Fall is upon us, which means school is right around the corner and with the school year starting sports teams are gearing up and getting ready as well. I remember this time of year when I was in high school. There were a few days of tryouts for the team and then immediately the next week practices began. But one year in specific was unique, I was transferring schools and was not sure about my ability to make the team that fall. I went to the tryouts and at the end of the week was told I made the cut, I was on the team. So what did I do? I just calmly and naturally went about my weekend as I would normally…of course not! I was so excited that I had made the team I wanted (and feel like I did) tell everyone I knew, family, friends, and even some strangers. The even better part though came the next Monday when the team began to practice. We got to practice, I got to practice. What an exciting time. And you know what? God has given the church an even greater reason for excitement as well as a way to tell everyone who has made the “team” and a “practice” for them to carry out. That’s what the ordinances of Baptism and Communion are: proclaiming who is on the team and practicing together.
First, what is an ordinance exactly? An ordinance can be defined as a symbolic ceremony regularly done because it is prescribed by God and proclaims the Gospel. It is something done routinely because it was commanded to accomplish a purpose. While some teach that there are more than two ordinances for the church to practice, we see only two prescribed by Jesus Christ in Scripture, baptism (Matthew 28:19) and communion (Matthew. 26:26-29).
Similar to how an excited teenager who has just made the sports team wants to declare to the world that he is on the team, a justified sinner who has just been made righteous through the blood of Jesus Christ will desire to make it known to all. Jesus knew this and wanted to ensure a proper way to express this in not only words but deeds. Therefore, when Jesus was just moments before returning to heaven He left His disciples with one final command or commission, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them int he name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). We also see the early church practiced this regularly (Acts 2:41; 8:30-39; 9:17-18; 10:44-48; 16:14-15, 30-33; 18:8). We see that it was those who believed Jesus Christ was their Lord and Savior (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:41) and those who had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17-18; 10:44-48) that were baptized. However, they were baptized for a reason.
The purpose of baptism was to identify oneself with the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The intent of baptist was to declare to the world you have died to yourself, your wants, your desires, and been buried and resurrected with the Lord Jesus Christ who is now directing and commanding your life and sole devotion (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12). This identifying with Christ is seen in the very act and method that baptism takes place. The word baptize comes from the Greek word baptizo, meaning to dip or to sink. This word was used when speaking about dying clothes. The only way for a white shirt to become completely black was to dip the entire shirt, not just sprinkle it, in a black dye. It had to be fully immersed. Even John the Baptist (who lets be honest has to be some authority on baptism, he was named after it…) baptized in places where water was plenty (John 3:23). And when Philip was uniquely led by the Spirit to climb into a strangers chariot and preach the gospel, the result was that Ethiopian eunuch accepting Christ as His Savior and “went down into the water…and came up out of the water” (Acts 8:38-39). How can you possibly go into and come out of water unless there is enough to be dunked in?
So what we see throughout Scripture is that Christ not only commanded this proclamation of being a part of His body, but the early church consistently practiced it. We also see that it was for those who identified themselves with Christ death, burial, and resurrection, aka His disciples. Finally we see that God did not remain silent on how baptism was to take place either, but that full immersion gives the external illustration of what has taken place internally (death, burial, & resurrection). But if baptism is merely the proclaiming that we are on the “team” what is practice? This is where Communion comes in.
Again, just like an excited teenager will be excited about the first day of practice once he has made the team (and practice is needed), believers in Christ once saved and baptized should practice reminding themselves of the Gospel that has saved them. This practice of reminding takes place at the Lord’s Supper or Communion. We see here as well that Christ commanded Communion (Matt. 26:26-29). Jesus with His disciples on the night before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion institutes a reminder for the disciples to come back to and remember what is about to happen after it has taken place. This as well was to be practiced by Christ’s disciples, those who were brothers in Christ as Paul describes them (1 Corinthians 11:33). And it is in this 1 Corinthians passage that God, through Paul gives more clarification and teaching on practicing Communion.
The purpose of Communion was to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). In other words this regular practice was intended to remind all those who were saved by His grace and proclaimed it through baptism of the Lord’s death and the sacrifice He made on their behalf. It was in this practice where they recall what Christ did in His body, represented by the bread (1 Cor. 11:11:23-24; 1 Pet. 2:24) as well as what His blood accomplished (1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 9:14-15) represented by the cup. And how often were they to remember and practice this ceremony? While there is no set regularity given in Scripture, we can gather that it was to be done often as well as until Christ comes again (1 Cor. 11:26). But there was one other aspect to be considered prior to Communion and that is the worthiness of the partaker. Paul was correcting the Corinthian church for their lack of love for others and sacrifice for each other and goes on to inform them that there is an unworthy way to practice the Lord’s Supper and that there are consequences that go along with it (1 Cor. 11:27-32). So there was an aspect of discipline and consequences for not practicing correctly, similar to sports participation.
Excitement for making a sports team is great, and I hope to enjoy that with my son one day (seeing as that ship has sailed in my life), but far greater is the salvation offered in Christ. But making the team is not the end, merely a beginning. It is in baptism that we see God wants and commands us to proclaim the change that has occurred in us. And it is at Communion where we practice reminding ourselves and others of the Gospel in community.
Have you excitedly proclaimed that you are on God’s team? Have been willing to follow in obedience the command of Christ to publicly proclaim Him? What about regular practice in remembering the gospel with other believers? Is Communion something you take serious and often? If not, why not? Christ commanded them!
Stay tuned for the seventh and final part of this series “The Church”. Up next: Recap. If you missed part 1: The Church: What is it?, part 2: The Church: Universal vs. Local, part 3: The Church: Who is in the Church, part 4: The Church: How it Interacts?, or part 5 The Church: How it Worships? read it here!