Close Communion (2)

Close Communion

Question of. — Among the Baptists there is a controversy on the subject, in which the two parties (called Free and Strict Communionists) may be represented respectively by Robert Hall and by J. G. Fuller. The following statement, embracing the substance of the controversy, represents the opposite sides of the subject.

(a) "The opinion of Mr. Hall that baptism is not a prerequisite to the participation of the Eucharist runs through all his reasonings in favor of unrestricted communion, and is the real foundation on which they rest. His positions are the following:

1. The baptism of John was a separate institution from that appointed by Christ after his resurrection; from which it follows that the Lord's Supper was anterior to Christian baptism, and that the original communicants consisted entirely of such as had not received that ordinance.

2. That there is no such connection, either in the nature of things or by the divine institution, between baptism and the Eucharist as renders it, under all circumstances, indispensable that the former should precede the latter.

3. That admitting this to be the prescribed order, and to be sanctioned by the uniform practice of the apostles, the case of pious Paedo-baptists is a new case, calling for some peculiar treatment, in which we ought to regard rather the spirit than the letter of apostolic precedent.

4. That a schismr in the Church, the mystical body of Christ, is deprecated in the New Testament as the greatest evil.

5. That a reception to Church fellowship of all such as God has received, notwithstanding a diversity of opinion and practice in matters not essential to salvation, is expressly enjoined in the New Testament (Ro 14:15; Ro 15:1,5-7).

6. That to withhold the Lord's Supper from those with whom we unite in other acts of Christian worship is a palpable inconsistency. And, lastly, that it is as impolitic as it is illiberal, being calculated to awaken a powerful prejudice, and place beyond the reach of conviction our Paedo-baptist brethren, and to engender among the Baptists themselves a narrow and sectarian feeling, wholly opposed to the enlarged spirit of the present age (Complete Works of Robert Hall, 2:207-230; also 1:283-504).

(b) "The positions urged on the opposite side by Mr. J. G. Fuller are these:

1. That all the arguments which are used to destroy the identity of baptism as practiced by John and the apostles before the death of Christ, with that practiced afterwards, amount only to proof of a circumstantial, not an essential difference, and cannot, therefore, warrant the inferences of Mr. Hall in any one point.

2. That the commission of our Lord (Mt 28:19-20) furnishes the same evidence that baptism is an indispensable prerequisite to external Church fellowship as that faith is an indispensable prerequisite to baptism.

3. That the uniform examples of the apostles is an inspired explanation of the commission under which they acted, and a pattern intended for the instruction of the Church in all succeeding ages.

4. That strict conformity to the commission of Christ, thus explained, is not schism, but the only possible mode of restoring and perpetuating Christian union.

5. That the mutual forbearance enjoined on Christians in the New Testament related to matters of real indifference, not involving the surrender of any positive institution of Christ, and is therefore inapplicable to the present case.

6. That to unite with Paedo-Baptist brethren in all such acts of worship and benevolent effort as do not imply an abandonment of the commission is not an inconsistency, but the dictate of Christian charity. And, lastly, that to whatever imputations a strict adherence to the commission of Christ may subject the Baptist churches, it is better to suffer them than to sin; and that a deviation in deference to modern error, however conscientiously maintained, is neither charity nor Christian wisdom, since "whatever is right is wise." Christians may cordially unite in the evangelization of the world, but they do not, nor can they, without a change of sentiments, unite in the constitution of their churches (Conversations on Strict and Mixed Communion, by J. G. Fuller)." It is said that most of the English Baptists favor free communion; those of the United States are mostly close communionists, except the Free-will Baptists, who are, as a body, open communionists. See Curtis Communion, A Review of the Arguments of Hall and Noel (Phila. 1850, 12mo), for a full argument for close communion; also Christian Review, 16:210, and an able article by Dr. Hovey, Bibliotheca Sacra, Jan. 1862, art. v. See also the same Journal, July, 1864, art. i, and July, 1867, art. in. SEE BAPTISTS.

II. A similar controversy has been going on in the Lutheran Church, in which the High-Church party refuses the admission of members of the Reformed and all non-Lutheran churches to communion. SEE LUTHERANS.

III. The Reformed Presbyterians (Covenanters) in Scotland and the United States, and the United Presbyterians in the United States, are also believers in the doctrine of close communion; but in all these churches there is a party which strongly contends against this doctrine, and in favor of open communion. At the United Presbyterian General Assembly of 1867 the subject of close communion was the chief topic of discussion. The Rev. W. C. McCune, the author of a book against close communion, was censured by a large majority. See W. C. McCune, Close Communion, or Church Fellowship, by Rev. J. T. Pressly, D.D., of the United Presbyterian Theological Seminary at Allheghany, Penn. (Cincinnati, William Scott, 1866, p. 147); also W. Annan (O. S. Presbyterian), The Doctrine of Close Communion tested by Scripture and Reason (Pittsburg, 1867). Mr. Annan endeavors to establish that the views entertained and defended by the leading men at present in that Church are not those which were held by the fathers of the Associate Reformed Church. In discussing the subject, Mr. Annan presents the views of Drs. Mason, Smith, and Annan, father of the author, and others, down to 1867, in support of his positions.

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