Last Sunday, I said that the sacrament of communion is for “baptized, repentant Christians.” Every time I say this, I get a lot of questions.
To be clear, there is no Bible verse that says, “Thou shalt not take communion until thou art baptized.” (If there were, I wouldn’t be writing this essay). Rather, the fact that communion is for baptized, repentant Christians is a theological deduction – a conclusion from what Scripture does say. I explained the deduction briefly on Sunday; let me do so more fully here.
Baptism marks you as a Christian. (Notice I didn’t say baptism is what makes you a Christian). Can you be saved without being baptized? Sure, if you’re the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42-43), or if you’re converted on your deathbed. But under normal circumstances, there’s no such thing as an unbaptized Christian. The New Testament knows no such category. For years theologians have argued over whether one has to be baptized to be saved. The answer is no. But the question highlights how closely the Bible connects the two. An unbaptized Christian is to the biblical writers like a pink unicorn or a modest politician or a flamboyant Tom Osborne – there is no such thing.
Baptism is a rite of initiation. In baptism, you are marked with the name of the Triune God: “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is what marks you as a Christian and not a Jew or a Muslim or an atheist. In some countries, being a Christian privately won’t get you killed; but being baptized will. Baptism happens once, upon profession of faith, as a sign and seal of God’s covenant with you: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3)?
Communion is a rite of participation. It is done repeatedly, in the church’s corporate gatherings, as a means of remembrance and renewal: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes“ (1 Corinthians 11:26).
By way of analogy: baptism is like the wedding ceremony; communion is like celebrating your anniversary. Baptism is the establishing of a covenant; communion is the renewing of that covenant. Baptism is like circumcision (which, thankfully, is only done once); communion is like the Passover feast.
When we say that communion is for baptized, repentant Christians, we’re simply saying that you should do these things in the right order: conversion/faith/repentance, baptism, then communion. If you’ve done them in the wrong order, that doesn’t make you a bad person. But it does make it incumbent upon us to “explain to you the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26) so that “all things may be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40).
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Next logical step: Baptism and church membership go together. A Christian without a church family is also a “pink unicorn” to the New Testament understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. The rite of initiation (baptism) initiates a convert into the covenant people, not just into an individual covenant relationship with God. Right?
Paul: yes. “The rite of initiation (baptism) initiates a convert into the covenant people, not just into an individual covenant relationship with God.” Well said. I would simply want to add that church membership, as practiced today, is a little messier and not quite as neat and tidy as what we see in Scripture. So the answer to your question is yes… with appropriate nuancing.