Baptism and Communion – the way I see it
I doubt if ANYONE reading this from among my eclectic group of readers, including those on my theological wavelength, will quite see Baptism and Communion as I do, but if wrong, yours is the prize!
I daresay, if we were to gather all the writings and sayings on the subject, over these past two millennia, it could fill a library. While other subjects have replaced this in recent years to divide Christians, it wasn’t so long ago talk of this subject could get Christians with strong opposing views hot under the collar but, more often than not, considering the here and now, we see a live and let live, and an agree to disagree approach but, if you really want to know what individual churches truly think, it is often not as obvious as we might wish.
Firstly, I should lay my cards on the table. I believe in believers’ baptism by immersion and while I do not see it as a falling out matter and respect Bible believing / savvy Christians who see things differently, i.e. believe in infant baptism (typically by sprinkling), my understanding is different. I believe in the importance of taking regular communion (I prefer the terms Lord’s Supper and Breaking of Bread) with fellow believers (and I much rather the elements are passed around, with the lowliest of the brothers taking a lead), regardless of their baptismal status and views, providing they are not living in wilful sin, doing so as an act of remembrance (but not transubstantiation or consubstantiation), Jesus being our example as to approach. People may be excused, despite my protestation to the contrary, thinking my views are a result of brainwashing – most of my Christian life has been with the (middle of the road) Open Brethren and much of the rest with various shades of Baptists!
Rather than get into deep theologising over the meaning and practice of Baptism and Communion, noting many differences in views among Christians, not least the way these two ordinances (authoritative orders) are viewed and implemented, I will confine my comments to six verses / passages (that are given above).
- The Great Commission is something that disciples of Jesus are required to carry out, including baptising those they help to turn into disciples.
- In the first church sermon ever preached, the listeners were invited to repent and be baptized and this was the pattern to follow whenever the gospel was preached in NT times.
- Four things the early Christians attended to regularly were prayer, word, fellowship, and the other was the breaking of bread, which typically took place in believers’ homes.
- Baptism contains rich meaning relating to the death and resurrection of Jesus, something we identify with as we transition from being outside of Christ to becoming Christ followers.
- Communion also has rich meaning, going back to the first Passover. For believers it is encapsulated in emblems of bread and wine (body and blood); and we partake in this until He comes.
- Notwithstanding differences, of which there are many, as far as true believers go, there is but one baptism, just as there is just one church, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith.
A few days ago, I bumped into the curate of the very church where I was baptised as an infant. My parents were what might be described as nominal Christians, who had me done because it was the done thing. I told the curate, my mother was touched that for a number of years after my baptism, she received a card that harked back to the occasion. Moving on to when I was aged 15, it was then that I became a Christian, under the influence of the Open Brethren, who did not believe in infant baptism. I was baptised by total immersion as a believer, aged 18, at the church I attended, and was to be an active member of until a few years ago when it closed. I was accepted into fellowship the following Sunday at the Breaking of Bread meeting, that happened every week and was deemed by most as the main service of the week and a time to focus on what Jesus accomplished when he died on the cross. When I joined a new church, it was Strict Baptist, who traditionally only allow those baptised as believers to take Communion, which in their case happened once a month and, unlike with the Brethren, was only advertised to members. This coming Sunday, we will be baptising five believers, three of which are children / youth. I say all this, not to make the point the Open Brethren and/or Strict Baptists are better than other denominations (there are aspects of both I do not agree or am comfortable with, but none are falling out matters). I do so rather to explain my journey. I have attended many communion services outside those traditions and my experience has been varied. One I would like to mention was back in the day when I was a student at London University, when friends invited me to attend a service held at All Souls, Langham Place. I remember the words of the vicar: “it doesn’t matter if you are Brazilian Baptist or Peruvian Pentecostal, but if you love the Lord, we invite you to break bread with us”. That in my view is how things ought to be.
A friend recently shared an article titled “Communion is for Everyone” which begins “The presence of God found at the communion table is for everyone. To withhold communion is to withhold God. No one is in a position with the authority to withhold communion from anyone. Catholics are divided on withholding communion for American politicians who support legal abortions in the United States. The real divide among Christians is between those who think that there shouldn’t be any rules at all, and those who wrongly believe access to God’s table can be withheld, much less withdrawn …”. I agree insofar that Communion should be for all who love the Lord despite their denominational, baptismal etc. status etc. I disagree insofar we have scriptural precedence that those continuing in wilful sin should be excommunicated (ref. 1Corinthians 5). As for the Catholic point, I cannot be anything but with the “withholding communion for American politicians who support legal abortions” camp. Just as baptism should in my view be for those who have repented of their sin and turned to Christ, the Lord’s Supper is too serious and sacred a business to allow those who are not truly and sincerely following the Lord to participate.
I think I have said what I want to say, although I daresay there is much else that can be said and, while these are my final thoughts, it does not preclude having further thoughts. Firstly, I would say to fellow Christians – get baptized! If you really think what was done for you as an infant then while I may see things differently, I am not going to argue. Secondly, I would say break bread with fellow believers. While I would rather it be weekly, monthly is better than not at all. Also, while we are conditioned to think it should be in church, officiated by an ordained minister, I see no reason why any gathering of believers cannot break bread together, with or without a minister. Thirdly, having observed different Christians and their peculiarities ever since I became one myself 55 years ago, and that includes approaches to these two ordinances, I say don’t let your opinions of how things should be get in the way and recognise God gave us these ordinances for a reason. Lastly, I end with a song that moved me as youngster and reflect what these ordinances are about.