Despite the vast differences in church practices that exist among Protestants (even Protestant vs. Catholic and Greek Orthodox), the practice of baptism and the Lord’s supper are universal among them. Reformed, Baptist, Anglican, and Pentecostal alike. But while the practices themselves are universal, their meaning and participants vary. While there is some unity in these things, there is greater disunity. When we begin to press on questions like “How is Christ present in communion?”, “Who can participate in communion?”, “Who do we baptize?”, and “What does baptism signify?”, we begin to see the differences emerge.
Examining these questions and more, John S. Hammet has written 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Kregel, 2015). This is the most recent installment of the Kregel 40 Questions series which provides a unique look at and an overview of various theological issues through 40 questions and answers. Hammet’s book is different from most books on baptism and the Lord’s Supper in that he treats both in the same book, discusses both theological and practical considerations, discusses the theology and practice of various denominations, and has follow-up questions at the end of each chapter to aid the reader in understanding the material better.
Hammet himself is a Baptist. He makes this clear throughout and can be seen in his evaluation of various viewpoints presented. This is not a defense of a Baptistic understanding of baptism and the Lord’s supper. Keeping in line with the nature of the series, Hammet is more concerned with presenting the various theological and practical views of each tradition regarding these practices. His actual critique of various positions is a very minor aspect of the book.
The books is divided into three basic categories. The first questions answered deal with issues which apply to both practices: are they called ordinances or sacraments?, who can administer them?, and how many sacraments/ordinances are there? It is generally agreed that they are called ordinances, only pastors can administer them, there are only two ordinances, and they are to be done under the authority of and in conjunction with a local church. On the issue of who is allowed administer the ordinances, it is generally agreed that the pastors/elders of the church are to administer them but, Hammet argues, though tradition might demand “this would not be theologically necessary.” (37)
In the second and third sections Hammet discuses questions surrounding baptism and the Lord’s supper. After addressing several introductory issues for both he moves into presenting the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist views separately and then the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Methodist views together. In order to fairly present each view, Hammet draws on the “authoritative denominational documents” of each tradition. (79) After presenting and evaluating each traditional view of the ordinances Hammet moves onto other theological and practical questions and looks at them from the perspective of each tradition.
What is interesting to see is the almost polarized views between Roman Catholics and Baptist’s in regards to both ordinances. Additionally, most denominations have a well established and broadly agreed upon theological/biblical understanding of the ordinances (with some exceptions for the Reformed) but Baptist’s have the most diversity of them all. Further, most denominations baptize infants and allow them to participate in communion while Baptists (almost solely) do not. In evaluating the covenantal case for infant baptism, Hammet believes “by far the most central critique of the covenantal case is that it greatly overstates the continuity in Scripture to the almost complete exclusion of discontinuity.” (141) Theologically astute readers will hear the standard argument of Baptist’s (read Dispensationalist’s) against covenant theology ringing through that statement (though Hammet does not identify as a Dispensationalist in the book).
It is also interesting to note than in the discussion of each traditions view of baptism, Hammet only references Scriptural support for the Baptist position (minor exception for the Lutheran position). Whether this is a tacit indication that he feels there is no possible biblical basis for their views I am not sure. In discussing the Baptist view, he cites several verses. It is possible that Hammet does this because he sees their views relying more heavily on tradition rather than Scripture. This is not the case when the various traditions views are discussed on the Lord’s supper.
40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is a great introduction to the various theological and practical positions on these twin practices of the Christian Church. This would serve as a great guide for a Bible study, Sunday school class, or personal study. Hammet introduces the reader to the major issues at hand and provides you with a good base from which to do further study.
I received this book for free from Kregel for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”