What two practices are we talking about? Baptism and communion. Before we discuss them in more detail, we have to answer two questions: (1) what is baptism? and (2) what is communion? First, very simply, we can define baptism as “a symbolic practice of the church in which [new] believers in Jesus are immersed in water as public obedience to Jesus Christ and as an outward symbol of the believers’ forgiveness of sin and new life in Jesus Christ.”1 We can define communion as “the eating of broken bread, symbolizing the broken body of Jesus, and the drinking of wine/juice, symbolizing the shed bled of Jesus, done in remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross and in anticipation of his coming again.”2
At the heart of both of these acts are obedience and worship. Because Jesus commanded his church to practice both ordinances, the church obediently does them. We participate in baptism and communion as an act of worship to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and part of that worship comes from our obedience to follow him in performing these ordinances. The other part of that worship flows from what these two ordinances symbolize: Jesus’ death and resurrection. When we participate in both of these ordinances, we remember what Jesus has done for us and we then worship him for it.
In three gospels, we see Jesus participate in baptism (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). Jesus does this not out of repentance but because “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Here, Jesus identifies with humanity, providing an example for us to follow. Later in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commands his disciples to make disciples, and in making disciples they are to “baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Today, we follow Jesus’ example and command to be baptized.
So, if we are commanded to baptize, the logical questions that follow are: Who is to be baptized? Why practice baptism? How are we to baptize? Paul answers some of these questions for us in Romans 6:1-4. First, throughout Scripture we see that salvation comes through repentance of sin alone and not through the act of baptism. Just in the book of Acts alone, people repent and believe and then they are baptized (see Acts 2:38; 8:35-38; 16:14-15, 30-34). If baptism isn’t salvific, then why do we do it? Paul answers this for us in Romans 6:1-4, where he compares Jesus’ death and resurrection to baptism. Just as Jesus died and was buried, Christians are dead in their sin. When plunged beneath the water, they are symbolically connecting themselves with Christ and his burial. However, when they are raised up out of the water, they are symbolically associating themselves with Christ and his resurrection. Baptism then becomes an outward symbol of the inward change Christ has brought through his death and resurrection. Because baptism is done publicly, this act displays for the world Christ’s work on our behalf and shows the world how the one being baptized is now associated with Christ. This finally leads us to consider the question of how we are to be baptized. Though many churches today pour or sprinkle water for baptism, Vintage Church immerses people under water. We do this, first, because the very word baptism means “to immerse,” and secondly because it makes sense in light of Paul’s metaphor in Romans 6, when people die, they are buried. Therefore, Paul can compare Christ’s death and burial to baptism because it symbolically makes sense; to be submerged completely under water symbolically depicts burial in death.
The Bible is also chalked full of references to communion, or the Lord’s Supper. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus celebrates his last supper with his disciples (Matthew 26:17-35, Mark 14:12-31, Luke 22:7-38). Here, Jesus institutes communion as an ordinance. Jesus takes the bread and says, “Take; this is my body” (Mark 14:22). He then takes the cup of wine and says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24). Luke records that Jesus told his disciples to practice communion “in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Just as with baptism, theologians ask the who, how, and why questions of communion. First, if communion is done in remembrance of Jesus then it would make most sense that only those who have placed their faith in his work should partake in communion. Secondly, in regards to how communion is performed, the Bible seems to be less clear. What is most important, however, is that bread is being broken and juice or wine is being utilized, because both are very clear symbols of Jesus’ body and blood. Similarly, Scripture is unclear about when exactly communion should be practiced. However, the New Testament, particularly Acts and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, seem to imply that communion was celebrated weekly. This is also what the early church did. For this reason, Vintage Church takes communion almost every week. Finally, why celebrate communion? Beyond obeying Jesus, we participate in communion as a way to remember and reflect on Jesus’ death while simultaneously looking forward to his second coming.
Though they have been practiced by Christians all around the world for centuries, the ordinances of baptism and communion are not emphasized and carried out enough in many churches today. May this not be a characteristic of Vintage Church. Are you a Christian and haven’t been baptized? Obey and worship Jesus through baptism. If you would like to talk to someone about baptism, email Vintage Church at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each week as we participate in communion, do you remember Jesus’ work and worship him? Whether through baptism or communion, let’s worship Jesus together.
1Vintage Church, “vPapers: Baptism,” http://static1.squarespace.com/static/5492d8f2e4b02622a07bc98b/t/55919de5e4b06f59a48b4d82/1435606501302/VpapersBaptismFinal+.pdf.