Baptism, Membership and the Lord’s Supper
Baptists do like to make a big splash, with full immersion, although there are exceptions to this, either for medical reasons, or a lack of water.
- What was your experience of baptism, (if you have been baptised)?
The Declaration of Principle says:
‘That Christian baptism is the immersion in water into the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, of those who have professed repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ who ‘died for our sins according to the Scriptures; was buried, and rose again the third day’.
Read: Romans 6:1-14
- What do you find helpful in this passage?
- Paul seems to suggest that our baptism is the start of new life, but also that it is a daily challenge to crucify our old self and live for Christ. If we were baptized a long time ago, how helpful is this analogy?
Read: Acts 2:42-47
- What encourages you in this passage? What challenges?
- Can you see elements of this in the local church?
Many Baptist churches offer membership to people immediately after their baptism.
‘A Christian congregation is a gathering of those who have turned to God in Christ, confessed this in baptism and devoted themselves as a priority to learning, sharing in fellowship, breaking bread together and prayer.’
- How important do you think church membership is? For you, or in general?
Early Baptists talked about being in covenant with each other and God (rather like the language we use in a marriage). Is this idea of covenant helpful or not? An early Baptist covenant was that the members agreed to ‘walk together as becometh saints’, there was an element of each member being accountable and responsible for others.
- How do we feel about being responsible for others in the church, or others scrutinizing us?
Membership has responsibilities: to learn together, to share in fellowship, to break bread and to pray.
Baptist writer Nigel Wright commented that, ‘Marriages work best when they are sustained by love and trust…’
- How can we relate the ideas of marriage to church membership?
- How do we build love and trust in marriage…and therefore in community and the church?
The Lord’s Supper
We saw from the Acts passage how important breaking bread together was for the early church. They did it daily!
- How often is the Lord’s Supper celebrated in your local church?
- Do you think it should be celebrated more often or not?
Read 1 Cor 11:17-33
Paul says that we should examine ourselves before we come to the table. In context he is talking about how we can leave people out, eating while others are hungry, being divided (18-22).
- How can we ensure that we ‘recognize the body of the Lord’? (Remember that elsewhere Paul describes the church as Christ’s body, and we are each members of it 1 Cor. 12:27)
Early Baptists practiced ‘closed communion’, only members of that particular church were admitted to the Lord’s Supper, everyone else had to leave. Part of this was due to the fear of persecution, because it was while they were gathered around the communion table that the church had its ‘church meeting’, so if there were spies, they might hear of people who were willing to become Baptists and thus break the law!
Other Christians saw the Lord’s Supper as an opportunity to share the good news and welcome any who want to know Christ more.
- How do we feel about ‘closed communion’ and a more open table?
The baptism of believers is central to the understanding of being a Baptist. We do live a mobile society, where work often means we have to move, and we change churches. This means that we might have some people in our churches who were baptised as infants, not baptised, as well as baptised as believers. While baptism is important, it is the membership, the covenant relationship that defines us. We are in a cross-shaped covenant: vertically and individually with God and then, like the cross-beam, in a horizonal, equal relationship with each other. Being in covenant with the other members of the church is a joyful responsibility, where we each can ‘walk together as becometh saints.’
 N.G. Wright, 2009, Baptist Basics 2.