This booklet has been of much help to many in helping put and keep churches in scriptural order, and is to be highly commended. The author has often stated his feelings that the two church ordinances (baptism and the Lord's supper) need a fuller treatment. They are mentioned on p. 5, as part of the New Hampshire Confession, and briefly on pages 9 and 13. All that is stated there we certainly affirm.
However, in view of the potential for misunderstanding in these sensitive and important areas, it is a distinct honor to respond to the writer's request to append these brief notes on these crucial matters. Since he and I are in substantial agreement on them, it is pleasant to be able to encourage others to "dwell together in unity" with Baptists of past centuries with regard to these two beautiful pictures.
Baptists need no defense of immersion; it is commonly agreed by non-Baptist scholars that this was the "primitive mode." Some other matters need to be considered, since many immersions do not meet New Testament standards.
The Reasons for Baptism (Matthew 3:13-15)
1) to show agreement in doctrinal principles; Jesus came to a man sent from God rather than to others who were also immersing (Essenes, etc.)
2) to join a gathered company of believers (out of that group of John's disciples, He picked 12 whom He named apostles and set first in the church, Luke 6:13,1 Corinthians 12:28)
3) to fulfill all righteousness (already present in the believer, brought to its purpose by obedient action)
The Requirements for Baptism (Matthew 3:13-17)
1) a proper candidate - a child of God (Baptism certainly did not save Jesus!)
2) a proper mode - burial (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12)
3) a proper authority - doctrinal truth (II John 9-11; error may invalidate our actions, no matter how sincere our heart.)
The Results of Baptism (Matthew 3:16-17)
1) The heavens open to pour out blessings (See also Malachi 3:10).
2) The Holy Spirit empowers the obedient believer (Hebrews 5:8, Acts 5:32).
3) The Father is well pleased.
Surely this last result is enough to encourage every true child of God to seek Scriptural baptism rather than the innovations of human religion. It is our strong conviction that only doctrinally similar congregations which practice and receive only the immersion of a secure believer in Christ into church fellowship have proper authority to baptize, and therefore we baptize those whose baptism is invalidated by doctrinal error. We do not "rebaptize," for there is "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" - the immersion in water of one who has trusted Christ as personal Saviour and Lord of faith.
Some would say the authority is in the administrator. We are confused enough in the religious world without this additional bit of anarchy, which bypasses the local, visible congregation of Christian believers, the "pillar and ground of the truth," in favor of unlimited individualism. Salvation is between the individual and God, with no human agency capable of preventing it; obedience to truth involves a gathered community of fellow-believers. Paul praised the church at Corinth, confused as it was, for keeping the ordinances as he delivered them (I Cor. 11:2). Remember that he was a missionary sent out by and reporting to the local, visible church at Antioch (Acts 13:2-4, 14:26-28, 15:39-41, 18:22-23.)
The Lord's Supper
Many of us agree on "close baptism," which in no way sends anyone to Heaven or keeps anyone out. Today, it seems, there is not always such agreement on the second ordinance.
There is little question that the Lord's supper was instituted after baptism, the night before the crucifixion, as the Lord met with His church in that upper room, where He also fulfilled Psalm 22:22 by singing in the church (MT. 26:30, Hebrews 2:12). There is no evidence in Scripture that any unbaptized person was ever invited to the Lord's table, and John makes it clear that even Judas, who like the other apostles had been baptized by John (see Acts 1:21-22), was excluded from the Lord's table after eating the Passover. There has been general agreement in Christendom that baptism should precede the Lord's supper. Thus the issue is not so much "close communion" as "close baptism" with some limits within even that frame of reference.
Surely I Corinthians 10:20-22 is clear enough; it is not proper for a lost person to come to the Lord's table. But how can we prevent this without "judging" - a word often used to criticize Baptist churches for our historic practice?
There are five possible positions.
1) truly open communion - saved and lost openly together. See I Corinthians 10:20-22.
2) open to all professors - see Matthew 7:20-23 as evidence that not all who say "Lord" are truly saved.
3) open to all of general agreement - the most dangerous of all views. How can we possibly invite one, reject another, without judging the inward man which only God can see? Matthew 7:1, I Samuel 16:7.
4) open to all Baptists - "denominational communion." This is also an error, in view of the varied doctrines among "Baptists" today. It would exclude good friends of other denominations living among us, whose faith we know and respect, while inviting other visiting "Baptists" not under our discipline and whose life and faith we scarcely know. Surely the world may justly criticize such a practice.
5) church communion. The members of a particular church, in fellowship with it and in good standing to vote in its business affairs, examine themselves as we are instructed in I Corinthians 11:27-32 (a command to members of that church when it gathered), so that no one else need judge them. Read with care I Corinthians 5:9-13. This view allows proper church discipline in love, avoids judging any outsider, requires each church member to judge himself that he be not judged, and properly discerns the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:29). (Note: "unworthy" is an adverb referring not to our character but to our attitude - "in an unworthy manner." None of us is worthy, but all may bring a worthy attitude to the Lord's table).
We trust that these brief statements on the ordinances will be studied seriously, challenged Scripturally, and observed solemnly if found to be biblical. "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20).
R. Charles Blair
Director of Missions
West Kentucky Baptist Association
Baptists: Various Subjects
Baptist History Homepage