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The Confusion of Participating in the Lord’s Table Prior to Baptism


Baptism and the Lord’s Table have been historically hotly debated. Actually, that might be understatement. People have died over this. Some might be surprised at the surprisingly small audience that this post concerns. I’ve been very surprised even to find not all Baptists believe the same way—or Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterians, and more for that matter!


Presbyterians baptize babies and are generally ok with sprinkling. I disagree vehemently with those practices, but rejoice that the true gospel is proclaimed in some Presbyterian churches. Ligon Duncan, a Presbyterian, said this, “I respect the principial [sic] position of Baptists on that point [that baptism must precede Communion] because they’re wanting to be biblical in their view of baptism. They have an understanding of baptism that requires it to be for adult [as in mature] professing believers only, and they understand that in order to come to the Lord’s Table you need to be baptized. So, if you haven’t received baptism, you shouldn’t come to the Lord’s Table. You shouldn’t be a part of the membership of the church.”


We wish this were true for all churches with Baptist on the sign out front, though, unfortunately it is becoming less within these past decades. Historically, this is what has made Baptists distinct from other denominations (see Andrew Fuller, William Kiffin, Benjamin Keach, etc., or any of these books from the Church Basics Series: Understanding Baptism, Understanding the Lord’s Supper, or Bauder’s book on NT polity).


I have great love and admiration for those that would immediately reply, “It doesn’t matter what Baptists say; it matters what the Bible says!” I and so many Baptists are in agreement with you. Amen, Hallelujah! That is, in fact, one of the historic Baptist distinctives: The Bible is our *sole* authority for faith and practice. Where Baptists have taught incorrectly in the past, we want to ditch those beliefs and practices and do what the Bible says.


For space purposes, I won’t go into great detail defining baptism and Lord’s Supper because those reading this who have an interest should have a grasp. (Pertinent passages for discussion: Matthew 28’s Great Commission, Romans 6, Colossians 2, Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 10-12, Acts 8 and 16, Matthew 18, 1 Peter 3:21.) One’s conclusions on this matter really come down to how baptism and the Lord’s Supper are defined. These are the passages listed on the various revised New Hampshire Confession’s in the doctrinal statements all kinds of Baptist and Baptistic-hybrid churches (whether realized by the pastors and congregants or not).


Within the past year or so, I have spoken with many, many pastors on this issue. Some of their churches stated, “Baptism is a prerequisite for church membership and participation in the Lord’s Supper,” and listed the passages above as support. And yet, they permitted unbaptized believing children and/or recently converted believers, to the table. Some were at least consistent with their practice and revised the NHBC (the history of which I have done little research on, it just happens to be used by a ton of churches I know) further to not include prerequisite terminology.


For those who have trusted in the work of Christ on the cross as regeneration for your sins, you are dear, dear brothers. I will fight for the gospel 'til the bitter end with you. I love you deeply. I will support your efforts both prayerfully and financially, and I refuse to slander you or your ministry. The comments to follow I am leaving very general. There is a very broad Baptist-in-name audience that simply does not share my position on this. So, if I’ve spoken to you about this, I don’t claim to be representing your thoughts exactly. I’m lumping similar thoughts together in a barrel, if you will.


For those who permitted, say, the unbaptized 8-year-old to the table, here is a representation of the reasoning and comments I have been given (all very well-meaning, and never slanderous in tone toward me).

 

A Biblical Response to Baptism

Baptism and Lord’s Supper are both commands of the Lord, and nowhere do we read that baptism is the “first step of obedience.”

I actually agree! The Bible never says that. But it’s sort of like telling your children, “Hey don’t touch anything guys.” The sarcastic reply, “Well dad, can I touch the AIR?” Baptists and baptistic friends of all stripes, let’s be honest, baptism is not technically the first step of obedience. God commands us to be thankful. Can a believer be thankful to Jesus for saving them before they’re baptized? I certainly hope so! This is one of those cliché phrases that has made its way into doctrinal statements mostly for good intentions. Baptists like myself would lump the doctrine of baptism under ecclesiology, that is, what we believe about the church. In defense of my friends who like “first step” in their doctrinal statements, I know what they mean. It’s the first step of obedience in regard to local church living. First Corinthians 12:13 says we are baptized into the body of Christ. That is a salvation passage, but baptism is a physical attestation to the spiritual reality of salvation. The baptism itself pictures salvation. The local church within the “painting” is what pictures the universal body of Christ in the ordinance of baptism. More on that later.


Children are saved. Saved children can worship. The Lord’s Supper is worship. Therefore, children can and should participate in the Lord’s supper.

I believe regenerate children can come to God in prayer. I believe newly-saved people can worship God with great enthusiasm. But the Lord’s table is an ordinance for the local church, not for individuals. If the Lord’s Table were an individual ordinance, you could fulfill this ordinance in the privacy of your prayer closet, but that’s not what the Lord’s Table is about. Additionally, the purpose of the Lord’s Table is not only worship.


You need to allow time for understanding. Give time for the Holy Spirit to work. If we rush baptism, we cheapen its symbolism.

Edification and sanctification both require that we not trounce upon people who are not where we perceive that they should be spiritually. Sanctification is a process of the Holy Spirit. We are made more and more into the image of Christ as we renew our minds by His grace (Rom. 12; Eph. 4; Rom. 7 and 8). With that sentiment, I rejoice in agreement! But this is not how we treat so many other sins. I haven’t touched on membership, which plays into this discussion very specifically (I don’t know any Baptists that would allow the following individuals into membership), but I don’t know a single loosely related to my circle of Baptists that would continually permit a homosexual couple, returning to a service multiple times that claims the name of Christ, holding hands for the full length of every service, to participate in the supper. “But what if they just got saved? Have a heart! Give time for the Holy Spirit to work!” Do you see the inconsistency? What about the couple who are cohabitating? Where do we draw this line of “It’s ok, they’re growing,” and disobedience and partaking of the supper in an unworthy manner? We are given many commands to speak up, to speak the truth, to point another’s fault when it doesn’t line up with God’s commands (not our own expectations; Eph. 4:15, Gal. 6:1). In fact, the church body is not capable of growing up in spiritual maturity unless the truth is spoken in love (Eph. 4:15).


The overarching principle in 1 Corinthians 11 is that the Lord wants us to partake. We should not abstain.

The issue I have with this is that it completely defeats the purpose of examination. I confess I don’t quite understand the motive or reasoning behind this position. Are we meant to understand that the reason God put the self-examination clauses in the latter portion of 1 Corinthians 11 accompanied with a potential physical death penalty (1 Cor. 11:30) is that the process should be as follows, “Yes, I see Jesus’ command to be baptized. No, I have no intention of being baptized. I confess my disobedience in this area. I will follow this by several more months of not being baptized, or I’ll think about it for a while more anyway. I will now partake of the supper because I’ve examined myself and seen my disobedience, but the Lord wants me to partake.” Really? Where do we ever see the pattern in scripture that the Lord wants us to continue in communal fellowship while we walk in disobedience? Consider 1st John, “If we walk in the light,” we have fellowship with one another. Do you know what this implies (and 1st John is actually explicit on this)? It implies that sometimes you walk in disobedience—you don’t have fellowship. You don’t have communion. There’s a reason that we call the Lord’s Table communion, because it is for the local church community.


No one is ever ultimately “worthy” to participate in the Lord’s table, baptized or not.

Yes, I share this view. The proper understanding of the worthy terminology in this passage is not one of status, but manner. I understand this, too, as saying “Don’t participate in an unworthy manner.” What would that be? Continuing in unrepentant sin that you are aware of. “Aha! You see? Children are not going to be aware of their need to be baptized. Surely you cannot expect such deep understanding of children,” may be the reply. My response is this: How, then, has a child come to such an understanding as to be able to comprehend the depth and risk of the Lord’s Supper if he or she has not understood baptism? Where did they learn of the table? You? Did you tell them? Are you consistent in this claim that we must give time for understanding? Do they understand the death of Christ which they are commanded to proclaim and identify in in the table (1 Cor. 10:17; 1 Cor. 11:26)? Do they understand that if they partaking in an unworthy manner, they’ll be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord (v. 27)? Do they understand what it means to clearly discern the body (vs. 29)? Because without that they’re bringing judgment upon themselves. Surely, baptism is a much more simple matter to understand! Please! What is baptism but publicly identifying with the triune God of the Bible and the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and a picture of being welcomed into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 6; Col. 2)? Is not this a more basic thing than the severity of the Lord’s table? In fact, the writer of Hebrews called baptism an elementary basic concept (Heb. 6:1-2), and Peter called baptism an appeal to God for a clean conscience (1 Pet. 3:21). Consider how this plays into the congregational self-examination and togetherness found in 1 Corinthians 10-12.


The Lord’s Table is between individuals and God.

No, not primarily, though individual self-examination appears to be part of it. First Corinthians 11:28 says, “Let a person examine himself” (the Greek is third person singular here). But this is but one aspect of the congregational event. Chapter 10 begins with the Illustration of Israel’s “baptism.” Paul clarifies, even though all were visibly part of the group via baptism, not all were true. In like manner, we are aware that the “baptized unbeliever” is occasionally among us. But who is this table referring to?

· “We” participate in the cup of blessing (1 Cor. 10:16)

· “We” break one bread because we “are one body” (1 Cor. 10:17)

· “When you come together it is not for the better” (1 Cor. 11:17)

· “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat, for in eating each one goes

ahead with his own meal” (1 Cor. 11:20-21)

· “Don’t you have your own houses to eat in? or do you despise the church of God?” (1 Cor.

11:22)

All the pronouns in vss. 23-26 are plural. “If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.” Thirteen verses later in chapter 12, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” We dare not cheapen this glorious truth. How appropriate that the body metaphor is what continues in 12:14 and following.


We should practice deference and allow parents to lead their children in this matter.

This is particularly confusing. Why are we singling out the Lord’s Supper with this statement? Why not let parents decide when their child is able to understand other areas of sanctification? Why not allow parents to use the baptistry on their dime with or without the local congregation? The Lord’s Supper was not a command to individuals. It was not a command to parents. It was given as a symbol of the New Covenant to the local church (1 Cor. 11:25-26).

 

I’ll end by answering one question. What is baptism and what purpose does it serve?


It is a command. Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them...”


It pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and faith in the same (Romans 6).


It is a public identification of the way you are following. Under the New Covenant, this way is the gospel of the triune God. Matthew 28:19, “… baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” John had a baptism of repentance. Jesus and his disciples also began baptizing, presumably a baptism of following Jesus (see the latter portion of John 3). The New Testament church pattern is that we are baptized in water (a picture of the spiritual reality) after having been baptized by the Holy Spirit (saved).


Water baptism symbolizes entrance into the visible, physical local church. (Acts 2:41 says, “Those that received the word were baptized and added to the church.”) because it is a symbol of salvation. Romans 6:3-6 – We are buried in the likeness of his death, and raised to walk in newness of life. Colossians 2:12 – “Having been buried with Him in baptism.” Water baptism is a physical picture to symbolize the spiritual reality of the baptism of salvation. Colossians 2:12 continues, “buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God.” This reality is what we proclaim to a local congregation upon the baptism of a believer. Again in 1 Corinthians 12:13, believers are said to be baptized into the body of Jesus Christ. We partake of the ordinances because we are one body (1 Corinthians 10:17). We should also note that 10:17 is not, primarily, about partaking in the supper, but spiritually partaking of Christ in salvation itself. The Lord’s Table is a picture of what happened at the moment of salvation, that we partook of the blood and body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:15-17, “I speak as to a sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The break that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread [CHRIST!], we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”)


Baptism pictures washing and new birth. We are baptized into the death of Christ (Romans 6:1-11). The point of this is the newness of life in which we now walk. We compare ourselves to Noah and his family; they were saved ultimately by God, not the ark (1 Peter 3:21). But if they truly believed God, they got on the ark. Baptism corresponds to this, not that you get in the water and watch the dirt float away, but that you’re demonstrating faith in Jesus Christ. But still, being baptized is how he told us to picture what has taken place. It’s God that saves. Saved people follow in obedience. Water pictures of the new birth of salvation (Titus 3 and John 3). This is the being born of “water and the spirit” of John 3 (I don’t take the physical birth/amniotic fluid view of this verse; the Greek seems to better point to water and the spirit together referring to the new birth) and “the washing of regeneration” (hence, “new birth” – REgeneration). If the Lord’s Supper is pictured by the fellowshipping and proclaiming body, and baptism is pictured in terms of new birth and clean conscience, are we not twisting the imagery in a terrible way to place fellowship and proclamation together prior to picturing presence in the body? I urge you to consider these scriptures.


Again, perhaps you disagree and let me reaffirm my love for you. I only exhort you to have biblical reasoning for believing what you believe about baptism. Continuing something just because you’ve been doing it for decades is not good biblical practice. Don’t keep doing what you’re doing because this sort of article has caught you off guard, or that it would be embarrassing since you have many unbaptized already partaking in your congregation. When we find out we are in error, believers adjust course. I hope my words here have only been an encouragement and exhortation to consider God’s Word. If you think me to be in error and have biblical reasoning for thinking this, please reach out to the email on this blog. I would love to hear from you, and I want to be biblically exhorted. Following our Savior demands nothing less of us one to another.


And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” Matthew 28:28-20.

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