For some reason, the BaptistTheology.org site, run by Southwestern Seminary, seems to be directed especially at defending supposed Baptist "denominational distinctives," and, consequently, discrediting the views of those, like myself, who take a more open view of interdenominational cooperation among evangelicals, on various topics.
The most recent article, or "White Paper," to appear on BaptistTheology.org is "Baptism as a Prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper," by Nathan Finn. I am somewhat familiar with Mr. Finn, by way of his blog, The Fullness of Time. I have found Mr. Finn to be, in general, a gentleman and a scholar, and appreciate the objective and irenic tone present in his writing. I would venture to say that I would be in total agreement with 95% of his views on theological issues, and am quite confident I could have wonderful Christian fellowship with him. However, it just so happens that some of the topics on which he chooses to write are those on which I happen to differ with a certain segment of Baptists, who, in my opinion, are attempting to make a certain definition of so-called "denominational distinctives" a rallying point for a further narrowing of parameters of cooperation in Baptist life, both in the States, and on the international mission field.
Earlier on this blog, I took a public stand indicating my belief in what I would call "semi-open communion," which is the view that sincere believers, who have never been baptized as believers by immersion, but who, on the basis of their study of Scripture, have come to the conclusion that infant baptism is biblically justified, may be admitted to participation in the Lord’s Supper, as long as they, on the basis of a self-examination of their conscience, feel they are being obedient to the Lord’s commands. This would not include those who have been specifically excluded, by way of legitimate church discipline, from participation in the Lord’s Supper.
Lest anyone misinterpret what I am saying, let me make crystal clear here my unreserved commitment to the biblical doctrine of "believers' baptism by immersion."
Since Mr. Finn’s paper on "Baptism as a Prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper" is 15 pages long, I will not copy the whole text here. In order to understand the full context of both his points, and my answers, below, I would recommend reading here the entire paper first.
Without drawing this out more than I have, it would be impossible for me to comment on every detail of what Finn has written. Also, I have not bothered to comment on a great deal of the content of the paper, because I have no substantial disagreement with many of the points covered. There are also a few points that I have bypassed, because I did not consider them to be of relative significance in relation to the rest of those on which I do comment.
Having said that, here are some excerpts of what I consider to be some of Finn’s most significant points, and my answers to them…
Finn: While many Protestant denominations also refer to these practices as sacraments, most Baptist churches prefer to call them "ordinances," emphasizing Christ’s command that each be an ongoing practice in local churches.
Rogers: While I would agree that the term "ordinance" is appropriate, and even though, at this point, it does not seem to me to be a major point worth arguing over, I would point out a slight discrepancy here, in that, I do not see where in the Bible it ever indicates that these "ordinances" are to be an ongoing practice specifically in "local churches." In my opinion, this is, at best, an inference, and at worst, eisogesis.
Finn: In fact, many have argued that the major difference between Baptists and the great Reformation traditions is the Baptist emphasis on a believers’ church versus a "territorial" church or "tribal" church.
Rogers: I definitely agree that biblical teaching seems to favor a "believers’ church" ecclesiology. At the beginning of the "Baptist" movement, those publicly identified as "Baptists" (along with other Anabaptistic groups) almost certainly took the lead in promoting the concept of a "believers’ church." However, in today’s more diverse ecclesiological landscape, I do not see that it is fair to imply that "believers’ church" ecclesiology is in anyway the sole domain of those who answer to the name "Baptist."
Finn: Proper baptism must be performed under the auspices of a true church, and the proper administrator of baptism is a representative of a local church.4 (footnote references "What Makes Baptism Valid?" by Dr. Thomas White)
Rogers: I am not ready to concede this point quite yet. Dr. White himself has admitted that his paper was not "focused on defending Scripturally that the ordinances do in fact belong to the local church," and has indicated his intention to write another article in which he further develops this point. (see the comment section on this post).
Finn: First, baptism represents the Christian’s initiation into the church.
Rogers: I do not necessarily see Mr. Finn arguing differently here, but just in case, I would point out that this is "initiation into" the Universal Church, and not the "local church." I would agree, however, that by logical deduction, when we are baptized into the Universal Church, we simultaneously become members of the local expression of the Church, or the "local church" if you will, in the locality in which we live.
Finn: Second, communion represents the unity of the church. Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 10:16–17, "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."
Rogers: Once again, I would counter that the reference to the "church" here, from a biblical framework, is primarily to the "Universal Church," rather than the "local church." That is, in communion, we are primarily celebrating our essential unity with the Body of Christ around the world, and through the ages, not just our unity with the other members of our particular local congregation.
Finn: Third, notice also that these verses indicate that communion, like baptism, represents our union with Christ. But whereas baptism represents our initial union with Christ at conversion, the Lord’s Supper represents our ongoing identity with the Savior as his committed followers.
Rogers: I would add here, that our union with Christ, as head of the Church, necessarily implies our union with all those who share a common relationship with us as part of the Body of Christ, recognizing the same Christ as Head of that Body.
Finn: Many scholars believe that the term "body" is not referring to the individual but rather the entire congregation—the corporate dimension.
Rogers: For this very reason, I believe it is important that we "discern the body" correctly in its extent. For me, the "body" we are "discerning" is made up of all of the saints throughout all of the ages.
Finn: Finally, the Table looks in anticipation toward the end of the age and the coming marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6–9).
Rogers: Because of this point, I also believe it would be ironic, if not tragic, to systematically exclude from the Lord’s Table here on earth those with whom we believe we will share it at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Finn: This practice of requiring immersion before communion has been variously referred to as "close," "closed," "restricted" or "strict" communion. Because all of these terms communicate the practice negatively—and Baptists certainly do not like to think of following biblical precedent as a negative act—I have opted to normally refer to this practice more positively as "consistent communion."
Rogers: In my opinion, this position is not "consistent" with biblical teaching, and thus, I take exception to this term.
Finn: The fact is almost all Christian traditions require baptism before one can participate in the Lord’s Supper. The quarrel does not concern the practice itself, but concerns the fact that Baptists do not recognize sprinkling, pouring or even some biblically irregular immersions as valid. The difference is not in the practice of restricting communion to the baptized, but in not recognizing other modes of baptism as biblical.
Rogers: For me, whether or not other denominations or traditions require "baptism" or "sprinkling" or "christening" for church membership, is relatively irrelevant. The question is does the Bible require it or not. I would agree, however, that those who are living in a continued state of unrepentant sin and open disobedience to the Lord’s commands should not be considered as legitimate participants in the Lord’s Supper.
Finn: What I am claiming is that consistent communion has been the majority practice in Baptist history.
Rogers: Once again, for me, what Baptists of other times may or may not have practiced, is relatively irrelevant. The crucial question is what does the Bible teach.
Finn: We can attribute this move toward open communion to a variety of causes. Among moderate/liberal Baptists, consistent communion is rejected out of a desire to be ecumenical. Many moderates also claim that consistent communion is associated with Landmarkism, a view of Baptist life that refuses to recognize non-baptistic churches as true churches. Many Reformed Baptists reject consistent communion out of a desire to allow other Reformed Christians (most of whom are Pedobaptists) to participate in the ordinance… Conservative Southern Baptists sometimes reject consistent communion because of a desire to be welcoming to other Christians who are visiting their church. It seems likely that many others practice open communion out of either theological ignorance or methodological laziness.
Rogers: I myself believe in what some may term "open communion" and others, upon truly understanding it, might prefer to term "semi-open communion." But, I do not at the same time "plead guilty" to any of the above five motives adduced for holding to this view. My sincere reason for holding to this view is quite simply because I believe that it is most consistent with biblical teaching.
Finn: If the universal practice of the New Testament was believer’s baptism by immersion, then it only stands to reason that churches practiced consistent communion; there were no "baptisms" by sprinkling or pouring.
Rogers: Precisely because of this point, I believe we are stretched to find any example of how the leaders of the Early Church would have handled the question of someone who was genuinely convinced of the biblical legitimacy of infant baptism. Although I can very well imagine them attempting to convince them of the error of their belief, I believe the evidence is inconclusive that they would have excluded them, as a result, from participation in the Lord’s Supper.
Finn: The case for consistent communion can also be made from specific texts. In the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18–20, the proper order of the ordinances is implied in Jesus’ Command… the order is baptism before observance; baptism precedes communion.
Rogers: I believe this interpretation of this verse "proves" more than what Mr. Finn would be comfortable with. If I understand him correctly, by the same token, we should not continue to "make disciples" of those who have already been baptized, since "disciple-making" precedes baptism in chronological order. Or, perhaps Mr. Finn equates "making disciples" with "making converts."
Finn: Acts 2:41–42 states the proper order even more clearly: "So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."
Rogers: Once again, I have no problem admitting that baptism before participation in the Lord’s Supper was the normal New Testament practice. The problem is the New Testament historical references do not deal with how the New Testament Church might have responded to someone who was convinced that the Scripture taught "infant baptism."
Finn: Only immersion truly communicates the believer’s union with Christ in his death and resurrection. This means in Baptist churches that practice open communion, a Pedobaptist may be adequately representing his ongoing union with Christ by participating in communion, but he has never had his initial union with Christ properly represented through immersion. As a result the theological relationship between the two ordinances is at best disjointed, and at worst it is entirely overlooked. Only consistent communion churches adequately represent the believer’s union with Christ in their observation of both ordinances.
Rogers: While I would agree that, by failing to submit to believers’ baptism, the Pedobaptist has not adequately represented his/her union to Christ, I would argue that we would symbolically be denying the reality of his/her essential spiritual union to Christ by not admitting a sincere, though mistaken, Pedobaptist, to the Lord’s Table with us.
Finn: The Argument from Baptist History
Rogers: Once again, the practices and beliefs of Baptists in other times are for me, relatively irrelevant. The question is: Were they biblically justified in the position they took or not?
Finn: Objections to Consistent Communion. First, as noted earlier in this paper, unity is only one theme present in the ordinance. The supper is as much about growth in grace, commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection, and mutual accountability as it is the unity of the body.
Rogers: While I would agree that the Lord’s supper is about "growth in grace," "commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection," and "mutual accountability," it is still also about "the unity of the body." It is not biblically consistent to act as if "three out of four ain’t bad."
Finn: Second, consistent communion is practiced by most Pedobaptist churches (excluding the liberal/ecumenical churches), at least as they understand the ordinances. In other words, Baptists place no more restrictions on the Table than non-Baptists; we simply disagree with Pedobaptists about what constitutes biblical baptism.
Rogers: Once again, from my point of view, this is not about what Pedobaptist churches may or may not believe and practice. It is about what the Bible teaches.
Finn: Third, far from showing a lack of brotherly love, close communion advocates restrict communion to the baptized out of love for both biblical truth and the Pedobaptist who rejects that truth. It is the hope of consistent communion Baptists that the practice will be used by the Holy Spirit to convict Pedobaptist Christians that believer’s baptism by immersion is the only true baptism.
Rogers: I agree that, out of love, we should try to convince Pedobaptist Christians of the need for believers’ baptism. I just do not think that also implies excluding them from the Lord’s Supper as a device to "drive home the point."
Finn: A fourth criticism, again closely-related, is that the ordinance is the Lord’s Supper, and hence it is inappropriate to exclude any of the Lord’s children from the Table. This really gets at the crux of the issue. Many open communion Christians argue that the Lord’s Supper is a Christian ordinance, given to the church universal. As such, it can be practiced by nearly any group of Christians who have some sense of commitment to each other.
Rogers: I agree that the issue of "Christian ordinance" or "church ordinance" is an important issue in regard to this question. But I am not sure if the whole thing "rises or falls" based on our view of this. In any case, Acts 2.46 says the believers "broke bread from house to house." If we agree that this "breaking of bread" included the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, then each of these "house" celebrations of the Lord’s Supper must have been in individual autonomous "house churches." Personally, I am more convinced that the New Testament churches functioned more like what we today would call a "cell church," in that, all of the believers in a particular city came under the spiritual oversight of one united group of recognized elders, met together as a large group whenever possible, and also met together in assorted small groups scattered throughout the city, mostly in homes.
It may perhaps be argued that each of the separate home meetings were "authorized" by the elders of the "city church" to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and thus, it was still carried out, effectively, as a "church ordinance." This may well be the case, but, in my opinion, is based upon conjecture, and, even if it were to be demonstrated, still does not add anything to the argument against "open communion."
Finn: Ecumenism, even among evangelicals, should not be achieved at the expense of New Testament practice.
Rogers: While I agree that "Ecumenism, even among evangelicals, should not be achieved at the expense of New Testament practice," I would counter that division among evangelicals should not be justified on dubious interpretation of New Testament practice.
Finn: A final argument against consistent communion is that it "de-churches" other Christian traditions, rendering them more or less invalid or false churches… In fact, I will candidly admit that many otherwise-healthy Baptist churches are "irregular" in that they do not consistently practice church discipline, a clear aspect of New Testament congregations.
Rogers: It would seem that, in interest of "consistency" on this point, it would be necessary to exclude believers from "Baptist" churches that do not practice church discipline from the Lord’s Table as well.
Finn: Conclusion. The issue is not about pleasing Pedobaptists or our open communion fellow Baptists. The issue is pleasing Christ by following the pattern he has given to us in the New Testament. Our Baptist forefathers were often persecuted and at times even martyred for their understanding of the ordinances. What a tragedy it will be if contemporary Baptists dishonor their memory—and the name of Christ—by compromising on a consistent view of the relationship between baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Rogers: I hope it will be evident from what I have written here that I am not interested in pleasing Pedobaptists, "Open Communion" Baptists, or "Closed Communion" Baptists, so much as I am interested in being faithful to the teaching of the Word of God.