"Reception to God’s assembly" is not a statement from Scripture, neither is "Reception to the Lord’s table". But the former is nevertheless a very Scriptural statement, while the latter, as we hope to show, is not only UN-scriptural but also ANTI-scriptural. A firm grasp of the correctness of the first statement will do much to establish the believer in many truths relative to the local testimony, whereas the latter is a phrase and a doctrine not to be played with at all, which undermines many fundamentals of assembly truth, and opens the door for all kinds of looseness and compromise in a company of God’s people. The widespread practice of this present day is to "receive to the Lord’s table, all who truly love the Lord," but this presumed graciousness is not really grace, and this supposed humility and love really harbours much that is erroneous when brought to the Scripture of truth. Let us go then to that same Scripture and learn the mind of the Spirit regarding "Reception".
We consider first the Lord’s table. A deeper study of 1Corinthians chapters 10 and 11 may suffice to reveal that the meeting in question might be more intelligently known as "The Lord’s supper" 1Cor.11.20. Surely the Lord’s table is not that wooden article of furniture which we cover with a cloth, and around which we sit to remember our Lord Jesus? Yet undoubtedly that is what is in the mind of most who speak of "receiving to the Lord’s table all who love the Lord"! With this they link the plausible argument: "it is the Lord’s table, not ours, and how then can we keep away from the Lord’s table those who love the Lord?" But let us think of this very argument in another aspect. On these hallowed occasions we celebrate the Lord’s supper, 1Cor.11.20. This was instituted by the Lord Jesus, v.23. It was revealed to Paul by the Lord, v.23. The loaf and the cup are emblems of the body and blood of the Lord, v.27. During the supper we ought to discern the Lord’s body, v.29, and the whole procedure should be a proclamation of the Lord’s death, v.26. Are the solemn implications not obvious?
There is a favoured little corner of the earth, where in almost every building used by those who meet as God’s assemblies there is displayed that glorious text, "Jesus Christ is Lord" Phil.2.11. That is it! The weekly supper is a gracious privilege of those who meet outside the rebellion and insubordination of earth, distinct from the schisms of Christendom, giving a corporate confession of the Lordship of our Lord Who is still rejected by the masses of humanity. Participation in the supper is only a privilege (and a responsibility) of those who have been received into the fellowship of such an assembly, sharing all the other joys and sorrows of that separated company which acknowledges the Lordship of Christ.
Outside the camp unto Thy dear Name;
This in Thy Word I see,
Unto that Name, then I share in His shame,
Privileged place to be.
Feasting on Christ, His reproach to share;
Tempt not my soul away,
Nought can compare with the blessedness there,
Outside the camp with Thee.
(Fred G. Magee)
It might be necessary (sadly enough) to point out here that every believer is not in the local church. As the late, much-esteemed W. E. Vine has put it: "We are living in days when there are believers in ecclesiastical circles who do not form part of the local assembly. They are ignorant of what constitutes an assembly in a locality according to the Scriptures." While every believer, young or old, weak or strong, has a place in that glorious church which is Christ’s body, yet there are multitudes of Christians who refuse to have fellowship with those companies which, in a Scriptural manner, meet in various districts in local testimony to Christ. Such companies are known in Scripture as "the churches of God" 1Thess.2.14; "the churches of Christ" Rom.16.16; "the churches of the saints" 1Cor.14.33. Any believer, who deliberately puts himself outside the fellowship of such a church, puts himself also outside the sphere of assembly discipline and should not expect to be permitted to share in the privileges of that company when he will not be subject to its disciplinary authority.
A devout Christian in an evangelical denomination used to present to the writer another argument from this very same chapter. It says: "Let a man examine himself and so let him eat" 1Cor.11.28. Now, said this believer, it does not say, "let a man’s brethren examine him, and decide whether or not he should partake". It was unfortunately forgotten by this dear brother that the recipients of the epistle were already in fellowship in the assembly at Corinth. As members of an assembly we should still subject ourselves to stern examination with the supper in view. 1Cor.11.28 has absolutely no bearing on reception.
What then of those who are devout believers, who meet in sectarian circles, but who desire to have occasional fellowship on a Lord’s Day morning, to show at least that they are not sectarian bigots, and wish, by their occasional visits to express their brotherly love to the assembly. Such conduct, say some, will do much to break down the denominational barriers that divide God’s people. Will we receive such an one? Or is he to be excluded from participation in the supper, even with the knowledge that he is a genuine believer?
A similar case is that of a believer who is visiting friends who are in assembly fellowship, and he wishes to break bread where they do, though he has denominational connections. His friends can vouch for his being a genuine believer, and his practical living agrees to his confession; can we dare refuse such? Human sentiment and mistaken notions of grace and love would say, "Receive our brethren". But godly overseers acting in a Scriptural manner will assure us that it takes exceeding more love and grace to ask such dear brethren to take their proper place outside the company and look on while the others break the bread and drink the cup.
Now with regard to these cases, where in all Holy Writ can we find any precedent for this occasional or casual fellowship? Where, anywhere, do we read of one breaking bread who is not in church fellowship? Occasional fellowship has absolutely no place in Scripture, but "steadfast continuance" is the Scriptural example and order, Acts 2.42. "Saul assayed to join himself to the disciples" Acts 9.26. And again, in that same Acts 2.42 the indisputable implication in the Spirit’s order is that the person not only receives the word of the evangelist, but also is baptised, before proceeding to the fellowship and the breaking of bread and other assembly privileges. It will be conceded that there are many who claim to love the Lord (thus qualifying for "casual fellowship") who have never obeyed the Lord in baptism! And so the Spirit’s order is abandoned. In the case of these visitors, too, there may be a person who holds false teaching; for instance, denial of the eternal security of the believer. What happens if such should desire to take active, audible participation in the meeting? Would not confusion result, no matter how the brother was silenced? Scriptures relative to the church order do not in any sense leave room for casual fellowship. The Spirit of God also does not admit of any believer, anywhere, meeting in any place other than in God’s assembly. Sectarian circles and denominational organisations are hateful to the Lord and can never be acknowledged by Him, no matter who they are who comprise them. God has one place: His assembly. It is never a sect, but in most places and times has the character of a remnant. We sing sincerely and with joy:
"But," say some of our brethren, "there is another case yet. What of some believers who do not know?" They may be, for instance, young believers who have not yet learned the great truths of the assembly. Are they excluded, in their ignorance, from the supper? Here we need to pray for our beloved brethren who take the oversight in the assemblies and ask for them a great sense of discernment.
Might it not be that some can be received to the assembly and then nursed and nourished in its glorious doctrines; whereas with others it may be wiser to let them look on for a while and occupy the place of the "unlearned" 1Cor.14.23,24, (here absolutely distinct from the unbeliever), and then after some time, receive such in a Scriptural manner to assembly fellowship. Pray for wisdom for our dear brethren who will one day give account as shepherds and guides of the assemblies. In either case, the supper is only for those who meet as part of the assembly, having been received to it with all that reception entails. Whatever may be the cause or reason for the ignorance, the unlearned are still regarded as outside, until Scripturally received in. We do not, of course, be harsh or unkind in any way, because a brother or sister is so excluded, but with all grace and joy we show them brotherly affection and look forward to the day when they with us will share in the songs and sorrows, the triumphs and tragedies, the privileges and responsibilities of fellowship in an assembly of God.
These leave no doubt of the fact that in New Testament days only those meeting with one assembly were received in another. Paul said to the assembly at Corinth, "Need we, as some others, letters of commendation to you" 2Cor.3.1. Undoubtedly, it would have been arrogant behaviour on the part of the Corinthians to demand a letter of commendation from the well-known and beloved Paul, but does not Paul’s very statement show that they were very correct in demanding letters from others. Literally Paul says, "Do we need, as others need, letters to and from you at Corinth?" The brother has no Scriptural rights to be received, who cannot bear a commending letter from an assembly, and the assembly has all Scriptural rights to refuse such a brother a part in the supper. Indeed it is a duty to refuse such.
Now may the Lord help us to a solid conviction regarding Scriptural reception. It may mean that we shall have to stand against the strong current of modern opinion. These are last Laodicean days, with our long-rejected Lord on the threshold of the door, but assembly testimony must not cease. In Rev.3.20 the Lord looks for communion and fellowship with the individual, but He still looks to the assembly for corporate testimony, right to the end of church history down here. He still has a place for His name! God still has an assembly! Let us gather there! Let us stand firmly for the great truths that pertain to the local testimony, and let us pray that many of our dear brethren with sectarian connections may sever those connections and that in our day, before the return of our Lord, we may see much more of Scriptural reception to God’s assembly.