What are baptism and communion? Why do we observe them often at Hiawatha Church? Who are they for and why do we do them? We hear people ask these questions often, especially as we just had several baptisms last month and will rearrange our service in order to focus on communion this coming Sunday. Since both baptism and communion are integral parts to our church gatherings (and the universal church's for all time), I wanted to share briefly what they are and how they exist for both Christians and unbelievers, yet in very different ways.
Baptism and Communion are the two main and central sacraments that the universal church regularly exercises. Pastor Mark Dever describes these as the front and back door to the church. Baptism is the outward sign of the inward change when someone becomes a Christian and thus is the front door to the church. What baptism symbolizes is how one enters the church.
The Lord’s Supper is what he calls the back door. One reason Jesus gave it to his church is to use as discipline when someone is in continual, unrepentant sin. The church is to keep Communion from someone who is persistent in habitual sin without repentance with the hope that being outside and treated as an unbeliever will bring about repentance and reconciliation. Baptism and Communion are both for Christians and non-Christians alike but in different ways. They remind the church of the mission God has called them to and can be missional acts in and of themselves. We approach both of these sacraments this way at Hiawatha.
Baptism screams the gospel in a visible manner. We describe it with great detail each time we perform, teach about, and prepare people for baptism. It reminds Christians that we die to our old selves as we go under the water, symbolizing our death to our flesh and fallen nature. Baptism also reminds us how we’ve been raised again spiritually with Christ as a new creation. We also have those getting baptized give their stories, sharing the power of the gospel in their lives and how God has saved them from their sin. Baptism preaches to the unbelieving visitor who watches from outside. With words and deeds it demonstrates the beauty of the gospel.
Communion also demonstrates the gospel visually. Each time we take the Lord’s Supper (another word for communion), we describe it with great detail, teach about it, and prepare our people for communion. Before we take it as a community, we describe what communion is, why we take it, what it symbolizes, and who it is for. We remind Christians who they are in Christ beforehand and as we take communion we remember what Christ did for us on the cross. In Christ, we’re no longer separated from God but are in now in communion (hence the name) with Him and with his Body, the church. We ask unbelievers to not take communion but invite them to trust in Christ first and then participate. The Lord’s Supper is one of the few ways we want visitors who are unbelievers to feel separated and different. Communion helps them to know that they’re not okay spiritually and not a true part of the church. They can still participate in many aspects of the church and we do want them there. However we wouldn’t be loving them if we fooled them into believing they were okay with God when they’re not.
This is how God beautifully and intentionally designed both communion and baptism. They demonstrate to the believing and the unbelieving world the Gospel in deed and preach the Gospel through word. They remind the Christians of who they are and what they’re called to while reminding the non-Christians that they’re not in but shows them the way to be reconciled with their God and join the community of faith.
SPENCER PETERSON / COMMUNITY LIFE PASTOR