Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Strict Communion Less Exclusive than Paedobaptists?" or "Should the Water Divide Us?"

The Open Communion VS. Strict Communion debate has once again enticed a generation of Baptists holding to competing views. The question is an old one, "should our churches invite all Christians to partake of the Lord's Supper or just those who have been baptized?"

The open communicant answers, "All Christians should be invited to partake of the Lord's Supper."

In contrast, the strict communicant (under which I include both "close" and "closed," though I disagree with the latter) answers, "Only those Christians who have obeyed Christ and have been properly baptized (baptism meaning "immersed as a believer upon profession of faith") may be invited to take the Lord's Supper." This sort of answer immediately brands persons of this persuasion as exclusive, divisive, and more committed to ecclesiasticism than Christian love.

For the sake of putting my cards on the table, I confess I lean closer to the strict communion tradition.

This nuanced debate is unique to Baptists, as far as I can tell. Baptists are concerned about how to treat a Christian of another denomination if he should attend a Baptist worship service in which the Lord's Supper is being served. Is excluding him from the Lord's Table equivalent to an insult against his godliness?

The best argument I have heard on the subject is quite simple. I encountered it in John Quincy Adams' (not the U.S. president of the same name) Baptists: The Only Thorough Religious Reformers (1876).

To paraphrase Adams' argument:
1. In the New Testament churches, all who were baptized and members of the church were admitted to the Lord's table.

2. One considered a proper subject of baptism would never be excluded from the communion.

3. Baptists receive all proper subjects of baptism (i.e. believers who have been immersed upon their profession of faith).

4. Paedobaptists consider infants who are sprinkled to be legitimately baptized and members of the visible church.

5. According to this logic (of #4), all baptized infants should be admitted to the Lord's Table.

6. Yet, these infants are excluded, and thus the "paedobaptists are most inveterate closed communionists."

7. Paedobaptists have no argument against strict communion Baptists, who "refuse to receive persons whom we consider unbaptized, when they will not receive their own baptized members."

John Quincy Adams, Baptist thorough Reformers (1876), Reprinted: Rochester, NY: Backus Book Publishers, 1982, 160-161.

Solid paedobaptists and the like all believe that no one should be admitted to the Lord's table without being properly baptized. I find it ironic that on this particular point, strict communion Baptists agree with them 100%. The disagreement is on what constitutes a proper baptism. At the risk of sounding cliche, I suppose it all depends on what your definition of "is" means.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Speaking of the Dead (in Christ)

Speaking of the dead... I'm finally getting around to updating my blog!

The title of this entry carries a double meaning.
There are a number of reasons I have cut my blogging back to a minimum these days. One is that I have a very slow computer that always eats away more time than I can spare on little exercises like blogging. Another is that my brain is low on creative impulses. But the biggest reason is that I am trying hard to bridle my tongue so that I won't write something I might regret later. I believe blogging is a good thing, but I'm trying to mortify a few areas of my life that need more discipline.

One important reminder in this struggle occurred a few months back when I forgot the important fact that what one writes on the internet doesn't always communicate as well as a face to face conversation.

I left a mildly sarcastic comment on a blog in response to something another commenter had written. I'll spare the names of all parties involved, but the gist of the exchange was:
Commentator: "Was [said theologian] fat? I like fat theologians!"
Me: "Yes, and skinny theologians everywhere are offended. :-)"

At the time, I did not think my comment was rude or disrespectful.
A few weeks later, however, a respected mentor of mine came across the same blog and noticed my comment. He confronted me about the matter, and ,while not expressing any explicit signs of anger, challenged me to consider whether such a comment displayed appropriate respect to the legacy of this particular glorified saint. As a result of this conversation, I realized that my statement was careless if not intentionally disrespectful.

I was challenged with the concept of speaking of the dead in Christ as if they are still alive. In a very real sense, of course, they are. As Hebrews 12:1 reminds us, "Therefore, having so great a cloud of witnesses around us . . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."

I want to be careful not to suggest anything akin to saint worship, but the Bible reveals that God's glorified people, faithful in life, faithful at death, now serve as historical testimonies to the grace of God. Their lives and ideas are not above criticism and godly evaluation, but they are all certainly worthy of our respect, no matter how prominent or how obscure.

So, as I continue to meditate upon the application of this truth, I conclude this entry with a deep appreciation for those who have tilled the soil in which I now labor.

I am,
On the Shoulders of Giants