Baptism and Communion: Two ordinances, three tenses
Editors note: This
is the fifth in a series of eight monthly articles on the 16 Foundational
Truths of the Assemblies of God, written by faculty of Assemblies
of God Theological Seminary.
"The ordinance of
baptism by immersion is commanded by the Scriptures. All who repent
and believe on Christ as Savior and Lord are to be baptized. Thus
they declare to the world that they have died with Christ and that
they also have been raised with Him to walk in newness of life."
Supper, consisting of the elements bread and the fruit of
the vine is the symbol expressing our sharing the divine
nature of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:4), a memorial of His
suffering and death (1 Corinthians 11:26) and a prophecy of His
second coming (1 Corinthians 11:26) and is enjoined on all believers
"till He come!"
is surprisingly simple. When distilled to its essence, the teachings
of Jesus involve virtually none of the ceremonies, rituals or other
features usually associated with religions. Yet Jesus did leave
us with ordinances, concrete ways of connecting with His person
and with other believers. Water baptism and Communion are the two
ordinances practiced by the Assemblies of God. Neither makes us
a Christian, but both tell us what it means to be one.
Water baptism: buried
and raised with Christ
While Jesus himself did not baptize anyone, He immediately delegated
this responsibility to His followers (John 4:2) who continued the
practice under His direction (Mathew 28:19) as a way of initiating
new believers into the faith (Acts 2:41). For 2,000 years followers
of Jesus have made three powerful statements in the act of water
baptism one past, one present and one future.
Past tense: I have
chosen. At various times in history, misguided Christians have
attempted to coerce others into baptism as a way of forcing them
into their religion. These campaigns hardly accomplished Jesus
original mission for the church to "go and make disciples of
all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19, NIV). Obviously,
being a "disciple" is meant to come first, and that by
free choice. An Ethiopian who came to faith by way of Philips
witness asked him, "Look, here is water. Why shouldnt
I be baptized?" (Acts 8:36).
This is the attitude
that baptism represents: a desire to announce that I have chosen
to follow Christ. The Assemblies of God endorses water baptism of
those believers who are old enough to understand the experience.
Understanding is needed in order to fulfill the biblical emphasis
on voluntary choice and saving faith.
Present tense: I can
identify. Baptism is a way of telling the world that I identify
with Jesus in every respect. When a believer enters the water, he
or she is being "buried with [Christ] in baptism and raised
with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him
from the dead" (Colossians 2:12). In this sense, every baptism
is a funeral for the old self, a way of saying that sin and death
no longer own me, "because anyone who has died has been freed
from sin" (Romans 6:6,7). But it is much more. The grave could
not hold Jesus any more than the water can hold us. At Christs
return, the grave will be unable to hold us as well (Romans 8:11).
Christs death and
resurrection are the great universals of the Christian faith, accessible
to anyone who believes. Despite some differences in theology and
method, all Christian traditions practice water baptism in some
form, telling the world that their faith is not a set of beliefs,
but a life lived out in Christ. The Assemblies of God practices
water baptism by immersion to reinforce the symbolism of burial
and resurrection and to reflect the practice as found in the New
Future tense: I will
be faithful. Scripture records baptisms taking place in public
settings. Since church buildings were not used until the third century
A.D., the public nature of the ordinance most likely persisted for
generations. Thus, to be baptized as a Christian in a largely pagan
culture was to make a very public statement of total commitment
to Christ, and to face the consequences of that commitment.
Public baptism makes
it impossible for Christians to practice a "secret" faith
concealed from a possibly hostile world. A baptismal service, especially
when accompanied by the new believers retelling of his or
her spiritual journey, is a powerful witness to the risen Christ
and a statement of commitment to the Savior that cannot be retracted.
It is a way of saying that I have counted the cost and decided to
serve God with all my heart (Luke 14:25-33).
The Assemblies of God
follows the historic Christian practice of baptizing "in the
name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew
28:19). In addition to being Jesus only instruction on the
matter, this wording reflects the triune Gods total commitment
to the believer. The Fathers love sent the Son to the cross.
The Father and the Son sent the Spirit upon the church (Matthew
3:11; John 15:26).
Communion: the Lords
Some Christian traditions refer to Communion as the "Eucharist,"
however, the wording used is much less important than the recognition
that "the Lords supper" (1 Corinthians 11:20) takes
place at "the Lords table" (1 Corinthians 10:21).
The original language here is quite emphatic; this experience belongs
Jesus modeled the Communion
moment at a Passover meal that would eventually be called the Last
Supper (Matthew 26:26-28). The common label is incorrect. This was
really the first supper, the beginning of two millennia of believers
celebrating Christs presence among them. Three truths present
themselves every time we meet with the Lord around His table.
Past tense: a table
of history. The Lords table recognizes the historical
reality of Jesus sacrifice. Of the bread, Jesus said, "This
is My body which is broken for you." Of the cup, He said, "This
cup is the new covenant in My blood" (1 Corinthians 11:24,25,
NKJV). Rather than being a hollow ritual about Christ, the Lords
Supper commemorates what He has actually done for our forgiveness
and reconciliation with the Father.
In water baptism, we
individually identify with Christs death and resurrection.
But at the Lords table, the entire community focuses on the
Cross and the empty tomb. In this act, the history of redemption
is affirmed by the congregation, and the congregation is affirmed
by the Agent of that history. As Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance
of Me" (1 Corinthians 11:24,25). Assemblies of God churches
serve Communion frequently in order to bond the congregation together
around the central reality of Christianity: the Cross.
Present tense: a table
of accountability. One purpose of the Communion experience is
to call participants to a moment of accountability before the Lord.
Paul addressed the church at Corinth on this issue. The congregation
was fractured by competing loyalties and was displaying grotesque
moral and relational failures. Even the regular fellowship meals,
and the following Communion services, were coming to resemble the
feasts held in local pagan temples (1 Corinthians 11:18-22).
The Corinthians needed
to "examine" themselves: "For anyone who eats and
drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks
judgment on himself" (1 Corinthians 11:29, NIV). This injunction
means that the blessing of Communion is not only neutralized, but
reversed, when the Lords table (and the sacrifice and community
it represents) is treated with disrespect. There is no benefit in
the bread and cup for Christians who choose to live in flagrant
disobedience before coming to the table.
Assemblies of God churches
tend to take a sober attitude while serving Communion, providing
opportunity for members to consider the quality of their lives and
make things right with God and with others.
Future tense: a table
of prophecy. Communion is temporary. One day the ordinance will
be replaced permanently by fellowship among Christ and His people
in eternity (Revelation 19:9). Jesus spoke of this when He told
the Twelve at their final Passover meal, "I will not drink
of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink
it anew with you in my Fathers kingdom" (Matthew 26:29).
Every time the church
celebrates Communion, then, we "proclaim the Lords death
until He comes"
(1 Corinthians 11:26).
Coming to the Lords table is a way of recognizing that the
future will not be an endless extension of the present. Christ is
coming for His church. The bread and the cup foreshadow the real
Last Supper, the one that will never end.
Ordinances are visible
representations of invisible realities. We are water baptized to
signify our entry into the kingdom of God through identification
with Christ in His death and resurrection. We come to the Lords
table to remember the present reality of the Cross, to make our
lives accountable to God, and to look forward to Christs return.
As we participate in the ordinances, we connect both to God and
to His people.