According to a recent LifeWay Research survey, over half (52%) of the 1,066 SBC pastors polled indicated that “anyone who has put faith in Christ” may participate in the Lord’s Supper at their church. This choice was in contrast to the more narrow option of “anyone baptized as a believer” which was selected by only 35% of those surveyed.
What is (or should be) surprising about this research is that Article VII of The Baptist Faith and Message states that Baptism “is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.” Of course this statement, which was adopted by the messengers at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, is not binding on any churches of the SBC. However, I would imagine that the majority of the churches polled have adopted this statement or earlier versions (1925 or 1963) all of which affirm that baptism of a believer by immersion is to precede both church membership and the reception of the Lord’s Supper.
I personally 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. But before you take the drastic step of amending your church’s confession, I urge you to consider the reason that Southern Baptists have historically included baptism as a prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper in their confessions of faith.
In short, this is an issue of submission to the lordship of Christ, since:
- Baptism is commanded by Christ.
- Baptism is to occur at the beginning of the Christian life.
- The Lord’s Supper is to be received by repentant sinners.
- You have either obeyed Christ or not in regard to your baptism.
Of course I recognize that 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.
Every church believes that only baptized people can partake of communion (Catholics, Presbyterians, etc.), Baptists only differ in their understanding of the nature of baptism (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 a local church has 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 those considered unbaptized. In other words, I think it is inconsistent for a church to allow unbaptized believers to partake of the Lord’s Supper 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.
This, however, does not 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 if they are believing the gospel. We have a different interpretation of baptism, just like we might on eschatology or any number of issues. The difference, though, is that we don’t have to make decisions on every other 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 denomination).
- “The Lord’s Supper: who should partake?” BP article containing reflections by Sing Oldham, Mark Coppenger, Paul Chitwood and John Floyd
- “It’s Really About Baptism” by Bart Barber
- In the 1680s, Kiffin was involved in a debate with John Bunyan on the issue of open or closed membership. His side of the debate was set forth in A Sober Discourse of Right to Church-Communion (PDF) published in 1681. In this work, Kiffin sets forth the case for the majority view among Baptists historically that baptism (immersion of the believer) is a prerequisite to church membership and the Lord’s Supper.