Baptists recognize only two ordinances—believer's baptism and the Lord's Supper (communion). They do not recognize them as sacraments because of historic Baptist theology that no saving grace is conveyed by either and that original sin is not washed away in baptism. Another reason for not calling them sacraments is the Baptist belief that they are symbols rather than sacraments. When viewed as an ordinance, baptism is testimony to the recipient's faith in the final resurrection of the dead. It is an outward sign, but not a seal. Being a church ordinance makes it a prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.
This differs from Reformed and Catholic theology. Baptists do not believe that either baptism or the Lord's Supper confers or mediates grace on those who receive it. Some Primitive Baptists and Free Will Baptists also practice foot washing as a third ordinance.
Baptists reject the practice of pedobaptism or infant baptism because they believe parents cannot make a decision of salvation for an infant. Related to this doctrine is the disputed concept of an "age of accountability" when God determines that a mentally capable person is accountable for their sins and eligible for baptism. This is not a specific age, but is based on whether or not the person is mentally capable of knowing right from wrong. Thus, a person with severe mental retardation may never reach this age, and therefore would not be held accountable for sins. The book of Isaiah mentions an age at which a child "shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good" but does not specify what that age is.
Baptists insist upon baptism by full immersion, the mode Baptists believe Jesus received when he was baptized by John the Baptist. The candidate is lowered in water backwards while the baptizer (a pastor or any baptized believer under the authority of the local Baptist church) invokes the Trinitarian phrase found in or other words concerning a profession of faith. Baptism by immersion is a representation of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
For purposes of accepting transfer of membership from other churches, Baptist churches only recognize baptism by full immersion as being valid. Some Baptist churches will recognize "age of accountability" baptisms by immersion performed in other Christian churches of "like faith and order," while others only recognize baptisms performed in Baptist churches. Baptists are known for re-baptizing converts to their faith who were previously baptized as infants or small children. Because of this, the first Baptist congregations were dubbed "Anabaptists" which means re-baptizers.
Baptists traditionally serve the bread and cup elements to participants where they sit. A congregation may also choose any other means of serving since the method has no theological significance to them. The bread used in the service traditionally is unleavened, thought to be the type used at the Last Supper since it started out as a Passover meal for its Jewish participants. Usually bread cubes, wafers or small crackers are passed in plates to participants, though the “breaking of bread” from loaves is also acceptable.
Some Baptists in the US and some other Protestants use unfermented grape juice for the cup, citing the fact that the Gospel passages on the last supper mention only the “fruit of the vine,” never calling it wine. The “cup” is usually served in small individual cups. A “common cup” (one large cup for the entire congregation) may be used, but for practical reasons it is usually reserved for small gatherings.
The elements of the bread and the cup are usually served by the pastor to the deacons, and by the deacons to the congregation. A deacon will serve the pastor, or if the church has multiple pastors, they will serve each other. The general practice is for the elements to be taken by the congregation at the same moment as a symbol of unity, first the bread and then the cup separately.
The Lord’s Supper may be held at any frequency selected by a church, such as weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even annually. It usually takes place during a regular worship service.
Those invited to partake in the Lord’s Supper may vary by some individual Baptist denominations. There are three variations, with most prevalent listed first: