The Church Ordinances
It was a pretty simple question, but the implications were profound. Saul was on his way to Damascus to continue arresting Christians, and Jesus asked him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4)... Think about that. He doesn’t say, “You’re persecuting the church. Jesus says you are persecuting Me.”
In fact, the very next verse says: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” This is the personal identification of Jesus Christ with His people. This is a supreme example of commitment and unity.
We see it again in Matthew 25, where Jesus is speaking of kind and loving acts. And He says: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” You did it to me.
Maybe the clearest picture we get of Christ’s commitment to the Church comes in Ephesians 5, where God tells us that it is the responsibility and privilege of every husband to love his wife the way Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. To sanctify her. To cleanse her. To wash her. To present her to himself without blemish. To nourish her. To cherish her. She is His body. They are united.
Now, how different is that kind of identification and commitment from spirit of our age when many men are content to say they love a woman but are unwilling to marry her? Some people call that gamophobia—a fear of marriage. A fear of commitment.
Many professing Christians suffer from it with regards to the church. Jesus loves the church. Jesus identifies with the church. Jesus unites Himself to the church.
And it is nonsense to say that you love and are united to Jesus Christ, but are not united to the church. Now some people come along and say: “Well, that’s all talking about the universal church. That doesn’t mean I have to be connected to a local church.”
Well, to say that is to misunderstand what the universal church is. The universal church is the institution, made up of Jews and Gentiles, created by Christ, purchased by Christ with His blood. It is the united worldwide group of people who have some to Christ in repentance and faith. But this worldwide group is expressed through local churches. The local church is the visible expression of the universal church.
But that leaves us with another theological question, which we didn’t touch on very much last week. And that is, what is a local church? How do you define a local church? It’s not as easy as you might think. Because if we make the definition too narrow, we can exclude genuine churches. And if we make the definition too broad, we might include parachurch groups that are not bad, but that are not churches either. This would include a campus ministry, a youth group, an FLG, a married ministry. These might be part of a local church, or exist alongside a church, but they are not, in themselves a church. Why not? What is a local church?
Theologians have a variety of answers. But maybe the most direct and simple is this: A local church is a visible expression of the universal body of Christ, rightly administering the word of God and rightly administering the ordinances of Christ.
Last week, we started our discussion about the church. And if you remember we said that a true church is a church that preaches the true gospel. Some people call that a mark of the church. They say the first mark of a church is the proper administration of the word of God. That’s part of Paul’s command to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2—Preach the word.
But there’s another mark that people talk about. A genuine church is to rightly administer the word of God, and secondly, a genuine church is to rightly administer the ordinances of Jesus Christ. A right administration of God’s word, and a right administration of Christ’s ordinances.
What are those ordinances? They are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And that’s what’s going to be the focus of our time together as we continue this series through some major elements of the church.
It’s a popular saying, I think most of us have heard: A picture is worth a thousand words. Well, why not have both? Why not give people words and then give them a picture as well. And that’s exactly what God has done for His church in the ordinances.
Some people might think that since the word of God is in black and white, it’s boring. Isn’t there some kind of vivid way we can see the gospel? Isn’t there a way that we can physically experience what happened at salvation? Isn’t there some kind of way we can visibly express the reality that we have been united to Christ and to one another?
Well, Christ has given a way to do this. In fact, he’s given us two. We call them the ordinances of Jesus Christ. Now many Baptist churches use the word ordinances because it reminds us that it is something that Jesus Christ ordained for us to do. It’s a clear command for the corporate church.
The Great Commission commands churches to baptize and teach believers. And we see that practice throughout the rest of the New Testament. At His final Passover, Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper and He says: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” And so throughout the New Testament, we see the church obey that command, that ordinance.
Some people use the word “sacrament.” And “sacrament” points to something that is holy or sacred. The word itself isn’t bad, but it has been somewhat hijacked by the Roman Catholic Church who teaches that the sacraments are a way of receiving grace, even by the act itself. So, even though sacrament can be used in a good way, some people prefer to avoid that word altogether and use the word “ordinance.”
So, with all that as part of our background and introduction, let’s talk more about these ordinances one at a time. And we’ll start with baptism.
Where does baptism come from? Well, in the Old Testament, we know that water was used in connection with cleaning or purifying. Priests, lay people, and even instruments or homes were washed in preparation for worship.
But in the New Testament, we get the first picture of someone washing others. This is the ministry of John the Baptist in the wilderness.
Turn with me to Matthew 3. The ordinances are pictures. They are images. And as we talk about baptism, I’d like to give you 6 truths about baptism. The baptism of John is different than the baptism of Jesus Christ, but there are still some similarities I want to point out. Matthew 3:1-2, 5-6.
First of all, what we see here in Matthew is that baptism pictures repentance. To repent means to turn away from sin. Verse 6 says they were confessing their sins. Being baptized means you are recognizing the fact that you need to be cleansed, you need to be washed. And that connection remains throughout the New Testament. Acts 2 record Peter preaching, “Repent and be baptized... Be saved from this perverse generation.”
This connection between baptism and repentance is so dramatic that John even refused to baptize people who showed no evidence of rue repentance.
So, baptism pictures repentance. Number 2 baptism pictures the work of the Holy Spirit. Look at Matthew 3:11-12.
Having water come upon you is a picture of the Holy Spirit. It pictures His coming over you and into you. There Old Testament prophets compared the work of God’s Spirit with water.
And then in Acts this connection is repeated. Peter said, “Repent and be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 10, when Cornelius’ household receives the Holy Spirit, the first response is to baptize them.
Number 3, baptism pictures our union with Christ. Turn with me to Romans 6. Here Paul is talking about sanctification and is arguing that a life of sin goes against our union with Christ. Romans 6:3-5.
We were buried with Christ and we were resurrected with Christ. That’s why immersion is the best way to do it. It pictures being covered by Christ. Being buried with Christ. Being raised with Christ. And it pictures the washing Christ accomplished.
I say it’s the “best” way because I recognize that we aren’t always going to be able to dunk someone. Sometimes issues with health or sanitation or the availability of water might not make it possible. But as best we can we baptize by immersion. It’s the best picture of repentance, of the Holy Spirit, and of union with Christ. I would also add that the language of the New Testament gives us the impression that people were immersed, not just sprinkled. But you’re going to have to study that later on.
Number 4, baptism is for believers. That’s what we noticed in John’s baptism, and it what we see in the rest of the New Testament. First, people believed the message of Jesus Christ, then they were baptized.
Now the Roman Catholic Church baptizes children, believing it frees a person from sin and makes them born again. And that is a perversion of the gospel. That’s outside the parameters of Christianity.
On the other hand, some Christian churches will baptize babies, but they only do it as a way of expressing that these kids are part of their community. That doesn’t make them heretical, but it really doesn’t line up with the pattern of the New Testament. And you can research that on your own.
Number 5—Baptism is the external marker of identification with Christ and the Church. This really gets to the heart of baptism. Jesus commanded that the church baptize, and the call of the gospel called people to baptism. Why? Because Jesus commanded it. Baptism was generally done in a public setting. Philip and the eunuch was an exception, not the rule. Baptism was how someone was initiated as a Christian and as part of the church.
Baptism puts a visible mark between those inside the church and those outside the church. And it was a visible expression of the unity of the church. That’s why, as a church, we ask that you not participate in the Lord’s Supper if you have not been baptized as a believer, and we require baptism for membership. You haven’t identifies publicly as a follower of Jesus Christ through baptism, so it makes no sense to want to identify with Him through the Supper or though membership.
Let me give you one more, and this is our last one before we move on to the Lord’s Supper. Number 6, baptism does not save you. And I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this because we already talked about salvation by grace through faith in Christ. It’s not by works.
The Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 made that clear. And we see it again in 1 Peter 3:21. “Baptism saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to good for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
There are a couple verses in Acts that some people try to use to argue that baptism saves. It says: “Be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.” But all that’s saying is that whatever is going on in your heart when you are baptized, that’s what saves you. Be baptized because it’s the expression of you recognizing you are filthy before God and must be cleansed. And it can only happen through Jesus Christ. And so we, in obedience to the Great Commission, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
We don’t have too much time, but let’s switch gears to talk about the Supper. A lot of what we know about the supper is similar to baptism. It is an external act, a visible expression of the unity of the church to Christ and to one another. It is not a way we earn extra grace from God. But it is a testament and a reminder of the grace we have already received.
Now, just so you know, the Roman Catholic teaching is that the Lord’s Supper (or the Eucharist) convey to us some kind of grace. And this is really what you need to be able to deny with regard to the Lord’s Supper.
First of all, you have to deny that the Lord’s Supper actually becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ. When Jesus took the Supper, he said “This is My body.” Well, obviously, he was speaking figuratively, because He was reclined right in front of them. It’s like when Jesus said, “I am the door.”
Catholics believe that the elements become the body and blood of Christ, even though they retain the appearance and physical qualities of bread and wine. This is called transubstantiation. They believe Christ is physically present at the Lord’s Table in the elements. And so, even the elements are worthy of worship and adoration.
One really simple verse that can counteract that is Acts 1:11, after Jesus ascended to heaven. Do you remember what the angel told the disciples as they were staring into the clouds? This Jesus...will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. In the same way.
When Jesus returns it will be in His full physical body in the clouds. Not in a piece of bread or a cup. We share in Christ by faith, not by eating his flesh or drinking His blood. Even when Jesus made that comment in John 6, he was speaking metaphorically.
But even more troubling for the Catholic view. And what we need to also deny is the idea that the Lord’s Supper is another sacrifice being done for our sin. Roman Catholicism teaches that the elements become Jesus’ body and blood because they are again making sacrifice for sin. This is, they say a sacrifice Christ is making, through the priest, in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead and to obtain spiritual or temporal benefits from God.
You’ve got a very serious problem here. Because what you have is another sacrifice. And this clashes with the words of Christ on the cross: “It is finished.” Go with me to Hebrews 7. Hebrews compares the Old Testament sacrifices and priests (plural) with the sacrifice (singular) of Jesus, our Great High Priest. Look at Hebrews 7:27-28.
Skip forward to Hebrews 9:12. Again, talking about Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Now go, in the same chapter, to verses 25-26.
Lastly, go to Hebrews 10. Look at Hebrews 10:11-14.
There is no other sacrifice needed. To demand another sacrifice is to deny the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
Is Jesus present when we take the Supper? Yes. Because he is always with us, to the end of the age. Does Jesus give us grace as we take the Supper. Well, yes. He always gives us His grace. But there is no magic or grace that is above or beyond any other act of obedience. Our experience of God’s grace can change. How much we feel it or remember it, but the grace doesn’t change.
The Lord’s Supper is a wonderful and beautiful reminder of what Jesus Christ has accomplished. It is a time for remembrance. It’s a serious time, when we meditate on salvation from sin, and the blessing of the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood. And it’s also a time a joy because we look forward to when Jesus returns and we all partake of the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb in the kingdom of God.
And lastly, like baptism, the Lord’s Supper is a time to mark our unity as a church. Our unity with Christ, and our unity with one another. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 10:16. Not a passage we usually remember when we talk about the Lord’s Supper. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17.
If we are united with Christ, then we must pursue holiness in our life. If we are united with Christ, then we must pursue unity with one another in the church. And this unity is seen in a tangible way when disciples shared the bread and share the cup.
But this unity with one another and with Christ In the Corinthian church it meant, stop going to idol temples and then coming in here to take the Lord’s Supper. Because you’re combining Christ with demons. 1 Corinthians 10:21-22.
And for us today, it means we can’t mix the Supper with a life of unrepentant sin. Don’t unite Jesus to your sinful life.
Baptism is a one-time ordinance, but the Lord’s Supper is a regular reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and it motivates us to holiness and unity. Apart from coming to Christ in repentance and faith, I think the message most of us need to hear today, is that these ordinances need to be valued.
We value them because we value the church. I value my wedding ring because of what it stands for. Even though I can be married without a ring, this ring means something. It’s significant. And we need to think in the same way about baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
If you profess faith in Christ but aren’t baptized, why not? What are you waiting for? It’s not about being good enough. It’s about being serious enough. It’s about being committed enough.
Also, if you have been baptized, and there is nothing preventing you from coming to our Lord’s Supper services, but you don’t come, why don’t you come? What are you valuing more than gathering with the church to remember Christ in the way He commanded.
I know not all of you can make it. That’s why at least once or twice a year, we want to have the Lord’s Supper in our Sunday morning service. But more often, we want to take it together. As a church. As a united body of English and Spanish and whatever other languages we speak.
Take baptism seriously. Celebrate those who have joined themselves to Christ through it. And take the Lord’s Supper seriously. Celebrate our forgivess through Christ and our unity with Him and one another.
I would be very cautious about any Lord’s Supper that isn’t for the church, as a whole. I’m not very comfortable with taking the Lord’s Supper outside of a gathering for the church because it doesn’t properly picture our unity. I would say the same for baptism. If it’s just your family or just your FLG or just a youth group, it doesn’t give the full picture of our unity in Christ as a church.
Christ gave us salvation He caused us to be born again through His living word by the power of the Holy Spirit. He has cancelled the record of debt that stood against us. He has united to Himself and to the Church. He has promised us He will return.
And He has given us two beautiful pictures of these truths. Two tangible, visible reminders of the love of Christ. Let’s be a church who esteems and rightly administers the word of God and who esteems and rightly administers the ordinances of Jesus Christ.