Question 52Wherein consists the duty of any church of Christ towards other churches?

Answer[1] In walking circumspectly, so as to give them no offence;

[2] in prayer for their peace and prosperity;

[3] in communicating supplies to their wants according to ability;

[4] in receiving with love and readiness the members of them into fellowship, in the celebration of the ordinances of the gospel, as occasion shall be;

[5] in desiring and making use of their counsel and advice in such cases of doubt and difficulty as may arise among them;

[6] in joining with them to express their communion in the same doctrine of faith.

[1] 1 Cor. 10:32. [2] Ps. 122:6; Eph. 6:18; 1 Tim. 2:1. [3] 2 Cor. 8:1-15; Acts 11:29,30; Rom. 15:26,27. [4] Rom. 16:1,2; 3 John 8,9. [5] Acts 15:2,6.  [6] 1 Tim. 3:15.

Explication — Churches being gathered and settled according to the mind of Christ, ought to preserve a mutual holy communion among themselves, and to exercise it in the discharge of those duties whereby their mutual good and edification may be promoted; for whereas they are all united under one head, the Lord Christ, Eph. 1:22,23, in the same faith and order, Eph. 4:5, and do walk by the same rule, they stand in such a relation one to another as is the ground of the communion spoken of. Now, the principal ways whereby they exercise this communion are the acts and duties enumerated in the answer to this question; as, —

First, Careful walking, so as to give no offence unto one another; which, although it be a moral duty in reference unto all, yet therein especial regard is to be had unto other churches of Christ, that they be not in any thing grieved or tempted: 1 Cor. 10:32, “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.”

Secondly, In constant prayer for the peace, welfare, edification, and prosperity one of another, Rom. 1:9; Col. 1:9; Eph. 6:18. And this because of the special concernment of the name and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ in their welfare.

Thirdly, In communicating of supplies for their relief according unto their ability, in case of the outward wants, straits, dangers, or necessities of any of them. Acts 11:29,30; Rom. 15:26,27; 2 Cor. 8:1- 15.

Fourthly, The receiving of the members of other churches to communion, in the celebration of church-ordinances, is another way whereby this communion of churches is exercised, Rom. 16:1,2; 3 John 8,9; for whereas the personal right of such persons unto the ordinances of the church, and their orderly walking in the observation of the commands of Christ, are known by the testimony of the church whereof they are members, they may, without farther inquiry or satisfaction given, be looked on “pro tempore” as members of the church wherein they desire fellowship and participation of the ordinances of Christ.

Fifthly, In desiring or making use of the counsel and advice of one another, in such cases of doubt and difficulty, whether doctrinal or practical, as may arise in any of them, Acts 15:2,6. And from hence it follows, that in case any church, either by error in doctrine, or precipitation, or mistake in other administrations, do give offence unto other churches, those other churches may require an account from them, admonish them of their faults, and withhold communion from them in case they persist in the error of their way; and that because in their difficulties, and before their miscarriages, they were bound to have desired the advice, counsel, and assistance of those other churches, which being neglected by them, the other are to recover the end of it unto their utmost ability, Gal. 2:6-11. And hence, also, it follows that those that are rightly and justly censured in any church ought to be rejected by all churches whatever; both because of their mutual communion, and because it is and ought to be presumed, until the contrary be made to appear, that, in case there had been any difficulty or doubt in the procedure of the church, they would have taken the advice of those churches, with whom they were obliged to consult.

Lastly, Whereas the churches have all of them one common faith, and are all obliged to hold forth and declare it to all men as they have opportunity, 1 Tim. 3:15, to testify this their mutual communion, their interest in the same faith and hope, for the more open declaration and proposition of the truths of the gospel which they profess, and for the vindication both of the truth and themselves from false charges and imputations, they may, and, if God give opportunity, ought to join together in declaring and testifying their joint consent and fellowship in the same doctrine of faith, expressed in a “form of sound words.”

The Life and Works of John Owen Vol.15