The Test of Church Fellowship
By Buell H. Kazee
Before we proceed in this part of the discussion, it would be well to summarize our position.
Christian fellowship is based upon a common experience of "repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). Church fellowship is based upon the common experience plus agreement in interpretation. Divisions in spirit and heresies in doctrine break the unity of church fellowship (I Corinthians 11:18-20.) A scriptural church is a local, visible body of people who are agreed both in the experience of the gospel and in the interpretation of it. The ordinances are the symbolic interpreters of the gospel, for they both declare the death and resurrection of Christ plus the experience of the believer in this regeneration. They are committed to the church (generic sense), because this is the institution through which Christ chose to preach His gospel and to which He gave the commission to make and baptize disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). In the Scriptures it is clearly revealed that His church (generic) becomes churches (local and visible) when expressed concretely, just as man (generic) is always expressed in a visible body as men and women. Our denominational divisions are on the main question, how sinners are saved, and we are divided either on the experience itself or upon the interpretation of it.
What, then, is the test of fellowship for a scriptural church? When stated, it seems to be very simple, but when explored to its reaches, it involves all that we have discussed in this work. Simply stated, it is this:
(1) Salvation is by grace, through faith, not of ourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
(2) A scriptural church is a local, visible body of God's children, united in a bond of the saving experience of Christ Jesus and in the covenant of purpose to preach His gospel to all the world. With respect to Christ, it is theocratic, being governed
by its Head; with respect to the world and other churches, it is autonomous.
(3) The ordinances, baptism and the Lord's supper, are symbolic to the churches for the double purpose of keeping the truth of salvation at the center of church life and to keep the churches in the center of the truth. The logic of Scripture demands that they be administered only by the churches which preach their truth.
( 4) A reasonable state of scriptural discipline. It is understood that these principles could be worded differently and expressed in clearer language. The purpose in our statement is to give the minimum requirement for fellowship in a scriptural church. As is evident, our concept of the test of fellowship in a scriptural church is not program, methods, organization and such, unless the results of these contradict or break harmony with the gospel objectives of the doctrine.
At this point, we ask permission to make a needed observation. A church may be scriptural and at the same time have some unscriptural practices or program. That is, it may be scriptural in its constitution and doctrine, while at the same time it may be in an unscriptural state spiritually and, we might say, temporarily. There may be periods of declension from which it can be reclaimed, as has been the case, no doubt, in many churches in history. It may be influenced temporarily to some extreme emphasis from which also it may be reclaimed. These times and irregularities should not be the criterion by which we judge a church any more than we should pronounce a Christian entirely unfit because some act or habit of life may, for a time, contradict his testimony. A church must be judged by its pronouncement of doctrine, its trend of life and objectives and a spirit of willingness to correct its evils.
Thus, the real test of fellowship lies in the doctrinal constitution and preachment of a church plus its willingness to adhere to the principles which undergird its existence.
THE TEST OF FELLOWSHIP AND "ALIEN BAPTISM."
Baptists will have little trouble at this point in history with the form of baptism. It is practically universal and unanimous with them to reject all sprinkling or pouring as baptism. It is also unanimous with them to reject all infant baptism of any kind.
We wish we could declare also that it is unanimous with them to reject all baptism from churches which believe that this ordinance saves or helps to save, but we cannot. However, most Baptist churches would reject such baptism.
Our proposition is that there is no logical ground on which we can accept the immersion of even a true believer unless it has been administered by a church which meets the scriptural specifications outlined above. Since baptism is doctrinal, it must represent something, and what it represents depends on what is meant by the administrator.
In the light of this, let us see the practical results of accepting an invalid baptism. Let us take a church which conforms to the scriptural pattern of this study. For identification, let us call it a true church. This immediately implies that all churches which do not agree with this church, both in the experience of salvation and in its interpretation, are not scriptural.
Let us suppose, as is often the case, that there comes for membership in this church one who has had the divine experience of salvation, has been immersed in baptism and claims to have had in mind as the purpose of baptism merely the symbolic expression of the faith. The only thing lacking now is what we call an authorized administrator. The church which administered this baptism believes in immersion only as the mode, but teaches that, while we are admitted to the grace of God thropgh repentance and faith, our final salvation yet depends on our faithful devotion and works. In other words, salvation by works after all, and the baptism which that church gave carried with it their concept of how we are saved. Our position is that the true church cannot accept this baptism without compromising its faith as to how we are saved. If anyone feels that we are reading something into the Word of God here, let him turn again to the most important question ever asked about baptism, "Unto what then were ye baptized?" (Acts 19:3). Paul confirms here without a doubt that baptism means what the administrator has in mind when it is given. Whoever baptized these people had given an erroneous interpretation of John's message, or, at least, these disciples had not grasped the meaning' of John's baptism.
But let us see what often takes place. The pressure of public opinion is now upon this true church. The other church is so nearly in line with its views that only those with scriptural discernment can see the difference. To hesitate to accept this applicant
would seem to mar the dignity of the whole matter by what might be termed "hair-splitting," or maybe the manifestation of pride. In such a situation, the gate of tolerance opens slightly and lets the applicant in. This new member has connections, some of whom may be farther away from the views of this church. But, since it has gone thus far, how can it refuse to be just a little more generous?
By this process, aided always by the feelings of those who have already been admitted on questionable baptism, the true church relaxes little by little from its historic stand. Soon, anyone who conforms to a testimony of faith and a baptism by immersion, whoever the administrator may have been, becomes eligible for membership. Often, this course is aided also by family pressures, such as in the case where a husband and wife who belong to different churches wish to have their church fellowship together.
This course may not have an immediate effect upon the historic doctrine of the church in question. Its ministry will likely become more popular, and those who once considered it to be "narrow-minded" may now begin to frequent its services. There will be less embarrassment, more freedom, larger numbers, good feeling of fellowship, and often a greater number of professions of faith will result. There will come a sense of relief from the scorn which this church has borne through the years, and, as C. H. M. puts it, the pastor and his people may mistake "The peace of circumstances for the peace of God." That is quite understandable in any similar situation, but it is often very deceiving. We know some churches which have had this experience.
Increased numbers may be interpreted as a sign of God's blessings. A larger and freer fellowship can enhance this view. This is not only the experience of individual churches which have followed this path, but it has also been true of great gospel movements in history.
But there is a sequel to all this. Follow this church or movement in history for an indefinite period of time. As long as the gospel for which it has stood dominates, it may still have a saving witness. Ten, twenty-five, fifty, or (in the case of a movement) maybe a hundred years will pass before we see the final result.
We believe that history will sustain us when we say that the
saving message of this church will have slipped away, but if there should be any left, it will be in shreds and fragments so that its identity will not be clear. For example, as we have shown, baptismal regeneration is one of the first heresies. It did not come into dogma immediately. It came gradually from false interpretation of the joyful feeling which accompanied baptism, and the idea that water must have some saving efficacy grew into a doctrine which became the cardinal dogma of a modem denomination. Besides, there are passages of Scripture which, interpreted apart from the whole teaching of the New Testament on salvation, can be construed to undergird this doctrine with scriptural proof. Little by little, water was added to the blood, gradually, the water became more important than the blood, and finally, the water replaced the blood entirely. Doctrine always deteriorates gradually, but in this connection, Paul gives us the clue: "Evil communications corrupt good manners" (I Corinthians 15:33).
Let it be remembered, when Israel neglected the wall, her enemies came in and her people went out into idolatry. Baptism is a wall which the Lord has placed in His churches for the purpose of keeping them separate from the world both in experience and doctrine. A proper and strict application of this ordinance will accomplish His purpose.
Going back to the church which we have used as an example above, that church never intended to change its interpretation of the salvation experience. But the mingling with its people of those who came from churches where experience was emphasized out of proportion to the interpretation, perhaps even to the neglect of the latter, gradually opened the door until those who had no experience at all could enter. The new freedom and fellowship deceived that pure church with the dazzling lure of numerical success, and the church gradually went back to the world.
We believe history will confirm our contention that the great apostate churches and denominations began their apostasy by tampering with the ordinances. Many who have broken out into the freedom of more popular acceptance and larger following by relaxing their stand on the ordinances may still have enough gospel to save from eternal punishment, but their numbers may become overwhelming in that majority which has "a form of godliness," but knows little of the power thereof. Furthermore, given enough time, that church (or movement) will at last come to Rome without a gospel that can save even in the initial experience.
Modern liberalism never once came from churches which kept a strict observance of the ordinances.
For ethical reasons, we have not given example proof of our conclusion here, but we consider that we are prepared to do so. We believe that the proof will be evident to those who may look to the history of the gospel movement for our interpretation.
Let the author bare his heart on this subject. If we do accept the baptism of churches in other denominations ("alien baptism"), by all the logic at our command we must abide by the conclusion that we are also accepting their interpretation of how we are saved. If this be true, would it not be more logical to admit their churches into full fellowship with ours and exchange memberships by letter as is the custom among churches of like faith and order? And if we can do this, why segregate ourselves at all as Baptist churches? Why not drop all divisions and join in one great denomination? If we accept the baptism of any other church as a valid symbolic expression of the message and experience which we preach, then we assert with all candor, there can be no logical reason why we should not accept the doctrine of that church and be in fellowship with it on all fundamental points.
This is the road that Baptists are now following into the great ecumenical church. And if we are going to make the ordinances ecumenical, if they are to be passed back and forth among all the ecclesiastical divisions in the world today as if we are all one, let us not hold back from becoming a part of the great ecumenical order which is now swallowing up the churches which once stood in the blood and tears of martyrdom for Christ and His saving message.
The Test of Fellowship and "Open or Closed Communion."
Nearly all religious denominations require that a communicant in the Lord's supper must have some kind of "baptism." On this matter there is not enough disagreement to undergird an argument. Our area of disagreement comes on the question of the right baptism. In other words, who has been scripturally baptized? Whosoever has had scriptural baptism and is in fellowship with the Lord and His church has a right and duty to participate in the Lord's supper. As has been shown, the question of the right baptism goes back to the source of the baptism, namely, a scriptural church. When we have traced the right
baptism back to the church which has a scriptural right to administer it, we find that only those who have this baptism have a right to participate in the Lord's supper. So, the first requirement for participation in the Lord's supper is what is commonly spoken of as scriptural baptism. Scriptural baptism depends on the authority of a scriptural church and, likewise, the scripturalness of the church depends on its conformity to the requirements set forth in the beginning of this chapter.
Certainly, the requirements for a scriptural church may vary with the viewpoints of different interpreters, each of which has a perfect right to his or her viewpoint. The one set forth in this chapter is ours, and we realize that, like all others who take a position on this matter, we must be responsible to God for our interpretation. But it should be remembered also that all others must likewise be responsible to Him. It is therefore necessary that we all seek whatever light the Holy Spirit may be pleased to throw on the Word for us. One thing is sure: we cannot all be right, but each must stand in good conscience for what he believes. The matter is exceedingly important.
When we assume that the points which we have stated are the minimum requirements, as seen by us in the Scriptures, for a scriptural church, then we must assume also by any honest logic that only such a church can administer scriptural baptism. If only those who have been baptized have a right to participate in the Lord's supper, then, from our viewpoint, only those who have been baptized by such a church have this right. What other conclusion could one come to without murdering all intelligent reasoning?
The other requirement for eligibility at the Lord's supper is that the communicant must be in fellowship with the Lord and His church (the church to which the communicant belongs), both in spirit and in doctrine. Paul justifies this conclusion in I Corinthians 11:17-34. A proper observance of this discipline would greatly aid the restoration of spiritual life to many a weak, worldly church. The church is one body, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is sensitive to sin. The church which tolerates sin in its membership cannot properly eat the Lord's supper.
We have found it to be very strange among many Baptists that they will close the door on "alien baptism" but open it to "open communion." This is, to say the least, a very inconsistent position. If a church will admit to the Lord's supper members
from churches of other denominations,where is the logic that will exclude them from membership on their baptism? In our view, the same rules fit both ordinances.
If, as we have shown, baptism guards the door of the church and there separates the lost from the saved, and if the Lord's supper tests the separation of the church from the world in its daily walk, there can be no ground upon which those whom we consider unbaptized can rightly participate in the Lord's supper with those who claim to have been baptized. If they be with us in spirit, they are contrary to us in doctrine; likewise, those who are with us in doctrine cannot eat with us if they are contrary to us in spirit. There must be unity both in the Spirit and in the Word at the Lord's table.
This, again, is the test of church fellowship.
While it has never been recognized as a theological. concept, there are those who differentiate between the terms "closed communion" and "close communion." The former, they say, means that only those who have been immersed bv a church of scriptural authority have the right to participate in the Lord's supper. This is what we have been discussing. The latter means that those only who belong to a particular local church have a right to participate with that church.
Applying this principle to Baptist churches, under the term "closed communion," anyone of like "faith and order," that is, any member of a recognized Baptist church, although not a member of the particular Baptist church which is observing the Lord's supper, would be admitted. Under the term "close communion," only those of that particular Baptist church would be admitted.
Some have scorned the opinion of those who restrict the supper to the members of a particular local church, but we should remember that, just as those who conscientiously restrict the supper to those whom they believe to have had scriptural baptism, the "close communion" brethren are also following their consciences on this matter. Whether or not we agree with them, we should hold them in high esteem for their conscientious obedience to what they believe. Besides, it might be well to look at the logic which brings them to their conclusion.
To make this easy to understand, let us make it personal.
Suppose you "came forward" confessing Christ as Saviour and asked for baptism at the hands of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. Before your baptism, you moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and there you asked the Walnut Street Baptist Church to baptize you on the authority of the church in Texas. While the Kentucky church holds the Texas church in high regard and in perfect fellowship, they would not baptize you on this recommendation. They would receive you as if you were there making your confession for the first time, would examine your experience and order your baptism on their own authority. This would be perfectly scriptural as well as Baptistic.
Now, let us put the Lord's supper on the same basis. It is a fellowship ordinance. It declares that you are in fellowship with the church of which you are a member, otherwise you would have no right to partake of the supper with even that church. How, then, can you logically go to another Baptist church where you have no recognition and which has no supervision over your fellowship and participate in the ordinance as if you were a member? Are you not denying in such cases that there is a real, functioning universal-invisible church as far as baptism is concerned, but recognizing that there is a universal-Baptist church where all Baptists who are denominationally reputable may join in the Lord's supper? Are you not making baptism a local church ordinance, while at the same time you are making the Lord's supper an ecumenical ordinance?
In discussions with outstanding Baptists on this point, yea, and even on "closed communion," some have said, "Well, brother, you are drawing the lines too tight. These things are not spelled out in the Scriptures." Let this author again bare his heart and conscience. Before Him to whom I must give account for what I say, I cannot see how we can make a church local and visible on baptism but ecumenical on the Lord's supper. As for what is "spelled out" in the Scriptures, if we take this position, we could all be in jeopardy somewhere.
Most of what we do is not "spelled out" in the Scriptures. Mainly, we follow logical deductions. That is why we formulate statements of faith. Church houses came into use a long time after the first church was established, and nowhere in the Scriptures are they indicated for this age. They, like many other matters, are expedients. Church clerks and treasurers are expedients, trustees are expedients, so are all church committees,
although one might find their shadow in the New Testament. Letters of dismissal and recommendation are expedients, yea, even the transfer of membership from one church to another is an expedient. Business meetings, church bells, choirs, Sunday schools, young people's societies, mission societies, associations, conventions, mission boards, denominations, alliances, all these and many other innovations are not spelled out in the Scriptures. Those who take their stand against restricted baptism or communion, on the claim that these things are not spelled out in the New Testament, surely have not considered the weak foundation on which so many other things in Baptist life have been projected.
It is strange that Baptist leaders everywhere deplore the worldliness and weakness of our churches, while at the same time they neglect the very things which Christ placed in His chuches to keep them pure and strong. By all outward signs our churches should be strong. Do we not have the greatest number we have ever had? Are not our organizations admired by much of the religious world? Is not efficiency and training our trademark? In spite of all this, do we have to admit worldliness and weakness? If we moved the test of fellowship back to the ordinances where it belongs, we might decimate our numbers, but we might also become purer and stronger.
Let us say it another way. When we accept baptism from a church, we belong to that church. We are under its guidance and care. Not only is our approval for baptism given by that church, but the approval also of our daily walk is its responsibility. If we are out of fellowship with our church, we have no right to participate in the Lord's supper with it until our fellowship has been restored. The only church which could be in a position to know our spiritual status is the one to which we belong. Logically, we could not go to another church and expect it to decide whether or not we are eligible to take the Lord's supper. While our fraternal relationship may extend to all Baptists, yea, even to all children of God, our covenant relationship in the gospel proclamation is with the church of which we are members.
This points up more sharply than any other view the real meaning of the ordinances. Baptism has to do with our relationship with Christ and His church; the Lord's supper has to do with our fellowship with them. The earthly overseership of both ordinances therefore becomes the responsibility of the church with which we are united.
We come now to a brief summary of the basis of church fellowship. A church is a body with a commission to declare the gospel of salvation. It must, therefore, be united, not only in the experience of salvation, but also in its interpretation. (If we have repeated this theme until the reader is weary, it is in the hope that it is indelibly stamped upon his or her mind.) The ordinances are the visible interpreters, the ceremonial portrayal of the salvation experience, thus we must be agreed in the form, meaning and purpose of the ordinances. This immediately limits the administration of these ordinances to the authority of those who are in such agreement.
If we accept the positibn that we are saved from the penalty of sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then the ceremonial portrayal of our own experience in this great event becomes properly a burial in water at the hands of those who have likewise shared this experience and who hold that baptism is the scriptural interpreter of that phase of salvation. If we accept the position that we are being saved from the power of sin by a sanctifying walk in the Spirit and the Word of God, through the fellowship of one of Christ's churches, then the fitting ordinance to declare this experience is the Lord's supper. By the very nature of the visibleness of this ordinance, as well as its local application, its administration, and our participation in it must be limited to the church which bears the responsibility of watching over us. To accept a baptism or a Lord's supper which declares that we have been saved some other way or that is administered by those who teach that our salvation is experienced or declared otherwise, is, indeed, to break fellowship with those whose administration of the ordinances does correctly declare the gospel of a full salvation.
From the new birth to the resurrection, the ordinances are set in the church solely for the purpose of a symbolic and doctrinal portrayal of the salvation experience, and their administration must necessarily be limited to the churches which agree in the experience which they teach and in the proper declaration of that saving faith.
The only logical conclusion to which we can come, then, is that the churches who are in agreement with the ordinances, both in experience and expression, are the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ. ================[Buell H. Kazee, The Church and the Ordinances, Lexington, KY, 1965, pp. 116-126.] The Church and the Ordinances Index
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