Following is another in a series of columns on the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
Article VII of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 reads:
“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.”
Southern Baptists refer to baptism and the Lord’s Supper as ordinances. That means the Lord commands believers to carry out these symbolic activities, which picture the finished work of Christ and prepare us for his imminent return.
Ordinances have no saving value, for a person receives everlasting life only by faith in Jesus. Even so, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are important acts of obedience.
Some, like Roman Catholics, refer to baptism and Holy Communion as sacraments, meaning they are necessary for salvation.
Others, like Presbyterians, also call baptism and the Lord’s Supper sacraments, but that doesn’t mean they are necessary for salvation. Rather, they are “means of God’s grace” – special ways that God speaks to our hearts, gives us a visible way of establishing the difference between believers and unbelievers, and prepares us to serve him.
Baptism is the immersion of a believer in water. The Greek word for baptize means “to dip in or under.” Scriptural baptism follows justification – the work of God declaring a believing sinner to be in right standing before him.
Believers are to be immersed rather than sprinkled or poured because immersion properly pictures: (a) our identification with the crucified, buried, and risen Savior; (b) the death of our old life, and the resurrection to new life in Christ; (c) baptism by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, which took place at conversion (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 12:13); and (d) our faith in the future resurrection of the dead.
As believers, we are baptized because Jesus commands us to be baptized (Matt. 28:19-20) and instructs us to follow Him (Matt. 16:24). We can take comfort in these truths:
(1) Jesus was baptized, identifying him as the Son of God and initiating a new epoch in God’s plan of redemption as the Spirit descended on him (Matt. 3:15-17). Therefore, we are identified with the person and work of Jesus when we follow him in baptism.
(2) The early Christians were gladly baptized as a testimony of their faith (Acts 2:41; 8:36-38; 10:47-48; 16:30-33).
The Lord’s Supper
Also known as communion, the Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience through which believers memorialize the death of Jesus and anticipate his return. This is done by eating bread and drinking the fruit of the vine – the bread symbolizing Christ’s broken body, and the drink symbolizing his shed blood at Calvary (Matt. 26:17-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 10:16, 11:23-30).
Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper on the night of his betrayal and arrest as he celebrates Passover with his apostles. Passover is a remembrance of what God did in delivering the Israelites from Egyptian bondage (Ex. 12:1-17). At that time, God was going to carry out the last of 10 plagues, striking dead every first-born male – man and beast – throughout Egypt.
But believing Israelites who sprinkled the blood of a lamb over their door posts were passed over by the death angel.
Now, Jesus, the Lamb of God, establishes a similar memorial for a new covenant: “And he took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he also took the cup after supper and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:19-20).
Only believers may take part in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus instructs those who partake to “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24). Unbelievers have no reason to remember Christ’s sacrificial death, since they’ve rejected him. And since they have not entered into a covenant relationship with Christ, they have no hope of drinking the fruit of the vine with him in his kingdom.
Christians living in rebellion against God should abstain from the Lord’s Supper until their sins are confessed and repentance takes place. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that a Christian should “examine himself” (1 Cor. 11:28) before partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Failure to do so invites the chastening of God (1 Cor. 11:29-30).
The Bible gives no instruction as to the frequency with which the Lord’s Supper should be observed. Some churches observe the Lord’s Supper every Sunday; others, once or twice a month, or quarterly. Paul simply told us that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (Cor. 11:26).
Next: Article VIII of the BF&M: The Lord’s Day