“The bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3
The church has always demanded that certain stipulations be endorsed by those who make public confession of faith. She should still seriously make it a point that these stipulations be explained to those who ask for admittance to the holy supper.
Stipulations are promises. Promises are exchanged between those who ask for admittance and those who have previously been admitted to the holy supper. A covenant or a contract is mutually endorsed. It is always unethical to make a person promise a thing of whose implication he is unaware. The promise in question here establishes a bond between the church and her members in full. Obviously that bond mat not be secretly or surreptitiously imposed upon a person. The church must present it for endorsement in clear and defined terms. The person endorsing it has a right to know what he is signing.
Public confession is and should remain the important matter. Yet these stipulations, this contractual relationship may not be ignored. It must be remembered that the affirmative answer given at the time of confession is the same as that which binds the confessor to these stipulations of the church. For that reason the catechetical instruction that antedates the public confession should elucidate all the implications of these stipulations. The church that does not do so fosters the lie within her own organization. By that omission she introduces something mechanical into holy relationships, and has herself to blame if the stipulations she insists upon are later ignored by those who unwittingly agreed to keep them.
In an attempt to absolve the church of responsibility in this matter it has frequently been said that those who make their confession are too young and too shortsighted to understand the nature of these stipulations. That excuse is unsound. Your making confession signifies that you have the right to be given a voice in the matters of church life. By making your confession you become a consciously independent, contributing member of your church. Because of that you deserve to know what the nature of the bond is that binds you to the church whose full commission you are about to share.
You should not speak of a confirmation of new members, for there is not such confirmation and there are no new members. When you reach your majority in political life, you are given a voice in political affairs. That is a new experience for you, but you are not for that reason spoken of as a new citizen.Similarly confession does not make you a new member of the church. It grants you a voice in her affairs. Your baptism took place many years before your confession, and you know that your baptism was administered to you on the assumption that you were a member of Christ. On that occasion your parents acknowledged that “although our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject to all miseries, yea, to condemnation itself; yet, that they are sanctified in Christ and therefore as members of his church ought to be baptized.”
Your parents had you baptized in the specific church they thought to be the best and purest revelation of the body of the Lord. By baptizing you, that church incorporated you into herself as a member. Hence, you have belonged to that church since the moment of your baptism. At that time you were accepted into communion with her as an immature member.
Your daily experience presents many illustrations of your pre-confession relationship to your church. A bird, destined to display gorgeously colored feathers on its wings, has only down to exhibit when it bursts from its shell. The beautiful wings are not attached later as separate or independent parts of the body. Nothing new is added. The gorgeous feathers were present in the bird at its birth. They had not grown out at first. So it is among plants, among animals, and among men in natural life. And so it is with the body of the church: there is latent in it that which emerges in full bloom at the time of confession.
A baptized child then is a member of the church—latent, undeveloped, immature, it is true—but a member. He remains undeveloped until he makes his pubic confession. Then he is no longer a minor. Then he attains his majority. Henceforth he acts by personal initiative. He departs from parental guardianship and expresses himself as desiring to become a contributing member of the church. It is at this time that he consciously and responsibly assumes the privileges and obligations of the bond that unites him with the church and with her other members.
In thinking about that unifying bond, you must distinguish between what the holy apostle called the “unity of the Spirit” and what he designated as “the bond of peace,” for these are not identical.
The unity of the Spirit represents something beyond human power to touch or affect, namely, the working of the one Holy Spirit in the several members of the one body. If the Holy Spirit does not work within those members, they do not belong to the body, even though they may have been inveigled into the external, ecclesiastical organization. The holy apostle tells us that there is one body and one spirit. The Triune God created and formed that body, and God the Holy Spirit dwells and works in it. The Holy Spirit causes that body to be alive and living.
If the Holy Spirit does not work in you, you are not a member of the body, for no one can say he is Jesus the Lord’s except by the Holy Spirit. But let us suppose that by God’s incomprehensible mercies the Spirit of the Lord does dwell in you, that he entered you, whether as a child or as a man, and that he regenerates you. If that is so, then from the very nature of the situation there is a unity not of the spirits but of the Spirit between you and all the other members of the body of Christ. That does not mean that you agree with them always and in all things, but that the same Spirit is in you and in them.
Now it can be true that you and they share the presence of the same Spirit, and that you and they nevertheless frequently disagree about things. Although this is possible, it may not be so. Hence a “bond of peace” should be laid between you and them as the fruit of the unity of the Spirit.
This bond of peace serves as the basis on which the aforementioned stipulations rest. It is a common, reciprocal unity exercised in a communion of saints and in establishing upon earth a peace like unto a heavenly peace. The fact that there is the unity of the Spirit in all does not mean that it has developed in all or that it has fully developed in any. If that were true, he who had received the Spirit would suddenly and immediately be emancipated from the influences of sin, and would similarly be emancipated also from any traces of spiritual blindness. A church composed of such members would not need the bond of peace. Earth would be heaven then, and all things would be perfect.
However, that is not the situation. When God the Lord permits the Holy Spirit to enter a person, that Spirit works very gradually, and his influence is not perfected until after the person’s death. Upon earth therefore, obstacles, hindrances, and retarding influences remain. These proceed from Satan and the world, from our own flesh and from our own sin. Consequently we are often spiritually shortsighted. Much evil intervenes to threaten a disturbance of the peace between us and our fellow believers. Because of that, we, the several members of one body, would fall apart as do the staves of a barrel, if it were not for some unifying bond. That bond is the external church, and the bond of peace is a consciously built covenant of unity you must help to establish.
You see therefore that by your public confession you are most certainly assuming the obligations of a covenant relationship within a specific church. The church in which you desire to be active took you into her care at the time of your baptism. Now she is willing to admit you to the holy supper, to let you take your place at the Lord’s table with the other members, provided that you are willing to confess that their confession is yours. She cannot be satisfied by your assuring her that God gave you the Holy Spirit. There is much blindness in you still, in spite of that. It is a blindness that could lead you to ill conduct and to heresy. In order to offset the possibility of your igniting the church community with these destructive fires of ill conduct or heresy, she demands that you must confess what she confesses.
That is the first of the stipulations you must be willing to endorse; it is the first promise you must make. But you must also make a second promise, and this second promise more specifically pertains to the bond of peace. You have received the Holy Spirit. You can therefore say that you belong to Christ the Lord, and you make that your public confession. But many kinds of sin and evil can still be trying to come to expression in you. These can manifest themselves in the form of envy or of bitterness toward your fellow believers, and that is a condition that may not obtain among brothers and sisters of one church. Again, this sin and this evil can come to expression in the form of disgraceful conduct, of disreputable, overt actions such as would bring shame and reproach upon the church. Naturally the church may have no patience with any of these manifestations. Hence the bond of peace is necessary. You must promise by covenant to regard the other members of your church as your brothers and sisters, and must promise to help them as such, irrespective of whether they are rich or poor, amiable or not amiable. And you must also promise to submit to church discipline willingly in the event that you should ever break that covenant of unity.
That is the way in which this bond, this covenant, is made. It is a covenant that brings you no earthly profits and that secures for you no sensual pleasures. It is a bond of peace that demands that we serve the Lord our God together, that we walk together, and that we bear each other’s burdens, for we are fellow pilgrims to a better fatherland.