Foundations: Ordinances of The Church
Instituted by Jesus, both water baptism and communion provide a visible display of the transforming power of the gospel. They are considered to be sacraments of the church of Jesus Christ because they provide an outward picture of an inward spiritual reality. Christians churches in every age and culture have performed these ceremonies to the celebrate the person and work of Christ.
For the individual believer, these ordinances are ways to experience the grace of God and respond to his plan of redemption. Participation in these ordinances has the ability to take spiritual truths and transform them into something far bigger than mere statements or declarations. Both baptism and communion can take the work of Christ and apply it to an individual in a deeply personal way.
Scripture clearly highlights the command for all believers to baptized. It acts as an expression of obedience to be pursued by all believers in all places and throughout all times. The idea of an unbaptized follower of Christ in the time of the epistles would have been completely foreign.
Baptism is a ceremony that is packed with significance--both for the individual believer and the corporate body of Christ. It is important to understand this significance and the role it plays in the believer's spiritual development. When it is rightly understood it leads to a deeper appreciation of the gospel and a more meaningful celebration as we witness others take part in this ordinance. According to God's Word, baptism is:
To be administered in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Matthew 28:19 shows Jesus giving a direct command concerning water baptism. Believers are to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All persons of the Trinity play a role and are active in the conversion that baptism signifies. Upon placing faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are converted to serve, love, and worship a Trinitarian God.
The initial act of discipleship in the life of a Christian. A joyful obedience to the Word of God flows from one's conversion to Christ. Someone who has been changed by the gospel immediately starts down the path of becoming a disciple of Christ. Jesus defines this as one who "observes all that he commands." Although this process is gradual and lasts a lifetime, growth in obedience to Christ's commands must be present for one to be considered a part of the Christian faith. Baptism serves as the initial act of discipleship; the first step on the path towards holiness, joy, and obedience to Christ.
A means of identifying oneself with Jesus, the universal church, and the local church. In water baptism, Christians are immersed in water, which identifies them with the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that all followers of Christ are to obey the command to be baptized. This means an individual believers' baptism identifies them with others believers, throughout both time and various places in the world, who have been converted and have publicly confessed their own obedience to Christ through water baptism. Furthermore, where one is baptized identifies them with a particular local expression of the body of Christ. They are responsible for caring for the other believers God has assembled there, and the other believers are responsible in caring for them.
A powerful picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Baptism serves as a visible picture of the inward spiritual work that happens through the work of the gospel. Christians are immersed in water to signify the death and burial of Jesus in their place for their sins. Coming up out of the water identifies them with the resurrection of Jesus for their salvation and going forward to live a Spirit-empowered life of obedience to God.
Not a means of obtaining salvation. When looking at the New Testament, it is clear that salvation comes through faith alone, by grace alone, and in Christ alone. No external act is capable of bringing salvation to sinful humanity. If baptism were necessary for salvation, we could expect Scripture to be more consistent in mentioning it where the gospel is presented and explained. Additionally, the Bible gives us examples of people being saved before being baptized or apart from baptism. In teaching that baptism doesn't save you, the Bible is not taking away how significant baptism is or excusing believers from being obedient to the command to be baptized.
The second ordinance of the Christian church has several different titles. It is commonly referred to as Communion, the Lord's Table, the Lord's Supper, or as the Eucharist. Much more important than what it is called, is the meaning behind the sacrament. Instituted by Christ, as he ate the Last Supper Passover meal with his disciples, the Christian church is called to follow this example as they serve and worship their Savior. Communion provides an occasion where God's grace can impact us so intensely that the gospel takes deeper and deeper root in our lives and spiritual growth.
It reminds us of Jesus' death in our place. When participating in the ceremony of communion, we are reminded of the manner in which Jesus died in our place for our sins. The bread and cup as symbols force us to think of the broken body and spilled blood of our Savior. When thinking of Jesus on the cross, we are reminded of what put him there--our sins. And finally, when thinking of our sins, we are reminded of who should have hung on that cross--ourselves.
It calls Christians to put their sin to death. Communion compels followers of Christ to examine themselves before partaking. In light of what Jesus did for our sins, we should not want to continue the very actions, behavior, and sinful attitudes that caused him to give his life up in order that we may be saved. Christians should not want to continue the same sinful behavior that Christ rescued them from. Communion reminds Christians of how costly our salvation was, how big of a deal our rebellion is, and where to look for freedom from the devastation of sin.
It brings unity to God's children. Communion is a corporate ceremony. We are called to participate in this sacrament with and alongside other believers. As a local body of believers partake of Communion, although they are diverse and have many differences, it displays the unity that comes from identifying with the person and work of Christ. Each individual life that Christ has added to a body of believers matters and is significant; no one person is more important or more needed.
It points to the restoration of all things. As believers celebrate Communion, they are anticipating and pointing their hearts towards the marriage supper of the Lamb. This is when the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness and Christians will no longer wrestle with the desire and proclivity to sin. From then into eternity future, believers will glorify and honor the slain Lamb, Jesus, as the One who provided them with the opportunity to feast with and enjoy God's presence in its fullness! Followers of Christ, as they rule and reign with God himself, will never forget the costly sacrifice that made it possible for the grace of God to flow into their broken and selfish souls.
Their Proper Place
These ordinances cannot be viewed as empty rituals. The temptation to dismiss their relevancy to today's church is very present in our culture. To do such a thing would be unbiblical and a tragic missed opportunity by followers of Christ to experience the vitality both can bring to our spiritual lives.
Through preaching, the gospel is heard. Through baptism and communion, the gospel is seen. There is a lot at stake in how a local church views and celebrates these two ordinances. A visible picture of the gospel, obedience to Christ, and proper spiritual development all flow from having these ordinances in their proper, biblical place in the church's worship services. It is important to understand and honor both ceremonies. In doing so, we point the world to the saving work of Jesus, the blessing that comes from being obedient to God, and to how the Holy Spirit is presently at work in our world changing the hearts of humanity.