Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two important sacraments that ought to shape our lives throughout the week.
It’s a typical Sunday at First Baptist Church for Dustin. Pastor Jon had just finished his sermon and announced that after the closing hymn he is going to baptize Thomas, a college student who, after wrestling with doubts over the resurrection for years, has finally believed the gospel. Dustin’s wife ducks out during the first verse of the hymn to retrieve their children from the nursery. When she arrives back at the pew with their gaggle of children, Dustin is noticeably flustered by their raucous behavior. As the final verse ends he decides to sneak out with his family before the baptism. His conscience is troubled at leaving early, but he decides to go ahead anyway. After all, Thomas’ baptism doesn’t really have anything to do with him, does it? Isn’t it just about Thomas personal profession of faith? He can do that just as well without Dustin and his family.
Dustin’s attitude toward Thomas’ baptism represents the way many evangelicals think about the ordinances. For many, baptism is essentially about my personal profession of faith, an expression of my obedience to Jesus. Regrettably, this individualism characterizes how many Christians even think about the more obviously communal ordinance, the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is purely about my remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice, my confession of sin, or my hope in the Lord’s return. So with eyes tightly shut and hearts pretty well indifferent to who may or may not be in the room, the Lord’s Supper becomes nothing more than an act of private devotion—just one we do in proximity to a lot of other Christians.
The Bible, however, paints a very different portrait for how the ordinances function in the life of the church. Let me submit three ways the Bible shows us how the ordinances should shape our relationships with one another, both on Sundays and throughout the week.
1. BAPTISM AND THE LORD’S SUPPER CREATE DAY-TO-DAY COMMITMENTS.
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not hermetically sealed events in the life of the church—“flash in the pan” moments that interrupt our regular routine of worship. Instead, these are events that create day-to-day responsibilities toward one another. Going back to our opening illustration, when Thomas is baptized on Sunday morning, that baptism has implications for Dustin on Monday. In baptism, the church is making commitments to the believer and the believer is making commitments to the church.
Where do we find this in Scripture? Baptism is how the church marks out the people of God. In the Great Commission, Jesus authorizes the apostles, and by implication the church, to administer baptism to “disciples” (Matthew 28:18–20). When someone is baptized they are not only going public with their faith, the church is also affirming their profession as credible. The church, after all, is the one administering the baptism, giving as it were their stamp of approval to that person’s profession of faith.
And what happens after someone is baptized? They join the church. Baptism doesn’t just mark someone’s commitment to follow Jesus, it also marks their commitment to Jesus’ people. Throughout the New Testament, new believers joined up or “were added” to the church by baptism (Acts 2:14; 1 Corinthians 12:3), and once added to the church, the church loved and spiritually nourished them (Acts 2:42–47).
So when church members watch someone get baptized, we aren’t just celebrating their private profession of faith. We are making a commitment to them to oversee the well-being of their Christian walk, to care for them, and to love them as members of our church. In other words, when we witness someone baptized we are, as a congregation, implicitly saying our church covenant to them as they go down into the water and they are saying it back to us as they emerge. When you see someone baptized in your congregation, add them to your prayer list and start asking how they’re doing—they’re part of the family now.
2. THE LORD’S SUPPER CONSISTENTLY CONFRONTS ANY UNCHECKED PRIDE OR BITTERNESS.
In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul identifies one of the primary problems in the Corinthian church as divisiveness (11:18) rooted in some form of classism and pride (11:22). How does Paul respond? By talking about the Lord’s Supper—yep, the Lord’s Supper! Shocking isn’t it? But not if we recognized just how central the ordinances are for a healthy church community.
Paul rebukes the Corinthians because the Lord’s Supper demands that they be one unified body (11:23–33). This supper portrays a gospel which demands that we all make the same claims about ourselves: we are sinners and Jesus is our only source of righteousness. The Lord’s Supper assumes we are one, united, reconciled body. It’s a family meal.
The Lord’s Supper then is meant to function like a net, catching any unchecked pride or bitterness that church members might be harboring toward one another.
To switch analogies, the Lord’s Supper is like an air filter in your heating system. Air filters catch all the pollen, bugs, and other decaying material from outside to make sure that only the cleanest air gets pumped into your home.