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Thoughts on Open Communion

In a Letter to the Rev. William Ward, Missionary at Serampore,
Dated September. 21, 1800.
By Andrew Fuller

"The colours with which wit or eloquence may have adorned a false system will gradually die away, sophistry be detected, and every thing estimated, at length, according to its true value." – Hall's Apology for the Freedom of the Press.

IN answer to your question, "Do not the bounds of Scriptural communion extend to all who are real Christians, except their practice is immoral, or they have embraced dangerous heresies?"

There are three different grounds on which mixed communion is defended:
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1. That baptism is not essential to church communion. 2. That, if it be, adult immersion is not essential to baptism. 3. That, if neither of these be true, yet the right of judging what is and what is not baptism lies in the individual, and not in the community. The statement of your question proceeds upon the first of these grounds; to this, therefore, I shall confine my answer.

I observe you do not plead for communion with saints as saints; for, if so, you could not refuse it to any one, unless you thought him a wicked man: whereas your question allows that real Christians, if they are guilty of immorality, or if they have embraced dangerous heresies, ought to be excluded. This they doubtless ought to be, and that partly for the honour of God, and partly for their own conviction. They are a kind of lepers, whom the people of God should require to be without the camp.

You admit that there are cases in which it is right for good men to be kept from church communion; but you conceive that this should be limited to cases of immorality and dangerous heresy. If there be any difference then between us, it lies in your omitting to add a third case, viz. an omission or essential corruption of instituted worship. Without this, I do not see how you can justify your dissent from the Church of England, or even from the Church of Rome, provided you agreed with them in doctrine and in morals, and were satisfied respecting the piety of your fellow communicants.

You must admit that, so far as primitive example is binding, it has every appearance of establishing the necessity of baptism previously to communion; all that were admitted to church fellowship were in those times baptized. And it appears that the one was considered as necessary to the other. John, the harbinger of Christ, came to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord," (Luke i.17,) or to prepare materials for the kingdom of heaven, which he announced as being at hand. For this purpose he "baptized with the baptism of repentance," (Acts xix.4,) saying unto the people that "they should believe on him who should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus," Acts ii.42. In other words, his object was to render them Christians and to baptize them. It was thus that they were "prepared for the Lord," or rendered fit materials for gospel churches. Peter said, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you." Paul, in all his Epistles, takes it for granted that all Christians were baptized, Rom. vi.3, 5; Eph. iv.5; Col. ii.12; I Cor. i.13; xii.13. When baptism and the Lord's supper are alluded to, it is in connexion with each other, 1 Cor. x.2-4.

You do not pretend that any of the primitive Christians were unbaptized. All you allege is from analogy, or that the apostles dispensed with various other things, which you suppose to have been of equal importance; and that, therefore, if some at that time had neglected to be baptized on some such principle as that on which the Quakers now neglect it, they would have dispensed with this also. It is acknowledged that they did dispense with a uniformity in matters of circumcision and uncircumcision, of days, and meats, and drinks, and whatever did not affect the "kingdom of Christ," Rom. xiv.17. But it appears to me very unsafe to argue from abrogated Jewish rites to New Testament ordinances, especially as the one are opposed to the other. "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God," I Cor. vii.19. Nor does it appear to me, from any thing that is said on the doctrine of forbearance in the New Testament, that the apostles would have dispensed with the omission of baptism. The importance of this ordinance, above every thing dispensed with in the primitive churches, arises from its being the distinguishing sign of Christianity – that by which they were to be known, acknowledged, and treated as members of Christ’s visible kingdom: "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ," Gal. iii.27. It is analogous
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to a soldier on his enlisting into his Majesty's service putting on the military dress. The Scriptures lay great stress upon "confessing Christ's name before men" (Matt. x.32); and baptism is one of the most distinguished ways of doing this. When a man becomes a believer in Christ, he confesses it usually in words to other believers; but the appointed way of confessing it openly to the world is by being baptized in his name. If, therefore, we profess Christianity only in words, the thing professed may be genuine, but the profession is essentially defective; and as it is not Christianity, (strictly speaking,) but the profession of it, which entitles us to a place in Christ's visible kingdom, our claim to visible communion must of course be invalid.

Baptism is an act by which we declare before God, angels, and men, that we yield ourselves to be the Lord's; that we are dead to the world, and, as it were, buried from it, and risen again "to newness of life," Rom. vi. 3, 4. Such a declaration is equal to an oath of allegiance in a soldier. He may be insincere, yet, if there be no proof of his insincerity, the king’s officers are obliged to admit him into the army. Another may be sincerely on the side of the king, yet, if he refuse the oath and the royal uniform, he cannot be admitted.

To treat a person as a member of Christ's visible kingdom, and as being in a state of salvation, who lives in the neglect of what Christ has commanded to all his followers, and this, it may be, knowingly, is to put asunder what Christ has joined together. – See Mark xvi.16. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall he damned." By this language he hath bound us; though, not having said "he that is not baptized shall be damned," he hath mercifully refrained from binding himself.

To dispense with baptism as a term of visible communion, is to connive either at a total neglect of an ordinance which by the authority of Christ is binding to the end of the world, or at a gross corruption of that ordinance; and in many cases at both: for there are great numbers who do not believe themselves to be baptized according to the Scriptures, who yet content themselves with the baptism they have. To connive at a known omission of the will of Christ must be wrong, and must render us partakers of other men's sins; yet I see not how this can be avoided on the principle you espouse, provided you account such persons to be real Christians.

But supposing them to be sincere in their attachment to paedobaptism, or that they really believe it to be the mind of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures; yet still if you admit them to the Lord's supper, you must connive at what you consider as a gross corruption of the ordinance of Christ – a corruption that amounts to a subversion of every good end to be answered by it, and that has introduced a flood of other corruptions into the church. To me it appears evident that paedobaptism opened the door for the Romish apostacy; and that the church will never be restored to its purity while it is allowed to have any existence in it. The grand cause of the church's having been corrupted so as to become apostate was its being MINGLED WITH THE WORLD. Paedobaptism first occasioned this fatal mixture, and national establishments of religion completed it. The one introduced the unconverted posterity of believers; the other all the inhabitants of a country, considering none but pagans, Jews, and deists as unbelievers. The one threw open the door; the other broke down the wall. It is manifestly thus that the church and the world have been confounded, and will always be confounded, more or less, till paedobaptism is no more.

If you admit Paedobaptists to communion, you will not be able for any continuance to secure your own principle – that none but "real Christians" should be admitted. It is like inviting a friend to your table whose company
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you value, but who cannot come without bringing his whole family with him. In the earlier ages baptized children were actually and consistently admitted to the Lord's supper. In national churches they are still generally admitted I believe as they grow up, if no gross immorality appears in their conduct, and in some if it does. And even in congregational churches they are taught to consider themselves, either on account of their birth or baptism, or both, as somehow members of the visible church. Such an idea might in some measure be suppressed, where the great majority were Baptists; but, by admitting members on your principle, it would soon be otherwise.

The religion of Jesus was never suited to the spirit of this world. Its subjects require to be born again, and to make an open avowal of it. Therefore, when worldly men took it in hand, they knew not what to make of it, nor what to do with it, till they had framed it to their mind by explaining away these uncouth principles. Paedobaptism was of essential service to them in this business. Its language was, and still is, "One birth will do, at least for the kingdom of heaven upon earth, provided it be from a believing parent.” And now, the great difficulty being removed, the smaller is easily surmounted. "There is no necessity for an open and public avowal; a little water in a private house will do." Thus the two grand barriers that should separate the church from the world are broken down.

The seven Asiatic churches are commended or censured in proportion to their purity. One thing alleged against the church at Thyatira was that she "suffered that woman, Jezebel, to teach and to seduce God's servants," Rev. ii.20. The allusion is doubtless to the wife of Ahab, who corrupted the pure worship and ordinances of God in her time, and mingled them with idolatry. Whoever they were that were thus denominated, it was doubtless some person or body of persons that strove to draw off the church from her purity, and to introduce for doctrines the commandments of men. It seems, too, that some of God's servants were seduced by her; good men, whom your plan of admission would have tolerated. And it is worthy of notice that, the censure is not directed against her for doing so, but against the church for suffering it.

You allow immorality or dangerous heresy, even in good men, to be a just cause of a refusal of communion. But is not God as jealous of his sovereign authority as he is of his truth and holiness? The ruin of mankind was by means of the breach of a positive institution. The corruption of instituted worship forms a large part of antichristianism, and is to the full as severely censured as its heresies and immoralities. Positive commands, like the bathing of Naaman in Jordan, are designed for the trial of our obedience. And with respect to the gross deviation from the command in question, after it has once opened the door for the grand apostacy, (an apostacy from which we are not cleansed to this day,) shall it be pleaded for as innocent, and ranked with meats, and drinks, and days? Rather ought we not to set our faces against the seductions of Jezebel; and, instead of conniving at God's servants who are seduced by her, to assure them that much as we love them, and long for communion with them, we must, while we have ears to hear, "hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches?" Rev. ii.7.

Andrew Fuller


[From Joseph Belcher, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Volume III, 1845; rpt. 1988. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, ID. -- jrd]

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