The Lord's Table
Pr. P. T. Thomas
Believer’s water baptism and the Lord’s Table are the two sacraments God has assigned to the Church. By the word 'sacrament’ we mean a ritualistic ministry with an inherent mystic meaning. Even though a sacrament is performed physically, its physical performance is secondary to its spiritual message. They are ordained as the visible expressions of deep-felt spiritual convictions and experiences of the participants. Biblically, the Christian Church has only these two sacraments ordained by God. These two sacraments are ordained for believers to publicly acknowledge and confess their share in the sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When to be Observed?
Of these two sacraments, water baptism is to be taken once by every believer after he puts his perfect trust in the Lord. But the Lord's Table is appointed to be partaken of until the Lord's Second Coming. The frequency of its observance is not specifically laid down in the Scriptures. The Bible does not teach that it is to be observed 'whenever you gather together’. It is only a hear-say statement, not found in the Scriptures. If the Bible had taught it so, believers could not have gathered for any purpose without first observing the Lord's Table. In Acts 20:7, we read: 'On the first day of the week, we came together to break bread'. The original Greek text does not imply the idea 'as usual' or 'as taught by the Lord'. So, based on this verse, one cannot argue that the Lord's Table must be held unfailingly on every first day of the week. Yet, as Sunday is the day on which all believers gathered together as a church, it is befitting and proper to hold the Holy Communion during the Sunday service. However, every local church has the freedom to schedule the Lord's Table by common consent and convenience. Nevertheless, the Lord's Table should not be a rare ministry in any local church.
Baptism and the Lord's Table
Of the two sacraments, water baptism is presented in the Scriptures as one of the elementary steps in the Christian life. But of late, some have emerged in the Christian circles who question the need of baptism before one can partake of the Lord's Table. Anyone who believes in the propitiatory death of Jesus Christ, willingly gets baptized to conform to His death. In baptism, a believer partakes in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord. In baptism, one conjoins with the Lord and gets clothed with Christ (Rom. 6:3-5; Gal.3:27). Christ is the head of the church and the church is the body of Christ. So in baptism a believer conjoins with Christ as a member of the body of Christ. The sacrament of baptism is so cardinal that the Scriptures speak of 'baptizing into Christ.’ (Col. 2:19, Eph. 1:22,23; 4:15,16).
Baptism can rightly be described as the point of investiture into the family of God as fellow citizens with God's people (Eph. 2:19). Only one who whole-heartedly believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that His sacrificial death was for the propitiation of one's own sin, should be baptized. There need not be any interval between the confession of such faith and baptism. Rather, there should not be a time gap between the confession of one's faith and baptism. Only in case, the baptist is not fully convinced of the genuineness of the professed faith of the candidate, should there be an interval. The baptist should not be guilty of burying one who is not dead! As soon as the baptist is convinced that the believer is dead to his old sinful life and that he partakes in the death of the Lord, he must be baptized. This is why in the whole Scriptures there is none who has believed in the Lord, but is not baptized. Such a specimen is not in the ambit or purview of the Scriptures.
Baptism is an integral part of the gospel message (Acts 2:41,8:35, 36; Mk. 16:16). Baptism does not save anyone; but anyone who gets saved will surely get baptized. It is the first step in the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5;16:26). It is the mark of conjoining with Christ. Thereby one gets into the fellowship of the church as a member of the body of Christ. One who has not taken this first step in the obedience of faith, does not enter into the fellowship of saints. Then how can he partake in the Lord's Table, which is the next step in the fellowship of the Church? Describing the Lord's Table, the Bible says: “And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, if we all partake of the one loaf" (ICor.10:16, 17). The Lord's Table is for those who have become one body in Christ. Only those who have become members of the body of Christ can partake in it. Baptism is the mark of being in Christ. Then how can one who has not been 'baptized into Christ 'share in the fellowship with Christ and the members of the body of Christ?
The example of the Israelites
The history of the Israelites is given in the Scriptures as an example for the Church (I Cor. 10:6,11). "They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (I Cor. 10:2,3). It was under the leadership of Moses, that the Israelites got liberated from Egyptian slavery. Moses led them out from the land of death, and marched them to the Red Sea. Yet it is written that they were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. This example is note-worthy. The Israelites passing through the Red Sea is a Biblical type of baptism. One who whole heartedly believes in the propitiatory death of Jesus Christ and confesses it with his mouth gets delivered from the condemnation of death and slavery under sin. But it is in baptism that he gets clothed with Christ and conjoins with Him. The bread and wine in the Lord's Table stand for the fellowship of Jesus' body and blood (l Cori. 10.16,17). How can one who has not been baptized into Christ, partake in the fellowship of His body and blood?
I Corinthians 10:2 reads: "They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink". Notice this passage. It was after passing through the Red Sea that the Lord gave them manna to eat. On the fifteenth day of the second month after they left Egypt, manna started raining (Exodus 16:1). Manna is a Biblical type of Jesus Christ. It was when the people told Jesus that their fore-fathers were fed with manna from heaven, that Jesus said: "I am the bread of life." He had come down from heaven for them to eat and live. ln the same context Jesus told them that they should eat His flesh and drink His blood so that they may have life (John 6:30 -59). Partaking of the Lord's Table is the sacramental testimony that one eats Jesus’ body and drinks His blood. The fact that it was after the Israelites were baptized into Moses through the Red Sea that they were given manna to eat confirm the truth that only after baptism should one partake in the Lord’s Table.
Apostle Paul himself has taught about the Lord’s Table in the context of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea. It emphasizes the importance of this Biblical type and its reference to the Lord's Table. In the same context Paul sternly warns those who partakes in the Lord's Table in an unworthy manner. May we not pretend that we did not see the stern warning given to those who trifle with this holy sacrament. “Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than He?" (I Cor.10:22).
Anachronic Lame Excuse
Those who hold that baptism is not a pre-requisite for partaking of the Lord's Table proposes a lame excuse: 'When Jesus instituted the Lord's Table in the upper room, the disciples were not baptized’. Don't you know that the teaching of baptism was not given then? Baptism is the mark of partaking in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hence it was not relevant to give the teaching before Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. It was after the resurrection that the Lord taught baptism. Will anyone with an unbiased mind argue that the apostles had not obeyed a teaching which did not exist at the time? No one with intellectual integrity can propose it as an excuse to forgo baptism and rush to the Lord's Table. It is a lame excuse which flouts all time sense.
Now, will this group argue that the minister who ministers at the Lord's Table should not partake of the bread and wine because Jesus did not partake of it when it was instituted? Or will they argue that only after the passover meal should it be observed? Even while Jesus was in the physical body this sacrament had to be instituted. That is why even before baptism was taught and commissioned, the Lord’s Table was instituted. There may be slight differences between the event of instituting an ordinance and its continued observance. When the Holy Spirit came down on the day of Pentecost, there was a sound like the blowing of violent wind and there appeared images of tongues cloven like fire flames which rested upon the disciples. But this did not happen in the house of Cornelius or in later cases.
The Washing Before the Table
Jesus washing the feet of His disciples before instituting the Lord's Table, is significant. To Peter, Jesus said: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me". Then Peter answered: “Then Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well."Jesus answered him: “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean..."(John 13:4-11). In the light of the precepts and teachings given at the time, the disciples, except one, were clean. The all-knowing Lord had testified of their clean state and only such clean ones partook of the Lord's Table. "You are already clean because of the Word I have spoken to you"(John.15:3). They were clean because of and in the light of the Word the Lord had taught them. The Lord Himself had testified that they had their bath, and that they were clean; yet to make them worthy to have apart with Him, Jesus washed their feet and dried them with His towel. Jesus washing the feet of His disciples is very important. It gives us various layers of His teachings and instructions. It reminds us of the need and importance of the self-examination and purification before sharing in the Lord's Table. The disciples who were testified by Him as 'wholly clean' took part in the Lord’s Table. They were not baptized at that time because the teaching was yet to be given. Those who raise up this lame excuse and dishonor the Lord's holy Table are storing up divine wrath against themselves for the day when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.'
All Spiritual ministries of the church are expressions of our love for the Lord. God is not pleased in any spiritual service which is not prompted by love for the Lord (I Cor. 13:3). The Lord's Table too is a sincere expression of our love for the Lord and for our co-believers. However, under the pretext of sincerity and love, its sanctity and solemnity should not be marred. It must be observed in such a way that the biblical standard of holiness, meaning and solemnity are duly upheld. The maxim that 'familiarity breeds contempt' should not come true in the case of this holy sacrament.
On the other hand, we should not resort to artificial means to bring about an effect of supernaturality and awe by attributing special sanctity to the materials used or by speaking in deep guttural tones or rumbling voice. It is ritualism and hypocrisy. The holy Bible is the authoritative basis of all our spiritual ministries and services. The ultimate end and aim of all spiritual services is the maturing of the bride of Christ to the stature of the fullness of Christ. The Eucharist too is ordained for the same end.
The Eucharist should not be taken as the Christian counterpart of the Hindu 'prasaadam' or the holy sweet which the temple priests consecrate by performing mystic rituals and chanting 'mantras'. Prasaadam is believed to bring blessings on those who take it. Some who advocate giving the Eucharist to unbaptized people and children say: 'Why do we deny this blessing to our children?' It is because they take the Lord's Table as the Christian equivalent of the 'prasaadam' that they say so. But they forget that they bring God's condemnation on themselves by sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord. The holy sacrament of the Lord's Table is ordained to proclaim the Lord's death for our redemption. It is to be observed strictly in the biblical way with due reverence, until He returns. It should not be degraded to the level of pagan rituals. May we uphold the God-given standard and sanctity of this sacred ordinance in the fear of the Lord, until He returns.