CENI/Blue Parakeet: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

parakeet

Well, I was not expecting to find baptism and communion to be important hermeneutical principles, but as I read Paul’s arguments in particular, I am struck at how many times he refers to baptism or the Lord’s Supper as instructive for our behavior in other contexts. Paul argues from these while we argue about these. Surely this fact alone tells us how far removed we are from the apostolic mindset.

An obvious example of Paul’s use of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as instructive in other contexts relates to the division among the Christians in Corinth –

(1 Cor. 1:12-15) What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas “; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.

(1 Cor. 10:16-17) Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

In both passages we see Paul accepting baptism or the Lord’s Supper as normative for all Christians — not an optional practice that some may or may not accept — and thus available to build universally applicable arguments.

In both cases, Paul builds a case for unity from these two distinctive institutions (Alexander Campbell’s term). We are all baptized into Christ, and thus we all belong to one person who is not divided. Therefore, we cannot let ourselves be divided.

We all share in the cup and loaf of communion, and so, again, we are an indivisible one.

Hence, these practices have meanings much deeper and richer than just the commands to be baptized and to take communion. Indeed, they’re barely even about commands. If we don’t see the larger truths behind the commands, then mere obedience to the commands is of little consequence.

God has no interest in seeing us get wet for the sake of wetness! And eating some bread and drinking a sip of grape juice is hardly valuable for its own sake. It’s not much of a meal. Rather, the fact that we take a common meal with our brothers and sisters reminds us of the community we’ve been added to and all that Jesus did for us so that we could be part of that community.

However, neither baptism nor communion is a “work” as neither has intrinsic merit. We are not more moral because of taking communion or submitting to baptism, and we can’t chew and sip our way into heaven.

Incomplete theology

The Churches of Christ have incomplete theologies of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We tend to see them in terms of something to be obedient to rather than an opportunity to participate in what they symbolize. We take great pride in honoring these practices as the church did in the First Century — which is a good thing, I think — but we fail to give them the full significance they had in the First Century.

For example, our persistence in division plainly denies the unity that both symbolize. And many of us deny the full power of the grace that both evidence. For example,

(Rom. 6:4-8,23) We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin-because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

… For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6, which is all one discussion, deals primarily with Christian ethics, living a life freed from sin because of the meaning of our baptism. But intrinsic to that message is the fact that our baptism shows us that we will live again just as Jesus lived again.

Our salvation is a matter of confidence in the final result because of our confidence in what God did for Jesus in the resurrection, and the certainty we share in the resurrection is amply evidenced by baptism. Indeed, just as baptism was given freely, so is eternal life. If it’s a gift, then we can’t earn it! We all earn damnation, but we’re given salvation.

Thus, when we impose a works-based religion on our brothers by demanding doctrinal perfection, we deny the meaning of baptism. It’s great to insist on baptism. The Bible teaches baptism. But it’s a mockery of the institution to deny the grace that baptism symbolizes.

Just so, taking the Lord’s Supper weekly is an ancient, even apostolic practice. Good for us! It means nothing if we divide and bitterly dispute over every minutiae of doctrine. Communion is about community and unity. Bring a divisive attitude to the institution and you’ve sinned against it.

(1 Cor 11:29)  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

“Body of the Lord” has a double meaning. It refers, of course, to physical body of Jesus, sacrificed on the cross for us. But it also refers to the church — the body of Christ. After all, the sins Paul was condemning are —

(1 Cor 11:18-21)  In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk.

Division, rudeness, drunkeness. The Corinthians were sinning, first, against their brothers and sisters and, therefore, against Christ.

Division in a church risks drinking judgment on oneself. It’s hard to imagine a more serious mistake.

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27 Responses

  1. More great points, Jay!

    I think we’ve all heard lessons on baptism that make it sound almost like a financial transaction. God promised forgiveness if I’d be baptized, quid pro quo. That is, in exchange for my baptism I get forgiveness. What a sickly understanding of baptism! Our baptism means something. It says something. What it means includes the participation in the death, burial and resurrection, and also entry into the body, the church. We were baptized by one Spirit into one body. It’s a marker of the end of the old life and the beginning of the new. We are supposed to look back on it as the time when everything changed for us. That’s how Paul used baptism in his letters.

  2. Jay, Do you believe a person who comes to believe Jesus as their one and only Savior who asks Him for forgiveness is saved, or do they have to perform the act of baptism to be forgiven? If so they are having to earn forgiveness. Just as when someone who asked me to forgive them, I tell them that I will forgive them if they wash my vehicle. They are having to earn my forgiveness instead of me just freely giving it to them.

  3. If so they are having to earn forgiveness.

    Not at all. There is no implied earning or meriting of forgiveness as a result of baptism. The baptism in no way pays the penalty for sin. Only the sacrifice of Jesus could do that.

  4. Indeed, as Alan says, baptism is a testimony of the reality, a proclamation of what Christ has done – as is the communion. “It says something,” Alan observes.

    It tells the Story. It tells of our faith in it. It makes us a part of it.

    John Mark Hicks and his co-authors have done our fellowship a great service in getting to very heart of our worship together. Rather than simply parroting the rules and the reasons for them that men have deduced, Down in the Water to Pray, Come to the Table and A Gathered People they have plumbed the great depths of meaning which baptism, communion and congregational worship can have – if we’re willing to go beyond obedience and actually seek God together.

  5. Anonymous,

    I understand the paradox in your question. Surely some who have taught baptism have done so in such a way that baptism appears as a work to merit salvation. I want no part of that baptism because I do not believe baptism (or anything) can merit God’s gift of salvation which is by God’s grace through faith.

    However, the person participating in biblical baptism is not in the same position as the person washing your car. The person washing your car is performing an action. In passages such as Acts 2.38; Romans 6.3-4; Gal 3.27-28; to name a few, the person to “be baptized” is passive (notice, the person is to “be baptized” rather than “baptize”). This means that in baptism it is God doing the work. Yes baptism is still our choice but in this regards baptism is no different than the “sinner’s prayer” in the sense that in both baptism or the sinner’s prayer, the sinner is anticipating God act according to his promises of salvation. The only problem is that we have no evidence of Christians in the Bible or early post-apostolic Christian history responding to God’s redemptive call by offering up a sinner’s prayer. We do find sinner’s surrendering their life to Christ via baptism and that is one reason why I teach people to be baptized rather than praying a prayer.

    Does that mean God will not orcannot save those who come to God by offering up a prayer? I would not claim that God will not or cannot save such people unless they are willfully/knowingly disobeying God (rebellion is the antitheses of a repentant heart). But I would STRONGLY still teach such people to be baptized not just because baptism is a command (which is very important) nor just because of baptism inseperable relationship to God’s salvation (which is important too) but because baptism (properly understood) is also a critical step in committing to and becoming a disciple. As in Romans, baptism is the point of departure for why Christians should no longer continue in sin. Those who have been baptized (died to sin and raised into Christ) have a historical marker in their life that says “I have made the choice to live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, which means my life must become like His life.”

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  6. Rex wasn’t Cornelius’ prayers heard?

    Is there any person who prays that is not a sinner?

    My question again, Do you believe a person who comes to believe Jesus as their one and only Savior who asks Him for forgiveness is saved, or do they have to perform the act of baptism to be forgiven?

    I believe God gives grace and mercy to anyone where ever they are.

    I’ve been baptized not to be forgiven but to show what Jesus already done for me.

    Rex do you believe I am saved since I have been baptized?

  7. Here’s what J. W. McGarvey, eminent Bible scholar from the churches of Christ in the 19th and early 20th century, said about that:

    [S]uppose a Baptist presents himself for membership with us, and we attempt to decide upon the validity of his immersion. We find that he was a believer [condition #1], and a penitent [condition #2], before he was immersed. He did not make the confession in express terms, but it was because he was not required to so, the preacher having become satisfied of his faith through other evidence. He believed that his sins were pardoned before he was immersed, and said so; but this was a mistake, not an omission of any duty, unless it be the duty of understanding Scripture. But this duty is not peculiarly connected with immersion, and we have seen that its omission cannot invalidate the immersion … it is most unreasonable to suppose that his sins are still unforgiven.

    So, although McGarvey taught that the Baptist was mistaken in believing sins were forgiven prior to baptism, he also taught that the person’s sins were forgiven at the time of his baptism despite the mistake. I don’t see any scriptural basis for disagreeing.

  8. I doubt I will every fully understand why God asked us to be baptized. However, it’s unquestionably clear he did ask us to do that. To argue against it or try to explain it away seems to be an attempt to say, we know better than God.

    Maybe God wanted us to be baptized, because, from a worldly point-of-view, it makes no sense at all.

    Lots of people ask “why” in regards to baptism, but an equally valid question is “why not.”

  9. I will ask again, please answer my questions.

    Do you believe a person who comes to believe Jesus as their one and only Savior who asks Him for forgiveness is saved, or do they have to perform the act of baptism to be forgiven?

    I believe God gives grace and mercy to anyone where ever they are.

    I’ve been baptized not to be forgiven but to show what Jesus already done for me.

    Do you believe I am saved since I have been baptized?

  10. no one’s answer to your question counts. You’ve done all that is asked of you. You should have confidence in your own salvation

  11. No one has given a straight forward answer to the specific questions.

    Do you believe a person who comes to believe Jesus as their one and only Savior who asks Him for forgiveness is saved, or do they have to perform the act of baptism to be forgiven?

    Let me put it this way. A man who lives in Africa reads a Bible someone sent him and he comes to believe Jesus as his Savior and asks Him to forgive him of his sins. He lives miles away from any water and has to walk days to go get it. His wife is very sick with malaria and he cannot leave her side or she will die.

    Is this man saved at this moment or not?

  12. Dear Anonymous,

    From what the scripture tells us baptism is indeed required for forgiveness.

    Why do I think this?
    Because every time the forgiveness of sins is mentioned in an evangelistic context baptism is included. (Sometiumes as a means, sometimes as a proper response). To be forgiven requires submission to Christ’s will. He commanded baptism (along with love, sacrifice of self, true discipleship etc.)

    I will teach and instruct according to what I have see in the scriptures. “Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” To do otherwise makes me a false teacher and jeopardizes my own salvation and that of others.

    The only other thing I would suggest is that our discussion may assume that works and faith are exclusive. Remember that works apart from faith mean nothing and faith is itself a “work” according to the Scriptures.

    We know that a life that gives itself to Jesus but shows no change is unredeemed. Despite God’s extension of grace it is clear that no salvation has come because no works in keeping with repentance are forthcoming. So why is it difficult to accept baptism as a necessary aspect of showing repentance? Made more necessary because it is undeniably specifically commanded in several places by Jesus Himself and by His servants.

    As for your saved state: You are saved because you have responded to God’s grace via faith, baptism and life change (love of God, love of others, self denial, etc.).

    Remove any of these four elements and the whole collapses. Emphasize any over the others and your theology and exprression of faith will be off-center. (As evidenced by our hundreds of denominations.)

  13. Not to be rude, but unless he has read the sinners prayer pasted in the front of the Bible and not the text itself he will know that a bit more is required. No where in the text is anyone ever told to pray a prayer for Jesus to save them or told to ask Jesus into their heart as the means to salvation. This is a man-made solution to a man-made problem. Our non-scriptural theological division between faith and works. Baptism is always present mentioned either as a means or as a response.

    The “faithful native” so often used in these debates is a nonexistent entity according to the text. Read Romans. What you need to know about God’s character and nature can be seen from nature itself. Then when you begin to search God makes sure He is found. I firmly believe that when a heart begins searching for Him, God through the Spirit moves someone else to go find that heart. (Hence missionaries who wind up in very strange places.)

    Now if such a chimerical creature were to actually exist I believe Jesus would judge his heart according to his knowledge of Jesus. But since we admit that we have access to a greater standard of truth how does that help us?

    If we are to be judged according to our blessings in Christ (a very scriptural concept – much will be expected from those to whom much was given…) we will be expected to appreciate God’s grace in allowing us to come to faith, His grace in providing the blessing of baptism and all that it accomplishes in Jesus and we will also be expected to live lives of ever increasing submission to Jesus and to each other.

  14. I would absolutely say when someone prays for forgiveness they are repenting.

    Matthew 7:7-11
    “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

    Jesus told parables to give us examples to follow.

    Luke 18:13-14 “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

    “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” I believe Jesus gave us good example of a sinner’s prayer.

  15. Don’t take me wrong Todd. I wholeheatedly believe as I do, as I also believe you wholeheartedly believe as you do. And I believe Jesus loves us both.

    grace,mercy,and peace

  16. Correcting spelling.

    I wholeheartedly believe as I do, as I also believe you wholeheartedly believe as you do.

  17. Anonymous,

    I believe a person who comes to Jesus, accepting him as the Savior will be saved. I DO NOT believe they “have to perform the act of baptism to be forgiven. But, according to what the scriptures teach us about baptism, God DOES have to perform the act of baptism on the person.

    Notice the language I am using. According to scripture, baptism is not an act performed by us. Baptism is an act performed upon us by God and again, according to scripture (especially Romans 6), baptism is where we die and God raises us into Christ. This is important because being baptized, becoming a Christian, receiving grace…is more than just about “getting saved”, it is about becoming part of God’s kingdom where, as a disciple, Jesus is regarded as Lord just as much as he is regarded as Savior. It is awful hard to allow Jesus to be our Lord if we have not died to self yet – which, according to scripture, happens in baptism.

    As for what I believe… I do believe that you and I WERE saved when Jesus shed his blood on the cross for the remission of sins. I do believe you and I WERE saved when we came to Jesus as we are (as we sometimes sing the hymn “Just As I Am”). I do believe you and I WERE saved when we were baptized into Christ. I do believe you and I WILL BE saved when Jesus comes again in glory.

    Yes…salvation is past, present, and future.

    But honestly, I believe we make to big of a deal out of trying to determine just when God saved us in relationship to baptism. Baptism is a command, not an option. Apparently, we both agree on that much. I believe we should be baptized and just trust God to save us both now and in the second-coming of his Son as God has promised and stop worrying at what point does God exactly save us in relationship to baptism. Can we not trust God to do as he promises whenever he wishes to do without intellectually parsing out the precise order and timing of God’s activity, or is faith about getting God intellectually figured out? I certainly hope not because the both of us could be wrong.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  18. Anonymous, I think respondents may be refusing to answer your question directly because of the rather “loaded” way it’s worded.

    Few of us believe that anyone “performs the act of baptism.” It is, as Rex rightly points out, something done to the believer at his/her request, with his/her consent. It is always expressed passively in this way.

    There is plenty of scriptural evidence that God wants for us to be baptized into the name of Christ (Acts 19:5) and into His death (Romans 6:3-4); to be clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27). Most of us in Churches of Christ believe that being baptized is connected with washing sins away (Acts 22:16) and salvation (1 Peter 3:21) and being added to the number of believers (Acts 2:41) and as a direct answer to the plea of the guilt-convicted (Acts 2:37-39). Others do not connect them so closely. (Would you be willing to look at those scriptures again, just looking at what they say, and draw your own conclusions?)

    Rather than arguing about its essentiality in salvation, shouldn’t we be joyously agreeing on its role in testifying to our belief in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (Colossians 2:12) – and what that means as a promise to believers? Instead of insisting on how right or how wrong someone is, shouldn’t we be shouting about the joy of being immersed in the very life of Christ and imbued with His Holy Spirit? about how being baptized imitates Christ, and in how many ways?

    Shouldn’t it be one of hundreds of ways we should encourage each other to be like Him? Part of, not a single moment of salvation, but an ongoing lifetime and lifestyle of service to God through Christ?

    Honest answer: (You really want to know what I believe?) Yes, I believe that baptism is intended as an essential part of the way God wants to save us. He wants us to understand by experiencing the deep meaning of having sins washed away and living a new life.

    What He accepts as a life dedicated to His Son is not mine to determine but His, whether it includes baptism or not. Yet baptism is so closely associated in scripture with the giving of the Holy Spirit (Who is such an active part of our new life in Christ) why would one want to delay receiving Him?

    But I am going to continue to teach that baptism is not something that you should cheat yourself out of – even to make a point about a principle you believe in (and, Anonymous, I’m glad you haven’t!). Baptism does testify about what Jesus has done in His death, burial and resurrection.

    Yet what if it’s more … ?

  19. Yet baptism is so closely associated in scripture with the giving of the Holy Spirit (Who is such an active part of our new life in Christ) why would one want to delay receiving Him?

    Keith, Cornelius and his household received the Holy Spirit who is the seal of our salvation before they were baptized.

    And of course I would tell others who have been saved by the blood of Jesus to be baptized.

  20. Yes, Cornelius and his household received the Spirit prior to baptism. Of course, the Holy Spirit was received by the 3,000 with baptism in Acts 2 while the twelve in Acts 19 received the Spirit as a seperate act after baptism…

    …on and on we can go trumping each other with one proof-text after another and at the end of the day we will have only accomplished entrenching ourselves deeper into our own doctrinal dogma rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus I would just rather learn to obey God as he teaches, trusting in God to redeem as he has promised in whatever time frame God’s sees fit.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  21. Amen!

  22. Anonymous,

    I’ve addressed that very question several times, most recently in a series of posts —

    What is “Faith”? Part 1 (Toward a Definition)

    What is “Faith”? Part 2 (James, Paul & the Spirit)

    What is “Faith”? Part 3 (Baptism)

    What is “Faith”? Part 4 (Baptism vs. Faith)

    The gist of my answer is: I don’t see baptism as a “work” in the Pauline vocabulary. If Paul saw baptism as a work, he couldn’t have written Rom 6:1-6 or Gal 3:26-28. Baptism has no intrinsic merit — it’s not the fulfillment of a moral obligation. However, while I’m fully convinced that God’s intention is that believers be baptized by immersion and there and then receive the Spirit and forgiveness, I don’t believe that God is going to damn anyone over a misunderstanding of baptism.

  23. Keith —

    Amen — especially as to the three books. These are challenging and important works.

  24. I was saying Amen to Rex’s comment, …on and on we can go trumping each other with one proof-text after another and at the end of the day we will have only accomplished entrenching ourselves deeper into our own doctrinal dogma rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus I would just rather learn to obey God as he teaches, trusting in God to redeem as he has promised in whatever time frame God’s sees fit.

  25. The amusing bit though is that our disagreement has been over what God teaches…whether or not He enjoins baptism.

    At Bible camp a couple of years ago we were having a Bible trivia contest with the boys vs the girls. The boys answered “Jesus” to almost every question and were getting hammered. I stopped the action and told them directly that in trivia Jesus wasn’t the answer to every question. They needed to explore other options. The next question was “Who is the Savior of the world?” I instantly became the dumbest counselor in the place.

  26. That is funny. 🙂

  27. Keith,

    Too bad JM and his co-authors have basically been ex-communicated from much of our brotherhood for their gifts. I think someone stole my copy of Come To The Table because I liked it too much.

    A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own people, indeed.

    in HIS love,
    nick

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