William Styles, A Guide To Church Fellowship (Complete)

Article 23 – Transient Communion To Be Extended Only To Members Of Churches Of The Same Faith And Order

Articles Of The Faith And Order Of A Primitive Or Strict And Particular Baptist Church Of The Lord Jesus Christ, Based On The Declaration Of Faith And Practice Of John Gill, D. D., 1720

XXIII. Transient Communion to be extended only to Members of Churches of the same Faith and Order.

We believe that, inasmuch as by receiving persons at the Lord’s Table, we sanction their Christianity, their doctrinal profession, and their walk before men[1] transient, or occasional Communion at this ordinance of our Lord’s, should be extended to such persons only as stand in creditable membership with scripturally constituted Churches of Jesus Christ, (such, that is to say, as are known as Strict and Particular Baptist Churches,) in which the essential truths and the ordinances of the Gospel are maintained and practised as in our own midst.[2]


[1] Rom 16:17; 1 Cor 5:11; 2 Cor 6:14; Phil 2:29; 2 Thess 3:14; 2 Jn 10,11

[2] 1 Sam 15:22; Acts 5:32; 1 Cor 7:19; Col 2:5—The practice of some Strict Churches differs from the above. For example: Some receive all baptised persons. Others receive all baptised persons, of whom the Minister or the Deacons of the chapel approve. Others, again, receive members of all Churches which consist entirely of baptised believers. Some, again, whose order is more rigid than the above, insist that none shall be admitted to transient communion but members of Strict and Particular Baptist Churches, holding with them, certain tenets relative to the mode of the Sonship of Christ and the relation of the Law of God to believers.


Strict and Open Churches.

Note 1.—Strict Churches are those that consist of such Christians only as have professed their faith by Baptism by immersion: and whose views of truth and Church Order accord with the proclaimed sontiments of all the rest. Open Churches are such as receive to full Membership any whom they judge to be Christians, whatever their Doctrinal views, whether they have been baptised or not; believe Infant Sprinkling to be Scriptural; or avow indifference on the matter. Some styled “Union Churches” have both a Font and a Baptistery in their chapels to meet the convictions of each class of their Members. Strict Churches only are contemplated in this Article.

A “Sister Church” is a technical term for one holding the same Doctrines and maintaining the same Principles of government as our own—in other words, a Church of “the same Faith and Order,” (Col. 2:5.) Whether Christian Communities, which differ from our own in these particulars, should be styled Churches at all, is an unsettled question, page 135. It here suffices to insist that they are not Sister Churches.

Transient Communion—its Antiquity.

Note 2.—“Transient Communion”—the term is Dr. Gill’s, who shows that the custom of receiving to the Lord’s Table  persons who are not Members of the Church dates from Apostolic times.

“Letters of Commendation” (2 Cor. 3:1,) were, as a rule given to less known Christians, to serve as introductions,— though Paul did not need them. Extracts from some are preserved.

Acts 15:23-27. The Apostles and Elders, with “the whole Church’’ at Jerusalem wrote thus to the Members of of the Church at Antioch in Syria: “We have sent unto you Judas (sumamed Baraabas) and Silas”…“men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” etc. Acts 18:27—“The brethren,” the members of the Church at Ephesus, “wrote” a Circular Letter, introducing Apollos to “the disciples,” the members of the Churches in the district of Achaia, exhorting them to receive him. The commendation of Phoebe (Rom. 16:1), as one who had succoured many; and of Onesimus, Tychicus and Marcus, (Col. 4:7-10), are of a similar character.

It were well if this ancient custom were maintained.

Terms of Transient Communion.

Note 3.—On these, great diversity of opinion exists in Strict Churches:—1. Some receive all that profess and call themselves Christians. 2. Others: Members of any Evangelical Church, whatever its Denomination or Faith and Order. 3. Others: any persons who have been baptised by Immersion. 4. Others: Members of any so-called Baptist Churches, whether Strict or Open, and whatever their views of Truth; and irrespectively of their Rules as to Transient Communion. 5. Others: Members of Baptist Churches consisting solely of Christians who have professed their Faith by Immersion—though they receive Paadobaptists and others, who widely differ from them, to transient Communion at their own Chapels. 6. “We believe as to the Supper of the Lord that it is wholly a Church Ordinance,”…and “that since all Baptised Believers, partaking of it with unbaptised Believers or with Members of Churches which adopt this practice, deny by their conduct its Divine authority (Matt. 28:19,) we cannot admit to the Lord’s Table, as occasional Communicants, any but Members of Churches professing the same Faith and Order with ourselves.’’—“Articles of Faith to be OBSERVED BY THE STRICT AND PARTICULAR CHURCH, MEETING in Hall Street, Dorset Square.

Reasons for Strict Communion.

Note 4.—”We maintain it because we believe that the Lord’s Supper expresses the most perfect form of Fellowship which can exist between the saints on earth—and judge that this cannot be symbolised when either of the above five characters is present around the Table of the Lord. (1.) A mere profession of religion from a stranger is no guarantee of his union of heart with us in Christ and His truth. (2.) We cannot receive members of Evangelical Churches as such, whatever their Creed or Practice. Paedobaptists deny the Scriptural subjects and mode of Baptism, and give a Divine title to a wholly unscriptural rite. Presbyterians though their ancient Formulae of Faith are substantially sound, have widely departed from these; and their Baptism and Church Order do not accord with the Word of God. Methodists are Arminians, and their Church Order is a mere human scheme. Members of the Church of England are out of the question. With none of these can we have full fellowship, and to receive them with cordiality, as approving of their religion as a whole, is impossible. (3.) We cannot welcome so-called Christians, simply on the ground of their having been baptised. All religious immersion is not Baptism. That of the Plymouth Brethren is often invalid (page 167). Christadelphians repudiate our Baptism and re-baptise their perverts as well as immerse their converts. The Mormons (we have heard) sometimes baptise. We cannot, therefore, accept the mere observance of a rite as a guarantee of full-orbed Christianity. (4.) We cannot invite Members of Union or Mixed Churches, since these, by their practice, treat no branch of Religion as important, save attendance at their Chapels, and the occasional breaking of bread; make no stand for experimental Godliness and for the distinctive Truths of the Gospel: while they ignore its initial Ordinance, and give undue prominence to the Lord’s Supper.[1]

Scriptural Terms of Transient Communion.

Note 5.—These we state to be creditable Membership with Scripturally constituted Churches of Jesus Christ in which the essential Truths and Ordinances of the Gospel are maintained and practised as by ourselves. This we maintain—

(1.) From the Nature of the Ordinance. All, we think, must grant that by partaking of the Lord’s Supper with persons “we sanction their Christianity, their doctrinal profession, and their walk before men.” Of these, we admit that in no case can we judge with absolute certainty. Fellowship with a Church that is circumspect in receiving its Members: jealous for the Truth: impartially observant of the Ordinances: and whose members “look carefully lest there be any [man of their company] that falleth short of the grace of God” (Heb. 12:15), however, affords the highest attainable guarantee of the genuineness of the Religion of its Members.

We cannot therefore receive wandering or unattached Christians. Church Membership is as incumbent on them as on ourselves. To sanction their disloyalty would be wrong. Those who surround the Lord’s Table should be as really one in their vital arid practical religion as the fragments of the broken loaf are one in substance. “We, being many, are one [loaf of] bread,” etc, 1 Cor. 10:17. A Psedobaptist is not in accord with a Baptist. A brother whose views are those of Wesley is not one with us who are enamoured of distinguishing and invincible grace. The presence of the former destroys the symbolical homogeniety (or similarity of nature or kind) of the whole.

We that attend the Lord’s Supper, at our own Chapels are all Members of a Strict and Particular Baptist Church; and those whom we receive to Transient Communion from other Congregations must have complied with the same conditions to which we yielded our willing obedience, or the ceremony will be an acted lie.

(2.) We maintain the position of Article xxiii., by pleading the supremacy of Christ. This is remarkably emphasised in passages in which this Ordinance is referred to. We take “the Lord’s Cup.” We surround the Lord’s Table. ”We eat“ the Lord’s Supper. ”We show [proclaim] the Lord’s Death. He that eateth and drinketh unworthily is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” The Apostle “received of the Lord Jesus that which also he delivered,” “that the Lord Jesus…took bread.” The chastening for unworthily communing is “of the Lord.” “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?”

This is no meaningless tautology.

“Lord” is a relative term, and imports one invested with lawful and acknowledged authority over others. Its use here teaches that those only should surround His sacred Table who practically own the Master as their Lord; obey His commands; seek in all things to please Him; and are, in a word, overtly loyal to Him. (Luke 6:46.)

We, while not denying the Christianity of many of whose practices we disapprove, dispute their claim to be in all things loyal to Christ. His table is for “obedient children’’ (1 Peter 1:14), and such only dare we welcome to keep His feast with us.

(3.) Our view is substantiated by the claims of Christian Benevolence or good will—the disposition to promote the welfare of all who love Christ. We must admit that Paedo- baptism, Arminiaoism, and unwarrantable methods of Church organisation and discipline are injurious errors; and desire that these were abandoned by all who love Christ. Upholding brethren in error is wrong. This, however, mixed Communion frequently does, and it were cruel kindness to act as if we sanctioned what we know to he unscriptural in the Faith or Practice of others. The motive may be good. It is a pleasing sentiment to wish to express our love for all Christians, by receiving them to Communion with us. Fidelity to Christ and His laws is, however, the surest way to benefit those that are of the “household of Faith,” (Gal. 6:10.) Our practice does our erring friends no harm. They lose nothing. It may, however, do them good—while in any case our own Consciences are clear in God’s sight.

(4.) Our Practice is Expedient.—Expediency is sometimes the antithesis of rectitude.[3] What is wrong, is preferred to what is right, to save unpleasantness or satisfy the unscrupulous. It is then to be avoided by honourable men. There is, however, a form of expediency which is commendable. “It is expedient for you that I go away” (John 16:7), where expedient means profitable or advantageous. As also in 1 Cor. 6:12, etc., “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient.” Many things are permissible unto me,—sanctioned by men, and not condemned by God;—but all such things are not under all circumstances advantageous or profitable.

It follows that if things which may have the Divine sanction are not always expedient, things lacking this can never be so.

Of these, indiscriminate transient Communion is one. Were this an open question, on which God had not taught us, we should refrain from it; while, as it has no scriptural support, and is therefore a branch of “will-worship,” (Col. 2:23,) we eschew it as inexpedient.

The History of the whole Baptist Denomination shows, that if the Lord is despised in one way, other departures from spiritual loyalty surely follow. The terms of Transient Communion having been changed, many Churches, once strict, have adopted open Membership. Flagrant dereliction in matters of Doctrine have succeeded. Fullerism is favoured where the Truth was loved. Arminianism and Pelagianism are the natural sequence. Love for the “Higher Criticism” follows. Lax practice is mysteriously associated with departure from the “Faith of God’s elect.” Money for “the Cause” is obtained in the most dubious ways: and the concern proceeds on the “down-grade” deeper into error and folly.

We thus deem it, among other reasons, “expedient” to maintain the ways of our Fathers.[4] Happy the Churches that can say, We “have stuck unto Thy testimonies, O Lord, put us not to shame.” (Psa. 119:31.)

(5.) Only by restricting Transient Communion to Members of Churches of our own Faith and Order can we maintain the dignity of our Section of the Baptist Denomination and our own Church in particular. If the Lord’s Supper is a Church Ordinance, it is a Church act to welcome occasional communicants to it. When a Church, however, delegates this reception to its Pastor or Deacons, requiring that they only should inquire as to the fitness of applicants, it waives its own right of judgment, and invests a few with the authority which belongs to the whole Body. The Scriptural order, however, maintains the proper dignity of the Churches. We receive no one without the assurance that another Church has duly ap­ proved of him. We thus yield honour to whom honour is due; by showring respect to our sister Churches; and maintain our own high position as a Church, owning and owned by their Lord and ours.

Objections Answered.

Note 7.—Against restricted transient Communion, the following objections have been urged:—

(1.) That the Practice is a Solecism—or that it involves inconsistency or logical absurdity. We own (as we are reminded) the Christianity of many who are not Baptists; we worship with them, and invite them to do so with us; our Ministers exchange pulpits with theirs; we give them pecuniary help and accept their money for religious purposes; we join with them in holy service—Yet we refuse them the privilege of uniting with us at the Supper of our common Lord.

We reply, that with such brethren we go to the utmost verge of Christian association to which, in Conscience, we can. If the Lord’s Supper signified only what is referred to above, we would gladly receive them. It, however, expresses far more; and where the essential features of Christian character and conduct symbolised by it are lacking, we can but (as we have said) withhold the rite where the reality does not exist.[5]

On the other hand, a Strict Church in connection with an open Table presents a great and most serious anomaly. Clearly it is illogical to admit persons to the highest spiritual privilege of Church fellowship, and refuse Membership. This, however, Strict Churches do, who welcome an Independent to the Lord’s Supper, yet refuse him Membership unless he is baptised and subscribes to their agreed Articles of Faith first. Those that are scripturally entitled to the one, are as fully entitled to the other. There is no logical resting-place between a Close Church with a Close Table, and an Open Church with an Open Table. The former only is right; but both are consistent.

(2.) We are told that “It is not the Baptists’ but the Christians’ Table. All Christians should, therefore, be welcomed to it.”

We reply, that it is not the Baptists’ nor the Christians’, as such, but the Lord’s Table, and He must determine who shall surround it. Were it ous, we should invite whom we choose— but we defer our wishes to our Master’s will, and, often at no small cost of religious sensibility, invite His loyal friends only to join us as fellow-guests.

(3.) By restricting Transient Communion to Members of Sister Churches it is alleged that we prevent well-disposed Christians from obeying Christ’s command in relation to the Lord’s Supper.

We reply that duties should be performed in the order in which they are enjoined. Here the authorised sequence is Baptism: Church Membership: and the “Breaking of bread.” It is right to profess Faith by Baptism. It is right to assemble ourselves together (Heb. 10:25), in open Fellowship with a duly constituted Church. It is right to meet with God’s people “to break bread.” It is, however, wrong to give attention to the last, while either or both of the first are neglected. “Let all things be done decently (becomingly) and in order” (or “according to their appointed succession.” (1 Cor. 14:40.)

True, we exclude some, whose religion we respect, from the Lord’s Table—but simply to mark our conscientious disapproval of their disregard for previous duties.

Thus only can we gracefully do this. We are to “prove all things” (1 Thess. 5:21), and not to disprove every practice that we know to be wrong. It were inept to argue with Independents or Wesleyans whenever our paths cross. Should such, however, present themselves at the Lord’s Table, we do rightly to remind them, fraternally but forcibly, of the irregularity or the doctrinal or practical defects in their Systems of religion.

We would gladly facilitate their Baptism, and receive them into Church Fellowship first, and then most cordially unite with them in “showing our Lord’s death till He come.” Their exclusion is their fault, not ours.

Thus, so far from hindering Christian obedience, we promote it, by insisting on entire loyalty to our common Master in all who surround His Table.

Strict and Particular Baptists as Transient Communicants.

Note 8.—The converse of what we have proved is equally important, namely, that Members of Churches of our own Faith and Order should never take the Lord’s Supper —even for once—with Open Churches, or with Strict Churches whose Faith, Order, and Terms of Transient Communion do not accord with their own. To do this were a flagrant insult to the believers with whom they are in Fellowship: would sanction unscriptural irregularity, if not error: and would effect no good.

It has been objected that if one of our Members should be removed to a locality “in which there is not a Church of the New Testament Faith and Order, he would be debarred from the Lord’s Table altogether. It is granted—but it were surely better to suffer personal deprivation, than to sanction the contempt which an unscripturally constituted Church is continually manifesting toward the commandments of the Great Master. “The ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them,” (Hos. 14:9,) and in no others.

During the long period that Israel were in the wilderness, the rite of Circumcision, for circumstantial reasons, could not be observed, and therefore they omitted the Passover (though it was expressly enjoined by God) for nearly forty years (Josh. 4:19 and 5:2-9.) When, however, they entered Canaan, the hindrances were removed (Josh. 5:10.) Then Joshua renewed Circumcision and (God’s order being respected) they subsequently kept the Passover at Gilgal. Between their conduct and our duty, there is an obvious parallel. I would abstain from going to the Lord’s Table all my life, if I could not go to it scripturally.”—“Strict Communion,” a Sermon by James Wells, No. 25.


[1] It is common to describe professors as “not only seat-holders, but communioants”; as if the latter described those whose lives answer to all the requirements of the Gospel.

[2] How could all join in singing:—“Ah, Lord, with trembling I confess, A gracious soul may fall from grace.”—Wesley. and,  “Grace will complete what grace begins, To save from sorrows and from sins.”—Watts. or,  “Help me to watch and pray, and on  Thyself rely;  Assured if I my trust betray,  I shall for ever die.”—Wesley. and, “Yes, I to the end shall endure, as sure as the earnest is given; More happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heaven.”—Toplady.

[3] Thus Goldsmith in his Retaliation describes Edmund Burke as “Too fond of the right to pursue the expedient.”

[4] Candour, however, enforces the admission that free communion at the Lord’s Table was very early practised. Henry Jessey (1601-1663); Hansard Knollys, who baptised him (1598-1691) Vavasour Powell (bom, 1617); John Bunyan (1628- 1688)—all Baptist Ministers of great note—with many others sanctioned it. Robert Hall (1764-1831) published largely in its favour, and rendered it almost universal among such Particular Baptists as hold the Modified Calvinism of Andrew Fuller (1752-1815).

[5] “I have several dear and highly esteemed friends who cannot or will not see Baptism. This does not a whit lessen my love for them, nor hinder Communion. We gladly talk of our agreements, not our differences, and I should be the last to cram Baptism down their throats. True, we cannot together surround the Lord’s Table; and I have more than once felt pain at seeing them sit by, whilst I “broke bread” to others with whom I had little or no fellowship. In this Time-state such things will, however, occur; though they might be much remedied by making the door into the Church much narrower than is the practice. I must not do evil that good may come, or violate a Divine Command to bring about more unity, lest I make myself wiser than God. If I love and esteem my friend, I shall not wish him to act wrongly by leaping over one Ordinance to attend to another. If he so regards me, he will not wish me to act contrary to my Conscience by admitting him to the Lord’s Supper.”—J. C. Philpot. See also page 135, note 9.

William Styles (1842-1914) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He is the author of several works, including “A Guide To Church Fellowship As Maintained By Primitive Or Strict And Particular Baptists” and “A Manual Of Faith And Practice”.

William Styles, A Guide To Church Fellowship (Complete)
William Styles, A Memoir of John Hazelton (Complete)