|Check it out 1 - With which believers do we celebrate the Lord's supper? (2)|
|WITH WHICH BELIEVERS DO WE CELEBRATE THE LORD'S SUPPER?|
The teaching of the apostles
From the book of Acts and also in the epistles it appears that
the assemblies in the different places were not hanging loosely
together. We notice how God watched over the oneness of the
existing assemblies in various places. The oneness between the
assembly in Jerusalem and the one in Samaria is clearly seen in
the fact that the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit only after
the apostles came from Jerusalem and laid their hands on them
(Acts 8). In this way the division in the Church between Jews and
Samaritans was prevented and the danger of developing a
Jewish-Christian and a Samaritan-Christian church was avoided.
The closeness between the churches in Jerusalem and Antioch is
seen in Acts 11, when Barnabas was send out by the apostles to
Antioch to look into the work of God. This unity was also
preserved, as seen in Acts 15. There would have been the danger
of a split in the Jewish-Christian church and a Gentile church if
the matter of circumcision was not dealt with. It is
important to note that this is a unity anchored in the apostles
and elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15:22). This supervision, which was
more or less centrally located, did not remain. That was not
meant to be either. Paul does not commend the elders in Ephesus
to a Curie or to an overall synod or the like, but to God and to
the Word of his grace.
The tie between the churches is a.o.
anchored in the teaching of the apostles which they preached in
the Name of the Lord and which God put down in the Scriptures
(Acts 2:42 and 1 Cor 4:17). We find then in general a common
pattern of conduct among the assemblies, because we like to
maintain what Paul 'taught everywhere in every church' (1 Cor
4:17). That does not mean however that every local assembly acts
uniformly in every detail. In one assembly men and women are
seated separately. Somewhere else they are mixed. In one place
the Lord's supper is celebrated on Sunday morning and the
ministry of the Word in the afternoon. In another place both are
Oneness is not to be confused with uniformity. Think of the big
difference in the pattern of conduct between Jewish believers and
the Gentiles in dealing with keeping the law (Acts 15). In spite
of these differences there was a common bond in the Lord. This
common bond is expressed in the use of a letter of commendation
when a believer travels from one place to another. Also passing
on greetings is an expression of our common bond. (Rom 16)
[The truth of the body includes the fact that a teacher not only
functions in the local church but in the body as a whole. Apollos
functioned as a teacher in Ephesus, but also when he went to
Corinth, he ministered with his gifts to the saints there as well
Order in the house
We should not connect the relationship between the local
assemblies with the picture of 'the body of Christ', but rather
with 'the house of God'. Christ is Lord over his house and every
local expression of that house. [*]. [The gift of teaching
belongs to the body, as mentioned before.] The 'office'
of elder and deacon, however, has to do with the character of the
church as house of God. An elder in Ephesus was elder locally to
watch over the order in the house of God (1 Tim3:1-15). Nowhere
do we read that elders travelled from one place to the next to
put things in order. 'In every church', in places they had been,
the apostles at that time appointed elders (Acts 14:23). They did
not appoint them as elders of 'the' Church. Therefore an elder
from the church in Ephesus could not come to Corinth and there
address certain issues, as he would do in Ephesus. A deacon in
Ephesus, while visiting Corinth, could not interfere with the
care for the needy in that place. The concept of 'body' and
'house' are not the same. It shows from the example of the elder
and the deacon that there is a local responsibility for dealing
with certain issues. To put it differently: there is to a certain
extend a local independence or autonomy. This comes out clearly
when we think of choosing a place to meet together, determining
times of meeting, distributing funds etc. On the other hand, as
said before, assemblies are not detached from each other. The
question is now: how do we practice this?
Interdependence and Independence
Let us be specific: this issue centers especially around two
questions: namely 'reception' and 'putting away from our midst'.
The question is if someone who is received in assembly A and
takes part of the Lord's supper can be received with a letter of
commendation in assembly B or whether he should be tested again
by the believers in assembly B. And the other way around: if
someone in A is put out from the midst as a wicked person, does
the same apply automatically also for B?
Here we come across two different points of view. The first
point is: every local assembly is independent of assemblies in
other places and is not bound by decisions made in the Name of
the Lord elsewhere. These thoughts are unscriptural. We find in
Scripture that servants of the Lord travelled from one place to
another and were received on the ground of a letter of
commendation that was given them. (Acts 18:27; 2 Cor3:1). The
other way around will be clear to all, that if someone in Corinth
was put away as a wicked person, the same was also valid for
Ephesus. To be honest, this independent principle is practised by
only a few.
The second principle is like this: assemblies are dependent on
each other and a decision in one locality should be acknowledged
by other assemblies in other places without question and at all
times. This principle also is not biblical, because assemblies
are not dependent on each other, but on the Lord. They have a
common bond. The teaching of the Lord binds them together,
because Paul often commends the same things in all the assemblies
of the saints. But that is different from being dependent of each
A third principle is this: if a disciplinary measure is taken
in the Name of the Lord in one assembly, other assemblies are
bound to acknowledge this decision in the first place. Not one
assembly however is infallible. It can happen that in some place
a wrong decision is made and other assemblies cannot take
responsibility before the Lord of upholding this decision.
They will then take their objections to the assembly concerned in
order that this decision can be withdrawn. If that does not
happen, they should not feel bound by that decision.
Is every decision acknowledged in heaven?
It may well be said, that quite a number of brethren adhere to
the 2nd principle. We are referring here to the 'Tunbridge
Wells Brethren'. They demand subjection to every assembly
decision. They claim the words in Matt 18:18 that whatever an
assembly binds on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever is
loosed by the assembly is loosed in heaven. But should we
conclude that the Lord also applies this to unjust decisions? Why
not apply then the same consequences to verse 19? It states, in
sequence of verse 18 and closely connected with it, that if two
or three believers agree on earth about anything they may ask, it
shall be done for them by the Father in heaven. With this
statement we make a condition and rightly so. This prayer should
have God's approval, it must be according to the will of God. If
that is not so, there will be no answer to it. Well, we ought to
consider the same in explaining verse 18. It is totally
inconsistent to take verse 18 at face value and not verse 19. I
am convinced that verse 20 refers back to verse 18 as well as
Revelation 2 and 3
I would like to go a little further into this issue. As an
argument for the so-called independent principle, some claim that
Christ did not give the churches in Asia Minor the call to
interfere with each other. Neither does He say that Philadelphia
has to break away from Thyatira because of the evil that was
found there. An appeal to what is not said however is weak, for
then one has to show that such an indication could really not
have been missed.
It is also claimed that nowhere in the New Testament an
indication is given that one has to break away from an assembly
or that one assembly interferes with the affairs of another
assembly. This remark is correct, but the question is whether
such an interference is not inferred from the teaching of the New
It is also important to consider that the Old Testament is as
it were a picture book next to the New Testament and the Old
Testament gives us some indication in the matter of joint
responsibility. The tribes of Israel had within their territory
their own responsibility. We do not see any intervention amongst
themselves existing in exercising discipline of a tribe or
severing the bond with a tribe except when immoral situations
occurred. (Judges 19 and 20) or only when idolatry threatened.
(Josh 22) for herein lies the test of truly being the people of
God. The holiness of God required in those cases an action as a
whole. But let's remind ourselves that this is a great exception,
for the Scripture mentions only the above two examples. Only
then, when the holiness of God in a local assembly is in question
and the situation is totally out of hand, will contact with such
an assembly be severed. The question of how this severing of
contact is to be practically realized, I will leave at rest in
A bit of history
Before going on, I like to highlight a little of the history of
the 'assemblies'. In the beginning of the previous century a
revival occurred in Ireland and England with the result that
believers started to gather on a principle that considered the
oneness of the body of Christ as well as the holiness of the
house of God. The main point was to simply gather as believers
and in this way to express the oneness of the church as the body
of Christ. That's where historically our roots are. Sad to
say, we have not been able to keep this oneness. As a result, two
The one stood for a more or less open and/or independent
principle, the so-called 'open brethren'. The other stood for a
more or less closed principle, also called 'closed brethren'.
That's how one group became more and more open, while the other
groups closed its ranks further and further. The gap between the
extremes became bigger and bigger.
'Neither.....nor' or 'and......and'?
At this point I like to make a remark in the margin: the
expression 'open' and 'closed' principles do not occur in the
Scriptures These are names we gave and we use them as labels. Any
group who has somewhat a broader policy than we, we stick the
label 'open' to it and thereby disqualify them. The other way
around we have the label of 'closed' and thereby we are put in
of the sects. We should neither be closed nor open, but we should
be and closed and open. We should be just as closed as Christ is
and just as open as He is. It used to be said: we have to receive
whom the Lord receives and refuse whom the Lord refuses. But be
careful, that is not a matter of feeling and also not a shallow
handling of a Bible verse, but a matter of precepts derived in a
responsible way from the Bible.
Fortunately there are assemblies who want to take a middle
principle between extreme 'open' and extreme 'closed', where one
endeavours to maintain the practice as it was in the beginning.
That means that they will receive visitors from other circles,
who want to attend the meeting and desire to partake of the
Lord's supper, if they comply with three stated conditions. [see
page 8] Of course those believers may also then take part in
the service by praying or giving out a hymn, for celebrating the
Lord's supper is part of the total service. For such cases of
fellowship the term 'occasional fellowship' is often used, mostly
in the case of believers who are visiting family or friends over
a weekend and come along to the meeting. Or in the case of
believers who have read writings of the 'brethren' and want to
search out the place where they meet.
Sad to say, also those who take the middle principle, have
become more and more rigid. In theory the possibility for
occasional fellowship is left open, but practically it is reduced
to nil, because it is thought that the situation in christianity
makes it impossible to act upon it, or one hides behind all kinds
of practical objections.
By means of this brochure, I want to make an appeal to maintain
the 'occasional fellowship' or reinstate it. Otherwise the ground
of gathering according to Scripture is being undermined.
This kind of appeal causes all kinds of reactions. Some of them I
like to discuss.
(a) There are believers among us, who have not thoroughly
examined the principles of gathering and they become concerned
and ask themselves if this is right or whether we have left the
ground of Scripture and the path of our fathers. They don't
realize the fact that we as assemblies in our practical dealings
have become narrow and therefore ended up in the 'shoulders' of
the path of our fathers. We look like the son in the parable who
said 'yes' (applied to principles in theory only) and did 'no'
(applied to the practice of receiving). Often we do not know how
to handle this 'occasional fellowship' in practice. That makes
such believers insecure. To be honest, not much has been said or
written about this in recent times, so the lack of knowledge is
(b) Other believers welcome such a practice of receiving, but
loose sight of the care that must be exercised. That also has to
do with the lack of clear teaching. That's why tensions develop
in some assemblies. From my experience in practice and from what
I have heard, it seems to me that in some cases special attention
(c) The opinion was also given, that if believers from other
groups are being received , we too can go to others, who ever
they may be.
'Taking part somewhere else'
I like to discuss point (c) first of all. It makes an unjust
conclusion.. Between these two actions is a big difference. If
you visit another 'church-fellowship' and take part of the Lord's
supper there, you thereby are [in a sense] co-responsible for
what happens in that fellowship. You will have to make sure that
you are able to stand for that responsibility. If, for instance
we receive believers from a well known and reputable church, we
thereby do not declare that we consider their church structure to
be right. We receive a believer from such a fellowship because he
meets the conditions. We judge the church structure however as
unbiblical. By receiving such a believer we do not take
responsibility for what happens in that church fellowship where
he comes from. If we however visit such a church and take part of
the Lord's supper there, do we not have a responsibility in
dealing with our conscience, since we learned to judge this
structure as unbiblical?
Why he........and not me?
Now it can happen that someone comes in a situation through a job
or other circumstances, that he cannot find an assembly with
which we are 'officially' in fellowship. When he finds there
sincere believers who want to meet on a biblical ground and who
reject evil in teaching or walk, he may have liberty in his own
conscience to take part of the Lord's supper. One should leave
this possibility open. In the first place such a brother or
sister is personally responsible to the Lord. If possible he or
she should in this case take up contact with the 'home-assembly'.
It is a different matter if someone through carelessness or
independent action comes in contact with the sins of others. It
would be good to warn such a person. He should ask himself
whether he might lead others by his example on a path others
might follow, even though he himself may not.
Pupils often go further than the master! Paul exhorts the
'strong' not to make their 'weak' brothers fall. He holds this
out to the 'strong', to tell them what he would do. He does not
lay down the law to the 'strong' and neither should we. Paul does
not make it an assembly matter either, he leaves it to the
personal conscience of the 'strong'. Alas, an 'assembly-matter'
is often made out of things that the Scripture puts as personal
responsibility. That puts pressure on the assembly and can lead
to a division. On the other hand we should never blindly follow
other believers, not even leaders among us. We have to consider
that if A can allow to do things with a clear conscience, and is
kept from falling that it may not be the same for B. I like to
illustrate this with a biblical example; it has nothing to do
with going to another group, but with the danger of following
others. Take Peter and John. John could enter the court of the
highpriest without a misstep; Peter, however, could not (J
18:15-27). It will always be that they who follow others blindly,
will be personally responsible for their walk. They can never
hide behind others.
How it should not be
Let's now have a closer look at point (b). To be in agreement
with 'occasional fellowship' is one thing, to implement this way
of taking part in the service in an orderly manner is another
matter. Of course, it is not right if a believer on his own
initiative passes the bread and wine on to a visitor whom he
knows to be a believer and thinks that he should also take part
of the Lord's supper. Receiving to the Lord's supper is really a
matter of responsibility of the whole church. This is clear in
the first letter to the Corinthians. This letter deals with order
and discipline in the church. We might have expected that elders
and deacons would be mentioned specifically, because they in
particular carry the responsibility for matters in the assembly.
It is remarkable that these 'officials' are mentioned in the
letter tot the Philippians, while that letter only deals with
practical aspects of the life of faith. They are not mentioned in
first Corinthians whereas in that letter in particular the matter
of order and discipline is dealt with. In this letter to the
Corinthians all believers as a whole are addressed and are
pointed out their responsibility.
Paul wants as it were to avoid that elders and deacons would feel
superior to the church. They might think that teaching in regards
to the walk of faith only is important for the flock entrusted to
them (the lesson of the letter to the Philippians) and on the
other hand they might think that order and discipline is their
business and the church does not carry a responsibility in this.
In any case he addresses everyone in his letter to the
Corinthians and puts the responsibility to all for matters in the
Someone who wants to take part of the Lord's supper should be
presented to the whole church by those who are normally entrusted
by this, so that those who know the person are in a position to
submit possible objections because of wrong walk or teaching.
And what about Barnabas?
Some may challenge the above that it was Barnabas at the time who
'received' Paul to fellowship. That is not really a right
presentation of facts. Barnabas introduced Paul to the apostles
and they received him (see Acts 9:27,28). Barnabas did in no way
act on his own initiative. We may well learn from this incident.
We suggest that two or three brothers should be able to give a
good testimony of a person we want to receive at the Lord'
supper. In general that is a good rule. We take account of the
principle that every matter may be established by the testimony
of two or three witnesses. From the incident of Barnabas and Saul
however it shows that this is not a law of the Medes and
Persians. [Dan 6:8] That is also concluded from Acts 11:22, where
we read that the church in Jerusalem sends Barnabas to Antioch
for a kind of inspection trip. They consider him capable and
reliable enough to accomplish this mission on his own. The same
today, an assembly could go by the witness of a single person.
But is not advisable to make this a general rule, for not every
believer is a man like Barnabas. It is said of him that he was a
good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith (Acts 11:24) and
that cannot be said of every believer. Not everyone has the
discernment required for such a task.
How then should it be?
It should be possible to have a quiet conversation to know if
someone meets the three conditions mentioned before [see page 8]
That is not a matter of a few minutes before the meeting starts.
As said before, it actually concerns people who are visiting
friends and mostly not unexpected visitors. It is therefore
better not to ask just before the meeting starts if the visitor
can take part of the Lord's supper. That should be done the week
before, preferably a week earlier, so that it can be announced in
advance, and any possible objections can be discussed. After
all, 'strangers', who just walk in, whom nobody knows, usually
won't take part of the Lord's supper that same Sunday. Think of
the incident of the foreigner that I mentioned before. Another
matter is that we cannot let the bread and the cup pass by
visitors, who often count on being allowed to take part of the
supper, without informing them beforehand. We ought to tell them,
very kindly of course, and explain to them in short, why they
cannot just like that be permitted to take part of the supper.
The caretaker could do that, or a few brothers who keep an eye on
those who come in. Eventually one could put a notice in the
entrance hall explaining that we in principle will receive all
believers to the breaking of bread, who are pure in doctrine and
walk, but that first a personal talk must have taken place.
Of course, a closer contact with the visitors should be taken
up after the meeting to be of further help to them. Ask them over
for a cup of coffee or make an appointment for a visit. If it
then appears that they have a wrong doctrine or live an immoral
life, then all contact with them will be broken off, unless they
turn away from this evil. If we cannot break bread with someone,
we cannot have christian fellowship with them either. I repeat
once more: to celebrate together the Lord's supper is not the
only expression of the fellowship believers have, it is but part
According to me, it also goes for the other way around, if we can
have christian fellowship with someone, and share the things of
the Lord, than we can also celebrate the Lord's supper with them.
Do they have fellowship with God?
This last remark brings to my mind, that a brother abroad stated
the problem we are talking about, very simply this way: 'In the
end, the main thing is whether someone has fellowship with God'.
That statement really touched me at that time, but the weight of
it did not penetrate to me then. When I heard a similar statement
made in my own country, I started to think about it more deeply.
In fact you can leave out the doctrine derived from the notions
of the body and the house concerning the receiving to the
breaking of the bread and simply ask the question whether someone
enjoys fellowship with God. If we are convinced of that, we ought
to receive him. If we do not do that we declare actually that we,
as assembled believers, are more holy than God.
Ultimately we cannot look into someone's heart and therefore we
have to go by a person's words and deeds. We thereby act
according to 1 John1:6: if someone claims to have fellowship with
God, but walks in darkness, he lies. We decline such a person
therefore on the ground of his walk.
CHECK IT OUT #1
WITH WHICH BELIEVERS DO WE CELEBRATE THE LORD'S SUPPER?
Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way
Paul dictated to the believers in Corinth that everything should
be done in a fitting and orderly way (1Cor14:40). He does so in
view of the disorderly situation in the local assembly. In church
circles this view is often quoted to defend the institution and
maintenance of a particular church order; this restricts the free
operation of the Spirit as far as church service is concerned. As
said before, the Spirit is of course free to let the pastor speak
a good word there and to give a blessing over the sermon, but He
is not free to use whosoever He will, and that is what 1Cor12
teaches us. We indeed judge that kind of order, but should not
make the similar error on account of 1Cor14:40 by instituting
various (unwritten) rules to introduce our own order and then
condemn everything that does not correspond with our traditions.
The important thing is that the principles of the Word are
applied orderly and no confusion occurs. It is also important
that it does not say in 1Cor14:33: God is not a God of confusion,
but of order. It is typical that it ends with:
'but of peace'. The point is not in the first place order, but
Concerning our subject, it is of importance that all local
believers know how to handle cases of 'occasional fellowship' so
that the assembly is not taken by surprise. Therefore I want to
elaborate on point (a) [see page 15]. Those who have believing
acquaintances visiting with them, should know who they can
address in cases of 'occasional fellowship'. That is indeed a
matter of order. It would be well, if a few brothers are
entrusted with looking after these matters and that this is also
made known. The brother who 'introduces' the person concerned
(for he is in the first place responsible), should have a
conversation together with the brothers who have been entrusted
with this and with the person concerned. They are doing this on
behalf of all, because they have been given the trust to do so.
If these brothers have no objections, they commend the believer
concerned to join in celebrating the Lord's Supper next Sunday.
In this way the requirement that ultimately everyone is
responsible, is met. When no objections from the assembly are put
forward, the visitor can take part of the Lord's Supper.
We may well add to this, that it should also be the desire of the
visitor to celebrate the Lord's Supper with us. The danger is
that family members try to persuade their visitors, where the
visitors themselves may not be ready for. I don't mean to say
that one should not talk with them about participating, but they
should not be put under pressure.
Dealing with objections
To be on the safe side, if there are any objections, it should be
about the fact that the person concerned does not meet one or
more of the three conditions [see page 8]. Once the matter of
'occasional fellowship' itself has been discussed and arranged,
these conditions should not play
a part anymore.
A sensitive point is how objections should be made known. This is
to be sure a matter of practice, not of principle. We should
never refuse believers to take part of the Lord's Supper based on
practical objections. In that case we should search for a
solution of these practical objections. A few hints could be
Let the person concerned, who has been informed about the
procedure, wait for a minute in the entrance hall and ask the
believers inside if those who had (valid) objections, to make
these known to the brothers who deal with the matter.
Or the person concerned is introduced and we ask anyone among
those present who know the person if they want to talk with him
for a minute together with the brothers who are given the trust.
This way the word 'objection' is avoided.
We said already that this often concerns acquaintances or family
members who come to visit a brother or sister and that this is
usually known beforehand. In such a case ask the brothers who
deal with matters of reception to propose to the assembly the
Sunday before to let the visitors take part. That way there is
enough opportunity in the coming week to deal with possible
objections. If there are no objections and the brothers have
liberty to let the person take part, after they have talked with
him, then it can be announced on Sunday.
These are a few suggestions, but every assembly is of course free
to make other arrangements. We do not find a fixed 'procedure' in
Not exaggerating mutual responsibility
There are assemblies (fortunately not in our country) where
mutual responsibility is strongly exaggerated. Someone who wants
to be in 'regular fellowship', has to visit (almost) all brothers
and sisters, before his request to take part of the Lord's Supper
can be satisfied. In other places, a request takes at least three
months, because it is stated: safety first. This is unbiblical.
With such practices we do not even walk of the path of the
'fathers', but beside it. It is good to emphasize mutual
responsibility, but it should not be exaggerated or one falls
into irresponsible procedures. That is definitely not how it went
with the three thousand souls who came to salvation on Pentecost.
Mutual responsibility does not mean that everyone has the same
measure of responsibility. The brothers who have a talk with the
person who makes the request, have in the first place the
greatest responsibility. Others go by their testimony unless
there are valid objections. And there must be an opportunity for
dealing with objections. If that is done, than the matter of
mutual responsibility is settled.
A few points need further clarification. In the beginning I
stated that we may not demand insight and knowledge for partaking
of the Lord's Supper. That does not mean that we will not try to
give insight to believers who come to visit. Would we keep from
them something that we have found by grace? Of course not. The
same goes for a couple of which one of the partners came to
salvation. It is natural, that such a believer talks with his or
her partner about salvation in Christ. At times you may have to
say to such a person: 'You better stop talking about conversion.
Just show by your behaviour that you are saved and how wonderful
your life now is'. That way you win your partner sooner, than
with much talk and with putting on pressure'. The same way about
giving insight into the principles of gathering. We tell our
'visitors' what these principles are and we pray that the Lord
will use the teaching to bring them to a better insight. But it
is much more important that we show them what this gathering
means to us. Not our words in the first place, but our coming
together around the Lord has to make such an impression that they
are drawn to it. What a responsibility!
An other question is how often should we receive the same
believers in this way. In general the answer is: as long as they
meet the three conditions, or as long as they live in fellowship
with the Lord. Sad to say there are brothers and sisters who
think one time is enough. The person has to have insight to make
a decision to gather together 'with us' from now on. The big
question is if we are dealing with a sincere person, who
seriously considers things, but is not ready for it, or is
in circumstances that make it difficult for him to decide. In
that case we will continue to receive him. The easy way out is to
make a fixed rule; one time and that's enough. But that is not
spiritual. Let us observe how the Lord dealt with his disciples
in great patience. In the same way we have to have patience with
our fellow brothers and sisters who go a different way. Only if
evil manifests itself, we will have to refuse admittance, in
other cases we have to bring them in.
After all, if our meetings are really holy gatherings, where it
is evident that the Lord is in the midst and His honour is
considered, than that will have a double effect. Sincere
christians will be convinced, just like 'someone who does not
understand' in 1Cor14:24,25 is convinced and desires to come
together like this from now on. Those who act against knowing
better, will simply stay away, if we show them their
We can learn something from 1John2, where John says, that people
have crept in, who appear as false teachers and went out from us.
It does not say that they were put out, they went out. It is a
case of false teachers who could not stand it in the family of
Well, the same goes for insincere, stubborn christians, who act
against better knowledge. If the condition among us is right and
we show them their insincerity, they will not keep up 'occasional
fellowship'. We do not need to say no to them, but they will say
it to us.
Is it according to God's thoughts?
I let a brother from the 'liberated reformed church' read a
previous version of this article. His comment was: 'if someone
goes back and forth to us and then breaks bread in his own
church, that can never be according to God's thoughts'. Well, he
was right. It is according to God's thoughts that such a believer
continues to take his place that is according to God's thoughts,
but, that is a matter between that brother and sister and the
Lord. We should be concerned with a very different question: 'Is
it according to God's thoughts that we refuse such a believer?'
Only when sin is involved in the life of a brother or sister in
one way or another. If we do what God requires of us than God can
use that to lead a person further.
Discipline or care
Some have stated that a person who takes part 'occasionally'
comes also under the discipline of the assembly. There is a
typical expression in this statement, the word 'discipline'. Why
don't we say first: 'care'? Let us take every possible care of
such a person. We do not accept for once only.
As far as we are concerned that brother (or sister) belongs to
the assembly. And since we got to know him, we will be glad to
receive him again- that is for us the consequence. Of course, he
also comes under our discipline if he goes the wrong way or falls
into evil. In that case we will exhort him the same way as any
brother or sister that regularly visits the meetings. In case he
does not repent from his evil ways, we will have to sever our
fellowship with him and will consequently not receive him at the
Lord's Supper either.
But there is more to it. In fact every christian comes under our
care and discipline. And......we under his! If some christians
live in our street, we maintain contact with them. We greet them
as believers. If the occasion arises, we converse about spiritual
matters. If something goes amiss in their marriage, should we
then say: 'Oh, they are not in fellowship with us, therefore it
is not our business'? If we reason that way, we display a
sectarian spirit! And should they not have responsibility for us?
If these christians fall into evil and don't turn away from it in
repentance, we have to break off contact with them, just as it is
laid down in 1Cor5. Our mistake is that so often we have
encapsulated ourselves in our own little circle, that we do not
realize that 1Cor5
gives directions for fellowship or no fellowship of believers
among each other. We limit that to 'our' circle, because we can
only remove a person from our own midst. We overlook then, that
verse 13 is preceded by verse 11. This verse says that we are not
to have fellowship with such
christians. In that regard, such christians also come under our
discipline when they have quarrels with fellow believers in their
own circle or if they are exhorted, disciplined or marked on
account of certain matters. We have to take account of that and
tell them to first straighten these matters out. We want to be
hospitable, just as our Lord was hospitable. But He said that a
disciple who has trespassed against a brother, first has to
straighten that out before he brings his
gift to the altar. We do not have to be involved in the problems
of other circles. But believers should first clear matters in
their own circle before we receive them.
Difference with 'usual reception'
There is till another matter that needs further clarifying. At
the occasion of 'a usual request for fellowship' two brothers are
asked by the brothers meeting to visit that person. If all is
found in order, the believer is presented to the 'assembly' the
following Sunday and then he or she takes part of the Lord's
Supper the following Sunday. This is more or less the procedure
in various assemblies. With 'occasional fellowship' however a
sort of emergency procedure is followed. Some believers find it
difficult that there are apparently two methods of receiving
someone at the Lord's Supper.
Well then, I repeat once more that the Scriptures do not give us
any direction as to the procedure of receiving at the Lord's
Supper. We can be certain that our 'usual method' was definitely
not followed in the time of the apostles. There is no doubt that
the three thousand persons who were converted and baptized on
Pentecost celebrated the Lord's Supper the next Sunday with the
hundred and twenty other disciples. They were well aware with
whom they were dealing. A similar thing can occur among us and
has happened in the past. In any case, the Scriptures do not
restrict us to a particular procedure. That means that we have
room to act on our own discretion.
In principle there is no difference between the usual and the
'occasional' method. As far as we are concerned the 'occasional'
reception is not meant for one time only, the same as the usual
reception. There is only a practical difference. In the first
case, the person concerned does not (yet) realize what the
scriptural ground of gathering is. We try to bring him further,
but don't yet hold him responsible for it. In case he wants to
continue to gather with us, the responsible brothers should have
a talk with him. Not to find out whether he can be received, but
to hear from his own lips that he wants from now on to 'walk
together with us'. We have to know from both sides where we are
at. That is not a matter of principle, but of practice. It is a
matter of good order. Occasional reception is in most cases about
brothers from another place. The brothers who have the trust of
the assembly will, as mentioned before, try to get some
information about him from the place where he lives. If there is
an assembly in that place, then they will contact the local
correspondent. In case the believer has definitely decided to
walk 'with us', then we direct him to the assembly in the place
where he lives, so that matters can be arranged locally.
We allow believers from 'other' circles to participate in the
service because they meet the three requirements [see page 9]. We
ought to do this on account of the unity of the body. The order
and discipline of God's house do not exclude these 'visitors'.
Thus we preserve the unity of the Spirit.
Then, and then only, we can ask God with boldness that He may
open the eyes of the believer for the manner of gathering
according to the Scriptures. That is the way believers were
received in the past and this one time experience was enough to
convince them of the biblical principle and manner of gathering.
Would the Lord not want to work this out in our days? Certainly,
the evidences are still there, even though they are few! But then
it is up to us to act in all sincerity,
and also in full confidence according to the principles we have
found in God's Word and not let these become ineffective through
To take a biblical stand and to apply correct rules is splendid,
but it is not the essential. The main point is that the assembly
life is fresh and real. A visitor should experience that all who
are present are there for the Lord. He should feel accepted in
the fellowship. It might actually be very important to write once
about our personal life with the Lord and our fellowship with
other. Sometimes I think that a change in mentality should take
place among us. We should put less emphasis on the outward things
and more on the inward and essentials of our christian life and
of our assembling.
And what about those quotations?
In the beginning I quoted a number of verses from the Old
Testament that refer to defilement and are connected with our
topic [see page 7]. These are raised as objections to receive
believers from other circles at the Lord's Supper. I want to deal
with these quotations in another publication. Yet I would like to
say something about it in a general way.
First of all, we should realize that situations in the Old
Testament must only be used as illustrations of what the New
Testament teaches. We should never base a teaching or a course of
action on data from the Old Testament only, because we are then
left to arbitrary applications.
Secondly we have to be extremely careful with making
applications. In the Old Testament we find that someone was
unclean (in a cultic sense) by just touching unclean things. We
do not find anything like it in the New Testament, it is always
pointing to the inward influence: be it that one joins in the sin
of others or that one is indifferent to it. A clear example of an
application is found in Haggai 2:15. Here, in verses 13 and 14,
we see what the Lord means with touching. The state of their
heart was defiled and therefore what Israel sacrificed was
Thirdly we should realize that all conclusions about 'sheer
outward defilement' run stuck on the above quoted verses, Rev3:4
and 18:4,5 [see pages 8 and 9]. The believers in Sardis were
part of the assembly there. There was at that time only one
assembly. Yet God says that they have not soiled their clothes.
They had no part in the dead condition and were therefore not
defiled. The same goes for the believers in Babylon. Whether they
should have left Babylon sooner is of course another matter, but
up to that moment they had no fellowship with the sins of
Babylon. If they would stay while the sins were apparently piling
up to heaven, then that would make them guilty and they would
have fellowship with her sins and therefore also perish with her.
The example of Lot is of value here. He should never have taken
residence in Sodom and should have left from there long ago. Up
till now however he was tormented in his righteous soul
[2Pet2:8]. Had he stayed however, he would have been found guilty
and would have perished with Sodom.
The most difficult way
Two of the three standpoints I put forward are easy. If we
receive only believers who 'regularly' visit the meetings, we are
never confronted with decisions that touch the conscience. There
is nothing to examine. We only receive believers that belong to
our own group; others are refused.
Easy indeed, but then the revival of 1830 and all that resulted
from it, has been futile. The point at that time was indeed, if
in the midst of a divided christendom, there was a basis to come
together as believers and thereby express the unity of the body
of Christ and the unity of the Spirit. This basis was found by
accepting one another as believers, apart from ecclesiastical
institutions human ordinances and the like. If that principle is
abandoned and christians are refused who are well known and have
a good reputation and only members of one's 'own group' are
received, then the divided christendom is alas increased with one
more group. This is an easy, but in essence a sectarian way.
The other standpoint is also easy: everyone who enters and
expresses to be a christian is received and takes his place at
his own responsibility. This way one shirks the responsibility to
take care of the holiness of the Lord's house.
The biblical standpoint to really assemble according to the
principles of the body and that of the house, is difficult. It
requires searching, it requires spiritual wisdom, it requires
dependence on the Lord. It is the most difficult, but in my
sincere conviction, really the biblical way.
I want to underline once more, that the main thought must be that
we receive all believers who do not have fellowship with the sins
of other believers through direct contact. If we keep to that, we
do not have to be anxious for 'defilement' and we can gather
trusting in the Lord's approval in dependence of Him and to His