Church Ordinances

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, also known as Communion or Eucharist. Almost every church and denomination includes these two activities as a part of their life together. But just how they practice them, and what they mean widely vary across Christianity. This article will examine these two ordinances of the church. Primarily from the perspective of a Baptist.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Ordinances or Sacraments

For some, like Baptists, they are ordinances. We consider an ordinance to be a symbolic act that we do in obedience to Christ’s direction. An ordinance is an act of obedience and worship. But it plays no part in my salvation or in imparting God’s grace to me. Rather, it reminds me of what God has done for me.

For others, most notably Roman Catholics, they are sacraments. A sacrament is a means through which God’s grace flows to the participant. And so participation in these activities becomes important to secure, or keep oneself in, right relationship with God. While this article focuses on baptism and communion, there are other activities in some traditions that are identified as sacraments. For the Roman Catholic these include Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.

Baptism

In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus instructed his followers to teach and baptize wherever they went. And then in the rest of the New Testament you see them doing just that. In Acts 2:41, Acts 8:12,  Acts 8:38, Acts 10:47-48, Acts 16:33, Acts 18:8Acts 19:5 and 1 Corinthians 1:14-17,  we see baptism closely connected to the expanding reach of the gospel. Baptism appears to have been practiced by the church from its inception.

In Acts 2:37-38 the crowd, in response to Peter’s message, asks what they must do. Peter responds that they need to repent and be baptized. This does appear to express the necessity of baptism for salvation. But the response to a very similar question in Acts 16:30-31 makes no mention of baptism. Baptism is practiced and directed throughout the New Testament. But nowhere else is it linked as a requirement for salvation. On the other hand we frequently find salvation being an issue of grace and faith alone. We are not baptized as a means, or requirement, of salvation. But rather to outwardly identify as a follower of Christ and illustrate the change that we have experienced.

Mode of Baptism

The Greek word from which we get baptize was a technical term used by dyers of cloth. They would prepare a vat of dye and then immerse, or baptize, the cloth into the vat. This idea of immersion also works well with the symbolic act of baptism. In baptism, the believer demonstrates his death to the old life. His burial as he goes down into the water. And then resurrection into a new life as he comes back out.  Other modes of baptism are not really able to fully symbolize what has happened in the life of the believer.

Candidates for Baptism

Baptists believe that baptism is an act of obedience on the part of a believer. So we do not baptize infants. Nor anyone else who has not made a profession of faith in Jesus as the Christ and risen Lord. Rather we limit baptism to those who have chosen to follow Jesus as Lord. And who want to declare their allegiance to the rest of the world.

A Requirement for Membership

Many Baptist churches require that a person be baptized, by immersion and as an act of obedience, in order to become a member of the local church.  While this is not something that is explicitly taught in the New Testament, it is easy to justify.  If a person is not willing to publicly declare their commitment to Christ, are they really going to effectively align themselves with a body of believers who have?  Of course there are exceptions to this. Some people are physically unable to be immersed. And in some places the church is forced to operate in secret, making baptism challenging.

When I watch someone being baptized, I rejoice in their commitment to Christ and their changed life.  But I can also take the opportunity offered by this ordinance to celebrate Jesus death, burial and resurrection.  I can turn every baptism into a mini Easter celebration. Worshipping the one who has made our new life possible.

Lord’s Supper

In Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-26 and Luke 22:14-20 we find Jesus sharing in the Passover meal with his disciples. And as he did so, he introducing a new element to the observance. The cup of his shed blood and the bread of his broken body. These were symbolic of the new covenant he was establishing. Later, in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul, in the midst of a correction concerning the observance of the Lord’s Supper, passes on what he had been taught. That taking the elements is to be done in remembrance and proclamation of Jesus death.

The Elements

In a Communion meal there are generally two elements: bread and wine or grape juice. These elements are taken in remembrance of Jesus death on the cross and all that it means. It is also a proclamation to the world around us that we believe Jesus died for all who put their trust in him.

For Baptists, this bread and juice never becomes more than a piece of bread and cup of juice.  They are elements that only help us in remembering Jesus’ sacrifice.  For others these elements are believed to actually become, or contain, in some way, the flesh and blood of Jesus. And as the actual body and blood of Christ, these elements introduce some element of grace into the life of the participant.  And so this sacrament, becomes more than just a remembrance of Jesus’ death.  It becomes a way of sharing more completely in the life of Christ.

Who Can Participate

The Lord’s Supper is most commonly observed as an act of worship. Usually while the body is assembled together. But sometimes in smaller groups. Sharing at the Lord’s table in a small group can aid in the development of intimacy within the group.  Many churches will try and limit participation in the meal to believers. It really has no meaning to those who are not ‘remembering his death until he comes’.  Some open the meal to all believers. Others limit it to those of like faith. And still others will limit participation to active members of the local body.

The Proper Attitude

In 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, Paul gave some additional direction concerning the Lord’s Supper. Direction that was in response to inappropriate behavior at the meal by the Corinthian believers. It is important, when taking the bread and wine/juice that I recognize the body and blood of Jesus. At the very least this would mean that during the meal I am focused on Jesus sacrifice. But it likely goes beyond an intellectual acknowledgement that Jesus died on the cross. I should also consider myself joined to him, dying to self and living for him.  What better way to remember his death than to join him, dying to self and living the life he died to bring to me.

Failure to recognize the body and blood of Christ is to eat the elements in an unworthy manner. And potentially bringing the Lord’s discipline into my life. Examine your walk with him before eating, and eat remembering what he did for you. Make your participation in the Lord’s table a time of renewal and worship.

Thoughts

  • What is the difference between an ordinance and a sacrament?
  • Based on your understanding of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper from the Scriptures, are they best considered ordinances or sacraments?
  • When you watch a baptism, or participate in the Lord’s Supper, do you do it as an act of worship?
  • When you share in the bread and cup, do you picture Jesus crucifixion in your mind. Remembering what he did for you?
  • As you watch a baptism, can you picture the person coming out of a grave rather than the water?
  • How can you make Baptism and the Lord’s Supper more meaningful in your own life?

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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