On the observance of the ordinances of baptism and communion.
Having grown up within churches that are soundly in the Independent Baptist camp of ecclesiastical convictions, it would be sufficient to say that you likely already know my viewpoints on baptism and communion. I would caveat your preconceived notions of my baptistic beliefs, though, by stating that regardless of what you think about them, I have arrived at my viewpoints through no small amount of thought and struggle. Notwithstanding that with which I was instilled, I, like Kent Hughes confesses in The Pastor’s Book, can understand how one can arrive at the paedobaptist interpretation of the ordinance of baptism. I understand and, at one time even, heavily agreed with that explanation because of its crystallizing of the biblical theology of the covenants. But, nevertheless, after scouring the works of many reformed and evangelical minds, I find myself back to where I was brought up, finding solace in the wonderful truth that friends and colleagues of mine can disagree about the ordinance of baptism and still be likeminded immigrant-sinners who’ve been brought into the kingdom of heaven by nothing more or less than the boundless grace of King Jesus. (Eph 2:11–19)
Regardless what one thinks about covenantal theology, I cannot get over the fact that the 70-odd instances1 of the word “baptize” in the New Testament are all derived from the same Greek work, baptizō, meaning: “to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge,” or “to cleanse by dipping or submerging.” It’s not a mere sprinkling or spritzing, rather, it’s a plunging into the reservoir of redemption. This plunge, of course, is not a nonchalant moment but a monumental event in the life of a believer. It is a public identification with Christ Jesus, commemorating the manifestation of the gospel of God taking place in the life of a believer. And it is in that sense, then, that baptism is for those who are regenerate. It is for those who have repented of their sins in the face of God’s holy law, understanding that from which they have been redeemed, clinging in faith to the hope of God’s good news of absolution through his Son’s passion and death. Thus, ideally, the length of time between conversion and baptism would be short. There is certainly scriptural precedent throughout the Acts of the Apostles for new converts being taken to the waters of baptism on the spot.
Therefore, in my analysis of Scripture, baptism is an ordinance of the church wherein believers are immersed in water to symbolize and memorialize precisely what happens in the salvation of their soul from sin by the movement and ministry of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The believer is submerged under the water, representing their union with Christ Jesus in his death, and raised out of the water, representing their union with Christ Jesus in his resurrection. “Believers’ baptisms are occasions for gospel theater,” writes Kent Hughes, “a time to view intently and observe the movements of the gospel.”2 It is a symbol, a “visible word,” a “living parable” of that which occurs in the life of every sinner who is saved by the grace of God. It’s a celebratory event in the life of believer, pulsating with the reverberations of the gospel and commemorating the “new life” to which they have been raised to live. (Rom 6:3–4) Hughes summarizes this well when he writes:
The very movements that they will undergo in baptism are divine theater that will portray what happened to them when they met Christ. When they are submerged momentarily in baptism, it is emblematic of their death and burial with Christ (and when baptized, they ought to think about it). When they are raised from the waters, it is a picture of being raised with Christ (they ought to think about that, too). Christ died our death and raised us to life in himself.3
This, I think, is how we ought also to be informed when it comes to the ordinance of communion. To be sure, the Lord’s Supper has generated its fair share of ecclesiastical estrangement. Even a cursory examination of church history reveals that fact. I grew up with the indoctrination to oppose anything remotely “Catholic” regarding communion. To be honest, I don’t think I always understood why that was so, other than the fact that (as I was made to understand it) Catholics were ritualists, formalists, whose ceremony had beclouded what they were actually observing, tending towards self-righteousness. It wasn’t until later in my collegiate “spiritual journey” that I came to reckon with the varying convictions regarding communion.
Admittedly, I am still very much in the baptistic contingent concerning this ordinance, rejecting the perverted doctrine of transubstantiation and treating the occasion as a solemn symbolizing and memorializing of the gospel. Much like the observance of Passover in the Old Testament, the institution of the Lord’s Supper is an act of remembrance. (Ex 12:1–14; 13:6–16; cf. Lk 22:14–20) “Do this in remembrance of me,” our Lord himself declares. (Lk 22:19) By the same token, however, this time of remembrance and recollection is not one that is gloomy or sullen. I’ve been in some communion services where it feels like everyone has been made to sip sour grapes and nibble stale crackers. But the passing out of the elements should not feel like a funeral dirge. Taking the bread and the wine juice (Baptists!) is not an occasion for solemnity but celebration! The Lord’s Supper is not, as Hughes asserts, “a funeral, but a recognition of the triumph of the cross.”4 The Lord is risen! He is alive! Death could not hold him. (Acts 2:24) He has put Death to death. (1 Cor 15:26) Communion is a victorious celebration of King Jesus.
Therefore, communion is an ordinance of the church wherein believers partake of the bread and the cup which epitomize Christ Jesus’s saving work of substitution wherein sinners are justified by the pouring out of his blood and the imputation of his righteousness. The Lord’s Table tells us of a “full Saviour and a full salvation; a full Redeemer and a full redemption. A full Saviour, a free gospel, and a finished righteousness, are set before our eyes.”5 It is a communal event in the life of the church that is vital to the spiritual vitality of God’s Bride. As communion is observed, the believers are preaching the gospel to themselves and to the world, proclaiming God’s mighty act of deliverance in Jesus’s death and resurrection as the very lifeblood of faith. (1 Cor 11:26; 15:12–22) It is a “living parable” of the gospel’s power, helping us “remember in depth the substitutionary death of Christ our Passover.”6 In communion, we are made to remember and revel in the God who welcomes sinners to himself by giving himself to them.
KJV references: Mt 3:6, 11, 13–14, 16; 20:22–23; Mk 1:4–5, 8–9; 10:38–39; 16:16; Lk 3:7, 12, 16, 21; 7:29–30; 12:50; Jn 1:26, 33; 3:22–23; 4:1–2; 10:40; Acts 1:5; 2:38, 41; 8:12–13, 16, 36, 38; 9:18; 10:47–48; 11:16; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:3–5; 22:16; Rom 6:3; 1 Cor 1:14–17; 10:2; 12:13; 15:29; Gal 3:27.
R. Kent Hughes, The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry, edited by Douglas Sean O’Donnell (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 375.
Horatius Bonar, “No. 16.—The Lord’s Supper,” Kelso Tracts (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1851), 4.