The Bible teaches that we are to observe two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper (also known as the Lord’s Table and communion). These are not things that we do to earn God’s favor, and they are not conduits of God’s grace. They are merely acts of obedience in response to God’s grace having worked and continuing to be at work in our lives. We know that baptism doesn’t save anyone. If it did, then we would have to infer that Christ wasn’t saved until He was baptized, which is obviously not true. Baptism doesn’t save anybody, but it is a sign to the watching world and the body of Christ of what has happened to the person born into Christ. We are baptized into Christ when we receive His gift of salvation by faith. Christ baptized with the Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). This is the salvation experience. The purpose of baptism was never to save, but to function as an outward sign of an inward reality. Circumcision in the Old Testament never saved anybody, yet it served as a sign to point to the truth that a person was a Jew, belonging to God. In the same way, the Lords’ Table and baptism point to the fact that we are indeed the Lord’s.
There is no record in the entire Biblical account of infant baptism. The baptism that was done in the Scriptures and in the early church was after the salvation experience. Circumcision doesn’t save anybody and neither does being baptized as an infant. Christ was baptized as an adult, and all of the accounts of baptism in the book of Acts are following salvation. In fact, baptism often happened immediately following a person’s decision to trust in Christ for their salvation. Christianity is not something to be hidden under a bushel. The early Christians made a statement in public that they were followers of the risen Christ, risking persecution from the Jews (and later the Romans) and ridicule from even their own friends and family members.
Baptism by immersion is the only recorded method of baptism in the Scriptures. It has spiritual symbolism attached to it which only makes sense for a person who has chosen of their own volition to follow Christ (something an infant could not do). The symbolism is recorded in Romans 6:4 which says, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Our old sinful self, upon trusting in Christ for salvation, is buried with Christ, and a new self is born to walk in newness of life. The immersion process represents sin being washed away (John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance) but more importantly the death of the sinner who is raised a saint (the baptism of Christ). We are totally immersed (which is literally what baptized means in this context) in the death of Christ that we identify with it fully in order that we might partake in it by repenting from our sin and letting our old self die. Christian baptism is a sign of this event in the life of the believer. The believer goes under the water, representing identification with the death of Christ, and he is raised above the water, symbolizing new life in Christ.
Baptism is a public declaration of a commitment to Christ and of salvation. In Muslim countries, professing Christians are not considered much of a threat until they take the step of being baptized publicly. Then the Muslims know the person means business. They will soon be disowned and in some cases be sentenced to death. Not being baptized publicly could be a sign of either a lack of understanding of what the ordinance means, or it might show that a person is not really interested in taking the step of obedience and being identified publicly as a believer. We must show new believers and those who have been saved for some time but who have not been baptized why obedience in this area is important. We need to take a public stand of faith for our own confidence as believers but also for the purpose of giving a testimony to those around us. The world will watch us to see if we have changed, and the church should embrace us to keep us on the straight and narrow path of sanctification.
The second ordinance is the Lord’s Supper. The wine and bread are symbolic representations of Christ’s body which was beaten and of His blood which was spilled. Its purpose is for us to regularly recall the sacrifice of our Lord and the salvation of our souls (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). The Lord’s Supper is never a means of gaining the grace of God. It is rather a reflection of the grace that was given to us once and for all through the sacrifice that was once for all for all the saints. As Hebrews 10:10 says, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Christ does not have to be re-crucified so that grace can continue to be poured out. The work of the cross, as Jesus said, “is finished” (John 19:30). There is no Biblical reason to believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ. Christ was actually there in person when He instituted the practice, breaking a literal piece of bread and passing a literal cup of wine (Luke 22:19-20). 1 Corinthians 11 says that we ought to participate it the Lord’s Table “in remembrance” of Christ. Its purpose is to proclaim the death of Christ until He comes. We are to continue to recall the most important truth of our lives, and those who watch might ask what it is about. This provides a teaching moment for the salvation message.
There are several serious exhortations surrounding the Lord’s Supper. One, it must be taken seriously and not combined with other casual meals and gatherings. 1 Corinthians 11:27 says, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.” Second, it is only for believers because a person who is not saved cannot look back and remember the blood and body of Christ as relevant to their own lives. They never partook of Him in faith, so they are not to partake of the symbols of His sacrifice in remembrance. The Lord’s Table, like baptism, is a sign that points to the salvation of the participant, ultimately drawing all attention back to the work of Christ on the cross. There must be a work of the cross for the person to look back to; otherwise, they are not welcome to share in remembering His body and blood. Third, partaking of the Lord’s Table, must be preceded by a time of serious introspection to judge ourselves to see if we have any unconfessed sin. Consequences of not confessing before partaking include sickness and death (1 Corinthians 11:30). We cannot approach the table of our Lord in sin, in a casual and irreverent manner, or without Him residing in our heart. To do so is to drink judgment to ourselves for not having judged our bodies rightly (1 Corinthians 11:29). God takes the death of His Son seriously, and we must do the same.