There is an overwhelming obligation that sweeps over churches and has been sweeping over churches for sometime now. Baptism, membership and communion have in some ways lost their meaning; they seem to have lost their foundation, they have lost a sense of power and reflection.
Consider baptism, there are clear teachings that we have about baptism in and then there are parts of baptism that we jump to some solid conclusion. What we find in the scriptures is that baptism always precedes confession that Jesus is Lord that you believe Jesus is the Son of God died on the cross for the forgiveness of mankind. But what do we know about baptism after that?
Knowing that baptism precedes confession other traditions that practice forms of baptism that don’t require confession, don’t find themselves validated by the biblical authority. There is some good intent behind these traditions and a care and compassion that initiated the practice, but it is not the inline with what we define as “believers baptism” by the scriptures.
So how do we baptize? The only proof we have toward a mode of baptism in the scriptures is the literal meaning of the Greek word itself. In Greek the word finds its meaning in being immersed. Outside of this many traditions rely on the way one mode communicates something and others don’t. The only biblical president that we find is that it is post confession how it happens is possibly more a matter of preference.
Acknowledging that baptism is post confession, what does that mean? There is a sense in scripture of a link between the power of the Holy Spirit and being baptized. This is not to say that baptism is a salvific act, it is not, but in many texts through out the book of Acts we find that the reception of the Holy Spirit followed the act of baptism. This leads me to believe that there is a greater power in baptism beyond mere symbolism.
Membership is something that seems to be much more of a western phenomenon. There doesn’t seem to be a standard for membership in the scriptures. In fact the language used in scripture that is often associated with the body of Christ, as in believers through all time are members of one another. The message is scripture is about all Christians working toward one goal as one body as there is one God and Father who is of all in all and through all (Eph 4.6).
This is an issue that if the church is focused on discipleship as illustrated in the scriptures then we should, and hopefully would, be one body seeking the kingdom of God established were we are at.
Finally communion. This is a meal that the family of God takes together to remember what Jesus did on the Cross. There is a certain weight that is placed on communion, we need to be sure that we are reconciled to one another, that we are taking it not having open transgression, it is a time of confession and blessing.
Given the many different understandings about communion it seems that on one extreme we find those who believe that the bread and wine become the literal body and blood of Jesus as we are consuming those in remembrance of the Cross, while on the other side of the spectrum it is just symbolism.
The middle ground for these two as one is overly strong and one is incredibly weak is to acknowledge that the taking of communion provides a sense of spiritual nourishment. Participating in communion is a time to reflect, confess, and nourish our lives. This seems to be why the language around communion discusses the regularity of when to take communion, and what the elements consist of.
Through each of these things we find that tradition and culture may have helped to move us away from the focus of what these things accomplish in the life of believers. Each of things should drive us closer to one another and to God through the truth that is found in the Gospel.