GOD’S TERMS OF COMMUNION
God has made the foundation of His Church so wide and
simple that upon it may stand the whole Assembly of God. What then is that foundation? “Other foundation can
no man lay than that which is laid, which is JESUS CHRIST.” (1 Cor. 3: 11; 1 John 4: 15; 5: 1). God’s terms of communion, therefore, began to
be unfolded as soon as the Rejected Stone had become the Head of the
Corner. (1) Paul preaches for three
The universal practice of apostles at length became
crystallized, by the Holy Ghost, into a rule of reception. “RECEIVE YE ONE ANOTHER,
even as Christ also received you, to the glory of God” (
So the quintessence of a church - that which makes it a God-created and God-organised assembly, a catholic church; and without which it is a human sect or party, and not, technically speaking, a church at all – vitally consists in the terms of communion which embrace its fellowship, and on the ground of which it receives into its membership; and LIFE, not LIGHT, is God’s vital and all-embracing term of communion. Regeneration of the Spirit welds into a unity which we can keep (Eph. 4: 3), but can never create; and which, as God created, it must be our most jealous care to maintain, in one solid phalanx [i.e., a ‘united or organized body or company.’], against a hostile world.
The rule of reception also contains a principle. “Receive ye one another, even as Christ also received you.” How did Christ receive me? Dark and unresponsive to God’s deeper truths; with errors, prejudices, angles, waywardness; merely as a sinner saved by grace, the Lord took me: even so receive one another. “Him that is weak in the faith” – a weakness which, in its feeble grasp of Scripture, is sure to reveal itself in error in doctrine – “receive ye, yet not to involved trains of reasoning” (Rom. 15: 1): exactly what is done when a more or less perfect theology is demanded for admission into the Church of Christ. Why did Christ receive me? Because of repentance and faith alone. “If then God gave unto them the like gift as He did also unto us, when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I, that I could WITHSTAND GOD?” (Acts 11: 17). We dare not exact more for fellowship with each other than God exacts for fellowship with Himself. To refuse, under whatever pretext, souls whom He has received, is to “withstand God.” “Let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him” (Rom. 14: 3).
The rule of reception also contains a consequence. “Receive ye one another, even as Christ also received you, to the glory of God.” Fellowship through discipleship alone glorifies God; personal divisions, all separation except separation from the world, Scripture regards as a lust of the flesh (Gal. 5: 21), and a dishonour to God. “I pray that ye may ALL BE ONE; even as thou Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me” (John 17: 21).
Thus we reach the limits of excommunication. On what is exclusion, or refusal to fellowship, to be based? On certain immoralities which would destroy the very life of a Christian assembly. “I write to you not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator or covetous, or an idolator*, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner: WITH SUCH A ONE NO, NOT TO EAT” (1 Cor. 5: 11). These contagious leprosies, which would quench her light, destroy her testimony, and convert her fellowship into a cesspool, no ‘assembly,’ no congregation or ‘gathering’ of believers, must endure. But exclusion is to be based alone on moral guilt, which can be evidenced by facts; not on divergences of conviction, or even actual errors, far too subtle and complex, as such divergences are, for safe adjudication by any but the Lord Himself on the Judgment Seat (Rom. 14: 10-13; 1 Cor. 3: 10-15; 2 Cor. 5: 10); nor may any other ground of excommunication, moral, ritual, or doctrinal, advanced on any human authority whatsoever, be allowed to be added to the Evil Six.
Refusal of fellowship for doctrine other than that which constitutes discipleship, presupposes a rabbi, an assembly, a council, or a papacy so endowed with omniscience and infallibility, that by such all doubts can be resolved, and all truths revealed; a forestalling of Christ’s Judgment Seat which is specifically forbidden (Matt. 23: 8; Rom. 14: 4, 10-13; 1 Cor. 4: 3, 5). It is the sin of Diotrophes. “Not content therewith” – the almost incredible excommunication OF AN APOSTLE, and that the Apostle whom Jesus loved – “neither doth he himself receive the brethren” – whom John had sent: that is, he also excommunicated all who held fellowship with John: and then, crowning all by a fatal act of a schismatic – “them that would [receive John and his brethren into church fellowship] he forbiddeth, and casteth them out of the church” (3 John 10); that is, all who did not actively uphold his excommunications, he excommunicated. Since the lives of the Apostles were above reproach, it must have been on the ground OF THEIR DOCTRINE that Diotrophes acted: even in the golden dawn of the Church apostolic truth could cost Church fellowship. It is exceedingly instructive that beyond a strong verbal protest against his attitude (pride), his words (prattle), and his action (intolerance), John does not meet excommunication with excommunication. For to do so would have been to create a fresh faction: a faction in the right, but a faction; a faction embracing the Apostles, but a faction: and “the works of the flesh” – for each of us has it in him to split the Church of Christ into a thousand fragments – “are manifest, which are these, FACTIONS, DIVISIONS, PARTIES; of the which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they which practise such things SHALL NOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD” (Gal. 5: 21). Some of the fiercest factionists in the Church have been [regenerate] believers of unimpeachable [faultless] orthodoxy. The utmost we may do is to withdraw courteously, without excommunicating: “a man that is heretical” – i.e., factious, a creator of parties whether on truth or error – “after a first and second admonition, avoid; knowing that such a one is perverted and sinneth” (Tit. 3: 10). Even the antichrists, “false brethren privily brought in” (Gal. 2: 4), and so smuggled past the church examiners, were not put out: “they went out from us,” under the stern compulsion of an atmosphere full of the Holy Ghost; “but they were not of us,” never having been regenerated; “for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest how that they are all not of us” (1 John 2: 19). Our strength is to be proved, not by our intolerance, but by our forbearance; and our golden rule is based by the Apostle on his warning against Diotrophes, the original root of all Sectarianism:- “Beloved, imitate not that which is evil” – exclusivism – “BUT THAT WHICH IS GOOD” – catholicity (3 John 11).
Nor does such a church constitute a fresh sect. For it is fundamental catholicity; it fulfils God’s definition of a church, and therefore is accepted by Him as such; nor can its refusal of all sectional labels, and its consequent isolation, in any way impair its catholicity. Its doors are open to all, even when all doors are closed to it.
So this is the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church,
founded on the one Lord, and filled (in the ideal) with the one love. During the Boxer Riots the insurgents did not
ask whether a victim was a Churchman, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, or a
Brother: drawing the figure of a cross upon the ground, they said, - “Will you trample on that?” There is one sect, and one only, to which we
may belong – “the sect of the Nazarenes, a sect
everywhere spoken against” (Acts 24: 5, 28:
22): a sect, or section, cut off,
not from one another, but from the world: for “God
tempered the body together, that there should be no schism in the body”
(1 Cor. 12: 24). “I think if I had a
drop of sectarian blood in my veins, I would open a vain, and let that drop out”
(D. L. Moody). To a soul sensitively
jealous for God’s Word, no pain is so keen as a brother’s refusal of the truth: nevertheless our indulgence of the
pain, by the severance of our brother, is a manifest disobedience. Christ’s Church is God’s convalescent home
for the strengthening of the soul cured but still weak. No shepherd casts the diseased sheep out
among the wolves; no gardener puts the fragile plant outside the conservatory
into the winter’s frosts; no mother expels her wayward boy, forbidding him ever
again to darken the home. “Wherefore lift up the hands that hang down,
and the palsied knees; and make straight paths for your feet, THAT THAT WHICH IS LAME BE NOT TURNED OUT
OF THE WAY, but rather be healed” (Heb. 12: 12; Matt. 19: 30). Our Lord died that He might “gather
together into one the children of God
that are scattered abroad” (John 11: 52):
as Christ died for this, so must we suffer for it. “WE THAT ARE STRONG OUGHT TO BEAR THE INFIRMITIES OF THE WEAK,
AND NOT TO PLEASE OURSELVES” (
[* Where, however, excommunication has to be exercised (1 Cor. 5: 11), it will be ratified, if exercised scripturally, at the Judgment Seat of Christ. “If he refuse to hear the church, what things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matt. 18: 18).]
- D. M. PANTON.
THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS
“Who hath despised the day of small things:” (Zech. 4: 10).
It is not life’s great things
We know it full well;
‘Tis life’s simple, small things
On other lives tell.
The kindly word spoken,
The loving deed done,
‘Tis these that are weighty
At set of the sun.
The action most grieving
That’s sweetly passed by;
The keen disappointment
That’s borne without sigh.
The smile that is given
E’en when things go wrong;
The help ‘mid life’s sorrow –
The sympathy strong.
The harsh, hasty judgement
Both checked and repressed;
The aim to be careful
When feeling depressed.
The love that’s unwilling
An ill tale to rise;
That speaks of another
The word of frank praise.
‘Tis these that are telling,
‘Tis these that shall stand,
‘Tis these make our life here
More noble and grand.
A. G. FISHER.