Baptism: A Prerequisite to Communion

After 32 years of ministry and teaching on almost every subject imaginable from the Scriptures, I am still amazed at some of the mindsets and practices of Christians in the church. The retention level in the 21st century church seems to be lower than ever and when you add the ‘hit and miss’ habit of church attendance to it, it is no wonder that people do not know, learn and grow. I have finally come to the conclusion that you can never assume that people are connecting with what you are communicating.
 
While I could deal with any number of issues that would make a good example, I want to address the sacraments. Recently, I delivered a very detailed teaching on the importance of Baptism and Communion as sacred acts commanded in Scripture. I shared that baptism is when our faith goes public and while it is not something that saves us, it is an expression of our salvation and an entry way into the body of Christ. I also dealt with the fact that it is something that precedes one’s participation in communion because communion is a reaffirmation of one’s faith that has previously been publicly expressed through baptism and communion is also an acknowledgement of one’s continued connection with the body of Christ that someone has been baptized into.
 
On occasion during communion, even after giving a clear explanation of what we are about to do, I will still have people wanting to participate but have not made a public profession of repentance of sin and confession of faith in Christ through baptism. And while I am grateful for their desire to participate, there is a spiritual protocol clearly taught in Scripture that we must obediently teach and follow. Communion is for baptized believers in good standing with the Lord and His church. Therefore, it is important to say that: “Baptism is a Prerequisite for Communion.”
 
Certainly, there are churches that would not hold this position for a variety of reasons - mostly, I suspect, for lack of Biblical scholarship, mere convenience, or the perceived need for inclusion in order to reach people. But if we appeal to Scripture as well as look at the position of the historic church, we will see that they both advance the belief that only baptized believers should participate in the Lord’s Supper! So here is why I believe it is a biblical position.
 
The Two Sacraments of Baptism and Communion
 
The Holy Scriptures make clear that there are two sacraments that the church should practice. They are baptism and communion. And while they are sacred acts that the church is to engage, they have two different functions in the life of the believer.
The act of baptism is an act that follows one’s profession of repentance of sin and confession of faith in Christ Jesus. It is a one time act that immediately follows conversion and is an act that makes one’s faith public! More specifically, baptism IDENTIFIES one with Christ and INITIATES one into the body of Christ.
 
The Bible is clear about baptism and the Great Commission is one such passage. It is in this section of Scripture that we are told “…make disciples baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Throughout the book of Acts and other scriptures, believers are baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:39; 8:16; 10:48). The Apostle Paul taught that believers are baptized into the body of Christ in passages such as Galatians 3:27 and Romans 6:5. Paul goes on to say to the Corinthians in chapter 12, verse 13 that believers were all baptized into one body. This is a clear statement validating that believers baptism IDENTIFIES someone with Christ and INITIATES that believer into the church. Of course, the most obvious wording that communicates this concept is Acts 2:38-41. It says that people repented, believed and were baptized. The result was that they were added to the church!
 
Now, when it comes to communion, it is not a one time act but one that is to be repeated ‘often’. The communion table is to be a common table not in terms of repetitive duty, but in terms of regular devotion. Communion is a practice that communicates COMMITMENT to Christ, CONTINUITY in the faith and CONNECTION with the local church. It is certainly a REMEMBRANCE of what Christ has done for us in the past. It is also a RECOGNITION of His presence with us in the present and a REAFFIRMATION of our faith to continue living for Him in the future.
 
The Apostle Paul makes this very clear in I Corinthians 10:16-17. He 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.”
 
Baptism Before Communion: God’s Order of the Sacraments
 
Since we have established that baptism is when faith goes public and places one into the body of Christ, and since communion is the ongoing, regular event that reminds us of the passion of the Christ, an act of renewing our faith and experiencing His presence, it would be out of order for anyone to partake of communion without first having been baptized as a believer.
 
The Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians, and therefore us today, not to eat and drink of communion in an unworthy manner (I Corinthians 1:27). This is in the context of what communion means - a renewing of faith and a reaffirmation of our commitment to Christ. But since baptism is the first step of obedience for the believer, it would be necessary to complete this step before eating of communion. Otherwise it is partaken in an unworthy manner!
 
We see this order clearly in Acts 2:41-42. First, in verse 41, the new believers were baptized, added to the church and then in verse 42 they broke bread together. And when Paul is teaching the Corinthians about communion in chapter 11, he is writing to baptized believers in Christ. This is the clear contextual understanding as we read chapter one.
 
But what about the historic church? The historic church, though not the final authority on the matter (the Scriptures are), does give us direction and shows us how to understand the doctrine. While the method and timing have often been disputed, the fact that baptism is a prerequisite for communion is common among the vast majority of the historic church.
 
So, in conclusion, let me emphasize that it is very important to have a strong commitment to the commands of Christ found in Scripture! If we believe in His word and we want to follow Him closely and carefully, then we should take these things seriously. Parents need to be reminded that their children should be baptized before participating in communion. And being faithful to the order as well as the meaning and purpose also helps us discern who is a follower or not. Now, we know that baptism itself does not make someone a Christian and it certainly does not indicate their spirituality. But the church has been given authority by Christ to guide people into faith and through the process of connecting in the body. Communion is the family meal and baptism is the doorway into the dining room. It is the church, the family of God, that affirms the reality of a person’s profession of repentance and confession of Christ as Savior and Lord. This is why baptism is a prerequisite for communion. It is where faith goes public, entry into the family is announced and a chair is set at the table for the one who is properly connected.

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