Baptists observe two, and only two, church ordinances. These are, of course, baptism, which we call the initial ordinance, and the Lord’s Supper, the recurrent ordinance. The Roman Catholic church observes seven ordinances or sacraments “on the assumption that nothing is holy or good except as it is made so by the ‘Holy Church.’” The Quakers, occupying the other extreme, have no ordinances, since they have no external symbols. Historically, Baptists stand in the opposite position from the Catholics on the matter ofthe ordinances. All other denominations fall in between – some closer to the Catholics, some closer to the Baptists.
Basically, the Baptist view is that the ordinances, both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are magnificent memorials of gospel truth, while, on the other hand, the Catholic viewpoint is that of sacerdotalism or sacramentarianism, which simply means that, in one way or another, the ordinances bestow or confer saving grace. The difference here is as vast as that which separates the poles.
As those who have consistently held that salvation is in Christ alone and that it is appropriated by grace through faith, we note with alarm a present-day drift toward sacramentarianism, and reaffirm in love that the ordinances are witnesses of the saving gospel and that the only grace they bestow is that which always comes in obedience to the commands of Christ.
How simple, how commonplace, how unpretentious these memorials, so characteristic are they of the simplicity of New Testament Christianity! Yet how beautiful, how effective, how sublime when properlyobserved–the immersion of a new-born Christian in water “as a sign of his fellowship with the death andresurrection of Christ, of remission of sins, and of his giving himself up to God to live and walk in newness of life,” the eating of bread and drinking of the cup in commemoration of the Saviour’s sacrifice, in confession of our present dependence upon Him, the Living Bread, and in contemplation of a finished redemption in his triumphant return to the earth.
It has been pointed out that the ordinance of baptism has been almost the trade-mark of Baptists through the centuries. Our Baptist forbears in all the centuries and in all countries and by whatever names they may have been called have borne unwavering testimony to these two things – the right way of salvation and the right way of baptism. Yet this emphasis on baptism, so characteristic of the people called Baptists, does not center on the importance of baptism as a means of redemption, but, rather, on another emphasis of ours, the Lordship of Christ and the finality of the authority of the Bible.
Christ, our Lord, instituted the ordinance of baptism and commanded its observance by his followers. He himself was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan. Though he did not personally administer the ordinance during his earthly ministry, he did baptize through the instrumentality of the apostles. In the Great Commission he specifically charged his church to make disciples, to baptize them in the name of the triune God, and to teach the observance of all the divine commands. On the day of Pentecost and afterward this commission was carried out exactly as the Lord had given it.
It is not necessary to consider baptism as an instrument of saving grace in order to make it obligatory on believers. Baptism is not essential to salvation, but it is essential to obedience and a life that pleases and honors the Lord. It is essential but only because no obedient Christian can begin his obedience by ignoring the plain instruction of his Lord.
Immersion in water, and immersion only and always, is the mode of New Testament baptism. Of this there can be absolutely no doubt if one will only come to the Scriptures with an open mind and heart.
The word baptize itself is the Greek word baptidzo simply transliterated into English. This word means only one thing, and that is to dip or plunge into water. If modern English versions of the Bible only dared to translate the Greek word baptidzo, they would all use the word immerse and thus settle what remains of the controversy about baptism. Every passage in the New Testament, where the word baptize occurs, either requires or permits the meaning immerse.
The baptisms which are described in the New Testament were obviously by immersion. For example, itis specifically stated in the third chapter of Matthew and the first chapter of Mark that John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, and that after his baptism Jesus “came up out of the water.” Meaningless language, and strange behavior on the part of both administrator and candidate, if John baptized Jesus by either sprinkling or pouring! The case of the eunuch as recorded in the eighth chapter of Acts is just as explicit. When the Ethiopian had professed his faith in Christ and sufficient baptismal water had been located, “he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, and the eunuch saw him no more, for he went on his way rejoicing” (vv 36-29). It would be foolish to suggest that anything but immersion took place on this occasion.
What is more, immersion and only immersion, preserves the symbolism of baptism. According to the Apostle Paul in Romans 6:3-4, baptism is to be regarded as a symbol of burial and resurrection, of Christ’s own death, burial and resurrection for our justification and of the believer’s identification with the death and resurrection of Christ. Only by burying the believer in the watery grave of baptism and raising him again from this watery grave can one possibly carry out the figure of burial and resurrection. So long as the New Testament affirms that we are “buried with Christ by baptism into death” and “raised up” with him to walk in newness of life so long shall we contend that nothing but immersion is scripturalbaptism. Today it is quite popular to say that even though the New Testament may clearly teach immersion, the mode in itself is of little significance, and may well be left to convenience or custom or to the choice of the individual. No such argument can ever justify an individual in disobeying a plain command of Christ or in breaking or in any wise marring the symbolism of one of his ordinances.
The Proper Subjects
As to the proper subjects of baptism, the New Testament makes it plain that none should be baptized but those who have first believed in Christ as Saviour. In their insistence upon the baptism of believers only, Baptists differ from practically all other Christian groups. But this is a vital point with us. Baptism is not intended to save from sin, and has no such power. In a somewhat difficult passage, Peter affirms that baptism is “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towardGod,” and that only in a figure does it have saving power. It is the blood that cleanses from sin; at best, baptism can only pictorially present that which is accomplished within the heart in regeneration. “Baptism is pictorial, but not pivotal in salvation.” In Mark 16:16, another controverted passage, baptism is not indispensable else it would be stated both positively and negatively. Faith is indispensable, and is therefore stated positively and negatively. Baptism is not indispensable in salvation else Paul would never have said, “Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel” (I Corinthians 1:17).
Baptists do not believe in baptizing infants, since they are incapable of personal faith in Christ. We donot believe in proxy baptism, for baptism is an act of obedience by which the believer himself confesses his faith in Christ and bears witness to his own conversion. The Scripture is clear that only those are to be baptized who have previously been made disciples. That is the unwavering order of the Great Commission and of New Testament practice. First, make disciples, then baptize them – that is the Baptist way because it is the Bible way.
A Church Ordinance
Baptism, I firmly believe, is a church ordinance, and should be administered only by church approval and by a duly authorized administrator. Unquestionably the commission was given to those who comprised the nucleus of the church that Jesus built, and one of the provisions of this commission was the authority to baptize. For this reason when one presents himself for church membership on a profession of faith in Christ, the church itself approves of his conversion and authorizes the pastor or someone else to baptize him. Baptism thus becomes the door into the membership and fellowship of the church.
By the very nature of the case, the problem of alien immersion as we encounter it today was nonexistent in New Testament days. Only churches of like faith and order were then administering baptism, for the widespread deviations and divisions with which we are troubled in the twentieth century had not yet developed. Nevertheless, there are principles laid down in the New Testament which, if adhered to, will guide us aright in the present confusion.
To whom was the commission given? Evidently, to the church. Is there no unique way in which our Baptist churches of today are the spiritual successors of New Testament churches? I am convinced there is. Though I do not contend that we can dangle the chains of an uninterrupted mechanical succession back to Jerusalem and the Jordan, I am ready to claim through the Anabaptists and Waldenses and Novatians and others like them a very definite and special kinship with the churches of the New Testament. I would go further than those who say that our Baptist churches are closer to the New Testament norm than any others. I believe that in a distinctive way the pattern of the New Testament church is preserved in the Baptist churches that dot the globe today.
Hence, it is not difficult for me to believe that these New Testament churches are charged with the responsibility of administering the ordinance of baptism, and out of loyalty to principle must administer it to those who come publicly confessing Christ and identifying themselves with the congregation or community of believers. Baptism is not a purely individual act. It is a community affair. Where the community of Christians is concerned, there is a community or church responsibility with reference to the administration of the ordinance. I personally do not believe that the true purpose or function of baptism can be preserved by recognizing the baptism of those who do not themselves submit to the ordinance as set forth in the New Testament.
Have not Baptists some distinctive witness to bear to the world? Do we not forfeit such a claim and lay ourselves liable to all kinds of inconsistencies and irregularities if we receive baptism administered by those groups which, at least in certain respects, are at variance with New Testament teaching and practice? Is there not but a short, treacherous step from alien immersion to open membership with its brood of evils? Does it not take more than immersion to make baptism, and if we accept one form of irregular immersion are we not on the way to receiving all forms and types of such immersion, however objectionable they may be?
In my humble judgment, there is but one safe and wise course for us Baptists, and that is to do our own baptizing.
While we insist upon immersion and believers’ baptism and baptism by the authority of the church, let us not forget the inner, spiritual significance of baptism. We do well to ask ourselves repeatedly, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” Are we living the life that is identified with Christ in death and resurrection? If we have put on the uniform of a Christian, are we wearing it with credit and honor?
THE LORD’S SUPPER
In an Old Testament passage, which has to do with the observance of the Passover by the Jews, this significant question is asked, “What mean ye by this service?” (Exodus 12:21-27). The question is pertinent and pivotal in a discussion of the Memorial Supper. “What mean ye by this service?” God grant that as Baptists we shall always be able to give the right answer.
There are at least three conflicting views with reference to the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.
One is the Roman Catholic theory known as transubstantiation. According to this view, when the priest consecrates the bread and wine, they cease to be bread and wine, although they continue to have the appearance and apparent qualities of mere bread and wine, and are converted into the substance of the flesh and blood of Christ. Consequently, those who partake of the consecrated bread and wine are actually eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ.
Then there is the Lutheran theory, known as consubstantiation. This theory denies that the elements are changed into the body and blood of Christ, but affirms that in some unique way Christ is present in the substance of bread and wine. It is noteworthy that Luther, the originator of the viewpoint, insisted on a literal interpretation of the words this is my body and this is my blood, and would never allow that thiswas symbolic or figurative language – another indication that the Reformers did not go far enough in their return to New Testament Christianity.
Over against these theories, we as Baptists would set the view that the Supper is entirely symbolic in its significance. According to our interpretation of the New Testament, the bread is no more than a symbol of the body of Christ, and likewise the wine a symbol of his precious blood. The Lord’s Supper commemorates Christ’s death as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. This view does not deny the spiritual omnipresence of Christ, but it does deny that Christ is present in the bread and wine of the supper any more than he is present in any other material substance. Indeed, the spiritual omnipresence of Christ as expressed in his glorious promise, “Lo, I am with you alway,” is a presence that cannot be conveyed or expressed in any material substance. The bread and wine of the Supper do not contain or convey Christ’s spiritual presence: they only symbolize or picture it so that it may be real to the mind and thus strengthen faith.
In such a symbolical sense we interpret the words of Jesus when he said, according to the Gospels andthe writings of Paul, “This is my body, which is broken for you,” and again, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” The elements of the Supper are but symbols used to aid us in fixing our minds and hearts upon the wondrous death of Christ our God.
Someone has said, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any time.” Every time we gather together as a church around the Lord’s table do we not both hear and preach a sermon? In the breaking of the bread,and drinking of the cup, are we not reminded that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begottenSon,” and as we observe this ordinance do we not gratefully proclaim that “whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life”? The Lord’s table is a “talking table.” It says in trumpet tones, “This is my body, which was broken for you” and “This is my blood, which was shed for the remission of sins,” and adds “as oft as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” The table of the Lord points in three directions. It looks back to Calvary where the sacrifice for sin was forever made; it looks within to our present acceptance of and participation in the saving work of Christ; it looks forward to His glorious coming and to the endless fellowship of the heavenly kingdom.
In the Lord’s Supper there is a thrilling retrospect. “Christ died for us.” There is also a great introspection. “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me.” Then there is a challenging prospect. Christ who died and arose from the dead and returned to heaven is coming again.
We must come to the question, To whom did our Lord give the supper? For whom did He intend it? Hecertainly gave it to somebody and made somebody responsible for its perpetual observance. Did He give it to His enemies? To ask such a question is to answer it. Our Lord gave the Supper to His disciples, and not to the world. There is no disagreement among Christian people at this point. Then, at least in this particular, the invitation to come to the Lord’s Table is restricted, and Baptists are by no means the only people who believe in restricted communion. I do not hesitate to say that it is positively illogical as well as unscriptural that so much criticism should be leveled at us as Baptists because of our views on so-called close communion.
Really, the expressions open communion and close communion are misnomers. The Lord’s Supper is not a communion in the sense ordinarily suggested by such usage. Besides, the terms open and close do not accurately state the case as it is the New Testament or in actual practice. Undoubtedly, if this matter could be approached logically and scripturally and not sentimentally and superficially, there would not beone-tenth the confusion and controversy with regard to it.
The first prerequisite in coming to the Lord’s table is that one must have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Can anybody question that? Jesus gave the Supper to His disciples and not to the world. Cf. Acts
Then the Scriptures teach that baptism is prerequisite to the Supper. The New Testament order is clearly set forth in Acts 2:41-42. These people at Pentecost were first converted, then they were baptized, and then, and only then, did they participate in the breaking of bread. There is practically no disagreement among evangelicals on this point.
What then is the issue between our Baptist people and others concerning this ordinance?
The issue mainly gathers about the ordinance of baptism. What then is baptism? Who are the scripturally baptized? With Baptists, immersion alone is baptism, and only the immersion of those who have already been saved by faith in Christ. With them, nothing else can be Scriptural baptism.
Dr. W. R. White in BAPTIST DISTINCTIVES asks these pertinent questions: “Are we to say that our contention for believer’s baptism is a matter of indifference? Are we to say that our rejection of baptismal regeneration is of no consequence? Shall we say that all of these contradictory practices are valid while the Lord’s Supper is being observed but that they are wrong at other times?” To be consistent must we not say that it is “one baptism” and one Memorial Supper? The crux of the matter is right here. Is the Lord’s Supper for the baptized? Who are the baptized?
But there is this other thing to remember. Not only did Jesus give His Supper to His disciples, who had previously been baptized, but He gave it to the baptized disciples in their organized capacity; that isto say, he gave the Supper to His church. Not to individual Christians as such, not to the clergy as distinguished from the laity, but to those believing and baptized followers of His who composed the nucleus of the first New Testament church did Jesus, the lord of the church, give the Memorial Supper as well as the ordinance of baptism. Therefore, a third prerequisite to this table is orderly church membership.
Manifestly, the Lord’s table is inside and not outside the church. The church, and not the individual, is charged with the responsibility of its perpetuation and proper observance. If this be not so, and the individual is the sole judge of the qualifications of those who come to the Lord’s table, then all restrictions are removed, and there is no way to keep any man, be he blasphemer or profligate, from participation at the Lord’s table. Now since the Supper is an ordinance of the church, it must inevitably follow that whatever would debar a man from the church must also debar him from the Lord’s table in the church.
Writing to the Corinthians, Paul repeatedly emphasizes that the observance of this ordinance is not anindividual act, but the joint act of the church. Note his language. “When ye come together in the church- when ye come together therefore into one place- when ye come together to eat (i.e., to observe the Lord’s Supper), tarry one for another” (I Corinthians 11:18-20,33). Not individually, therefore, but in her collective capacity, is the church to observe the Memorial Supper. Incidentally, that is reason enough for our declining to carry these emblems out into the homes of our people and to hospital rooms to the sick and dying.
Our position, then, is that the Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance and not an individual matter, and that as Baptists we cannot consistently invite to the Lord’s Table those who we would be unwilling to admit to church membership. As Dr. W. T. Conner has said, “Any departure from New Testament principles in church polity or other doctrinal beliefs that would make one ineligible for church membership makes him also ineligible for the Lord’s Supper.”
We cannot consistently admit one to the Lord’s Supper, and then deny him the other privileges of church membership. This does not mean that we do not regard as Christians members of other religious groups who believe on Christ as Saviour; but it does mean that we regard them as being at variance with certain New Testament principles, and therefore cannot admit them to church fellowship. And since the Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance, one of the most sacred of the privileges of church membership, no one should be admitted to this ordinance who could not be admitted to church membership.
If we will only remember that the purpose of this Memorial Meal is to “show forth the Lord’s death until he come” and thus keep it in its proper perspective, and firmly resolve that around this sacred table all fair visions of loved ones and friends will be displaced by the glorious vision of Jesus- of JESUS ONLY- then much of our difficulty with reference to so-called close communion will be readily dissolved.
In the baptismal waters and with the church family at the Lord’s Table we recognize and declare that when Jesus died He died for us, and that through His death, burial and resurrection we have the ablution of all our sins, and in the soul-stirring words of P. P. Bliss we thank and praise Him as our glorious Substitute and Redeemer.