Just for Catholics

THE ORDINANCES

The Lord Jesus gave his people two sacred ceremonies, Baptism and the the Lord’s Supper or Communion. These rites are called ‘ordinances’ because they have been ordained, or commanded, by the Lord; some Christians also call them sacraments.

Baptism and Communion are not human traditions. The Lord himself instituted Communion during the last supper, and commanded us to do the same until he returns (1 Cor 11:23-26). Also, before he ascended to heaven, Jesus commanded the apostles to preach the gospel everywhere and to baptise all who believe; he promised his presence until the church’s mission is fulfilled at ‘the end of the age’ (Matt 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16).

Baptism

Who should be baptized? The proper candidates for baptism are believers, as the Lord himself instructed: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them...’ (that is, the disciples); and again, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized...’

The biblical sequence of events is as follows: (1) the proclamation of the gospel message, (2) personal faith in the Lord Jesus, and (3) baptism. This is the consistent pattern in every case of baptism recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. For instance, we read that ‘Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized’ (Acts 18:8). We would be wise to follow the biblical model.

What about the infants of believing parents? Should they be baptized just as the Jews circumcised their children? Infant baptism was introduced early in the history of the church and it is now practiced in several Christian denominations. However there is no biblical warrant for this tradition. We would expect the Lord to give instructions on the baptism of infants if he so intended, just as he commanded the Jews to circumcise their children in the Old Testament. He did not, and we would be prudent not to go beyond what is written.

It is argued that when whole ‘households’ received baptism, infants may have been baptized with the rest of the family (Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16). This argument cannot be conclusive because it is based on silence -- infants are not explicitly mentioned. Moreover, we are given the reason why the whole family was baptised. ‘And immediately he and all his family were baptized…and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household’ (Acts 16:33, 34). All were baptised because all believed!

What is the meaning of baptism? Baptism is God’s sign to the new disciple of his fellowship with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection (Rom 6:3, 4, 5; Col 2:12), and of remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). It is a sign (symbol, picture) because it shows spiritual realities by means of physical elements and actions (immersion in water).

Being the initiation rite, baptism is mentioned in the context of salvation, as we would expect (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16). However we will be mistaken to think of baptism, rather than repentance and faith, as the ‘means’ of salvation. The Bible teaches clearly that people are saved through faith without or before water baptism.

Abraham was justified by faith. ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ He was justified before he ever received the sign of circumcision. Abraham ‘received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe’ (Rom 4:3, 11). All are justified like Abraham – by faith, not by an external rite, whether circumcision in the Old Testament or baptism in the New.

Cornelius was saved by faith. The apostle Peter did not baptize Cornelius and his family to save them; he knew that God had already accepted them and purified their heart by faith. ‘So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith’ (Acts 15:8). Therefore he argued, ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ (Acts 10:47).

Their experience was by no means an exceptional case; rather, according to the apostle Peter, it is the norm and pattern for everyone: ‘We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they’ (Acts 15:11). Baptism shows forth, but does not achieve, what is already accomplished by faith.

What is the proper mode of baptism? Baptism should be administered by the immersion of the believer in water, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for baptism simply means to immerse, to plunge. Thus, the rite symbolizes the believer’s death and burial with Christ, and his rising up to a new life. Immersion in water also pictures the complete spiritual cleansing of the believer.

Communion

In the Lord’s Supper, the disciples share the holy bread and wine in commemoration of Christ, to proclaim his death, and as a sign of their communion with the Lord and with one another. It is called: (1) Eucharist, or thanksgiving (Matt 26:26, 27); (2) the Lord’s Supper or the Lord’s Table (1 Cor 11:20; 10:21); (3) Communion (1 Cor 10:16, 17); and (4) the Breaking of Bread (Matt 26:26, 27; Acts 2:42).

Communion is essentially a memorial, or a remembrance, of Christ our Lord. Twice he told us, ‘Do this in remembrance of Me’ (1 Cor 11:24, 25). Having completed his mission on earth, the Lord ascended bodily in heaven, and we are now waiting for his glorious return. Until then, he gave the Lord’s Table to his church on earth as a perpetual reminder of our Redeemer and his love for us.

How should we understand Jesus’ words: ‘This is My body...this is My blood’? The bread is not a body nor is the wine blood; the sacred elements represent Jesus’ body and blood. If I show you a picture, saying, ‘This is my father’ -- the natural meaning is simply, ‘This represents my father.’ Similarly, the bread and wine are sacred symbols of the body and blood of Jesus, or, in his own words, ‘a remembrance’ of him.

The bread and wine do not change after consecration; the bread remains bread, and the wine remains wine (1 Cor 11:26-28; Matt 26:26). However since they are sacred symbols of the body and blood of Jesus, we ought to participate in the Supper with reverence. If we partake in an unworthy manner, we will dishonour the body and blood of Jesus represented in the elements (see 1 Cor 11:27-29).

Communion is also a proclamation of the Lord’s death. ‘For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes’ (1 Cor 11:26). The sacrifice of Christ is announced in the church by the Word (in preaching, Bible reading, song and prayer), and especially during Communion. When we share and eat the bread, and drink the wine, we show how ‘the Word was made flesh’, gave himself for us, and shed his blood for our redemption. ‘Take, eat this is My body which is broken for you...This cup is the new covenant in My blood.’

Jesus completed the sacrifice by which he accomplished our redemption. ‘But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God’ (Heb 10:12). We should not conceive of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrifice for sin. Rather it is a showing forth of the finished, perfect and once-for-all sacrifice of the cross. Today ‘there is no longer an offering for sin’ (Heb 10:18).

Finally, the Lord’s Table is a family meal, a fellowship or communion. We express our unity in Christ by sharing the same bread. ‘For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread’ (1 Cor 10:17). We are united together because we are united to Christ.

Means of Grace

The ordinances are means of grace because through them the Lord blesses his people. We should not think that the blessings come automatically simply by taking part in the rite. Just like the Word of God, the ordinances communicates God’s redeeming love to his people. The Word is not profitable unless it is mixed with faith in those who hear it (Heb 4:2); even so, the ordinances are only profitable to those who participate with a believing and obedient attitude.

How is God’s grace received in baptism and how does it change the believers’ lives? The application of water has no virtue to change a person. Rather baptism transforms their lives by their faithful obedience, as they learn to count themselves dead to sin and alive in Christ, rejecting sin, pursuing righteousness in the service of God. Similarly, the Lord’s Supper gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves before God, and to renew our gratitude, love and commitment to Christ who gave himself for us.

© Dr Joseph Mizzi. 2008. Permission is given to reproduce and distribute this article in any format provided that the wording is not altered and that no fee is charged. Please include the following statement on distributed copies: Copyright Dr Joseph Mizzi. Website: www.justforcatholics.org. Used by permission.