper the oneness and separateness of the Church were especially declared, they only joining in this service who were of the Church. proof of the first of these alleged facts, we appeal to 1 Cor xiv. 23—25: “If the whole Church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all.” In the very assembly thus spoken of there were both prayer and praise, as we gather from an earlier passage, in which Paul says, " What is it then ? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also : I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” Prophesying or preaching, praying, and singing, all in a manner that should be intelligible both to the unlearned and to unbelievers—is what Paul recommends to the Corinthians. It would be fantastic to suppose
that unbelievers were railed off from the believers, or that unbelievers and others Christianly disposed, though not members of the Church, were required to be dumb while the Church sang, and to stand while the Church knelt. All that “came in” to the assembly were at liberty, there can be no doubt, to sing and to kneel if they were inclined so to do.
But were they equally at liberty to join the Church at the Lord's Table ? Is there any indication that they did so? Was not communion at the Lord's Table an act of separation from the world, and of union and membership with those who were so separated? The same epistle which shows us
" unbelievers” in the assembly whose services were prophesying, prayer, and praise, shows us only the Church-the “ brethren" - at the Lord's Table, and in language which makes the Lord's Supper a special type or sign of the oneness of those who partook of it: “For we being many, are one bread and one body: for we are partakers of that one bread.” (1 Cor. x. 17.) The Apostle warns the “ brethren” who “ drank the cup of the Lord,” against
drinking of the cup of devils” in the idol's temple. What would he have said of unbelievers coming at their pleasure from drinking of the cup of devils” in the idol's temple, to drink of “the cup of the Lord” in Christian fellowship? The thing was impossible. The very peculiarity of the Lord's Supper, as distinguished from all other rites or services, forbad not only the practice, but the idea of such a thing.
If the principles we have thus laid down be what we think they are, true and scriptural, their bearing on present discussions is obvious. (1) We are not at liberty to admit to our membership those of whose personal faith in Christ we have no evidence. (2) We are not at liberty to keep out of our membership those of whose personal faith in Christ we have evidence. Differences on subjects relating to government and outward rites, and even minor differences relating to points of doctrine, do not entitle a Church to keep Christians out of their fellowship. (3) The spiritual qualifications for the Lord's Supper and for membership are the same. (4) Throwing the Lord's Table
open to all, while the Church consists of those who have sought admission, and given evidence of fitness, is a practice which rests on no intelligible principle; while its tendency is to destroy the Church as an organised body, and to convert it into a gathering of unattached worshippers, bound by no laws, and subject to no discipline.
How far these views are affected by exceptional cases, arising from the existence of denominations holding different views of Church government, or from other causes, we must consider on some future occasion. Meantime, we commend to our readers the article which follows this, with the arguments and conclusions of which we entirely agree.—LDITOR.
CHURCH MEMBERSHIP AND THE LORD'S SUPPER.
By the Reb. John Pillars. It is not needful that I should show that a Church ought to be a spiritual institution, consisting of believers in Christ ; for we all profess to be agreed on that point. I may observe, however, that purity of Church fellowship should not be regarded as merely desirable, if it can be secured without much trouble and cost; but as essential to the Church, both for its own well-being, and for its efficiency in spiritual work. I shall assume, therefore, that we are agreed that purity of Church fellowship should be earnestly sought by all suitable means.
The question, then, before us is simply-What are the proper means to secure that our Churches shall be congregations of believers ? Hitherto the practice among us has been to receive into fellowship those only who, in the judgment of the Church, made a credible profession of faith in Christ. It is now, however, urged by some, not merely that the modes are faulty in which our Churches have been accustomed to judge of the credibility of profession, but that the responsibility of entering the Church should be entirely thrown upon the person seeking fellowship, and that the Church should not judge at all. There are some that do not object to all judgment, but who would reduce it to the least possible amount, and even then would regard its exercise rather as an unhappy necessity than as in itself desirable. It is clear that so great a change should not be accepted