Recovering The Reformed Communion (2)

from Alexander and Rufus: Dialogues on Church Communion by John Anderson (1820)
excerpted pp.4-6, 21 and edited by Gregory Baus

Here is stated in summary what we believe to be the truth according to the Scriptures concerning sacramental communion of the church, often called close communion, taught and practiced by the genuinely Reformed Church.

First, the visible communion of Christians in any particular church or local congregation consists in their declared agreement to adhere to one public profession of the Christian religion, and in their joint endeavors to maintain and propagate that profession.

Second, this profession is a profession of the whole Christian religion. We cannot warrantably decline the explicit profession of one jot or tittle of it; since the authority of the Divine Testimony, which binds us to receive any part, binds us equally to receive the whole.

Third, while the profession of the Christian religion attained by a particular church, as well as her practice, is imperfect; and while much of her profession is rejected by many bearing the Christian name; it is necessary that the articles of her public profession, which are the matter of her communion, be ascertained with precision.

Fourth, every person who joins in the public ordinances of a particular church, and especially in the Lord's Supper, declares that he has communion with her in her public profession and acknowledges it to be his own profession. For the public profession that is made in the participation of the public ordinances of Christianity can be only one; that is, the profession of the particular church in which these ordinances are administered.

Last, persons cannot reasonably pretend to have communion with a particular church in her public ordinances, and especially in the Lord's Supper, while they openly persist in an obstinate opposition to any article of her profession. Persons may indeed share in that communion who have but a small measure of knowledge, but obstinate opposers to any article can have no communion in it at all.

The visible communion of Christians is expressed in Scripture by the holding fast of their profession, one profession only, not many or different professions (Heb 4:14; 10:23), by glorifying God with one mind and one mouth, speaking the same thing, joined together in the same judgment (Rom 15:6, 1Cor 1:10), and serving him with one accord (Zeph 3:9). Their communion among themselves in the exercises of religious worship, and in all the other parts of Christian practice, belongs to the joint maintaining of one profession of the Christian religion.

As the agreement of a number of men to unite their efforts for the raising of a weight, or for the working of a ship, may be called a mechanical communion; so the agreement of a number of Christians to adhere to and maintain one profession of the Christian religion is church communion. In the common affairs of life, there can be no rational communion among any number of persons, unless the matter about which they are to have communion be exactly determined. Thus, if it be the raising of a heavy body, it is necessary in order to communion in that work to determine by what means it is to be raised; whether by a lever, for example, or by a pulley, or by an inclined plane.

So in order to the communion of persons in a particular church, it is necessary that the articles of the public profession which she has attained and which constitute the matter of her communion, be ascertained by her creed, by her confession, or by her declaration and testimony; and that it should be one important part of the work of her ministers in their public discourses to explain and vindicate that profession. When a church is honest and faithful in the use of these means, it is easy to know what is the matter of her communion. Faithfulness in this respect is one principle mark by which a reforming may be distinguished from a backsliding church.

Christians are “to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints,” (Jude 3) for every article of the faith at whatever time delivered, whether in the Old or in the New Testaments, whether in the personal ministry of Christ, or afterwards by the apostles. When a particular church refuses to communicate with opposers of some of her articles considered more essential to salvation, and yet agrees to communicate with the opposers of other articles considered non-essential, this is contrary to the duty of earnestly contending for the faith, and resents injury done to Divine truth when opposition is contrary to their own salvation, but not whenever it is contrary to the authority and glory of God.

For a particular church, or her members, to have sacramental communion with the obstinate opposers of any of the truths or ordinances of Christ, as professed to be agreeable to his word, is inconsistent with that Great Commission Christ gave his ministers at his ascension, that they should “teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever he had commanded them” (Matt 28:20). For what are the things in which Christians are to have sacramental communion? The answer is in all the things which the apostles and other ministers ought to teach as the things of Christ –and these are not only some things, or the most important things, but all things that he commands. All that truly belongs to the Christian religion was delivered by Christ as the Great Prophet of the church; and the Divine injunction is, “Him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you” (Acts 3:22).

Only such close communion is agreeable to the representation which the apostle gives of the partakers of the Lord's Supper. “We being many,” he says, “are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1Cor 10:17). According to these words our participation of one bread in this ordinance imports a joint profession of the Christian religion just as partaking of the sacrifices in the idol's temple imported a joint profession of idolatry. As Christians in receiving the Lord's Supper partake of one bread, so they make one profession of the Christian religion. The profession of receiving Christ as tendered in the Lord's Supper is a profession of the whole Christian religion. For it is a profession, not only that we rely on Christ as a Priest for pardon, but that we fully assent to all he teaches us as a Prophet, and that we cordially submit to all the laws and ordinances which he has delivered to us as our King.

The prominent scheme of sacramental communion that is not close communion differs from the apostle's communion in at least two respects. First, a public profession of the whole Christian religion is necessary to the sacramental communion of the apostle, for it implies a joint profession of receiving Christ as tendered to the partakers. Whereas the public profession of only those parts of the Christian religion that are termed essential is necessary to sacramental communion according to this non-close scheme. Second, the public profession of each communicant is the profession of all who partake of the same sacramental bread, according to the apostle. But according to this non-close scheme the public profession of some of the partakers may be different from, and in some respects opposite to, the profession of the rest.

The profession of religion which is made by the partakers of the Lord's Supper in any particular church is to be considered, either as a merely personal or as a joint profession. If it be considered as merely personal (the profession of each individual only), there may be as many different professions as there are partakers, and there will be no communion at all in the same profession. On this supposition the apostle could not have justly inferred from their partaking of that one bread that they are one body. But if the profession made in the act of communicating be a joint profession, then it must be the profession of the particular church by whose ministers this ordinance is dispensed. No other public profession of the Christian religion is or rightly can be made in the act of communicating in that particular church.

and more about Rev. John Anderson

UPDATE: below is an outline of the first part of Alexander & Rufus, which I posted in a comment section discussion here.

1. The evil of divisions in the church
2. Some separations from particular churches unlawful
3. Secession from corrupt churches lawful
4. False methods of healing divisions
5. Scriptural church communion stated
6. An approbation of the public profession of a particular church implied in the partaking of her sacramental communion
7. The distinction between the essentials and the non-essentials of Christianity, considered.

8. The scheme of catholic communion now pleaded for, inconsistent with the regard due to all the truths of God
9. This scheme unwarrantable on account of the uncertainty of the grounds on which it proceeds
10. The evils tolerated by this catholic communion, not matters of mutual forbearance according to the Scriptures
11. Confessions of faith justly considered as terms of church communion
12. The catholic communion pleaded for, inconsistent with the due exercise of church discipline.

13. The character of a church with which we are to have sacramental communion
14. The import of Calling on the Name of the Lord Jesus.
15. Sacramental communion with what may, in some sense, be termed a true church of Christ, not always our duty
16. Sacramental communion with those with whom Christ has communion, in some cases, not warrantable
17. Nor, in some cases, with those that belong to the catholic church
18. Nor always with a particular church, on account of its duty to dispense the Lord’s supper
19. The Christian character which entitles to sacramental communion.

20. The instances of sacramental communion recorded in the New Testament, no examples of the catholic communion in question
21. The charge of unchurching other churches, and of spiritual pride on account of our declining sacramental communion with those from whom we are in a state of secession, shown to be unjust
22. Declining to attend on the public administrations of ministers on account of their erroneous profession, lawful
23. The promotion of love to the brethren by this catholic communion, considered
24. Of the evils said to arise from our limiting sacramental communion to such as make the same public profession
25. The nature and tendency of this catholic communion inferred from what has been advanced in the preceding conversations.

26. The adoption of this scheme of catholic communion by the whole church, in any
period, incredible
27. What sort of instances are not to be admitted as examples of this catholic communion
28. No approved practice of such communion in the time of the apostles
29. Nor for some centuries after their decease shown,
first, from the designations of the truths which communicants professed to receive,
secondly, from the exclusion of some from sacramental communion who were
esteemed as true Christians,
thirdly, from the authority of the decrees of councils in the primitive church
fourthly, from the uniformity of public profession in the primitive church
30. The practice of this catholic communion not proved by the different usages that obtained in the ancient churches
31. Whether it was the sense of the ancients, that separation from a particular church, holding the essentials, is always separation from the catholic church
32. Whether the Fathers condemned the Novatians and Donatists simply on account of their separation from the churches of Rome and Africa
33. Errors of the Donatists; The principles and reasoning of these sects very different from those of many who now oppose the modern scheme of catholic communion
34. Whether it was the judgment of the Fathers, that by this very fact of separation from the churches of Rome and Africa, the Novatians and Donatists cast themselves out of the catholic church
35. Whether the different opinions expressed by the Fathers concerning church government, proves that they practiced the catholic communion in question
36. The practice of those witnesses who separated from the church of Rome, contrary to this catholic communion
37. The case of God’s people who continued within the pale of the church of Rome, no example of this catholic communion.

38. Of the reformation from Popery
39. The principles on which our forefathers separated from the church of Rome, contrary to this scheme of catholic communion
40. The doctrine of the Reformed churches, concerning the marks of a true church, contrary to this scheme
41. How the expression true church is to be understood, as it is used in the Confessions of the Reformed churches
42. The design of the Confessions of the Reformed churches contrary to this scheme of catholic communion; Also, the harmony of these Confessions
43. An article of the Augsburgh Confession concerning the Lord’s Supper, considered
44. Some words of the Saxon Confession and Luther and Melancthon, considered
45. Several plans of union proposed among the Protestant churches different from this scheme of catholic communion in question
46. An account of Calvin’s proposal and of the agreement of the churches in Poland
47. The communion of the Reformed church of Holland with other Reformed churches, considered.

48. The separation of the Puritans in the reign of Queen Elizabeth from the established church of England
49. The ground of their separation farther illustrated
50. The declared design of the meeting of the Westminster Assembly
51. The Solemn League and Covenant inconsistent with this catholic scheme of sacramental communion
52. The Westminster Confession designed to be a bond of church communion; connected with the Presbyterial form of church government
53. Such government is of Divine institution, required by the Scriptures
54. Worship, discipline, and doctrine included
55. And contrary to the opinions of the Independents
56. This scheme of catholic communion not consonant to the 26th chapter of that Confession
57. Christian communion distinguished from church communion
58. Of a harmony of the Reformed Confessions; of the Westminster Assembly’s letter to the Reformed churches; and of a passage in Neal’s History concerning the Anabaptists
59. Of a quotation from the preface of a book entitled, Jus Divinum Ministerii Evangelici
60. Of the Savoy Confession
61. Of Dr. Owen’s judgment concerning church communion
62. Of the sentiments of other divines on this subject.
63. The proper sense of certain common expressions
64. Of the non-conforming ministers in England
65. Of Mr. Claude’s position
66. Of a certain Act of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly concerning strangers
67. Mr. Dunlap’s inconsistency
68. The witness of faithful churches
69. Of the proper zeal for truth, and the remedy for divisions

APPENDIX: criticism of the book by Robert Hall


paul bowman said...

Seems to reduce communion in Christ to the establishing faith as a unified group expression. I'm doubtful — especially because the partaking, the sacrament bit, from this starting point ends up looking like a secondary thing at best. Almost a superfluity, really, since arguably we don't need it for the main thing, the being in agreement. We might call it sign of covenant & means of grace, but fact may be that we've turned it into an ornamental seal stamped on our group profession — usefully signficant in its way, but hard to regard as essential.

Baus said...

Paul, help me understand your objection.

What is it that "seems to reduce communion in Christ"?

The topic is about visible Church communion, particularly participation in the Lord's Supper. I don't know if that's what you mean by "communion in Christ".

The Supper, among other things, certainly is properly and necessarily/essentially a unified group expression.

What is it that ends up looking like a "secondary thing"?

Being in agreement is necessary to properly participate in the "unified group expression" of the Lord's Supper.

If you and I disagree about what the Supper is and/or signifies, then can we have communion in it? If you hold the Supper to be a "sign of covenant & means of grace" and we hold to contradictory views of what a "sign of covenant & means of grace" are, then can we have communion by in what we don't agree about?

What is it that is "hard to regard as essential"? And "essential" to what?

paul bowman said...

Sorry, a quick read & a quick reaction, above — but then this is too, I'm afraid. I suppose I've just observed the obvious, that here communion really simply = profession, profession in common. The professing is essential, the sacramental partaking really an add-on & a formality, necessary only in that there's a command behind it. I'm not happy with the premise — I suspect it winds up putting Christ in a strangely passive position with respect to us, with repercussions throughout the life of the Church. But I can't object to Anderson's logic working from it in your excerpt, I think.

Baus said...

Paul, no prob. But do elaborate your first comment if it'll elucidate your point.

It's true that communion is properly a common profession. (A point not to passed over!) But the sacrament itself is not incidental.

The common profession of Presbyterians is that the sacrament is not simply a common profession in "some stuff". Rather it is a significant [pun] mutual participation of the whole of Christ as He is "tendered to us," Prophet, Priest, and King in that holy fellowshiping.

No conception of communion can be more Christ-full. Non-close communion is a sick impoverishment of that meal and fellowship in comparison.

Anonymous said...


So I guess the question for me is 'what profession' must we all unite around? And why that one? I guess for you it would be the Protestant Reformed Confessional Standards. For others it would be the seven ecumenical councils (being the only official common statements written and accepted whilst the Church was still one, united body. And then other traditions unite around their own particular articulations of how they understand the "system of doctrine" in Scripture. Etc. Etc.

So how do I know what to trust?

Baus said...

Joel, yes, your question seems to be both "Which is genuine Christianity?" and "How can I know?"

First, let me say that if you want to be a Christian, you cannot remain aloof and avoid "taking sides". You cannot serve two Masters. And if one Master is posing as the other (or false religion posing as true), it will not help to pretend there is no significant difference between them.

Second, to which ever you are in the end committed, it will be a sign that you are, regardless, in the wrong if you waffle and are "open" to both sides. Those who (for example) profess the Reformed Faith according to some Confessional standard and admit to fellowship those who deny that confession, are rightly denounced as hypocrites.

Third, especially touching questions of salvation --but no less on non-salvific issues, religious truth is of the Spirit of God and only discerned by that Spirit (cf. 1Cor.1:10-2:16)

Fourth, so I can only recommend to you that you seek out the truth of God's Spirit according to the Scriptures that is held forth by the historic testimony of the genuinely Confessional Reformed church. You cannot autonomously determine beforehand what truth is. And I can only tell you what I know it to be.

I'm happy to answer any further questions you have about Confessionally Reformed faith and practice.