Lifeway’s Survey on the Lord’s Supper and why the Calvinism Debate is a Minor Issue

A recent BaptistPress article reports that Lifeway Research has discovered an alarming trend among Southern Baptist churches. And perhaps most alarming is the lack of voices calling for an alarm.

Who may participate in the Lord’s Supper at your church?

52% of pastors polled answered that anyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ may take of the Lord’s Supper. A significantly smaller percentage (35%) opens the table only to those who have been baptized as a believer. 5% open the table to anyone at all (though quite honestly, I don’t know how that differs from having no specifications to begin with).

To put those numbers in perspective, of all of the churches surveyed in this research, two out of three churches do not require baptism by immersion as a prerequisite for coming to the Lord’s Table. And that’s not just two out of three churches – that’s two out of three Baptist churches. I’ve never been one to fear that we’re losing our distinctives, but I’m about to join that club.

Herschel Hobbs, who wrote the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, argued that the Lord’s Supper was not the issue. He begins with the premise that non-baptized believers are not permitted to observe the Lord’s Supper. What distinguishes the Southern Baptist practice of limiting the Lord’s Table to baptized membership from any other Christian group is that Baptists only baptize believers. There should be no such things as non-baptized believers or a baptized non-believers to begin with.

“Christian groups generally are agreed that baptism must precede the Lord’s Supper. With this Baptists agree. The question is not ‘communion’ but baptism. What is New Testament baptism? If anything then, Baptists are ‘close baptismists.'” (Herschel Hobbs in What Baptists Believe)

According to this survey, only 4% of SBC churches practice closed communion. Closed communion is the practice of limiting the taking of the Lord’s Supper to one’s own church. And if this sounds too much like Landmarkism to you, consider Article VII in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming

Southern Baptists are having an identity crisis.

And we’re bickering and fighting over the wrong things.

Some will, no doubt, take this opportunity to throw another rock in the Calvinism/Traditionalist argument and blame Calvinists for opening the table to those baptized as infants. I’m sure it’s been done, but let’s not think that this problem exists only in Reformed ranks. Every Baptist church that I’ve ever served on staff in (and none would be considered Calvinistic) has opened the table to anyone who has professed Christ as Lord.

Whether we land on the side of the Calvinists or the Traditionalists (or somewhere in the middle), the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message casts a wide enough umbrella for all of us.

Brothers, we’re fighting the wrong battles. Calvinists and Traditionalists alike must abandon the vitriol and recognize that while we’re building arguments and making accusations against other Baptist brethren who ascribe to the very same statement of faith, we’re actually losing what it means to be Southern Baptist.

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  1. So are you saying that the 39% who believe in either close or closed communion, whether they be Calvinist, Traditionalist, or whatever, need to join together in order to oppose the the other 61% in the SBC?

    1. I’m not sure that particular method has proven to be very helpful. However, I certainly would contend that all Southern Baptists need to remember our distinctives. This study testifies that we have forgotten that very thing – or worse, we simply dismiss it.

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