Saturday, February 02, 2008

Are Baptists out of step with the gospel?

Some have accused Baptists of denying the gospel because they insist that baptism (immersion) must precede any participation in the Lord's Supper. John Stott, for example, argues that Galatians 2:11-14 teaches us to welcome all believers to the Lord's Supper, regardless of what mode of baptism they received. Stott says that when churches make immersion a prerequisite of communion at the Lord's Supper, they are denying the gospel.

However, there are two problems with Stott's notion.

First, it proves too much. If we were to admit people to the Lord's Supper on the basis of faith alone, then it would be wrong to insist that baptism itself is prerequisite. Surely Stott doesn't believe that. A simple profession of faith alone in Christ alone would have to be sufficient, and no manner of church polity could govern the Lord's Supper.

Second, Galatians 2:11 does not say that Peter refused to take the Lord's Supper with the Gentiles. Rather, it says that he drew back from dining with the Gentiles in a fellowship meal. It also says that he separated himself from them. Peter's sin was that he refused Christian fellowship to genuine believers. The picture here is not that Peter refused to partake of the Lord's Supper with the Gentiles but that he wouldn't eat with them at church fellowships. It is entirely possible that Peter did participate in the ordinance/rite of the Lord's Supper with the Gentiles while still refusing to dine with them at fellowship meals, though we are not told what actually took place.

Baptists are happy to dine with brothers and sisters who have not been baptized, to fellowship with them, and to enjoy their company as fellow believers. I would gladly sit down for dinner with Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards! They are beloved brothers in Christ, and I have no doubt whatsoever that they would greatly edify me. I would certainly not keep back from them or separate from Christian fellowship with them. The universal church is a marvelous thing and we can benefit from Christians across all Christian denominations and churches.

However, an unbaptized person should not be permitted to join the church or invited to take the Lord's Supper because the pattern of polity revealed in the NT is that baptism precedes membership and Communion. We can love a person and have fellowship with him even while insisting that the NT pattern of polity be followed.


  1. eeeeh...

    remember how you told me to poke holes in your argument the other morning so...

    ::poke:: ::poke::

    i'm gonna need you to expound on this my friend.

  2. I edited one part of my argument after thinking about it. My supporting point about church discipline had the potential to open up more than one can of worms (and possibly confuse the issue); so, I deleted it since this argument doesn't depend on it.

    I'll expound, but what part of the above gives you the most heartburn? I.e., summarize your objection/question.

  3. My basic point is this:

    We can withhold the Lord's Supper from those who aren't qualified to take it while still enjoying Christian fellowship with them.

    I'm distinguishing between Lord's Supper participation and Christian fellowship. The Lord's Supper does signify Christian fellowship, but it signifies FAR more than that. When we take the Lord's Supper, we are demonstrating that we are Christians, that we have been baptized, that we are members in good standing of a true local church and that we have not offended a brother in Christ without seeking reconciliation, among other things. There is a lot involved in taking the Lord's Supper, more than just Christian fellowship.

    Do you see my point, even if you're still not sure you agree?

  4. Could you explain why you would withhold the Lord's Supper to these: “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

    Are you saying that baptism is an instrumental admisssion to the Supper? That is, when the Lord returns will he withhold the Supper to those who were never baptized, yet have His Spirit?

    Let me qualify that I believe that governmentally, the Lord's Supper should only be offered to members, or those known confessors and are in fellowship as witnessed to by some church. Yet, this is only a convenantal arrangement for oversight, because as the Scripture above testifies by the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, a born-again believer is in the body of Christ, baptism or no. However, the local assembly must be able to govern itself.

    The order is HS Baptism, which is to be made partakers of his body and blood, preceding water baptism. Too, John's baptism was insufficient, yet the Disciples partook of the Supper the night he was betrayed. One was assigned to damnation, so even if he was baptized properly, that baptism meant nothing, in regard to the Supper. The Supper though condemned him.

    I don't know what you meant by including Edwards, he opposed open communion if my memory serves me correctly. Anyway, if you check our Baptist history, specifically the 1689, you'll find that the Supper was not to be closed "The supper of the Lord Jesus was instituted by him the same night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in his churches, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance, and shewing forth the sacrifice of himself in his death, confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment, and growth in him, their further engagement in, and to all duties which they owe to him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other (baptism then would be bound within the Supper not the other way around)...The denial of the cup to the people (thought a Romanish practice), worshipping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about for adoration, and reserving them for any pretended religious use (a mark of membership?), are all contrary to the nature of this ordinance, and to the institution of Christ....

    I would add this caution to those above concerning baptism. Neither the Lord nor Paul placed a premium on baptism. Granted it was done and has great significance, however, baptism is not a superior sign to the Lord's table, nor prerequisite to it. It neither guarantees nor confers believership. The warnings and conditions are place upon the Supper and not baptism. Baptism therefore should not become defacto the instrumental admission to the Supper, and thus making it the greater. Though Jesus made baptism an act of obedience, it is a sign of membership with him not the local church and it is inferior to his call to always keep the Supper which is a sign of both membership with his body and the vitality of his life. Baptism is unnecessary, the Supper, indispensible. The Supper is a perpetual rememberance, one that will take place even in Eternity, baptism is merely symbolic its only grace conferred is obedience to it. The Supper however goes beyond mere symbolism, connecting truly the reality of our union with Christ. Though it in and of itself has no efficacy, it has been given such as Christ himself conferred upon it, which he has given to us in it. That I believe is why the early baptists thought it wrong to deny the cup to confessors and admit only those who were in the "baptized local assembly."

  5. Greetings, and thank you for your comment.

    First of all, I'm not persuaded that the Lord's Supper will continue as a new covenant ordinance after the Lord's return. We're told in 1 Cor 11 to "do this in remembrance . . . until he comes." So, it would seem that even though we will partake of the marriage supper of the Lamb, which is parallel to the supper, we won't take the Lord's Supper itself after Christ's return. Therefore, Christians who have not been baptized subsequent to credible profession will not be excluded from it because it won't be practiced.

    Second, yes, I am saying with the consensus historic Christian church that baptism is prerequisite to participation in the Lord's Supper. This is the pattern we find in the New Testament (Acts 2:40-42, etc.).

    Third, I included Edwards because he was not immersed subsequent to credible profession but only sprinkled as an infant. Edwards was not biblically qualified either(a) to join any local church because he was never baptized or (b) to take the Lord's Supper because baptism precedes Communion.

    Fourth, I do not hold to a strictly "closed" communion because I believe that any baptized member of any church should be able to take Communion at any other church. In other words, churches should not restrict Communion to their membership only but should open Communion to all biblically qualified communicants.

    Fifth, I don't believe that making baptism a prerequisite to Communion makes baptism greater any more than I believe that making faith prerequisite to justification makes faith greater than justification. Rather, the fact that baptism is prerequisite to church membership and Communion is simply a rightly ordered and biblical church polity.

    Sixth, you are correct that baptism is not a sign of membership in the local church but is a sign of a person's professed membership in Christ (new covenant membership). Baptism is PRE-requisite to church membership, not a sign of it.

    Seventh, I agree that the Supper has no efficacy in itself, but that it is a means of grace only inasmuch as it is the gospel in visible form and insofar as the communicant takes the supper in faith.

    Eighth, our historic Baptist fathers did indeed insist that baptism is prerequisite to admission both to membership and to the Lord's Supper. See below.

    Historic Baptist Sources:

    Baptist Faith and Message, 2000.

    “VII. Baptism and the Lord's Supper
    Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.

    The Lord's Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.

    Matthew 3:13-17; 26:26-30; 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; 14:22-26; Luke 3:21-22; 22:19-20; John 3:23; Acts 2:41-42; 8:35-39; 16:30-33; 20:7; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:16,21; 11:23-29; Colossians 2:12.”

    Charleston Baptist Association, A Summary of Church Discipline, 1774.

    “They ought to be truly baptized in water, i.e., by immersion, upon a profession of their faith, agreeable to the ancient practice of John the Baptist and the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, Matt. 3:6, John 3:23, Rom. 6:4 , Acts 8:36-38. It is allowed by all that baptism is essential to church communion and ought to precede it; there is not one instance in the Word of God of any being admitted without it.”

    John L. Dagg, Manual of Church Order,” 1858.

    “We have seen that the Lord's supper has been committed to the local churches for observance and perpetuation; and that local churches, if organized according to the Scriptures, contain none but baptized persons. It follows hence, that baptism is a pre-requisite to communion at the Lord's table. The position which baptism holds in the commission, determines its priority to the other commanded observances therein referred to, among which church communion must be included. This is the doctrine which has been held on the subject by Christians generally, in all ages; and it is now held by the great mass of Pedobaptists. With them we have no controversy as to the principle by which approach to the Lord's table should be regulated. We differ from them in practice, because we account nothing Christian baptism, but immersion on profession of faith, and we, therefore, exclude very many whom they admit.”
    “But may not each individual be left to his own conscience, and his own responsibility? He may be, and ought to be, so far as it can be done without implicating the consciences and responsibilities of others. If each were left wholly to himself, the discipline of the church would be nothing, and the power to exercise it would be attended with no responsibility. But the church is under an obligation, which cannot be transferred, to regulate its organization and discipline according to the word of God, which enjoins, on the one hand, to be tolerant and forbearing towards weak and erring brethren; and on the other hand, to keep the ordinances of God as they were delivered.”

    J.L. Reynolds, Church Polity or the Kingdom of Christ, 1849.

    “The Lord’s Supper is a social ordinance, and is celebrated by a church in its distinctive character, as a body of baptized believers. Whatever, therefore, determines the conditions of membership, defines also the terms of communion. That baptism is prior to the supper, in the order of their observance, and, therefore, that only the baptized have a right to commune, is so unquestionably the teaching of the Word of God, and was so manifestly the practice of the primitive churches, that we are not surprised at the almost universal agreement of Christians on this point. The splendor of a great name may, for a time, give prominence to the opposite error, which inverts the order of the rites; and a spurious charity may plead for its adoption; but the subject is too plain to admit of much diversity of sentiment or practice. It has, indeed, scarcely ever been deemed worthy of a labored discussion. All the professed followers of the Redeemer, in all ages, with the exception of a very small minority, have concurred in the opinion that the Scriptures make Baptism an indispensable prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper.”

    Hezekiah Harvey, The Church: Its Polity and Ordinances, 1879.

    “The Christian consciousness in all ages has recognized church membership as prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper, including, of course, in this membership regeneration, baptism, and a consistent life in the church.”
    “The tendencies to ‘open communion,’ which have sprung from the sentimental liberalism of our age, are necessarily temporary, since they originate in no permanent, living biblical truths, and are in opposition to the grand currents of Christian thought and conviction flowing through the ages.”

    “Now, it seems plain that, as the Lord’s Supper is a most solemn act of church-fellowship, none ought to partake except members of the church, or those who, from their doctrine and practice, could be consistently received to membership. An invitation of persons to this highest symbol of church membership whose principles or life would compel us to refuse them actual membership is hypocrisy.”

    Edward T. Hiscox, Principles and Practices for Baptist Churches, 1894.

    “Close, strict, or restricted communion is properly that which does not invite all, indiscriminately, who may choose to come to the Lord’s table, but restricts the invitation to a particular class. But ordinarily the term close communion is applied to the practice of Baptist churches, which invite to it only baptized believers, walking in orderly fellowship in their own churches. And by baptized believers, they mean, of course, immersed believers; since they hold that nothing but immersion is baptism. Nearly all Baptists in the United States, and a large part of those in foreign lands, are strict communion in practice” (emphasis in original).

    Other Historical Sources:

    Justin Martyr, “This food is called with us the eucharist, of which none can partake but the believing and baptized, who live according to the commands of Christ.”

    Mosheim, “Neither those doing penance, nor those not yet baptized were allowed to be present at the celebration of this ordinance. “

    Neander, “At this celebration, as may be easily concluded, no one could be present who was not a member of the Christian Church, and incorporated into it by the rite of baptism.”

    Bingham (historian), “As soon as a man was baptized, he was to be communicated.”

    Wall (historian), “No Church ever gave the Communion to any before they were baptized. Among all the absurdities that were ever held, none ever maintained that any person should partake of the Communion before he was baptized.”

    Schaff (historian), “The Communion was a regular part, and, in fact, the most important and solemn part of the Sunday worship. . . in which none but full members of the church could engage.”

    Coxe (Episcopalian), “The Baptists hold that we have never been baptized, and they must exclude us from their communion table, if we were disposed to go there. Are we offended? No; we call it principle, and we respect it.”

    Hibbard (Methodist), “In one principle Baptist and Paedobaptist churches agree. They both agree in rejecting from communion at the table of the Lord, and in denying the rights of Church fellowship all who have not been baptized . . . The charge of close communion is no more applicable to Baptists than it is to us.”

    The Christian Advocate of New York (journal), “The regular Baptist churches in the United States may be considered today as practically a unit on three points: the non-use of infant baptism, the immersion of believers only upon profession of faith, and the administration of the holy Communion to such only as have been immersed by ministers holding these views. In our opinion the Baptist Church owes its amazing prosperity largely to its adherence to these views. In doctrine and government, in other respects, it is the same as the Congregationalists. In numbers the regular Baptists are more than six times as great as the Congregationalists. It is not bigotry to adhere to one’s convictions, provide the spirit of Christian love prevails.”

  6. Thanks Tom,

    Surely an invested response.

    "First of all, I'm not persuaded that the Lord's Supper will continue as a new covenant ordinance after the Lord's return. We're told in 1 Cor 11 to "do this in remembrance . . . until he comes."

    Yes, and I didn't intend that it should be considered as the same thing. The Supper now looks both ways. It is symbolic of his death, and his resurrection. We show forth his death until he comes. The reality of the Supper in consummation or fulfillment, will be the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, taken with him in the Kingdom. While you say the showing forth will not be practiced, and I agree, the consumation will be, and that is in Eternity. I do not know that we will not take it again after TMSoTL, and even if we should only take it once, at that meal we will indeed take it as he said, in his consummated Kingdom. It is not just parallel, it is the thing itself.

    I agree with you in principle- that polity dictates that the only way to regulate membership is through membership, and a committed membership would be one that submits to the ordinances, the first being baptism, as the sealing. My point was this, a person, professing the faith, a visitor, should not be refused the cup, simply because his view of baptism differed. Which was the practice of Rome and the CoE, taken against dissenters who did not accept all the political practices of those churches. So, I quoted the 1689.

    You gave: Acts 2:40-42; but those Scriptures do not say anything of the Supper, nor of local church membership. Nor do they make baptism a necessary rite. And, as I said, both the Lord and Paul, placed no high premium on it. Not just the thief on the cross, but any, "rightly" baptized or not, being believers are partakers of the body and blood of Christ, prior to their baptism, and will not be denied the Supper of the Lamb, without one. Placing baptism first, seemly overthrows the ordo salutis and makes baptism instrumental, if only in the eyes of the beholders. Baptism is an act of obedience, subsequent to regeneration, soley, representative and not instrumental in anyway. The supper, however, though having no inherent efficacy salvifically, has what Christ has given it, judgementally, both for the body of Christ and for unbelievers. The partaking of which efficaciously judges. If for that alone, we should close. However, that is not what I was getting, at. It is when the instrumentality of baptism is used as a qualifier of being in the faith, not just membership in locality. It is being in the faith which is in view in the 1689, not the being baptized correctly. We are baptized into the death of Christ through the Supper, the partaking of his death and resurrection, which is given (he took, he broke, he gave). Baptism on the other hand is something that we do in obedience subsequent to having already taken the Supper, being made alive by the Spirit through the mediation of his sacrifice that we might repent and be baptized.

    Though you may not make baptism necessary to partaking of the fellowship, fellowship is communion, being fellow partakers of the body and blood of Christ. As the 1689 states, is symbolic of the fellowship of believers and fellowship with him. It is the acknowledgement that we are all partakers of the true Supper. It is self-contradictory, then, to grant fellowship and not grant the Supper, because they are one and the same.

    Now, having said that. It is my belief that a church should not have open communion without qualification (I think I said that, already). But, one who calls himself a Baptist, has bound himself to a covenant of certain distinctives, one of those being that one must have been baptized according to Baptistic understanding of Scripture to be a qualified participant in the Supper. But, if you grant that a paedo-Baptist is a brother in Christ, one with whom you have fellowship, to deny him the Supper is to accuse him of being in sin, of which he must repent. You must not offer it in that case. My guess is this: If you accuse him of being in sin, you will not have the fellowship that you say you grant. It will be in fact, hypocritical fellowship, if it indeed takes place at all. You would say that you love your brother, but he being in sin, you must rebuke. That resolves then, by what mechanism do you call him to account as a brother you love, of whom you do not want to see become sick, and perhaps die?

    You see, it becomes impossible to grant fellowship to one who you believe to be a recalcitrant sinner. Compromise only confirms them in sin. This of course is one of the reasons we do not want to offer the Supper to a brother of like faith (Baptist), who refuses baptism, or is perhaps ignorant of the reason for the exclusivity of it.

    I absolutely agree, that polity (church governance and discipline), and polity alone is the reason for exclusion. It cannot be called fellowship, however, if we indeed think that others are unbelievers, or sinners, if indeed, it is considered that right belief is being baptized rightly before the Supper, in the Baptistic way. It may be our distinctive, but if it is not universal truth, it is of inconsequential opinion.

    As you can see, I am not the scholar that you are. And, as I try to work through this, as a Baptist, it is for me like Augustine. Now, I may say foolish things now, that later, I might regret. But God is faithful, and should he grant me repentance, and restore my right mind, I will then republish.

    Thanks for all your work. You are rare to have gone to so much work for someone you do not know. Conversations such as these help me to hear.

    All grace in Christ,