What about Letters of Commendation?
Howard Coles, Coleford, England
This question is linked closely to reception into a local assembly. Clearly, it was the practice of local assemblies from apostolic times to seek commendation of the assemblies from which the believers had come, e.g. the apostle Paul asks the Corinthian believers 'Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?’, 2 Cor. 3. 1. Of course, in Paul’s case he did not need to be commended. However, there were obviously circumstances where a letter of commendation was the practice. The two most common circumstances which apply today are: –
1 Where believers are moving to another area on a permanent basis. In this case letters should be forthcoming. First of all to positively commend those who have fellowshipped and faithfully served, and second as a safeguard to prevent those who have left an assembly under a cloud causing further disruption. Some assemblies that have received believers without commendation have experienced subsequent problems that could have been avoided if they had adhered to scriptural practice. This places a great responsibility on the elders of both assemblies. Firstly, the commending elders should not commend those who have caused problems. Secondly, the elders of the receiving assembly have a responsibility to preserve and maintain New Testament assembly order.
2 Where believers desire to have fellowship with an assembly when on vacation. A commending letter we feel is to be preferred even where the believers in question do not intend to stay in the area. After all it is God's assembly and the receiving assembly needs to be careful. Without any means of knowing the persons involved places a great burden on the receiving elders. Affirmations at the door could be false. It is not simply a matter of each individual who takes part examining themselves, though of course this is important The elders also have a responsibility to preserve the sanctity and order of the assembly. The question of how to respond to visitors who arrive a few minutes prior to the meeting without a letter, in the final analysis has to be answered by each assembly as they are responsible to the Lord alone. Responses might include: –
1 A warm welcome for the visitors but a request that they observe only.
2 Ascertainment that the visitors are genuine believers and have been baptized (baptism always comes before the breaking of bread in the New Testament) and then request that they observe the order of the assembly, i.e., the headships – that the brothers (if they wish) take part audibly with their heads uncovered and that the sisters take part with their heads covered but do not worship audibly.
3 Reception on the basis of the visitors' profession of salvation and not to inquire about the visitors’ baptismal status and position regarding observance of the headships.
It is not the purpose of this current answer to criticize any for their practice; however, we believe elders and assemblies will be safer and happier with the scriptural use of letters of commendation.