In recent weeks the UBC body has been discussing the new proposed church constitution. The discussions have been well-spirited, rather lengthy, and fairly thorough. The revision of our constitution essentially began about two years ago when the glaring absence of an article of “Last Things” (Christ’s return) from our Confession of Faith needed to be addressed. Because our current Confession states in the introduction that it is in agreement with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (BFM2k) and most of the Confession itself includes language directly adopted from the BFM2k, we naturally looked there first for the article on “Last Things.”
The article was clear and stated exactly what the leadership believed was essential for the local church to agree upon concerning Christ’s return. In the course of this review, we noticed several points where the BFM2k was simply clearer and stronger than our current statement. The current statement does not include error. There were just a few points that included items unnecessary for a Confession of Faith or were not as clearly stated (for strength) as they could be.
As the sub-committee (of the Church Council) reviewed these Confessions, it was their unanimous recommendation to adopt the BFM2k as UBC’s governing Confession of Faith. As well, the Council, upon review, agreed. We put that decision on hold (at my request) to include it in what would surely be a greater revision of the Constitution due to our study of the re-institution of elders in the life of UBC.
All of that came together at the beginning of this year as the Constitution revision sub-committee unanimously proposed a revised Constitution to the Council; the Council reviewed and edited, then unanimously recommended this revised Constitution to the church body. Beginning a few weeks ago we entered into Church Conference to begin discussion of the recommendation. We went through the entire document in our first meeting with many good suggestions implemented, a few correction made (many eyes on such a thing is good), and some questions fielded. We entered into a recess at that point to continue the Conference the following week.
We continued the Conference this past Wednesday to deal with any more questions. The part of the Constitution that related to elders was discussed and the church body was overwhelmingly in favor of it. The other part of the discussion related to the change in the Confession of Faith. Surprisingly (admittedly) this was a much longer discussion than even elders.
The lengthy discussion was not due to major differences in the two confessions. Again, our current Confession includes most of the BFM2k. However, there is an additional line in the BFM2k that required some thorough understanding. This line is located in under the article entitled, “7. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” Here is the entirety of the statement:
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.
Our current Confession states the following:
Baptism is an ordinance of the Lord Jesus, commanded by Him for every believer. It is the immersion of the believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. New Testament baptism is a prerequisite to church membership.
The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the Church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming. It is in no sense a sacrifice, but is designed to commemorate our Lord’s death and to be a bond, pledge and renewal of the Christian’s communion with Him and of their church fellowship. Participation in the Lord’s Supper shall be restricted to believers in Christ, who by their own conscience, are in fellowship with, and support of, our Lord’s program through His local churches.
The use of the BFM2k is very clear, but so are the distinctions, which can only mean it was intentional of the church to be distinct, therefore, needing understanding. The absence of “and to the Lord’s Supper” in the first paragraph and the addition of everything past “His second coming” in the second paragraph are intended to clarify who UBC believes is allowed to share in the Lord’s table.
I want to say at this point, that I would be fine with either statement, for how we protect the Lord’s Table, and therefore the gospel, is shaped in the moment by clear speech and Biblical instruction. However, I do believe the BFM2k to be stronger, clearer, and a better protection, though certainly more limiting. Also, this post is not meant to be exhaustive for such an argument, rather to inform the body of it’s historicity.
There are a few principles that we must keep in mind:
1) The autonomy of the local church. This is a vital principle for evangelicals and, particularly, Southern Baptists. This means that there is no governing authority over the church besides her immediate membership. With that the BFM2k allows room for interpretation without violation. For instance, this statement on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper does NOT mean that communion is “closed” only to members of the church. However, if any local church decided that was the best interpretation of the Confession, they are free to do so and practice the ordinance as such. I do not, nor does UBC, interpret this to mean you have to be a member of UBC to take the Lord’s Supper. It does limit it, however, to only those Christians who have been baptized as believers (infant baptism, for instance, would not be included in believer’s baptism by definition — that which occurs in obedience to conversion…after the fact).
2) The ordinances are given to the local church. This is a crucial truth in the protection and promotion of the gospel. The ordinances were given to symbolize the gospel so that the body of Christ would keep the gospel front and center. As well, that outsiders (the unconverted) would observe the gospel in the picture. But make no mistake, the picture is not merely in the elements. The picture is in the people taking the elements. Therefore, who these people are that take the Lord’s Supper are as vital to the ordinance purpose as the elements themselves being handled rightly.
Now, we live in a fallen world. We all know that Jesus knows perfectly those who are His and those who are not. We all know that the Holy Spirit indwells every believer (baptized or not). We all know, or should, that in a fallen world the local church is the chosen means by which God advances the gospel of Jesus Christ in this world, and only at His coming will the church truly be one.
Therefore, we are left, as a local church, to decide what is best in protecting and promoting the gospel among the people of UBC. Admittedly, as a local church, we require more for church membership than Jesus does into His kingdom…or do we? See, we do require people to be baptized as believers (after conversion by immersion) to be members of UBC. This has been the case since day one in 1953. Does heaven require such a thing? No, not distinctly. However, obedience is a requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Every Confession of baptists (because it’s derived from the Scriptures) speaks of baptism as an act of obedience. Just as repentance is an imperative, so is baptism. We don’t depend on baptism to save, but baptism is an act of obedience symbolizing the work of God in saving the sinner who expresses such work by obedience to repent (“go and sin no more”… “repent and be baptized”). Now, if a person repents truly and dies prior to being baptized, they are not on precarious ground, they are saved. So, we do not demand baptism to save, but it is obedience.
Therefore, for the normative work of the local church we have to ask if we believe believer’s baptism to be an act of obedience. If it is, then shouldn’t we require only the obedient to share in the Lord’s table? I know to some this sounds overly restrictive, and it certainly can be administered wrongly. But this restriction is NOT legalism. It would be legalism if we required it for salvation. Is obedience legalism or is it the (immediate) fruit of those saved by grace?
When we are not clear on Biblical grounds as to such a requirement, we must look at overriding Biblical principles and church history (the practical view of how Christians of old interpreted such issues). Biblically speaking there’s not a verse that makes such prerequisite language clear. However, the fact that the ordinances are to be administered in the local church is clear (1 Cor. 11). The fact that the Lord’s Supper exemplifies our love for “one another” is clear (John 13:34).
There are many more passages I could mention here, but the parameters are clear enough. We have to connect Lord’s Supper with membership in the local church. As well, we have to understand the nature of “one another.” There can be much interpretation on the issue, but allow me to simply give you the line of historic confessions to help shape your convictions on the issue.
1) The Sandy Creek Confession of Faith: The Sandy Creek Association (formed in 1758) was the forerunner to the SBC, and their Confession of Faith was officially adopted in 1816.
2) The New Hampshire Confession of 1833 (revised in 1853): Widely accepted by Baptists nationwide, and adopted (with some revisions) to develop the 1925 Baptist Faith & Message.
3) Baptist Faith and Message, 1925: Taken from the New Hampshire confession and the first formally accepted larger confession for Southern Baptists.
4) Baptist Faith and Message, 1963: Brought much language into what would be better understood for the day. However, in my opinion, probably the weakest in language of all the BFM’s.
5) Baptist Faith and Message, 2000: Restored clarity and included a much disputed statement on the family.
Every single one of these Confessions states that baptism is prerequisite to taking the Lord’s Supper. It was for protection and promotion of the gospel in the local church.
May God bless our church as we pursue obedience for His glory and His glory among the nations!