There are many, even among true believers, who do not seem to understand the connection between the sacrament of Baptism and that of the Lord’s Supper, and the connection of each of these with membership in the visible Church.
What is the visible Church? The Westminster Confession of Faith gives the answer: “The visible Church . . . consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, and of their children, and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (25:2). Through Baptism one becomes a professed member of this community.
The Larger Catechism gives a very clear answer to the question: What is Baptism?: “Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into Himself, of remission of sins by His blood, and regeneration by His Spirit, of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life, and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible Church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s” (Question 155). And in the answer to the next question: Unto whom is Baptism to be administered?, it is fully explained that their children also (either both or but one of the parents professing faith in Christ and obedience to Him) are in that respect within the Covenant, and ought to be baptized. So it is very clear that all those who are baptized are within the pale of the visible Church and engaged to be the Lord’s.
Thomas Boston in his Sermons on Church Communion, says, “One’s partaking of the sacrament is a declaring and avouching himself to be of that community”, and, “Partakers of the sacraments do declare thereby themselves to be one body, the head whereof is Jesus Christ. Even Baptism alone constitutes this special relation, for by that holy sign, the baptized are distinguished from those without the visible Church, and have all given up their names to Christ. In our infancy it is done with our virtual consent [equivalent to having done it ourselves]; by partaking of the Lord’s Supper it is done with our express consent [we do it ourselves deliberately].”
It is obvious then that those who, through baptism in infancy, belong to the visible Church are under obligation to the Head of the Church to continue in it by their own consent. Most of them, however, when they come to the age of discretion, are satisfied to remain in an unconverted state, thereby publicly showing the truth of their unwillingness to be in the Covenant, which shows that they are in effect Covenant-breakers. By baptism God has promised to be their God but, as long as they remain unconverted, they are saying, “We will not have this man to reign over us”. In connection with this, Boston again says in the same sermons: “Ye who are baptized, yet openly wicked and profane, or grossly ignorant of the fundamental truths of religion, being come to years, are apostates in effect, having by your own way visibly cut off yourselves from the communion of saints,” and, “Ye who are saints by profession, yet only baptized and not partakers of the Lord’s Supper, why do ye continue so? Who is there that values a communion or society and does not endeavour to partake of all the privileges thereof?”
Boston is showing here that there must be something seriously wrong with those who are willing to be religious, but are nevertheless satisfied to continue in an unconverted state. This is indeed a terrible and dangerous condition to be in: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha” (1 Cor 16:22).
All who are baptized in infancy, and have come to the age of discretion, are under the immediate obligation to turn to the Lord in conversion, and then come forward to be partakers of the Lord’s Supper – showing publicly that, by their own consent, they are of those who have through grace chosen to be in the Covenant, to be on the Lord’s side, as distinguished from those outside the Church, who are unbelievers and of the world. Those who do not turn to the Lord in true conversion, whatever their pretence, cannot and should not be allowed full membership and its privileges.
This shows clearly that it is an evil practice of Churches to encourage the young, when they reach a certain age, to come forward to make public profession of faith or to be confirmed, thereby giving full membership privileges to those who have not undergone a saving change, even if this is done only to keep the young in the Church. This has never been the practice of sound Presbyterian Churches in Scotland since the Reformation. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 5:6). “They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh, but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:5-8). Those who are unconverted, be they religious or not, are in their natural state and children of the first Adam, and “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). If those who are unconverted are allowed to become members of the Church with full privileges, the world is brought into the Church, and the Church has started to decline.
In John 3:3, Christ says, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”, and in verse 7 of the same chapter, “Marvel not that I said unto you, Ye must be born again”, and in verse 16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”. In Acts 4:12 we read, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved”. “This is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as He gave us commandment, and he that keepeth His commandment dwelleth in Him, and He in him. And hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us” (1 John 5:23,24). Only those who have complied with this commandment ought to be admitted to the full privileges of Church membership.
“God is a Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). How can they who are in their natural state worship God in spirit and in truth? This is impossible. Natural men are willing to worship a god of their own invention, but not the only true God. They worship him in the ways that they think are right. And so under no pretence whatsoever is it lawful for men to bring into the worship of God anything different from the pattern He has set.
In 1 Corinthians 14:40 we read, “Let all things be done decently and in order”. How should things be done in this matter? To quote Boston again: “As it is perfectly clear that there must be order in the Church, to grant admission to the Lord’s table is a matter of the greatest weight and concern, to be managed and gone about with all solemn seriousness and caution. Considering that the Church is a communion of saints by profession, whereof Christ is the Head, there is need to look well into who be admitted as complete members of the visible Church. There ought not to be a promiscuous [indiscriminate] admission to the Lord’s table: ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs’ (Matt 7:6).
“Admission to the Lord’s table is an act of Church power and government. Our Lord has appointed governors in His Church who have power to admit and debar from the Sacrament (1 Cor 12:28). This power belongs to the society of ruling Church officers, that is, the ministers and elders. There ought to be a due trial of those to be admitted to the Lord’s table in order that those who seek to be admitted are qualified according to the laws of the visible kingdom of Christ, lest such be brought in who may bring a stain on the society and corrupt and defile them instead of edifying them. Since only God knows the heart, no doubt hypocrites and wicked persons may be let in as honest-hearted Christians. The devil’s goats may come in by their likeness to Christ’s sheep but, if their outside be promising, that is all the Church can judge of; other things are left to God’s judgement.
“Let all those who have come to years of discretion duly value this high privilege [of the Lord’s Supper] and timeously prepare themselves to partake of it. They must needs be under mighty prejudices, or be very untender persons, who without much ado can live without this ordinance time after time. Let those who are partakers remember their character as declared visible members of the body of Christ, and walk towards the Lord and towards one another as those who are the Lord’s by personal dedication”. (2)
1. This article does not appear to have been previous published. It was probably written when Mr MacLean was minister of the Gisborne congregation, New Zealand.
2. Sermons on Church Communion.