CHAPTER XV. Of the communion of churches one with another.

The Cambridge Platform (1648)

Chapter 15: Of the Communion of Churches One with Another
1. Although churches be distinct, and therefore may not be confounded one with another: and equal, and therefore have not dominion one over another: yet all the churches ought to preserve church communion one with another, because they are all united unto Christ, not only as a mystical, but as a political head; whence is derived a communion suitable thereunto.
2. The communion of churches is exercised sundry ways.
I. By way of mutual care in taking thought for one another’s welfare.
II. By way of consultation one with another, when we have occasion to require the judgement and council of other churches, touching any person, or cause wherewith they may be better acquainted than ourselves. 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 amongst themselves, it is a way of communion of churches (according to the word) to meet together by their elders and other messengers in a synod, to consider and argue the points 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 amongst themselves, or lie under any open scandal, and yet refuse to consult with other churches, for healing or removing of the same; it is matter of just offense both to the Lord Jesus, and to other churches, as betraying 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 calleth aloud upon other churches, to exercise a fuller act of brotherly communion, to wit, by way of admonition.
III. A third way then of communion of churches is by way of admonition, to wit, in case any public offense 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. 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. In which case, if the church that lieth under offense, do not hearken to the church which doth admonish her, the church is to acquaint other neighbour churches with that offense, which the offending church still lieth under, together with their neglect of the brotherly admonition given unto them; whereupon those other churches are to join in seconding the admonition formerly given: and if still the offending church continue in obstinacy and impenitence, they may forbear communion with them; and are to proceed to make use of the help of a synod, or council of neighbour 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, approving and accepting of the judgement of the synod, are to declare the sentence of non-communion respectively concerning them: and thereupon out of a 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 doth otherwise allow, and require. Nevertheless, if any members of such a church as lieth under public offense; do not consent to the offense of the church, but do in due sort bear witness against it, 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 good means for the healing of the offense of their own church, shall at last (with the allowance of the council of neighbour-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.
IV. A fourth way of communion of churches, is by way of participation: the members of one church occasionally coming unto another, we willingly admit them to partake with us at the Lord’s table, it being the seal of our communion not only with Christ, nor only with the members of our own church, but also with 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 a fruit of holy fellowship be desired with us. In like case, such churches as are furnished with more ministers to supply the place of an absent or sick minister of another church for a needful season.
V. A fifth way of church communion is, by way of recommendation when a member of one church hath 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.
VI. A sixth way of church communion, is in case of need, to minister relief and succour one unto another: either of able members to furnish them with officers; or of outward support to the necessities of poorer churches; as did the churches of the Gentiles contribute liberally to the poor saints at Jerusalem.
3. When a company of believers’ purpose to gather into church fellowship, it is requisite for their safer proceeding, and the maintaining of the communion of churches, that they signify their intent unto the neighbour-churches, walking according unto the order of the Gospel, and desire their presence, and help, and right hand of fellowship which they ought readily to give unto them, when there is no just cause of excepting 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, as may enter with them into church-estate amongst themselves: as bees, when the hive is too full, issue forth by swarms, and are gathered into other hives, so the churches of Christ may do the same upon like necessity; and therein hold forth to the right hand of fellowship, both in their gathering into a church; and in the ordination of their officers.