But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified
in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
– 1 Corinthians 6:11 –
Few gospel truths are more essential than this one: there are only two kinds of people in the world—those in Christ and those in Adam, those who have believed the gospel and those who have rejected it, those who have been born from above and those who have only been born from below. Though Scripture has many ways to speak of sheep and goats, wheat and chaff, good fig and bad, the uniform testimony is that there are only two kinds of people.
For those committed to the truth of Scripture, this division leads to one of two eternal destinies—heaven or hell. There is no third way, no middle ground. And thankfully, every time a gospel preacher heralds this sifting truth, he makes clear the call of the gospel—to repent and believe and enter the kingdom.
Yet, for every clear proclamation of the gospel, there can be an unintended confusion when it comes to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In other words, when the church took up the gospel, it called believers to be baptized. Whereas Jesus proclaimed “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15), Peter proclaimed “Repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).
Did Peter change Jesus’s message? Absolutely not! Rather, Peter’s invitation to baptism is a call to join God’s people—i.e. to repent of your sin, believe on Christ, and join the community of faith identified with Christ by baptism. In Acts, the pattern of baptism is always believe first then receive baptism by immersion in water (see Acts 8:12). In this way, the gospel which divided believers from unbelievers was confirmed by a community of faith set apart from the world.
From Acts to 1 Corinthians
As Acts recounts the separation of the Way, Paul himself would go on to explain that those who have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus Christ are the ones who have been set apart by God (1 Cor. 6:9–11). Importantly, Paul’s description of “washed” does not mean that water is the means by which sinners are purified of sin. But the waters of baptism do identify those who have been purified by the Spirit. In this way, Paul separates those who have a share in the kingdom of God and those who do not.
Truly, in his understanding of the church, water baptism is the covenant sign that indicates who has received the life of Christ. Conversely, those who have not been baptized by the church remain outside the church. As Paul describes earlier in 1 Corinthians 5:11–13, there are those “inside” the church and those “outside” the church. And it is important that the church knows the difference and keeps the boundary.
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul calls for the removal of a sinning member, one whose public and unrepentant sin is threatening the church and its testimony to Christ. This exercise of church discipline, where the church in obedience to Christ excommunicates an unrepentant sinner, is vital for the church to remain a church—a people whose reputation bears testimony to saving power of Christ. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 6 Paul speaks of the way sinners were brought into the community. He recalls the various sins that marked out the church members before they came to Christ. But critically, there has been a marked change and now because of Christ’s work in them, they have been brought into the church through baptism (see 1 Cor. 1:10–17).
In these chapters, we see how sinners are justified by faith and then brought into communion through baptism, and we see how members may be asked to leave the community, when their commitment to sin exceeds their commitment to Christ. In short, these two chapters describe how individuals traverse the boundaries of the community. Baptism is what brings someone, church discipline (described in more detail in Matt. 18:15–20) is what leads someone out. And together, these two biblical practices form a necessary boundary between the church and the world.
Baptism: A Biblical Theological Type
Whereas Israel’s boundaries came from the Jordan River in the East and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, the church is also bounded by water. In other words, water baptism that corresponds to Christ’s baptism in the Spirit (see 1 Cor. 12:12–13) is what marks out the new covenant community of faith. Just as Israel crossed over the Jordan to enter the land, so peoples from every nation pass through the water to reside in God’s church. Similarly, when church members depart from the faith, they are denying their baptism and their appeal for a good conscience (1 Pet. 3:21).
Indeed, many might not think of baptism and boundaries in this way today, but that says more about the seeker-sensitive ministry today than the Scriptural practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Biblically-speaking, there is clear demarcation between those in the church and those in world. The gospel makes this clear and gospel-centered churches ought to do the same—in our practices, as well as our preaching.
To say it differently, the church should in practice reflect the biblical doctrines it believes. And if we believe there are two kinds of people in the world, then we must do all we can to help people know where they stand with Christ—either in Adam or in Christ.
For those who have believed and been baptized, our ministry should look like one of encouragement and assurance. Yet, for those who have not believed or not been baptized, our ministry cannot be one offering assurance. Instead, we are to call these non-believers to faith (always acknowledging it is God who grants faith) or we are to call professing believers to obedience in baptism. To do otherwise is to mislead the church and the world with respect to the gospel.
Where Does the Lord’s Supper Fit In?
One way that churches can unintentionally mislead others is by practicing open communion. Open communion is the practice and/or belief that the Lord’s Table is for any and all people. The invitation is open and the judgment is purely individual. By contrast, closed communion (with a ‘d’) is offered only to those who are members in good standing of the church celebrating the Lord’s Table. Splitting the difference is close communion (no ‘d’), which offers the elements to all who are baptized members in good standing in some church.
Tomorrow, I will dig deeper into this subject. I will not offer a full-fledged discussion of these various positions, but instead it will be my goal to provide a biblical-theological argument for seeing the unity of believers baptism and the Lord’s Supper. If we believe that our practices confirm or deny the gospel we preach (see above), then we should take seriously the two covenant signs that Jesus has given us. Yet, such appreciation for the ordinances is not uniformly observed today.
With the onslaught of individualism, with its effect on the ordinances as making them personal expressions of faith (only) instead of church-held institutions, and with the modern notion of making church as user-friendly as possible, it has made many churches and church leaders reticent to “fence the table” from those who have not been baptized. Yet, this approach to the Lord’s Table makes communion more about the individual and his or her experience, instead of Christ, his command and his church.
In tomorrow’s post, I will show how the Scripture unites baptism and the Lord’s Supper and why it is of the utmost importance for requiring baptism before participation in the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, the reason is not one of personal choice or ministerial pragmatism. Scripture gives us ample reason for seeing how the two ordinances stand together, and as recognized above, it is for the purpose of making clear in community the realities of the gospel.
To that end, may we continue to assemble to hear the gospel and to display to gospel to all who gather.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds