Essentials: The Ordinances
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Good Morning and welcome to August. Isn’t that crazy?! I don’t know about you, but the summer seems to be just flying by. I feel like we just started our summer series and now we just have a few weeks left.
We have been looking this summer at our “Essentials” or what we say “We believe...” here at Friendship Church from our official Declaration of Faith. We don’t want these things to just be buried in some dusty document that is hidden deep within a file cabinet somewhere. We want to be clear about what we believe and probably even more importantly why we believe what we believe.
So we begin our Declaration of Faith with the Word of God which is God’s special revelation to us on who He is and who we are in light of who He is. Then we unpacked, best as we can understand, the mystery and majesty of the Trinity in that our God is three persons in one God. He is God the Father, God the Son -Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit.
Then we began to look at who we are through the lens of who God is. We started with the work that God does through us in being “Regenerated”, becoming a “New creation in Christ” or as Jesus said it, “we must be born again”.
And how God has called his children to gather together in local expressions of the global Church for the purpose of knowing and worshipping God and making Him known throughout the World.
And in order to accomplish this great mission that God has given us, we have God’s guidelines for both our belief and our behavior. So that when we come together we not only expect but also desire to be held accountable to become more like Jesus in our daily life and decisions. This Christian Conduct includes how we behave toward our families, our community, our Church and even our governing authorities....as we talked about last week in the message on Religious Liberty.
Today we are going to tackle something called The Ordinances
If you were to type the word “Ordinances” in any search engine or even stop someone on the street to ask them what an “ordinance” is, you would get something from the legal world. When we typically think of ordinances, we think of city parking ordinances or ordinances that govern how many pets you can have, how long you can leave that pile of rusty truck parts in your front lawn. (ole’ Betsy’s gone Cleo, just let her go!)
But when it comes to the Church “ordinances” they are something very different. In fact, in my personal opinion using a legal term like this can be counter productive in that it has the potential of drawing our minds into a “legal” or even “legalistic” understanding of these things, and that would be a terrible mistake.
Interestingly enough, the reason that most evangelical Churches use the word “ordinance” is because the original term for these things was also drawing people to understanding these things in a way that would be a terrible mistake.
The Christian Church used to call our two ordinances: “sacraments”. A “sacrament” was at that time defined as “an outward visible sign of an inward, invisible reality.” And I don’t have a problem with that definition, in fact I have used that definition to explain the role of both of our ordinances.
So what happened? Why do so many churches, including our own, avoid using the word “sacrament” if its definition fits what we are doing? Well similar to my concern that using a legal term like “Ordinance” could draw someone into legalism, many Christians believe that using the term “sacrament” could draw people into “sacramentalism”, which is something that we don’t believe that Bible teaches.
So what is sacramentalism and why do we care to make all this fuss over terms that you probably never would have given a moments thought to today if the guy up front wasn’t throwing them at you like they somehow mattered.
My goal here is not to confuse you with answers to question you didn’t have before you came in here. My goal is to use these fancy terms to help us see that even though we may appear to be doing something very similar, we approach the practice of baptism and communion differently than many other Churches. But the differences are not so much found in what we do, but what it means to us when we do it.
So let’s stop right here and pray, and then we will tackle these terms and many more in our quest to better understand what “We believe...” on “The Ordinances”.
As we have or much of this series, we are going to be jumping around a bit in the text but you can read along on the screen and then as always the references are in the notes page for further reflection later in the week.
So our statement on “The Ordinances” begins and ends with what we believe about Ordinances as a whole, and then in the middle it explains what we believe about each one more specifically. So we are going to first look at these general statements, and then take them one by one.
We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has committed two ordinances to the local church. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
We believe that these two ordinances should be observed and administered until the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hopefully it jumps out at you that we believe that the significance behind getting these “Ordinances” right is found in them being something that Jesus commanded us to do. He gave them to us and He commanded us to continue in them until He returns. That is why they matter. Not because of tradition or ceremony or celebration - those are all a part of it but they are not the driving force behind them. We desire to get these things right because our Lord Jesus Christ has commanded us to observe them.
And we will look at where Jesus commanded each of these things when we look at them individually, but first, as I promised, let’s return to look at “sacramentalism” and why this faulty theology is so dangerous that we don’t even want to hint at it by using the term “sacrament”.
“Sacramentalism” is a teaching that says that the practice of the sacraments is the means by which a person receives the grace of God. In other words, when we practice these “sacraments” it has the effect of our salvation.
To be fair, lets read it directly from the Webster Dictionary:
sacramentalism \-tə-ˌli-zəm\ noun
1861: belief in or use of sacramental rites, acts, or objects specifically: belief that the sacraments are inherently efficacious and necessary for salvation— Merriam-Webster
The word “efficacious” simply meens to cause an effect or to be effective. So basically this theology teaches that participation in the “sacraments” inherently produces the effect of salvation.
We believe that the Bible out right rejects that teaching. There is nothing that we can do to “effect” our salvation, but only what Jesus did on our behalf. Let me show you some places that we see this at:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
By grace through faith - there is not ritual that adds anything to our salvation.
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
We do not believe that the Bible teaches that there is any visible outward act that a person can do that would “inherently produce the effect of their salvation”. We believe that the effect of our salvation was produced by Jesus Christ alone.
So if they don’t effect our salvation, then what do “ordinances” do? What is the point.
Well as I said earlier they are “an outward visible sign of an inward, spiritual reality.” The word to key in on there is the word “sign”. What we do outwardly through Baptism and The Lord’s Supper is to be a sign of what God has already done in us “by grace through faith”. It is not caused by the works of participating in some ritual - these sacred Ordinances are only outward signs pointing to what has already happened in you “by grace through faith”.
So now let’s take a look at how this plays out in our two “Ordinances”. The first of the two Ordinances is
The Ordinances: Baptism
The Ordinances: Baptism
We believe that Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water into the name of the Triune God. This is the public confession of Christ as Savior and Lord. It is a symbol of one’s union by faith, with Christ in death, burial, and resurrection, and therefore is to be administered by immersion only to those who have given evidence of faith in Christ as their personal Savior.
So before we talk about how and why we practice baptism in the way that we do, I want us to see how it was Jesus himself who gave us the command to Baptize. We find this event in the very last words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew chapter 28.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Jesus had accomplished his mission of His death, burial and resurrection and now all authority has been given to Him - and out of His authority He says in verse 19:
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We often call this passage “ The Great Co-mission” because we have been given the mission to do it in the strength and power of Christ’s authority that He was given through His death burial and resurrection. But how did the Apostles and the early Church even know what this baptism thing was?
Simple, it was not new. For generations God’s people had participated in various “ritual washings” in order to commit to a new step in purity and/or obedience. Remember Jesus’ cousin John the Baptizer? The weird guy who ate bugs and honey and lived out in the wilderness? People from all over Judea came out to him to confess their sins and be baptized. He even, somewhat reluctantly, baptized Jesus as an example to us.
In fact in Jesus’ day many of the local synagogues had small ritual baths built into them…just as we do under the floor up here for people to be baptized in.
If you are new here you might not know that we have a trap door up here…not really, but this is the access to our large Jacuzzi tub that we fill with water so that we can baptize people year round. (And No it’s not open for party rental)
But this does leads us into the way that we obey Jesus’ command to baptize. You can see from our statement that one aspect of how we do baptisms here is that we baptize by immersion. This means that the person will be fully immersed into the water and then raised up again out of the water.
One of the reasons that we think immersion is the best way to practice baptism is that the Greek word that we see translated as “baptism” is the word βαπτίζω and no ancient Greek listener or reader would have understood that word to mean anything but “to dip in under water, to immerse or overwhelm with water”. That is what that Greek word means.
You see we didn’t really “translate” the word like the other words of the Bible, but we more “transliterated” it. We used English letters to make something that sounds close to the Greek word but is not a new English word…and this way we can define it any way we want. Suffice it to say, we don’t see a good reason to abandon the original meaning of the Greek word.
The second aspect of how we practice Baptism falls directly in line with our belief that the Ordinances do not effect someone’s salvation but are a sign of the Salvation that they already have by grace through faith.
Here at Friendship Church we practice what is called credo-baptism - “credo” in Latin means “I believe”. So we practice a baptism that begins with a person publically declaring that they have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for their salvation.
In contrast to this is something called paedo-baptism - “paedo” means “child” in Latin. This is infant baptism, where it is not the faith of the person being baptized that is declared but the faith of loving parents who bring their infant in to be baptized with the idea of sowing “seed faith” in hopes that the child will grow up and live as a Christian.
And why does this matter? As long as you are baptized isn’t that all that matters? Well... probably the most significant reason that we baptize the way that we do is that this is the only way that the Bible every describes baptism. Every time someone is baptized in the Bible they have believed first and then they were baptized. And every time the method of Baptism is described in Scripture, it is always described as being fulling immersed in the water and then raised up again.
Even Jesus was baptized in this way at the Jordan river by his crazy cousin John. John wasn’t sprinkling or pouring water on people, it was full on dunking. In the description of Jesus’ baptism it says: And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, there is no way to understand this except that he was down in the water.
This is why we baptize like this. It is not a denominational thing, or a traditional thing...we just can’t see doing it anyway other way than how the Bible describes it being done.
On top of that, because this is a sign doing it this way seems to better symbolize what Jesus did for us and then what this “sign” is supposed to point to. When a person is lowered down into water it symbolize the death of that person’s old life and old nature. Just like when Jesus died He was lowered into the ground. Symbolically this lowering represents the death of our old way of life, but when that person is raised up from the water it is represents the raising of that person from their dead old life into a new life in Jesus Christ.
It’s hard to see this symbolism reflected in methods like sprinkling or pouring over an infant.
Let me show you a couple of places where were see this symbolic nature of baptism highlighted. One of the best places is in Romans chapter 6 starting with verse 3 we read...
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
That is a powerful verses on the symbolic nature of baptism in how it connects us with the death and new life found only in Christ.
27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
or again from 2 Cor 5 we read...
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Immersing a believer is just the best way to represent these symbolic things.
So the question I often get from people about our method of baptism is what then do we make of either our own baptism as an infant or the fact that we have baptized our children as infants. Well hear me on this, I firmly believe that when parents bring their infant in to baptize them they are doing it from a place of love. They love Jesus and they love their child and they want their child to grow up to know and love Jesus and since they were taught that this is a way to help in that endeavor - they are all in. And I think that desire is a beautiful thing, even if it is not what the Bible says that baptism expresses.
We do want to help parents to express that kind of love for their children and so we offer something called “Baby Dedication”. In many ways it looks a lot like an infant baptism without any water. It is a somewhat formal ceremony where we give the parents the opportunity to publically commit to raising their child in a home that loves Jesus. Then we as a Church even commit to come along side the parents to support them in that endeavor and I love those experiences. I get to hold the child and pray over the family and I know God is so pleased in that celebration. We just don’t call it baptism.
Baptism is something that will offered to them when they desire to stand before the Church and publically proclaim their faith in Christ. And if you personally have been baptized as an infant, praise God for parents who wanted you to know Him…but also prayerfully consider if God might be leading you to take a step of faith on your own and choose to publically proclaim Jesus as your Lord through baptism. We would love to help you work through that and we have have an intentional process here to do that so if you are interested in that, please come see me. I would love to meet with you and discuss what the next steps in that would look like.
As we look at the second and final Ordinance we will actually run that right into the ceremony itself. Our second
Ordinance: (is)The Lord’s Supper
Ordinance: (is)The Lord’s Supper
We believe that Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper for commemoration of His death. It symbolized the death of Christ for the remission of sins and our continual dependence upon Him for our sustenance. The Lords Table should be open to all believers who are in right relationship with God, through Jesus Christ.
If you have been attending here for any amount of time then you have probably heard me speak about this Ordinance, as we practice it typically on the first Sunday of every month and I always want to make sure that know what and why we are doing it before we do it.
In line with our Declaration of faith, I always tell you that we practice what is called “Open Communion” where all believers who are in a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ can participate with us. You don’t have to regularly attend here, or be a partner here or even publically affirm any doctrine here. This is a private dealing between you and God. That is why we always start out with a time of private prayer and a reminder of the warning that God’s Word gives about taking part in this experience when it is not right that you should do so.
Sometimes we call this ceremony “Communion” which is good as it emphasizes the fellowship that we have with God. Other Christians refer to it as the “Eucharist” which we don’t typically use but we could as it is the Greek word for “thanksgiving” and Jesus does instruct us to begin the meal by giving thanks.
When we refer to it as the “Lord’s Supper” as we do in our Declaration of Faith it reminds us of the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples before He went to the cross. It is really that event that gives us the words of the ceremony and the significance since they are the words of Jesus.
In the ceremony, we typically follow the leading of the Apostle Paul from 1 Corinthians 11, but we can also read of the events of that night from all four Gospels, but this morning I would like to read it from Luke 22 where it says:
15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
In a couple moments we will get to remember this time of thanksgiving together.
So We believe that The Ordinances are...“an outward visible SIGN of an inward, spiritual reality.” You know the thing about signs is that they are only useful if they point to something that is actually there.
If you are driving along the highway and you start feeling hungry for pancakes, you are going to get really excited when you see a sign Crazy Karl’s pancake house…open all night…next exit unless you take that exit and find that Crazy Karl has been clearly been out of business for a crazy long time. When a sign points to something that isn’t there then it is a pointless sign.
And that is one thing when you are really hungry, but what if you are looking for the sign for the hospital? What if it is something closer to life and death? Then the pointlessness of a sign really matters. You might turn off thinking you are saved when you are not.
My point is that the Ordinances are like that. They do not have the power to save us, but they are just outwards signs that are to point to and even celebrate the salvation that is already ours by grace through faith. But if you have not placed your faith in Jesus Christ then baptism and Communion are pointless exercises for you.
Worse than that they can be very dangerous because you may think you have a salvation that you don’t have just because you have participated in the sign.
That is why Paul gives us a warning in his instructions for the Lord’s Supper, and it is not a light one. He says:
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
So we are going to stop and do that right now, those of you who are serving if you would get ready…