Question from a Site Viewer
My name is Kyle. My girlfriend and I are doing some doctrinal research as we look towards marriage. She’s Lutheran and I’m Baptist. Our aim so far has been to try to reconcile the different beliefs we’ve been raised with. We’re trying to base our decisions solely on scripture to try and limit the bias of our individual upbringings. As you can probably guess, the two issues we’re really dealing with are baptism (infant or believers) and communion (symbolic or literal presence). I’m curious to know what you think and what verses throughout the Bible you would use to support your belief. Your reply would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for any insights you may have.
The questions you raise have been longstanding differences between Lutherans and Baptists. Before I attempt to provide you my views, I want to preface them with the big picture. I am convinced, before God, that the precision with which Scripture is parsed is far less important to Him than the faithful service and love of believers. Our fellowship is around Jesus Christ, as John so aptly states in 1 John 1. It is not around a set doctrinal viewpoint. I remain convinced that the great tactic of the enemy (Satan) is to divide the church. The great goal of Jesus is that we may be one (John 17). The church has long lacked the insight into discerning between doctrinal error that invalidates faith and doctrinal error that merely separates genuine believers. Thus, in the early days of the church, the church split over the relationship of how the divine and human natures of Christ interacted. The Coptics believed in one nature with a blending of the divine and the human, the Nestorians believed in two natures with a stronger emphasis on the human, the western church adopted a two nature view with a stronger emphasis on the divine. Each of them called the other heretical. Each believed that Christ was God and man. Scripture does not say in what way the mystery of incarnation was brought to fruition. We argue from inferences. Do not get me wrong, I believe in the western view, but I will not break off fellowship with a Nestorian or Coptic over this issue. The call of Christ is that we should love all who love the Jesus of the Bible.
I feel the same way over the present differences between believers on the role of God and man in salvation. Some deny any role for man. Others see that both God and man have a role. It is my duty, as a follower of the Bible, to endeavor to maintain unity when such matters so often drive us apart. This does not mean that I do not have strong views on such matters (which I do) but I have an even stronger view of the call of my Lord to love one another. I view this calling as being an active requirement for those who seek to follow Him.
Thus, coming to your questions, I do not see the issue you raise on baptism and communion as being something that should separate. There have been Christians on both sides of the issue, good and godly Christians, those with far more academic and spiritual stature than I ever will have, those whom God has guided with His Holy Spirit, who have differed on these matters. I am not wiser than they are, nor will anything I say be more insightful. However, I will give you my thoughts.
First, I do not believe in infant baptism. I believe much of the practice of infant baptism comes from the wrong notion that unbaptized infants do not go to heaven. Somehow, the act of baptism brings them into the place of grace. Such, as far as I can tell from Scripture, has absolutely no support. David said that he would go to be with his child who died in infancy (2 Samuel 12:23). Jesus said that children make up the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:14). These were unbaptized infants and children. The passages used for infant baptism are those which speak of baptising households. However, we do not know whether there were young children in the household. Some see baptism as the equivalent of circumcision and young Hebrew infants were circumcized. However, there is no equivalent that I can tell and even if there is, we know from Scripture that circumcision saves no one (Romans 2:25; 4:9-12; Galatians 5:6). Circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant. It was not the covenant. The lack of circumcision did not mean that an infant went to hell, no more than the presence of it meant that the infant or adult went to heaven. If circumcision was the seal of one’s fate, then what of all the little girls who were not circumcised?
Baptism is not restricted to males, but was for all. Always, in Scripture, as far as I can tell, it was performed after conversion, after belief, after a commitment to follow the God of the Bible. For instance, in the case of the Philippian jailer, sometimes used to support infant baptism, Scripture says in Acts 16:33 that he and all his family were baptised. But, in the context, that made sense because the very next verse says that he and all his household believed in God. The baptism followed the belief. The passage at Acts 16:14-15 is another passage often cited to support infant baptism. But there is nothing there that indicates infants were baptized.
Further, in my view, baptism is a sign of our death, burial, and resurrection with Christ (Romans 6:3-12). Can it be true that a parent or anyone can make this death and resurrection a reality in another by baptism? If so, then maybe we should forcefully baptize all people so that all may go to heaven. I think Scripturally such would never be supported. Salvation is always by faith. Faith cannot be imposed externally, but is something that each must do. God has commanded all to repent. He has offered salvation to all who believe. Salvation does not hinge on baptism, but on belief. Baptism is always a sign, never the substance. To exalt the physical act of baptism to something other than a sign of the internal work of the Spirit in the lives of those who come to Christ is to exalt form over substance. God is always looking into the heart of a person. Let us not make the same mistake that the Jews made in thinking that the physical acts were salvatory (circumcision, sacrifice, tithing, etc.). Without faith, it remains impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6).
So, what about infants? I believe that there is an age of accountability. I do not know what that age is. But I do know that Jesus said that infants make up the kingdom of God. He used a word meaning the very young. Since Jesus paid the penalty for all sins, once for all, sin no longer reigns as a reason to prevent infants from getting into heaven.
As for communion, I believe that it is symbolic. I know Jesus said that the bread was His body, broken for us, and the wine was His blood shed for us. However, at the end of the Last Supper, Jesus did not call the wine His blood, but rather stated that He would not drink of the fruit of the vine with the disciples again until He drank it with them in His Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29). I note that when Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper and said that the bread was His body and the wine was His blood, His body was still here in physical form and had not yet been broken, and His blood was still in His veins and had not yet been spilled for us. Yet, He said that the bread was His body broken. Was it actually broken when He made the pronouncement? I do not believe so, except to the extent that God dwells in eternity and the sacrifice is eternal. Jesus often used metaphores to illustrate truths about Himself. Jesus is the bread of life. He is the door. He is the light. He is the way. He is the truth. I think when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we celebrate our fellowship with Christ, the new covenant that He has given us, our forgiveness of sins, our hope of His return, and a number of other matters. I do not believe that the bread or wine have any sacred aspect to them. They have no more substance than they did before they were eaten and drank. To give them some extraordinary place is similar (in my view) to what the idol makers did when they took a tree and made an idol, supposedly infusing it with some spiritual matter. I believe that Christ dwells in people, and in His church, but not in bread and wine.
On a more troubling matter for me, I reject both transubstantiation or consubstantiation on this additional point. If the bread and wine truly become His body and blood (rather than being symbolic), then I am breaking His body when I take communion and I am spilling His blood anew when I take communion. Such seems to fly in the face of the argument God raises in the book of Hebrews that the sacrifice was done once, with Jesus taking the blood into the holy place in heaven, finishing the work, and is now sitting down with the Father. Is there a need for His blood to continue to be shed, or His body to continue to be broken? I think that is precisely what Hebrews says we cannot do (Heb. 6:6 – He cannot be recrucified.)
However, as stated before, there are many great Lutherans who would strongly disagree with my position on this issue. I believe that communion, like the rapture, is what it is before God. If I am wrong, then all of these years I have been partaking of the very body and blood of Christ. If I am right, then all of these years the Lutherans have been eating only bread and drinking only wine. It is what it is. The focus of our involvement in communion should be to remember Jesus until He comes.
May the Lord Jesus become more and more dear to your hearts as the days of this life speed by.
A servant of Jesus,