Sketch of "Open Communion"
By J. M. Pendleton
"OPEN COMMUNION," so called, is currently understood to denote intercommunion at the Lord's table between Baptists and Pedobaptists. The general opinion, perhaps, is, that there is nothing in the way of such communion but the "bigotry" of Baptists. This is a mistake. The "Church of England" and the Episcopal Church of the United States have never been in favor of communing with other denominations. The willingness of Presbyterians to commune with Baptists is of recent origin. There was no such willingness on the part of John Calvin, as his "Life" by Paul Henry, clearly shows. Nor did Presbyterians in the reign of Charles I feel any special partiality for their Baptist brethren. While many in Parliament were in favor of tolerating "Protestant sectaries," Hume, in his History of England, chapter 58, says: "The Presbyterians exclaimed that this indulgence made the church of Christ resemble Noah's ark, and rendered it a receptacle for all unclean beasts." In May 2, 1648, the Presbyterians having the ascendency in Parliament, passed "such a law against heretics as is hardly to be paralleled among Protestants." (See Neal's "History of the Puritans," Part III, Chapter 10). It specifies "heresies" and "errors." Among the "errors" I observe this: "That the baptism of infants is unlawful and void, and that such persons ought to be baptized again." Upon "conviction"
or "confession" of his error, the person implicated was to "renounce" it "in the public congregation," or "in case of refusal, be committed to prison till he find sureties that he shall not publish or maintain the said error or errors any more." There was in that age no "open communion." A Baptist had to renounce the distinctive peculiarities making him a Baptist to keep out of prison. He could not, in his Baptist character, commune with Presbyterians. No, as a Baptist he was thought fit only for a prison, and could not, even if inclined, be present at a Presbyterian communion. The law, too, must have contemplated imprisonment for life, for it was to continue till "sureties were obtained" etc. In the case of real Baptists, "sureties" could not of course be found, and therefore imprisonment for life was provided for.
It is needless to say that the Congregationalists of New England, when they "fined," "whipped" and "banished" Baptists, were not in favor of communion with them. If they ever used the words "open communion," it must have been in an intensely ironical sense. I cannot refer to what Methodists did when Presbyterians and Congregationalists were treating our Baptist fathers so disrespectfully; for the time of Methodism had not come.
Where shall we look for the origin of "open communion"? So far as I know, we can learn as much about it from "St. Mary's Norwich Chapel Case," as from any other source. It appears from the volume in which this "Case" is published, that the Baptist church meeting in St. Mary's Chapel, Norwich, England, did somewhere about the year 1845, begin to practice mixed communion, greatly to the dissatisfaction of a minority of the members. As the ground on which the chapel stood had been deeded to "Particular Baptists," the minority, that is, the strict communion members, believed themselves entitled to it, and took the matter into court in the year 1858. It was decided against them in 1860. Many think with William Norton, in his report of the case, that the decision of the Chancellor was unjust, but of this I shall say nothing.
The volume before me purports to have been edited by Rev. George Gould, pastor of the church, and it is valuable not only as giving a statement of facts, but the speeches of counsel and the judgment of the court. Mr. Roundell Palmer was the chief counsel for the plaintiffs, and in his two speeches goes fully into the matter in controversy. He, of course, had occasion to refer to "open communion," and he found very little of it in
the seventeenth century. This will appear in his own words which I quote:
"Now the five persons, who are said to have been advocates of this doctrine in the seventeenth century, are Jessey, Tombes King, Palmer and Bunyan. I will show your Honor, presently, that King and Palmer are simply introduced into that list without any warrant, and that the passages which have been extracted from their writings, have no bearings directly or indirectly on the question, not the slightest; therefore we have really only to deal with Jessey, Tombes and Bunyan."
Referring to Mr. Jessey, in connection with " the first founded of all the Independent churches," he says:
"Mr. Jessey became a pastor of that church, although still a Pedobaptist in opinion, in 1637. Then Mr. Jessey was immersed and became a Baptist—that is, he adopted the Baptist opinion and he himself was baptized, according to that opinion, in 1645; but Mr. Hanburg, the historian of the Independents, says that his congregation were firm, most of them, for infant baptism . . . His case, as an Independent, is exactly parallel to the next case of Tombes, who was a minister of the church of England, and who (as your Honor will recollect) was a beneficed clergyman of the Church of England, in the metropolis. . . . Therefore one of these two was the case of an Independent, the other the case of an Episcopalian minister, adopting the opinions of the Baptists, conforming in his individual practice to their manner of baptism by being immersed himself—but not adhering to their ecclesiastical communion at all, at any time."—Pages 289, 291, 292.
These extracts must make the impression that Messrs. King, Palmer, Jessey and Tombes, are rather feeble witnesses, if witnesses at all, in favor of open communion. I think, therefore, that the historical fact in the matter is that, of the Baptists of the seventeenth century, Bunyan was the only prominent man in favor of open communion. His views are fully expressed in his treatise entitled: "Differences in Judgment about Water Baptism no Bar to Communion." This treatise may, with no impropriety, be termed a disparagement of the ordinance of baptism. It will be difficult to find, outside of Quaker literature, any thing that makes so little of baptism. I do not see how any Baptists of this age can, without sorrow and shame, read views so deprecatory of an ordinance of Christ.
The influence of Bunyan in favor of open communion was, it
may be supposed, for a time considerable, and we should perhaps attribute to that influence the discrepancy between two Baptist Confessions of Faith with regard to the Lord's Supper. The first of this was made by "seven churches of Christ in London, which are commonly, but unjustly, called Anabaptists." This Confession was made about the year 1643. Its 39th article is this:"Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, given by Christ, to be dispensed upon persons professing faith, or that are made disciples; who, upon profession of faith, ought to be baptized, and after to partake of the Lord's supper."
Here the priority of baptism to the Lord's supper is clearly recognized by the seven London Baptist churches. It is morally certain, therefore, that loose views of the communion question were not then entertained. In 1655 Bunyan was converted, and soon began to preach. He was imprisoned in 1660, and died in 1688. In the year 1689, the year after Bunyan's death, "the ministers and messengers of a hundred baptized congregations, in England and Wales," put forth a Confession which, while it refers to baptism and the Lord's supper, says nothing of the precedence of baptism. It differs from the confession of 1643 in this respect: the one gives a clear utterance, the other is silent. The silence is, I suppose, to be ascribed chiefly to Bunyan's influence which was possibly greater in the assembly on account of his recent death. It does not appear, however, that any one in the assembly, or afterwards for a century, was the advocate of open communion. Mr. Palmer in the same speech, from which extracts have been made, says:
"It is admitted that the controversy dropped after Bunyan's time, and was not revived until the latter part of the eighteenth century." p. 289. The testimony of Dr. Wall, in his "History of Infant Baptism," is appropriate here. I quote from the London edition of 1705, vol. 2, page 415, as follows:
"I know that the Antipedobaptists do not admit to the Lord's supper, when it is administered by themselves, any but what are baptized in their way." Dr. Wall had this knowledge at the close of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century. It is certain, therefore that "the controversy dropped after Bunyan's time." It was revived in the latter part of the eigtheenth [sic] century, and it was then, that is to say, in the year 1778, that Abraham Booth published his "Vindication of the Baptists from the Charge of Bigotry in Refusing
Communion at the Lord's Table to Pedobaptists." The treatise contains internal evidence that the "charge" was made by Pedobaptists, and that the author wrote in defense of Baptists whose principles and practice had been severely censured.
It is credible, however, that there were even then individuals among the Baptists who objected to strict communion. In the early part of the present century, as all the world knows, Robert Hall avowed himself the advocate of open communion, His splendid abilities and magnificent eloquence had rendered him very popular. He put forth all his strength to establish his position which was in substance this: That there is no necessary priority of baptism to the Lord's supper. This, it must be admitted by all, is a novel position, in conflict with the views of Romanists and Protestants. All Pedobaptists, because they are such, that is, practice infant baptism, must believe that baptism precedes the Lord's supper for the obvious reason that the supper can not precede baptism. Baptists, with few exceptions, have ever believed that baptism, according to the Scriptures, as certainly precedes communion at the Lord's table as regeneration precedes baptism. To scatter to the four winds all that Robert Hall ever wrote in defense of open communion, it is only necessary to interpret the apostolic commission, "Go, disciple all nations, baptizing them,"etc. Everybody sees that the process of discipleship is first, and then the administration of baptism follows. Now, is it possible for any man, however voracious his credulity, to believe that there can be between inward discipleship to Christ by faith and the avowal of that discipleship in baptism, a place for the observance of the Lord's supper? The thing is impossible and preposterous. This I write and publish before all the learned exegetes of Christendom. I defy any and every man among them to give to the apostolic commission a sensible interpretation which does not demand the priority of baptism to the Lord's supper.
Since the death of Robert Hall, Mr. Spurgeon has been the most prominent advocate of open communion. His great popularity as a preacher has enabled him to do more in the dissemination of his views than a dozen men of limited influence could do. Mr. Spurgeon is amazingly inconsistent. No Baptist denounces infant baptism, and especially infant baptismal regeneration, with more terrible severity than he. No man bears stronger testimony to immersion as the exclusive baptismal act. When, however, he invites Pedobaptists to the Lord's table, he virtually nullifies all he says against infant baptism, and practically
sets at naught all his arguments in favor of immersion. He who does not see the egregious inconsistency of all this must be blind indeed. Candor requires me to concede, and I cheerfully do so, that Mr. Spurgeon exemplifies one fortunate inconsistency. It is this: While he favors open communion, he opposes open membership. That is to say, while he permits Pedobaptists to commune in his church, he does not permit them to become members unless they are immersed. The intimation that there can be membership in Baptist churches without immersion will surprise many in this country, but in England the matter is understood. In some of the so-called Baptist churches there, unimmersed Pedobaptists have membership and even fill the office of deacon. Mr. Spurgeon tolerates nothing of this kind in his church, and is happily inconsistent with himself. If Pedobaptists are permitted, as unbaptized, to commune in his church, it is difficult to see any good reason for debarring them from membership. Their non-baptism, says Mr. Spurgeon, renders them ineligible to membership; their non-baptism, say I, renders them ineligible to communion. I go farther than this, and say that membership in a scriptural church is the supreme prerequisite to communion, while baptism is a prerequisite because it is indispensable to church membership. This view results necessarily from the fact that the Lord's supper is a church ordinance. Church membership, as the supreme prerequisite to the Lord's supper, was, so far as I know, first referred to in my "Church Manual," published in 1868.
As to the proportion of Baptist churches in England that favor the practice of open communion, I am not prepared to say. I fear that a majority of them must be so classed. If so the fact is, I suppose, chiefly chargeable to the influence of Messrs. Hall and Spurgeon.
In the United States there in some open communion sentiment among Baptists, in some places, but the practice of the churches is almost uniform on the side of strict communion. The Freewill Baptists, as they call themselves, have ever advocated open communion; but they do not, properly speaking, belong to the Baptist denomination. Nor has their liberal (?) practice promoted their growth and prosperity. The ministers among regular Baptists who are supposed to be favorable to open communion are not numerous, and some of them possess peculiar mental and moral characteristics. Of course no one of them can construct a scriptural or logical argument in favor of inviting the unbaptized to the Lord's table, and yet they would
have them to come. Communion seems to be with them a sentimental thing rather than a matter of principle. It would be well for them to examine themselves to see whether they are not guided by feeling in disregard of the word of God. While they laud charity, they should remember that charity is the daughter of truth. Of the spurious charity which favors any unscriptural practice, we disavow it and say, "WE HAVE NO SUCH CUSTOM, NEITHER THE CHURCHES OF GOD."
BOWLING GREEN, KY., Sept. 1889.
[From S. H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, 1889, pp. 327-333; via the University of Wisconsin – Madison, digitized documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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