To repeat, our best evidence indicates that the author of the three articles, "Timothy," was one Thomas Smith. In addition, the evidence suggests that Smith was a leader in the early-nineteenth century Christian movement associated with the names Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell. Apparently, Smith was a Kentuckian who, at the time he wrote this series, served as a preacher in Lexington. In fact, he was an old friend and associate of Stone's, and also was acquainted with Alexander Campbell. So, it is reasonable to suppose that Thomas Smith was present when, on New Year's Day, 1832, at the Hill Street Church in Lexington, Kentucky, "Raccoon" John Smith and Barton W. Stone shook hands, symbolically uniting two early-American restoration movements.
On that occasion, John Smith called upon the assembled to no longer be "Campbellites or Stoneites, New Lights or Old Lights, or any other kind of lights." If believers would simply come together on the basis of the Bible alone, that would provide "all the light we need." Having established the context of Smith's three articles, then, we turn our attention to the material itself.
Timothy, "The Communion of Christians at the Lord's Table--No. I." The Christian Messenger 2, no. 12 (October 1828), 271-75.
In his first article, Smith, writing as "Timothy," begins with the question, "Who have a divine right to partake of the Lord's Supper?" (271).
Smith observes that "Paedo-baptists" practice open communion, while Baptists do not. I take the author's mention of Paedo-baptists as a reference primarily to Methodists and Presbyterians, two prominent denominations in the South and West at that time. Both groups practiced infant baptism. Of course, the same could be said about Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Congregationalists. But they were not nearly as prominent at that time and place. (See Smith's own designations on p. 273).
By contrast, Baptists, at least the fellowship known as "United Baptists," practice close(d) communion. Smith announces his conclusion: when it comes to the practical question of open versus closed communion, the right way lies somewhere between these two extremes, "which, I conceive, all christians [sic] would do well to avoid" (271).
Smith asserts that the practice of open communion by a "sect" is inconsistent. For, by definition, a sect establishes strict qualifications for membership. And, a sect treats all who do not meet those qualifications as outsiders. Smith raises the question of why "Paedo-baptists" practice open communion. He answers that the practice attempts to ingratiate those who are not a part of the sect, with the hope that this will bring the outsider around to appreciating and perhaps joining them. Essentially, as they invite people who do not subscribe to their creed to share the Lord's Supper with them, they pray:
O Lord, our creed contains the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth;--we beseech thee, therefore, convert our neighbors and the world to our sect (272).But, Smith writes, the practice is entirely inconsistent, because when Methodists and Presbyterians serve the Lord's Supper to all sorts of believers, they admit in practice that members of other groups are genuine Christians, the children of God. Thus, it is as if Christ has a Presbyterian Church, a Methodist Church, a United Baptist Church, and so on. The "free communion" of the Paedo-baptists is, thus, inconsistent. Furthermore, it is less than honest, "a mere sectarian engine" (272). So long as these groups cleave to their cherished sectarian names and human creeds, their claims to ecumenicism are, at best, temporary, hollow, and ineffectual.
Smith celebrates that there are thousands of people "in the different sects" who deplore current conditions "in the church." His critical remarks do not apply to those people, he writes, for they are the very ones who recognize and resist the problem (272-73).
At this point, Smith transitions into the second half of his article, in which he draws a comparison between Christianity in the Roman Empire and anti-sectarian Christianity in the contemporary world. He states that in the Roman Empire, all religions were welcome and encouraged, provided that were not seditious or intolerant; provided that they did not deny the legitimacy of other religions or speak against Rome authority.
When Christianity came onto the scene, it did both. Christians denied the legitimacy of every other religious persuasion. Christians were absolutely convinced that they were following the truth. And, they spoke and lived as though they truly meant it. Quoting his source on Roman history, Smith writes
They (the christians) dared to ridicule the absurdities of the Pagan superstition, and they were ardent and assiduous in gaining proselytes to the truth. Nor did they only attack the religion of Rome, but also all the different shapes and forms under which superstition appeared in the various countries where they exercised their ministry (274).Consequently, all religious and imperial power came together in an attempt to destroy Christianity. What else might explain the deadly persecution of the church from the New Testament era to the time of Constantine?
Then, Smith draws his analogy. The various modern religious sects tend to get along just fine with one another, even to the point of claiming communion with each other as they openly serve the Lord's Supper to members of any mainstream group. But, if a movement should emerge that stands consistently against all of the sects with their creeds and dogmas, at that moment all of the groups will line up together in strong opposition to them.
Smith intimates that this is exactly what has happened in his own time. Paedo-baptists and all other sectarians have lined up against mere "Christians," believers who reject all systems of theology and human traditions, and who insist on the authority of the Bible alone. Leaders of the sects have made themselves the enemies of "the sons of religious liberty" (274).
Hence, those who have christian courage, fortitude and piety enough to stand up and oppose the desolating tide of popular and and [sic] fashionable religion, are every where (like the ancient christians) spoken against (275).Timothy, "The Communion of Christians at the Lord's Table--No. II." The Christian Messenger 3, no. 1 (November 1828), 11-14.
Having identified in his first article the inconsistencies of the "Paedo-baptists," Thomas Smith now turns to to the Baptists and their practice of closed communion. Against such practice, Smith states, he has three objections:
First, Baptists teach that faith in Christ and immersion in water are the two essential requirements for becoming a child of God. If one has this status, of course he or she should be welcome to partake of the Lord's Supper. But, writes Smith, the group known as "United Baptists" withhold the Lord's Supper from "Separate Baptists," even though all of their members, like other sorts of Baptists, believe in Christ and have been baptized! Smith adds that United Baptists treat not only Separates but also other sorts of Baptists in the same way. In fact, there are at least potentially many others who would qualify as children of God according to the Baptist understanding, who would be denied the Lord's Supper by United Baptists. Thus, in this regard, the United Baptists are as rigid as the Roman Catholics.
Second, writes Smith, there are sometimes more differences among the United Baptists than there are between United Baptists and other groups. How ironic! So then, how can their practice of closed communion be consistent? As it is, their distinctions are in fact completely inconsistent, obviously sectarian. Apparently, their rule is, only if one is in the good graces of a United Baptist congregation is that believer worthy to partake of the Lord's Supper. If not, then one should be debarred from the Supper.
Third, the United Baptist practice of closed communion forces them to say, in effect, that they are the only Christians. Otherwise, how could they insist on closed communion?
The Baptists are thus hung on the horns of a dilemma: they teach that anyone who comes to the Lord as they have are thereby true children of God. At the same time, they teach that only members in good standing of United Baptist congregation should take the Lord's Supper. While their doctrine of salvation is biblical, their observance of the Lord's Supper is sectarian. Smith concludes, then, that the United Baptists will never be relieved of their problem until "they abandon the ground they occupy" (14).
Timothy, "The Communion of Christians at the Lord's Table--No. III." The Christian Messenger 3, no. 2 (December 1828), 33-37.
Having dealt with both Paedo-baptists and Baptists in the first two installments of his series, in the third and final installment Thomas Smith sets out to explain his own convictions.
Interestingly, he uses the phrase "the ancient order of things" and identifies the Lord's Supper is "an ordinance of the Church." Smith states that the church should "spread the Lord's table," believing and knowing that there are Christians, pious and God-fearing people, among the various sects (33). He goes so far as to say that many unimmersed "Paedo-baptists" certainly are true Christians, as their lives and devotion attest:
For who that has had any considerable acquaintance and intercourse with religious society can doubt the piety of many Paedo-Baptists? The contrary opinion is too shocking to be admitted. The purity of many of their hearts, evinced by the holiness of their lives, proclaims them loudly and clearly to be the children of God. Their humility, the benevolence, their humanity, and unreserved devotion to the interests of Christianity, present many of them as patterns of piety and good works, whom, even those who have been immersed, would do well to imitate (34).Their error is not one of will, but of understanding. They therefore have every right to the Lord's table. Citing 2 Corinthians 8:12--"For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not"--Smith concludes that the Lord does not demand of people an understanding that they do not have. Rather, they are judged by the Lord according to the understanding they do have (35).
But how or why would someone be ignorant of the will of God? Smith answers that the King James Bible does not translate the word that means immerse as such. Instead, that translation consistently uses the much more pliable word baptize. Paedo-baptists have been taught by their revered teachers that their sprinkling as infants matches that meaning of baptize. These people, Smith suggests, are stuck in Babylon. They might not make it out of Babylon as soon as one would like. Human nature being what it is, who would expect that they would? Not to mention that those who have been immersed as believers most assuredly have their own set misunderstandings.
But what about the Baptists, asks Smith? They would likely say, "If we take the position of 'Timothy,' how will we ever convince a Paedo-baptist that there is something defective about his understanding? We must exclude him until he learns what is true, agrees with the doctrine and follows it.
Smith rejects such thinking and its practical approach because, he says, the excluded Paedo-baptist will not feel challenged by rejection. Rather, he will feel disrespected. He will conclude that those who deny him the Supper must not recognize his true piety and Christian character. In other words, the United Baptist approach is bound to backfire. On the other hand, if a Paedo-baptist is received as a brother at the Lord's table, then
he feels the cords of Christian affection binding him to you; he has confidence in you, and therefore every avenue to his mind is open to you; and thus you pave the way to his conversion to the truth (37).Four Observations
For me, this series written by Thomas Smith provokes at least four observations.
First, although judging from its title this series might seem to be primarily about the "Lord's Supper," in fact it has everything to do with that other phrase: "Christian Communion." Here, those words clearly refer to what is sometimes called "fellowship." Smith's leading question, "Who have a divine right to partake of the Lord's Supper?" does not address typical questions like frequency of the Lord's Supper, the meaning of the ordinance, etc. Much more broadly, Smith is asking, Who is a Christian? The practical concern is the issue of how a church's quiet observance of the Lord's Supper loudly responds to that question. What does the church's practice imply about what identifies a true Christian?
Second, the central question in Smith's series is two-sided. That is, it not only asks about the Christian identity of individuals, more to the point it asks about the character of the movement of which Smith is a part. He seeks to raise and respond to the question, Will we "Christians" (or "Disciples" or "Reformers") practice open or closed communion, or will we take a third alternative? That is to say, the series is not so much about the Christian identity of individuals. Rather, it deals with the Christian identity of the "Christians."
Third, Smith's rejection of both open and closed communion indicates that the practice in many, likely most, of today's Restoration churches regarding the Lord's Supper reaches all the way back to the very first generation of the movement. Many restorationists today have heard and repeated statements like, "It is not our supper, it is the Lord's Supper" and "We neither invite nor debar." Such mottoes do not fully explain the rationale behind the custom to which they point. Such is the nature of mottoes. Yet, these words do express and emphasize an approach to the Lord's Supper that is consistent with the goal of being Christians only, while never claiming to be the only Christians.
In my own experience growing up among the acappella Churches of Christ, though we did not repeat the mottoes I have quoted here, we essentially followed them. In the congregations of my youth, it was understood that the Lord's Supper was for baptized believers. It was also understood to be a duty and a blessing for Christians to partake. Yet, no one was especially welcomed or discouraged to participate. Individuals made the decision for themselves.
Fourth, it appears that one reason why the Stone and Campbell movements were able to converge sometime around the early 1830s is that they took the same view of Christian identity, the same view of communion or fellowship in the broadest meaning of those words.
Famously, in the pages of the 1837 The Millennial Harbinger, Alexander Campbell replied to "a conscientious sister" who wrote from Lunenburg, Virginia. A brief quote from letter reveals the essential question: "Does the name of Christ or Christian belong to any but those who believe the gospel, repent, and are buried by baptism into the death of Christ?"
In his reply, Campbell wrote:
But who is a Christian? I answer, Every one that believes in his heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God; repents of his sins, and obeys him in all things according to this measure of knowledge of his will.Later, and reminiscent of Thomas Smith's statements from nearly a decade before in The Christian Messenger, Campbell made the following comparison:
Should I find a Pedobaptist more intelligent in the Christian Scriptures, more spiritually-minded and more devoted to the Lord than a Baptist, or one immersed on a profession of the ancient faith, I could not hesitate a moment in giving the preference of my heart to him that loveth much. Did I act otherwise I would be a pure sectarian, a Pharisee among Christians.Notes
 Lester G. McAllister and William E. Tucker, Journey in Faith: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1975), pp. 151-52. The full discussion of attempts to unite the "Disciples" and "Christians" appears on pp. 146-55.
 Along this line, the eminent historian G. W. Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), points out that Christianity of the second to fourth centuries invented the words martyr and martyrdom, and that these words uniquely belong to the early church. For a good overview of this period, see Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (New York: Viking Press, 2009), ch. 5. MacCulloch offers a fine description of how, to the Romans, the boldness of the early Christians seemed like a provocation, how their aloofness created suspicion, and how their distinctive use of political language represented an affront to imperial authority. The Christians worshiped none of the traditional gods. Were they atheists? In their assemblies, it was rumored, they ate flesh and drank blood. Were they cannibals? Suspicion and resentment sometimes resulted in the martyrdom of Christians, terrible ordeals that generated for the church more and more heroes. One can only wonder why MacCulloch ignores one of the earliest and most-interesting episodes in the history of Rome's various encounters with early Christianity: the conflict over the Cult of the Emperor in the province of Asia during the reign of Domitian, the unmistakable back story of the New Testament's Book of Revelation.
 For the initial exchange between the lady from Lunenburg and Campbell, see The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, Vol. 1 (1837), 411-14.