In my last article on the Baptist Distinctives, which discussed, “Priesthood of the believer,” I covered the N.T. teaching that every born-again Christian is a believer-priest. There is no distinct class of individual referred to as a priest in the N.T. Church. This week I will cover the biblical teaching of, “Two ordinances.” The two ordinances of the N.T. Church are baptism and the Lord’s Supper (or “communion”). Let’s examine what an ordinance is.
An ordinance is a decree or command given by Christ, which is to be carried out by the N.T. Church. Some refer to these as, “sacraments,” rather than ordinances. Those who view baptism and the Lord’s Supper as sacraments believe that God’s grace is dispensed and received automatically through individuals taking part. This “sacramental” teaching is not found in the N.T. It is something that developed in the Roman Catholic Church, and unfortunately was not abandoned by some of the reformers (Calvin, Luther). It is more biblical to view them as ordinances given by Christ for the N.T. Church to observe. They are not acts which result in the participant receiving grace, either in regard to saving grace (salvation) or sanctifying grace (spiritual growth). These are simply commands or ordinances to be obeyed.
When we look at the Lord’s institution of the N.T. Church ordinance of baptism, we see it as a component of making disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). Those who repented of their sin and believed the gospel became disciples (i.e. followers), and they were baptized publicly to demonstrate their faith in Christ and decision to follow Him. This establishes the importance of disciples being baptized. When Peter’s sermon reached its conclusion the listeners asked how they should respond. Peter replied, “Repent… and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).1 They were to repent, believe in Christ, and be baptized. Baptism was their public profession of repentance and faith. Following the Ethiopian eunuch’s repentance and faith, he was baptized as an outward demonstration of his repentance and faith in Christ (Acts 9:34-38). In Acts, we read of the baptism of the 3,000 who responded to Peter’s sermon (2:41-42), a number of Samaritans (8:12-13), Saul (9:10-18), Cornelius and a number of Gentiles ( 10:42-48), among others. When an individual has repented and believed the gospel, baptism outwardly identifies the individual as a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus commanded baptism as something to be carried out by local churches, as they make disciples. Therefore, it is one of the New Testament Church’s ordinances.
The other N.T. Church ordinance is the Lord’s Supper. It was instituted by the Lord Jesus as a means of remembrance (Matt. 26:26-28). The Lord’s Supper would employ elements (unleavened bread and grape juice) that would remind believers of the body of Christ (the bread) and the blood of Christ (the cup). These elements are symbols to remind us of what has been given on our behalf by Christ. Christ was crucified and His blood was shed on the cross. Peter said, “He bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds” (1 Pet. 2:24). Every time we gather as a local church and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we remember what Jesus has done for us. We celebrate and remember the spiritual union we have with Christ because we have received salvation by faith in the gospel (1 Cor. 12:12-13; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:1-11). Also, we celebrate and remember the spiritual union we have with all true believers because we are a part of the body of Christ, the Church (1 Cor. 12:14-27; Eph. 4:11-16). We celebrate our salvation, our union with the Lord, and our union with all true believers, each time we observe the Lord’s Supper with our local church.
Paul gave instructions about how to observe this ordinance properly (1 Cor. 11:17-34). Obviously the Lord’s Supper is only for true believers. It is to be celebrated with a local church, as this is the setting of 1 Corinthians 11. Participation in this ordinance is to be preceded by self-examination (11:27-32). Believers should not participate in an unworthy way (v. 27). Therefore, believers should give thought to whether or not they are living in unrepentant sin. If so, they need to repent and confess their sin to the Lord (1 John 1:9). Also, believers should make certain they are reverent and worshipful as they participate. Furthermore, believers are to demonstrate love and consideration for the fellow members of their local church as they celebrate the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:18, 21-22). Local churches are to observe the Lord’s Supper until He returns (1 Cor. 11:26).
Others hold that foot washing is a third ordinance for the N.T. Church (John 13:1-15). Foot washing had great significance in the first century because people wore sandals and walked on dirt roads. Whenever someone entered a home the lowest servant of the host would clean the feet of the guests. Jesus was modeling servanthood for His disciples through a culturally relevant practice. The disciples would’ve been astonished to see the Lord Jesus doing something customarily reserved for the lowest servant of a household. This practice does not have the same significance today that it had in the first century. We can take away the principle that the Lord Jesus desires Christians to serve one another in humility (1 Pet. 5:5b; Rom. 12:9-16; Phil. 2:1-11). Our attitude as Christians is to be marked by humble servanthood, as is outlined in Philippians 2:1-11.
As we observe the ordinances of the N.T. Church, we honor the Lord Jesus who instituted them. One may see the distinction between viewing baptism and the Lord’s Supper as ordinances rather than sacraments as something trivial. I would suggest it is important to define things as biblically as possible. We don’t read of baptism and the Lord’s Supper being, “Means of grace,” (i.e. sacraments) in the N.T. Therefore, we have defined them as ordinances.
Next week I will discuss the Baptist Distinctive, “Individual soul liberty.”