Five years ago David Rogers penned a blog post entitled The Illustration of the Hypothetical "Common Loaf Denomination". He intended it as an argument in favor of open communion. I stated then, and continue to state now, that it is an equally effective argument in favor of open membership. I can't recall what David's response was to that assertion.
And so, the present public state of things, as far as I can tell, is that both David and I accuse one another of inconsistency (please don't read mutual hostility into the word "accuse"). David accuses me of inconsistency because he believes that I make the smaller details of the biblical witness regarding baptism a test a fellowship while I do not make the smaller details of the biblical witness regarding the Lord's Supper a test of fellowship. I accuse David of inconsistency because I believe that he makes the smaller details of the biblical witness regarding baptism a test of fellowship when it comes to local church membership while he does not make them a test of fellowship when it comes to the Lord's Supper.
For five years, as Baptist blogging has touched upon the relationship between pedobaptists and credobaptists, David has from time to time linked back to this original article and used it in ongoing debate. Others have linked to it and have defended it. By the way, nobody, to my recollection, out of any of the endorsers has ever explained why this wouldn't apply equally to open membership as well as to open communion.
I thought I had already written to refute David's argument, but I cannot find that I have done so. I confess that other people often keep better track of my blogging than I myself do. If this is a repeated post, then I apologize, but I give you the reasons why David's pedagogical attempt does not convince me.
Immersion is not really a "mode" of baptism. Yes, I and others have used that terminology for convenience's sake. We have made "mode" a property of "baptism" and have asserted three possible values for that property: "Immersion," "Aspersion," and "Affusion." This is convenient terminology, but it is inaccurate. It does not reflect reality.
The reality is that there is no such thing as "baptism." There is only "immersion." We know definitively that "baptism" is a made up word, a transliteration of βαπτίζω concocted into the English tongue for the sole purpose of avoiding the accurate translation—the word "immersion"—in the New Testament. The world being as it is, we cannot avoid the use of the word "baptism," it being as firmly established as it is, but linguistic drift does not alter reality: Immersion is not a "mode" of baptism; it is the essence of "baptism."
For this reason, the credobaptist vs. pedobaptist controversy is not a question of "The New Testament commands that you baptize: How does YOUR church do it?" Rather, it is a question of "The New Testament commands that you immerse: Does your church obey this command or not?"
Rogers refers to this part of the discussion as the linguistic argument. In an attempt to show the validity of his illustration and his accusation of inconsistency, he states that there is a corresponding linguistic argument regarding the Lord's Supper:
Linguistically, the term "breaking bread," generally accepted as referring to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, directly implies the use of a "common loaf."
This assertion fails for several reasons. First, it fails because any number of loaves of bread can nonetheless be broken and a church can still have accomplished, linguistically, the breaking of bread. Furthermore, the loaf can be broken at any time during the Lord's Supper, or even beforehand, and the breaking of bread can still have been accomplished. In 1 Corinthians 10:16, the phrase, "τὸν ἄρτον ὃν κλῶμεν" simply refers to "the bread which we break into pieces." If you have bread, and if it winds up being broken into pieces, then you've entirely lived up to the linguistics of this phrase. The same cannot be said of βαπτίζω and the sprinkling of water onto a baby.
More than "mode" is at stake in the disagreement between pedobaptists and credobaptists. Differences in "mode" followed differences in meaning and differences in sequence and differences in candidate. Sprinkling is merely a symptom of the choice to force baptism upon unwilling, unregenerate babies in the service of the foolish notion that spiritual benefit can accrue to them thereby. Almost everything about baptism is different between these two groups. The only similarities that I can find are that we all use water, we all use human beings, and we all talk about Jesus when we do it.
Where the "mode" really IS the only thing at stake, we've actually been much more generous. For example, we know that John Smythe and Thomas Helwys merely poured water upon one another. The same is true of Roger Williams. I regard these men as Baptists.
Of course, these men are an historical anomaly. With the benefit of further light on the subject being disseminated widely, nobody on the planet holds the view of Smythe, Helwys, and Williams today. All those who reject pedobaptism routinely perform their baptisms by immersion. To begin to perform baptism by sprinkling or pouring today is to reject much more than the only scriptural "mode" of baptism.
A single common loaf was not necessarily (and I think cannot possibly have been) the eucharistic practice of the New Testament church. The Jerusalem church simply was too large to have celebrated the Lord's Supper by using a single loaf of bread. Yes, if one receives as inerrant truth the hypothesis about house churches in Jerusalem or David's own "city church" notion, then one might make a case for each cell group celebrating with its own single loaf of bread, but I don't believe that even David would assert his theories of New Testament ecclesiology as being so iron-clad that one should build his entire doctrine of an ordinance in a way that would crumble to the ground if "city church" ecclesiology later proved to be untenable. After all, the New Testament explicitly states that the entire Jerusalem church met in one accord at Solomon's Portico (Acts 5:12). The weight of that one statement alone should be enough—even if house church advocates can form some answer to it—to give us pause before we build our entire theology of the Lord's Supper upon the presumption that every celebration of the Lord's Supper in the New Testament used a single common loaf.
In David's article he makes the assertion flatly:
Historically, in the examples we read in the New Testament (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19, 24:30, 35; Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11; 27:35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-24), it is apparent that the Lord’s Supper was celebrated with a "common loaf."
It is true that "apparent," like "beautiful," can exist in the eye of the beholder, but I believe that I have at least demonstrated that David's assertion here falls far short of being invincible.
There is some recourse for David's argument. He might assert that it is not necessary that the New Testament share a single common loaf across the entire congregation. Rather, he might say, he is merely asserting that each Christian believer received the Lord's Supper from a loaf that he or she shared in common with at least one other Christian believer. In other words, if the Jerusalem church had to distribute 500 loaves at Solomon's Portico, then even if the congregation did not all share the SAME common loaf, we can presume that groups of ten people or so all shared a loaf with one another within the congregation. The implication would then be that we can only partake the Supper rightly if the bread we consume has come from a loaf that went to feed at least one other person during that celebration of the Supper. I do not see that David can reasonably argue any more than this, but even this, I would assert, is an argument from silence.
If the average loaf of unleavened bread in Jerusalem in AD 33 was enough to serve 12 people during the Lord's Supper, and if there were a congregation of 1200 people partaking, then the math is simple enough: Just bake 100 loaves of bread and distribute them out to people grouped by the dozen. But what happens when the congregation grows to 1201? Are we suggesting that New Testament churches could never have encountered the situation in which a loaf of bread was completely consumed when the penultimate member of the congregation took her or his piece? Certainly the New Testament speaks nothing to us of any precautions that were taken to prevent this from happening. But that's all it would take for a New Testament congregation to have celebrated the Lord's Supper in such a way that at least one member of the congregation didn't share his particular loaf with anybody else.
Perhaps a simpler way to understand the New Testament is that the collective amount of bread held by the congregation for the Supper—however many loaves that might have been—was broken up into pieces that were then collectively shared by the congregation such that every member was fed. Such a viewpoint goes no further than what the biblical text asserts, and it requires no extra-textual assertions about maximum numbers of loaves allowed or minimum numbers of people to consume from each particular loaf. Of course, it is also a way of understanding that poses no problems (as far as I can see) for the way that Southern Baptist churches generally celebrate the Lord's Supper.
The extent of "sharing in the body of Christ" in 1 Corinthians 10:16 is necessarily neither coterminous with nor dependent upon the number of people who could receive the Lord's Supper from a particular loaf of unleavened bread. David Rogers, above all people I have known, would assert that two believers who have never been in the same hemisphere with one another and who have never partaken from any shared physical loaf together are nevertheless people who join in "a sharing in the body of Christ." I would almost say that this concept strikes at the heart of David's defining contribution to Southern Baptist blogging. I do not think that he will retreat from it now. But if he will assert that we only have a sharing in the body of Christ to the extent that we have a sharing in the same loaf of bread, then he must.
The "sharing" in this passage refers to our sharing in the collective group of loaves of bread that have symbolized the body of Christ in the Lord's Supper. We might easily descend here into the sixteenth-century Ubiquitarian controversy, but we can surely agree that the partakers of different loaves in the Lord's Supper are nonetheless sharing in the same broken body of Christ (symbolically and memorially, I believe). And it is precisely THIS sharing—what we share with Christ more than what we share with one another—that is the thrust of 1 Corinthians 10, with its warning that we not share Christ with the cup of demons.
I am not asserting that the common sharing with one another is entirely absent from 1 Corinthians 10. Rather, I am asserting two things: First, I am asserting that our sharing with Christ is primarily in view in this passage and that the sharing among ourselves is decidedly secondary and incidental. Second, I am asserting that the sharing with one another is a consequence not of how many loaves of bread were used in the Supper, but of the fact that we are all sharing in the body of Christ. However many loaves can communicate a sharing in the body of Christ, those are how many loaves can communicate our sharing with one another. The sharing in the body of Christ comes about through regeneration and is, I believe, symbolized equally well by the concept of sharing I articulated in the preceding point as it is by David's idea. David and I would both agree, I think, that it is by conversion that we become sharers in the body of Christ, and that the Lord's Supper, with however many loaves, appropriately symbolizes this spiritual truth.
In contrast, the sprinkling of unwilling, unregenerate infants and the passing off of this practice as Christian baptism resembles this situation with the Lord's Supper not at all. It explicitly extends a symbol of Christian mortification and regeneration to those to whom it does not apply. It is, ironically, a violation of the very prohibition given in 1 Corinthians 10—it is the profaning of something sacred that believers only should share by dragging it into fellowship with the property of demons. David writes:
Symbolically, on the basis of 1 Corinthians 10.16-17, the use of a "common loaf" represents physically and visually an important spiritual truth: the essential unity of the Body of Christ ("For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread").
As I hope I have demonstrated, David himself believes that the "loaf" of the body of Christ extends across many physical loaves of bread. Consequently, the only way that "the essential unity of the Body of Christ" can be illustrated in the Lord's Supper is if the number of loaves employed is of no consequence. As I also hope I have demonstrated, the precise principle asserted and defended in this passage—the importance of protecting from defilement by the profane world of unbelievers those things which are sacredly shared by believers—is a principle that necessarily denounces the practice of pedobaptism.
There is a difference between commandment and description in the New Testament. With regard to immersion, we are commanded to immerse. With regard to the Lord's Supper, we are commanded to take, to eat, to share, to remember…but nowhere are we commanded to have a common loaf and to break it out among one another at a particular moment in the observation and in a particular way. The corollary to a refusal to immersion would be if we could find a group of people who passed out the elements of the Lord's Supper, looked them over, prayed a little prayer, and then threw them away without eating them. Or, perhaps, it would be the Quakers, who refuse to observe the Lord's Supper at all. These are people who are clearly in violation of the imperative commands of Christ in the New Testament with regard to the Lord's Supper, and they stand in parallel with those who do not obey the imperative command to immerse.
If David WERE right, what would the remedy look like? David begins his post by preemptively stating: "Please understand that what I am writing here is just an illustration to prove a point. I am emphatically NOT suggesting the founding of a new 'Common Loaf Denomination.'" One must ask the question, why not?
Or, at least, to make allowances for David's (and hopefully all of our) distaste for denominational division, one must wonder why David is not working to encourage local churches to adopt this manner of observing the Lord's Supper. If David's argument is as strong as he says it is ("I believe it forcefully and poignantly drives home a point"), then shouldn't he be urging us all to implement it in our churches without fail? Are those who have quoted and cited David's article changing their own churches' practice of the ordinance?
Why is it that we use allegations of inconsistency in this day and time always to urge people to be consistently lax and never to urge people to be consistently faithful?
If we were to find David's argument compelling and if we were to take David's words seriously, what would be the outcome? In that circumstance, in order to be consistent in our treatment of the Lord's Supper and baptism, we would have to require people who were joining our churches to set aside their old way of observing the Lord's Supper and, from this point forward, to adhere to the right way of doing it.
In other words, even if everything that I have written in this post were somehow set aside and David's "common loaf" theory were 100% vindicated, nothing would change about the way that our church receives members or opens the Lord's Table. That's because baptism is a punctiliar ordinance while the Lord's Supper is an ongoing ordinance. If our church has a conviction about how the Lord's Supper ought to be observed, we need not worry whether those who seek membership in our church or who observe the Supper in our meeting house with our church will observe it rightly. We control that. Everyone who partakes here will partake in the manner of our practice and conviction.
Baptism, on the other hand, is different. We do not re-baptize. We merely have the awkward duty sometimes of informing people who think they have been baptized that they have not. Alike, in both the case of the baptism and the case of the Lord's Supper, the remedy is simply that those worshipping the Lord in this congregation and having been exposed to the teachings of the Bible must, if they will join with this congregation, observe the ordinances according to the New Testament commandments of Christ from this point forward. There is consistency there.
It's just that doing so with regard to the Lord's Supper is not controversial at all, while doing so with regard to baptism can generate conflict.
And so, there is my answer to David Rogers. I apologize for waiting so long to post it. As you can see, it is not a brief task, and blogging is not, after all, my primary calling from God. I mean no disrespect to David Rogers in the publication of this post. Indeed, it appears only because of his request that I interact with his ideas. It is actually the case that I post this out of respect for him, not disrespect, for he deserves an answer to a question that he has posed more than once in the past five years: What do we think, we who disagree with him, about his "common loaf denomination" illustration?