Of the comunion of Churches one with another.
ALthough Churches be distinct, & therfore may not be confouded one with another: (1) & equall, & therfore have not dominion one over another: (2) yet all the churches ought to preserve Church-communion one with another, because they are all united unto Christ, not only as a mysticall, but as a politicall head; whence is derived a communion suitable therunto.
2 The communion of Churches is exercised sundry wayes.
I By way of mutuall care in taking thought for one anothers wellfare. (3)
2, By way of consultation one with another, when we have occasion to require the judgment and counsel of other churches, touching any person or cause, wherewith they may he better acquainted than our selves; (Acts xv. 2,) as the church of Antioch consulted with the Apostles and elders of the church at Jerusalem, about the question of circumcision of the Gentiles, and about the false teachers that broached that doctrine. In which case, when any church wanteth light or peace among themselves it is a way of communion of the churches, according to the word, to meet together by their elders and other messengers in a synod, (ver. 22, 23,) to consider and argue the point in doubt or difference; and, having found out the way of truth and peace, to commend the same by their letters and messengers to the churches whom the same may concern. But if a church be rent with divisions among themselves, or lye under any open scandal, and yet refuse to consult with other churches for healing or removing of the same, it is matter of just offence, both to the Lord Jesus and to other churches, (Ezek. xxxiv. 4,) as bewraying too much want of mercy and faithfulness, not to seek to bind up the breaches and wounds of the church and brethren; And therefore the state of such a church calls aloud upon other churches to exercise a fuller act of brotherly communion, to wit, by way of admonition.
3, A way, then, of communion of churches, is by way of admonition; to wit, in case any public offence be found in a church, which they either discern not, or are slow in proceeding to use the means for the removing and healing of. Paul had no authority over Peter, yet when he saw Peter not walking with a right foot, he publicly rebuked him before the church. (Gal. ii. 11to14.) Though churches have no more authority one over another, than one apostle had over another, yet, as one apostle might admonish another, so may one church admonish another, and yet without usurpation. (Matth. xvlll. l5, 16, 17, by proportion.) In which ease, if the church that lies under offence, do not hearken to the church that admonishes her, the church is to acquaint other neighbor churches with that offence, which the offending church still lies under, together with the neglect of their brotherly admonition given unto them: Thereupon those other churches are to join in seconding the admonition formerly given: and if still the offending church continue in obstinacy and impenitency, they may forbear communion with them, and are to proceed to make use of the help of a synod or counsel of neighbor churches, walking orderly (if a greater cannot conveniently be had) for their conviction. if they hear not the synod, the synod having declared them to be obstinate, particular churches accepting and approving of the judgment of the synod, are to declare the sentence of non-communion respectively concerning them; and thereupon, out of religious care to keep their own communion pure, they may justly withdraw themselves from participation with them at the Lord's table, and from such other acts of holy communion, as the communion of churches otherwise allows and requires. Nevertheless, if any members of such a church as live under public offence, do not consent to the offence of the church, but do in due sort bear witness against it, (Gen. xviii. 25,) they are still to be received to wonted communion, for it is not equal that the innocent should suffer with the offensive. Yea, furthermore, if such innocent members, after due waiting in the use of all due means for the healing of the offence of their own church, shall at last (with the allowance of the counsel of neighbor churches,) withdraw from the fellowship of their own church, and offer themselves to the fellowship of another, we judge it lawful for the other church to receive them (being otherwise fit) as if they had been orderly dismissed to them from their own church.
4, A fourth way of communion with churches, is by way of participation: the members of one church occasionally coming to another, we willingly admit them to partake with them at the Lord's table, (1 Cor. xii. 13,) it being the seal of our communion not only with Christ, not only with the members of our own church, but also of all the churches of the saints: In which regard we refuse not to baptize their children presented to us, if either their own minister be absent, or such it fruit Of holy fellowship be desired with us. In like cases, such churches as are furnished with more ministers than one, do willingly afford one of their own ministers to supply the absence or place of a sick minister of another church for a needful season.
5, A fifth way of church communion is by recommendation, (Rom. xvi. 1,) when the member of one church has occasion to reside in another church, if but for a season, we commend him to their watchful fellowship by letters of recommendation: But if he be called to settle his abode there, we commit him, according to his desire, to the fellowship of their covenant by letters of dismission.
6, A sixth way of church communion, (Acts xviii. 27,) is in case of need to minister succor one unto another, (Acts xi. 22,) either of able members to furnish them with officers, or of outward support to the necessities of poorer churches, (verse 29,) as did the churches of the Gentiles contribute liberally to the poor saints at Jerusalem. (Rom. xiii. 26, 27.)
3.When a company of believers purpose to gather into church-fellowship, it is requisite for their safer proceeding and the mentioning of the communion of churches, that they signify their intent unto the neighboring churches, walking according to the order of the gospel, and desire their presence and help, and right hand of fellowship; (Gal. ii. 1, 2, and ix., by proportion,) which they ought readily to give unto them, when there is no just cause to except against their proceedings.
4.Besides these several ways of communion, there is also a way of propagation of churches: When a church shall grow too numerous, it is a way, and fit season to propagate one church out of another, by sending forth such of their members as are willing to remove, and to procure some officers to them, (Isa. xl. 20; Cant viii. 8, 9,) as may enter with them into church estate among themselves. As bees, when the hive is too full, issue out by swarms, and are gathered into other hives, so the churches of Christ may do the same upon the like necessity and therein hold forth to them the right hand of fellowship, both in their gathering into a church and in the ordination of their officers.