CONSISTENT STRICT COMMUNION AND INCONSISTENT LOOSE COMMUNION By William Ashmore
CONSISTENT STRICT COMMUNION AND INCONSISTENT LOOSE COMMUNION
By William Ashmore
(1821 – 1898?)
Editor’s Note: William Ashmore was born at Putnam, Ohio, Dec. 25, 1821. He was graduated at Granville, Ohio, and completed his theological studies at Covington Theological Institute, Ky. In 1848, he was ordained pastor of the Baptist Church of Hamilton, Ohio. He went out to Bangkok in 1851. In January, 1858 he was transferred to Hong-Kong. In 1860 ill health compelled him to return to the United States. In July, 1864, he returned to southern China, and established a mission at Kak-Chie. In 1884, Bro. Ashmore had translated four parts of the New Testament into the language of the common people. In 1885, he returned to America, where Mrs. Ashmore departed this life. He visited Siam, Japan and the Telugu mission. He also visited Burma. In March, 1891, he resumed his work in Swatow, China. I cannot tell the rest of the story, for it is unknown to the editor of this paper. He was for 30 years a Baptist missionary in Southern China. He was a hard-working and a sound Baptist.
1.The Communion was instituted by Christ as the second witness of His death–baptism being the first witness. It is a memorial service–to show forth His death–and to be kept up till He come. It was instituted not for the world, but for the church–not outside of the church, but inside of the church–for those who had come in at the door appointed. It is the most tender, the most sacred, and the most impressive of all the services of the house of God. Other services were for the multitude, this one was for the family; others were held in public, this was observed in retirement.
2. The Communion as an ordinance was committed to the custody of the visible church. Each individual church is responsible for its proper observance, for its due protection, and for the faithful maintenance of its witnessing character within its own borders.
It is a church ordinance, and therefore it is not for private observance. „When ye come together in the church”–„When ye come together in one place”–and then follows the manner in which it shall be done. Being an ordinance within the church, the approach to it was of necessity through the baptismal door, the one solitary and exclusive door to the visible church. On the day of Pentecost the three thousand were first baptized; after that they continued in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship and breaking of bread. Throughout the New Testament confirmation is multiplied, so that beyond question this was the order of the apostolic church from which a single deviation cannot be found. Baptism first and the Communion afterward. Since then in all the ages in all the church the symbolical supper has been surrounded by the protecting walls of the church. Baptism administered according to its own accepted standard–not to be superseded by the standard of somebody else–is the only orderly way of coming to the communion table.
3. Close communion or strict communion is simply a close and strict adherence to the above-named principle and practice handed down from apostolic times. Every church which regards its own section of the Lord’s table as a sacred trust, for the proper management of which itself is responsible–as the Corinthians were for theirs–and which holds that baptism (without saying now what that is) is the door of access to church privileges–the Communion chiefest among them, and which also has a defined standard of what baptism is, and professes to live up to it, requiring its members and its visitors alike to respect and conform to that standard–every such church is constructively a close communion church. It is all the same whether it is known as Presbyterian, Congregational, Methodist, Episcopalian, or Baptist; and whether it recognizes baptism as valid under three forms, or only under one form, it matters not, the principle is the same–baptism before communion.
4. Open communion or free communion is a free and open departure from the practice thus set forth of well-regulated churches and a practical renunciation of the principle common to them all, that baptism is an essential prerequisite to communion. Every church which recognizes its section of the Lord’s table as a sacred trust to be carefully guarded, yet throws it open to the miscellaneous professing Christian public; which has a baptism which it regards as the proper doorway to the visible church, and to the Lord’s communion service; which has a standard of baptism which it is perpetually setting aside to please outsiders; which demands that its own converts shall come in through the only door recognized by them, but which deliberately breaks down its own walls at the call of transient and passing strangers in order that they may come in without regard to the door; which claims to be the exclusive judge of qualifications requisite for its own ordinances, but which surrenders its right of judgment to its neighbors who, it asserts, are mistaken on the whole question of baptism–every church that does these things is an open, and a very open, and a very free communion church, no matter where it is found.
In their relations to each other on the subject of close and open communion the various denominations may be divided into three classes:
5. (a) Other denominations than Baptists.–Among themselves they have no trouble about open and close communion. The reason is that they have no difference on baptism. They all believe in immersion, pouring, and sprinkling. So they all agree upon the same door, or rather the same three doors. They can invite each other, for they have all passed through pouring or sprinkling, both recognized doors among them, and they can invite Baptists because they have passed in through immersion, the original door of all, opened by John and used by Christ and His apostles, and thousands and thousands of others, generations and generations before the other two doors were ever heard of or dreamed of. When they invite the passing stranger they know pretty surely that he has come in through a door they recognize, and so they do no violence to their own convictions and bring no suspicions on their own fidelity.
But when they come to speak about Baptists they feel hurt because they do not do what they themselves never do–dishonor their own standards; to affix a stigma on their own gateway; to break down their own protection walls, and go contrary to their own understanding of the Word of God. They ask Baptists to affirm what they never believe, to practice what they never preach, and to surrender their own convictions to be ruled over by the convictions of their neighbors, not a single one of which they have to do themselves. In all frankness and brotherly kindness, without a word of harshness, let it be pointed out that this is very unfair toward the Baptists.
6. (b) English Baptists,–With a few in America called Free Baptists, they yield to this pressure and fall in with the policy marked out for them. They teach that immersion only is baptism; but in practical working they accept as baptism that which they declare to be no baptism. If any one of their own children should be converted they will insist on his immersion before he comes to the Lord’s table; but if an unknown stranger comes along who has not been immersed, but only poured or sprinkled, they will allow him to come without proper baptism. Their own converts must go through the regular door, but other people’s converts may climb over the wall, or rather, have the wall pulled down to make it easy for them to get in over it. If some new-made Christian desiring to commune with them should say he dislikes immersion, but is willing to accept pouring or sprinkling at their hands, they will refuse, telling him that pouring and sprinkling are not baptism. If he should go away to a church of another denomination and be sprinkled or poured, he could come back the next Sunday and they would receive him on the strength of a baptism which the Sunday before they had pronounced no baptism at all. Thus this practice tends to self-stultification. They preach one thing and have to practice another. They say they have a door, and yet allow that practically it is no door. They have a standard, but an actual working, it is not a standard. They put forward immersion as a witness, and yet they themselves contradict the testimony of that witness. They declare that though immersion is the only baptism, yet as soon as the others are performed they will answer the purpose just as well. They let it be understood that though there is only one door into the church, yet there are two other doors to the Lord’s table inside of the church. And so the subject might be continued. In a word, there is not another church in all England that will do what it is expected an English Baptist church will do, and what it does do on a basis of so-called liberality.
(c) American Baptists.–They maintain that the Communion is a church ordinance, and that each church is bound to administer faithfully and consistently its own table; they hold that baptism must precede communion; that immersion only is baptism, and therefore immersion at the door of the church is a prerequisite to communion within the church. Holding these things, they hold them consistently throughout.
The two ordinances are two witnesses. They corroborate each other. After the first one–immersion–has borne its faithful testimony, they refuse to allow the second one to put it to an open shame by neutralizing its testimony, in order to propitiate men. It is not a question of a little water any more than the offense for which Adam was driven out of Eden was a question about a little apple. It is a question of obedience. Close communion, with American Baptists, is a denial of the right of men to change laws and customs in the church of Christ; it is an affirmation of Christ’s exclusive headship; it is a refusal to admit that once an error is committed it then becomes a right; it is the continuation of a refusal to admit that pouring and sprinkling are New Testament baptism; it is a protest against the legitimacy of usages received from the Church of Rome.