Holy Communion / Water Baptism

Holy Communion / Water Baptism

HOLY COMMUNION

Sharing the bread and the cup

It was a very special and memorable evening when Jesus gathered his twelve disciples in the guest room of a friend’s home in Jerusalem. Jesus opened the celebration by saying,
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God” (Lk 22:15-16).
At the end of the meal Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian Church,
“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1?Co 11:23-25).
Ever since, the Christian church celebrates the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. The Bible also calls it “the breaking of bread” (Ac 2:42).

The meaning of Holy Communion

Here is a summary of what we acknowledge and proclaim while taking the Lord’s Supper:
a)    We take the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ (1?Co 11:24-25). The first Christians gathered on the first day of the week (Sunday) to worship the risen Lord and to break bread (Ac 20:7). We need to remember Jesus as our Lord and High Priest who prays for us (He 7:25).
b)    We take the Lord’s Supper to testify that we believers are partakers of the new covenant that Jesus introduced in his blood (Lk 22:20). Jesus said in Mt 26:28, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This new covenant is superior to the old one that was given to Israel by Moses. See also 2?Co 3:6-18; He 8:6,7ff.
c)    We take the Lord’s Supper to proclaim the death of Christ. 1?Co 11:26 says, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” We gratefully acknowledge that Jesus died on our behalf, taking on himself the death penalty we would have deserved for our sins. But now we praise the Lord for sins forgiven and for a cleansed heart.
d)    We take the Lord’s Supper to proclaim our Lord’s return. 1?Co 11:26b says, “…?you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” We believers are to continue taking the Lord’s Supper until we die or we are called to glory at the rapture. And then Jesus will join in and celebrate this great feast with us again (Mt 26:29).
e)    We take the Lord’s Supper to have fellowship with the Lord Jesus and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul says in 1?Co 10:16, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”
    This is why the apostle John so joyfully wrote, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete (1?Jn 1:3-4).

The blessing of Holy Communion

Before the Lord Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper he said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk 22:15). Even today, the Lord eagerly desires

  • to have fellowship with us, his beloved bride,
  • to give us his body to eat and his blood to drink (Jn 6:53-58),
  • to heal us from any spiritual ailment and also from physical sickness (if it is his will and pleasure),
  • to bless us richly and the work we do in his name,
  • to protect us in all temptations and from satanic attacks.

What a privilege it is to be a child of God and a brother or sister of Jesus Christ. “Let us then approach the throne of grace (including the Lord’s table) with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (He 4:16).

Who may take part in Holy Communion?

Only those who have been born into God’s family have the right to sit at the Father’s table in fellowship with his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible speaks of another table too. It is the table where unbelievers and idol worshippers gather around. They drink of the cup of demons and sit at the table of demons (1?Co 10:21).
Some churches rule that only baptised believers may take part in the Lord’s Supper. This man-made rule is not found anywhere in Scripture. Water baptism is only an outward sign or symbol of something that happened, or should have happened, inside a man’s heart. According to Ro 6:3-8 our sinful self (or body of sin) needs to die with Christ and be baptised into his death. Only then can we be raised from the dead through the glory of the Father. If you have turned to Christ in faith and accepted his forgiveness, then he has made you a new person and so you are invited to join in the Lord’s Supper or Communion. Faith in Christ is the all important requirement to come to the Lord’s table. It is not so much whether we have gone through the outward ceremony of water baptism or not. (See also next topic.)
Self-examination is essential before taking part in Holy Communion (1?Co 11:28; 2?Co 13:5). I have to honestly ask myself, “Is there any unconfessed sin in my life? Self-pity? Pride? Evil desires? Laziness? Spiritual and/or physical adultery? Disobedience? Love of sin? Love of the world?” If so, I must truly repent and confess my sins.
To eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in an unworthy manner means that we despise his holy body. It will bring judgment, weakness, sickness and an early death on us (1?Co 11:29-30). This is why Paul says, “If we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment” (1?Co 11:31). In case we become aware during Communion service of any unforgiven sins in our lives, why not bring them immediately to the cross in repentance and claim forgiveness in the blood of Jesus Christ? If necessary we must settle conflicts with our fellowmen after the service. Another option is: First go and settle the matter, then come and participate (Mt 5:23).

Test all doctrines

We are all aware that Satan, our enemy, is compared

  • to a roaring lion that roams around looking for someone to devour (1?Pe 5:8);
  • to an angel of light, who inspires Christian teachers to introduce and follow wrong, deceitful doctrines (2?Co 11:13-15).

Jesus warns his disciples of false prophets (Mt 7:15; Mt 24:11) whose aim is to deceive God’s people.
All the apostles had to fight an uphill battle against false teachers in and outside the church (Ac 20:29-31; 1?Jn 4:2-3).
Church history teaches us how biblical truths were distorted down through the centuries. Unfortunately this also happened to the apostles’ teaching on the subject of Holy Communion.
At this point of our study we have to introduce the word sacrament. The word “sacrament” is related to the word “sacred”, the Latin word “sanctus” or the English word “saint”. All these words express the idea of being holy or holiness.
A sacrament is defined as a rite or a religious ceremony in which the presence of God and His grace are especially acknowledged.
For many church groups sacraments are extremely important. Their whole teaching and church life is built around the different sacraments. These churches teach that sacraments are efficacious (effective) signs of grace through which divine (God’s) life is dispensed (given or distributed) to its members. Please test the following practices or traditions in the light of the Gospel and consider the problems.

  • Church members are led to believe that they will receive forgiveness of their daily committed and confessed sins on behalf of receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion or Eucharist, and attending Holy Mass.

The Bible teaches:
The shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary is powerful enough to forgive all sins of all mankind committed in the past, at present and in the future. The only requirement to receive forgiveness is:

  • to repent of all our sins,
  • to turn away from sin and
  • by faith to call upon the blood of Christ for cleansing and forgiveness of all our sins.
  • Only an ordained priest is permitted to perform the Holy Sacrifice during Mass, and no matter what kind of life the priest leads, whether moral or immoral, clean or corrupt, the sacrifice is considered valid.

Our response to this doctrine is:
How can a human being provide any sacrifice at all, which can fully meet the standard of God’s holy righteousness? Impossible.

  • The priest takes bread and wine and sacrifices them on the church altar. The wine is said to change into the blood of Christ and the bread into the body of Christ (transubstantiation). This unbloody sacrifice is said to have exactly the same value and power as the actual crucifixion of the Son of God on the cross of Calvary. For this reason church members are taught to receive forgiveness of their daily committed sins not by believing in the completed work of Jesus on the cross but by the unbloody sacrifice offered by the priest during Holy Mass. By this kind of teaching and practice Jesus Christ is endlessly killed and sacrificed a million times over and over again by the churches’ clergy.

The Bible clearly states:
“For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own (see He 9:24-28).
If that were the case, Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

The biblical view on Holy Communion

Considering the different passages in the Bible about Holy Communion and its meaning, we hesitate to use the word “sacrament” at all. We prefer the word “ordinance” or “institution” since Christ himself ordained or instituted Holy Communion during his last supper with his disciples before dying a cruel death on the cross.
While celebrating Holy Communion true believers rejoice in the presence of their risen Lord and Saviour. They are reminded by the two symbols “bread and wine” of the slain body and the shed blood of the Lamb of God to take away their sins.
We do believe that the two substances “bread and wine” are under the blessing of God, however we deny that they have in themselves any supernatural or mystical power or energy. We don’t believe that they have any ability to forgive sins. Only the blood of Jesus shed on Calvary’s cross is able to cleanse us from all sin.
We want to make it clear that we lay the bread and wine on an ordinary table. We do not use any altar to sacrifice Christ all over again in an unbloody sacrifice.
We further deny that the bread and wine as such, set before us in the Lord’s Supper, have any healing power from any spiritual or physical illness. All healing, whether during a Communion service or at any other time, comes from the one who said, “I am the LORD, who heals you” (Ex 15:26b).
We should never use, or rather misuse, the bread and wine as a means of personal protection, luck or wealth. We should never regard them as fetishes and/or worship them.
The bread that we bless and break is ordinary bread and remains ordinary bread. It should remind us of the agony and torture that Christ suffered when his holy body was torn.
The wine we bless and drink is ordinary wine and remains ordinary wine. It should remind us of how Christ bled to death on the cross.

WATER BAPTISM

Introduction

The word “baptism” comes from the Greek word “baptisma” and means “to submerge or go under the surface of water”.

  • In the course of history the Bible mentions a number of different baptisms. In this paper we want to concentrate on the believer’s baptism or water baptism (Ac 8:36-38 and many more).

The meaning of water baptism

Water baptism is an outward symbol of an inward reality – a genuine conversion.

  • People who ask to be baptised should agree with the Bible’s teaching that they are spiritually dead in their transgressions and sins (Eph 2:1).
  • They have answered the call to repentance, have confessed their sins and rejoice in the forgiveness of their sins (1?Jn 1:9).
  • They also rejoice in the fact that the Holy Spirit has regenerated them and that God has accepted them as children into his family.
  • Their daily walk “produces fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mt 3:8). In their new life they learn to obey the word of God e.g. by being honest in their marriage relationship and business dealings. The love of God which is the new occupant of their heart “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1?Co 13:6).

The believers’ testimony and witness

What do believers who are about to receive water baptism testify before the seen world (their fellow believers, family members, friends) and before the unseen world (heavenly hosts and satanic demons)?

  • I have been crucified with Christ
  • I have died with Christ
  • I have been buried with Christ (This is the true meaning of water baptism by immersion. Ro 6:3-4a)
  • I have been raised with Christ to new life (Ro 6:4b).
  • I am no longer a slave to sin in Satan’s kingdom of darkness (Ro 6:6).
  • I live in Jesus’ kingdom of light and have become his slave to righteousness (Ro 6:18).
  • I am a member of Christ’s body, the church – visible and invisible (1?Co 12:13).

The early church expected all new believers with heathen background to make a public statement before receiving baptism. In their old lives they had associated with idol worship and occult practices. So their statement went along these lines,
    “In the name of Jesus Christ I have nothing to do with occult and other evil practices anymore. I declare that my life belongs to Jesus Christ. He is my Lord and Saviour and I am determined to follow him obediently and faithfully until he calls me into his glory.”

How should one be baptised?

  • In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19).
  • By immersion – putting the whole body under water. According to Ro 6:3-4a water represents a grave in which a dead person is laid. The dead body disappears completely. Coming out of the water shows that this person has been raised with Christ to new life (Ro 6:4b).

Test all doctrines

For the following reasons we hesitate to call water baptism a holy sacrament by which it is said that “divine (God’s) life is dispensed (given or distributed) to its recipients.”

  • Water baptism does not cleanse our heart from sin. Only the blood of Jesus can do that (1?Jn 1:7).
  • Water baptism cannot regenerate the Christian. The new birth is given to the Christian by the Holy Spirit and the word of God (Titus 3:5).
  • Please test the following practices considering the above statements:
  • by receiving infant baptism, which is the first sacrament, a child’s original sin is said to be forgiven. The child is declared a Christian and is accepted as a member of the church. This doctrine also teaches that due to the baptism, a child will go to heaven when it dies.

The Bible teaches:
Every human being is born in sin – the ancestral or original sin (see Ro 5:12). There is only one way to become a child of God – by faith in Jesus Christ (Jn 1:12). That is why children should be taught about Jesus Christ from the beginning, so they can put their faith in him, and not in the act of baptism.

Dedicating our children to the Lord

Although we read in the Gospels that the disciples of Jesus baptised quite a number of adults (Jn 4:1-3) we do not read that they baptised children as well. Instead we are taught in Mk 10:16, “Jesus took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”
For this reason we do not baptise our infants but instead dedicate them to God, claiming his blessing upon them. Furthermore, we do need to pray for our children daily, teach them the way of salvation and, most important, be a shining and godly example to them. When our children are old enough to make a decision and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour they may receive water baptism. Different churches set different rules on the age of children or young people to be accepted for water baptism.

May we receive water baptism more than once?

People, who committed their lives to Christ as adults, want to make a public statement that Jesus is their Lord and Saviour. However many of them have already received infant baptism. Many evangelical churches feel that these believers should be baptised once again. However each believer should be able to decide for himself/herself what is best for him/her. They should neither be pushed nor hindered by the church leadership.

Robert Oppliger