Sacraments and Ordinances
Course: A Guide to Christian Theology
Lecture: Sacraments and Ordinances
This is the 33th lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.
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An issue often in the church surrounds sacraments and ordinances and what to call them. A sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible spiritual reality. An example of that would be a wedding ring, a visible sign of a pledge to be loving and faithful to my wife. The word ordinance means something that is ordained by God. Sacraments carries connotations of Roman Catholicism and Ordinances carries connotations of legalism. Both words are good and so what is their relation to grace? Four approaches but let us define grace first. Biblically, grace is unmerited favor or acceptance. If I am saved by grace, this means that I am accepted unconditionally by God as his child. But this isn’t the only meaning of grace. Another meaning includes help or empowerment or enabling from God’s presence and power and this is for ministry type things. Third meaning of grace is an enlivening and cleansing from sin. So how does baptism and communion relate to the empowerment for ministry? One approach is the Roman Catholic approach that says that water sprinkled on you actually saves you. Also in communion by taking the bread and the wine, you actually receive power in yourself. I like to use the term, occasions of grace. Within these faith and fellowship can be deepened. Another phrase includes symbols of grace. The two sacraments are merely symbols of something already finished at the death and resurrection of Christ. The present occasion is nothing more than looking back to what is finished and also looking forward to the coming of Christ. Sacramental actually conveys the grace or represents a means of grace of symbol of grace. This is argued over a lot. Protestants in general either go with occasion of grace or a symbol of grace.
A. Confessional or Covenantal
When it comes to baptism the question is whether it is confessional or covenantal? Now, confession alone gives the right to baptism or can the faith of the parents be the basis for babies being baptized for the covenantal sign for family membership. In the case of believer baptism or confessional, baptism is the outward sign of Spirit baptism. It is the expression and conformation of a new faith in Christ and is appropriate only if I have faith in Christ. For infant baptism, it has everything to do with membership in the community, not salvation. This would be the view of evangelicals. In Acts 16:30 Paul and Barabbas are in jail and worshipping, haven’t been beaten up, an earthquake comes and the jailer thinks that they have all gotten away and he ask what he should do to be saved. Paul replied that he should believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved, him and his household. So those who believe in Jesus get saved. The jailer and his household were baptized. Now in this situation, I think only believers were baptized. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved; this is for all believers, those who believe. Acts 2:38 is another example where Peter said, ‘repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. So those who are baptized are those who repent. In Romans 6:3 it says those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. I think it should be believers who are baptized. Those who argue for infant baptism say that isn’t about salvation. We see in Colossians 2:12 we have a parallel with circumcision, not a physical circumcision but a spiritual circumcision, a New Covenant circumcision that connects us having been buried with him in baptism and then being raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God. So the idea if you are circumcised having been born into the family, you should be baptized in like manner. This is the idea of being part of the community. I would like that you become part of the community when you exercise faith in Jesus Christ.
B. Command or Symbolic
So repentance and belief lead to baptism which symbolizes spirit baptism but this isn’t the empowering work of Pentecostalism but it is when you are in cooperated into the body of Christ and the Holy Spirits comes upon us. This is from 1st Corinthians 12:13. In my judgement, household belief comes before they are baptized and then I think that Baptism expresses and confirms repentance and faith. In returning to Acts 2:38 Peter told them to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins; these are both commands and they come together and they are things that we do to receive forgiveness. In verse 41, those who accepted his message were baptized. So we have three things initially associated with that stage of salvation: repentance, baptism and acceptance. All three are together. So it seems that baptism is a command, but for most churches baptism is optional or it is something you do after having been a Christian for a while. I think that baptism is the way I express my repentance and belief and I think that is what baptism is about biblically. So an analogy, baptism is to the Christian life as a wedding is to married life. I think, biblically, in becoming a Christian we would return to our acceptance of Jesus as our Savior and also our baptism. So I think we should bring the act of conversion and baptism closer to each other.
In thinking about baptism, first of all, what does it do? I think it is an expression and conformation of your faith. I think believers only should be baptized and in some cases priests do the baptism and in other cases, pastors baptize people where yet in other cases, elders, deacons and even their friends do the baptism. For many churches, it must be ordained pastors who do the baptism. In our church, it is the one that was most spiritual significant in that person’s life. The act of baptism can be done in a church, swimming pool, river or lake and usually it is full emersion into the water. Discussion questions include those with where, by who and how etc. We need to be wise and spirit led and biblically as close as possible.