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Circular Letter
The Georgia Association of Baptist Churches
By B. M. Sanders, 1829

"Christian Communion"

     The Georgia Baptist Association to the churches which they represent, send Christian salutation.

     Dear Brethren, -- From a suggestion in the minutes of last year, you will expect, in the present Circular to be addressed on the subject of Christian communion. To treat on this comprehensive subject, on the narrow compass of one short circular, it will be necessary that we barely touch on a few of the principal points appertaining to it. As it is an ordinance appointed by the Lord for a special purpose of his own, we must look to his word for instruction into its nature, design, manner of observance, and the qualifications of its participants. Its nature and manner of observance, he has taught us both by precept and example, at the time of its institution, when he blessed and break the bread, and gave it to his disciples to eat, and blessed the cup, and gave it to them all to drink, closing the scene with the injunction, "This do in remembrance of me." In this short precept, he has not only enjoined on his disciples a continued observance of this institution, but has also expressed the design by which they must be actuated, "a remembrance of him;" -- and that there might be no difficulty in determining in what respect he is to be remembered, he adds that it is to "shew forth his death." To attend to it properly we deem it important not only to be right in form, but also in design; for the Lord has as particularly expressed the intent with which it should be observed, as that it should be observed at all. The Apostle has charged the corruption of this ordinance by the Corinthian Church, and all their unworthy participation of it, to an over sight or disregard of its design, "not discerning the Lord's body." -- 1 Corinthians 11:29. Many persons seem to have lest the design of this ordinance, by considering it principally as an expression of fellowship, when in fact, its expressing fellowship at all, is only an incidental consequence, arising from its nature and design.

      The real design seems to be twofold;

     1st. to refresh in the minds of the communicants a remembrance of Christ's death; and

     2d, to shew forth, or publish it to the world by this figure. The instructions given to do it "in remembrance" of Christ, "discerning his body," and to "shew forth his death," not only prove the design of this ordinance and the importance of a due reference thereto, by those who observe it, but also plainly indicate some of the necessary qualifications of all proper communicants.

     1. They must be able to discern the Lord's body. This we understand to embrace, in some good degree, a knowledge of the doctrine of atonement. This, flesh and blood cannot reveal unto them, but only our Father, which is in Heaven. This includes an idea of the divinity of the Saviour as necessary to give virtue to the sacrifice of atonement, and none can call him Lord but by the Holy Ghost. All proper communicants must, therefore have Jesus Christ revealed unto them experimentally, so as to be able to lay hold on him as their Saviour -- as the end of the law for righteousness; or, in other words, viewing the claims of the divine law, as satisfied in his flesh for every believer.

     2. They must cherish a remembrance of Christ. To be prepared to do this, they must not only have some proper understanding of the atonement, but also to feel their great need of an interest in it. They must view themselves as justly condemned by the holy law of God, and exposed to his wrath, with the consciousness that nothing but the blood of atonement can procure their relief; and thus be brought to accept it with hearty approbation and gratitude, and to rely upon it exclusively for deliverance from condemnation, and for admission into the divine favor. Such discoveries as these prepare an individual to cherish with pleasure the remembrance of one from whom he has received such unspeakable benefits. And such a pleasing, grateful remembrance only must be designed to be promoted by this sacred rite.

     3. They must hereby "shew forth his death," or publish it to the world. To be prepared to do this heartily, requires such a deep sense of obligation to the Author of salvation, as shall produce in the subject of it a readiness to own it before all the world, although such an acknowledgment be in elect [effect?] to stand as a witness against himself, of his own share, and guilt, if he fail to live in the daily discharge such an obligation thus confessed. Every communicant hereby says to God and to the world, that he is not his own; that he has been redeemed from the jaws of death by the blessed son of God, and that he is under every possible obligation to devote unto him his body and his spirit, which are his. He hereby acknowledges the will of God to be the only proper rule of his life, and is to be considered as hereby calling on all that behold him, to witness to his baseness, and ingratitude, if it be not his future desire and endeavor to advance his kingdom and promote his glory, by all the means put into his power. The Apostle, therefore, exhorts all those who would not unworthily approach the sacred board, to examine themselves previously to eating, on all the important points of proper qualification. Not whether they are worthy on account of their high attainments in holiness, but to inquire what views they have of the nature and design of this ordinance; what of that solemn scene to which it refers; whether by faith they are able to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the blessed sacrifice of atonement; and whether they can now cherish a grateful remembrance of his love, and are now ready to renew an entire dedication of themselves to the Lord; and so to eat under the influence of all that fear, lover solemnity, and reverence, which such considerations are calculated to inspire.

     From these views of the subject, it would appear that none but believers can properly come around the table of the lord.

     But this is an ordinance to be observed by the disciples of Christ in the church, or in an associate capacity. This will fully appear from Acts 20:7 -- "When the disciples came together to break bread," &c. 1 Corinthians 11:18 -- "When ye come together in the church," &c. 22d. "Have ye not houses to eat and drink in, or despise ye the church of God," &c. 33d. "Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat," &c. And such was the example given by our Saviour at its institution. It is therefore, not only necessary that those who associate for this purpose should be believers, but should have made such a profession of their faith, as should be satisfactory to those with whom they were about to associate it is not religion alone that entitle, any man to church privileges; this is a matter between God and the soul, and so remains until a credible profession is made. No church can consistently receive any member into the enjoyment of its privileges, till that individual has made such a profession as in some measure meets the views of that church: otherwise there would be no distinction between the church and the world. That baptism is essentially necessary to the scriptural profession of faith, must be inferred from its frequent introduction in the Scriptures as a duty consequent upon faith, as "he that believeth and is baptized," &c. The doctrine contained in Galatians 3:27, is very plain on this subject: "As many of you as have been baptized into Jesus Christ, have put on Christ." This putting on Christ by baptism, we understand not to be really and spiritually, but professionally. Dr. Clarke, on this place calls receiving baptism, "a public proof that they had received Christ as their Lord and Saviour." Dr. Scott that "faith in Christ was publicly professed in baptism." Mr. [Matthew] Henry in his Commentary on this passage, says, that "faith in Christ was what they professed in baptism -- Baptism is now the solemn rite of admission into the Christian Church." After the concurrence with us of so many eminent divines, of different denominations, in the sentiment, that baptism is the proper scriptural profession of faith; and after having shewn the necessity of a credible profession of faith to church membership and church privileges; and that communion is a church act; it must be manifest that no unbaptized person, although a believer, is entitled to an invitation to this ordinance.

     The argument stands thus: The observance of this ordinance is a church act; a credible and scriptural profession is necessary to church privileges; and that Baptism is necessary to a scriptural profession of religion. Unbaptized persons, therefore, are not qualified for admission to this ordinance.

     So far as fellowship is expressed by this communion we have said it is altogether consequential on the nature and design of this ordinance. We will explain ourselves thus: So far as the mere eating of the bread and drinking of the cup by each individual is considered separately, it is to remember and to shew forth the Lord's death. But as it is an act in which several individuals unite, by such union they virtually say to the world, not that they approve of every act of each other's past life; not that they agree in every, the most minute religious sentiment; but that they agree in what they are now doing, as one body in Christ. Now, as the commandment goes to the design as well as to the form, if it should afterwards appear that they had different designs, they will so far have made a profession of an agreement, when there was none. This may be done ignorantly. But if such a union should be entered into by those who know they differ in design and in their views of the proper qualifications of communicants, it must result in the following consequences: viz. that they make a false profession of an agreement, when they know there is none, and lightly and irreverently trifle with the word of God, and one of his most solemn institutions, by countenancing its solemnization by persons who they could not believe were qualified.

     Here, without explanation, we might seem to encourage a practice which occurs but too commonly in churches, and which we deem very reprehensible. For want of entire fellowship with some one member of the church, there are many brethren who seldom or never observe this ordinance; and so violate one of the most positive injunctions of our Lord, given to all his disciples, "this do in remembrance of me." But they will ask, what they shall do? We will endeavor to instruct them. We have said it was a church act, to be observed by church members; none, therefore, who are not qualified for this service, are fit for church membership. Let such members as feel afflicted, endeavor with meekness to have the offender reclaimed. If this cannot be done, let him be excommunicated. If they cannot obtain either of these points, they are clear; they have done their duty, and the affliction is now removed from the offender to the church that justifies him. We should learn to pay great respect to the judgment of churches in such cases, and we shall often find such alleged offences rather imaginary than real. It is true, there may be some members, in almost every church in whom we may not have all that confidence we could wish; but if we had good reason to receive them, and their conduct has not been such as to bring them under the censure of the church, our bare suspicions should not interfere with our (or their) church privileges, much less church duties. To withdraw silently from the communion, in case of offence, is to leave the church to bear the reproach and the cause of Christ to suffer, while we only seek to shield our own heads. This is selfish, unchristian, and contrary o the command, "bear ye one another's burdens."

     The solemn injunction "this do in remembrance of me," should, we think, bear heavy upon the consciences: of all those who say they have hope in the death of Christ, and yet have never united themselves to his church, and consequently have never obeyed this precept. If he is not worthy to be honored and obeyed by them here, they would do well to consider on what ground they expect to be honored by him hereafter. It becomes the duty of every church to have this ordinance regularly administered among them, and to have all their members so instructed and disciplined, that there may be no barrier to its observance by every member in the church.

     From what we have said, it will appear, that there are many professors of religion, whom we cannot invite to associate with us in this ordinance, nor accept an invitation from them.

     1. We cannot invite those who deny the Divinity of Christ, for this destroys the whole virtue of the atonement, which is here intended to be set forth.

     2. We cannot invite those who refuse the cup to the laity, for our Lord hath said "drink ye all of it:" nor those who worship the elements of the supper as the real body and blood of Christ, for he himself calls them the bread and the cup, even after the consecration and distribution of them to his disciples, and requires them to repeat it only in remembrance of him.

     3. We cannot thus associate with professed unbelievers, for they cannot discern the Lord's body, and so must partake unworthily, and be guilty of the body and blood of Christ; and we, by associating with them, should give countenance to their sin, and become partakers of their guilt. Dr. Clarke, in his commentary, says, "every minister is bound to administer this ordinance to every man that is seeking the salvation of his soul, as well as to all believers." In this sentiment we cannot concur, for the reasons already stated; nor can we see the propriety of uniting in communion with persons, whose views of its nature must be so very foreign from our own.

     4. We cannot associate in this ordinance with those who have never made that public profession of their faith by baptism, which we believe the scriptures require of every believer. Nor can we believe baptism to be that indefinite any thing, or every thing, that the various imaginations of men may suggest. It is true that it has been common for our brethren, entertaining different views of this subject from ourselves, to charge us with bigotry and illiberality. It may be from ignorance, that we think as we do, but we are persuaded (let others judge as they may) that it is not from any disposition to be illiberal. We are told by the Apostle Paul, that "to him that esteemed, any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean." Romans 14:14. It would, therefore, be our sin, and not liberality, to practice differently, believing as we do. It is, no doubt, painful to the feelings of many of our brethren, to be so often lectured by their sympathising friends, on the oppressive bondage under which they are held. But, brethren, if the spirit of Christ dwell in you, the strictness of his law is not bondage, but liberty; and you will choose rather to please God than men. You will discover, we think, by observation, that most of the reasonings of those who reflect upon you, are founded more upon carnal policy, than the word of God, and are addressed to the feelings more than to the enlightened understanding. We would exhort you brethren, to fortify your minds with the word of consolation left you by our Lord: "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you, falsely for my sake," and take for your warning against yielding to the temptations of the flesh, "he that doth not bear his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple."

     We have heard much stress laid by the advocates for mixed communion on its being the table of the Lord. But are not his disciples stewards of his table as well as of all his other manifold grace committed to them? Does it not become them to be as faithful in this, as in every other part of their stewardship? But how do our mixed communion brethren exercise this stewardship? Do they not all, when they have spread the Lord's table, point out what they conceive to be the scriptural prerequisites to communion, and invite none but such as have them? Is not this our practice? Wherein they judge us, do they not condemn themselves? for surely they do the same things. What church admits the whole world, without restriction? When mixed communionists begin to restrict, have not those who are excluded by them, the same right to complain of them that they have of us? But it is said, they are more liberal than we. Are they more liberal than the word of God? If so, surely they are guilty of setting it aside. If not, there is only a difference of opinion between us on the import of that word, for we endeavor to regulate ourselves strictly by its instructions; and we would ask for the authority by which we only are to be restricted from reading and interpreting for ourselves. If such liberality as is contended for, is to be the key of construction, the Universalists are the most orthodox of all Christians, for they are the most liberal.

     After all the aspersions of illiberality and uncharitableness cast upon us by our mixed communion brethren, we can hardly be persuaded that many of them are anxious to commune with us, if we felt ourselves at liberty to invite them. We are at a loss to know why our Armenian brethren should desire it, when they take so many occasions, both from the pulpit and the press, to misrepresent, to ridicule and reprobate our doctrines of election, predestination and perseverance in grace. We cannot conceive how consistent Calvanistic Paedobaptists can wish it, when under existing circumstances, we should be required to dispense with baptism as a prerequisite, which they will not dispense with, or admit sprinkling to be baptism, against our judgments and our consciences. Setting aside the word of God, there appear to us to be insuperable difficulties in the way of mixed communion. We must admit ministers of other denominations while they preach doctrines for which we would exclude our own. We must sometimes unite with members that have been excommunicated by us, that have a regular membership in a church of another denomination. We must have some prerequisites, or admit all the world; and how are we ever to agree on those prerequisites? Mixed communion does not at all reconcile the parties who practise it, nor soften their asperities. Whoever will read the Christian Advocate and Journal, a Methodist paper, printed at New York, and the Charleston Observer, a Presbyterian paper, will find that there is more party feeling and harshness of controversy existing between those denominations, although they commune together, than there is between the Baptists and either of them.

     In fine, when we observe how cold mixed commuists are in the practice of it, after all their warmth in contention for the principle; when we observe how many decline the practice altogether, while many others rise up from the same table only to unsheath against each other the sword of controversy; we are constrained to inquire, "how can two walk together except they be agreed?" Far be it from us to cherish any unfriendly sentiments towards any of our christian brethren, or to encourage such sentiments to be cherished by you. Far be it from us, to arrogate to ourselves pretensions to greater wisdom or piety than is professed by others. We would rather pray the Father of mercies to hasten the time when all his children shall be of one mind, and see eye to eye; and then they will be ready to unite in every christian duty.

JESSE MERCER, Moderator,


[From Jesse Mercer, A History of the Georgia Baptist Association, Washington, GA., 1838, 182-188. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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