Written by Dr. Timothy Brophy
The Lord Jesus Christ instituted two ceremonial rites (or sacraments) for his followers to observe. Baptism was given as a one-time rite of initiation into the New Covenant community and the Lord’s Supper as a regular rite of remembrance (Packer, 1993, 209). These were gifts from the Lord, given as signs and seals of their covenant relationship with God, and as means of grace until his second coming (Packer, 1993, 209-210). Originally part of the same initiation process, baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been inextricably linked from the earliest days of the church. This special relationship can be seen by way of analogy in St. Augustine’s Sermon 272 (412 AD), given to a group of recently baptized believers on Easter Morning:
Listen…to what Paul says about…[the Lord’s Supper]: “The bread is one, and we, though many are one body.” (1 Corinthians 10:17)…What is this one bread? Is it not the “one body” formed from many? Remember: bread doesn’t come from a single grain, but from many. When you were exorcised before baptism, you were softened, just as dough is kneaded. When you were baptized, you were sprinkled, just as an unbaked loaf is moistened. When you accepted the fire of the Holy Spirit [through chrismation] it was as if the loaf of bread was baked. Be what you see, and receive what you are.
In this paper, I will describe the relationship between baptism and the Lord’s Supper using scriptural, theological, and liturgical sources.
I will begin this analysis by using Scripture to demonstrate a few similarities between baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I will argue that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are similar in that they were both instituted by Christ in the Gospels; in that they were each partly derived from, and replaced, one of the ceremonial practices of the Ancient Israelites; and that they are connected, albeit mysteriously, by 1 Corinthians 10:1-4. All scripture quotations in this paper, unless otherwise specified, will be taken from the English Standard Version (2001). Next, I will demonstrate that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are similar theologically because of their shared nature as sacraments. This will be accomplished by appealing to both early church theologians and those from the Protestant Reformation and beyond. Finally, I will demonstrate some of the historic and modern liturgical relationships between baptism and the Lord’s Supper including their original position as parts of the same initiation process; the historical development of their current order of administration; and their shared use of consecrated elements via duly ordained clergy and liturgical rites. With regards to the various Books of Common Prayer of the Church of England (1662) and the Episcopal Church-USA (esp. 1928 and 1979), I referred frequently to Marshall’s Prayer Book Parallels (1989).
One of the similarities between baptism and the Lord’s Supper is that they were both ordained by Christ in the Holy Scriptures. In fact, they are the only two such rites explicitly instituted by Christ in the Gospels. The Christian practice of baptism with water traces its roots to the temple washings of the Old Testament (throughout Exodus and Leviticus; Numbers 8:7; Ezekiel 36:25), the baptism required of Gentile converts during the intertestamental period (Hatchett, 1995, 251), and John’s “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4) given to Jews desiring to join the “faithful remnant” of Israel (Hatchett, 1995, 252). Christ, in the “Great Commission,” commanded his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20). Some of the very first Christian baptisms took place within days of this original command. After Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14ff), the people were:
…cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (Acts 2:37-41).
And so, because of the Lord’s command at his Ascension and its subsequent application at Pentecost, Trinitarian baptism became the initiatory sign of the New Covenant to all who believed in Christ and trusted him for salvation.
In the accounts of the Lord’s Supper from the synoptic Gospels, we find that Jesus instituted this regular rite of remembrance in the context of a Passover meal (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-23). It is also in this context that Christ made the connections between the bread/wine and his body/blood, linking his sacrifice with the spiritual nourishment of his followers. Paul, drawing from a practice pre-dating his first letter to the Corinthians, arguably gives the best known and most commonly recited account of the Lord’s Supper:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
We see here again, the connection between the bread/wine and Christ’s body/blood. But most significantly, for the purposes of this paper, we clearly see the Lord’s Supper described as the regular rite of remembrance for God’s New Covenant people.
Another scriptural similarity between baptism and the Lord’s Supper is that they were each partly derived from, and replaced, one of the ceremonial practices of the Ancient Israelites (Packer, 1993, 209). Baptism replaced male circumcision as the one-time rite of initiation for God’s covenant people (Genesis 17-9-14, 23-27; Colossians 2:11-12). This is clear from both a historical and scriptural perspective. Historically, circumcision was the initiatory sign of God’s Old Covenant people; circumcision and baptism became dual-signs of God’s covenant people with the advent of John’s baptism; but baptism alone remained as the initiatory sign of God’s New Covenant people because of the Church’s decisions at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).
This transition from circumcision to baptism as the initiatory rite of God’s covenant people can also be seen in Colossians 2:11-12: “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism” (NIV, 1984). The circumcision done by Christ, therefore, is accomplished through baptism. Similarly, and as mentioned above, the Lord’s Supper was instituted in the context of the annual Passover meal. Through Christ’s words (e.g. “the New Covenant in my blood”) and actions during that final meal with his disciples, he signaled that the Lord’s Supper would replace the annual Passover meal as the regular rite of remembrance for his New Covenant people (Exod. 12:1-27; Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-23).
Finally, from a scriptural perspective, 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 suggests a mysterious connection between baptism and the Lord’s Supper: “For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” Verses 1-4 and 15-22 of this chapter, on the sacraments, were written as part of a more extensive passage regarding the eating of meat offered to idols and the potential dangers therein. Against this backdrop, Paul wrote verses 1-4 as an invitation to the Corinthians to consider the Exodus and its subsequent events as an analogy for their present situation (including their sacramental practices). By making references to both baptism and supernatural nourishment, this is the only passage in the New Testament to mention both sacraments together (Jones, 1992, 190). In each case, the sacrament is two-fold: baptism in the cloud and sea; and spiritual food and drink referring to the manna (Exodus 16:14-31) and the water from the rock (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:1-13, 21:16-18) consumed by the Ancient Israelites. The manna reference here is reminiscent of the fuller development of this Eucharistic analogy in John 6:30-51 (Jones, 1992, 190). Paul’s analogies in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 are somewhat allusive but reinforce the interconnectedness, albeit mysterious, between baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are similar from a theological perspective because of their shared nature as sacraments. Tertullian, in the late 2nd century, was the first to consistently use the Latin word sacramentum to translate the Greek word mysterion (typically referring to the mystery of God’s saving work) in the Scriptures (McGrath, 2007, 420). A good example of this is found in Colossians 1:25-26, where Paul says “I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.” Sacramentum, on the other hand, describes a holy rite, in general, but also carries with it the specific connotation of a soldier’s sacred oath of allegiance (Packer, 1993, 209). This was originally a Roman military term used to describe the oath a soldier would take upon his entry into the imperial army. Tertullian used this term for baptism because of its nature as the once for all initiatory rite of God’s New Covenant people. Martos describes Tertullian’s thinking thusly:
In a discussion on the meaning of baptism, Tertullian explained that it was similar to the sacramentum which was administered to Roman recruits when they entered the army. The sacramentum was a religious initiation; so was baptism. It marked the beginning of a new way of life; so did baptism. The sacramentum was an oath of allegiance to the emperor; baptism was a promise of fidelity to Christ (1991, 29).
Saint Augustine, writing at the beginning of the 5th century, expanded on Tertullian’s understanding of the sacraments by establishing some general principles and definitions. First, Augustine understood sacraments to be signs pertaining to divine or sacred things (412 AD, Letter 138:1.7; McGrath, 2007, 421). Second, the sacrament must not be an arbitrary sign of the divine or sacred thing but one which bears some likeness or relation to the thing signified (Augustine, 408 AD, Letter 98.9; McGrath, 2007, 421). Augustine applied these principles to include baptism and the Lord’s Supper but also included things like the creed and Lord’s Prayer which are no longer thought to have sacramental qualities (McGrath, 2007, 421). Augustine’s somewhat imprecise definition was refined during the Middle Ages by theologians like Hugh of St. Victor, Bonaventure, and Peter Lombard (McGrath, 2007, 421-423). It was Lombard’s definition that won the day, however, and was eventually affirmed by the Council of Trent in the middle 16th century. Lombard said that “a sacrament is in such a manner an outward sign of inward grace that it bears its image (i.e. signifies or represents it) and is its cause” (1147-1151 AD, Distinction 1, Chapter 2; McGrath, 2007, 422). The Church, relying heavily on this definition, eventually settled on seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, the Lord’s Supper, penance, marriage, ordination, and extreme unction (McGrath, 2001, 422).
The Rev’d Dr. Timothy R. Brophy is the Senior Pastor/Vicar at Church of the Good Shepherd. He is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and holds a Ph.D. from George Mason University. Pastor Tim also holds a Master’s degree from the Rawlins Divinity School at Liberty University and has taken additional courses at the Anglican School of Ministry as well as Gordon-Conwell & Reformed Theological Seminaries. He has spiritual gifts of pastoring and teaching, and is committed to the authority of Scripture and its applicability to everyday life. Tim has been married to Michele for nearly 25 years and has been blessed with six children: Timmy, Emily, James, John, Peter, and Chloe! Pastor Tim is also a professor at Liberty University, teaching courses in environmental biology. When he’s not teaching or pastoring, Tim enjoys hanging out with Michele & the kids: skateboarding & rolling on the floor with the boys, shopping and going on dates with the girls, watching movies, and looking for salamanders in the woods!
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