VII. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.
Matthew 3:13-17; 26:26-30; 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; 14:22-26; Luke 3:21-22; 22:19-20; John 3:23; Acts 2:41-42; 8:35-39; 16:30-33; 20:7; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:16,21; 11:23-29; Colossians 2:12. (Verses conspicuously missing from the list: The baptism of Saul in Acts 9; the baptism of Lydia in Acts 16:13-15; the baptism of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:25-33)
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two ordinances instituted by Christ, and belonging to Him. They both have a rich meaning and significance, but so much controversy and misunderstanding has swirled around them. In many instances one or both of these two ordinances are what define a denomination. We as Baptists are a prime example. After all, we are Baptists. We wouldn’t be called Baptists if there wasn’t something very distinctive about baptism that we hold near and dear to our identity. That distinctive is that we believe that baptism is for believers only. During the time of the Puritans in the early 17th century in England there emerged a body of believers, who after careful study, came to the conclusion that nowhere in Scripture was infant baptism taught. Thus emerged the Baptists, of whom we as Southern Baptists draw our direct heritage from.
One of the first notes of distinction that needs to be mentioned in regard to Article 7: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is that we call them ordinances. In some other churches we hear them referred to as sacraments. What is the difference? Does it really matter? Well, it does matter, because how we label these two activities determine the significance of the practices. When referred to as an ordinance, which simply put, is a command, and that is exactly what Jesus did. He commanded first that we should “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Later, after His resurrection, just before Jesus returned to the Father, He commanded us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
When referred to as sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper take on a role that is greater than Baptists are willing to allow. A sacrament, strictly speaking, is considered a means of dispensing grace. Through a sacrament something is actually being received or changed. The extreme example here is in the Roman Catholic church, where an infant is baptized into the church, initially washing away the original sin inherited in Adam. Baptist do not believe that baptism has any meritorious value what so ever. It is the same with the Lord’s Supper. The taking of the Holy Communion, as Roman Catholics call it, takes away sin for the participant, by offering up Christ as a sacrifice to the Father for those sins. Again, Baptist do not hold to this, seeing the re-crucifying of Christ at each mass as an abominable act (Romans 6:10, Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:10). Now for the many Protestant denominations who use the term sacrament, these radical descriptions come nowhere close to what they believe. Suffice it to say Baptists do not believe that either of the ordinances do anything.
So why do Baptists baptize by immersion? Why is sprinkling not enough? There are several reasons. First, the word itself is pulled directly from the Greek word baptidzo which means to immerse. Note at the baptism of our Lord, that John was doing it in the Jordan, and that Mark describes the end of the baptism as Jesus came up out of the water (Mark 1:9, 10). Baptism clearly involves more than just a few drops of water. Secondly, immersion more adequately and fully portrays the symbolism of baptism. Going down into the water signifies going into the grave. Christ died and went into a grave, and with Him we have died to our old life. Christ arose from the grave to live again, and with Him and in Him we too have been raised to newness of life (Romans 6:3-5, Colossians 2:12). Article 7 has this same kind of wording built into it, as you will notice.
Why is baptism for believers only? Why do we not baptize infants? The answers are simple. To answer the first question, Christ only commands those who have believed (become disciples) to be baptized (Matthew 28:1-20). Lydia was baptized immediately after she believed (Acts 16:13-15), and the Philippian jailer did likewise (Acts 16:31-33). To answer the second question, we can find no better response than that given in Keach’s Catechism: Q. 102. Are the infants of such as are professing believers to be baptized? A. The infants of such as are professing believers are not to be baptized; because there is neither command nor example in the Holy Scriptures, or certain consequence from them, to baptize such. Nowhere in Scripture is the practice of infant baptism shown to have happened, nor is it commanded anywhere in Scripture. Even in the two passages in Acts above where the household was also baptized, it is clearly in the context of conversion. One has to go beyond what Scripture states to assume that there were infants in those households.
What is baptism? Does it save the recipient? We have already stated that baptism is only for those who have already believed. The rock-solid declaration of salvation by grace alone, as lined out by Paul in Ephesians 2:8,9, does two things. First, he proclaims what salvation is: a gracious gift of God through placing our faith in Christ. Secondly, Paul makes sure we know what salvation is not, by stating that is not of works. Baptism is a work, something you do, or rather, have done to you. By definition baptism cannot have anything to do with salvation. So what is the significance of baptism? Baptism is one of, if not the very first act of obedience to Christ. Baptism openly identifies the new believer as a follower of Christ. It shows that the new believer is willing to follow, to obey Christ. Baptism expresses the new believer’s faith in a number of vital truths central to the Christianity:
- the triune nature of God
- sins having been washed away, cleansing by the blood of Christ
- being united with Christ in His death & resurrection
- Through Christ God has given you new life, now, and in the world to come at His return.
What about those passages in Scripture that seem to say that baptism is a part of salvation (Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, John 3:5, Romans 6:3-5)? A principle of Bible interpretation called the Analogy of Scripture is helpful here. The Analogy of Scripture, simply put, states that we interpret Scripture with Scripture. If there appears to be contradiction between scripture, the more-clear passage interprets the ambiguous passage. To take this principle a step further, the didactic or teaching passages, such as found in the epistles, are to take precedence over the historical narratives of the Gospels and Acts.
The last sentence on baptism marks an addition to, not the 1963 version, but the 1925 version of the Baptist Faith and Message, in which the phraseBeing a church ordinance“, and also the word “membership” are added. Take a look at the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message:
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The act is a symbol of our faith in a crucified, buried and risen Saviour. It is prerequisite to the privileges of a church relation and to the Lord’s Supper, in which the members of the church, by the use of bread and wine, commemorate the dying love of Christ.
Have you ever heard the term alien immersion? No, it is not baptism by an extra terrestrial. Alien immersion is baptism by anyone other than a Baptist minister in a Baptist church at a duly scheduled
business meeting, I mean, church service. An interesting example of this very thing occurred at the Southern Baptist Convention this year (and in years past, I am told). Numerous new believers from all over the country came with their pastors to be baptized at the convention. So that there would be no misunderstandings, this little asterisk was included in each bulletin: *Because baptism is an ordinance of the church, all baptisms will be conducted with full approval and support of a sponsoring home church, with members of each present to witness. Interesting, isn’t it?
The problem with this goes by a term called Landmarkism. Landmarkism states, basically, that Baptists constitute the only true Church, and baptism in any other church is no valid baptism. Also connected with this is the notion that baptism is membership. That is why many Southern Baptist vote to accept someone’s profession, and to have them baptized. Have you ever noticed that there is never a subsequent vote to accept them as members. A fundamental problem with Landmarkism is the making of essentials out of nonessentials, thus narrowing the fellowship and cooperation between churches and believers. Baptism is important, and it needs to be administered in the right way, by immersion, and to only those who have professed faith in Christ. Beyond that, baptism can be administered by any other true believer, any where, and at any time. Now, I am sure that will raise a few eye brows. Certainly, the norm for baptism should be in the presence of a body of believers, a local church, but it should not be so organically connected with church membership.
Now we will turn our attention to the second paragraph of Article 7, concerning the Lord’s Supper. Much trouble can be avoided right at the start to emphasize that this is not the Church’s Supper, it is the Lord’s Supper. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ instituted it by taking a Passover meal (Exodus 12) with His disciples and giving it a new meaning. On this occasion, Jesus Himself was the sacrificial lamb. The wine represented His blood poured out unto death, and the bread represented His body broken for His people. He commands His disciples to do it in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:14-20). There are warnings in Scripture concerning taking the Lord’s supper in a light manner, or with open, unrepentant sin (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Obviously, the Lord’s Supper commemorates a very serious event, so we should treat it very seriously. How important is the Lord’s Supper? Well, it is important enough for our Lord to command us to observe it. Therefore it should not be a mere feature of worship added on at the end of a service. It should be the centerpiece of a service, as it has the Gospel as the theme of its imagery. How often should we observe the Lord’s Supper? That is a hard question that has no concrete answer. We should not do it so often that it becomes common or routine. On the other hand, we should not observe the Lord’s Supper so seldom that we are not familiar with it. Its frequency of observance will vary from church to church.
What did Jesus mean when He said “This is my body.”? The Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation takes a very literal reading of this statement, and believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ at the consecration by the priest. The Lutheran view of consubstantiation believes that Christ is present with the bread and wine. We as Baptists do not believe either of these two views. The Lord’s Supper is most commonly referred to as a symbolic memorial of Christ’s death on the cross. We use it as a tool to remind ourselves of the consequences of sin, and the great price that was paid to redeem us from sin and misery. There is an added element that is far too often missing in Lord’s Supper observances. In reaction to the errors of the Roman Catholic and Lutheran views, we fail to emphasize that in a very real sense Jesus is present.
What is open and closed communion? Open communion is the policy that any baptized believer can participate in a Lord’s Supper observance. Closed refers to the policy that some churches have, which limits participation to members only. This is just another symptom of Landmarkism mentioned earlier in this lesson. One of Landmarkism’s main tenets is that the Baptist church is the one, true church. All others contain errors in doctrine, and are not true churches. Placing most, if not all of their emphasis on the local church, they have forgotten the larger context of the Church catholic, or the universal Church of all times and in every place. Certainly each local church can set their own policies concerning open or closed communion, but in opting for a closed policy they minimize, if not deny the rich truth of the larger body of the faithful.
Baptist, What Do You Believe? #1 (An Introduction)
Baptist, What Do You Believe? #2 (On the Doctrine of Scripture)
Baptist, What Do You Believe? #3 (On the Doctrine of God)
Baptist, What Do You Believe? #4 (On God the Father)
Baptist, What Do You Believe? #5 (On God the Son
Baptist, What Do You Believe? #6 (On God the Holy Spirit)
Baptist, What Do You Believe? #7 (On the Doctrine of Man)
Baptist, What Do You Believe? #8 (On the Doctrine of Salvation)
Baptist, What Do You Believe? #8 (Continued) (On the Doctrine of Salvation)
Baptist, What Do You Believe? #9 (On God’s Purpose of Grace)
Baptist, What Do You Believe? #10 (On the Doctrine of The Church)