The subject of reception is a large one and covers a number of Christian spheres which we will not develop. This is a concise outline to consider, testing all by the Scriptures.
A. The reception of Christ.
We will enlarge upon the reception into the local assembly, but will briefly refer to other aspects of the words reception, received, and receive in our Bibles. Luke 15:1 reveals the heart of our Lord Jesus and it spells clearly to us that the Savior, presented by Dr. Luke, “receiveth sinners,” the notorious, the irreligious, and the outcasts. None can be too vile. Beloved saints, let us never categorize sinners because of their past, for “this Man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.” The mighty, marvelous, and matchless grace of God has reached sinners from every walk of life. Each believer can say, “Christ received me.” This is what overwhelmed the writer 44 years ago! All sins blotted out – past, present and future, and cast into the depths of the sea, removed as far as the East from the West, and remembered no more forever. Such is the forgiveness and pardon from receiving Christ. Amen! “Pardon from an offended God, pardon for sins of deepest dye.”
B. The sinners reception of Christ
“But as many as received (welcomed, accepted) Him, to them gave He the power (authority, right) to become the children of God” (marginal reading children, not sons) (John 1:12). We were introduced into Gods family, and what a family! It eclipses the natural family, which is for time. Spiritual bonds are eternal. Johns epistle, the family epistle, gives tests as to whether we are in the family by our attitudes and actions. Christs reception of the sinner and the sinners reception of Christ are simultaneous (Luke 19:1-10).
C. The Reception into the local assembly (Acts 2:41)
When an assembly is first established it is composed of those who are saved, baptized, and gathered unto the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, a distinct company in testimony to the Lords Name (Acts 18:8). After the assembly is formed there are additions as souls are saved and request reception into the local assembly. For a fair evaluation for reception to assembly fellowship, two things are needed. 1) Compassion, care, and Divine wisdom should mark the wise and godiy shepherds in the local assembly. 2) Those interviewed for reception should have a dee p respect and appreciation for the shepherds who are interviewing them. Humility, honesty, and holiness become the applicant. A word to the wise – be kind but faithful, and do not leave the applicant waiting for months for an answer. Again, do not let natural relationships get involved, as the spiritual values must have priority. The candidates should have a clear conversion, a tender conscience, and a willingness to listen and receive instruction. If this attitude prevails, it will be a pleasure for the assembly to receive them.
It is important to note that reception involves mutual fellowship. The candidate receives the assembly and the assembly receives him. The instruction to the applicant as to Headship, Lordship, and Fellowship can be treated in a gracious way and in a progressive way. The young convert, generally speaking, manifests the spirit of submissiveness and obedience. There can be difficult cases where doctrine is questionable. Again, I repeat, wisdom is needed, the gift of discernment necessary. It is the assembly that receives and the assembly puts way. The overseers are acting on behalf of the local company in the fear of God. The responsibility is great; the burden heavy. To be sound in doctrine is very, very important and the overseers have a solemn responsibility to make sure that the applicant is sound in the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
Reception is not to the Lords supper, but to the local assembly. The Lords supper is the highest expression of that fellowship. Occasional fellowship is never anticipated in the Scriptures and the open table is never contemplated. “Lay hands suddenly on no man” would be a guiding principle in the case of a stranger or visiting friends. The elders should be free to question, in a gracious manner, strangers who visit. There is a place for the unlearned and the unbeliever. There is a place for the unlearned and unsaved as 1 Corinthians 14 makes abundantly clear. The assembly needs to be preserved from mixture and departure from the pattern of testimony revealed in the Word of God (Ads 2:42-43). Liberal philosophy and legalistic demands both need to be avoided. The dangers are there and we need to be aware of such. Great wisdom is needed in reception and our textbook is the Word of God. Let us have a balance in handling these important matters for the glory of God.
D. The reception from one local church by another
The receiving from one assembly to another has posed difficulties at times. A letter of commendation is a very important principle to follow and most necessary, often averting embarrassment. It is easily carried and should be up-to-date (1 Cor 6:3, Rom 16:1, and 2 Cor 3:1). We should avoid like a plague the cutting off of assemblies and the sowing of discord among brethren. Let us act in grace and forgiveness. The seven churches are a classic example of fellowship among the local testimonies. Yes, there were local problems, and such should be kept local. A word to the wise – promote wherever possible fellowship and harmony among the saints, and build them up in the ways that be in Christ. The review in that day will manifest all hearts. Motives will be manifest up there and all that has been promoted for self will be totally erased. Let us learn that spiritual things can only be accomplished to Gods glory by spintual means and spiritual men. Carnality and legalism will only damage and divide the saints.
E. The reception one of another
“Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ received us to the glory of God” (Rom 14:7). Romans 14 & 15 are in the context of assembly life and would give instruction as to attitudes one toward an-other. Our attitudes toward one another should be governed by: a) God hath received him (14:3); b) we are the Lords (14:8); c) we must all appear, (be made manifest) before the judgment seat of Christ (14:10); d) for whom Christ died (14:15) and e) as Christ also received us to the glory of God (15:7). These abiding principles, beloved brethren, should be of import and have an impact upon us all, guarding our attitudes one toward another.
We would remember we are one,
With every saint that loves Thy Name, United to Thee on the Throne,
Our life, our hope, our Lord the same.
F. The reception of the restored backslider
Scripture also teaches the reception of the backslider back into the local assembly (2 Cor 2:7-11). We could not leave this subject without reference to the principle that all discipline has recovery in view, whether doctrinal or moral. In 1 Cor 5 we see the most serious of moral sin, yet restoration followed. It is most heart-rending to be present when one is put away from the assembly into the realm of Satan. Tears and sorrow should fill every heart in this solemn matter. It is on such occasions that we solemnly cast ourselves upon the preserving grace of God and thank Him for His great mercies. What joy when one is repentant, recovered to the Lord, and received back into the local assembly, forgiven by God and every saint who, God-like, extends forgiveness to the restored one. The expression we hear used, I forgive but I cannot forget, is totally unscriptural. Shepherds need to have an increased burden for those who have gone astray (Matthew 18).
G. The reception into the Fathers house.
What a day when we are received to the Fathers house (John 14:1-3), the place of many abodes! “Not one will seem a stranger though never seen before.” It will be with gladness and joy that He will receive us into the everlasting habitation. He waits patiently for that day. Earths little day will be past forever and we will be at Home with the Lord. We will be received, beloved, on the grounds of redemption and each will shine with the beauty of Christ, all bearing perfectly the image of our glorious Lord.
O the blessed joy of meeting, all the desert past!
O the wondrous words of greeting He shall speak at last!
He and I together entring those bright courts above;
He and I together sharing all the Fathers love.