Even a cursory study of the symbolic ceremonies observed by the Church in the execution of her stewardship, demands considerable time and thought, and keen spiritual insight. For our present purpose we shall consider: the ordinances and Christendom, the ordinances compared, and the ordinances viewed separately.
The Ordinances and Christendom
It is many centuries since the word sacrament was first used of the two Christian rites, baptism and the Lord’s supper. It seemed proper then that it be so used because it originally meant that which is set apart or made sacred. Furthermore, it was used of an oath of obedience to a military leader. To be baptized, to partake of the Lord’s supper, was like taking an oath of allegiance to Christ, the performance of a sacred act.
Little by little throughout the years the word sacrament gathered another significance, that of imparting divine grace. Eventually it was accepted that through the sacraments divine life was imparted, and that through the Lord’s supper one received special favour and grace, and even physical strength. This perversion is seen in its full development in the error of all the national churches, baptismal regeneration, and the error of some minority denominations, baptism essential to salvation.
Further perversions followed with time, until in Christendom instead of two sacraments there were seven: baptism, the Lord’s supper (degraded to the Mass), confirmation, penance, extreme unction, marriage, and the taking of Holy Orders. With the reformation, the five added sacraments were rejected, and only the two which had the direct authority of the Lord were accepted. These two should be practised in accord with the Holy Scriptures.
It should be clearly understood that participation in either of the two divine ordinances does not add to a believer’s standing before God; a failure to participate in them does not impair a believer’s standing before God.
The Ordinances Compared
Both baptism and the Lord’s supper are practised by divine sanction, and in one respect, the one seems to complement the other, yet they are quite distinct in ceremony and doctrine.
Baptism is an act by the individual believer; the Lord’s supper, a collective ceremony by a gathering of believers.
Baptism is a single act in the lifetime of a Christian; the Lord’s supper, a frequent practice by a congregation of Christians.
Baptism is an identification of the individual believer with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection; the Lord’s supper is the commemoration by many of the sufferings and death of the Lord, now risen and glorified.
Baptism is linked to evangelism; the Lord’s supper, to corporate life and testimony.
Baptism is the initiatory rite of the individual into public testimony; the Lord’s supper, the repetitious rite of collective worship and fellowship.
The Ordinances Viewed Separately
The Rite of Baptism: Several important points may be raised in this regard.
The form: From the last chapter we learned that the word baptism means to dip or to plunge. Obviously, then, there are two movements in this rite of baptism, immersion and emergence, a dipping into or under the water and a raising above the water.
Even in this, the form of baptism, man has sadly departed from the simplicity of the word and the picture as these are found in the Holy Scriptures. He practises his own adaptations: he sprinkles, pours, triple-dips, and even spiritualizes away the literal rite altogether. Man is by nature ever ready to assert his own will.
The formula: Not only have there been grave differences in regard to the form of baptism, but there have been differences over the formula used in baptizing. There are those who baptize only in the name of the Lord Jesus, basing their action upon statements in the Book of the Acts. These statements in Acts in which the name of Christ is associated with baptism, prove nothing whatever as to formula. First, they do not claim to give a formula. Second, in the Greek text of these passages, the prepositions: “upon,” “in,” and “into” and the names used for Christ: “Jesus Christ,” “The Lord Jesus,” and “The Lord,” differ widely.
This striking lack of uniformity is in itself a potent refutation of the suggestion that in the Book of the Acts a new formula had been given to the apostles.
There are very many who believe that the only real formula for baptism is found in Matthew 28:19-20, where the Lord instructs the apostles to baptize new disciples in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So marked has been the divergence of opinion in certain localities that some persons have talked about baptism in three names and baptism in one name. Such statements, made frequently in the heat of argument, are the evidence of shallow thinking. The Word of God teaches baptism in the one name only. Father is not a name; Son is not a name; Spirit is not a name. The name of the Father is God, so also is the name of the Son, and the name of the Spirit.
A close study of the terms in the Book of the Acts can lead to only one logical conclusion, that the statements of the Book of the Acts imply that it is by the authority of the Lord Jesus that baptism should be performed, and that it should be enacted in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; that is, in the name of the Triune God.
In baptizing, mention is made of the three distinct persons of the Godhead because all three were active in the plan of redemption. Believers are chosen in Christ by God the Father; they are redeemed by the sacrifice of God the Son, and they are sealed until the day of the purchased possession by God the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:1-14).
The symbolism: Baptism is the pictorial symbol of a deep spiritual reality, a spiritual resurrection. When a person receives Christ as Saviour, judicially before God he is considered as dead, buried, and raised up with Christ; baptism is the symbol of that inward experience.
The candidate: In the New Testament, each individual baptized was a believer in Christ. The historical statement about the Corinthians substantiates this: “Many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).
Some have taught the opposite to this; Martin Luther for example. In his translation of Matthew 28:19-20 into German, in a footnote he made that passage to read, “Go and make all people into disciples, by baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” According to this disciples are made by baptism.
Two different verbs “to teach” are used in the King James Version of this great commission, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations.” This actually means, “Go ye and make disciples of all nations.” The same verb is used in Acts 14:21, which reads, “When they had preached the gospel in the city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra.” The apostles made disciples by teaching, by the preaching of the gospel.
The second verb “to teach” in Matthew 28:19-20, means to teach a person to do his duty. Obviously, a candidate for baptism is a believer, a disciple, before ever being baptized.
The implications: There are many implications in believer’s baptism. Some of these at least should be understood.
1. A new Leader: “So many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ (or unto), were baptized into His death,” wrote the Apostle Paul (Rom. 6:3). In I Corinthians 10:1-2, we have an illustration of this. Israel was baptized unto (or into) Moses in the cloud and in the sea. Moses was their new, their divinely appointed leader; so also is Christ the Leader of His people.
2. An eternal relationship: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” These rhetorical questions asked by Paul of the Corinthians prove that the Christian in his baptism asserts that he belongs to Christ exclusively, not to any man or party (I Cor. 1:12-13). See also Paul’s remarks in I Corinthians 1:14-16.
3. The oneness of the Body of Christ: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ” (Gal. 3:27-28). Believers profess in their baptism that all distinctions between them disappear in Christ, that they are not only one with Christ but one in Christ.
4. The certainty of resurrection: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?” (I Cor. 15:29). Paul in defense of the resurrection argues that if there is no physical resurrection, why, then, symbolize it by baptism? The very practice of baptism is a proof that Christians believe in the future glorious resurrection with Christ.
5. A means of salvation: Of course, a means of salvation for the saints, not for the sinner! “God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us” (I Peter 3:20-21). As the deluge had delivered Noah and his family from a world of corruption and violence, even so in the reality of his baptism is the believer delivered from this present evil age.
The Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s table to many has become a synonym of the Lord’s supper. All students of the Scriptures should examine these two subjects carefully in order to ascertain whether or not there is any distinction.
The Lord’s table: This term is used not only in the New Testament; it is also found in the Old Testament. It is found twice in chapter one of Malachi’s Prophecy. The people said, “The table of the Lord is contemptible” (V. 7), and again, “The table of the Lord is polluted, and the fruit thereof, even His meat is contemptible (V. 12). Obviously, here it is a figure of speech denoting God’s provision for His people. They had turned their back upon this provision and sought sustenance and satisfaction elsewhere.
There is another striking reference in Ezekiel 41:22, “The altar of wood … and he said unto me, This is the table that is before the Lord.” Here the altar is the table, the means and place to enjoy the provisions of God for His beloved people. The altar and the table are one in this passage of Ezekiel.
It is interesting to notice that the altar and the table are again brought together in I Corinthians 10:16-21. From this passage it may be learned that as Israel forsook the Lord’s table for idolatry, even so may the Christian forsake the provision made by the Lord for him, and seek satisfaction elsewhere.
The order of the emblems: These are mentioned in inverted order to that given in chapter 11. The cup is mentioned first because it symbolizes the work of Christ in atonement; the bread is mentioned second for it is the symbol of the mystical Body of Christ, the Church and her oneness in Christ. By the atonement we are all brought into the Church of God and there may enjoy constantly the provisions made by the Lord for us.
At Corinth there were those who were reverting to what they had enjoyed formerly, the provisions of a pagan world. We too may revert and seek enjoyment once more in the world we formerly knew and loved. May the Lord preserve us!
The Lord’s Supper: If in chapter 10, we have the symbol of the Universal Church, in chapter 11, we have the action of the local church in the celebration of the Lord’s supper.
In chapter 11 we have the emblems mentioned in the order of the physical experience of our Lord during crucifixion: the broken bread symbolizing the wounding of Christ’s body; the cup, symbolizing His blood shed at the cross. There are a number of points we might consider together.
1. A possibility (Vs. 20-22): the carnal abuse of the Lord’s supper.
2. A prerequisite (V. 28): Self-discipline is part of the preparation for the Lord’s supper.
3. A penalty (V. 30): Where self-discipline is ignored and there is carnal indulgence, God will penalize the guilty.
4. The participation: The consideration of I Corinthians 11:20-34, reveals several salient points. From these we learn that the Lord’s supper is:
An act of contemplation: Since it is the Lord’s supper, He is the pre-eminent person there. In this passage Christ is mentioned seven times by the title Lord. True worship is the outcome of contemplation; it is as we contemplate our Sovereign Lord that we worship in spirit and in truth.
An act of commemoration: The Lord instructs us to celebrate the Lord’s supper, saying, “This do ye … in remembrance of Me.” Jeremiah tells of God’s judgment upon the land of Israel being so severe that many died, and of all these, we read, “Neither shall men break bread for them in mourning to comfort them for the dead; neither shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for their father or for their mother” (Jer. 16:7). For those who thus died there would be no commemorative feast. The Lord’s supper is a commemorative feast.
An act of appropriation: It would be impossible under the leading of the Sprit to eat the literal bread and drink the literal wine, the symbols of Christ’s body and blood, without appropriating afresh by faith the Lord Jesus in His person and work.
The Word of God does not support the teaching of the Church of Rome relative to transubstantiation, the transmuting of the symbol bread and wine into the literal body and blood of the Saviour. Nor does it support the teaching of some of the national churches, consubstantiation, for the bread and wine are not made the same in substance as the body and blood of Christ.
The Word of God teaches only the spiritual appropriation of Christ, “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6: 53-58). The divine life we possess as believers is sustained by eating the true Bread from Heaven. There is no more suitable place or time for this figurative eating than at the Lord’s supper.
An act of fellowship: “As oft as ye eat this bread and drink this cup,” said the Lord Jesus. The act of eating and drinking together has been since earliest times a token of intimacy and fellowship. To abstain from eating and drinking together was an indication of distance and even estrangement. Of the brother living in gross sin at Corinth, we read, “With such an one no not to eat” (I Cor. 5:11). Of the early Christians, we read, “They, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46).
An act of testimony: “Ye do shew the Lord’s death,” wrote the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, as he gave them detailed instructions relative to the celebration of the Lord’s supper. The verb “to shew” actually is the verb “to proclaim.” In the New Testament this verb is usually associated with the oral proclamation of the gospel, and suggests a royal declaration by a herald of the king. With this in mind, what dignity and honour is attached to our participation in the Lord’s supper!
An act of expectancy: We are instructed by the Spirit of God to celebrate the Lord’s supper “Until He come.” As all the Jewish altars of the past were in anticipation of the Lord’s first coming, so the Lord’s supper is in anticipation of His second coming. Let us eat the bread and drink the wine in constant expectancy of His return. At the institution of the supper, the Lord said, “Till I come.” Later, in the upper room, He said, “I will come.” During His absence, the Spirit says, “He that shall come will come.” May our hearts ever respond, saying, “Amen. Even so come.”
An act of frequency: In the explanation of the Lord’s supper, it is stated, “As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup.” These words indicate the freedom we have through the grace of God relative to time, place, and frequency. There is no doubt that the early Christians remembered the Lord in the evening because many of them were slaves, and were therefore not free so to do at any other hour of the day. Church history records that the last thing done by many of the Christian martyrs was to celebrate the Lord’s supper in the prison, irrespective of the day or the hour.
As we celebrate the death of our risen Lord, it is most befitting that we keep this love feast, the Lord’s supper, on the day of His resurrection. We have the apostolic example of this, although we have no direct precept covering this in the New Testament (Acts 20:7).
The Lord’s supper and the Lord’s day make a splendid combination. Together they lay special emphasis upon His death and special emphasis upon His resurrection. Let us do this until He return, our blessed Lord Jesus.
Tests on This Chapter
1. How many sacraments are held by Christendom?
2. How many ordinances have divine authority?
3. Make at least three comparisons of baptism and the Lord’s supper.
4. What is the scriptural form of baptism?
5. Of what is baptism a symbol?
6. Name at least three of the implications in baptism.
7. Is the Lord’s table an Old Testament or a New Testament concept?
8. What does the bread symbolize in I Corinthians 10?
9. What does the bread symbolize in I Corinthians 11?
10. Name at least four features of the Lord’s supper.