South African Bible Believers
of the Lord's Supper
Some Scriptural Principles Regarding the Welcoming of Believers
Alfred P. Gibbs
Properly speaking, an assembly does not "receive" a fellow believer to the Lord's supper, but rather welcomes him. Let us illustrate this distinction in terms. Let us suppose that a person is a guest of the President at the White House. While he is there, the President decides to have a banquet and invites quite a number of people. When the guests respond to the invitation and arrive at the White House, who receives them, the guest or the host? There is only one answer to this question. You reply, and rightly, the President does the receiving. What, then, does the guest do? The guest simply welcomes his fellow guests who have responded to the invitation of the president. Now apply this to the Lord's supper. Who invites the guests? The Lord. Who receives the guests? The Lord. What do believers do? They welcome their fellow guests who have responded to the invitation of their common Lord.
Now let us pursue the illustration a little further. Would this guest of the President, without consulting his host, take it upon himself to invite a number of his friends to the White House for supper? Of course not. This is the prerogative of the host alone. Likewise, Christians do not have any authority to invite people to the Lord's supper. They have the privilege of showing their fellow believers, from the Word, that the Lord has invited all His own, who are sound in life and doctrine to His supper; but the accepting of and the responding to that invitation is the responsibility of each believer.
When a believer, sound in life and doctrine, presents himself at an assembly, and desires to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread, he should be welcomed by his fellow guests at the "feast of love Divine." Much heartache would have been avoided if this simple fact had been kept in mind. By adopting a harsh, rigid and exclusive attitude to their fellow believers, some assemblies have acted as though they were the hosts at the Lord's supper, and consequently many true believers have been refused participation and thus denied their birthright privilege.
In this matter of welcoming believers to the Lord's supper, there are two extremes to be avoided: the extreme of ultra exclusivism on one hand and the extreme of gross carelessness on the other. In the former case, some assemblies would impose, on the believer, other conditions than what the Word warrants, namely that the person is saved, is doctrinally sound and morally clean. They would insist that he agree to abide by certain of their own rules and regulations which are not laid down in the word of God, ere he can be permitted to remember the Lord with them. In the case of the careless assembly, little or no care is exercised in welcoming one who desires to partake of the Lord's supper. The great necessity, therefore, is to firmly avoid both extremes.
Our Lord laid down a principle to which all assemblies should give good heed: "He that receiveth you, receiveth Me, and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me" (Matt. 10: 40). If the Lord has received a person, then what shall be said of that company that refuses to welcome him? In effect, it claims to be more particular and discriminating than the Lord Himself! What mischief, and worse, has been wrought by a narrow, bigoted and tight-laced attitude adopted towards the Lord's people who do not see exactly as they do; but who love the Lord with as much devotion, and perhaps more, than they. Hundreds of simple believers have been stumbled by the harsh, uncharitable, censorious and ultra critical attitude and treatment adopted towards them by those who claimed to be "the-Lord's-gathered-out-people," as distinct from those contemptuously referred to as belonging to "the sects and the systems." If only such assemblies were as much interested in gathering in as they are in gathering out, there would be a revival among the dead bones!
Let us be clear on this matter of sectarianism. Any company of believers who claim to possess certain exclusive spiritual blessings that are not common to all other believers; or who designate themselves by a distinguishing name that is not common to all other believers; or who claim to have a superior status, in the sight of God, that is not true of other Christians; or who claim to have an exclusive monopoly of the presence of Christ in their midst, as distinct from other companies of believers, is on sectarian ground. Of all the sects of Christendom, the sect that claims to be unsectarian, but acts in a sectarian manner, is the worst sect of them all! It is possible to be most careful in the matter of breaking bread, and most callous in the matter of breaking hearts.
There is always the danger of going "beyond the things that are written," (II Cor. 4:6 R. V.) and imposing conditions upon the welcoming of believers that the New Testament does not lay down. It is still possible for the traditions of men to supersede the authority of the word of God. (Matt.15: 9). It is sad to see an assembly more interested in ways and means of keeping Christians out than in thinking of ways and means of bringing them in. Any company of believers, that knowingly refuses to allow a believer, sound in doctrine and life, a place at the Lord's supper, constitutes itself, by that very act, a sect, however strenuously those composing it may deny the fact. While ever maintaining godly care in welcoming Christians, let us keep an open heart for all the Lord's people, and show them that love, courtesy and consideration that is the evidence of real and vital Christianity. The words of our Lord should ever be kept in mind: "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35).
In this connection, the weighty words of C. H. M., author of the much used "Notes on the Pentateuch," are worthy of our most serious consideration: "If there be any term of communion proposed, save the all important one of faith in the atonement of Christ and a walk consistent with that faith, the table ceases to be the Lord's, and becomes the table of a sect."
There are two ways of determining who shall, or who shall not be welcomed to the Lord's supper. One is to draw up a list of inflexible rules and regulations, either written or oral, to which every applicant must wholeheartedly agree ere he can enter their exclusive circle of fellowship. This, of course, answers to the book of discipline that is used in many denominations. This obviates the necessity for any real spiritual discernment, and becomes a purely mechanical process by which a certain uniformity of procedure is attained.
The other method is for each applicant to be considered on his own merits. This will involve the application of certain scriptural principles laid down in the word of God, and applied by spiritual brethren, who are sensible well taught in the Word, well balanced, gracious and considerate. These will interview the person who desires to break bread, and decide whether or not he should be welcomed. Happy is that assembly that has a number of such sound, spiritual and sensible men!
Perhaps some may be wondering what are the scriptural principles that should govern our judgment in these decisions. Let us look at some of them.
In the first place, a believer could be welcomed on his profession of faith in Christ. Through the hearing of the gospel, this person has come to realize his need as a lost sinner, and has believed the message of salvation through faith in the One who bore his sins and died to secure his deliverance. Upon accepting Christ and confessing Him as Lord, he has been baptized, and now desires to observe the Lord's supper. Such a person, of course, is warmly welcomed, as a known believer.
Again, a person may be vouched for by a brother or sister in whom the assembly has confidence. This is illustrated in the case of the apostle Paul. On his return from Damascus, where he had been saved, he attempted to meet with the believers in Jerusalem. Knowing that, at one time. Paul had been a bitter persecutor of Christians, the brethren were afraid to welcome him. Barnabas, however, a brother in whom they had every confidence, recommended him to the assembly and, on his testimony, Paul was allowed to come among them. (Acts 9:19-29).
Then again, the person who comes to the assembly may carry a letter of commendation which his home assembly has given him. This letter, signed by the responsible brethren, commends this person to the love and care of any company of believers meeting on scriptural lines. On the strength of this letter, the believer is welcomed. (II Cor. 3:1-4).
We must beware, however, of allowing this form of procedure to become a fixed and inflexible rule governing the welcoming of believers. It has happened too often that a carnal believer, who carries a letter of commendation from his home assembly, has been welcomed to the breaking of bread; while a deeply spiritual believer, who does not carry such a letter, is refused the privilege of partaking of the Lord's supper. Thus one person's ecclesiastical connection is given preference to another's spiritual character, and this is definitely not of God. Spiritual character must always be preferred to ecclesiastical connection.
Once more, a well known and respected preacher, or teacher of the Word, will not need any letter of commendation. His work has already commended him to the attention of the Lord's people. However, if such a person were to go to another country, where he is not known, it certainly would be advisable for him to take a letter of commendation with him. Paul came under this classification and wrote: "Need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or from you" (II Cor. 3:1).
There are cases, however that do not come under any of these categories. Here is a godly person, sound in doctrine and life, but who has been identified with a denomination for many years. This person has been brought to see, by his study of the word of God, the unscripturalness of his position. He has been led to realize that denominationalism and clerisy have no support in the New Testament. Accordingly, he presents himself at an assembly of believers and desires to meet with them. What is to be done in this case? He should be interviewed by a few courteous, well taught, and spiritually discerning brethren. With judicious questioning, they can soon determine if he is a real child of God and thus qualified to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread.
However, there may be some things that this brother has not yet seen, due to his long association with the denomination he has just left. For instance, he may not be clear on the subject of believer's baptism by immersion subsequent to conversion. By all means let this matter be placed before him in a kindly and faithful manner; but it should not be made the condition on which he is allowed to take the Lord's supper. To force his submission to a rite that he cannot see, in order to enable him to comply with an ordinance that he can see, is not only to go beyond the word of God, but is the height of unreasonableness.
We must ever keep in mind that we are living in the midst of something that the New Testament does not directly contemplate, namely, a baptized mass of humanity. Practically every genuine Christian we meet has passed through some form of baptism, so called. In a great number of cases he was sprinkled with water as a baby. When, in later years, he was saved by the grace of God, he was given to understand that this christening was the equivalent of believer's baptism, and his denomination encouraged him in this belief.
We should not expect this Christian to see, in an hour, what it has taken us years to learn! Let us encourage him to act upon what he does see. As he does so, God will give him more light on what he cannot see now, for it is written: "For with Thee is the fountain of life. In Thy light we shall see light." (Ps. 36:9) In any case, as we have found out for ourselves, it is much harder to unlearn than to learn? As this person comes under the ministry of the Word, in the congenial atmosphere of a spiritual assembly, marked by a love for all the saints, he will develop in his understanding of the truth, and "grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord."
Apollos is a case in point. He is described as being "an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures," but he was not clear on the question of baptism. Fortunately, there was a godly couple, Aquila and Priscilla, in whose home the assembly met. They took him aside, "and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." (Acts 18: 24-28; I Cor. 16:19).
Let us beware of spiritual snobbery, which causes believers to look down upon their fellow believers who do not have the amount of light on the Scriptures that they may have. Let us not make light on the Scriptures the test of fellowship, but life in Christ. There is no aristocracy in the family of God! All the members of that family have the same Father, the same Savior, the same indwelling Comforter, the same Bible, the same salvation, the same hope, the same blessings and the same eternal home. Of all Christians it is written: "Ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3: 28). An old Christian used to say: "Keep the door of the gospel open for all sinners and the door of the assembly open for all saints.
An assembly must also beware of social snobbery, and the forming of cliques. James condemns this in unsparing fashion. Mark well his words: "My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come into your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him; 'Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, 'Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool'; are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?... If ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin and are convinced of the laws as transgressors." (James 2:1-9). There can be no class distinctions at the Lord's supper. All believers occupy one common position as "priests unto God." The fact that one Christian has more money, or a better job, or lives in a better house than another, does not elevate him to a higher plane in God's sight. We are exhorted to "Mind not high things, but condescend to (or go along with) men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits." (Rom.12:16).
Sometimes it happens that Christians from some denomination will come to the Lord's supper, not to break bread, but simply to observe what takes place at such a meeting. They are not clear in their own minds as to what the New Testament teaches in this regard, but are willing to learn. What a privilege it is to meet such, and to help them on their way! These should also be contacted in their homes and dealt with wisely. Each assembly would be well advised to have some good literature on hand to give to such. Many have been led to see these scriptural principles of gathering as a result of a careful reading of such literature in the light of the word of God.
We could not conclude this rather long section better than by referring the reader to John Bunyan's immortal allegory, "The Pilgrims' Progress." The pilgrim is described as coming to the Castle Beautiful, which, of course, pictures a scripturally gathered company of believers. At the door he was met by a woman named Discretion, who questioned him as to his profession of faith in Christ and his manner of life. Once she was satisfied as to the reality of his experience of the saving grace of God, she passed him on to her three sisters, whose names were Prudence, Piety and Charity, who engaged him in further conversation. These four sisters represent four virtues, or graces, that should characterize every company of believers. First, there should be discretion in welcoming a person who desires to meet with an assembly. Second, there should be prudence, or sound common sense. Third, there should be piety, or godliness. Last, but by no means least, there should be charity, or love. As these four virtues are allowed to have full and harmonious expression in a company of believers, the saints will be edified, and God will add others of His people to that assembly because, in such an atmosphere, they will be led on in ways pleasing to Himself.
We have spent considerable time on this matter of welcoming our fellow believers. We have done so deliberately, because it is a matter of controversy in some Quarters, where rigid views are looked upon as being "scriptural," and true to what they call: the "old paths." Let us seek to hold and maintain a proper balance in regard to these things, and make the principles of Scripture our sole guide in this matter.
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