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Making the Ordinances Meaningful: Spurgeon on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

Geoff Chang April 18, 2024

For most churches, the challenge of church attendance is not practical but theological. Beyond busy schedules, online services, and all other contemporary challenges, many Christians today struggle with a weak understanding of what it means to belong to a church. One evidence of this weakness is in the way so many churches practice the ordinances. 

So often nowadays, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are simply a matter of individual expression. Rather than being the church’s affirmation of one’s profession of faith, baptisms now happen spontaneously, with little or no pastoral examination or ongoing commitment to the church. Rather than a corporate celebration, the Lord’s Supper is often simply an experience between “you and Jesus” as people go forward to partake of the elements on their own. In these individualized practices of the ordinances, we see the infiltration of consumerism into the church. And consumerism will never be strong enough to bring a community together.

Charles Spurgeon, however, thought highly of the ordinances. As he pastored the largest evangelical congregation in the 19th century, he understood the importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper for their identity as a church. Rather than downplaying or individualizing them, he elevated their importance and incorporated them into their life as a church. What might Spurgeon have to say to church leaders today about making the ordinances more meaningful in the life of the church? 

1. Connect the ordinances to the preaching of the Word

When the church celebrated baptism and the Lord’s Supper at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, they always did so in the context of corporate worship. Whether they observed the Lord’s Supper on a Sunday evening or baptism on a Monday night, the church always gathered publicly, and the gathering would include all the regular elements of a worship service: prayer, singing, Scripture reading, and preaching. This was vital because Spurgeon understood that apart from the Word, the ordinances are mute. Only the Scriptures make clear what these ordinances meant. 

Removing any superstitions attached to these practices was essential in a nominally Christian society. Many believed that showing up at church, getting baptized, and taking the Lord’s Supper could commend them to God. So in these services, Spurgeon had an opportunity to make the gospel especially clear for all those participating and all guests observing. On one occasion, preaching at a baptismal service, he reminded those being baptized of their true washing, not in water but in the blood of Christ:

“This is what Christ died for. He loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water by the Word, that he might present it unto himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. Christ died to save his people, not from some of their sins, but from all their sins. His precious blood cleanseth from all sin. His perfect atonement secures perfection to his saints. The death of sin is guaranteed by the death of Christ. [1]

Similarly, prior to a Lord’s Supper celebration, Spurgeon declared:

“If any of you, who have come to the table of the Lord, are not believers in Christ, never dare to come again while you are in that state. You have no right here unless you are resting in Jesus, and trusting in him. This is the proof of your being new creatures in Christ Jesus. But if you have the faintest, feeblest faith in Jesus, come and welcome. If you are trusting in your own merits, go to your own table; if you think there will be some merit in your coming to the communion, do not dare to come, for that were to turn the ordinance upside down.[2]” 

Pastors should preach the gospel in every sermon. Still, it is especially vital to preach the gospel when celebrating the ordinances because it is the gospel that explains their meaning. Apart from faith in the finished work of Christ, they are powerless to reconcile us to God. But through faith in Christ, they become a wonderful reminder of our union with Christ and peace with God. 

2. Connect the ordinances to the membership of the church

The ordinances reflect Christ’s vertical work in reconciling us to God and his horizontal work in forming a new people and uniting us to his Body. This is especially evident in the Lord’s Supper. As the congregation sat around one Table, they were reminded that they all now belonged to the household of God (Eph. 2:19). As the congregation partook of one cup and one loaf, they gave expression to their unity as one Body (1 Cor. 10:17). In other words, through baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the church gives her corporate, visible affirmation of those who belong to Christ and His people.

Therefore, Spurgeon always connected the ordinances with church membership. If you wanted to be baptized or regularly take the Lord’s Supper at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, you had to go through the regular membership process involving multiple pastoral interviews and public testimonies before the congregation. That membership process would culminate not merely with a congregation vote but baptism (if needed) and a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. At the Lord’s Table, the church would officially extend “the right hand of fellowship” and welcome people into membership. All this reinforced the conviction that church membership was not merely an administrative bureaucracy. Instead, it was a theological reflection of a spiritual reality: these Christians were united to Christ and His people. 

3. Connect the ordinances to the accountability of the church

One of the gifts of church membership is the ongoing accountability of the church. As baptism is the initiatory ordinance, the church is responsible for examining one’s profession of faith before baptism. This is why Spurgeon required candidates to undergo the membership process before baptism. He once declared, “As the communion table should be fenced, so also should the baptismal pool, so should the promises of God, and so should those great and glorious doctrines which are the essentials of our faith.”[3]

Spurgeon protected the communion table in the same way. He gave members in good standing communion tickets that allowed them to partake of the Lord’s Supper regularly. Visitors who wanted to partake would need to meet with an elder during the week to share their testimony and explain why they were taking the Lord’s Supper at the Tabernacle rather than their church. If all were in order, they would receive a limited number of communion tickets. 

But rather than viewing those coming to the Table with suspicion, Spurgeon encouraged his people to leave the work of fencing to the elders and to embrace one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

“Some professedly Christian people urge that they cannot come to the table because there are certain persons there who, in their judgment, should not be allowed to come. Is the Lord’s table to be a judgment-seat, whereat we are to revise the verdict of the church? … ‘But there is a person at communion who acted inconsistently.’ That is highly probable; and he may be wearing your coat, and looking out of your eyes. If you know of any case of open sin, let the elders of the church be informed, and it will be dealt with tenderly and firmly… But now, really what have you to do with the faults of others when you are remembering Christ Jesus? [4]


Here is where the church can push back on the idolatry of individualism that is so prevalent today. Christianity is not a lone ranger experience. It is not merely a journey between “you and Jesus.” Yes, Christ saves each of us individually, but a glorious aspect of his salvation is that he adopts us into His family and unites us with His own Body. In the church, God restores humanity to His original vision. Through the gospel, we learn to love those with whom we have nothing in common but Jesus. Week by week, we gather to worship our King. And we give visible expression to this wonderful new reality through the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. 

A version of this article was first published on The Focused Pastor website.

[1] MTP 34 No. 2049

[2] MTP 45:480.

[3] MTP 47:350.

[4] MTP 34:455.