What We Believe- Article VII, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (part 2)

March 1, 2009

Today we will continue our look at Article VII of the Baptist Faith & Message, this time by focusing in on what it has to tell us about the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.  It says,

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.

Matthew 3:13-17; 26:26-30; 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; 14:22-26; Luke 3:21-22; 22:19-20; John 3:23; Acts 2:41-42; 8:35-39; 16:30-33; 20:7; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:16,21; 11:23-29; Colossians 2:12.

Contrary to the last paragraph on Baptism, where I was joyed with every jot and tittle of the confession, in the Lord’s Supper portion I am not nearly as enthused.  It is not that I disagree with what is said, per se, but only that, as seems to be the case in many Southern Baptist churches I have been in, the practice of the Lord’s Supper is simply glossed over.  Now this is better than the 1925 version of the BF&M which says only that “by the use of bread and wine, [the church members] commemorate the dying love of Christ,” but there are definitely more specific confessions as well.  So, since that is the case, I would like to share two other declarations about the Lord’s Supper that I find superior and give a brief explanation of why.

First, from The New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833:

[Believer's baptism] is prerequisite . . . to the Lord’s Supper, in which the members of the Church, by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self-examination.

At first this appears hardly different from the 1925 BF&M version, which is true, the 1925 version was meant to be a near restatement of this confession, but the one extra button that I think makes this writing better is the last qualification: “preceded always by solemn self-examination.”  The Apostle Paul makes no little to-do over the necessity of self-examination and avoidance of partaking the cup in an unworthy manner while addressing the Corinthian believers (cf. 1 Corinthians 11.27-29), and, though it is certainly not in vogue to ask people to consider that they may actually be sinners in need of repentance these days, I find it funny that the 2000 BF&M does not mention anything about self-examination and yet still leaves 1 Corinthians 11.27-29 in as part of their Scriptural justification for their statement.

The second confession I would have us look at, and probably my favorite for use today, would be that in The Abstract of Principles:

The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of Jesus Christ, to be administered with the elements of bread and wine, and to be observed by His churches till the end of the world. It is in no sense a sacrifice, but is designed to commemorate His death, to confirm the faith and other graces of Christians, and to be a bond, pledge and renewal of their communion with Him, and of their church fellowship.

I don’t really think much more needs to be said about this statement.  It is as full a confession of the biblical position as I can find in the creedal writing without being burdened by historical concerns (many good confessions such as The 1689 London Baptist Confession and The Savoy Declaration are weighed down by trying to distinguish themselves from the Eucharist as performed in the Catholic church, though I much enjoy their discussion of what is actually being partaken in the bread and wine).

One last consideration, and I will just bring this up as it is of contemporary debate, is the unavoidable conclusion that the BF&M affirms that the Lord’s Supper is only to be joined in by members of the church who have participated in Believer’s baptism as described in our previous post (cf. “[Believer's baptism] 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, &tc”).  

Thus, there are two areas of contention.  One is from those who support “open communion” in the sense that they allow any and all people, baptized or not, saved or not, to participate in the Lord’s Supper.  Honestly, there is no Scriptural justification for this and plenty of Scriptural writing against it, and churches which practice this should be strongly rebuked by those other churches who would be in fellowship with them.

The second debate concerns a form of “close communion” in which a Southern Baptist church would allow believers in like faith, but from other baptisms, to participate with them in communion.  It is particularly acted out with Calvinist Southern Baptist churches allowing communion to believers from the Presbyterian church (PCA).  This is definitely in opposition to what is taught in the BF&M, however I am not sure myself if I have an issue with it.  In my opinion, I would want to try and stay as conservative as possible with something of this nature (i.e. near where the BF&M stands), but I have trouble coming to the stricter conclusion through what I read in Scripture.  This is one issue which I am still much in the air about.