As my notes on the relationship between baptism and the Lord’s Supper have created some small measure of discussion (both publicly and privately), I thought I would add these thoughts which were occasioned by a few questions from a dear friend. Keep in mind that the notes posted previously were a rough sketch from a message preached at the church I pastor which is a Southern Baptist church that affirms the Baptist Faith and Message (2000). I agree with article VII of the BFM which states that baptism “is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper,” but I am not making policy for anyone else. Each local church must decide what they do about this issue. If, however, your church has adopted the Baptist Faith and Message (either 1925, 1963, or 2000), you should conform your practice accordingly or amend your Statement of Faith to reflect your beliefs through the process given in your church’s constitution. Now, for my clarifications:
Baptism, like everything else, is an interpretation issue. Granted some things are clearer in Scripture than others. The difference between the issue of baptism and other areas (either more or less clear) is that local churches must decide what they believe about baptism. They are either going to sprinkle babies or immerse believers (of course a combination is possible too, but rare among Baptist churches both historically and presently). If we believe that the Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance, and as a church we have stated a belief that baptism is the immersion of a believer and is commanded by Christ, then we have already made a decision on this issue in my opinion.
Every church believes that only baptized people can partake of communion (Catholics, Presbyterians, etc.), Baptist’s only differ in their understanding of the nature of baptism (by immersion of a believer). Baptists believe that believer’s baptism by immersion is the only real baptism because of the meaning of term baptizo, the New Testament examples of believers being immersed, and the absence of any biblical examples of or commands to baptize infants or use the modes of sprinkling or affusion). Since as a local church we’ve had to make an interpretative decision about the nature of baptism and the qualified recipients, we cannot have the church ordinance of the Lord’s Supper with unbaptized (or unbiblically baptized) persons.
This, however, does not (for me, though it does for some) preclude me from being able to have gospel fellowship with a paedo-baptist. They can’t join my church or take the Lord’s Supper, but I don’t think they’re going to hell. We have a different interpretation of baptism, just like we might on eschatology or any number of issues. The difference is that we don’t have to make decisions on every interpretive issue in the constitution of a church. We do on the definition of baptism. Thus, the necessity of limiting the Lord’s Supper and church membership to believers who have been baptized as we believe is biblical (like every other church).
I don’t think a church is in unrepentant sin if it allows evangelical paedo-baptists to come to the Lord’s Table. I think it is inconsistent if the church says that it believes that baptism of a believer by immersion is biblical, and if it doesn’t allow paedo-baptists as members. Nevertheless, a local church has the right to constitute and govern itself as it believes best.
Again, please keep in mind, that my message was not aimed at Presbyterians (though there are obvious implications). I was preaching in the context of a local church where someone had just been baptized that day and was receiving the Lord’s Supper for the first time and at which others may have been present who had not been baptized in any manner or at any time. It was my attempt at an explanation of the biblical rational for saying that the Lord’s Supper is only for those who have been baptized as believers. You may disagree with the reasons, but it is not out of mere tradition or legalism that Baptists have historically held to this position.