Daniel Turner’s A Modest Plea for Free Communion at the Lord’s Table; Particularly Between the Baptists and the Paedobaptists. In a Letter to a Friend

Daniel Turner of Abignon, England, wrote A Modest Plea for Free Communion at the Lord’s Table; Particularly Between the Baptists and the Paedobaptists. In a Letter to a Friend. under the pseudonym “Candidus” in 1772.  He did so in conjunction with John Collett Ryland of Northampton who released essentially the same document (with some minor changes) under the pseudonym “Pacificus.”  (A nice summary of this particular skirmish in the controversy surrounding the question of open and close(d) communion can be read here.)  Turner’s little book has been reproduced in this print edition of the “Eighteenth Century Collections Online” “Religion and Philosophy” series.  It is a nice little facsimile addition to anybody’s library who is interested in such things.  It can also be read online, for free, here.

I am drawing attention to this work because it is a helpful summary of the “open communion” position (i.e., defined as allowing all who are believers in Christ to come to the Lord’s Table, regardless of their mode of baptism) Turner’s writing has a surprisingly modern feel to it, and I suspect that any who would read it would do so with profit.  (The only adjustment you would likely have to make, by the way, is making sure that you do not mistake the older English “s” for an “f” ((minus the crossbar)) since the latter is how they communicated the former ((except, apparently, when they used “ss” which appears, roughly, as “fs”)), but it’s an easy enough adjustment to make.)

Turner writes, he says, because he has heard “that I, and the Church under my care, have been severely censured by several of our stricter brethren of the Baptist denomination, for admitting Poedobaptists to commune with us at the Lord’s Table” (3).  He then gives his reasons for allowing infant-baptized believers to come to the table.  These reasons include:  because all who are saved “must have an equalright to ALL the privileges of the Gospel,” because he doesn’t feel that they have a “sufficient warrant” to exclude these believers, that excluding such believers from “the means of his grace” makes them “guilty of invading the prerogative of Christ,” because Jesus accepts infant-baptized Christians “at his table,” because if Jesus overlooks their mistake on baptism, so can we, because “we are expressly commanded to receive the weak in faith,” and because showing charity to those with whom we differ may go a long way towards building unity and opening doors of conversation.

Turner then moves on to answer some objections to their practice.  He upholds “the right of private judgment” and the need not to disobey conscience in interpreting scripture.  Problematically, in my opinion, he write thus:

“If my Poedobaptist brother is satisfied in his own mind, that he is rightly baptised, he is so tohimself, and, while the answer of a good conscience attends it, God will, and does own him in it, to all the ends designed by it, so that while he considers it as laying him under the same obligations to holiness in heart and life as I consider my baptism to do me, why should he not commune with me at the table of our common Lord?”

Obviously, this opens Turner up to the charge of subjectivizing truth itself, which he anticipates in the next objection, which he expresses in these terms:  “that the allowing of this free and open Communion, is the way to beget a cold indifference to the cause of truth, and by degrees entirely ruin it.”  To this, Turner argues that such an assertion is merely theoretical, that this destroying of truth itself has not been witnessed in churches that practice open communion and that, on the contrary, showing charity to differing interpretations tends to earn the truth itself a greater hearing, not a lesser respect.

I remain concerned, however, about this particular train of thought.  I think Turner is at his best arguing for charity and pointing out the lack of a command excluding infant-baptized believers.  To suggest, however, that if a person is baptized in their own mind, they are indeed baptized, opens a Pandora’s box for the kind of grotesque relativizing of truth we see in our own age.  Let me quickly add, however, that I think this is simply a weak argument, or one that he did not flesh out enough, not that Turner himself was a relativist.  It is clear enough that he believed in truth and that he was, in fact, a Baptist by conviction.  Again, this is simply not his best argument.

Finally, Turner draws an interesting parallel between the Baptists and paedobpatists and the Jewish-Gentile conflicts of the first century.  He argues that Jews and Gentiles who came to know Christ had to learn to love one another and honor one another within the same church, even with their differences.  So too, he says, those who differ on baptism must do the same.

This is a helpful and interesting work on a topic that remains relevant to this day.  I would encourage you to read it.

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