I remember when I was about 6, attending a fundamentalist church (Zoller Gospel Tabernacle), I asked my parents after church services one Sunday if I could have the Lord’s Supper the next time it was offered. I was told that I needed to “understand” what I was doing in eating the Bread and Drinking the Wine (actually grape juice). To which I quickly replied that the Bread was the Body of Jesus and the Wine was his blood–and so I understood. So they further explained to me that first I needed to be baptized, and then I could join with the other baptized Christians. I understood that I needed to wait till I would be baptized at a more mature age. (I was baptized in the baptistry in that church building as a teenager.)
We moved from that church, and throughout high school I attended a Baptist Church in Detroit, where pretty much the same policy held sway, as best I remember.
I bring this up because it came to mind when I read this story yesterday from the Baptist Press about a survey taken among Southern Baptist congregations:
According to the survey, 52 percent of SBC churches offer the Lord’s Supper to “anyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ.” Thirty-five percent say “anyone who has been baptized as a believer” may participate. Five percent of SBC churches serve communion to “anyone who wants to participate,” while 4 percent of churches don’t specify any conditions for participation.
Only 4 percent restrict participation to local church members.
I was curious about offering Communion to those not baptized and whether this had been a change in policy among Baptists, so I read on. A change in policy, no, but a change in practice, yes:
“Clearly, though, this survey points out a difference between the beliefs expressed in the Baptist Faith and Message, and the Lord’s Supper practices of many Southern Baptist churches,” [researcher Scott] McConnell said.
Article VII of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (SBC.net/bfm) lists baptism as a “prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.” Article VII also says the Lord’s Supper is for “members of the church.”
That official policy is what I would have expected. Some congregations (of various denominations) will invite “baptized Christians” to partake. Others will invite anybody who wants to partake to come and do so, sometimes without even specifying being a Christian.
Partaking of the Lord’s Supper surely requires a deep commitment to Jesus Christ, to the Way of the Cross, to “drinking the cup” which he drank, as well as to be baptized with the baptism with which he was baptized. To not have accepted baptism yet but to feel all the same that one is ready for participation in the the Body and Blood of the Lord would indicate some level of “disconnect.” The statement that one makes in embracing baptism perhaps can be put this way, in the words of Lutheran Pastor Paul Gregory Alms in Touchstone (“Dangerous Sacrament”):
Christian life is nothing other than a daily encounter with the waters of baptismal death, which are also the waters of repentance and resurrection and rebirth. The stormy deep claims us every day. The drowning is daily. We must daily walk through the Red Sea, constantly ride the ark over the terrifying flood, sink with Peter and call out, “Save me, Lord.”
Those who know this as baptized believers also, then, know something of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, and thus, humbly, penitently, seeking the Life of the Savior for their own (‘I have been crucified with Christ…’) partake.
To my six-year-old’s question, my parents told me as best they knew, which was right, and I am glad they did.