Updated: Dec 8, 2021
With the issues that face the church, are the historic stands for biblical baptism and the Lord's Supper unwise for us to take today?
Over the past couple of months I have been seeing a disturbing trend of thought with subsequent declarations within conservative and reformed circles of western evangelicalism. These declarations go something like this, “There are far more pressing issues that face the church of Christ than baptism, the Lord’s Supper, ecclesiology, and church polity. We should stop being so concerned with those things and join together to fight the real threats that face us.”
Of course, I would expect paedobaptists to be more friendly to such a declaration because in practicum their understanding and practice of the ordinances fundamentally fails to proclaim the gospel of grace. But for the credobaptist such an idea should cause within us great concern. Certainly, there is some latitude when it comes to certain aspects of ecclesiology and church polity, but to say that the ordinances commanded of us by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself are not so important that we must be sure to obey Him is more than a little concerning.
The primary reason that we must not demean the positive institution of the ordinances of the Lord Jesus Christ to His church is that He commanded of us obedience in both the personal-public act of baptism and the corporate-public act of the Lord’s Supper. So then, while the ordinances are not salvific in nature, they carry with them the weight and gravity of our risen Lord’s command.
There is simple clarity to be found in the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith when concerning the ordinances of Christ to His church it states, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution. They are appointed by the Lord Jesus the only lawgiver and are to be continued in his church to the end of the age. These holy appointments are to be administered only by those who are qualified and called to administer them, according to the commission of Christ.”
The above quoted statement gains its simplicity and clarity from the very word of God recorded for us. The fact is, that the Great Commision of Christ to His people reveals the great importance of teaching the commands of Christ to all His disciples and baptism itself is named as one of those commands.
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
While the Lord’s Supper is the sole ordinance not specifically named in the Great Commission, it is certainly covered by the Lord’s recorded words, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” Further, we find the command for the Lord’s Supper and the details of our obedient celebration of it by the hand of the apostle Paul.
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” (1Corinthians 11:23-26)
Can one separate the commands of Christ from the Great Commission of the church? Is there any greater “issue” that faces the church of the Lord Jesus Christ than for us to obey the commands of the Savior? I hardly think so, and one would be hard pressed to find any convincing evidence from Scripture concerning a time in which we are to abandon our biblical stand on important issues such as the gospel ordinances.
The thought being expressed by some in the reformed evangelical world is that our generation is facing things never faced by generations in the church that came before us. However, this estimation is made in the willful ignorance of the church’s 2000 year history. The church exists in a fallen world and the attacks of the world toward the church of the Lord Jesus Christ have all been evil attempts at overthrowing our Savior and King. The fact remains that the gospel ordinances instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ were given with an evil antagonistic world in mind.
There is nothing new under the sun. This biblical truth means that no “issue” that faces the church today is fundamentally different from what the church has always faced in this world, and will face until the return of our Savior. Whatever the sinful behavior, the cause has always been the same, a dead and wicked heart. While we must certainly do all we can to negate these things in the culture around us, we must never lose sight of the fact that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only cure. Understanding this, why would anyone ever say that the stands taken for the biblical practice of the ordinances, through which we publicly testify of the gospel of Christ, are anything less than what they are taught to be in Scripture?
We must also consider that to demean the importance of the two ordinances given to the church necessarily means that we go against another positively instituted command of our Lord Jesus Christ to take the gospel into all the world. “How” you ask? A failure to obey the ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ is failure to testify before men the great work of the gospel in us and for us. The gospel ordinances are called “gospel” ordinances because in them and through them we testify of the gospel of the Lord Jesus’s Christ before the world.
The very early church regarded the ordinances with such concern that they often withheld baptism until they were sure of a new convert’s profession of faith. Often, persecution was so heavy, that baptism necessarily meant one’s own death sentence. What fundamental issues face the church today that it has not faced in the past? Any answer other than “None!” is a denial that what was given to us by the Lord and His Apostles, with their instructions concerning the gospel ordinances, is extremely important for us today.
I have heard Baptists posit the idea that baptism is not as important as the issues we face today. Oh, if they only knew the suffering of their forefathers as “Christian” governments and magistrates fined and imprisoned so many of our brethren of the past for issues regarding the ordinances. And yet now the theological posterity of those who imprisoned us are now telling us not to take the ordinances so seriously? I think not.
Christ commanded that we testify of Him before men. We do so in part through baptism. The world is made witness to our new born love and heart for service to our King through our baptism. Ought we sluff off baptism as unimportant to the mission of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ if it is by this ordinance we testify of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ through a physical picture of our death, burial, and resurrection in Him?
What of the Lord’s Supper? A public testimony of our great hope in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our obedience in partaking of the elements of the Lord’s Table is the physical attestation to our unity in Christ, our faith in His righteous work alone, and our hope of His return. Properly understood, the Lord’s Supper is an incredible witness for the gospel, hence its classification as a “gospel ordinance.”
Is there any issue so great that we should not concern ourselves with obeying the Lord Jesus Christ in our observances of His commands to us, through which we testify to the world the gospel whereby we have been saved? Is there any issue so great that we fail to concern ourselves with the commands of our King? Certainly not, and to say there are other things more important than the commands of our Savior, a system of religion where we are the ones who determine the order of importance when it comes to the doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ, is to be no better in practicum than the man-centered “gospel” we so often preach against.
It must be noted at this juncture that it is not my purpose to disuade from joining with paedo-baptistic brethren to address the sins of our society and culture, and even the unjust laws of the land. However, in terms of our local assemblies and even enveloping ourselves without discernment in their publications, the credobaptist must exercise great care. Baptists are the throrough reformers and the ordinances play a huge part in the distinctiveness of baptistic theology.
As a Baptist by conviction and pastor by calling and confirmation, I am more than willing to forsake an argumentative spirit on a host of secondary issues that have arisen in the church over the ages. However, I cannot let such declarations stand as “We ought not be sidetracked with such things as baptism amongst ourselves as the church, because we have more pressing issues at hand.” To make more or less of the ordinances of our Lord is to fail in the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ and live in willful disobedience to our King. What greater issue faces the church than that of obedience to Christ our King?