the weblog of Alan Knox

Separating over loaves…

Posted by on Sep 14, 2007 in blog links, discipline, ordinances/sacraments, unity | 15 comments

David Rogers at “Love Each Stone” has written a thought-provoking post called “The Illustration of the Hypothetical ‘Common Loaf Denomination’“. David briefly explains the standard baptistic understanding of baptism. Baptists, as one example, often separate from other believers who understand baptism differntly. David then explains that someone could use the same reason and logic to come to a conclusion that using one loaf of bread is the only proper method of partaking of the Lord’s Supper. He then asks (hypothetically) if we should form a separate denomination for those who choose to be biblical and use one loaf. This leads to his powerful conclusion:

What is the solution to this dilemma? Should those of us who are convinced of the biblical truth concerning “common loaf” celebration of the Lord’s Supper separate from those who still insist on celebrating the Lord’s Supper with individual wafers or their equivalent? Should we form our own denomination that ensures that the missionaries we send out will only teach the churches they plant to practice “common loaf” communion? Or, should we take it to the extreme of refusing to even cooperate on the mission field with those in other groups who are mistaken in their interpretation of this “clear biblical truth”?

I hope, by now, the absurdity of what I am suggesting is obvious. Even though I am totally convinced of the accuracy of my biblical interpretation regarding “common loaf communion,” it would be “nit-picking” for me to separate with other authentic disciples of the Lord Jesus, who are sincerely doing their best to submit to his commands in their own life, over something as secondary as this. Much more important than our differences on this point is our essential unity as joint members of the Body of Christ, who have been given a joint task to fulfill, and should work hand in hand, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to obey together the commands of Christ, to the degree each one of us is able to understand them.

For the most part, we pick and choose which “doctrines” to use as litmus tests in order to fellowship with or separate from other believers. But, do we get this idea from Scripture? Does Scripture tell us to separate from other brothers and sisters who do not practice baptism the same way we do? Does Scripture tell us to separate from other brother and sisters who understand gifts of the Spirit differently than we do?

So, according to Scripture, when are we allowed to separate from other brothers and sisters? Does it bother you that Scripture speaks negatively about division?

(By the way, it looks like Ben Witherington has published (is publishing?) a little book about the Lord’s Supper that may be interesting.)


15 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-14-2007

    Alan,

    This is a tough question, especially for those of us who are baptist. Our forefathers were killed because they believed in believers baptism. The Catholics were the first seperatists…they liked to seperate someone’s head from the rest of their body. :)

    In my limited knowledge, I can think of false teaching and unrepentant sin being reasons to seperate.

    I guess my question is…what is the nature of the division that we see in the NT that the NT authors oppose?

    When do they support division?

    Thanks for the post, you always challenge me even though I don’t always comment. Or, should I say, the word is always challenging me. ;)

    Thanks brother,
    Dougald

  2. 9-14-2007

    I am starting my own denomination called “The Kissing Brethren”. We believe that all “Christians” who don’t practice the Holy Kiss are in direct violation of scripture, and therefore we do not believe it is appropriate to cooperate with them in any Christian work of any kind, but don’t worry Alan, you’re totally in! *wink, wink*

  3. 9-14-2007

    Alan,

    I have started to call this, Unity by Orthodoxy. If you don’t meet us on our terms, then we cannot be united with you. It’s a real shame.

    Lew

  4. 9-14-2007

    Alan,

    It is certainly understandable that the early Baptists wanted to be free to be baptized as believers without being killed for it. I wonder, however, when and how they came to the conclusion that they should separate from others who had only been baptized as infants?

    Speaking of baptism, what do you think we should teach new believers regarding this issue? If we believe that believer’s baptism is biblical, then what do we say of infant baptism?

    One last thing: isn’t it interesting how almost all evangelicals have somehow agreed not to separate over eschatology? The last things are certainly important, but rarely do we separate over them. So why baptism?

    This is a tough issue.

    Eric

  5. 9-14-2007

    Alan,

    It’s an amazing thing that truth held in the mind, but not assimilated to the heart, is like food applied to the mouth, but not swallowed.

    I wrote somewhere the other day “The Lord Jesus Christ is the axle upon which the wheels of genuine Christianity revolve. The pulpit, more often than not, has removed the axle with the obvious result.”

    Herein lies the problem: The Lord Jesus Christ has ceased to be the essential,central object (the axle) for Christian focus. Counterfeit Christianity, or Christianism, has moved the Gospel (the hub) from it’s necessarily intimate relationship with Him.

    The consequence of this is that the spokes of the wheel (lesser doctrines?), which ARE closely connected to the hub and join the center to the rim (the whole),become substitutes for the center and the hub.

    The genuineness of claimed believers(the whole)is assessed on their relationship with the spokes, rather than their relationship with the axle (the Lord Jesus Christ) through the Gospel (Eph.2:8-9).

  6. 9-14-2007

    Dougald,

    Yes, false teaching (that is, teaching a false gospel) and unrepentant sin are scriptural reasons to separate from other believers. Other reasons mentioned in Scripture include idleness (refusing to work) and divisiveness. Divisiveness is worrisome to me. I think I have been guilty of divisiveness in the past – all in the name of protecting orthodoxy.

    Dan,

    I hopy you are winking at your wife. You know what Proverbs says about people who wink. Seriously, you bring up a good point. Should we separate from people who do not hug or kiss? These are commandments in Scripture.

    Lew,

    I agree. It is a shame. Our family is reading Joshua right now. It reminds me of the time that Joshua met the angel who was the leader of the Lord’s army. Joshua asked him, “Are you on our side or their side?” The angel said, “Neither. I am on the Lord’s side.” I wonder if Jesus showed up if we would ask him if he was on the side of the paedobaptists or the credobaptists. I think he would say, “Neither.”

    Eric,

    I can only teach according to my convictions. I believe that baptism is by immersion following salvation. That is what I teach. There are other believers – people that demonstrate that they are brothers and sisters in Christ – who are equally convicted about paedobaptism. They remain my brothers and sisters, though.

    I agree that it is interesting that we seldom separate over eschatology. Although, I have heard it said that if you do not believe in pre-trib rapture then you are not a Christian. I’m concerned about people who would make that kind of statement.

    Aussie John,

    That axle and hub illustration is perfect! Thank you for sharing it with us. What do you think someone should do if they realize that they are relying on their doctrines (the spokes) instead of the axle (Jesus Christ)?

    -Alan

  7. 9-15-2007

    I’m still waiting for the denomination to form around the imperative of Jesus’ command to cut off one’s right hand or gouge out one’s right eye.

    Left-handed Lutherans?

    One-eyed Pentecostals?

    Millstone Methodists?

  8. 9-15-2007

    David,

    This is just a guess (I’m not claiming to be a prophet), but I think you will be waiting a long time for those denominations.

    -Alan

  9. 9-16-2007

    Alan,
    You asked, “What do you think someone should do if they realize that they are relying on their doctrines (the spokes) instead of the axle (Jesus Christ)?”
    I cannot answer the question, as brief as my answer will attempt to be, without a comment on what I WOULD DO if being privileged to speak with such a person. If, as you suggest, “they realize they are relying on their doctrines (the spokes)”, my purpose would be to point them to the centrality of Christ, not only for salvation, but for the whole of life. If the opportunity availed itself, I would ask them for their permission to share the Gospel with them, thus giving them a measure to judge the foundation on which their premise of being saved was based. This may mean they would really hear the Gospel for the first time. (One lady, with whom my wife and I shared the Gospel, had attended church for 55 years and never heard the Gospel).

    My approach would be based on my own observation, and experience, that today, in an accelerating and continually diminishing manner, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His redeeming work, is NOT central in preaching and conversation, regardless of theological position, or denominational affiliation. As a result, the foundations upon which individuals claim to have saving faith are as varied, and as far of mark, as human opinion can be, even within denominations with clear statements of doctrine.

    “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 3:11)

    The spokes which many rely on are a kaleidescope of variety. For many the Bible itself is a substitute for Christ, as they give mental assent to statements in the Scriptures, which they believe will save them. There are far too many who rely on their “decision” or “the sinner’s prayer”. Many second and third generation evangelicals who assume that their affiliation with a denomination assures them of their eternal security. Their faith is the foundation of their salvation. I guess there isn’t a blog large enough to contain all of the spokes, many false, which are so apparent today, moralism , sectarianism, religionism, subjectivism, prosperitism (my word) etc.

    Part of your query was “What should someone do if…..?”. I would offer them hospitality, meals, etc. with the opportunity to continue to talk, and study the Scriptures together. The fact that I had the opportunity to speak to such a person would cause me to believe that God had given me a responsibility to, if at all possible, to disciple someone and help them to see the Lord Jesus Christ, not only as their Savior and Lord, brother, friend, but as the central person of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

    Ultimately, I would leave it to the Holy Spirit to move their heart and mind as to what THEY should do (No! I wouldn’t suggest they leave the “church” they are in).

  10. 9-16-2007

    Alan,

    “people that demonstrate that they are brothers and sisters in Christ – who are equally convicted about paedobaptism. They remain my brothers and sisters, though.”

    “Herein lies the problem: The Lord Jesus Christ has ceased to be the essential,central object (the axle) for Christian focus. Counterfeit Christianity, or Christianism, has moved the Gospel (the hub) from it’s necessarily intimate relationship with Him.”

    In trying to come to grips with this issue instead of asking what should we not divide over, I am asking what should be the positive foundation for our unity. What is the foundation for considering someone a brother or sister vs someone outside the family? And are some people inside the family in disgrace and thus in need of a more distant acceptance?

    I think that Aussie has pegged much of the essence.

    the foundation for being in the family is being in communion with Jesus Christ, Son of God. Anyone in communion with a different Jesus cannot be part of the family.

    What do we focus on when the issue is communion rather then doctrine?

    Here is where to me the right way to baptize someone is far less important then how that baptism is understood within the context of our relationship with Christ. Are we focused on the right way to baptise or what age to baptise or our we focused on letting our baptism be a point of fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection? No matter when we were baptized our baptism is meaningful only when it is an intimate part of our everyday life as we live out the dying to ourselves and rising in Christ on a continuous basis.

    It seems to me that Eschatology becomes important not in the context of what to believe but in the context of preparing ourselves for His coming and cooperating with the process of sanctification so that the Bride will not be found blemished when He comes.

    In reality I think a real recognized communion with Christ, not same doctrine, is the basis on which we recognize brothers and sisters. Someone can believe the same as I and yet be dead in their relationship with Christ and another may believe very differently but be truly striving to love Him. I will feel closer to the latter then the former.

  11. 9-16-2007

    Aussie John and C Grace,

    I appreciate the focus on Jesus Christ. Apart from him any “doctrine” or any type of unity would be meaningless.

    I suggest then, apart from unrepentant sin, that we do not divide from someone who is united with Christ – even if we disagree with some of their doctrines.

    -Alan

  12. 9-16-2007

    Aussie,

    I have really appreciated reading your comments. This one quote caught my eye and made me think.

    “Their faith is the foundation of their salvation.”

    I think I would reword this and say that their beliefs are the foundation of their salvation. The question to ask is, “What is our faith in — our own beliefs and understanding, our church or denomination, or the power of God in Jesus Christ?

    Faith in anything of ourselves or in any other human or created thing will ultimately be worthless for our salvation.

    As you noted:
    “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 3:11)

    In order to answer Alan’s question I think it might be good to identify what the root problem is behind this misplaced faith.

    Personally I think it is very hard to trust an invisible God. We need some point of contact to lean on until the Spirit renews us to the point where we can know Him in reality.

  13. 9-16-2007

    Alan,

    I would like to thank C Grace and respond by saying I think that she may have misunderstood what I meant (after all I do live in Down Under) by “Their faith is the foundation of their salvation”. I was referring to those mentioned in the previous sentence and may have been more clear had I written it thus, “Their faith(belief)is…..”.
    By the way, the root problem is, in the first place, sin, and then the utterly ineffectual, humanistic teaching, from deceived teachers, whom many trust to lead them.
    I don’t want to enter into a semantics debate, but want to make clear that intellectual assent to (faith in the fact of) the Man,Jesus, DOES NOT save, after all James tells us that even the demons have that belief (James 2:19).
    An intimate relationship (communion) with Christ is totally dependent on the convicting, convincing power of the Holy Spirit bringing us to saving faith,which is nothing less than utter trust and reliance in the person (the Man) AND the work He accomplished (propitiation, justification, sanctification, etc.) His perfect life, substitutionary death and resurrection.

    Every aspect of this is a work of God; He brings us to the place of recognising our sinful state, He convicts us of our eternal lostness in this state, He convinces us of our need, He points us to His answer,Christ, He opens our mind to whom He is, what He has accomplished on our behalf, He gives us the gift of faith (belief, trust,etc.), He seals us with His Spirit, He assures us, He motivates us to godly living and ministry.

    It is all of Him of which Paul was certain when he told the congregation at Philippi,”For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil.1:6).

  14. 9-21-2007

    I agree that it is interesting that we seldom separate over eschatology.

    I think we do so more than some realize. Let someone come out as a partial-preterist and see how many preaching engagements get cancelled.

  15. 9-21-2007

    David McLaughlin,

    Yes, some people do separate from their brothers and sisters in Christ due to eschatological view. I think this is more rare than separation due to other beliefs such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, etc.

    -Alan