5 Christian Ordinances
Christian ordinances are defined to be “institutions of divine authority relating to the worship of God, under the Christian Dispensation.” In this general sense there are various ordinances; since preaching and hearing the word, prayer, singing, fasting, and thanksgiving may all be considered as institutions of divine authority.
But in a narrower and a more distinctive sense it has been common to call Baptism and the Lord’s Supper by this name, and to say they are the only Christian ordinances committed to the churches, and are for perpetual observance. These rites are also by some called sacraments the number of which the Catholic Church has increased to seven, including, with Baptism and the Eucharist, Confirmation, Penance, Extreme unction, Matrimony, and Orders. But in the sense in which the Roman and Greek Churches explain the meaning of sacrament, to which meaning other ritualistic churches do strongly incline. Baptism and the Supper are not sacraments at all. Sacraments, by them, are interpreted to mean not simply outward signs of inward grace and spiritual operations, but outward rites which work grace and produce spiritual operations. This view of sacramental efficacy Protestant confessions reject, and against it Baptists do strongly protest.
These two, therefore, Baptism and the Supper, are the two sacred rites, and the only ones, enjoined by Christ for perpetual observance in His churches. They are not only visible signs which appeal to the senses, but they are teaching institutions which appeal to the understanding and the heart. They are the two symbols of the new covenant; the two visible pillars of the spiritual temple; the two monuments of the new dispensation. Christ has appointed no others. They are positive institutions, as distinguished from those of a purely moral character, their claim to honor and obedience arising exclusively from the fact that Christ has appointed and made them obligatory. Their claim to respect and observance rests not on their peculiar fitness, though that is manifest, but on the simple fact that Christ has established them and commanded their observance.
These ordinances, so simple in form, so expressive in action, and so intelligible in meaning, have been the occasions of heated, sometimes of bitter controversy through all the ages of Christian history. Their forms have been changed, their purpose perverted, the manner of their administration encumbered by numerous and puerile ceremonials, and their entire effect and efficacy misinterpreted and misstated. Baptists claim to hold and use them in their original simplicity and purity. But a fuller discussion of the subject must be reserved to another place.
Baptism is sometimes called “the initiatory rite,” because persons are not received to membership in the churches until they are baptized. But baptism of itself does not admit to the fellowship of the churches; it, however, stands at the door, and admission is only on its reception. It has by some been called “the seal of the new covenant,” as circumcision was the seal of the old. It is, however, a witness and a testimony to the covenant, since it is naturally and properly the first Christian act of the believer after an exercise of saving faith. It certifies therefore to the acceptance of Christ, and the union and fellowship of the renewed soul with its Saviour. It becomes a badge of discipleship, and is, in that sense, a seal of the covenant of grace.
1. Its Institution.
Christian baptism was instituted by Christ, when He submitted to John’s baptism, adopting its form, with some change of meaning. John’s baptism was unto repentance and faith in Him who was to come. Jesus baptized (or His disciples did) into Himself, as the Messiah who had come, and as the sign that His kingdom had already been established in the hearts of those who received it.
This baptism did not come in the place of circumcision or any other sign or seal of the old covenant, but was ordained for the new. Thus, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”—Mark 1:4. “John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water, but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose; He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”—Luke 1:16. “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan, unto John, to be baptized of him. And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water; and lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Him: and, lo, a voice from heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”—Matt. 3:13,16,17. “And He said to His disciples. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”—Matt. 28:19,20.
The circumstances in which this characteristic Christian rite was inaugurated, as well as the personal glory of Him who appointed, and who commanded it as a badge of discipleship for all who confess His name, make it impressive and august in its simple form, and sacred in its influence on both those who receive and those who witness it.
2. Its Administration.
Christian baptism is defined to be the immersion of a person in water, on a profession of his faith in Christ, in, or into, the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptism, therefore, is an immersion or dipping in water, with this meaning, and for this sacred purpose; and without this dipping there is no Scriptural baptism. The immersion is essential to the rite, and pouring or sprinkling water upon a person is not, and cannot be, baptism, as will hereafter be shown.
And this sign of the Christian dispensation is distinguished from all the ablutions, washings, and sprinklings of the Mosaic dispensation, for none of which was it a substitute. “And were baptized of Him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”—Matt. 3:6. “And they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” Acts 8:38. “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death.”—Rom. 6:4. “Buried with Him in baptism.”—Col. 2:12. This impressive form and manner of administration was practised by Christ and His Apostles, and continued unchanged in the churches for generations; but finally, at the dictate of prelates, or for the convenience of priests, it underwent changes which destroyed its beauty and robbed it of its significancy, and a human device was substituted for a divine ordinance. Col. 2:12.
3. Its Subjects.
Baptism is to be administered to those, and to those only, who have exercised and professed a saving faith in Christ; that is, to believers. This saving faith supposes an exercise of godly repentance for sin, and a turning to the Lord with full purpose of heart.
Pedobaptists say baptism is to be given to believers and their children. But that is a fiction of human ingenuity. The New Testament knows nothing of the baptism of unconscious infants, nor of unbelieving persons, either young or old. Neither does it teach or admit the inference that children can be partakers of the benefits of grace simply because of the faith of their parents. Each one must believe for himself in order to be saved. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned.”—Mark 16:16. But “when they believed they were baptized, both men and women.”—Acts 8:13. “Then they that gladly received His Word were baptized.”—Acts 2:41. “If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest.”— Acts 8:36. None but believers were baptized.
If baptism be “an outward sign of an inward grace,” showing forth the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, then it can have no significancy to those who have not receive:d the inward cleansing of the Spirit.
4. Its Obligation.
All men are under obligation to repent of sin, and believe on Christ as the only means of salvation. And all believers in Christ are bound by the most sacred considerations to obey their Lord’s command, and confess Him before men in baptism. No one who trusts Him for salvation can rightly esteem His authority, or willingly disregard His command, nor yet neglect to profess a faith which to him is precious, by submitting to this ordinance.
It is not a question as to whether he can be saved without baptism; but whether he can be a true disciple, and refuse or neglect thus to obey and confess his Saviour. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ.”—Acts 2:38. “Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins.”— Acts 22:16. Baptism may not be essential to salvation, but it is essential to obedience. The wish to live unrecognized as a Christian, unwilling to share the responsibilities, or discharge the duties of discipleship, and yet hoping for all its blessings and rewards, is both selfish and mercenary, and indicates that the new birth has not yet transpired.
5. Its Efficacy.
It may well be asked, What is the efficacy of baptism? What does it do for him who receives it? Is it an efficacious means of grace? In what respect is the disciple different, after his baptism, from what he was before? In reply it may be most positively stated that baptism does not produce faith and a new heart. It possesses no magical power to convert the soul. Baptismal regeneration, as taught by some, is altogether a false and pernicious doctrine. Regeneration is by the Holy Spirit alone, and should precede baptism. Out of this mistaken view of its efficacy grew the unscriptural dogma of infant baptism, in the early ages, since it was feared that dying infants could not be saved without it.
But as an act of obedience to Christ, the reception of this ordinance usually brings peculiar light, joy, and comfort to the soul. This is especially true as a witness usually borne soon after conversion, when every act of obedience is a service of love, and the soul’s sensibilities are alive and tender. Moreover, the disciple feels that in baptism he has effectually and openly come out from the world, and committed himself to Christ and His service. This gives to the spirit a moral triumph, and fills it with bound- less peace. Baptism, therefore, is an act of obedience, and as such brings the candidate into a more intimate and exclusive fellowship with his Lord ; but it possesses no power in itself to remit sin, to change the heart, or sanctify the spirit.
6. It is Commemorative.
Baptism has its retrospect. It points back to Christ in His humiliation, death, burial and resurrection; and keeps constantly in the minds of both candidates and spectators Him “who died for our sins and rose again for our justification.” It testifies that He suffered, died, was buried, and rose from the dead, to perfect the work of redemption.
What Christ did and suffered gives to this ordinance its significance and its force. “So many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death.”—Rom. 6:8. “Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him.”—Co. 11:12. The past is brought to view. There is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism“—Eph. 4:5—thus forever connecting the disciple in this act with his Lord. “We are buried with Him by baptism, into death—Rom. 6:4. If the past could be forgotten, this sacred ordinance would lose its moral power.
7. It is Predictive.
That is, in the sense of looking forward and anticipating things to come, it foreshadows. Most impressively does it prefigure the resurrection of the body from the grave, when one rises from the baptismal waters, “like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father.”—Rom. 6:4. “If the dead rise not at all, why are they then baptized for the dead?—1 Cor. 15:29. Though this passage is of doubtful interpretation, yet in some sense it clearly connects baptism with the resurrection from the dead; thus uniting the hopes of the future with the memories of the past, binding both in the realities of the present by baptism.
8. It is Emblematic.
Baptism is a creed; a confession of faith. The symbolism of that sacred rite teaches the great cardinal doctrines of the gospel. It represents Christ’s death and burial for our sins, and His resurrection from the dead for our justification. “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished?”—Luke 12:50. It represents the candidate’s death to sin, and his rising to a new spiritual life in Christ, and, therefore, his fellowship with his Lord, both in dying and living. “For as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”—Gal. 3 : 27.
It teaches the resurrection of the saints, of which the resurrection of Christ is the prophecy and the pledge. “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”—Rom. 6:5. The life everlasting follows in sacred proximity the death to sin; for “if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.”—Rom. 6:8. It represents in an outward sign the inward work of renewal and cleansing. “According to His mercy, He saved us by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.”
Titus 3:5. This inward cleansing by the precious blood of Christ, through the operation of the Spirit, is symbolized in the submersion and ablution of baptism. “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” I Peter 3:21.
It also shows the unity of the faith, and the fellowship of the true people of God, who, in the one baptism, profess their trust in the one Lord, and their acceptance of the one faith. Is not this impressive ordinance, therefore, a proclamation of the great cardinal doctrines of the gospel—for by one spirit we are all baptized into one body.”—1 Cor. 12:11.
Note 1.—The beauty, impressiveness, and general effect of the sacred rite of baptism are not a little affected by the manner of its administration. It should be so carefully arranged, and performed with such propriety that no mistakes could occur, on the part either of the candidate or the administrator, to excite any other emotions, on the part of spectators,than those of reverence and devotion. Great haste and all excitement should be avoided, and all infelicities carefully guarded against. If the administrator be calm, self-possessed, acting under a sense of the importance and solemnity of the occasion, the candidate will usually be calm and free from agitation. The moral force of the ordinance, somewhat to the candidate, and largely to observers, depends on the dignity and propriety of its administration.
Note 2.—Baptism is usually administered by ordained ministers. And this is proper, regular, and orderly. But should occasion require, and the Church so direct, it would be equally valid if administered by a deacon or any private member selected for that service. The “authority depends on the character and profession of the candidate, and not on that of the administrator. As to the qualifications of administrators the New Testament is silent, except that they were disciples. Nor need the churches deprive themselves of the ordinances because an ordained minister is not obtainable, as they, unwisely, often do.
Note 3.—The question has often arisen, in receiving to membership in our churches persons who have been immersed by ministers not themselves immersed, is such baptism valid? or, should they be rebaptized in order to admission? In the South and Southwest our churches quite generally insist on rebaptism in such cases; at the North, East, and West they do not. It has been almost universally conceded that the validity of baptism depends on the character of the candidate, and not on that of the administrator. If the candidate has received the ordinance properly administered in good conscience, in obedience to Christ, and on a profession of faith in Him, giving evidence of genuine conversion at the time, such baptism cannot be invalidated, whoever may have performed the ceremony.
Note 4.—Both ordinances are usually administered on Sunday, and commonly each month, particularly the Supper. But both the time when and the place where they shall be observed, are in the discretion of the Church, as circumstances may require.
Note 5.—Baptism, strictly speaking, is not to be repeaied. But cases may occur in which it had been administered in form to candidates, who, at the time, as subsequently appeared, had not exercised a saving faith in Christ, and had not made an intelligent confession of such faith. In such cases baptism may be repeated, when the candidate becomes duly qualified. This would be rebaptizing in form, but not in fact, since, in the former case, a lack of faith made the act invalid. Such cases seldom occur, and, when they do, can be mutually adjusted by the candidate and the Church.
II. The Lord’s Supper.
The Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper, is the other ordinance established by Christ, and ordained to be observed in His churches till the end of the time. It has equal simplicity and impressiveness with baptism, but holds a very different relation to the economy of grace, and the order of the Church; and as a teaching ordinance represents a different phase of vital doctrine. This, too, perhaps still more than baptism, has been the occasion of heated and often of bitter controversy among the professed followers of Christ, through the ages of Christian history.
1. Its Institution.
The Supper was instituted by our Lord during, or at the close of, the last paschal supper which he observed with His disciples, on the evening before He suffered. It is thus described: “As they were eating, Jesus took bread and gave thanks, and brake, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of me. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as oft as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till He come.” Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22: 14-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26.
It will be noticed that in the various accounts of the institution there is a substantial agreement, with, slight verbal differences. But each of the added sentences gives additional interest and impressiveness to the scene. It was at the close of, or immediately following, the passover supper, which was the seal of the Old Dispensation, now passed away, and sanctified by the sacrifice of the paschal lamb, that Jesus inaugurated His own memorial, which should be a seal of the New Dispensation, and a memorial of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world. The sad, tender, and sacred associations of the time and the place have all passed into history, and are reproduced in the hearts of all true and loving disciples, as they surround the table of their Lord.
2. Its Administration.
The Supper is a provision of bread and wine—the loaf, and the cup—as symbols of Christ’s body and blood, partaken of by the members of the Church assembled, to commemorate His sufferings and death for them, and to show their faith and participation in the merits of His sacrifice. The loaf is to be broken, and the wine to be poured.
Usually this is observed either at the close of a preaching service, or as a special service on Sunday afternoon, when more time and more prominence is given to it, though fewer usually attend at that time. Occasionally it is observed in the evening, being, as some think, a more appropriate time for a supper, but less favorable for the attendance of the members. If held as a distinct service, it is preceded with singing, prayer, reading the Scriptures, and brief remarks. If as a supplementary service, the introduction would be much abridged.
The pastor breaks the bread, and fills the cups in order, preceding each with a brief prayer of thanksgiving, as did the Lord, and passes the plates and cups in order to the deacons, who distribute to the members.
It is customary for the deacons and pastor to partake after all the others are served.
Some ministers seem to lose sight of the real purpose of the service, or else lack the spirit of the occasion, and talk during the exercises. After very brief remarks to introduce the ordinance, and the equally brief prayer of thanksgiving, complete silence should prevail; a silence which the attendants, in passing the elements, should be careful not to break. It is presumption and folly for the pastor to draw the thoughts of the worshipers to himself, when they should remember only Him whose symbolic body is broken, and whose symbolic blood is shed. “This do, in remembrance of me.”
It is an almost universal custom among our churches to take a collection at the close; “the offering for the sick and needy,” of which the deacons are the custodians and almoners. It is also a well-nigh unvarying custom to close with singing, in imitation of Jesus and the Apostles; “and when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives.”
3. Its Obligation.
It is a sacred privilege for every disciple to remember his Lord in the observance of the Supper, and it is his solemn duty as well. Few signs more effectually tell of a spiritual decline in the individual soul or in the Church than a neglect of the sacred Communion. It is the duty of every believer to be baptized, and the duty of every baptized believer to commemorate the dying love of his Lord at the Supper. “Take, eat; drink ye all of it.” “Divide it among yourselves.” “Do this in remembrance of me.” Such were the words of Jesus Himself. Let no disciple who loves his Lord lightly esteem or neglect this sacred rite.
Sometimes negligent Christians attempt to excuse their failures by saying there are unworthy members present, or that some member has done something wrong. That is no excuse. If Judas himself were present, it should keep no one else away. “This do in remembrance of me,” not in remembrance of some one else deemed unworthy of the place. The communion is not with each other, save incidentally, but each one with his Saviour, who has promised to be present. Few Christians ever plead such excuses until their own hearts, and perhaps their lives likewise, are far out of the way. A neglect or misuse of the Supper not only reveals but produces spiritual derangement and decay. It was for this reason the Apostle reproved the Corinthians, when he wrote, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” 1 Cor. 11:30.
4. Its Subjects.
Who ought, and who have a lawful right to come to the Lord’s Table will be seen by a careful study of the Scripture narratives. From these it is manifest that baptized believers, walking orderly in the faith of the Gospel, and in the fellowship of the Church, constitute the proper subjects for this privilege. And no others. Some have insisted on its having a wider scope; some even going so far as to hold that no limitations or restrictions whatever should be imposed on the privilege. This question is argued at length in another place.
Observe that our Saviour at the institution “sat down, and His Apostles with Him.”—Luke 22:14. Here was a very restricted, and, so to say, close Communion. Neither His own mother, nor His brethren, nor the many relatives and friends who had followed Him, were invited to be present; for what reason we do not know, but they were not there. Only the twelve Apostles. He gave the bread and the cup to His disciples, and said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.”—Matt. 20:26; Luke 22:17. He did not tell them to distribute it to other, nor invite others to come in, and partake of it. That little company in the upper chamber was substantially the incipient Church; and the Supper was with and for the Church alone.
5. It is Commemorative.
It was designed to commemorate the death of Christ for human redemption, and to be a perpetual memorial in His churches and to His people of His sacrifice for men. The loaf and the cup represent “His broken body, and His shed blood,” as sealing the covenant of grace. “This do in remembrance of me:” “This do, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”—1 Cor. 11:24,25.
The paschal feast, and the slain lamb, commemorated the death of Egypt’s firstborn, and the deliverance of Israel from death and bondage. The Eucharist is sometimes called the Christian Passover, and is the fulfillment of that ancient and expressive type. It is when partaking of this sacred feast, the soul looks back to see the anguish of Him, who suffered as a lamb without spot and without blemish.
6. It is Predictive.
The Supper not only points the Christian back to the sufferings of the Cross, but onward to the triumph and glory of Christ’s second coming. It is a kind of mediator, a middle link, binding the shadowy past, the radiant future, and the joyous present in one. He who was dead is alive again; the sufferings of death could not hold Him. The past lays the foundation of the saint’s hope, while the future holds the bright fruition. “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”—Matt. 26:29. “For as oft as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till He come.”— 1 Cor. 11:26.
7. It is Emblematic.
While it perpetuates the significance of the work of redemption by the death of Christ, the Supper is a teacher of vital Gospel doctrine. This, too, is a creed, a confession. It proclaims the love of Christ to the believer as a seal of the Covenant of grace, and a token of His faithfulness to them that trust Him. “This is the new Covenant in my blood.”—Luke 22:20. It is not a communion of the partakers, one with the other, but of each one with Him whom it commemorates. It expressly declares their union with Him, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” 1 Cor 10:16. As intimate as is the relation between the loaf and the cup which we take to nourish our physical nature, so intimate is the fellowship of the partaker in the sacred rite with his remembered Lord. It expresses, inferentially—indeed, a fellowship of all who partake with each other, though this is not the special object of the ordinance.
As they sit together in one place, with the same hopes, with common joys and sorrows, and a common interest in the same Lord, they, though many, constitute the one body, and Christ the one head. “For we, being many, are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread.” 1 Cor. 10:17. The Supper declares this vital doctrine: That the Christian’s spiritual life and nourishment are derived from Christ. As natural bread and wine feed the body, so Christ, the bread of life, feeds the renewed soul. “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”—Col 3:3. “For even Christ, our passover, is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast; not with old leaven,…but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”—1 Cor. 5:7,8.
For, though the reception of the elements cannot convey grace to the soul, yet they teach the doctrine of effectual grace conveyed from Christ as the only and abounding fountain of grace. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread he shall live forever. And the bread that I give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”—John 6: 51.
Note 1.—As in the case of baptism, the Supper is commonly and properly administered by the pastor, or some other ordained and accredited minister. But should occasion require, and the Church so direct, it would be just as valid if served by a private member. A deacon, or any devout member, could, with propriety, give thanks and distribute the elements. The churches should not deprive themselves of these means of grace, nor fail to remember their loving Lord for want of a clergyman. Baptists are not such sacramentarians as to suppose the ordinances invalid unless ministered and made holy by priestly hands.
Note 2.—The deacons usually and properly distribute the elements. But any member can be called on for that service, should occasion require, and the service would be just as lawful, valid and proper.
Note 3.—The doctrine taught by the Roman Church, and some other communions of the “real presence”—that is, that, after consecration by the priest, the bread and wine do actually become the very body and blood of Christ—is to be held as an absolute falsehood, a most pernicious error, and a monstrous absurdity.
Note 4.—When Jesus therefore said, “this is my body,” and “this is my blood,” He did not mean, and could not have intended, it in a literal sense, since His body and His blood at that moment were not in the loaf and cup, but in His corporeal person. He must, therefore, have meant what Protestant Christendom holds, generally, that He did mean, namely, that these elements represented His body and blood. There is, therefore, no transubstantiation, or change of elements, and the bread and wine, when received by the communicant, are literally the same as before their use and distribution, and nothing different.
Note 5.—Nor is there any such thing as a consecration of elements in the Supper. Jesus did not bless the bread and the cup at the institution. He blessed God, not the bread; that is, He gave thanks, as in one record it is rightly rendered.—Luke 22:19. The minister’s part, therefore, is to thank God for the elements, and for the glorious realities they represent and ask His blessing on them as applied to a sacred use.
Note 6.—The “hand of fellowship” is usually given to new members at this service, just before the distribution of the elements. This act is simply a fraternal welcome, and has no other significancy; it does not make them members, but only recognizes their membership, already effected by vote of the Church.
Note 7.—It has been the prevailing custom for the pastor, before the ordinance, to give an invitation for “members of sister churches,” or “members of churches of the same faith and order,” or “members of other Baptist churches,” who might be present, to remain and partake with them. But some pastors give no invitation at all. It is not, however, the right of the pastor to give or to withdraw any invitation, except as the Church directs. It is the perogative of the body to decide that question. The pastor should assume no responsibility in the matter, but let it all rest with the Church. He is their servant, not their master, in these matters.
Note 8.—Strictly speaking, however, the privileges of a Church are coextensive with the authority of the Church. A right to the communion, therefore, is limited to those over whom the Church exercises the right of discipline; that is, its own members. Consequently, if the members of sister churches are invited to partake, it is an act of courtesy proffered, and not a right allowed. This rule would of itself forbid a general, open, or free communion, since that would bring in persons whose characters the Church could not know, and whom, if they were unworthy, the Church could not discipline or exclude.
Note 9.—It often happens that members of Pedobaptist churches, or other persons not entitled to the privilege, being present at communion service, remain and receive the elements. No harm is done by this, and neither the pastor, nor any one else, need be disturbed by it. They were not invited—and could not lawfully have been—and probably knew it to be contrary to the custom of the churches. It would not be wise to ask them to retire, and thus disturb the service. But if the same individuals should often repeat the act, the pastor, or some judicious member, should take occasion privately, in a kindly way, to talk with and dissuade them from such a course, unless, indeed, they were prepared to unite with the Church in full communion.
Note 10.—Since the Supper is distinctively a Church ordinance, it is to be observed by churches only, and not by individuals, even though Church members; neither in private places, nor in sick-rooms, nor on social occasions, and not by companies of disciples other than churches though composed of Church members. But a church may by appointment, and in its official capacity, meet in a private house, a sick-room, or wherever it may elect, and there observe the ordinance.
Note 11.—There is no Scriptural rule as to the frequency with which, nor the time or place at which, it shall be observed. The primitive Christians evidently kept this feast daily. “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.”—Acts 21:46. Subsequently it came to be a weekly service, at each public assembly. By some it is still so observed. Some churches observe it quarterly, some bi-monthly; but with our people it has come to be a general custom, especially in cities, towns and villages, to have the Communion monthly, and usually on the first Sunday in the month. This is not so often as to impair its sanctity by frequency, and not so seldom as to allow it to pass out of mind and be forgotten.
Note 12.—A neglect of the Supper by Church members is a grave evil. It betokens a decline of spirituality, and promotes it. And it is usually without excuse. If there be but one service in the month that a member can attend, that service should be the Communion; and if there be but one other, that should be the Covenant Meeting. Pastors and deacons will do well to watch with jealous care this index to the churches’ vital piety, and strive to inspire the absentees with a sense of its importance, and their own duty in respect to it. To disregard it is an indignity to Christ’s ordinance, a breach of good order, and a violation of covenant obligations, which the Church should endeavor promptly to correct. Some churches, by a rule of discipline, have each member visited, who is absent twice in succession, to learn the cause of such absence. To a devout Christian it is a sacred privilege, which he would not willingly forego.
Note 13.—Pastors often blame their members for a neglect of the Supper more than they instruct them as to its nature, significancy, and claims. The people should be well taught as to the meaning of the ordinance, and its true relation to their faith and spiritual life.
Note 14.—The objection to the “individual communion cups,” and the practice of holding the bread till all are served is, that it tends to exalt the form over the spirit and make the service ritual rather than spiritual.
Edward Hiscox (1814-1901) was an American Baptist pastor and theologian. He was converted to Christ in 1834 and began to preach the gospel four years later. He served as the pastor for several congregations, including the Stanton Street Baptist Church, New York (1852). He is best known for authoring the “Standard Manual for Baptist Churches” (1890) and the “New Directory for Baptist Churches” (1894).