by Timothy George
The word that most Baptists today would use to talk about the Lord’s Supper and Baptism is the word ordinance. It’s a good word. Jesus ordained this, we obey it. That’s a part of it. But the word sacrament is also found in the early documents of the 17th century with reference to both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Within the last 30, 40 years there’s been a resurgence of interest in Baptist sacramentalism particularly with reference to the understanding of baptism as not simply getting wet as a way of testifying to your faith. Yes, we say something to God in baptism. It’s a confession of faith, but God also says something and does something in and for us in baptism. We ought to celebrate that. That’s what a sacrament is.
Same with the Lord’s Supper – not merely a symbol. A symbol is never merely, is it? A symbol is a sign that conveys the reality of that to which it points, and that’s what the Lord’s Supper is. We come to the table of the Lord and we commune with the risen, living Lord Jesus Christ. There is a real presence of Christ there.
Now, we might argue about transubstantiation, consubstantiation, how are the elements changed, what do you do with them when people have finished consuming them? All these kinds of liturgical niceties that we get involved with because we take it seriously – we can disagree on some of those things around the edges. But we have to see this as a moment of encounter with Jesus Christ himself. It’s his table, it’s his supper, the Lord’s Supper, and he invites us to meet him there, and this is very well represented in the Baptist tradition.
Look at a figure like Charles Haddon Spurgeon, maybe the most famous Baptist preacher in history. He talks about coming to the Lord’s table and, as he puts it, going right through the veil into the arms of Jesus himself. That sounds like real communion to me.
Reprinted with kind permission of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.
Timothy George is dean of Beeson Divinity School with a doctorate in theology from Harvard University. He is active in Evangelical–Roman Catholic Church dialogue, and has chaired the Doctrine and Christian Unity Commission of the Baptist World Alliance. He is general editor of the 28-volume Reformation Commentary on Scripture and author of more than 20 books. He is an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention.