He entered my office full of doubts and sorrow. Raised in the church, he was now facing the conviction and guilt from years of indulging the flesh. The choices he made never lacked conviction, but as he continued to pursue the sinful desires of his heart, a callous slowly formed that quieted the internal battle. Recent events in his life ripped away the callous and the conviction kept at bay for years was now meeting his mind and heart at full force.
“He” is a person that I have met many times as a pastor. The looming culture of the Bible belt is one of secularism that disguises itself as Christianity. Obesity from the things of the world has become prevalent, and the “belt” no longer fits. Subjected to this atmosphere many in the church have walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, and been baptized thinking that was the end of the story.
Therefore, when “he” shows up at the church and walks the aisle again, that person is looking for a “do over.” Most of the time they feel as though something was wrong the first time, and they may be correct. Sometimes they will tell me they did not understand the decision they previously made and desire to pray and be baptized – again.
Allow me a bit of liberty at this moment. This person may very well be saved, or not. It is not my desire to give anyone a method for determining the salvation of another, but I do want to bring attention to a gift from God that it seems many churches have forgotten. In his or her “return” to the faith, the person often desires to be baptized again – even when they believe their first baptism was legitimate – they are confused. Baptism may be the last act of faith they remember and the only expression they recognize.
So, what is our response? In the current area in which I serve, the answer is often a second, third, or fourth baptism. As I sit in meetings with other pastors, the stories become more frequent, and the response seems always to be the same. Have we forgotten the other ordinance?
What is Baptism?
Baptism seems to be a well-communicated topic. It is something in which the church rejoices and for a good reason. I would even “step out on a limb” and say the understanding of baptism and its celebration play a significant role in why people come for baptism again and the church tends to embrace the practice.
However, in Scripture, we see baptism displayed as an initial act of faith. Yes, there are those that contest this idea and suggest there are other acts that precede baptism and they may be correct. However, when I state that it is an initial act of faith, I mean it was designed to be at the beginning of a person’s public journey in faith, and there is no record in Scripture to support the repetition of the physical act of baptism. It seems to commence the outward expressions of a life of faith – there is no evidence that baptism is an act of rededication. However, there is another public proclamation, or ordinance, that commands repetition.
The Lord’s Supper
Called by a few names in the local churches that surround me, the Lord’s Supper and Communion seem to be the most common labels. Most people recognize it as one of the four times a year (if the church leaders remember it) a plate is passed with stale mini-crackers and then followed by the dish filled with little cups of grape juice that everyone dreads the thought of spilling.
I have learned over the years that few people understand the significance of observing the Lord’s Supper. They easily quote a version of Luke 22:19-20:
“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’ “ (ESV)
However, there is little understanding of the declaration they are making as they participate in this ordinance. Perhaps churches have not forgotten the activity of the Lord’s Supper, but the church has forgotten what it means and the power of its observance.
A Call to Remember
At the church in Corinth the practice of the Lord’s Supper, though observed, had lost its meaning. I do not suggest that no one knew the meaning of this ordinance, but that some in the church had forgotten the rich gift they were declaring each time the partook of the bread and cup. Read what Paul wrote to this church:
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for[f] you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)
What does Paul tell them about the statement they are individually and collective making as they take of the bread and cup? He says they are proclaiming the death of Christ!
Every time they met together and participated in this ordinance, they were proclaiming the atonement of Christ. As Paul writes of the death of Christ, he does not mean it to be understood apart from the completed work of Christ. As we meet together and participate in the Lord’s Supper, we are making a declaration of the forgiveness of sin, and a restoration of fellowship with God and each other – all because of the person and work of Jesus Christ. This truth should change the way we respond to the person that comes to us, struggling and looking for a declaration of a “fresh start.” Instead of baptism, we ought to point them toward the Lord’s Supper.
A Call to Remind
When was the last time your church participated in the Lord’s Supper? Are the meaning and declaration taught to the congregation, or was there merely a regurgitation of Luke 22:19-20?
Each time you partake of the Lord’s Supper, you are making a declaration that the atoning work of Christ has been and is applied to your life. As a church, you are declaring the unity of the body of Christ, proclaiming to one another a bond through the blood of Christ. For those struggling with sin, it is a moment of repentance and restoration. When taught and understood, it is a powerful experience. It seems we have forgotten this truth. Therefore, it is something of which we must remind one another.
The most moving services in which I have participated observed the Lord’s Supper after the sermon. It offers a chance for the congregation to respond to God’s Word in an impactful manner with acts that provide a remembrance of Christ’s gift of salvation. When people come looking for “rededication” or find themselves amid struggle, we must not forget the Lord’s Supper and the act of remembrance set forth by our Savior, Jesus Christ.
I pray that the next time your church participates in the Lord’s Supper, it will have a deeper meaning for you and your church.