The Basis of Reception and Fellowship

The principles which govern a dispensation may be departed from, or even reversed, by divine revelation. For example, the God-appointed separation between Jew and Gentile is abolished; the “middle wall of partition “is broken down in this age. The essential difference between the old covenant and the new—between the dispensation of law and that of grace—necessitated this and other equally radical changes in the divine legislation.

But within the limits of one dispensation, whilst there may be advance or development in divine legislation, or, more properly, adaptation of the initial principles to varying conditions and circumstances, essential change of principle or retrograde legislation there cannot be.

For example, in Exodus 12:47, it is written concerning the Passover, “All the congregation of Israel shall keep it”; and the month Abib is specified as that in which it was to be kept (Exodus 12:3; compare 13:4).

In Numbers 9 the first month of the second year had arrived, and the children of Israel were commanded to keep the Passover at the appointed season. But a circumstance had occurred which presented a difficulty. Certain persons were defiled by the dead body of a man. Such, according to Numbers 5:2, were to be temporarily placed outside the camp, and were thus deprived of the privileges of the congregation of Jehovah.

In the difficulty, God was sought unto; and the new condition that had arisen became the occasion of a fresh divine legislation, which is properly the adaptation of the original appointment to the new and altered circumstances.

In the case of defilement or absence on a journey preventing the observance of the Passover in the appointed season, it was to be observed in the second month.

Most interesting and instructive is the action of Hezekiah in 2 Chron. 30, where the king, his princes, and all the congregation took counsel to keep the Passover in the second month.

The whole congregation took the place of the defiled. It was undoubtedly done in the intelligence of faith, the result in them of the operation of the grace of God.

But, nevertheless, this was exceptional; it was an adaptation to special conditions; and the broad ground was not departed from, that the Passover was for all Israel. Therefore, the proclaimation was sent “throughout all Israel, from Beersheba even unto Dan, that they should come to keep the Passover unto Jehovah God of Israel at Jerusalem.”

No subsequent conditions or legislation could alter the original principle that every Israelite had a prima facie3 right and responsibility to keep the Passover.

That there is an analogy between this Old Testament teaching and the teaching of the New Testament can hardly be disputed. In 1 Cor. 11 the Lord’s own express command is recorded for the Church; and in chapter 1:2 it is made binding upon “all that in everyplace call upon the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” It is therefore indisputably the intention of the Lord that all His own—“the Church which He has purchased with His own blood”— should observe the Lord’s Supper. Although New Testament legislation does not specify time and place, it is nevertheless very plain to those who have no preconceived opinions or traditional theories to hinder, that the fitting occasion is “the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7); and that the place is where the disciples are gathered, whether many or few, unto and in the Name of the Lord. To this gathering and the observance of this ordinance every believer had the prima facie right, and it was their responsibility to be there.

This principle remains unaltered and unalterable until the Lord comes, notwithstanding that changes of circumstances and conditions have brought forth divine limitations that modify the original idea, as to its practical working out. For example, in 1 Cor. 5, the man who sinned was to be severed from the assembly. This was not in order to his destruction, but for his restoration, which probably did take place afterwards, if 2 Cor. 2:7, &c, may be taken as referring to the same person. Here was a divine limitation preventing such characters as are specified from partaking of the feast, even although they may have been genuine children of God.

The ordinary phrase indicating who are to be received, viz., “All believers sound in faith and godly in walk,” is hardly satisfactory.

As 1 Cor. 5 demands that fellowship in the feast be denied to persons guilty of evil practices, so equally do Gal. 5:9-12 and 2 Tim. 2:16-19 demand the same exclusion of those holding fundamental error of doctrine.

But this is not all. In Matt, 18:15-18, one is to be ultimately given the place of “a heathen man and a publican.” For what sin? None is specified. But the divinely appointed steps being taken, and taken in love and for restoration (not in carnality or vindictiveness), the proud, unbroken spirit is so manifested that it becomes apparent to all that fellowship with such in the things of God is an impossibility.

Again, there are the causers of division and stumbling-blocks contrary to the doctrine (Rom. 16:17) to be avoided; and other such scriptures might be adduced.

With these before us, and taking into account the divisions, heresies, and lawlessness abounding in the present day, it must be evident that much care and discernment are necessary if the keeping of the feast is to be in character conformed to the divine instructions.

But whilst all care and patience and discernment, especially on the part of those who are the guides, is requisite, the principle must never be departed from, that every believer has a prima facie right to the fellowship, and that once the assembly be satisfied that the person is a believer he cannot be either expelled or rejected, except there is plain scripture warranting such a course.

Let this simple, and we believe divine, basis of reception be departed from, either in principle or by means of some rigid rule as to the mode of receiving which practically excludes saints, and it will soon become painfully evident that there is no middle course between it and the narrow, and ever narrowing, demands of implicit and absolute subjection to the latest dogmas and sentences of the cleverest and strongest-willed of those who aspire to be leaders. Nay, more; the latest “question” which has arisen and been used by Satan to split an assembly into two or more fragments, will become a universal superadded test by which to determine the possibility or impossibility of fellowship.

Many do not see whither they are drifting. Having departed from scriptural simplicity, they have accepted inch by inch, as a necessary sequence, the dicta of their authorities; and will go on to do so until some decision is arrived at too monstrous to be taken without question.

If after lengthened calculations a mathematical or arithmetical result is arrived at that is palpably incorrect, it is surely time to revise the processes by which the result was reached.

If we are called upon as the result of processes of reasoning to reject and treat as heathens and publicans, with whom there can be no fellowship in the things of God, some of the godliest men we know, it is time to review in the presence of God every step by which such a conclusion has been arrived at.

3 A legal term signifying “at first sight.”