THE PLACE OF BAPTISM
THE LORD’S SUPPER IN WORLD EVANGELISM
Gary Ray Branscome
“Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in Christ’s name among all nations,” (Luke 24:47)
Christ instituted baptism and the Lord’s Supper, not as isolated acts, but as a vital part of His plan for world evangelism. And, because they are ordinances of the Gospel, their very purpose is to proclaim the Gospel! Baptism was intended to assure all who repent and turn to Christ that they have forgiveness in Him. And, the Lord’s Supper was instituted to continually remind all who trust in Christ that they have forgiveness, not because of what they do, but because His body was given for them on the cross and His blood was shed for them on the cross. Moreover, because Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were intended to proclaim the good news of forgiveness in Christ, they are proclamations of the Gospel, not “acts of obedience”. Nevertheless, because the way of the world is to think only in terms of what we do, rather than what Christ has done for us, the carnal mind finds it difficult to think of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as anything other than “acts of obedience”. For that reason, we need to begin by looking at what the Bible actually says.
Let us begin with Baptism. When you were baptized did you do any thing? Were you actively “baptizing”? Or were you totally passive while God’s servant baptized you? If you were passive you were not doing anything. Instead, everything that took place was being done to you. So how can anyone who is really honest call that passivity an “act of obedience”. I contend that they cannot, apart from satanic delusion. Baptism is not something we do it is something that God (working through His servant) does to us as a way of telling us that when we came to faith in Christ our sins were washed away (by His blood 1John 1:7).
Think for a moment about the thousands of Jews who came to faith in Christ on the day of Pentecost (Acts -41). They knew perfectly well that Baptism was not an “act of obedience”. Their law said nothing about “Baptism”. However, they also realized that if they went forward to be baptized, all of the Jews who saw them go forward would know that they believed Christ was the Messiah. Therefore, going forward to be baptized was an act of faith on their part, not an “act of obedience”. And, that is what God intended it to be! To be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins,” is to be baptized believing that there is forgiveness in Christ (Acts ). And, the ceremony of Baptism is God’s way of telling everyone who comes that when they placed their faith in Christ their sins were washed away.
At this point I always run into someone who thinks that I am saying that we need to be baptized in order to have forgiveness. However, I am saying no such thing. People need to stop putting words in my mouth. What I am saying is that baptizing someone is the same as telling them that when they came to Christ their sins were washed away. The only difference is that they are being told by a ceremony, rather than by words. The ceremony pictures what is happening spiritually, as their sins are washed away through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ (1John 1:7, Romans 5:1-2). Just as the rainbow was given to Noah as a sign of God’s promise, Baptism is given to us as a sign of God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ. And, Baptism plays an active part in the work of the Gospel, by assuring those who come to faith that they have forgiveness in Christ. In 1521 Philip Melanchthon put it this way:
Signs do not justify, as Paul says in 1Corinthians : “Circumcision is nothing,” and so baptism and participation in the Lord’s table are nothing but witnesses of the divine will toward you. And your conscience, if at all in doubt, is rendered certain by them of the grace and benevolence of God toward it. As Hezekiah could not doubt the fact that he would recover when he had both heard the promise and had seen it confirmed by a sign; as Gideon could not doubt the fact that he would be a victor, when he was confirmed by so many signs; just so, ought you not doubt the fact that you have attained mercy, when you have heard the gospel preached and received its baptism, and the body and blood of the Lord. But if you will, Hezekiah could have been restored to his health even without a sign had he been willing only to believe the bare promise. Likewise Gideon would have been victorious without a sign, if he had believed. So you can be justified without a sign provided you believe. [From “LOCI COMMUNES” (Common Topics).]
The Lord’s Supper
Let us look now at the Lord’s Supper. When you partake of the Lord’s Supper are you actively doing something? Or are you passively receiving something that is being given to you as a free gift? If you are passively receiving something by what twisted reasoning can that be construed as an “act of obedience”?
The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to remind all who come that Christ’s body was “given for” them on the cross, and that His blood was “shed for” them on the cross, so that they could have forgiveness (Luke 22:19-20). Far from being something we do, the Lord’s Supper is something that Christ is doing through His minister. The Lord’s Supper is Christ’s way of telling every one of us that His body was nailed to the cross for our sins, and that His blood was shed on the cross so that we could have forgiveness. And, everyone who believes the words that Christ spoke when He instituted His Supper, everyone who believes that Christ’s body was “given for” them on the cross (Luke 22:19), and that His blood was “shed for” them on the cross truly receives His body and blood, not as something physical but as the atonement for their sin.
Now in order to make it perfectly clear that I am not saying that we need to receive the Lord’s Supper in order to have forgiveness, let me explain it this way. There is no difference between believing that Christ’s body and blood were “given” and “shed” for you on the cross; and believing that Christ died on the cross for your sins. In both cases forgiveness comes through believing God’s promise, not through what we do (Galatians ).
At this point there are always some who ask: “Why do we even need the Lord’s Supper?” But Christ, who knows far more that we do, instituted it for a purpose. He knew that there would be times in history when the Gospel would be obscured and taken for granted. And, during those times His Supper remains as a continual reminder to all who come that His body and blood were “given” and “shed” on the cross so that we could have forgiveness. Christ also realized that almost every congregation contains someone who professes faith in Christ without really understanding the way of salvation. The people I am talking about are not wicked. On the contrary they sincerely want to do the right thing. They believe that they are sinners, but are often burdened with guilt. Through the Lord’s Supper, Christ (who has a far better understanding of the human mind than we do) assures each one of them that His body was “given for” them, and that His blood was “shed for” them. So that when they come away from the Lord’s Supper they have forgiveness, not because of the ceremony, but because they believe that the blood of Christ was shed for them on the cross, “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Believing that Christ’s blood was shed for you is faith in Christ, faith in His sacrifice, faith in what He did on the cross. And, the Lord’s Supper was intended to affirm that faith. That is why whenever the Lord’s Supper is offered the emphasis must be on the words that Christ spoke when He instituted it. And, those words need to be repeated as the bread and wine are distributed. If His words are not repeated then the person administering the Lord’s Supper is not doing what Christ told him to do when He said “do this” (1Corinthians 11:24-25).
False Interpretations Hinder God’s Plan
Because the world tends to think only in terms of what we do, rather than what Christ has done for us many find it hard to conceive of Baptism as anything other than a work. Moreover, that lack of understanding causes a problem when what the Bible says about Baptism is twisted and distorted by those who think that it is a work. Consider for example, 1Peter :
“Baptism also now saves us (not by removing the filth of the flesh, but as the promise of a good conscience toward God,) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Those who think that Baptism is a work either assume that performing that work automatically saves, or they deny and explain away what this passage says. However, consider the words, “Baptism also now saves us… as the promise of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. As I pointed out earlier, Baptism is given to us as a sign of God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ and this passage is saying just that. We are not saved by the outward ceremony, but by believing the promise that it gives, namely that we have forgiveness through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (the resurrection is proof that He triumphed over sin). As it is written, “Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise might be given to those who believe, through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians ). It is “through faith in Jesus Christ” that we receive what is promised. Baptism is just one of the ways in which God gives us that promise.
Looking at it another way, because the Bible defines Baptism as a “baptism of repentance,” when Peter said, “Baptism also now saves us” he was not viewing Baptism as an application of water and nothing more, but of Baptism in its context of repentance and faith in Christ (Acts 13:24 and 19:4, Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3). In other words Peter was speaking of conversion, of which Baptism is the outward sign. That is why C.F.W. Walther, speaking of 1Peter , said that when Peter says Baptism, “‘also now saves us,’ he speaks by way of synecdoche” — that is, a figure of speech in which part (Baptism) is substituted for the whole (conversion). (Law and Gospel, page 355.) That is why he also said, “It is of paramount importance that I believe… not the water in Baptism, but the promise which Christ has attached to the water.” (Law and Gospel, page 346.)
Another passage that people often find
difficult to understand is John 3:5, “Unless a man is born of water and
Spirit, he cannot enter the
We need to get beyond the mindset that thinks of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper nothing more than inconvenient rules that we need to “obey”. God instituted them as proclamations of the Gospel, not a works of the Law. And, they need to be administered as He intended — as a way of assuring all who repent that they have forgiveness in Christ.