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Why Only Baptized Christians Should Take Communion



In a recent worship service in our church, I invited all “baptized believers” to join us at the Lord’s Table. That prompted a question from several people: why say, “baptized believers?” Is baptism really a prerequisite for taking communion?

Of course, not all churches would answer this in the same way. But the majority of Christians throughout history have believed that only baptized people should participate in Eucharistic meal. I think it’s a biblical position, and here’s why.

Two Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Table

There are two sacraments given to the church, baptism and the Lord's Table, but these serve different functions.[i]

Baptism is a one time event that signifies: 
•   identification with Christ,
•   initiation into the Christian faith, and
•   entrance into the Christian church. 

Lots of passages point this way, and I won't list them all, but think for example about the Great Commission (we are commanded to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit – Matt. 28:19), or multiple references in Acts, where people are baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:39, 8:16; 10:48), or the Epistles, where Paul speaks of being baptized into Christ and into the body (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:5). Consider especially 1 Cor. 12:13 where Paul says that by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. In other words, baptism is what identifies someone with Christ and unites someone to the church. We also see this in Acts 2, where people repent, believe, and are baptized and thus are "added" to the church (Acts 2:38-41). 

The Lord's Table, on the other hand, is an ongoing, repeatable event (“as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup do this in remembrance of me”) that signifies:
•   fellowship with Christ, 
•   continuance in the Christian faith, 
•   and unity with the Christian church. 

This is especially clear in 1 Cor. 10:16-17, where Paul says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” This shows us that communion involves both a special fellowship (“participation”) with Jesus and symbolizes our unity with the “one body” of Christ (“we who are many are one body”).

The Sequence: Baptism Precedes Communion

So, while baptism is an initial profession of faith, the Lord's Table is an ongoing, continual, and repeated renewal of faith. But isn’t it dishonest for someone to participate in a renewal of faith, if they've never professed faith in baptism to start with?

Communion is also something of a pledge of renewed trust in Christ and obedience to him (which is one reason why Paul warns against eating or drinking unworthily in 1 Cor. 11:27). But it would be pretense for someone to take communion when they have not even taken the first step of obedience to Jesus in baptism. 

Then there's also the biblical pattern. The sequence is always baptism first, followed by communion. So in Acts 2, for example, it is only those who are baptized and added to the church in verse 41 who then participate in the breaking of bread in verse 42. In 1 Corinthians, when Paul talks at length about communion (in chapter 11), the assumption from earlier in the letter (chapter 1) is that he is writing to baptized Christians. There are no examples in Acts or the Epistles of unbaptized people taking communion. 

Add to this the witness of the church through the ages. While historical creeds and confessions don't settle the matter (Scripture does that!), they do give us some clear benchmarks for understanding how the church has historically understood doctrine. And from what I can tell, the majority of churches have either taught or assumed that baptism should precede communion. Of course, there are significant disagreements about the mode and timing of baptism – but almost all agree that baptism, however it is understood, must come first.

So, that’s why I invited “baptized believers” to share in the Table at our church. Stating it this way is helpful for a couple reasons. First of all, it’s a helpful reminder for parents that their kids should be baptized before taking communion. It’s also helpful for seekers and non-Christians who need a concrete way of discerning whether they are really converted Christians or not. Of course, being baptized itself doesn't make someone a Christian or necessarily prove they are. But making a public profession under the authority of a local church who affirms the reality of someone's conversion is an important step and a good safeguard against self-deception.

Their Significance: Making the Gospel Visible

Finally, let’s never forget that both baptism and the Lord’s Table are given by the Lord to make the gospel visible to the church and the world.

Baptism points to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It’s a dramatic reenactment of the humiliation and exaltation of our Lord that signifies our union with him through faith. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). Baptism publicly declares that what is true of Christ is also true of all who trust in him. His story is our story, in his death we also died, and through his resurrection we receive life made new. 

The Lord’s Table, likewise, “proclaims the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). When we eat the broken bread and drink the fruit of the vine, we taste and see that the crucified and risen Savior is gracious and good. We embody our faith through the everyday acts of eating and drinking, showing that just as we’re dependent on bread for physical nourishment and strength, so also we trust in Christ and his finished work alone for salvation, spiritual life, and strength.




[i] I owe some of my ideas for this article to Jeremy Keever, whose thoughtful blog post on “Should I Take Communion if I Haven’t Been Baptized?” was helpful for me.   http://differentway4kids.blogspot.com/2011/03/should-i-take-communion-if-i-havent.html. Accessed March 15, 2013. 

This article was originally written for Christianity.com.

12 comments:

Gregg Metcalf said...

I agree with you. Many around me locally would not. I too when given the opportunity, invite baptized believers to the table. Thanks for the post.

Kevin Wilson said...

Judas took communion with Jesus and the rest of the disciples. Jesus did not exclude him even though he was about to go and betray Jesus. How does that fit into your way of thinking about communion?

Matt Smethurst said...

This is excellent, Brian. Thanks.

Matt Smethurst said...

This is excellent, Brian. Thanks.

Nick said...

I think this approach made a lot more sense when denominations used to be "closed communion," meaning that before you could take communion at a given denomination you had to be a 'card carrying member'. In this way, communion had a more deep meaning of literally 'in-communion' doctrinally.

As that started to break down and mainline denominations started to fizzle out, then the Eucharist took a hit so severe that only abandoning transubstantiation was worse.

Brian Hedges said...

Hi Kevin,

Good question. i think I'd say that Judas was still a part of the "visible church" prior to his denial of Jesus and subsequent apostasy. Jesus sat at the table with him in the same way that we would sit at the table with members of the visible church whose faith later proves to be temporary and false.

Brian

Anonymous said...

Don't forget you can't carry your mat on the sabbath

Straining out gnats and swallowing camels

Carol Grantham said...

I believe baptism is important, but it does not save you. Only through Jesus may we have eternal life. So how could one exclude someone from communion over baptism? What about situations in which baptism is not possible? It happens in some countries where you could be reported and baptism literally happens once in a blue moon in a hotel bathroom, in secret. Or physically handicap, possibly on a vent and your church only performs submersion baptism?

Brian Hedges said...

Anonymous: You may disagree with my arguments, but that doesn't mean this is not an important biblical issue. At least try to engage with the text of Scripture and offer counter-arguments. We all have to do our best to determine what Scripture says in its context and then figure out how to faithfully apply it to our own.

Carol: Thanks for your comment. I agree that baptism doesn't save you. The question I'm wrestling with is did unbaptized believers take communion in the New Testament? It seems to me that the least we can say is that there is no clear example of this in Scripture. But I'll acknowledge that what is descriptive in Scripture is not always prescriptive. The cases you mentioned could pose exceptions to the rule. Also, it might be helpful to note that while our church practices immersion, we receive those who have been baptized by other modes to our table. There are many folks from a Presbyterian or Christian Reformed background who regularly commune with us. So, for whatever its worth, our practice is actually less strict than that of many Baptists.

Kreg Yingst said...

Would you allow believers to participate in the Eucharist who have been baptized, by Christ with the Holy Spirit and fire, but who have not had the opportunity to receive water baptism? My wife works in a prison ministry and has offered the supper to believers from different denominations who may or may not have received water baptism. Their commonality is their confession of Christ.

Steve Finnell said...

INFANT BAPTISM?

Is infant baptism a Biblical practice? Is infant baptism in agreement with Scripture?

Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (NASB)

Infants cannot repent because they do not understand the meaning of repentance nor do they comprehend water baptism. Infants have no sins that need to be forgiven. Infants are not sinners. Infants do not need to repent nor do they need to be baptized.

Only comprehending adults are guilty of sin.

James 1:14-15 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and entice by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.(NASB)

Infant cannot be tempted to sin. Infants are not enticed by their own lusts. Infants do not get drunk and commit fornication. Infant to not commit armed robbery. Infants do not murder. Infants are not sinners.

1 John 3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.(NASB)

Infants do not practice sin. Infants do not break God's laws. Infants are not sinners.

Acts 22:16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His, name!(NASB)

Infants are not capable of getting up and being baptized, they cannot even understand the command. Infants cannot call on the name of the Lord.

Acts 8:34-38.....36.....What prevents me from being baptized?" 37 [And Philip said , "If you believe with all your heat, you may." And he answered and said , "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."]....

Infant cannot believe nor can they confess Jesus as the Christ the Son of God. Infants cannot meet the requirements for water baptism. Infant are prevented from being baptized.

Acts 31:30-34 and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." 33...and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household......34 having believed in God with his whole household.(NASB)

The jailer had to believe and be baptized to be saved. The jailer did not believe for his household. The jailer was not baptized for his household. Everyone in his household believed before they were baptized. Infants cannot believe, there were no unbelieving infants baptized. Believing always precedes water baptism.

Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.(NASB)

The jailer and his household were saved just as Jesus said in Mark 16:16, they believed and were baptized. Infant cannot believe nor can they consent to be baptized. Infant are not lost, only sinners are lost.

John 8:24 'Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."(NASB)

If you take the position that infants are guilty of sin; then you have to believe that if infants die before they believe that Jesus is the Christ, and the Son of God that infants will die in their sins.

Infants are not sinners.
Infants do not qualify for baptism.
Infants are not lost.
Infants who die without baptism will not go to hell.
Infants who die without believing in Jesus will not go to hell.
Infants who are aborted will not go to hell.



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Anonymous said...

Hi Brian! I love how you honor OUR LORD. It is obvious that THE FATHER has given you a special revelation about HIS COMMUNION. I can see that you are taking Jesus CHRIST seriously. We are all free to have our personal opinion about communion; but at the end of the day it is God's standard and opinion that matter. All the children of God are not at the same spiritual level. Some are comfortable to be fed with milk while others desire meat. But God can not being mocked. He knows His flock. I am praying that The Holy Spirit gives understanding to every person who reads this article. Communion is for TRUE WORSHIPPERS, those who worship THE FATHER in SPIRIT and in TRUTH. His is still looking for such people and I am glad that you are already one of them. This article is needed for such a time as this. Jemimah From Cameroun