Q&A | How Should We Think About Water Baptism and The Communion?

Femi Osunnuyi: I think it is rather unfortunate and I’m not saying these churches are apostate churches or that God isn’t doing things among them. So, please I don’t want anybody to mishear me, but I do think that in this regard, they are acting in disobedience to what is not just clearly taught but also instructed in the scriptures. Now, the problem, though, is sometimes when we think about these things in terms of commandments only. You see, some of these children – when they get to the age of 10, 11, 12 – that’s when they start asking “why?” a whole lot more. That’s when they start getting uninterested in singing, have you noticed? No matter how many 30-something-year-olds are raising their hands, I look in church sometimes, everybody’s raising their hands including their parents but you just see the children, they’re like, “What are we even doing? What’s all this for? My leg is paining me, I just want to sit down.” Because they’re asking “Why?”. And honestly in church, yes there are things God has told us to do, but very often He also tells us why we do it. And many times, I think the reason why people jettison instructions from Scripture is that they weren’t sufficiently given the reasons why. I do not mean those people who, though you give them a why, still don’t want to do it, they have created a new why for themselves.

But at least, some of the ones I know about, why they jettison it is the theology they put around it. Funnily enough, they say that it’s because they want to be more Christ-centered or gospel-centered; and many of these churches are also the ones that say stuff like God of the Old Testament and God of the New Testament or “We can correct certain things in the Old Testamentbecause they tend to say “We need to be Christfocused and “The Bible is all about Christ and nothing else”. They’d quote Colossians where it says that “the substance of everything is Christ, so they’ll use things like “Paul says circumcision or uncircumcision is nothing but faith working itself out in love” so they’d say “Christ alone”. But, I call that a minimalist Christ-centered position, and they are removing things that Christ has not said you should remove! So, that’s why they say stuff like “Baptism and Lord’s Supper, ehn, it’s okay, it’s fine, but it’s not necessary. Someone once argued with me and said, “I can show you in 1 Corinthians 1, Paul said ‘God did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel’. So, all that is really needed is to preach the gospel”. (Some people that are extreme say that even singing is not needed, just preach the gospel. And I say that those are people who like hearing themselves too much; they speak for two hours, so they just want to get rid of all these “frivolities” like singing and all that.) So, I told the guy to read on, Paul said, “I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius,…Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas…” Paul himself was baptized in the book of Acts.

In fact, let me say this: what it means to be converted includes baptism – I didn’t say what it means to be saved, right? We have the thief on the cross. But what it takes to be converted as the Bible understands it includes baptism. Why? Because God is not redeeming your spirit alone, He’s going to redeem your body. He said on the last day, He will raise the body. And so, when we enter into the waters of baptism, we are saying, “What God has done spiritually, He’s also done in my body”. When you say “My body is the temple of the living God”, you point to your baptism because in the baptism, you “felt” the salvation of God. One of the unfortunate terms we use when we want to describe baptism and the Lord’s Supper is “it’s a mere memorial.” Let me tell you this; April 16th is not a mere memorial in my life. I celebrate it and it’s not “mere” because that’s the day I got married to the most important person in my life! It’s not a mere memorial when I just remember. There’s a reason why some people when they are turning 40, will have done a photoshoot of ₦300,000, they wear clothes that they would never wear again on that photoshoot. Why? It’s not a mere memorial! It was the day they came into the world and they’ve experienced God’s faithfulness in trying times. Some people remember when their parents died because it was significant in their life, something happened. They’re not mere memorials, all these events matter. But now, The Event that meant that you are secure for all of eternity, that you will enjoy the greatest pleasures no one has ever understood despite your sin, we call it just a mere memorial. It is a memorial, yes, but it is everything but mere! That’s why it is said that the Communion is a sacred event, the elements are ordinary, but the message about what they are pointing to makes it sacred. Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me”, you cannot just say “If you want to do it, do it, if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it”, because you are thinking “preach the word”.

You see, sometimes, because a lot of us have gone to school we overestimate the power of communication with words. Cognitive information is important but just look at how we live our lives; many of us talk about body language. We’ve seen people in church fight, but why are they fighting? What did she say to you?”She didn’t say anything to me.’ “Did you say anything back?” No, but the way she looked at me…’ Body language! We communicate beyond words; we communicate with symbols powerfully, and we know that. So, God is saying “I want to show you how much I’ve saved you, I’m saving you mentally, spiritually, in your body, I’m saving the creation”. That’s God’s salvation package, it’s everything! And He wants you to communicate it not just with words; He says “As often as you do it, you proclaim” The communion is a proclamation and in the same way, your baptism is a declaration that you belong to the Lord. So, I think part of the problem underneath why these churches do that is they have become too cognitive; they are too disconnected from the history of the Church. Yes, there are some things in the history of the church that we shouldn’t do but there are some other things we should do! And I think that is a most unfortunate development and, by God’s grace, we will not be like that in City Church because these things are deeply important.

Emmanuel Oset: I just wanted to add to PF’s already great answer. So, what he just quoted now is from 1 Corinthians 11 and two things I’ll add is first; you already see even after Jesus had died that it was a practice in the early church. The early church was regularly gathering to have times of communion and to celebrate baptism. And secondly, Paul says in verse 29 of 1 Corinthians 11, “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” When he’s talking about falling asleep, he’s not saying some people didn’t sleep well overnight and they fell asleep in the service because it was boring. No, he meant they died!

And so, you can already see that the church was practicing it and there was a divine sanction on what they were doing such that if anyone messed with it, God was angry and visited them in judgment. So, really, this is something that the Lord intends for us to continue to practice and rehearse until Jesus comes. 

Answered by Femi Osunnuyi, lead pastor of City Church, and Emmanuel Oset, a leader at City Church.