Note: Originally, this article was published in the 'Tidings' magazine, by W. R. Dronsfield. It is reproduced here with his permission.
During many years, and also recently, many remarks have been heard about the statements of J. N. Darby, W. Kelly, C. H. Macintosh and others in relation to the reception of Christians to the breaking of bread. These remarks or writings of these brethren were connected with receiving Christians who were not in practical fellowship in the gatherings with which through grace are connected. That their remarks are true is beyond dispute. It would be folly to deny them. Their statements are of the same character. They affirmed that every member of the body of Christ, sound in doctrine and godly behaviour, and free from any defiling association had the right to remember the Lord in the gatherings and should not be refused. They were united in their testimony. A few quotations are given to show what they believed.
But is that all they said on this important matter? The answer is "No". They had many reservations and expressed them in a variety of ways. A few quotations are given to show what their reservations were. The short extracts are as exact as the writer of these notes can give. There is no attempt to present a biased view. Both sides of the matter are presented honestly. Unprejudiced brethren would surely admit that to quote some extracts from writers and ignore other statements they made is hardly fair, indeed unrighteous. The sources of the extracts are given. They can therefore be checked to see if they are accurate.
1. Calvinists, Arminians, churchmen and dissenters, confessing Christ are to be received.
Bible Treasury, Apr. 1858, page 52
2. Ecclesiastical connections no barrier to being received
W. Kelly, Bible Treasury, Oct. 1863, pp. 344-5.
3. The unity of Christ's body being the ground assumed, all Christians have, in principle, a title to be there.
J. N. Darby, The Bible Treasury, March 1864, page 35
4. I would receive every saint, episcopal or anything else with my whole heart.
J N Darby, Bible Treasury, Aug. 1868, p. 122
5. Christians are not to be refused because of their connection with system. They cannot be refused because they continue in their systems.
Author unknown, The Bible Treasury, March 1869. pages 239-240
6. All Christians walking in holiness and in the truth are to be loved and heartily received.
W. Kelly, The Bible Treasury. Dec. 1872. page 192
7. The table of the Lord is open to all who are His, when they are known as walking as such. They are not only free to break bread but to speak in worship or for edification.
W. Kelly. Bible Treasury. Oct.1873, page 351
8. An ecclesiastical connection with so called Orthodox systems is no bar to reception. (Bible Treasury, Jan. 1887)
9. More knowledge of the truth than others is no guide to be restrictive towards other believers.
Letters of J. N. Darby, Vol. 1, Stow Hill Edition, 1840. pages 34, 35
10. The brethren recognise no other body than that of Christ, that is to say, the whole church of the first-born; thus they receive every Christian (since he is a member of it) who walks in truth and holiness.
Letters of J.N. Darby, Vol. 1. 1855. page 243
11. I should receive a Baptist or an Independent cordially as a Christian.
Letters of J. N. Darby, Vol 1 1862, page 328
12. A stranger breaking bread with brethren cannot be enforced to constant attendance with them.
Letters J. N. Darby Vol. 2. 1870, page 109
13. A person with a simple desire for spiritual communion should be received
Letters JND. Vol. 2, p. 212
14. The breaking of bread is the meeting place of all Christians in the unity of the body of Christ. Every Christian has a right to share in it. Difference in ecclesiastical views is no barrier to breaking bread.
Letters of J. N. Darby , Vol. 3. 1881, page 132
15. The unity of the body is the ground of gathering. Every true Christian is free to come. A known Christian, blameless in walk, should not be refused. No membership but of Christ.
Letters of J. N. Darby Vol. 3., page 459
These are adequate references to demonstrate clearly the thoughts of these departed leaders in relation to reception. They do not claim to be the only statements that they made in favour of the reception of known and upright believers in Christ.
1. Christians who hold erroneous views about the Person of Christ cannot be received.
Bible Treasury. Vol.2. Apr. 1858. page 52
2. The barriers raised by men are not to be recognised. (Christians are not received as members of denominations but as members of the body of Christ. F.W.) No Christian has a right to a private judgement. God's word is the rule the strongest, strictest, dealing with souls to make sure that their confession of Christ is a genuine one.
The Bible Treasury, Oct. 1863. pages 344, 345
3. Christians who are received must be sound in doctrine, blameless in morals and associations. We cannot make bargains with Christians who desire to break bread with us. They cannot be refused because they continue in their systems, but it would be correct to remonstrate with them and teach them better. Christians who think they have the liberty to go to and fro ought to be seriously instructed before they take the true ground of gathering, the body of Christ. While Christians are received, they are not to assume that we sanction their continuing in their system. The unity of the Spirit is not expressed in visiting various systems and expecting to break bread with the brethren. There should be more exercise about the rights of Christ as Head of the Body than the rights of believers. Hold fast to the Truth. If others want to come, let them come, but those on the true ground should not go to them.
The Bible Treasury. Vol. 7. 1869, March. pages 239-240
4. Where there is deliberate maintenance or indifference to evil towards Christ, there cannot be fellowship. Those who seek to act according to scriptural principles experience hostility not only from the world, but from worldly Christians who break bread in an indiscriminate fashion.
The Bible Treasury. Vol.9. Oct 1873, page 351
5. The prime question in reception is the honour of Christ. Any desiring to break bread belonging to systems would be required to give testimony as to their freedom from bad doctrine. No one, no matter how pious or in personal soundness would be received who belonged to a sect propagating evil doctrine, especially relating to the Person of Christ. Trouble comes from intelligent persons who consider for their own interests and for their friends. They do not consider for the interests of Christ. Intimacy with Christians who are not in practical fellowship leads to laxity in fellowship matters. The usual cry of such persons is to remove holy barriers which exist to combat evil in a corporate sense.
The Bible Treasury. Vol. 16. Jan. 1877
6. Persons who knowingly are in fellowship in a meeting that allows bad doctrine are not suitable to be received.
Letters of J. N. Darby, Vol. 1. 1851. page 200
7. But it was long ago felt that it was desirable that a name should not be given out until all practical enquiries was made, as it was very disagreeable to have a name publicly mentioned and demur made thereto on moral grounds when it could be avoided. Hence the previous enquiry and consultations.
Letters J. N. Darby Vol 1. page 357
8. No one has a right to impose conditions on the assembly prior to being received. It is wrong for a Christian to go systematically to the brethren and to a church, I presume, on a regular basis. Reception must not be an excuse for looseness. But in avoiding that we must not fall into excessive separation from true believers.
Letters of J. N. Darby Vol. 2. 1869. Page 10
9. Some are too large in admissions to communion, some are too narrow.
Letters of J. N. Darby, Vol. 2 1869, p. 24
10. Anyone who breaks bread with brethren is subject to the discipline of the house.
Letters J.N.D. Vol. 2, p. 109
11. The question of reception is a delicate one; avoid being a sect but maintain sound discipline and remain outside the camp; no claiming to come and go as one pleases. Looseness is a fatal snare. No one can impose his will on the assembly. If a person practically says I will come to take a place in [the ground of] the body of Christ and go into sects and evil when I like for convenience and pleasure, that is not a pure heart. It is making their own will of God's assembly and subjecting the assembly to it and that cannot be -- is clearly wrong.
Letters of J. N. Darby, Vol 2. 1873, Page 212
12. The assembly conscience should be satisfied that the one desiring to break bread is worthy to do so.
Letters of J. N. Darby. Vol. 2. 1875, Page 349
13. I think that brethren of, or coming to, the gathering to break bread, ought not to bring in friends with them unless received by the gathering to break bread on such occasions as known members of the body.
Letters of J. N. Darby Vol. 2. 1877, Page 409
14. The state of Christianity requires great care and faithfulness to maintain who is worthy to break bread. Any one who wants to break bread with brethren one day and the next among the sects should not be received. Such behaviour does not unite; it perpetuates divisions.
Letters of J. N. Darby, Vol. 3. 1881. Page. 132
15. The one who introduces a Christian for the breaking of bread should have the confidence of the brethren. Because of looseness in doctrine and practice great care is needed. Brethren impose no conditions or accept conditions from any who desire to break bread.
Letters of J. N. Darby. Vol. 3. Page 459
The above is a list of some quotations on reception culled from brethren of the mid-nineteenth century. It must be remembered, however, that in all major orthodox denominations at that time, nobody could be ordained who did not subscribe to the ancient creeds, and it was almost universally accepted that the Bible was the inerrant word of God. The present tolerance in the major denominations of fundamental error and gross moral evil would not have been dreamed of in that day. Also the ecumenical spirit had not arrived. People stayed in their denominations and were disapproved of if they moved across the barriers. A person who desired fellowship was usually exercised in some way to meet on the ground of the One Body - not with an ecumenical all-denominations-together attitude. Principles have not changed, but conditions have.
- The Matter of Reception - by by W R Dronsfield
- Who Should Break Bread? by L M Grant
- Introduction - by Frank Wallace
- For Reception
- Reference to caution in Receiving, or refusing
- Note by W R Dronsfield