Thoughts on the baptism/communion issue

Let’s think this through for a moment. There are a few things in all of this that have not been made very clear. What is the sign of the New Covenant (think carefully before you answer)? Let’s say for the moment that communion is the sign of the New Covenant then one must ask what signals entrance into this New Covenant. Most evangelicals understand that it is through faith in Jesus Christ and repentance from sin which ushers one into Christ thus making one His disciple. The sign that one has been made a disciple is baptism. Therefore should the sign of confessional (i.e., credo) baptism signal that one is ready for the communion table (and nothing else)? This seems to be the nexus of the debate that is swirling around blogville. What do you think and how would you answer?

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25 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by P.L. on August 21, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    Therefore should the sign of confessional (i.e., credo) baptism signal that one is ready for the communion table (and nothing else)?

    Certainly, when we understand that baptism is archetypal that is water, and living giving.Jesus’ baptism prefigures the cross in that by going below the waters (hell) and arising from its depths he restores all things anew.

    Baptism is the primordial sacrament through which communion follows. In the same sense, the church is baptismal in character, in that it confesses that it has died and lives as a new life through Christ’s atoning death, resurrection, and let’s not forget it’s ascension. Baptism is a proclamation of the foundation of communion sense it constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all though through it are reborn.

    As Oswald Chambers said, “The only conscious experience those who are baptized with the Holy Ghost ever have is a sense of absolute unworthiness.” A mentality needed in approaching Communion

  2. Can you link some of the good blog spots where helpful discussion is taking place?

    Thanks
    CK

  3. Phil Gons over at PastorBlog is on top of things as usual and has all the links to the recent conversations in one place. Here is the link to Phil’s links:

    http://www.pastorblog.com/2007/08/21/baptism-yet-again/

  4. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on August 22, 2007 at 9:57 am

    Paul: I know this isn’t the main point of your post, but I am very intrigued by your comment about the Lord’s Supper being the sign of the New Covenant rather than baptism. It seems that most people simply assume it is baptism. Do you know if that is a common view? Are you aware of anything in writing on whether the Lord’s Supper or baptism is the sign of the NC?

  5. Matt,

    You’re the first to notice what I was actually trying to point out!!!

    As I have been thinking this through, the closest we get to either baptism or communion being called the sign of the NC is by Christ in Luke 22:20 (cf. 1 Cor. 11:25) and that is in reference to communion. I think to say that baptism is the sign of the NC could be a hold-over from certain aspects of Federal theology.

    In his recent work, “Recalling the Hope of Glory,” Allen P. Ross traces out a progressive biblical theology of worship and concludes that “In the New Testament the sign of the new covenant is the cup of Holy Communion” (pg.150). If memory serves me I believe MacArthur also noted this in his debate with R. C. Sproul.

    What do you think?

  6. Matt,

    Another resource: Reformed Baptist, Fred Malone, sees both as “signs” of the NC in his work “The Baptism of Disciples Alone” (pg. 110).

  7. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on August 22, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    Paul: The reason I brought this is up is that this is my view as well. I’ve actually written some stuff in defense of this position–perhaps I will adapt it into a blog post and put it up here at ET early next week to see what our readers think. Until then, it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

  8. Posted by David McCrory on August 23, 2007 at 12:23 am

    “What is the sign of the New Covenant (think carefully before you answer)?”

    ~ The coming of Christ is the fulfillment of the signs of the New Covenant (1 Cor. 10). His blood is the blood of the New Covenant. It may be argued therefore that we become objectively part of the New Covenant people of God as we are baptized into Christ.

    Baptism shows forth our union with Christ and our participation in His cleansing power. When Peter said to repent and be baptized (Acts 2), His command should be understood as an act of faithful obedience whereby we demonstrate our changed heart and new fidelity to Christ.

    The Lord’s Supper then shows forth our continued fellowship; i.e. comm-union with Jesus. It is the means by which we participate in an ongoing manner within the Body. Baptism then is a one time “entrance” sign to show the beginning of our walk in Christ, while the Lord’s Supper demonstrates our faithfulness as we continie to walk w/ Him.

  9. David,

    I am chewing over you post here. After 2 read throughs it sounds logical. I need to study this issue more.

    Caleb

  10. Posted by Alando Franklin on August 23, 2007 at 2:50 am

    Todd Wilken over @ Issues, Etc. which is a live theological talk show for thinking Christians interviews a Pastor that discusses the differences from a Baptist/Lutheran perspective. Very interesting to hear the Baptist that call into the show!

    Scroll to the Thursday, August 16th program to listen in on the discussion:

    http://www.kfuoam.org/ie_main.htm

  11. David,

    Thanks for your thoughtful interaction. I still think we need to deal with the explicit claim of Luke 22:20 and 1 Cor. 11:25. Jesus says the sign of the NC is the cup. This is never said in reference to baptism.

    There might also be a problem with the logical order of this statement:

    “It may be argued therefore that we become objectively part of the New Covenant people of God as we are baptized into Christ.”

    So are we not a part of the NC people between our repentance/confession and the time we are baptized? Without going down the well-trod road of federal theology I think making sharp divisions between the objectivity and subjectivity of covenant involvement can be misleading. We also have to ask if the Bible makes such distinctions and if not are they still warranted?

  12. Posted by David McCrory on August 23, 2007 at 3:22 am

    Paul,

    Thank you for your response. I think we need to understand both baptism and the Lord’s Supper as proclaiming the grace of the NC. One (baptism) is the rite/sign of intial union into that Covenant while the other (the Lord’s Supper) is the sign of ongoing union, hence communion, in the Covenant. So I don’t view the issue as either/or, but rather as both.

    You ask,

    “So are we not a part of the NC people between our repentance/confession and the time we are baptized?”

    And the answer is course we are. We are Christ’s the moment the Spirit regenrates our heart. Yet, we have not openly identified with His people until we confess and are baptized. This is why I believe baptism is given such priority in the NT text of Acts and so forth. Again, Peter’s reply to “what then shall we do?” is to say “repent and be baptized”. Apart from our public profession, baptism is our first act of faithful obedience. That is to say, baptism is an outward (objective) profession, of our new inward (subjective) reality.

    You also say,

    “I think making sharp divisions between the objectivity and subjectivity of covenant involvement can be misleading. We also have to ask if the Bible makes such distinctions and if not are they still warranted?”

    I believe there are several examples of this objective/subjective dividing of the Covenant. For example Christ says there are many who will say “Lord, Lord”, expressing an outward (objective) commiment to Him, yet He tells them to depart, for He never knew them inwardly (subjectively).

    Paul says not all Israel (objectively) is truly Israel (subjectively) (Rom 11)

    And in John 15 where Christ says there are those in the Vine which will be cut-off and thrown into the fire appears to demonstrate that there are again, those who are objectively “in Christ”, but that were never truly or savingly (subjectively) in union with Him.

    Being a federal/ covenant theology advocate, I may not fully understand your concern, but I hope this helps clarify and answer your questions.

  13. David,

    You make a number of excellent points

    I think I understand where you are coming from however I think I you might be pressing some of these passages beyond what they were intended.

    For example, you cite John 15 as proof that there are people who are “in Christ” in some sort of way (objectively?) but are not savingly His. Respectfully, I submit that the text doesn’t say this. John 15:2 refers to the sanctifying pruning of the regenerate and verse 6 references those who do not abide in Christ and therefore are not “in Christ” in any way (objectively or subjectively) with the result that they are judged.

    My point was that if one is in the NC and experiencing the blessings of this covenant then there is no distinction between objective and subjective scripturally speaking. All who partake of this covenant (continuity issues aside) must consciously know the Lord. To be clear, there is no category in Scripture for one who is considered a member or beneficiary of the NC who does not know the Lord, His forgiveness or the work of His Spirit. Put another way, there are no unsaved or un-kept members of the NC. They know the Lord, they confess the Lord, they know and seek His forgiveness, and they are kept by the Lord.

    If this is true then it has serious implications for paedo-baptism and paedo-communion which is a contributing factor to what started the whole internet baptism debate. David, thank you for hearing me out and being kind enough to interact here in this forum.

  14. Posted by David McCrory on August 23, 2007 at 6:47 am

    Paul,

    The debate over the exact nature and extent of God’s covenant has been ongoing since at least the Reformation period. But suffice it to say, there are those who hold to the belief the covenant extends to non-elect members, and there are those who purport it belongs only to the elect of God.

    Given your last comment you seem to side w/ those who hold the latter view. Critics of the elect only view argue this makes of non-effect the warnings against apostay throughout the NC canon.

    Looking more closely at John 15 verse 2 Christ says every branch “in me” that doesn’t bear fruit is cast away. Therefore I believe, in order to do justice to Christ’s analogy and the warning of being cut-off, we must concede that in some sense, there are those who are in Christ, but who will not fully or finally abide.

    So that at the first, all the branches are in the Vine (how else could they be considered branches of the vine?) but that not all persevere because only some receieve the life giving ability to bear fruit (vs 4).

    From this I summize we can say all are objectively “in Christ”, for all are branches of the Vine. Yet only some are subjectively abiding in Him personally and in a manner (savingly, that is) which is conducive to bearing fruit.

    Thank you for the discussion though I am not familiar with the broader internet debate, but I am both a paedobaptist and paedocommunionist.

  15. Posted by Scott Christensen on August 23, 2007 at 6:59 am

    Paul & Matt,
    I am intrigued by your consideration of the matter and would love to hear more. It seems to me that communion focuses particualrly upon the death of Christ and the atonement, whereas baptism pictures more of the work of the atonement’s application in regeneration. In other words, Romans 6 seems to identify our baptism into Christ as the work of the Spirit joining us together with Him in His resurrection life. I see Romans 6 as supplying us with a sort of theology of water baptism though not explicitly as I believe the baptism spoken of is Spirit baptism at conversion, not the physical rite. nonetheless, it provides the matrix for understanding the significance of the physical rite. To me it symbolizes the reception of new life from death. How any of this relates to the NC I am not sure.

  16. Posted by Scott Christensen on August 23, 2007 at 7:06 am

    One more thought. What bearing does the repeated practice of communion have on its possibility of being a sign of the NC versus the fact that baptism is a 1 time event?

  17. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on August 23, 2007 at 7:31 am

    Scott: The repeated practice of communion is part of my argument. I will try to put something up next week. If my schedule won’t allow me to adapt something into a blog post, I’ll just email you what I’ve already written.

  18. All,

    Great interaction. Thanks for all the helpful comments and for the gracious spirit among all you brothers who disagree. Paul i think your comments on John 15 are spot on.

    Caleb

  19. Posted by David McCrory on August 23, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    Caleb,

    Regarding John 15 Paul says, ” John 15:2 refers to the sanctifying pruning of the regenerate and verse 6 references those who do not abide in Christ and therefore are not “in Christ” in any way (objectively or subjectively) with the result that they are judged.”

    Yet, here are the first 6 verses of John 15,

    1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

    2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

    3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

    4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

    5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

    6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

    Verse 2 contrasts two different types branches. But they are both branches none-the-less. The second part of vs 2 does speak of pruning the regenerate branches, the first part speaks of those branches that bear not fruit and are “taken away”. But they are branches, they are attached to the Vine for a season, until the pruning comes.

    Some are then pruned unto sanctification as they bear fruit, while still others are taken away, cut off and “they are burned” (vs. 6). In other words the fruitful branches are perserved, while the fruitless branches, which are attached to the Vine, are then cut from the Vine and destroyed.

    So while it is true that the “cut-off” branches don’t abide in the Vine, I don’t think it is justified to say the cut-off branches were never part of the Vine “in any way” as does Paul. It would not make any sense to say a branch is cast off and burned that was never really attached to the Vine in the first place.

    Rather I suggest we can take the text at face value and say there are those who are branches (objectively), they look like branches, they smell like branches, and I suppose they’d taste like a branch, but inwardly (subjectively) they are not receiving the life giving nutrition from the Vine which allows them to bring forth fruit and therefore are ultimately cut-off from the Vine.

    I’d be interested in any comments on my exposition of the above text. Thanks.

  20. David,

    This continues to take us further away from the point of my post but it is somewhat connected so I’ll give it another shot here.

    From an earlier comment, I still think you have not dealt with the fact that all who are in the NC “know the Lord” (cf. Jer. 31:34).

    As for the John 15 passage I think you are pressing the passage beyond its point which is fruit bearing (“fruit used 8x in vv.1-16). We both agree that there are two types of branches (fruit-bearing and not). However I would point out that those who evidence no fruit prove that they were never His by being judged with fire (vs. 6, cf. 1 John 2:19). It is only those who “abide in Me” (vv. 4-6) who are saved from this judgment.

    It seems that you are emphasizing that “in Me” be the guiding principle of this passage. You are pressing “in Me” to its outer limits when that is not the point that Christ is making. However, He did make that point earlier in John 6 and stated there that every single one that the Father gives Him will come to Him and will not be cast out (I would also note that in Rom. 8:30 that every single one that is predestined will be glorified). One could also look at the “in Christ” theme in Eph. 1 and see that, among other things, NC members (“saints” vs. 1) are sealed by the Spirit for the day of redemption (1:13). There simply is not this category for one who is legitimately a part of the NC but then falls away. I think most troubling to what you are saying here is that in order to arrive at such a conclusion you have to strip away the explicit promises of the NC.

    Furthermore if we follow your understanding of this passage then you would have to conclude that individuals like Judas Iscariot were part of the NC. This of course brings us back to the original problem for your position…everyone who is a member of the NC “knows Me” (Jer. 31:34).

    Thanks again for being a good sport and allowing me to interact with your comments. Blessings to you!

  21. Posted by David McCrory on August 24, 2007 at 2:22 am

    I apologize for taking us away from the point of the post. I will be brief and make these my concluding remarks on the matter.

    As I stated earlier this issue is guided by how the covenant itself is understood and defined. For now, (I have changed my view of this before) I hold that there are those who are non-elect covenant members and who are joined superfically (not savingly) to Christ. They are unregenerate baptized individuals who Christ is describing in John 15 as the unfruitful branches.

    In other words, there are those who profess outwardly to be in the Body of Christ, and who take the sign of the NC upon themselves and are considered objectively, part of the Church, but who never come to a true and subjective knowledge of Christ as Savior.

    It is to these people the warnings of apostacy apply. It is them the threatenings of Heb. 6 applies to as well. They profess the true religion, they participate in it’s blessings and benefits, they have a form of godliness but lack the power thereof. They acknowledge Christ with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him.

    The OC is filled with those who were part of the Covenant people of God, and yet who certainly were not redeemed. The same warnings of falling away applied to them that apply to the people of God today. This is why we are to make our calling and election sure.

    Thank you for the interaction.

    May the Lord bless you.

  22. Posted by Scott Christensen on August 24, 2007 at 2:47 am

    Paul has obviously picked up the “abiding” theme in Jesus’ teaching with the “in Christ” phrase throughout his writings. We might add similar phrases such as “in Him”, “with Christ” and “with Him.” In addition to these prepostional phrases Paul coins a number of compound verbs using the prepositional prefix “with” in order to communicate the same idea found in the “in Christ” phrase. For example consider the following terms: “crucified together with [1 word] Him” (Rom. 6:6); “buried together with [1 word] Him” (Rom. 6:4); “raised up together with [one word] Christ” (Col. 3:1). Other examples could be multiplied (e.g. Eph. 2:5, 6; Col. 2:12, 13). These particular passages speak of the believer’s union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. To be “in Christ” is to be uniquely joined to the person of Christ via the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal. 3:27; 1 Cor. 12:13) participating in the very life source of the resurrected Christ. This is precisely Paul’s point in Gal. 2:20. Again, “crucified together with Christ” here is another of Paul’s compound verbs in this regard. To be joined “with Christ” is to have Christ living in us as believers.

    This doctrine of union in which Paul expanded upon Christ’s teaching cannot be said of the unbeliever. The life source of the Vine flows through the branch of the believer to produce and sustain spiritual fruit. If a branch appears connected to the Vine and yet produces and sustains no fruit, than the Life juices of the Vine are not being supplied. He is not ruly connected.

  23. Thanks David,

    I know we are all pressed for time and this is not our day job. Thanks for being gracious and charitable.

    I would love to hear your thoughts sometime on Jer. 31:34. and I would also appreciate having you point out specifically where Jesus says that these unbelievers were genuine members of the New Covenant. I am having trouble following you at that point which is surely the reason for the impasse.

    New covenant blessings to you! :)

  24. Posted by Jerry Wragg on August 24, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    David –
    I’ve been reading your responses to Paul on this issue, and I thought I would make one comment.

    As to the warnings of apostasy, one wonders why God would bother giving a non-contingent warning to those who are non-elect. If He knows they won’t ever believe (“abide” ala John 15), what import does a warning passage have? It seems that whether God warns an elect or non-elect of apostasy, by your reasoning neither would be necessary.

    On the other hand, if only “God knows those who are His” (and He does), then warning a professing believer to guard against unbelief would serve the following purposes:
    • To forge an active and passionate growth in His grace –
    • To prevent the self-deception of false security –
    • To test levels of faithfulness –
    • To cause sober reflection on the dangers of unbelief –
    These warnings will have different impact, depending upon the maturity level of each believer:
    For the strong Christian– Warnings offer a reminder to press on all the more, and an abiding confidence that one has obeyed these cautions.
    For the weak but willing – Warnings provide a graphic deterrent to future patterns of sin; They display the specific care of God in pointing to dangers; They engender a greater dependence on grace.
    For the weak and stubborn – Warnings bring instant clarity to trouble (chastening); They bring greater conviction to the conscience; They expose unbelief as the source of all stubbornness.
    For the hardened – Warnings call for the justice of God, thereby upholding holiness; They confirm the traits of apostasy; They declare the absence of true conversion.

    Indeed, Paul challenged the fleshly Corinthians with “Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith!…Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5). This same admonition is refined with force in Colossians 1:22-23, “…He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard…”. Jesus’ economy of words in Matthew 24:13 is noteworthy, “But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved.” Why such a strong admonition? Wouldn’t this approach tend to foster an unhealthy introspection, external performance, and ultimately weakened assurance? The answer lies in the fact that in the infinite wisdom of God, redemption is accomplished both as to the end as well as the means. The perseverance of the saints is soundly rooted in the eternal decrees and power of God, but does not exclude the providential outworking of all things in due course. Stated another way, God has created us in Christ Jesus and prepared long ago that we should walk in good works, yet the ordained means by which He brings about our preservation and glory is the manifold commands, admonitions, encouragements, and calls to faithfulness. Furthermore, He has ordained our obedience as the objective source of assurance (“if you abide in My love, then you are truly My disciples”), which is to be kept fresh and blossoming daily (2 Pet. 1:3ff.). We might look at the matter in this way:
    Eternal Security → Promises God’s faithfulness, Describes God’s securing power, Explains God’s sovereign purposes, Ascribes to God exclusive glory
    Assurance → Grows with Christian faithfulness, Manifested by increasing holiness, Shaken by a ravaged conscience, Fades with patterns of neglect and rebellion
    God will do what He promises, but we are warned to practice what He commands (Heb. 10:23).

    That’s how I see it, anyway…

  25. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are far more important in the history of Christian thought than they are in the life American Evangelicalism today. I have recently read two very powerful books on the subject of baptism:

    1) Karl Barth’s The Church’s Teaching on Baptism (I picked it up at a used book store) one of the world’s premier theologians engages this issue.

    2) the other book comes recommended by Robert Webber, the worship guru. It is called “Down In The River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God’s Transforming Work” by John Mark Hicks and Greg Taylor. This is a great and thought provoking work. I got it through Amazon.com

    If we are going to think about baptism then these books can challenge us in powerful ways.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

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