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CIRCULAR LETTER, 1859
Northbend Baptist Association (KY)
Written by James A. Kirtley
Bullittsburg Baptist Church



-THE LORD'S SUPPER-
To The Churches Composing the North Bend Association

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     MY DEAR BRETHREN: -- At the last meeting of this body, the subject of Church Communion was assigned for the present Circular Address.

      In the discussion of this subject we shall assume as our caption, the scripture designation of the ordinance, viz: "The Lord's Supper," and consider it in its institution and design.

     I. IN ITS INSTITUTION. -- We learn "that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed," after eating the passover with his disciples, as Matthew informs us, "took bread, and blessed it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, Take, eat; this, is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many, for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth, of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my father's kingdom. And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives." Matt. 26:26-30.

      In the same characteristic style, yet more briefly, Mark and Luke furnish us their narrative of the ordinance, Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:19-20, simply adding to the account given by Matthew; the one, in reference to "the cup," that "they all drank of it;" the other recording an additional instruction of the Saviour, viz: "This do in remembrance of me." This beautifully concise, and simplified statement of the institution of the Supper, suggests three things for our consideration:

      1. AS TO ITS SOCIAL CHARACTER. -- "With desire," said Jesus, "I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer," Luke 22:15. He had assembled with the twelve in an upper room prepared for the occasion, to partake with them of this Jewish festival, which was eminently social. In the conclusion of which, he instituted the memorials of his approaching death, giving to the disciples, while yet seated around the same table, the broken bread and wine of which they all ate and drank together. It was truly a social repast. The supper with the ancients, was their most convivial meal, and this very term ("deipnon") employed to distinguish this ordinance of the Lord, indicated its social character.

      2. IN REFERENCE TO ITS POSITIVE CHARACTER. -- Jesus on this, as well as other occasions, "spake as one having authority;" and this ordinance comes to us clothed with all the sanctions of positive law. To the disciples he gave the bread, after he had broken and blessed it; and the cup after he had given thanks; saying, "Take eat; drink ye all of it; and this do in remembrance of me." The duty here enjoined is positive, and the instructions given are specific. No one acknowledging the sovereignty of Christ, will deny the peremptory character of this ordinance. It has its foundation in his sovereign will. The order of its observance is binding on us simply because it is of divine appointment. Moral duties grow out of moral relations and are suggested by them; but no moral relation existing between God and us could ever have suggested the propriety of such an ordinance or the fitness of such emblems as bread and wine, to symbolize such an event as the death of the Saviour; and to have introduced and practiced such an observance, without the sanctions of divine law, would at best, have been but an act of will worship. Duties enforced by positive law know no other guide or rule of action than the specified will of the lawgiver. Hence it is the very nature of positive law that all its enactments are to be observed in their specific order, and in the specific relations established by its author. For instance, it would be a perversion of the ordinance to employ any other elements than those of bread and wine, in its observance. It would be a perversion of the ordinance, to invert the order established by the Saviour, in the use of these elements, i.e., to use the wine before the bread. It would be a gross perversion of the ordinance to convert it to a common festival, in which to eat to satiety, and drink to the excess of drunkenness. This would be to "eat and drink condemnation" to ourselves, "as not discerning the Lord's body." 1. Cor.11:29. It would be equally subversive of its institutional design for the members of a given church, in their individual capacity, to eat and drink, regardless of that proper decorum which should govern the church in its solemn observance. This would be to "despise the church," and condemn the authority of the Saviour, 1. Cor. 11:22. And certainly it would no less intrench upon divine authority, however orderly we should observe the elements, and however solemnly we should contemplate its object; if, nevertheless, through ignorance, prejudice, education or sectarian bias, we should disregard those specific relations in which Christ has placed it; and which he has established for guarding the purity of his churches, and maintaining inviolate the laws of his Kingdom. But more on this anon.

      3. The third thing suggested by this brief account of the Supper, is, that it is essentially, and exclusively a church ordinance. This would appear from the observations already made on its social, and positive charcter; but we have other and more decisive proofs. Before presenting them, however, it may greatly aid us in a right understanding of the subject, to inquire briefly into the scriptural character of a gospel church. The term church in the New Testament, is employed in two, and only two distinct senses. In the one, it refers to Christ's body; composed of all the redeemed; and who constitute "the whole family in heaven and earth." "The general assembly, and church of the first born which are written in heaven," Heb. 12:23. In this sense the apostle uses it, when he says, "Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it." And that God, "hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body; the fulness of Him, that filleth all in all," Ephes. 1:22-23. And again, when he says, "And he is the head of the body, the church," Col. 1:18. And again, -- "For his body's sake, which is the church." 24. -- In the other sense it refers to a particular congregation of immersed believers, meeting in a given place, and voluntarily uniting to maintain the worship of God, and execute the laws of Christ. This is its ordinary sense in the new testament, as is evident from the constant phraseology employed in addressing and speaking of the churches. A few references only can we insert. "And at that time, there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem," Acts 8:1. Of Paul and Barnabas, it is said: "That a whole year, they assembled themselves with the church, (at Antioch) and taught much people," Acts 11:26. "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth," says Paul, 1 Cor. 1:2. "Now ye Phillipians, know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me, as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only," Phil. 4:15. The churches of the New Testament were under Christ independent bodies, reared alike upon the same glorious foundation; they nevertheless maintained their own specific individuality; claiming and exercising the right to choose their own officers, and guard the purity and fellowship of their own body. However, in labors of love, and works of faith and benevolence, they cherished for each other the warmest sympathy and most cordial affiliation; and at the same time emulated each other in devoted adherence to the truth and laws of their common Lord.

      A provincial church, or a great ecclesiastical unity, exercising supervision and lordship over the congregations of a province, or kingdom, was unknown to the apostles. The phraseology of modern times, and the establishments indicated by such titles, as, "The Church of England," "the Lutheran Church," "the Episcopal Church of America," "the Presbyterian Church," "the Methodist Episcopal Church, North, and South," are wholly incompatible with the New Testament churches, and unlike the scripture style of address. No where in all the writings of the apostles and evangelists, do we read of the Judean church; the Asiatic church; the Macedonian church; the Galatian church, or any such ecclesiastical oligarchies. But everywhere, such phraseology abounds, as "the churches of Judea," Gal. 1:22, "the churches of Galatia," 1. Cor. 16:1, "the churches of Asia," 19, "the churches of Macedonia," 2 Cor. 8:1. "So were the churches established in the faith," Acts 16:5. "So ordain I, in all the churches," 1 Cor. 7:17. "We have no such custom, neither the churches of Christ," 1. Cor. 11:16. "He that hath an ear, let him hear, what the spirit saith unto the churches." Rev:2.

      It is scripturally clear, that under the planting and training of the apostles, each separate congregation of immersed believers, "holding the head, even Christ," and continuing "steadfatly in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship," was a complete Gospel Church, and invested with all the authority delegated by Christ to his people, for executing the laws of his kingdom. As to the material of which they were composed, we have equally clear and definite information. Everywhere in the apostolic epistles they are addressed as "the beloved of God, called to be saints;" "the sanctified in Christ Jesus;" "who were from the beginning chosen of God, through sanctification of the spirit, and belief of the truth," styled "believers," "disciples," "followers of God," "fellow citizens with the saints," "the faithful," "the household of faith." And who were previous to their entrance upon church relations, "buried with Christ in baptism." Rom. 6:4; Colos. 2:1. In which significant ordinance they "put on Christ," or the complete profession of faith. Gal. 3:27.

      Such were the Apostolic Churches, and such only can be Gospel Churches at the present time, to whom the supper is delivered. Now, that the supper is exclusively a Church ordinance, we think will appear from the following considerations:

      The circumtance of its institution furnish an exemplification of this fact. Judas, one of the twelve, who was false to his profession, "and a thief from the beginning," had assembled with them to eat the passover. Revolving, however, in his mind, the perpetration of his fearful crime, upon receiving "the sop," "immediately went out." John 13:30. Thus withdrawing from their company and voluntarily expelling himself from their fellowship. The Saviour at once administered the supper to the eleven, who were immersed disciples, and who were his immediate family or church. On this occasion he addressed them particularly in their associated capacity as brethren, saying "eat ye," "drink ye," "and this do," or "do ye in remembrance of me." Immediately after the supper, and just before they passed "over the brook Cedron," John 13:1, he addressed his memorial prayer to the Father, saying: "I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world" 14: "for they are thine," 9: "And I am glorified in them," 10: "those that thou gavest me, I have kept , and none of them is lost but the son of perdition," 12: "And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it," 26. From which it is clear that the prediction in reference to himself in Ps. 22:22, quoted by Paul in Heb. 2:12, was literally fulfilled at the institution of the supper: "Saying I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the Church will I sing praise unto thee," Heb. 2:12. "And when they had sung a hymn they went out into the Mount of Olives," Mat. 26:30. This is the only instance in which Christ is said to have sung with his disciples. On this occasion he calls them his Church. And the supper was set up in this model Church to be exclusively a Church ordinance.

      But upon the commission we rely, as our authoritative rule, which requires the supper to be observed, in the third place, among the "all things" after baptism.

      That this is the true order, and the mind of Christ, we have the most infallible proof in the practice of the first Churches, instructed as they were by the very men to whom this ordinance was delivered, and who were inspired to preserve them from error in their doctrine and practice. Happily for the cause of truth, the inspired records furnish a clearly defined account of the first precedent in apostolic practice, to which we very naturally and properly look as a true exposition of this law.

      On the day of Pentecost the Gospel was preached, Acts 2:14. The multitudes who came together and heard, "were pricked in their hearts," 37, and cried out, "men and brethren what shall we do?" They were exhorted to "repent and be baptized," 38. "Then they that gladly received the word, (i.e. by faith) were baptized." 41. "and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls," 41, who at once participated in all the immunities[?] of Church membership. Subsequently to their conversion and baptism, "they continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread," i.e. in the observance of the supper. It was an inviolable adherence to this precedent which gave such uniformity of practice to the apostolic age. Of the disciples at Troas, we read: "and upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul peached unto them," Acts 20:7. "So also the Church at Corinth, to whom Paul delivered this ordinance just as he had received it from the Lord," 1 Cor. 11:23. From this address to them, correcting certain abuses into which they had fallen, we learn that it was their custon, to "come together into one place to eat the Lord's supper," 20. And he exhorts them, "when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another," 33. That is, wait until the whole church are assembled. Otherwise, to eat and drink as individuals, would be to "despise," or treat the Church with contempt, 22. From which we learn, that the apostle regarded it as an ordinance in the Church, and to be kept by the Church as such. Finally the significance of the ordinances, furnishes an argument, which though a presumptive one, is none the less conclusive, since it exhibits their relative position in the Gospel plan. Said Christ, "my kingdom is not of this world;" and agreeably to this truth, Gospel Churches are represented as made up of "lively stones, built up a spiritual house," composed of "new creatures" in Christ; persons who are "born again." Now baptism being an emblem of the spiritual resurrection of the soul, "through the faith of the operation of God, is a symbol of the new birth," Cols. 2:12. The supper symbolizes that constant nourishment and support which the spiritually minded derive from Christ. It is, therefore, self-evident in the order of sequence, that the symbol of nourishing and supporting life, must follow that of birth; and consequently, that the supper is an ordinance appropriate only to those who are "born of God," and have been "buried with Christ in baptism," and so entered into Church relations with his people.

      We have been thus particular and elaborate in the discussion of these points, from the fact, that while the positions themselves are allowed by most relgious deniominations, there are great fundamental prinicples of faith and Church polity involved, which are practically ignored by them. The question at issue between us and the advocates of open communion, is not one of mere christian sympathy and affiliation; it is a question of allegiance to the Son of God. This wll appear upon a practical application of the above principles. If this ordinance be the enactment of positive law, then it must necessarily be observed in the precise order and relations in which it is given; otherwise, there is a palpable violation of the will of the lawgiver. And then again, if it be exclusively a Church ordinance, it is self-evident that the Scripture terms of Church membership, are essential terms of admission to the Lord's table; and that a joint celebration of the supper is guarded by no other restrictions than those which invest Church fellowship.

      Now we have seen that regeneration and baptism are the Scripture terms of admission into a Gospel Church. For the most part this in conceded by the advocates of open communion. The question, therefore, in debate, is narrowed down to what is Scripture baptism. And in the decision of this question is involved the grave and weighty matters of Church existence, and fealty to the King in Zion. "Where there is no baptism, there are no visible Churches," (says Dr. Griffin, a distinguished Paedobaptist,) and so say we. "If nothing but immersion is baptism," (he adds,) "there is no visible Church except among the Baptists." His conclusion is perfectly legitimate. And believing, as we do, that the rite of Infant Baptism, and the institution of sprinkling and pouring for immersion, are founded in tradition and human authority, (of which we have the most abundant proof in the concessions of Paedobaptists themselves,) we regard this violation of a positive law of Christ, as a practical denial of his sovereignty, and so far a renunciation of allegiance to him, and hence an absolute disqualification for celebrating the supper. Here then, is the Head and front of all our offending. It is not our exclusiveness at the Lord's table which calls forth so much "holy horror" and brings down upon our heads the not very amiable epithets of bigoted, illiberal, selfish; but the exclusive principles which the exclusive legislation of the King of Zion has made it our duty to abide, and from which we cannot deviate either to the right or left. And it is to avert the edge of that rebuke, which these principles, silently and kindly, but emphatically administer, that our opponents would avail themselves of this popular appeal to the prejudices and passions of the multitude. Let them meet us upon the real issues. This would be candid and Christian-like. They have erected the barriers to a joint celebration of the supper with us, by assuming to legislate other terms of admission to Church membership than those established by Christ. They alone can take down these barriers by submitting to the "One Lord, one faith, one baptism."

      That this question is to be settled upon other ground than that of mere Christian sympathy, is evident also from the design of the ordince.

      II. THE DESIGN OF THE SUPPER. -- The account of this ordinace given by the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Church at Corinth, is so clearly explanatory of its design, that we need scarcely to make an additional remark. Let us hear him: "For I have received of the Lord, that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, take eat; this is my body which was broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying this cup is the New Testament in my blood; this do ye, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. 1 Cor. 11:23-26. From this account we learn, that it is strictly designed as a remembrance of Christ, and a symbolical exhibition of his death, to be perpetuated in the Churches till he comes. The emblems of his broken body and shed blood symbolize that communion which we have with him in his sacrificial death. For says the apostle: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" 1 Corinthians 10:16.

      With the light, therefore, which revelation has shed upon the design of this ordinance, this is its extent; a memorial of Christ's death. But the entire address of the Saviour and the inspired Apostle in regard to the keeping of this memorial, is to those who were invested with Church relations, and supposed to be in the enjoyment of Church fellowship. "For I have received of the Lord, (says Paul) that which also I delivered unto you," -- you members of the Church at Corinth, who, "hearing, believed, and were baptized," and so united in Church relations. "And now I praise you brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you." 11:2. Our right of participation, therefore, in this memorial, is necessarily determined on antecedent grounds, involving the Scripture requisites of Church membeship. Nor is it enough that we should have scripturally entered into Church relations; we must "continue steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship." There are certain disqualifications which destroy Church fellowship, and which necessarily debar our approach to the Lord's Table. Among these are reckoned insubordination. Matthew 18:17. A schismatical spirit, Romans 16:17. Immorality, 1 Corinthians 5:11. Disorderly walking, 2 Thessalonians 3:6. Disobedience to apostolic authority, 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15; and Heresy, Titus 3:10.

      The direction of the apostle is, "with such an one, no not to eat." Purge out, therefore, the old leaven that ye may be a new lump." And "let us keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth," 1 Cor. 5:7, 8. Finally, brethren, "if there be any virtue" in "walking in the truth;" in "contending eranestly for the faith once delivered to the saints," think on these things. "Be steadfast and unmoveable," "be of one mind," and let that be "the mind of Christ."

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[From Northbend Baptist Association Minutes (KY), 1859. Taken from microfilm records at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Louisville, KY. Northbend is now known as the Northern Kentucky Baptist Association. This essay also appeared in Samuel H. Ford, editor, Christian Repository, February, 1860, pp. 101-108. Transcribed and scanned by Jim Duvall.]



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