Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Baptism and the Lord's Supper: What's in a Symbol? Part 1

Perhaps some of you have noted that I have recently become obsessed with the topic of baptism. You would be only partially right. It is not a recent obsession. It goes back a few years, actually around five. It was then that I first read what the Baptist Faith and Message states about baptism and the Lord's Supper. Recent events have only brought my old objections back to mind. Let me begin by giving you the quote of what the BFM states:

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to 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, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.

That is the sum total of what the BFM has to say about baptism and the Lord's Supper. The obsession that I have with the ordinances was provoked because of the second paragraph. I cannot believe that the Lord's Supper is only given one sentence in the BFM. One sentence of the Lord's Supper! Our theology about the Lord's Supper is about as deep as the thimble from which we drink our grape juice.

When I think of a symbol, I think of something that represents something else. Something like the American flag. No, the American flag is not the United States, but it does represent us, and when someone mistreats one, it is a grand insult to Americans. At least, it is a grand insult to Americans who love this country and are proud of its heritage. A wedding ring is also symbolic. It is symbolic of the covenant made between a man and a woman who have vowed to love, honor, and cherish one another until death seperates them.

Without the symbolic attachment, the American flag is just some pretty cloth. It means nothing, and no one would care if you burned one like an oily rag. If you found a wedding ring on the roadside, it would be worth the going rate for gold to you, but that would be all.

The reason that the baptismal symbol is so special is not just for the sake of the act itself. Yes, the Lord is present. Yes, it is a special experience. But it is only special because of the meaning that our Lord put to it. Otherwise, it is no more special than when the bully down the block dunked you at the third grade swimming party.

Here is my point on baptism: It is the sign that regeneration has taken place in the heart of the believer; that he has been brought from death to life by the triumphant power of our Lord's resurrection. In fact, it is the same power that brought light into darkness that called our Lord from death to life. Paul prays that we will know "what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saint, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power twoard us who believe, according to the mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead" (Ephesians 1:18-20). Then Paul writes, "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins." (Eph. 2:1). See the parallel? Jesus was dead, and by the mighty power of God He was made alive. He was resurrected. You were dead also, and by the mighty power of God, you were made alive. Jesus was raised and put over all things. You were raised and sit together with Christ in the heavenlies. Jesus was raised to display His glory; you were raised that He might show His glory in you. This is what baptism symbolizes.

The reason, dear reader, that baptism fails to be special is because the thing that it symbolizes is taken lightly. If you see a American flag burned, it may not stir your heart. If your wife has walked out the door after three years of marriage, you may toss your ring out the window. But if you love your country it should move you to see the symbol of your nation desecrated. If you love your wife then you will not only not toss your ring, but you would search and search until it was found if you lost it. The value of the ring far exceeds the cost of the metal that forms it.

I confess that my baptism did not mean as much to me when I was baptized as it does now that I have been walking with my Lord for several years. In truth, I did not love my wife on the day that I said my vows like I do today or I will in ten years, God willing. With every passing day I see more of her splendidness and the blessing that God has given me in her. Every day I see the miracle of the new birth more clearly, and I understand its grace with more pride-killing clarity.

This is why I wrangle over paedo-baptism. The symbol they have attached to it is wrong. It symbolizes what has happened, not what may happen. Is this mere sentimental attachment? In part. Just as I am "sentimentally' attached to grace. The sign of the new covenant, dear friends, is not baptism. The sign of the new covenant is the Lord's Supper. And that will require a post of its own.


Jason E. Robertson said...

Looking forward to your Lord's Supper post.

centuri0n said...

You know how I feel about the fake baptist position (which is institutionalized in the BFM) that the ordinances are "just a symbol". What complete dookie!

Listen: the word "dookie" above is just a symbol, right? So who should get offended that I have used this symbol to represent what I think about the BFM's Cliff's-notes theology of ordinances? It's just a symbol.

Now look: if that reasoning doesn't work in defending my use of "dookie" in my criticism, how can it be used to defend any view of baptism at all?

"Just" a symbol? Who are we kidding here?

centuri0n said...

I also think you mis-characterize the (viable) paedo position about baptism here, btw. They do not administer baptism to infants for the sake of what might happen: they administer the sacrament on the basis of God's promise to the children of believers.

Let's make sure that we say clearly that as baptists we reject the idea that baptism is a sign and seal of a derivative promise: we affirm baptism is the sign and seal of God's active work in the life of the believer. In some respects, we are "banking" on God's promise based on the evidence of a confession, but it is not a derivative promise: it is the active, first-hand work of the gift of faith, that we demonstrate in baptism.

Still, good stuff Brad. I'm going to part II now.