Elder Lemuel Potter
Note; During the scanning and editing process some of the text is missing or appears out of order. This is minimal, throughout the document. I apologize for this inconvenience.
In the course of my remarks this evening, I shall speak more especially on the real nature of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, from the light of a few texts of scripture, that I shall read and talk about.
I have, I think, shown that baptism must precede the Lord's Supper, but it may be that my points are not as strong as I think they are. Nothing would have pleased me better, on that account, than to have an opponent in the discussion, so that the strength of my arguments might have been tested; but this we could not have, and I feel satisfied that I have established my points.
As it is my calculation, now, to publish a synopsis of my discourses, you will all have the opportunity of reading them, and of being your own judges as to our reasons for our practice of close communion. I wish to state again, that all I have said, or shall say, is in defense. We do not care how other people do in reference to this or any other service. When they commune with others, we do not fall out with them, and say they ought not, for we think it none of our affair. As I told Brother Hale, one day at Brother Mangum's house, I am one of the most willing souls in the world for people to do as they please religiously, so they did not try to make me do as they please, too. When it comes to that I object. On that account I am here this week to defend, if I can, our position on the Communion question. We have been spoken of as not having any reasons for our course. We may not have good reasons, but they satisfy us, and we are willing to give them and let you consider them.
We have said that we are often accused of being selfish because we do not admit others to our communion, and that it does not look friendly on our part. I have shown you that the Lord's Supper is not a test of friendship. Whoever read in the New Testament that the Supper is a test of friendship? It is a commemorative rite - it commemorates the death of Christ. We are not unfriendly to others because we do not commune with them, neither do we unchristianize them. But if we must either offend them or God, we prefer to please the Lord. We do not wish to be so friendly with any one that we will incur the disapprobation of God, in order to please them.
We read: "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in
From this text of scripture, we get the course of the first Christians after the ascension of our Savior. They continued in the apostles' doctrine, as though doctrine is a very essential feature in the Christian system. We have heard men say, that our doctrinal differences do not amount to anything - we are all aiming at the same thing. But we never hear a man talk that way, that is ready to give any of his notions up. A man at Grayville said to me, once, that he would like for me to come and hear his preacher, who was there holding a series of meetings. He told me he thought I would like him, he was a good preacher, and said he, "He says he is not here to preach the Baptist doctrine, or the Methodist doctrine, or the Campbellite doctrine, or the Presbyterian doctrine, but that he is here to save souls." Isaid, is he not a Presbyterian? Yes, he said, he was. Well, then why does he not preach his doctrine?
"Well," said the man, "he thinks it would be so much better for all of us to come together and unite our influences, as we could do so much more good in the world."
Well, said I, perhaps I am the very man he wants to see. If he is a compromise man, as he makes the proposition, the rules of propriety require him to make the first move. What is he willing to lay aside for the sake of uniting with me? Will he lay aside his notion of infant baptism? He is aware that I do not believe in that.
"No," said he, "he would would not do that."
Well, then, I will have to, if we come together.
Will he lay down his views of general atonement? He knows that Baptists do not believe in general atonement.
"No, he would not do that," said he.
Well, then, I would have to give up my ideas on that subject if we ever come together. Now, tell me just what he will give up in order to unite with us.
"Well," said he, "he would not give up anything that he holds."
Then, if he wishes to unite with me, he means he wants me to give up all and go to him. That is the way with those fellows that want us to affiliate with them; they wish us to simply dissolve and go to them. We are as friendly as they are, for if they will come to us on our terms, we will commune with any of them. We do not make the terms, but we find them in the Bible.
We frequently hear it said, that it does not matter what a man believes, if he is honest in it. I object to that idea, for that puts falsehood upon a par with truth, provided a man believes it and is honest in it.
Saul of Tarsus was just as good a saint while persecuting the church as he was after his conversion, if that is true, for he was honest in it.
He said, "I very thought I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus, which things I also did." If it does not matter what a man believes, so he is honest in it, Colonel Ingersoll is all right, provided he is honest in what he says he believes.
Doctrine was so essential to the church that the apostles and first Christians continued steadfastly in the doctrine. be essential to the communion. I am of the opinion that those who are willing to not mention doctrinal differences, do not care to have their doctrinal positions investigated.
The apostle Jude said: "It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the Saints." Such a thing being needful, reminds us of two things: that the faith is likely to be opposed, and that such opposition is dangerous to the welfare of the church. If it was needful in the days of the apostles, it is certainly still needful. How are we going to heed this exhortation of Jude, if we do not let doctrinal differences make any difference with us?
If doctrinal differences amount to nothing, why did the Apostle John write as he did? "Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house - neither bid him God speed. For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds." I. John 2: 9, 10, 11.
Now, this is the plain, unmistakable word of God, and no Christian, that wishes the Lord to approbate his course, as an obedient servant, should be willing to set at naught the plain injunctions of God's word, to gratify his sympathy for his Christian neighbor. This word says, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed, for if you do, you are partaker of his evil deeds. Do you wish to become a partner with all the religious world, in all the heresies that are taught among men, and that are called the doctrine of Christ? When you commune with one whose doctrine is false, you then become a partner with him. God forbids you to do so, and you cannot disobey God and do right.
It does not matter if you have personal friends there, you had better not go there. But you say you see the Lord there, and you feel like going. But you are mistaken, according to the text, for he says, he "hath not God."
With such plain teaching of the scriptures as this, let it bring upon our heads all the anathemas and opprobriums that Jews or Pagans may see fit to inflict, or that ministers of other denominations may hurl at us, and heap upon us; it is our duty to bear it, and still do our homage to the Lord.
The Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to "Take heed unto thyself, and to the doctrine, continue in them; for in doing this, thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee." I. Timothy 4: 16.
Are we to obey the instructions given in these texts of scripture? What are they for, only for our good? What good will they do us if we commune with all the religious world? We cannot practice open communion and obey these exhortations. Are there now, or have there ever been, heresies among the great number of sects in the world, which claim to be churches or branches of the Church of Christ?
How are we to commune with those errorists and not partake the people we affiliate with, not only morally, but doctrinally and practically, and we thus become responsible for the bad effects of their errors.
The salvation of the church, in some way, depends on the maintenance of the doctrine, if the text means anything.
Some seem to think, when the scripture speaks of saving, eternal salvation is meant, and if it is, then doctrine is essential to eternal salvation of those to whom we preach. Then it becomes highly necessary that we take heed to the doctrine.
But while I do not believe it to be necessary to our eternal salvation, yet I do believe it is essential to the glory of God, and the welfare of his church.
For this purpose the ministry was given to the church, as the apostle observes, "That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive." Ephesians 4: 14.
We cannot be saved from every wind of doctrine, unless we take heed unto the doctrine. How are we to do that, and yet say doctrinal differences should not make any difference with us? I do not know.
Paul tells the church to reject the man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition; but how can we do that, if, after we have excluded him, as we did Randall, he sets up another church as Randall did--the Freewill Baptist Church--and then we commune with him, on the grounds that we are open communionists, and our doctrinal differences should not hinder us from communing together?
An agreement on doctrine seems to be necessary to fellowship. The prophet said: "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" Amos 3: 3. Hence, it seems that if we do not agree we cannot walk together, and if we cannot walk together, we cannot be in fellowship, and if we are not in fellowship, we cannot commune together. But the practice of open communion would force us to commune with those for whom we have no fellowship. We do not exclude from our fellowship those for whom we have fellowship, and after we exclude a member for want of fellowship, and he goes away and joins another denomination, if he should come to or communion we have either to practice close communion, or commune with him.
There is no doubt in my mind but that the members of the church must be in fellowship, in order to take the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It was intended, in the very nature of the organization of the church, that fellowship should prevail. A church is not in order to take the supper if her members are not in fellowship with each other. As an evidence of this fact, I think the apostle speaks of it in his first letter to the Corinthians. "For first of all when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions (or schisms) among you, and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies (or sects) among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. When ye come together, therefore, into one place, this is not to (or ye cannot) eat the Lord's Supper. For in eating (or if ye eat under these circumstances) every one is drunken." I. Corinthians 11: 18-20.
I understand from this that if the church is not agreed they cannot partake of the Lord's Supper, for the ordinance of the supper is not to be observed by individual members of the church, as individuals, but all the church collectively. Hence they are to partake of the supper together, that is, all of them eat the supper that belongs to all, and not each one eat his own.
But Paul seems to argue the necessity of all being united to do so. There must be no schisms or sects in the church when they commune, or else they cannot partake. One will eat before the other his own supper, and not one wait for another as the apostle advises.
If the church cannot partake of the supper when there are divisions in her body, how can she commune with those of other churches when they are not united?
I hear men talk of branches of the church as though the church of Christ had been divided up into branches, and that each denomination was a branch of the church of Christ. Who divided the Lord's church up into so many different branches? I once heard a minister say that he thanked God that his church had been divided and subdivided, so that if a man did not like this branch of the church he could go to one that he did like and join it, and thereby get to heaven. Did God divide His own church up to suit the different tastes of men, and then require men to join in order to get to heaven?
He only established one at first, and if he has divided His church Himself, he must have found out, after He set up the church, that it did not suit at all, and then he went to work and divided it up so as to have a branch suited to all. It occurs to me, if that be true, He should still get up more, for some people are not exactly suited yet. If he did not make the division, he need not be thanked for it.
But if he did, and all are simply branches of the same church, it occurs to me there should be an affinity among them. I see many branches of a tree, but all take their substance from the root and sap of the tree, and the fruit of all the branches is the same. I do not believe that the church has been divided up in such a manner as that, and that each denomination is a branch of the church.
There seems to be a lack of fellowship among them, and the members of the church should be in fellowship with one another, as the apostle said: "Ye are, therefore, no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." To be fellow citizens, is to be citizens together. We are all citizens of the state, and our interests are all the same, so that what is best for me as a citizen of Indiana is best for all others in the state. In the church of Christ the members are so united together as to make their interests all the same. We are not each one independent of all the rest, but the apostle says: "As we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office, so we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." How important that such a body of members should be in fellowship with one another in order to glorify the Lord.
Those who serve should be in fellowship, it must be the communion, for the church must come together in order to participate in the supper, and not one take it himself alone. One person may go into his closet and pray, and no one else present, and so with many other duties, but when the death of Christ is to be commemorated, it is not to be by one individual alone, but by the whole church, collectively. "Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another."
I understand all are to eat together, and not one to himself, and on this account fellowship should necessarily prevail.
But it is often the case that we exclude from our fellowship members of our church, and let it be understood that we do not exclude a member if we can fellowship him, and when we exclude him we do not wish to commune with him, and if we practice free or open communion, we are compelled to commune with those we have excluded for want of fellowship. It is not only true with us, for those who do open their communion to all, are often compelled to commune with members they have excluded from their fellowship.
We often hear the text quoted, "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup." This is universally quoted to prove open communion, but I understand it to be simply an exhortation to self-examination of each member of the church. Each member is to examine himself and eat. That text does not forbid the church to examine the standing of her own members. If the church is not allowed the privilege of judging the moral standing of her own members, and their worthiness to eat, how is she going to be able to obey the admonition of the apostle when he says, "with such an one no not to eat." There is no doubt that the apostle here intended to exhort the church to see to the moral standing of her own members, and with certain characters they were forbidden to eat. He says: "I wrote unto you an epistle not to keep company with fornicators. Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolators, for then must ye needs go out of the world."
"But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one no not to eat." I. Corinthians 5: 9-11.
I understand from this language of the apostle that the church must certainly judge the standing of her members, and if they are not worthy, she is not to allow them to eat. She is not judging the world in this case, but she is simply judging her members. The apostle continues: "For what have I to do to judge them also that are without." I think he means by them that are without, those who do not belong to the church. We are not to judge any but our own members. "Do not ye judge them that are within?" That is in the church. "But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person." I. Corinthians 5: 12-3.
Now, suppose a church excludes one such member that the apostle has told us to put away, and not to eat with, and he goes and joins another denomination, and we practice open communion, and he comes to our communion meeting, how are we going to refuse.
I do not remember that I have ever heard an open communionist quote the text, "With such a one no not to eat."
When they quote, "but let a man examine himself, and so let him eat," they seem to use it to prove that if a man thinks himself to be worthy, the church should not debar him. If that is the correct interpretation of it, I do not see how they are to refuse to eat with such a one as the apostle mentions. The order of God's house has no inconsistencies in it, and the apostle has not been inconsistent in saying in one text, "With such a one no not to eat," and in another, "But let a man examine himself and so let him eat."
I have now briefly given the main reasons we have for our practice of close communion, and you will be permitted to study them and be your own judges as to their validity. I am sure no one feels more friendly to Christians of other denominations than we do, but we do not believe in violating the plain injunctions of God's word to show our friendship to the people. I now leave the matter with you, feeling thankful to God that we can think for ourselves on these subjects.