COMMENTS ABOUT RECEPTION
[Letter adapted here for ministry. Reference names used are to writers from the 1800's]
All things considered, J. N. Darby may give an impression to some readers of his writings, of "wavering" in his belief about receiving professed Christians to the Lord's table, but overall I have confidence in his ministry. In some writings he speaks of all Christians as having "a right" and "a title" to be there and should be received, then in other writings talks about not receiving at the table any who are unknown or associated with evil. Perhaps it is not wavering, but that in principle all true believers have the privilege and should be at the Lord's table; though in practice a visitor must be examined to determine what they hold and what they are associated with. Our standing in Christ may give us title to be in fellowship, but our state may be a hindrance. It could be also that through the years Darby changed from a more liberal and open view to being more circumspect, like a lot of us have. None of us are perfect ---and change from a traditional view can be a good thing, if it is of the truth.
In the beginning of that revival of the early 1800's things were more pure like the beginning of the church, but Christians began to change to a very liberal and open testimony in the world as we see today. Even society is more permissive and liberal now about personal preferences ---not a good sign "as we see the day approaching". I agree with what CHM said about the conditions: "...we have to bear in mind that we are not in Acts 2...(i.e. a place for all believers), but in 2 Timothy ('a great house')", which all speaks of this decline in christendom from the purity of the beginning to the need to be a "keeper of the door" and more careful. As I said in my previous letter, assembly government is more essential today in this liberal world. I feel a need to be watchful about the holiness of the Lord's table, and I must go so far as to say that accommodating visitors is not a higher priority than the Lord's honor.
Many readers of JND say his style of expression often makes his meaning unclear, so that his frequent use of compound-complex sentences adds to the confusion. One can get a better understanding of his thought by considering the whole of his writings, rather than a few sentences. Sometimes he speaks only of principle and doesn't address the practical factors. I can accept the principle that the supper is for all true believers in Christ who are free from evil doctrines and associations, but the practical thing he sometimes adds is that one must be "known" to be free from evil, and not be returning to it and coming again.
Again I feel I should emphasize that the Scripture seems to say that reception is to the fellowship, which includes the privilege to be at the Lord's table. It is a privilege, not a right, and one can be put away. In Luke 22 it was not the multitude of disciples who met with the Lord for the supper, but His faithful twelve. They were known as faithful, and they prepared as He told them and came in holiness, which the majority of followers would not do.
It is also of much concern to me in this connection that one at the Lord's table is free to minister as he feels the exercise, so a visitor not gathered and not examined ---being allowed at the table, may disrupt the remembrance meeting and give his views and a line of ministry offensive and harmful, besides dishonoring to the Lord. It is not a pleasant thing to then have to say to one this can no longer be allowed, when it could have been easily avoided by exercising care. One might also consider that such leaning toward liberal reception will in time bring in a loose line of things as more such liberal minded believers join with us ---perhaps becoming a majority. It will surely lead to erosion of the testimony and division. All things need to be done “decently and in order”, as I know you agree.
As I said, I see both principles and practices are given by Darby. He states, as did CHM, that in the beginning of the church, examination was not as essential, but "now I believe it a duty according to 2 Timothy 2". All come in as a believer, but examination is essential, he noted. Darby said one among the gathered saints may commend a visitor as well known to him, as we also often find everywhere when the visitor forgot to get a letter of commendation. I have no problem with that. We are not an independent fellowship, but a universal fellowship, so we are not talking about having a local rule or criteria, but that which affects all everywhere among those who gather in truth.
Every case stands on its own merits and so is dealt with, Darby said, and that is so. The reference to "intermitted" breaking bread might have existed in the beginning of the church, but it cannot be so today if that means returning to the evil of sectarianism and a unknown association. We need to know such things, lest we be "partaker" of evil deeds. Darby further said: "What is not satisfactory in such cases is first, it is accepting the person by the assembly as if he had another fellowship beside membership of Christ, which I do not recognize at all". Neither do I. One who holds fellowship with a sect needs to judge it and leave it. I agree also we need to "wait for them to get clear", as he said. We are surely not a sect. Visitors not gathered with us should be helped to understand holiness and what fellowship here is and that takes time; and if they do not want fellowship here, but only to break bread, how can we embrace those who continue with other associations ---which is rejecting the honor of the Lord?
As Darby said: "I do not admit them (i.e. to the supper); I own their title", and that is true in the sense of principle, for the supper is for all believers, but the table has the thought of fellowship in a place of God's gathering (Mt. 18:20). There is distinction between the supper and the table, though God never intended they should be separate. One comes to the table and supper as the privilege of one who is in the fellowship, not outside and associated with that which is contrary to God. He said: "They do not come really to break bread with us on the ground of the unity of the body, if they think they are not one with us in coming, for if we are true and right, they are not one with the body of Christ, the only principle of meeting I know at all." The brother "who introduces is responsible", he said, and I add he must know all is well in commending the visitor. The fact that a visitor later may decide to be gathered, as Darby noted, surely does not justify receiving one to the table without due regard. The end does not justify the means used in the things of God.
In 1881 Darby said: "The meeting for breaking of bread is in principle the meeting together of all Christians in the unity of the body of Christ. Every Christian, then, has a right to share in it. But at the same time, in the present state of Christianity, we are called to maintain, scrupulously, faithfully, and with zeal, the holiness of the Lord's table (2 Tim. 2: 22)." Rather than "a right", I must say: the privilege. It is true in principle, as he says, but in practice as he added we must guard the table.
Darby stated: "Difference in ecclesiastical views is not a sufficient reason for shutting out a soul. But if one wanted to be one day among the brethren, the next among the sects, I should not allow it, and would not receive such a person; for, instead of using the liberty which belongs to him to enjoy the spiritual communion of the children of God, he puts forward the pretension to change the order of the house of God, and to perpetuate the separation of Christians". Darby also noted that such a one "is setting up to be superior to both, and condescending to each. This is not, in that act, a pure heart." For myself, I may have some different "ecclesiastical views" of things than some of my brethren hold, but we continue as one because I do not press my conscience on non-essential understandings and trouble the assembly. On essential things we need to be of one mind.
In summary, I believe that if one comes to visit the saints in this gathering, but continues with his religious sect, or holds unacceptable doctrines, then I believe that one should be pleased to sit back from the table (1 Cor. 14:16) - "room (i.e. place) of the unlearned", and worship silently among us, while he learns God's ways "more perfectly" (Acts 18:24-26). If he desires to be a learner we should be ever ready to help him in that.
I hope these thoughts will make my views more clear, dear brother, and I hope we can continue to share thoughts at times. - Your brother by grace, R. L. DeWitt: 10/07; add: 02/17
ADDENDUM: One might also read the booklet: "Who Should Partake Of The Lord's Supper", by Bruce Anstey - an examination of the scriptural principles of reception. - RLD