Friday, April 13, 2012

Why I Find David Rogers's One-Loaf Argument Unconvincing

Five years ago David Rogers penned a blog post entitled The Illustration of the Hypothetical "Common Loaf Denomination". He intended it as an argument in favor of open communion. I stated then, and continue to state now, that it is an equally effective argument in favor of open membership. I can't recall what David's response was to that assertion.

And so, the present public state of things, as far as I can tell, is that both David and I accuse one another of inconsistency (please don't read mutual hostility into the word "accuse"). David accuses me of inconsistency because he believes that I make the smaller details of the biblical witness regarding baptism a test a fellowship while I do not make the smaller details of the biblical witness regarding the Lord's Supper a test of fellowship. I accuse David of inconsistency because I believe that he makes the smaller details of the biblical witness regarding baptism a test of fellowship when it comes to local church membership while he does not make them a test of fellowship when it comes to the Lord's Supper.

For five years, as Baptist blogging has touched upon the relationship between pedobaptists and credobaptists, David has from time to time linked back to this original article and used it in ongoing debate. Others have linked to it and have defended it. By the way, nobody, to my recollection, out of any of the endorsers has ever explained why this wouldn't apply equally to open membership as well as to open communion.

I thought I had already written to refute David's argument, but I cannot find that I have done so. I confess that other people often keep better track of my blogging than I myself do. If this is a repeated post, then I apologize, but I give you the reasons why David's pedagogical attempt does not convince me.

  1. Immersion is not really a "mode" of baptism. Yes, I and others have used that terminology for convenience's sake. We have made "mode" a property of "baptism" and have asserted three possible values for that property: "Immersion," "Aspersion," and "Affusion." This is convenient terminology, but it is inaccurate. It does not reflect reality.

    The reality is that there is no such thing as "baptism." There is only "immersion." We know definitively that "baptism" is a made up word, a transliteration of βαπτίζω concocted into the English tongue for the sole purpose of avoiding the accurate translation—the word "immersion"—in the New Testament. The world being as it is, we cannot avoid the use of the word "baptism," it being as firmly established as it is, but linguistic drift does not alter reality: Immersion is not a "mode" of baptism; it is the essence of "baptism."

    For this reason, the credobaptist vs. pedobaptist controversy is not a question of "The New Testament commands that you baptize: How does YOUR church do it?" Rather, it is a question of "The New Testament commands that you immerse: Does your church obey this command or not?"

    Rogers refers to this part of the discussion as the linguistic argument. In an attempt to show the validity of his illustration and his accusation of inconsistency, he states that there is a corresponding linguistic argument regarding the Lord's Supper:

    Linguistically, the term "breaking bread," generally accepted as referring to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, directly implies the use of a "common loaf."

    This assertion fails for several reasons. First, it fails because any number of loaves of bread can nonetheless be broken and a church can still have accomplished, linguistically, the breaking of bread. Furthermore, the loaf can be broken at any time during the Lord's Supper, or even beforehand, and the breaking of bread can still have been accomplished. In 1 Corinthians 10:16, the phrase, "τὸν ἄρτον ὃν κλῶμεν" simply refers to "the bread which we break into pieces." If you have bread, and if it winds up being broken into pieces, then you've entirely lived up to the linguistics of this phrase. The same cannot be said of βαπτίζω and the sprinkling of water onto a baby.

  2. More than "mode" is at stake in the disagreement between pedobaptists and credobaptists. Differences in "mode" followed differences in meaning and differences in sequence and differences in candidate. Sprinkling is merely a symptom of the choice to force baptism upon unwilling, unregenerate babies in the service of the foolish notion that spiritual benefit can accrue to them thereby. Almost everything about baptism is different between these two groups. The only similarities that I can find are that we all use water, we all use human beings, and we all talk about Jesus when we do it.

    Where the "mode" really IS the only thing at stake, we've actually been much more generous. For example, we know that John Smythe and Thomas Helwys merely poured water upon one another. The same is true of Roger Williams. I regard these men as Baptists.

    Of course, these men are an historical anomaly. With the benefit of further light on the subject being disseminated widely, nobody on the planet holds the view of Smythe, Helwys, and Williams today. All those who reject pedobaptism routinely perform their baptisms by immersion. To begin to perform baptism by sprinkling or pouring today is to reject much more than the only scriptural "mode" of baptism.

  3. A single common loaf was not necessarily (and I think cannot possibly have been) the eucharistic practice of the New Testament church. The Jerusalem church simply was too large to have celebrated the Lord's Supper by using a single loaf of bread. Yes, if one receives as inerrant truth the hypothesis about house churches in Jerusalem or David's own "city church" notion, then one might make a case for each cell group celebrating with its own single loaf of bread, but I don't believe that even David would assert his theories of New Testament ecclesiology as being so iron-clad that one should build his entire doctrine of an ordinance in a way that would crumble to the ground if "city church" ecclesiology later proved to be untenable. After all, the New Testament explicitly states that the entire Jerusalem church met in one accord at Solomon's Portico (Acts 5:12). The weight of that one statement alone should be enough—even if house church advocates can form some answer to it—to give us pause before we build our entire theology of the Lord's Supper upon the presumption that every celebration of the Lord's Supper in the New Testament used a single common loaf.

    In David's article he makes the assertion flatly:

    Historically, in the examples we read in the New Testament (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19, 24:30, 35; Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11; 27:35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-24), it is apparent that the Lord’s Supper was celebrated with a "common loaf."

    It is true that "apparent," like "beautiful," can exist in the eye of the beholder, but I believe that I have at least demonstrated that David's assertion here falls far short of being invincible.

    There is some recourse for David's argument. He might assert that it is not necessary that the New Testament share a single common loaf across the entire congregation. Rather, he might say, he is merely asserting that each Christian believer received the Lord's Supper from a loaf that he or she shared in common with at least one other Christian believer. In other words, if the Jerusalem church had to distribute 500 loaves at Solomon's Portico, then even if the congregation did not all share the SAME common loaf, we can presume that groups of ten people or so all shared a loaf with one another within the congregation. The implication would then be that we can only partake the Supper rightly if the bread we consume has come from a loaf that went to feed at least one other person during that celebration of the Supper. I do not see that David can reasonably argue any more than this, but even this, I would assert, is an argument from silence.

    If the average loaf of unleavened bread in Jerusalem in AD 33 was enough to serve 12 people during the Lord's Supper, and if there were a congregation of 1200 people partaking, then the math is simple enough: Just bake 100 loaves of bread and distribute them out to people grouped by the dozen. But what happens when the congregation grows to 1201? Are we suggesting that New Testament churches could never have encountered the situation in which a loaf of bread was completely consumed when the penultimate member of the congregation took her or his piece? Certainly the New Testament speaks nothing to us of any precautions that were taken to prevent this from happening. But that's all it would take for a New Testament congregation to have celebrated the Lord's Supper in such a way that at least one member of the congregation didn't share his particular loaf with anybody else.

    Perhaps a simpler way to understand the New Testament is that the collective amount of bread held by the congregation for the Supper—however many loaves that might have been—was broken up into pieces that were then collectively shared by the congregation such that every member was fed. Such a viewpoint goes no further than what the biblical text asserts, and it requires no extra-textual assertions about maximum numbers of loaves allowed or minimum numbers of people to consume from each particular loaf. Of course, it is also a way of understanding that poses no problems (as far as I can see) for the way that Southern Baptist churches generally celebrate the Lord's Supper.

  4. The extent of "sharing in the body of Christ" in 1 Corinthians 10:16 is necessarily neither coterminous with nor dependent upon the number of people who could receive the Lord's Supper from a particular loaf of unleavened bread. David Rogers, above all people I have known, would assert that two believers who have never been in the same hemisphere with one another and who have never partaken from any shared physical loaf together are nevertheless people who join in "a sharing in the body of Christ." I would almost say that this concept strikes at the heart of David's defining contribution to Southern Baptist blogging. I do not think that he will retreat from it now. But if he will assert that we only have a sharing in the body of Christ to the extent that we have a sharing in the same loaf of bread, then he must.

    The "sharing" in this passage refers to our sharing in the collective group of loaves of bread that have symbolized the body of Christ in the Lord's Supper. We might easily descend here into the sixteenth-century Ubiquitarian controversy, but we can surely agree that the partakers of different loaves in the Lord's Supper are nonetheless sharing in the same broken body of Christ (symbolically and memorially, I believe). And it is precisely THIS sharing—what we share with Christ more than what we share with one another—that is the thrust of 1 Corinthians 10, with its warning that we not share Christ with the cup of demons.

    I am not asserting that the common sharing with one another is entirely absent from 1 Corinthians 10. Rather, I am asserting two things: First, I am asserting that our sharing with Christ is primarily in view in this passage and that the sharing among ourselves is decidedly secondary and incidental. Second, I am asserting that the sharing with one another is a consequence not of how many loaves of bread were used in the Supper, but of the fact that we are all sharing in the body of Christ. However many loaves can communicate a sharing in the body of Christ, those are how many loaves can communicate our sharing with one another. The sharing in the body of Christ comes about through regeneration and is, I believe, symbolized equally well by the concept of sharing I articulated in the preceding point as it is by David's idea. David and I would both agree, I think, that it is by conversion that we become sharers in the body of Christ, and that the Lord's Supper, with however many loaves, appropriately symbolizes this spiritual truth.

    In contrast, the sprinkling of unwilling, unregenerate infants and the passing off of this practice as Christian baptism resembles this situation with the Lord's Supper not at all. It explicitly extends a symbol of Christian mortification and regeneration to those to whom it does not apply. It is, ironically, a violation of the very prohibition given in 1 Corinthians 10—it is the profaning of something sacred that believers only should share by dragging it into fellowship with the property of demons. David writes:

    Symbolically, on the basis of 1 Corinthians 10.16-17, the use of a "common loaf" represents physically and visually an important spiritual truth: the essential unity of the Body of Christ ("For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread").

    As I hope I have demonstrated, David himself believes that the "loaf" of the body of Christ extends across many physical loaves of bread. Consequently, the only way that "the essential unity of the Body of Christ" can be illustrated in the Lord's Supper is if the number of loaves employed is of no consequence. As I also hope I have demonstrated, the precise principle asserted and defended in this passage—the importance of protecting from defilement by the profane world of unbelievers those things which are sacredly shared by believers—is a principle that necessarily denounces the practice of pedobaptism.

  5. There is a difference between commandment and description in the New Testament. With regard to immersion, we are commanded to immerse. With regard to the Lord's Supper, we are commanded to take, to eat, to share, to remember…but nowhere are we commanded to have a common loaf and to break it out among one another at a particular moment in the observation and in a particular way. The corollary to a refusal to immersion would be if we could find a group of people who passed out the elements of the Lord's Supper, looked them over, prayed a little prayer, and then threw them away without eating them. Or, perhaps, it would be the Quakers, who refuse to observe the Lord's Supper at all. These are people who are clearly in violation of the imperative commands of Christ in the New Testament with regard to the Lord's Supper, and they stand in parallel with those who do not obey the imperative command to immerse.

  6. If David WERE right, what would the remedy look like? David begins his post by preemptively stating: "Please understand that what I am writing here is just an illustration to prove a point. I am emphatically NOT suggesting the founding of a new 'Common Loaf Denomination.'" One must ask the question, why not?

    Or, at least, to make allowances for David's (and hopefully all of our) distaste for denominational division, one must wonder why David is not working to encourage local churches to adopt this manner of observing the Lord's Supper. If David's argument is as strong as he says it is ("I believe it forcefully and poignantly drives home a point"), then shouldn't he be urging us all to implement it in our churches without fail? Are those who have quoted and cited David's article changing their own churches' practice of the ordinance?

    Why is it that we use allegations of inconsistency in this day and time always to urge people to be consistently lax and never to urge people to be consistently faithful?

    If we were to find David's argument compelling and if we were to take David's words seriously, what would be the outcome? In that circumstance, in order to be consistent in our treatment of the Lord's Supper and baptism, we would have to require people who were joining our churches to set aside their old way of observing the Lord's Supper and, from this point forward, to adhere to the right way of doing it.

    In other words, even if everything that I have written in this post were somehow set aside and David's "common loaf" theory were 100% vindicated, nothing would change about the way that our church receives members or opens the Lord's Table. That's because baptism is a punctiliar ordinance while the Lord's Supper is an ongoing ordinance. If our church has a conviction about how the Lord's Supper ought to be observed, we need not worry whether those who seek membership in our church or who observe the Supper in our meeting house with our church will observe it rightly. We control that. Everyone who partakes here will partake in the manner of our practice and conviction.

    Baptism, on the other hand, is different. We do not re-baptize. We merely have the awkward duty sometimes of informing people who think they have been baptized that they have not. Alike, in both the case of the baptism and the case of the Lord's Supper, the remedy is simply that those worshipping the Lord in this congregation and having been exposed to the teachings of the Bible must, if they will join with this congregation, observe the ordinances according to the New Testament commandments of Christ from this point forward. There is consistency there.

    It's just that doing so with regard to the Lord's Supper is not controversial at all, while doing so with regard to baptism can generate conflict.

And so, there is my answer to David Rogers. I apologize for waiting so long to post it. As you can see, it is not a brief task, and blogging is not, after all, my primary calling from God. I mean no disrespect to David Rogers in the publication of this post. Indeed, it appears only because of his request that I interact with his ideas. It is actually the case that I post this out of respect for him, not disrespect, for he deserves an answer to a question that he has posed more than once in the past five years: What do we think, we who disagree with him, about his "common loaf denomination" illustration?


R. L. Vaughn said...

Just got to this and am leaving for a cemetery homecoming, so I don't have time to digest it all. But I want to "amen" one point quickly.

Your first point on "mode" is a needed vitamin for all Baptists. We need to understand that our speaking of "mode" is merely an accommodation to the current state of things and not actually biblical language. When pedobaptists speak of "mode" they are speaking of something as an "either/or" proposition. When (most of) we Baptists use "mode" we mean something that defines the correctness of the ordinance. Simply put, immersion IS baptism, not merely one mode (method) of doing it.

David Rogers said...

First off, let me say I am honored and impressed by the amount of time and effort you put into writing this post. I am sorry I have not answered until now, since my not doing so could possibly be interpreted as a disregard and/or lack of appreciation of your time and effort. The truth of the matter is I don’t check blogs every day lately, and I didn’t come across your post until now.
Next, let me say that overall you present a fairly cogent argument. I am not totally confident, as I plunge into trying to answer it point by point, that I will be able to refute everything you say here. But I will nevertheless have a go at the points I think are relatively vulnerable, attempting at the same time to remain honest enough to change my opinion on this if my whole argument ends up being exposed as untenable in the process. Just as answering my post involved a bit of time and effort on your part, giving an adequate answer to your present post will almost certainly involve a bit of time and effort on my part. Though some of my individual points may prove rather lengthy in and of themselves, I think it will be better for me to work through my reply point by point, rather than attempt to supply a definitive answer in one single comment. So bear with me. It may take me several days before I post my full reply.
That being said, let’s think a bit, first of all, about open membership. Regarding open membership, I think we need to define the essential difference between local church membership and membership in the Body of Christ (or the Universal Church). In the “city church” paradigm, as I currently understand it, every born again believer living in a given locality is a de facto “member” of the city church of that locality. An important point in understanding this is that the “city church” is not a separate organization, per se, but rather the local expression of the Body of Christ.
When I talk like this, I realize I could easily be misinterpreted as advocating the ecclesiology of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. While I think they bring up some often overlooked truths of biblical ecclesiology, I do not agree with their ultimate conclusions. I have published a paper in which I critique Nee (and Lee’s) ecclesiology here:

To be continued...

David Rogers said...

But let’s get back to the point. As I understand it, what we as Southern Baptists (along with many others) typically refer to as “a local church,” or “congregation,” is in some senses (similar to the “city church”) an expression of the Body of Christ. On the other hand, however, there is at least one area of dissimilarity, in that “a local church” in this sense is a separate organization, with its separate guidelines and policies, often known as a church covenant as well as its constitution and bylaws. Different congregations have different church covenants, and different constitutions and bylaws.

What this means is that it is theoretically possible to be a member of the Body of Christ, and a “member” of the “city church” of the locality in which you live, and not, at the same time qualify as a “member” of a given “local church” due to a discrepancy on matters related to church covenant, constitution and bylaws.
Some people who are sympathetic to my view of the “city church” have little use for congregational covenants, constitutions and bylaws. I, however, happen to think they are useful with regard to pragmatically carrying out the apostolic injunction that “all things should be done decently and in order.” They help ensure that discipleship (and church discipline) is carried out in a consistent and appropriate manner. They are sort of analogous to the “good fences” that make “good neighbors” from the Robert Frost poem “Mending Wall.”

One principle involved in these “good fences,” as understand it, is that it can sometimes be counterproductive for equally sincere and authentically born again believers to join hands together in some of the organizational aspects of typical “local churches.” For example, it is by definition impossible for a “local church” to both have a female pastor and not accept female pastors at the same time. Since I believe that Scripture teaches that the “pastorate” or “eldership” should be reserved for biblically qualified men, I would have to compromise on a doctrinal conviction to submit to the discipline of a “local church” with a female pastor. This does not mean I necessarily regard those who believe and/or practice differently than I do on this point as non-believers, or as non-members of either the Body of Christ or the “city church.” Nor does it mean, as I understand it, that I should shun someone from participation at the Lord’s Table due to a sincere discrepancy with me on this point. But it will almost certainly prove unproductive to try to cooperate together in certain aspects of congregational life.

It is for all the above that I make a distinction between opening the Lord’s Table to all and opening “local church” membership to all born again believers who do not evidence “stubborn, rebellious, unrepentant sin in their lives.”

To be continued…

David Rogers said...

RE: Immersion is not really a "mode" of baptism.

At the outset, I realize the argument I am about to make is a bit convoluted, but nonetheless, I am going to “try it on for size” here.

What about the case of someone who is physically incapacitated from being immersed? I am not up on my medical knowledge of such a condition, but I am assuming there may well be people who, for one reason or another, would put their health in jeopardy by being totally immersed. Would we consider such a person, who otherwise would like to submit to immersion, as disobedient, if they don’t follow through with their desire? The Roman Catholics have a doctrine called “baptism of desire.” As Baptists, might we possibly regard someone as de facto obedient, who was unavoidably hindered from being immersed?

If we say yes, what about the possibility of partially immersing, or pouring water on, or sprinkling such a person as a “dynamic equivalent” of immersion? If we admit this possibility, would it not be correct to speak of partial immersion, pouring, or sprinkling as an alternative (though imperfect) “mode” of baptism? And if this were the case, would it not make sense to refer to full immersion as the most correct and normative “mode”?

The important point here is, is it theoretically possible to obey the command to be immersed without actually being immersed?

Also, I think it is relevant at this point to bring up Paul’s admonition to the believers in Corinth that, while they thought they were celebrating the Lord’s Supper, in actuality, when they came together, it was not the Lord's supper that they were eating (1 Cor. 11:20). And what was it about the way they celebrated the (supposed) “Lord’s Supper” that led Paul to make such an assertion? By all appearances, it was the presence of factions, a lack of unity, and not waiting on one another while partaking (i.e. “not discerning the body”). And interestingly enough, the use of a common loaf had meaningful relevance with regard to each of these points. While admittedly, it might be a stretch to say those who celebrate the Lord’s Supper without using a common loaf are not celebrating the Lord’s Supper at all, there does appear to be some correlation between the use of a common loaf and the authenticity of practice of the Lord’s Supper.

To be continued...

David Rogers said...

RE: More than "mode" is at stake in the disagreement between pedobaptists and credobaptists.

Yes, you are correct here. Some of the parallelism between non-common loaf celebration of “the Lord’s Supper” and non-immersion “baptism” (quotation marks intentional) is lost when you transfer the comparison over to pedobaptism and credobaptism.
With regard to Smythe, Helwys, and Williams, those holding their views and practice may indeed be in a tiny minority today, but this does not invalidate the general principle behind my argument. If it holds true in their case, the principle still stands. It remains to be determined if the principle may be applied in other cases (such as that of pedobaptists).

My original point is that if you concede the point regarding the parallels between non-common loaf celebration of “the Lord’s Supper” and non-immersion “baptism,” and yet insist on correct mode of baptism as a prerequisite for fellowship (i.e. participation in the Lord’s Supper), you are being inconsistent, if you do not also insist on a common loaf. The point is, if we focus on the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law, or on outward actions as over against heart motives, who among us, at the end of the day, can stand? We should each strive to be as obedient as we can to the Lord’s commands as we understand them. But none of us is infallible in our understanding of all of the aspects of his commands. As the principles given by Paul in Romans 14 teach us, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind,” “each of us will give an account of himself to God,” and “the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”

How does this apply to the sincere pedobaptist? We must to the best of our ability try to discern his/her true motives. If it appears it is their desire (albeit mistaken) to be faithful to their understanding of Christ’s command that leads them to take the position they take, I believe we must welcome them as Christ welcomes us (Rom 15:7). If, however, it appears the motive is obstinance, or laziness in regard to studying God’s Word, we may indeed be up against “stubborn, rebellious, unrepentant sin.” It is not always easy to tell for sure. Indeed, as Paul told Timothy, “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later” (1 Tim. 5:24). The case of an impenitent adulterer (if there is evidence to back an accusation), for instance, is a bit different. Impenitence in such a case gives evidence to an unregenerate state in a way that supposed “impenitence” with regard to sincere pedobaptism does not.

To be continued…

Jonathan Melton said...

There is one thing for sure about the analogy of the loaf: a universal, invisible church (which would necessarily be the basis for the position of open communion), cannot all partake of ONE loaf.

And, if you do take the local church communion position, it does NOT teach salvation in the church, but rather, it is simply a celebration of the relationship that exists between TRUE members of that PARTICULAR church: those who have previously received Jesus Christ as Savior by repentance and faith PRIOR to joining that church.

Jonathan Melton said...

Oh, and btw, I DO NOT consider Smythe, Helwys, or Williams to have been TRUE Baptists.

Jonathan Melton said...

And I will have to second Bro. Vaughn on the good point that "mode" is perhaps the WRONG terminology, but should be ESSENCE.

David Rogers said...

RE: A single common loaf was not necessarily (and I think cannot possibly have been) the eucharistic practice of the New Testament church.

I can´t remember any instance where it is either stated or implied that the members of the NT church partook of the Lord´s Supper in large groups, such as that of the gathering(s) at Solomon’s Portico. What the NT does say, is that they broke bread in their homes (Acts 2:47). I am aware there is some question as to whether the phrase “breaking bread” necessarily refers to the Lord’s Supper, or refers more generally to sharing a meal together. But, nevertheless, the argument that the NT church shared the Lord’s Supper together in large group meetings is one from silence. In Acts 20:7 the believers were gathered together in an “upper room” to “break bread.” While this may have involved a group larger than a normal home meeting, it is not necessary to infer a group too big to share a common loaf. Perhaps 1 Cor. 11:18 is a bit more problematic with regard to my argument. It seems that the believers in Corinth came together “as a church” to share the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps this involved a larger group. But we do not know for sure. The church at Corinth at the time of Paul’s writing may have been small enough to share a common loaf. I believe it is also possible to interpret this verse as referring to various home meetings, in which the believers in Corinth came together “as a church.” In other words, I am not sure that coming together “as a church” necessarily implies a joint meeting of all of the members of the “city church.” What we do find, however, is a virtual unanimity of the Scriptural record in regard to the coincidence of celebrating the Lord’s Supper and the breaking of a loaf of bread (perhaps, in keeping with the ties to the Jewish Passover, a matzo).

Another example that is not determinative in any sense, but interesting nonetheless, is the feeding of the 5,000 (and of the 4,000). Here we do have examples of large groups of people gathered together sharing a meal around the presence of the Lord. It is not necessarily so, but I think there is good reason to suppose that, at least in some senses, these gatherings prefigured the church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper. If this is indeed the case, it is true that they did not share one common loaf. However, the significance of publicly breaking loaves of bread before partaking of them here is just as conspicuous as in other paschal meals with smaller groups.

In the end, I would agree that, on the basis of the evidence, it is likely that the literal presence of one single loaf is not as important as the symbolism behind the breaking of a common loaf (or of a series of “common loaves”): many members and one body, and the “breaking” of the physical body of Jesus at Calvary. I have been in large group Lord’s Supper celebrations in which a loaf of bread is broken symbolically in front of the congregation, and something is said recognizing what is being symbolized by this breaking, and then various loaves are passed around the congregation and pieces are broken off of these loaves by the individual participants. Indeed, I imagine this is a fairly common practice among many congregations. However, there are many congregations in which the Lord’s Supper is normally celebrated with trays of wafers or crackers, and no bread is broken at all in the presence of the congregation, and any mention of the symbolism behind the breaking of bread and the common loaf is totally absent.

In order of preference, I would choose first of all, home groups small enough to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with a common loaf; next, a symbolic loaf broken in front of a larger group, with other loaves passed around and broken piece by piece by the participants; and last, trays with wafers or crackers. I would not disfellowship any group, however, for the use of any of these methods. My argument is that a similar degree of tolerance should be shown with regard to the fellowship we extend to those who practice baptism in an imperfect way.

Bart Barber said...


It's going to be a few days, probably, before I can come back to this. Take your time. Finish your thoughts. I will reply when you've completed. Thanks for the dialogue.

David Rogers said...


Reverting to previous points in the discussion, thinking this over a bit more, it seems like your point #1 and your reference to Smythe, Helwys, and Williams in your point #2 as "Baptists" are mutually contradictory. If baptism is by definition "immersion," then neither Smythe, Helwys, nor Williams were truly baptized, and should NOT be considered as Baptists.

Or am I missing something here?

David Rogers said...

RE: The extent of "sharing in the body of Christ" in 1 Corinthians 10:16 is necessarily neither coterminous with nor dependent upon the number of people who could receive the Lord's Supper from a particular loaf of unleavened bread.

If I ever said that the biblical model of a "common loaf" necessarily implies only one loaf representing the unity of the entire Body of Christ, I agree I need to reconsider and reword my argument. I do not believe, however, that this point invalidates my overall argument. As I stated in my last comment, I believe a celebration of the Lord's Supper in a larger group with a representative loaf broken symbolically in front of everyone, and additional loaves passed out among the congregation, may also (although imperfectly) communicate the same symbolic message as one single loaf in a smaller group.

The point is not a direct correspondence between a single loaf and the entire Body of Christ. It is the symbolism of a local expression of the Body of Christ partaking together of a common loaf (or common loaves, as the case may be).

On the other hand, I have nothing to say in defense of infant baptism. That is not the point. I do not agree with infant baptism, and agree that we should not encourage or endorse it.

David Rogers said...

RE: There is a difference between commandment and description in the New Testament.

Yes, I agree there is a difference between commandment and description. However, I think the use of a common loaf is a lot closer to commandment than mere description than what you infer.

Luke 22:19. "And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do THIS in remembrance of me.'"

"For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, 'This is my body which is for you. Do THIS in remembrance of me.'"

I believe it is valid to ask ourselves, what was the antecedent of the THIS in these passages. Yes, it evidently referred in a broad sense to the general practice of sharing bread and wine in order to commemorate the death of the Lord. But more specifically, it appears that it included, as a central symbolic element, the breaking of a loaf of bread (or matzo). Some versions translate ἄρτον not as "bread," but as "a loaf of bread." Either way, the context almost certainly demands that the THIS referred (among other things) to the breaking of a single loaf of bread.

On a side note, though perhaps a bit weaker of an argument than that give above, I believe the point I made on a previous comment related to 1 Cor. 11:20, "When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat," are relevant here as well. In order to obey the Lord's command it is not sufficient to celebrate the Lord's Supper any way we choose. There are certain ways to celebrate it that cause it to be not the Lord's Supper at all that we are eating, but something else.

David Rogers said...

Oops, I meant to include the reference, 1 Cor. 11:23-24, to the second passage I cited in the previous comment.

David Rogers said...

RE: If David WERE right, what would the remedy look like?

My general answer to your questions posed in this section can be found in the following post:

As a "church reformer," I believe one needs to "choose his battles." One of the reasons I have spent so much time responding to your post here, however, is because I do believe this has some degree of importance. I will likely continue to use the small degree of influence I have to advocate reform with regard to our practice as Baptists with regard to Christian unity. At the same time, I pray God will give me the grace and wisdom to avoid becoming such a gadfly with issues like "common loaf communion" that the medicine ends up becoming worse than the cure. I am hopeful more people will take to heart the value and importance of "common loaf communion." I hope even more that more people will come to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind, and strive to be obedient to Him both in thought, motive, and action.

I am not totally sure if my answer here really gets at what you were asking on this point. If not, you may clarify a bit more, and I will try to answer in more relevant manner.

The same goes for the rest of the points above.

Bart, I don't necessarily expect you to go tit for tat on each separate point here. If you choose to do so, I will be happy to read and give thought to your reply. If not, I totally understand that we each have many things that demand our time and attention, and we must be good stewards of both.



Ben said...


Speaking on Roger Williams' baptism, I recently was reading Jesse C. Fletcher's Sesquicentennial History of the Southern Baptist Convention (1994). I found that Fletcher also says some historians like Leon McBeth have come to believe the first American Baptists (Roger Williams, John Clarke, etc.) never baptized by sprinkling, but always immersed. He points to the lack of "transitional evidence" as well as a "document by Richard Coddington referring to Williams and the Providence church as having 'dipped, head and heels.' " I've not been able to find this document, but if it is true, its a nail in the coffin of Whitsittism.

Ben said...


Here's the problem I see with your analogy. Trays of wafers or crackers (Used in many, but not all Baptist church communion services) are broken bread. They were just broken sometime before the congregation assembled to observe the Lord's Supper. Baptism by sprinkling and pouring in no way whatsoever resembles immersion or the resurrection of Christ. Now if you were using an example of baptism like the church father Novation's (he was covered in wet towels while on his death bed) you might have a point. Novation's baptism was not immersion, but it resembled immersion. But no one baptizes like that today (except in rare instances). By using your analogy you are comparing apples with oranges, not apples with apples. Wafers resemble broken bread, but sprinkling does not resemble immersion. The analogy does not fit.

Furthermore, if you still want to press your analogy, you must accept sprinkling / pouring as valid baptism. You say that wafers are unbiblical, but declare that since the meaning is right, it is still a valid Lord's Supper. Does that apply to sprinkling / pouring? If the meaning and heart is right, then they must be a valid baptism?

David Rogers said...

Ben (Stratton?),

Although the term "valid" baptism or Lord's Supper is not one I personally prefer, I would say there are more correct ways to administer both, and more mistaken ways to administer both. However, in keeping with Bart's original post that led to this post, I believe a refusal to extend Christian fellowship to someone should be linked to "stubborn, rebellious, unrepentant sin." Our disagreement has to do with whether or not mistaken belief and practice with regard to form of baptism is always equivalent to "stubborn, rebellious, unrepentant sin." The point is not valid or invalid baptism or Lord's Supper, but the decision to extend or not extend fellowship to those who profess faith in Christ, and give evidence to sincerity in their profession, and orthodoxy in essential beliefs.

As to the fundamental problem with trays of wafers adequately representing the symbolic significance of breaking a common loaf, I think it is self-evident. If you do not, it is hard to argue beyond the prima facie evidence itself.

By the same token, I could (theoretically) argue that pouring adequately represents the symbolism of death, burial, and resurrection. That does not make it so, though.

Ben said...


You wrote: "The point is not valid or invalid baptism or Lord's Supper, but the decision to extend or not extend fellowship to those who profess faith in Christ, and give evidence to sincerity in their profession, and orthodoxy in essential beliefs."

If you follow the line of your reasoning, it will lead to open membership. That is why historically many of those who defended open communion also practiced in open membership. (i.e. John Bunyan, etc.)

I do agree with you that part of the symbolism is missing with wafers. The church I pastor uses homemade unleavened bread which is broken in smaller pieces by the deacons and then further broken by the church members. I have no intention of ever going back. However wafers are still bread that has been previously broken from one loaf of bread. The symbolism is still there - at least partly.

There is absolutely no way that pouring symbolizes the resurrection of Christ.

- Ben Stratton

Bart Barber said...


Regarding the infirm, this is not a hypothetical for me (I have encountered precisely this situation), nor is it a hypothetical for the New Testament. The pardoned thief on the cross was saved and could not possibly be baptized. Others are in the same category. They are not disobedient; they are providentially hindered.

What do I do in such cases? Well, I don't disfigure immersion for them. I assure them that immersion is not necessary to salvation. I promise that I will immerse them just as soon as the Lord pleases to make immersion possible for them.

Bart Barber said...


Regarding open membership, I think you're really stretching things here. At best, even if I were to concede the concept of a "city church" of which we are all somehow, invisibly and unbeknownst to us, members, the very best case you're making is that we are guilty of the same sort of factionalism condemned in 1 Corinthians.

To state the matter more plainly, let's imagine that, within our own local church (apart from the idea of a city church), someone were to organize a "Calvinists fellowship." Membership in this group would be confined strictly to those who affirmed Dortian thought, with those who disagreed with those concepts barred from entry into the group. This group of members in our church would start to perform their own baptisms, including as candidates their own infant children, and therefore they would abandon immersion as a necessity. Would that be healthy? I think not! That's factionalism. "I am of Calvin."

And so, it is an error to build Christian unity exclusively around church membership or denominational membership, rather than upon the underlying state of confessional and practical disunity that is the cause of these things, such that positing some sort of "city church" suddenly makes unity out of what was previously disunity. It is disunity, even if all are members of the SAME local congregation, if factionalism like this exists. And it does exist.

And so, either we (Baptists) are among the wronging parties in this factionalism or we are among the wronged. If we are among the wronging parties, then we ought to repent and go back whence we came. By all means, we ought to open both membership and the Table if we are the wronging party, but we ought to do more than that! We ought to repent and beg forgiveness and dissolve our schismatic churches!

If, on the other hand, we are among the wronged, then we ought to close membership and the Table to those who are subject to our discipline.

Bart Barber said...


Regarding the idea that someone, somewhere, somehow in the celebration of the Lord's Supper should break bread as a part of the celebration, I think you have a good point.

Bart Barber said...


I do, however, think that you are in danger of falling into the interpretive model of Augustine: Finding the Lord's Supper behind every loaf of bread in the Bible. ;-)

Bart Barber said...


Regarding Smythe, Helwys, & Williams, I consider them Baptists, not baptized (immersed). They are, in my estimation, like the thief on the cross and the infirm person who cannot possibly be immersed. They were not disobedient, for they knew nothing of proper immersion. Their followers, once immersion was possible for them (i.e., once they were introduced to it) straightway obeyed.

And that's the situation of nobody alive today and considering participation in the Lord's Supper at FBC Farmersville.

Bart Barber said...


Regarding the antecedent of "this" in Jesus' command, I think 1 Cor 11:25 is instructive: "Do this, AS OFTEN AS YOU DRINK IT." The "this" is the eating and the drinking.

Bart Barber said...


I do need to clarify on the last point, for we've missed each other somehow.

My point is simply that the adoption of a "common loaf" approach to the Lord's Supper, applied consistently in the same manner as believer's immersion is applied in our church, would make no difference whatsoever to the state of Christian unity.

With regard to immersion (or any other sin), we seek to admit as members in our congregation only those who are not in a present state of ongoing refusal to obey the clear teaching of the New Testament about immersion. Likewise, when we celebrate the Lord's Supper, we ask those who are in a present state of ongoing refusal to obey the Lord (whether with regard to immersion or with regard to any other commandment or sin) to abstain if they will not repent and obey.

If it is indeed we are commanded by the New Testament to celebrate the Lord's Supper by means of the breaking of a common loaf of bread, and even if indeed there comes a person into our membership who, for the entire expanse of their lifetime, has never been obedient to that command, upon the celebration of the Supper here, they are THEREBY being obedient to the Lord's (supposed) command. It is a self-remedying situation.

And so, whether a congregation agrees with you or does not agree with you about the idea of a "common loaf," their practice of the Lord's Supper—whom they will admit to the table and whom they will not—will not change one iota either way.

Bart Barber said...


To complete that last thought, and to conclude my comments, the rightful analogy would be if a church celebrating "common loaf" communion were to encounter someone who came into the congregation during the Lord's Supper celebration and declared, "I will not permit my bread to be broken from any loaf. Only unbroken bread will suffice!" and then expected to be served in that fashion. Only in such a case as that would a "common loaf" church be faced with the situation of having to decide whether they will extend the fellowship of the Lord's table to someone who, with regard to the "mode" of the Lord's Supper, refuses to obey the ordinance (according to the church's convictions).

David Rogers said...

It seems to me that a strict application of what you are talking about would obligate one to practice the strictest sort of separatism, beyond even hardline Landmarkism.

For instance, do you believe that Matt. 18:17 obligates us to treat "a stubborn, rebellious, unrepentant sinner" (although sincerely mistaken) with respect to baptism as a Gentile and a tax collector? Do you believe that implies publicly shunning them and not treating them as a fellow brother or sister in Christ? Why or why not?

Also, I don't think Smythe, Helwys and Williams were totally ignorant of immersion. They just, for whatever reason, were not yet confronted with enough evidence to convince them of the necessity of it (much like many modern-day paedobaptists).

Bart Barber said...


The refusal to grant someone membership in a church IS the treating of someone like a Gentile or a tax collector.

Bart Barber said...


I don't think that my last comment really did justice to yours, just responding as it did to only one of your points. So, I'll add this.

I think it is the wrong way to go about this to object, "This would result in an outcome that I wouldn't like!" (strict separation, beyond Landmarkism, etc.) I don't know that it has to do so. I know that it hasn't resulted in such in my life or in my church.

And yet, that question is beside the point, in my estimation. The thing to do is to show the fault in the idea rather than to bemoan a feared outcome. The outcomes of scripture (even if this isn't one of them) are often feared by us or even seem distasteful to us. We ought not to be teleological about these things…we ought simply to obey as best we understand scripture.

So, considering for example my suggestion about a Calvinist faction in a local church, and why that prevents the "city church" idea from being a solution to the open membership problem you face, or perhaps considering the illustration of someone coming into a "common loaf" church and insisting upon unbroken bread, how would you interact with those ideas to show some folly that would necessarily lead us to this harsh outcome?

David Rogers said...


I've been thinking over your "Calvinists fellowship" point for several days, trying to come up with an angle from which to respond.

I think it may boil down to our respective definitions of unity. As I understand you, unity involves (among, perhaps, other things) agreement on doctrinal questions and practices related to these doctrinal questions. While I agree that doctrinal beliefs and practices do relate in some way to unity, I believe that in order to get at the essence of what I am calling unity, we must practice "theological triage," dividing between first, second, and third tier matters. As I understand you, from our discussions in the past, you believe this division is artificial. Correct me if I am wrong here. Anyway, as I understand it, only first tier doctrinal matters affect unity, as I am defining it. Another way to divide between first and second tier issues is damnable heresy, and non-damnable heresy. In other words, unity is the condition I share with all those who share with me the experience of having one’s life changed by the same gospel message; share with me a relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; and share with me doctrinal agreement on the essentials of the gospel message.

Perhaps you define unity differently. If so, it may be helpful to agree on another term to discuss this condition I describe above. Perhaps gospel brotherhood may be another term.

In any case, both my understanding of the teaching of the Bible, as well as my personal experience, lead me to believe there are some with whom I share the condition of what I call unity (or gospel brotherhood), with whom I do not share agreement on second and third tier doctrinal beliefs and practices. Also, there are some of these with whom cooperation on the same ministry projects, and even membership in the same local congregation, may prove counterproductive. None of this means that the condition of unity (or gospel brotherhood) that we share ceases to exist as a result.

I believe a shared relationship of unity (or gospel brotherhood) implies a mutual commitment to carrying out the "one anothers" of the NT. I find no NT passage that teaches that the "one anothers" are limited to a strictly intra-congregational practice. 1 Corinthians, which perhaps more than any other book of the Bible teaches on the mutual relationships among the members of the body of Christ, is written to "the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people" (i.e. the city church of Corinth), together with "ALL THOSE EVERYWHERE who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--their Lord and ours."

David Rogers said...

(continued from above)

It also appears to me, from my understanding of the Bible, that one of the key ways we express this mutuality of relationship (call it unity, or gospel brotherhood) is through the joint participation in the Lord's Supper. Indeed it is a participation in THE BODY OF CHRIST (1 Cor. 10:16), not in my particular local division of the Body of Christ.

It would be great if we could all agree on Calvinism vis-a-vis non-Calvinism, credobaptism vis-a-vis paedobaptism, views of the millennium, female elder/pastors or all-male eldership/pastorate, etc. Reality and 2,000 years of church history teach us this will likely not occur this side of the eschaton, however.

In the meantime, some of these differences (perhaps millennial views, hopefully Calvinism, if not extreme) are able to be productively assimilated into the life of the same congregation. With regard to others (female pastors, baptism convictions, etc.), some organizational autonomy is practically unavoidable, if we are to maintain at the same time religious liberty.

Given all the above, it seems to me the best solution is autonomous congregations divided along "denominational" lines, which at the same time recognize a fundamental unity with all other congregations and individuals that meet the criteria for unity as I define it above, and also extend fellowship practically and symbolically by means of the Lord's Supper to those who, for reason of conviction, are unable to participate on a daily, on-going basis in the life of one's own congregation.

David Rogers said...

RE: "The refusal to grant someone membership in a church IS the treating of someone like a Gentile or a tax collector."

This leaves open my following questions: Do you believe that implies publicly shunning them and not treating them as a fellow brother or sister in Christ? Why or why not?

In other words, do you believe the teaching of the NT demands that we treat someone who may not qualify (due to disagreement on second tier doctrinal beliefs and practice) as a member of our local congregation as a non-believer?

It seems to me if this is the case, then you are saying that only those with specifically Baptist convictions and practice should be regarded as our brothers and sisters in Christ.

If I am understanding you wrong on this point, I would be most happy to know how.

Bart Barber said...


You requested: "Correct me if I'm wrong [about the Barber view of 'Theological Triage']."

I've made mention of Mohler's "Theological Triage" several times, always affirming it. The most substantive treatment is here.

Bart Barber said...


As I understand them, here are the areas where I think you and I differ over the concept of Christian unity. In providing this list, I realize that I am speaking for you, which is normally imprudent. I stipulate that I am speaking for you AS I PERCEIVE your arguments, and I expect likely correction.

1. I think sometimes you mistake courtesy for unity. That is, it seems to me that sometimes you are content to allow simple individual informal kindliness and camaraderie to trump formal expressions of unity. I regard the relationship between these two things to be similar to the relationship between romantic love and marriage. Romantic love is indispensable, but marriage is much more than "a piece of paper."

2. The major exception to this state of affairs for you is, it seems to me, the Lord's Supper, and I'm not so much questioning why you connect it with Christian unity as I am questioning why you seem content to connect ONLY it with Christian unity. I am trying to treat consistently ALL of the trappings of Christian unity. "Membership" is word far more prominently associated with Christian unity in the New Testament scriptures than is any terminology relating to the Lord's Supper (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 6:15, 12:1-31; Ephesians 3:6, 4:25; 5:30). One of the seminal passages for any doctrine of Christian unity, Ephesians 4, mentions the Lord's Supper not at all, but does mention baptism, for example. Unity in the Supper alone is not Christian unity.

Bart Barber said...

Jesus was the one who spoke those words about treating the disciplined like Gentiles or tax collectors. What does it mean? I presume that it means that we are to treat them in the same way that Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors.

From my reading of the gospels, Jesus did not shun such people. Indeed, He received much criticism for the fact the He did not do so. He did, however, call them to obedience.

I would also note that Jesus did not say that these people WERE Gentiles or tax collectors. The thrust of the statement is not to declare the spiritual nature of such people (the action of a church does not set the spiritual state of any individual). Instead, Jesus is describing the appropriate punishment: The treatment of such people as though they were outsiders with respect to the congregation.

If I will refuse membership in my congregation to a person, I am treating that person as an outsider who must change something before being welcomed into the congregation. That is what it means to treat someone like a Gentile or a tax-collector.

David Rogers said...

Thanks for the link to your post on theological triage. I don't remember reading it before. It helps to know your perspective on this in this present discussion. Pretty much, we are agreed on the basics, and perhaps disagree on a few applications.

One remark did catch my attention, however, with relevance for our present discussion:

"First, I am a strong believer in the primacy of the local church. I am much more concerned about intracongregational unity than intercongregational unity. It seems to me that the former is much more difficult to achieve than the latter and that the absence of the former is much more damaging to the body of Christ."

Form what you say here, it only serves to confirm my suspicion that we are using the term "unity" with different connotations. What I am referring to by "unity" is a condition that necessarily exists on the basis of a shared experience of having one’s life changed by the same gospel message; a shared relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; and a shared doctrinal agreement on the essentials of the gospel message. It seems to me that you are using "unity" to refer to the practical outworking, or the consequences, of this condition. For the sake of clarity, I prefer to use the term "fellowship" to describe this. For the sake of further clarity, I think it is important to distinguish between "fellowship" and "cooperation."

As I see it, tier one doctrinal issues impinge upon "unity" and "fellowship," while tier two issues impinge (or at least ought to impinge) on "cooperation." A central plank in my argument is that incompatibility with regard to "cooperation" does not necessarily imply incompatibility with regard to "fellowship."

David Rogers said...

I think that the perception that I am conflating courtesy with unity (or given the previous comment, fellowship) is mistaken. As I understand it at present (though I plan on reflecting on this further, and perhaps adding in some other nuances), the practice of "fellowship" embraces all of the "one another" injunctions of the NT. This, as you are aware, extends far beyond mere courtesy.

It appears to me that a crucial sticking point related to this in our present discussion has to do with the practice of corrective church discipline.

Matthew 18 has some hermeneutical issues that we must take into account here. First of all, when it refers, in v. 17, to the "church," since it was spoken by Jesus in a pre-Pentecost context, we must determine if He was speaking proleptically, anticipating the post-Pentecost church, he was referring to the Jewish synagogue of His time, or he was referring to some other entity or category. Personally, though I am unsure about other applications, I do not think we err to apply the principles advocated in this passage to post-Pentecost Christian church life.

Another question has to do with the textual variant between Matthew 18:15 and Luke 17:3. In the first case, the initiator of corrective discipline is the individual who has been "sinned against." In the case of Luke 17:3, however, it appears that it is any individual who becomes aware of sin in the life of his "brother."

In either case, however, I think it is instructive with regard to our present discussion that it does not stipulate that the sinning "brother" in question must be a member of the same congregation as the rebuking "brother."

As post-Pentecost Christians, I believe we have a responsibility to carry out this same principle and practice with all of our "brothers," whether they be members of our local congregation or not.

The sticking point here involves the penultimate and ultimate stages of corrective church discipline, when we tell it to "the church," and we treat the offender as a Gentile and a publican.

As we are both in agreement that "the church" in this context is not a hierarchical transcongregational organization, the practical outworking of "telling it to the church" must involve the intervention of a local congregation.

(to be continued)

David Rogers said...

Evidently, saying that each one of us as Christians has the responsibility to rebuke each and every one of our brothers in the Body of Christ around the world every time they sin poses a problem. How can we possibly, even if we were aware of their sins, do so? Limiting it to those who "sin against us" simplifies it a bit. But I don't think this is totally in line with the general tenor of Jesus' teaching or the rest of the NT. We, as believers, are "our brother's keeper," and we cannot take a merely passive approach with regard to sin in his/her life, only responding to it when it immediately affects us on a personal basis.

Yet there are some offenses for which it is best to "suffer wrong" and "be defrauded" (1 Cor. 6:1-8).

In any case, when a particular case of corrective discipline reaches the stage of "telling ti to the church," and the offending party does not belong to the same congregation as the offended party, it seems logical to me that the offended party should bring it to the attention of the leaders of the congregation of the offending party. There may be cases in which the two congregations may need to work in concert.

This can sometimes get tricky. But that doesn't excuse the neglect of this aspect of corrective church discipline. The position that church discipline only applies to fellow members of the same congregation within a system of autonomous congregations leads to church-hopping as a way to escape the biblical implications of this discipline.

I believe it was likely such concerns that opened the door for the initial hierarchicalization of early Christendom. But this doesn't mean we must throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is still a real need for a consistent practice of intercongregational corrective church discipline. This, in turn, implies the building and maintenance of meaningful relationships between different congregations.

(to be continued)

David Rogers said...

Let me try to bring this back to the point. If you follow my line of reasoning thus far, treating someone as a Gentile and a tax collector has implications beyond one local congregation alone.

While it is true that Jesus continued to maintain relationships with Gentiles and tax collectors, the import of NT teaching at large makes clear that the type of relationship we as Christians are to have with "Gentiles and tax collectors" is qualitatively different from that we are to have with those who are not in this category.

I believe treating someone as a "Gentile and tax-collector" means treating them as an unbeliever. Paul's writings on related topics make this more clear. It is true that we are not called upon to make pronouncements on the final state of unrepentant individuals, but we are to treat them in the same way we treat unbelievers (i.e. as if they were unbelievers).

And yet there is some sense in which we are to treat them differently:

"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor 5:9-13).

I would sum it up by saying we live in fellowship with fellow believers and all those who have not been expelled from fellowship as a result of corrective church discipline. The extent of fellowship or shunning of fellowship is not merely, however, the local congregation. It is, in accordance with the degree of the knowledge of offenses and decisions of discipline taken by other congregations, the entire Body of Christ.

Though my stream-of-consciousness approach to my reply here may have left some knots untied, I believe that my argumentation here demonstrates why refusing fellowship on a local church basis is necessarily concomitant with treating someone as an unbeliever.

Local church membership, however, often implies matters of second tier theological triage, and cooperation. And thus, limiting membership from someone at this level is not exactly the same as withholding fellowship from them.

David Rogers said...

One more loose end to tie:

According to Heb. 13:17, we as Christians are to "Obey [our] leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over [our] souls, as those who will have to give an account."

I believe this means that, although each believer ought, in some sense, to be "his brother's keeper," leaders of local churches have a special responsibility to make sure no one falls between the cracks. In other words, whereas each of us as individual believers is not able to keep tabs on every believer around the world, local church leaders have the responsibility to ensure that tabs are kept on all of the sheep under their charge.

Though I cannot prove this, I also believe Acts 20:17-38 (and the information we know about Ephesus and Paul's ministry there) imply the conclusion that the elders of the church at Ephesus were actually the group of elders, who in addition to being particularly responsible for the believers in their particular house church, also saw themselves as collectively responsible, in a collegial rather than hierarchical sense, for the members of the entire city church.