I have been reading John Bunyan on the issue of open church membership. In spite of the frowns of his Particular Baptist contemporaries, he opened his church doors to anyone who gave a reasonable demonstration that they were a "visible saint", whether or not they had been baptized. I suspect that as he sat in the Bedford jail, some of his greatest fellowship came from other non-conformists who, although they were not Baptists, had been jailed for their love for Christ as had he.
I am motivated to learn from his demeanor. I must repeat the compelling reason Bunyan gives for fellowship with un-baptized believers; in his own words: “I am bold to hold communion with visible saints as afore, because God hath communion with them
, whose example in the case we are straitly commanded to follow: ‘Receive ye one another, as Christ Jesus hath received you.’” Bunyan argues that these believers, though un-baptized, have the same standing with God as those that are baptized; their sins have been placed on Christ. Bunyan finds that if they are not received, the one who rejects them is in greater error, because although they have not failed in an outward act, they have failed in real substance because they have rejected someone who has been accepted by God.
If I do not couple theology with a loving spirit controlled by the attitude of Christ, do I not hinder the purpose for which theology exists?
I find myself challenged to find the graciously delicate balance between on the one hand, a firm commitment to personal, identity-making, convictions and, on the other hand, the fellowship of the gospel that unites brothers of all stripes.