Written by Dr. Timothy Brophy
At the time of the Protestant Reformation, there was much disagreement regarding the nature of and, therefore, the number of sacraments. For the sake of brevity, I will focus on the conclusions and definitions that emerged from the English Reformation. Article XXV (“Of the Sacraments”) of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion states that “Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.” This definition borrows heavily from previous ones but also introduces the phrase “sacraments ordained of Christ.” It is on this point that the English Reformers diverged from medieval Catholic theology.
Only baptism and the Lord’s Supper were considered to be true sacraments by the fledgling Church of England, primarily because they were the only ones perceived to have been ordained by Christ in the Gospels (as discussed above). Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were therefore described as “sacraments of the Gospels” by Article XXV and distinguished from the other five “commonly called sacraments” because they “have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.” In addition, since Packer considers the sacraments to be rightly defined as “seals of a covenant relationship with God” (1993, 210), he too considers the sacramental classification of the additional five rites to be a “medieval mistake.” Despite these historical disagreements, baptism and the Lord’s Supper have always been considered sacraments by the Church and are therefore similar in that regard.
From a liturgical perspective, baptism and the Lord’s Supper have always shared a vital connection because they were originally part of the same initiation process. Consequently, baptism with chrismation (or baptism followed by confirmation) should precede first communion because that has been the traditional order of administration from the very earliest days of the church. A quick survey of the Book of Acts indicates a basic order for the administration of these two sacraments. Baptism was typically administered almost immediately upon repentance and belief in Christ (Acts 2:14-41; Acts 8:5, 12, 26-39; Acts 9:1-20; Acts 16:25-34; Acts 18:5-8). The reception of the Holy Spirit, which was later represented symbolically by chrismation during the baptismal rite (Noakes, 1992, 120-122; Hatchett, 1995, 275-276), sometimes followed baptism in the Book of Acts (Acts 2:38; Acts 19:1-6) but other times preceded it (Acts 8:15-17; Acts 10:44-48). Regardless of the fine details of this pattern, baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit were temporally correlated in the Book of Acts. And finally, it follows logically that a person’s first communion would have taken place after their baptism, since baptism was administered so quickly upon initial belief and would have been the initial introduction to the New Covenant community and its sacramental practices.
One of several models of this progression is found in Acts 2, at the birth of the Church in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. As we discussed earlier, in response to Peter’s Pentecost sermon, 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’…Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (Acts 2:37-38, 41).
Shortly thereafter (the very next verse in the text), we find that these same people had “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The breaking of bread mentioned here is possibly an allusion to the Lord’s Supper (Calvin, 1560, 126-127). If this is accurate, than the following pattern was established from the very first day of the Church’s existence: repentance and belief à baptism à reception of the Holy Spirit à first communion. This evidence from the Book of Acts, however, is only anecdotal, and it is not until the liturgies of the 2nd century and onward that we find a definitive pattern for the administration of the sacraments.
A record of one of the earliest liturgies of the Church is Justin Martyr’s First Apology (c. 156 AD). Even though he does not describe a full-blown pattern of initiation, Martyr does make it clear that baptism precedes and leads immediately to first communion (Noakes, 1992, 119-120). Going back at least as far as Tertullian and Hippolytus of Rome in the early 3rd century (Noakes, 1992, 122-23), a more specific pattern of initiation emerged as follows: baptism in water by a bishop or presbyter; followed by anointing with the oil of chrism and laying on of hands by a bishop; and concluded with first communion. This same basic pattern of initiation continued into the middle 3rd century churches known by Cyprian of Carthage (Noakes, 1992, 124); the 4th and 5th century churches of both East and West (Yarnold, 1992, 134-141); and Western churches from the 6th through 8th centuries (Fisher and Yarnold, 1992, 146-148). It is important to note here that infant baptism has been practiced, in at least some parts of the Church, as far back as Hippolytus of Rome in 236 AD (Noakes, 1992, 122). This became the norm within 100 years of his time and was many times accompanied by paedocommunion (Noakes, 1992, 123-124).
After 789, and the reign of Charlemagne, baptism and chrismation began to be separated temporally because of the unavailability of bishops to anoint with oil. This led eventually to the positions of first communion and chrismation being reversed in the initiation process, and the development of a separate rite called confirmation to accomplish the work of chrismation and the laying on of hands by a bishop (Fisher and Yarnold, 1992, 148-149). This new pattern continued until the Reformation with confirmation occurring as early as seven years old. In some places, however (including England), the old pattern was reestablished in the sense that baptized children were not permitted to receive communion until after confirmation.
With the dawn of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the practice of infant baptism was retained. The relationship between baptism, confirmation, and first communion, however, varied somewhat amongst the Reformers. Several of the Reformers (including Luther, Calvin, and Knox) discontinued the practice of confirmation, presumably because on the non-sacramental nature of that rite being emphasized during this period. In each case, however, these Reformers required children to learn some sort of catechism before admission to the Lord’s Supper (Fisher, 1992, 161-164). Martin Bucer, while not requiring a full-blown confirmation rite, also required a confirmation-like service prior to first communion (Fisher, 1992, 162). In addition, several of the Reformers (Bucer, Calvin, and Cranmer-1549 & 1552 BCP), recognizing the important connections between baptism and the Lord’s Supper, restored the baptism service to a place within the Communion rite (Fisher, 1992, 156-159; Hatchett, 1995, 260). This remained true for all subsequent Books of Common Prayer in the Church of England (up through 1662) and the Episcopal Church-USA, including the most recent 1979 book (Stuhlman, 1987, 109; Marshall, 1989; Hatchett, 1995, 283-284).
The Anglican Church, unlike many of the other Protestant traditions, retained the practice of confirmation during the Reformation and even required it for admission to first communion in the 1549 and 1552 Book of Common Prayer (Fisher, 1992, 164). The 1662 Book of Common Prayer, while stating a preference for confirmation before first communion, recognized the problems arising from the unavailability of bishops and stated that children “ready or desirous to be confirmed” were permitted to partake of the Lord’s Supper (Fisher, 1992, 164). Confirmation remains a requirement for first communion in the Church of England today (Hinchliff, 1992, 172). The 1928 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church-USA holds to the same standards as the 1662 BCP (Marshall, 1989). Baptism, however, is the gateway to communion in the 1979-ECUSA Book of Common Prayer, as confirmation is no longer a requirement for participation in the Lord’s Supper (Hinchliff, 1992, 173; Hatchett, 1995, 271). In this case, however, the baptismal rite includes chrismation by a bishop or a presbyter using oil consecrated by a bishop (Stuhlman, 1987, 116-117; Hatchett, 1995, 276), so the ancient pattern of baptism à chrismation à Lord’s Supper is maintained.
One final liturgical similarity between baptism and the Lord’s Supper is their shared use of consecrated elements via duly ordained ministers and liturgical rites. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper have long been presided over by bishops and/or priests (Hatchett, 1995, 253 & 292). This has always been the practice of the Anglican Church (Hatchett, 1995, 260-265) and remains the practice of the Episcopal Church-USA as well (Hatchett, 1995, 268 & 312-313). Both of these rites, because of their sacramental nature, also make use of consecrated elements. Special prayers of consecration or sanctification have been said over the waters of baptism as far back as the time of Hippolytus (c. 215 AD) and his Apostolic Tradition (Hatchett, 1995, 274). And with the exception of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, this has also been true for all the major Books of Common Prayer in the Anglican Church including the most recent 1979 BCP of the ECUSA (Hatchett, 1995, 274-275).
Similarly, bishop-consecrated oils have also been used as part of the baptismal rite as far back as the end of the 4th century (Hatchett, 1995, 276). The 1979 Book of Common Prayer (ECUSA) is the first Book to restore the ancient rite of chrismation with consecrated oil to the baptismal service proper (Hatchett, 1995, 275-276). Probably most familiar, however, are the prayers of consecration that have long been said over bread and wine in the context of the Eucharistic prayers (Hatchett, 1995, 292). The vast majority of Anglican Books of Common Prayer (with the possible exception of the 1552 BCP) have continued this tradition to the present day (Hatchett, 1995, 360-361, 365).
Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, both baptismal and Eucharistic prayers have long contained an epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the people and the elements (Hatchett, 1995, 369). While the institution narrative came to be known as “the moment of consecration” of the bread and wine in the West, the epiclesis was seen to fulfill that same role in many Eastern churches (Hatchett, 1995, 365 & 369). An epiclesis can be found in the Eucharistic prayers of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer but not in the 1552 or 1662 Books (Hatchett, 1995, 370-371). The American Prayer Books, following the Scottish rite of 1637, have contained an epiclesis from 1789 through to the present day (Hatchett, 1995, 370-371).
The notion of an epiclesis in the context of the Eucharistic prayers is probably more familiar than its corresponding presence in the prayers of the baptismal rite. However, an explicit epiclesis was part of the baptismal prayers of several early liturgies (Yarnold, 1992, 136), including: Tertullian’s de Baptismo (205 AD, 4); Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures (347 AD, 3.3); Sarapion’s Eucholgion (350 AD, 19.7); the Apostolic Constitutions (375 AD, 7.43-44); and a late 8th century Byzantine Rite (Grisbrooke, 1992, 153). The 1549 Book of Common Prayer contains an explicit epiclesis as part of its baptismal rite (Fisher, 1992, 158), but the 1552 and 1662 Books do not. In fact, there are no consecration prayers over the water at all in these Books (Fisher, 1992, 159). However, a general statement that Christ sanctified all baptismal waters through his own baptism in the Jordan River is included (Fisher, 1992, 159).
Baptism (the once for all rite of initiation into the New Covenant community) and the Lord’s Supper (its regular rite of remembrance) are connected in many ways. We have seen that they are scripturally connected in that they were both instituted by Christ in the Gospels; 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. Next, we saw that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are theologically connected because of their shared nature as sacraments. And finally, we saw that baptism and the Lord’s Supper have close liturgical connections 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. We should all be thankful for these gifts from the Lord, given as signs of relationship and means of grace. For as Saint Augustine suggests, they are part of the overall bread-making process that He gave for our spiritual nourishment until He returns (Sermon 272, 412 AD).
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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