Further Clarification Upon the Relationship Between Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

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.

3 comments

  1. Thank you for a good explanation. Most churches today are like social clubs with out clear guidelines. The SBC has always had clear guidelines, but I imagine that 99.999% of its church members have never read the Faith and Message. For a church to have standards that are Bibilical, it behooves those who wish to join that local body to know what it believes. Good to see you back on target with your emails….Blessings in Christ Our Lord………..James

  2. 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.

    Steve, I’m a little confused about these two sentences. Are you trying to say that IF a church welcomes Paedo-baptists to come to the Lord’s Table then they should equally welcome them into membership without baptism by immersion?

    If all we are looking for is consistency, then we have committed fault of which Emerson warned.

    1. Hi Bill. Thanks for your comment. I am striving for consistency. I’m not sure what Emerson said, but I prefer consistency to inconsistency.

      I am saying what you suggest I’m saying. I.E., “if a church welcomes Paedo-baptists to come to the Lord’s Table then they should equally welcome them into membership without baptism by immersion.” If the Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance, and only baptized believers are to partake, and baptism is defined as the immersion of believers, then those not baptized accordingly should not be invited to the Lord’s Table. Otherwise, I think you should define baptism as either sprinkling of covenant children or immersion of a believer and let this be your criteria for the Lord’s Supper and church membership. Bunyan, who open communionists today look to as a model, had open membership and therefore open communion. Whether right or wrong, He was consistent with his beliefs.

      I want to nuance what I said above by saying that I understand that there are other core convictions that may cause one to be consistent in their practice of open communion, such as a belief that the Lord’s Supper is a unifying ordinance for all believers, and Christians should not be made to disobey one command, just because they haven’t been properly baptized, etc. Someone may be overall consistent with their own beliefs in their practice of open communion. My commitments, however, are as stated in the post and I view them as biblical, as well as consistent with each other and with the historic Baptist position.

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