In a previous post, I argued that the church should rekindle a sense of the primacy of baptism in the process of conversion. Baptism shouldn’t be minimized. Certainly, there are elements of church doctrine that should be considered relatively minor. So, it’s a question of the wisdom of how to discern between major and minor components of the faith. My argument is that baptism is not one of those minor practices of the church. In Scripture, it occupies a normative role in how someone receives Christ and is added to the church. In my own “non-liturgical” evangelical background, I have observed a lessened role for baptism. I’ll leave it to the historians to tell us how this came to be.
It’s my contention that the church is a pilgrim community, on a spiritual journey to the full realization of the Kingdom of God. In the church’s sojourn on earth, baptism and communion stand out as two key rituals/ceremonies that order her life. Baptism provides entrance into the church; regular observance of Communion spiritually sustains the church in her walk with the Lord.
I would like to take several posts to address Communion in the life of the church.
Why do so at this time?
- I have noticed major neglect of Communion among several churches with which I have been associated. The degree of neglect in some cases has been manifested in an annual or semi-annual observance of Communion. These churches have mainly been of the conservative, evangelical, “seeker-friendly” persuasion.
- In the past couple of years, I have undertaken a fresh study of the New Testament to develop deeper convictions on the practice of Communion and would like to share what I have learned.
- I believe that the observance of Communion is the spiritual “glue” that binds congregations and the church as a whole together. Because of this, the topic deserves discussion.
- The Apostle Paul taught that observance of Communion serves as a proclamation of the death of Jesus. Does Communion have any significance for the world at large, outside the confines of the church community? If it does, what is the significance?
Join me in the coming posts as I look at the following aspects of Communion:
- What are the primary actions involved with its observance?
- Is there a central purpose to it?
- Is there a biblical model for it?
- Who is to participate in it?
- What should be the frequency of observance?
- Does location of the observance matter?
- How should Communion relate to other ministries of the church (e.g. worship services, teaching, etc.)?
Ephesians 4:5 states, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” We believe there is only one Lord Jesus and we believe in one body of confessed truth called “the faith”. Yet when it comes to baptism, it seems to be another story.
Perplexing questions on baptism for the weekend:
- In Ephesians 4, the apostle urges us to maintain the unity of the Spirit. Later, as support, he tells us that there is one baptism. If there is “one baptism”, how come Christians can’t agree on the referent on this term? Water baptism? Spiritual baptism? “Baptism of the Holy Spirit”?
- Baptism seems to be important in the New Testament. And it’s pictured in Ephesians as something that should bring unity. Efforts to elevate the importance of baptism tend to require being more specific about the meaning of the ritual. Yet, the more specific one is about the ritual, the more dissension one seems to invite. Is this an accurate description of the matter? How to solve this conundrum? Is it possible to have a congregation where a plurality of views on baptism is permitted, but where the importance of baptism is not minimized?
- Many people are troubled by a Baptist perspective on baptism because it seems to be out of sync with historic church practice. Is this a reason to be troubled? Assume the Baptist position is correct – could it be that are there other major areas where the church has been fundamentally wrong?
Scandal. Contention. Division. These are too often the headlines the Church of Jesus Christ produces for the watching world. How different this image is from that of Jesus praying that his people would be one, as He and the Father are one. I’d like to share some thoughts (certainly not original) about the nature of Christian unity. In an era where Wikipedia cites the existence of 41,000 Christian groups and denominations, the question of the essence of unity must be asked. Indeed, what kind of unity can we expect in our churches and between our churches? Continue reading The Essence and Value of Christian Unity
The spirit of this blog is ecumenical in the best sense, I believe. “Ecumenical” is defined by Webster’s as “1.: worldwide or general in extent, influence, or application. 2a : of, relating to, or representing the whole of a body of churches, 2b: promoting or tending toward worldwide Christian unity or cooperation.” I realize “ecumenical” is a dirty word for many Christians; the thought being that ecumenism goes hand-in-hand with weakening of the understanding of the gospel. Thus, the more you team up with other Christian groups, the more compromises you will have to make to work together. And no one should want to compromise the gospel. I agree. Nonetheless, I don’t see how you can be a Christian (a person who follows the one Christ) and not pray and labor for the maintaining of the unity of the Church in the world (the Church being understood as the one Christ’s one people).
It must be admitted, though, that there are understandable barriers to unity, divergent views of the gospel being among the most serious. Moreover, one would expect that with historic geographic dispersion, the church would manifest herself in many various forms and administrations. So, organizational unity would seem difficult to maintain over time.
I would like to take a couple of posts this week and address the following questions:
1. What does Scripture mean by “unity”? In what sense should we expect to experience it as God’s people?
2. What are legitimate reasons for organizational separation among churches? Is organizational unity of churches something that should be desired to some extent? Is the reputation of the gospel advanced when there is a functional unity among Christians, or is it of no consequence?
3. I would like to apply the issue of unity to a hard case: the practice of water baptism.
So, for you, what does the Bible mean when it talks about unity among Christians?
Does your church regularly devote herself to the public reading of Scripture? Many in the “free church” and so-called “non-liturgical” traditions no longer adhere to this well-established practice. In First Timothy 4:13, the apostle urges Timothy: “Till I come, give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching.” Continue reading Re-Discover the Public Reading of Scripture as a Church