Friday, July 06, 2012
Should you take communion if you are not a baptized believer?
(Note: this is the working out of my personal belief, not necessarily the expressed view of any local church I serve or have served.)
Should you take communion if you are not a baptized believer? Is it ok for parents/churches to allow their unbaptized but professing Christian children take communion?
My take: I think the Bible does not allow any unbaptized person to celebrate the Lord's Supper.
Here are my reasons:
1) Baptism is the sign of entering into the covenant community. Whereas under the Old Covenant circumcision was necessary to be marked as a covenant member, now the Bible expects believers to be marked by baptism when entering the Christian community (that is a believer's baptism after personal faith in Jesus).
Peter did not tell new converts to "believe and take communion," but rather "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins..." (Acts 2:38). Baptism is the outward expression of an inward reality. So too, baptism is the mark of being a truly circumcised member (not of the flesh) of God's people of faith (see Deut. 30:6). Colossians 2:11-12 put it this way, "In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead" (NIV).
The New Testament has no concept of an unbaptized believer. Believers are to be baptized. In fact, if a believer refuses to be baptized, they are disobeying a command of God. And, if someone is knowingly disobeying any of God's commands, they shouldn't be allowed to take communion. We must examine ourselves in order to celebrate the Lord's Supper. If upon examining ourselves we realize we are ignoring any of God's commands, we must repent. This would include not obeying the Lord's command to be baptized.
2) The Lord's Supper/Communion is the covenant sign of ongoing participation in the covenant community. During the Jewish Passover meal on the night of his betrayal, Jesus explained the meal's deeper meaning. The Passover was a meal pointing ahead to the true Passover Lamb (Jesus Christ). The meal finds its fulfillment in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Now, all who are members of the New Covenant People of God are supposed to regularly take this meal in remembrance of the Messiah who has come (Lk 22:19-20).
One of the main reasons I think communion should be for those marked by baptism is that the Old Testament Passover meal was reserved for those who had been marked by circumcision. I quote a large section from Exodus 12 for your meditation:
NIV Exodus 12:43 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "These are the regulations for the Passover meal: "No foreigner may eat it. 44 Any slave you have bought may eat it after you have circumcised him, 45 but a temporary resident or a hired worker may not eat it. 46 "It must be eaten inside the house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. 47 The whole community of Israel must celebrate it. 48 "A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the LORD's Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. 49 The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you."
3) One common and legitimate argument against this view would be something like this, "I think my child is too young to be baptized. I really want them to remember it. It is an important step, and I don't want them to be baptized without being ready." I think there is merit in this approach to baptism. It is good parenting and church shepherding to assess if there is a legitimate conversion before allowing anyone to be baptized. My only question then would be, "Is the taking of the Lord's Supper any less significant for your child?" Why would we let our children participate in the sacred ordinance of Communion and not be baptized? If a child is ready to take communion, I think they are ready to be baptized. If they are not ready to be baptized, they are not ready to take communion.
4) What should I do if I am out of line with this biblical model?
First, recognize that the Bible has separate categories for sins of omission (unintentional) and commission (intentional). Don't beat yourself up. If you understand the Gospel, you already knew you were more sinful than you could ever comprehend. There are layers and layers of sin in your life. God doesn't expose all of our sin to us at once. But as the Holy Spirit reveals sin, we repent and then press on in holiness. Christ's blood forgives both sins of omission and commission. Receive His grace.
Second, if you are personally guilty of taking the Lord's Supper without obeying the Lord's command to be baptized, repent. Go to your church leaders and request to be baptized as soon as possible. Until you are baptized, I would encourage you to not celebrate the Lord's Supper. Use the times in the worship service to pray, meditate, and look forward to the future times of celebrating this covenant meal. (Note: this is what I would encourage parents to do with their professing, but unbaptized children as well). If anyone asks why you are not taking the bread and wine, explain to them the importance of following Biblical precedent.
Third, if you are a parent, help guide your children in the ways of the LORD with the help of your local church. It is probably wise that there is no age restriction on being baptized or taking communion. For some 5 year olds, baptism and communion should not be withheld. For other five year olds, we may need to say no. And yet, churches and parents need to be careful in what they communicate to young children regarding the Gospel, conversion, and the Christian life. It is ok to faithfully test the professed faith of young children before allowing them to be baptized and celebrate the Lord's Supper. Those who believe in justification by faith don't think these practices are necessary for salvation. Your child will not go to hell if they have to wait 12-36 months before celebrating the ordinances.
All that to say, if your child has expressed faith and there are no doubts to true conversion, why withhold the ordinances? Worst case scenario is that the child and you are both wrong. At the point you think the conversion is not legitimate, you simply tell your child to quit taking communion and let them know that their "immersion into water" was not really a believer's baptism. Later, upon true conversion they should be baptized properly and begin taking communion as a believer in Christ.
I'm still working through these ideas. As such, comments, other Scripture references, and critiques would be warmly accepted.