Page images

adıninistrator has any right to give out the general invitation : “ All who love our Lord Jesus Christ are invited to partake with us of this feast.” It is an infringement of the rights of the brotherhood.

True, we invite to occasional communion members of other sister churches, of whose piety we have no further testimony than the fact of their membership. We also receive members to permanent communion by virtue of letters of dismission and recommendation. But the ground of such action is the presumption that the church of which the invited are, or of which the transferred were, members, have been faithful in the discharge of their covenant duties. While a church is supposed to be a living body, sound in faith, and evangelical in practice, the members in regular standing are considered participants of her vitality. This, confidence in a sister church demands. True, all sister churches may have unworthy members. So may the church to which we ourselves belong. This is an evil incident to the church militant; and is a matter which concerns close not less than free communionists.

On the other hand, when a church has become corrupt in doctrine and loses her vitality, her corruption is supposed, in like manner, to adhere to all her members. If we invite any of them to our sacramental board, they are exceptional cases. The ground of judging of qualifications is now changed. Instead of determining their fitness by the character of the church to which they belong, we determine the fitness of each one on his own merits. If convinced by personal acquaintance that one in covenant with the corrupt church has not partaken of her corruptions, but is holding on to Christ by a vital faith, even though his vision is somewhat obscured by the murky atmosphere in which he has lived, we inay and ought to welcome him to our communion table.

2. The church may be justified in withholding fellowship from one whom, as a body, they consider a Christian, on the ground of his having imbibed some error or errors which evangelical denominations generally regard as destructive to

vital godliness, such as the errors of Universalism, Unitarianism, or Catholicism. True, one intellectually involved in either of these delusions may be so little influenced and moulded by it, owing to some peculiarity in his mental conformation or educational modes of thought, that he may, notwithstanding, be deemed a Christian by those best acquainted with him, and the church with whom he worships may be willing to receive him as one whom Christ receives; yet it may not be expedient, for two reasons : 1. It would be welcoming an error which the sister churches have agreed to discard from their communion, and, not knowing the facts in the case, they might justly be grieved. It would be a betrayal of Christian confidence. 2. It might be regarded as sanctioning an error which, in most minds, becomes fatal to the inception or growth of true piety, and might tend ultimately, owing to the encouragement thereby given to the error, to the eternal destruction of multitudes. And thus, by bringing such with us when coming around the sacramental board to honor Christ, we might entail great dishonor on his precious name. Such cases may be exceptional to our ground-principle, and by stating them we show its scope and bearing.

It is for our opponents to prove that Pedobaptist errors respecting the mode and subjects of baptism are attended with similar results, alike destructive to souls and dishonorable to Christ. But this their own professions respecting the piety and Christian zeal of Pedobaptist churches unequivocally deny.

There is a passage in Dr. Hovey's argument for close communion demanding some reply. We will give it in this connection as further explicative of the measures and bounds of our principle. “But if churches observing the Lord's supper may invite to this ordinance only those who give to them satisfactory evidence of piety, it is plain that Baptists cannot welcome the members of Episcopal, Lutheran, Unitarian, or Universalist churches, as such, to the communion. For it is well known that persons are freely received into churches of

all these denominations who do not profess to have expe. rienced a change of heart. It is known that persons christened in infancy are presumed by many Episcopalians and Lutherans to have been regenerated thereby, and are there. fore, at a suitable age, admitted by confirmation to full membership in the church. It is known that views of depravity and regeneration are entertained by Unitarians and Universalists quite unlike those of evangelical Christians, and accordingly that many are received into their fellowship who cannot, in the judgment of charity, be esteemed pious. Hence Christians who believe in the new birth and reject the doctrine of baptismal regeneration are unable to regard membership in any of these churches as suitable evidence of piety. They are ready to acknowledge that large numbers of true believers may be found in the four denominations just mentioned, but they cannot look upon the terms of admission to church fellowship in either of them as being suitable tests of piety, nor can they presume that men are real Christians merely because they have borne such tests. The consequences are obvious. It is impossible for Baptists, with their present views of faith in Christ as prerequisite to the Lord's supper, and of the proper fruits and evidences of faith, to invite members of the denominations named above to this ordinance."

This, in its position, has some appearance of argument, but appearance is all. 1. The fact that we cannot fellowship those churches who deny the eternal destruction of the wicked and the supreme divinity of Christ, and those who believe in baptismal regeneration, is no reason for refusing fellowship to Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Dutch Reformed, Methodists, etc.- churches who maintain the essential doctrines of the gospel, and discard the notion of baptismal regeneration. Besides, might not Dr. Hovey find those in churches of his own denomination who maintain some of these identical errors, or errors equally pernicious ? And would not the very reason he assigns for not fellowshipping the churches above named, lead him, in consistency, to re

fuse sacramental recognition to some of his own sister churches?

2. He turns the mind of the reader from the main point in debate. The point in debate is, whether we shall exclude from the Lord's table those who have mistaken views concerning an external rite. But the reason for not fellowshipping the churches specified, is their wrong views of funda. mental gospel doctrines, and consequent want of faithmatters not at all in dispute between us. Deficiency of faith or piety is a reason which should lead us, not less than the Baptists, to reject them. Thus, whatever of argument the paragraph contains is based entirely on our own principles. Besides, by refusing fellowship for the want of evidence of union to Christ, Dr. Hovey justifies the implication that he would commune with them provided they gave sufficient evidence of such union. In this manner he confounds himself by confounding differences. Indeed, we could never see why this paragraph was introduced into an argument for withholding sacramental communion from Pedobaptist churches of the Calvinistic faith ; errors respecting baptism having nothing to do with the assumed reasons for the exclusion.

3. There is only one point of difference, as stated in the paragraph, between us. He seems to have decided that the Episcopal and Lutheran churches are no longer to be classed among the evangelical; we have not yet so decided. Each church doubtless has the right to determine what churches she will regard as evangelical, and what not. If the Baptists have decided that the Episcopal and Lutheran churches are no longer living bodies, it is their right to assume the responsibility of withdrawing fellowship from them. We have no dispute with them on this point. But in that case, and if the want of faith is the determinative reason for the exclusion of these churches, then, on the principle of fellowship among the churches above considered, all individual members of them who give decided evidence of being actuated by the vital truths of the gospel

should be received irrespective of the mode of their baptism; otherwise the paragraph has no force in an argument for restricting sacramental recognition to those who practise immersion.

Dr. Hovey lays down four principles of the Baptists which form a sort of sub-foundation on which he proposes to build his argument for strict communion. They are these: 1." The New Testament is our ultimate authority in respect to church order and action.” 2. “ The constitution and work of the Christian churches are definitely fixed by the New Testament." 3. " Churches observing the Lord's supper must determine what are the scriptural qualifications for admission to it.” 4. “ Baptists ought to follow out their doctrine of baptism, if correct, to its legitimate results. If they are right in holding that nothing but the immersion of a believer into the name of the Trinity is Christian baptism, they may fearlessly accept all the consequences of this belief.”

In adducing these as the under-ground supports of his argument, he indicates that restricted communion strikes its roots deeper into the heart of the gospel than we have allowed. In this respect they convey a wrong impression. We most cheerfully admit the three first, so far as they bear on the prese, ent controversy. They have no determinative force. They are equally consonant with our position as with his. In substanitating our views we rely no less on the New Testament than do our opponents in refuting them. Indeed, we can but think if they could loose themselves from certain influences imbibed from the study of the Mosaic economy, they would receive our principles with more favor. The fourth we reject, because it overlooks one main principle of church communion taught by the apostles.

We wish the fact distinctly in mind at the outset of our argument, and kept steadily there during its progress, that the Baptists do not argue the duty of withholding fellowship. from us on the ground of errors in doctrinal belief or of defective evidence of faith and Christian fidelity; but solely on the ground of supposed misapprehensions respecting VOL. XXI. No. 83.


« PreviousContinue »