I appreciate the Baptist Faith and Message as a general and systematic declaration of our faith, and I agree with the majority of what it states—that’s part of the reason why I am, have been, and plan to continue to be Southern Baptist. There is one aspect, however, that I and the church I pastor differ with—their statement on baptism in relationship to 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.
In general, I agree with the theological heart of this statement. Baptism is immersion and an act of obedience symbolizing a person’s faith and new life in Jesus. Over and over the Bible presents baptism as the first step in the life of a disciple—the Bible, frankly, does not leave much room for a non-baptized Christian. Therefore baptism is a general prerequisite to the other activities of our Christian faith.
Yet, if we practice the letter of the BF&M in regards to this statement, we must exclude any non-baptistic believers from joining us in the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper, and this is not a position I can hold.
To use Dave Miller’s language of brick walls and picket fences, most believers would view the specific practices of baptism as a picket fence. We can look at our paedobaptist friends and say, “Brothers, you have this baptism thing all wrong,” yet still embrace them as fellow followers of Jesus.
I believe those who practice paedobaptism fail to grasp the distinctions between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Certainly they are right to point to a continuity between circumcision and baptism as marks of the covenant, as Paul does this very thing in Colossians 2. They fail to realize, however, the more limited nature of the New Covenant as being with those who have God’s Law written on their hearts, who know the Lord, and who have their sins forever forgiven—in other words, how the New Covenant is solely with those who are regenerated and faithful believers.
Likewise, those who practice baptism by means other than immersion fail to display the reality Paul describes in Romans 6 of how our baptism is a sign of our union with Christ in his death and resurrection. For all intents and purposes, when Jesus was placed into the tomb he was immersed into the ground. When Jesus walked out of the tomb, he came out of the ground. The only “mode” of baptism that captures the effect is immersion into and emersion out of the water.
Yet even though I believe such non-baptistic types to be wrong in their understanding and practice of baptism, in the matter of their conscious and understanding (since they do have their reasons) they see themselves as baptized and practicing baptism. So, while by necessity of practice, we must belong to different local churches, is a difference in the understanding of baptism enough to warrant their exclusion from the “Lord’s Table” when they visit my church, especially when they do view themselves as properly baptized?
I think not.
The proclamation of the Gospel in the Lord’s Supper is the center piece of church worship (1 Corinthians 11). It is a meal of remembrance for Jesus’ sacrifice that brought us forgiveness from sins. As such it is solely a meal for disciples. And as much as it is a meal looking backwards to the cross, it is also a meal looking forwards to Jesus’ return. Jesus told his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me” and he told them he would neither eat again of the bread or drink again of the cup until he eats and drinks it new with them at the consummation of his kingdom (Luke 22:14-23, et al.). This points to the great marriage supper of the Lamb John briefly describes in Revelation 19.
For me and my church, then, the question when fencing the table is not: “Have you been properly baptized according to my understanding?” But rather: “Will we be eating the supper together at the coming of Jesus?”
Therefore our communion is open to all who profess to be followers and disciples of Christ.
As a concluding note: this does not mean the openness of our communion is without bounds. The table is still fenced according to particular standards:
- You must be a disciple who follows Jesus in faith and repentance—as stated above, it is a meal for believers alone.
- You must be a faithful and active member in a truly Gospel-centered church. In other words, even if it is just a basic understanding, you must have a proper understanding of the Gospel and Jesus. This involves being a part of a church. First Corinthians 11 places an emphasis upon “discerning the body” in reference to properly partaking of the bread and cup. You must see the Supper through a selfless lens that understands self-sacrifice and the corporate nature of church. If you have actively removed yourself from fellowship except on rare occasions, then you need to seriously question your understanding of the Gospel and have no reason to partake in a corporate Supper.
- You must be in good standing with your church. If you are under discipline at or have been disfellowshiped from your church, then you have no business to partake in the Supper with mine before a process of repentance and restoration.