Does Breakfast come before Dinner? Something of an odd question I know, but not as odd as you might think. You see, if you do not value or eat breakfast then you’re going to assume that breakfast is irrelevant to your enjoyment of dinner.
In the day-to-day life of meals we are free to eat, or not eat, as we please. But imagine for a moment that you were required to eat both breakfast and dinner. Which one should come first? Is there a proper order?
Most people would naturally say, of course breakfast comes before dinner. That’s seems obvious, and it’s how we’ve always done it. Yet you can bet your bottom dollar that there’s someone out there who thinks otherwise.
They say: “I searched my Bible, and there’s no verse that says ‘Thou shalt eat Breakfast before Dinner,’ therefore we are free to eat in whichever order we want. I will have my dinner first, then my breakfast and I will teach my kids to do the same.”
Now this may appear an absurd argument, and that’s because I deliberately wanted to highlight the absurdity! This is how many people approach matters of faith and practice, with no regard to the meaning of what it is that they’re doing (or not doing), or whether or not the Scripture might indicate a proper direction without saying outright what is the way to go.
A certain level of fundamentalism is essential for Christian faith; we must always go to the Word because it is our only rule of faith and practice. Yet there is a kind of fundamentalism that actually ends up undermining our faith. It treats the Bible forensically, like a binary series of 1’s and 0’s that can be divided and categorised, with different commands and propositional truths clearly delineated into separate bowls that don’t touch. Some have grown somewhat weary or sceptical of systematic theology because it can sometimes treat the scriptures this way. Don’t get me wrong! The Bible is a cohesive book of God’s revealed truth that can withstand the most intense study, but it is not a textbook, nor programming code, nor a user manual.
For the modern scientific mind, the Bible can be frustratingly imprecise, yet that is the way God wants it to be. By His Spirit He collated the narratives and poetry and prophetic imagery. He preserved only some of the personal and corporate letters of the New Testament era. He gave the case law of the Torah without a law for every single circumstance. He gave us Old Testament quotes in the New Testament that were not exact copies. He gave us apparent* contradictions and riddles and certain passages that are somewhat opaque to every generation. Yet in this complexity and seeming imprecision we are provided a rich and deep whole. It means that to go beyond the surface we must don the intellect that God has given us, and plunge into the depths of that ocean of truth in the hopes of finding it’s pearls and great treasures.
Sadly too many modern Christians treat God’s word like a flat desert, thinking that every thing worth knowing or doing protrudes from the surface in an obvious way. If it cannot be obviously observed, it must not exist.
What has this to do with breakfast? Let me return to the allegory I began with. Imagine you are required to eat both breakfast and dinner. Even though the Scripture may not say “Thou shalt eat Breakfast before Dinner” we can know with certainty that breakfast should be eaten before dinner. Why? Because that’s what breakfast IS. It is in the very name and meaning of the word that it should come first. Breakfast is for the breaking of one’s fast from not eating. If one eats dinner first then they're not realy breaking their fast later on when they eat "breakfast" are they?
Now let’s say in this allegory, that a certain person who lacks understanding has gone and eaten their dinner first. Is there any hope for them? Why of course! We make mistakes, and we get things mixed up, somone should point out that person’s folly and they can make adjustments for the future. No permanent damage was done, but in order to give both breakfast and dinner their proper place that person should make the change for the future.
Not only is it apparent on the surface that breakfast obviously comes before dinner, great minds trained with godly wisdom could investigate the matter and write books about it. We could also look at the practice of the saints down through history observing that they always understood and practiced one before the other.
Have you grown tired of the parable yet? What am I getting at with breakfast and dinner? This is a parable about the two sacraments of the Church: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We have these two ordinances that are given to us and commanded by Jesus Christ. They’re not optional for the Christian.
So we must practice them both, but the question we ask is “Does one come before the other?” and like the parable of breakfast I say a resounding “Yes! Baptism comes before Lord’s Supper!” Now although you will not find a Bible verse saying so, it is obviously so. It is built into the meaning of Baptism that it comes first, just as breakfast is before dinner inherently in it’s meaning.
Simply speaking, Baptism is about our being cleansed and joined to Jesus in the New Covenant, and Lord’s Supper is about perpetual partaking and remembering Jesus in the New Covenant. So simply put, what business does someone have remembering Jesus sacrifice if they have not taken Jesus sacrifice for themself?
And if the response is, “I do believe in Jesus,” then the follow up question is “why have you not taken the sign of belonging to Jesus?”
God deals with the heart, but we deal with externalities, and Jesus gave us external markers to indicate our unity with Jesus, for example “You shall know them by their fruit”. To push the picture, “You shall know a Christian by his/her baptism.” This is the external sign of belonging to Jesus, and so we take that sign before we take the ongoing sign of the Lord’s Supper.
In picture, Baptism represents regeneration, and Lord’s Supper is connected to sanctification (being made holy). Can regeneration come before sanctification? Then why would we put the signs of those things around the other way?
In the Old Testament they had two prototype sacraments that foreshadow those of the Church. They had Circumcision and Passover. Both of these have big differences to Baptism/Communion, but there are many similarities as well. Interestingly Circumcision was about signifying being joined to God’s covenant people, and Passover was a perpetual meal of remembrance of God’s salvation for that people, much like our ordinances. Interestingly God made it clear that Passover was for His people, who had taken the sign of belonging:
“If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.” (Ex 12:48).
God made it very clear that people shouldn’t partake of Passover unless they had taken the sign of belonging to His covenant people. Why should it be practiced any differently in the New Covenant? Is it now ok to join the Body of Christ in their communion without having first joined Christ in his death? (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:11–12)
Even apart from the obvious nature of the meaning of baptism, and the implications from scripture, we also have the testimony of the forefathers in the faith. Even from the earliest days the church has been careful to baptise first then do Lord’s Supper after:
“But let no one eat or drink of the Eucharist with you except for those baptized in the name of the Lord…” (Didache 9.5)
“And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.” (The First Apology of Justin [Martyr] 66).
So how should we straighten all this out? Let’s say “I hadn’t thought about it, but now that you mention it, I can see what you’re saying, what do I do?”
If you’re a parent, you should keep your unbaptised children back from the table. A hard thing to do especially if you thought it was ok beforehand! But if your children are not baptised, then teach them that this table is for the Jesus’ people, and those who belong to the Jesus people are baptised. If you hold to beleivers baptism, and your child is not old enough to be baptised yet, then they certainly shouldn’t be at the Table, because the one who cannot (or has not) taken on faith for themselves certainly cannot “discern the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:27–29). If they believe and can discern the body, then get them baptised!
If you’re and older beleiver, and you have been partaking while unbaptised, then abstain and seek baptism at the earliest opportunity. What are you waiting for? You obviously already want what Christ has for you! Come and be washed, be sanctified, be justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God! (riffing on 1 Co 6:11).
Part of the beautiful picture of Baptism & the Lords Supper is that there is a special symbolism in coming to the table once you’ve taken the sign. Beforehand you were outside Christ, but now you have been washed you are warmly invited to fellowship with the Church in Christ. Once you were alienated, and now you are in communion with Christ and His People around the table of the King.
Politicians in Australia do this weird thing where they have election campaign launch-parties. Why is it weird? Because they do it halfway through their campaigns! Everybody has seen them campaigning for months now, so it comes as a strange surprise to be told that they’re just now launching their campaign. It’s out of order and somewhat disingenuous.
De facto couples do this weird thing where they live as a married couple for years before “making it official” in a wedding that has been stripped of much of it’s meaning because it’s all around the wrong way (if you’re a defacto couple who has been convicted of your sin and the got married as a result, then good work! I’m not taking a dig at you for doing the right thing!).
Partaking of the Lord’s supper before baptism is just like these two examples, it’s mixed around the wrong way and undermines their meaning. It is better to deny oneself and fast from the Table until the appointed time, take the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5) and then dig into the best breakfast you ever had; the body and blood of Christ broken and shed for you!
*(I say “apparent” because they appear as contradictions on the surface, but further investigation resolves the issue).
“We believe that Christian Baptism … is prerequisite to the privileges of a Church relation; and to the Lord’s Supper, in which the members of the Church, by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self-examination.” (New Hampshire Baptist Confession, Article 14)
“The order of the ordinances teaches Christian doctrine, as the ordinances do; to partake of the Lord’s Supper before being baptized is to say in symbol that one can be sanctified without being regenerated.” (Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology, 970.)
“The Church must require of all those who desire to celebrate the Lord’s Supper a credible profession of faith. Naturally, she cannot look into the heart and can only base her judgment respecting an applicant for admission on his confession of faith in Jesus Christ. … When a person is conscious of being estranged from the Lord or from his brethren, he has no proper place at a table which speaks of communion.” (L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 657).
“many Protestants would argue from the meaning of baptism and the meaning of the Lord’s Supper that, ordinarily, only those who have been baptized should participate in the Lord’s Supper. This is because baptism is so clearly a symbol of beginning the Christian life, while the Lord’s Supper is clearly a symbol of continuing the Christian life. Therefore if someone is taking the Lord’s Supper and thereby giving public proclamation that he or she is continuing in the Christian life, then that person should be asked, “Wouldn’t it be good to be baptized now and thereby give a symbol that you are beginning the Christian life?”
But others, including the present author, would object to such a restriction as follows: A different problem arises if someone who is a genuine believer, but not yet baptized, is not allowed to participate in the Lord’s Supper when Christians get together. In that case the person’s nonparticipation symbolizes that he or she is not a member of the body of Christ which is coming together to observe the Lord’s Supper in a unified fellowship (see 1 Cor. 10:17: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread”). Therefore churches may think it best to allow non-baptized believers to participate in the Lord’s Supper but to urge them to be baptized as soon as possible. For if they are willing to participate in one outward symbol of being a Christian, there seems no reason why they should not be willing to participate in the other, a symbol that appropriately comes first.” (Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 996)
“It is no wonder that God instituted this second sacrament; for, after having received us into his family, he engaged to nourish us as his children, and continually to preserve and strengthen the life once bestowed; of which kindness and love he has been pleased to assure us by giving a certain pledge: as therefore he was pleased to shadow forth our regeneration by baptism, the sacrament of our initiation and entrance into the church, so by the sacred Supper he is pleased to signify our nourishment and support by Christ.” (Benedict Pictet, Christian Theology, 421)
“It is necessary that the Spirit should first renew us, of which renewal baptism is the sign; then after we are renewed it is further necessary that we should be nourished by the body and blood of Christ, the sign of which is the Lord’s supper.” (Zacharias Ursinus and G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, 380)