Church Ordinances: Baptism and Communion

In this study, we will look at what we believe God’s Word teaches about the ordinances of baptism and communion (the Lord's Supper). If you are new Christian, these are important next steps you can take to successfully continue the spiritual journey you have begun.

About Church Ordinances In General

What is an ordinance?

It is not a sacrament (a church ritual that is thought to have saving values). The Bible clearly states that through Christ alone we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9; Acts 4:12; Titus 3:5). It is a command to be obeyed (cf. "City Ordinance"). It works no grace or special spiritual operation. The two church ordinances are visible enactments of the Gospel message that Christ lived, died, was raised from the dead, ascended to heaven, and will some day return. Put simply, the church ordinances are visual aids to help us better understand and appreciate what Jesus Christ accomplished for us in His redemptive work.

How is an Ordinance determined?

Three distinguishing marks characterize the New Testament ordinances:

  • They were instituted by Christ.
  • They were taught by the apostles.
  • They were practiced by the early church.

Since baptism and the Lord's Supper are only rites for which such marks can be claimed, there can be only two ordinances. There is justification for classifying them under a common name because they are associated together in the New Testament (Acts 2:41-42; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

What ordinances are we to observe today?

1. Believers baptism

  • Instituted by Christ: Matthew 28:19-20.
  • Taught by the apostles: Romans 6:3-4; Acts 19:1-5.
  • Practiced by the early church: Acts 2:41; Acts 8:26-40.

2. The Lord's Supper (Communion, Lord's Table)

  • Instituted by Christ: Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20.
  • Taught by the apostles: 1 Corinthians 11:23-24.
  • Practiced by the early church: Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 11:17-33.

About Baptism In Particular

Who was baptized in the New Testament? When?

Scriptural examples:

Matthew 28:19; Acts 8:12-13, 35-38; Acts 18:8; Acts 2:41-42; Acts 16:13-15; Acts 16:30-33

No one was ever baptized until he or she had first received God's salvation offered through Jesus Christ. Baptism never preceded one's acceptance of Christ, thus the Bible teaches Believer's Baptism. Therefore, if you are a Christian and have not been baptized, you should be. If you were baptized before you accepted Christ, you should consider being re-baptized in order to follow the biblical order of events.

How should we be baptized? (By sprinkling, pouring, immersion???)

Meaning of the word baptizo:

  • It is found nearly 80 times in the New Testament and in most cases it is used to denote this ordinance. No other word is ever used for this ordinance.
  • The word baptizo generally means to dip or immerse.
  • Rantizo is found four times in the New Testament (Hebrews 9:13, 19, 21; Hebrews 10:22). It means to sprinkle and is never used of baptism.

Key Scriptures:

  • Acts 8:36-39 "...they came to some water...both...went down into the water and Philip baptized him ...they came up out of the water..."

  • Matthew 3:4-6; Mark 1:5 "...they were baptized by him (John the Baptist) in the Jordan River."

  • John 3:23 "John also was baptizing at Aenon...because there was plenty of water..."

  • Matthew 3:16 "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water."

Immersion best expresses the significance of our union with Christ in:

  • Death (Romans 6:3-5)
  • Burial (Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:4)
  • Resurrection (Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:5)
  • Just as Christ died, was buried and rose again (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), the baptism of the believer portrays his personal identity with Christ. It is an outward symbol used to testify of an inward change.

All sides agree that immersion was the primary mode in the Early Church.

Why should we be baptized?

Christ commanded it: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…" (Matthew 28:19). His followers obeyed: "Those who accepted His message were baptized…" (Acts 2:41). It is a demonstration of our love to Christ: "Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me…“(John 14:21) Baptism has nothing to do with salvation, but everything to do with obedience to Christ! A Christian who has not followed the Lord in baptism, who knows he should, is living in disobedience to Christ.

Why is baptism a prerequisite to local church membership?

Just as Spirit baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13) adds believers in our Lord Jesus Christ to the Church which is His body, so water baptism is the means by which believers are publicly inducted into discipleship (Matthew 28:19-20) and added to the local church.

The New Testament teaches the following order of events: people heard the message regarding Christ, responded in saving faith, were baptized and united with the local body of believers (cf. Acts 2:41-41, 47).

About The Lord's Supper

The Scriptures which teach the Lord's Supper:

Matthew 26:26-30; Luke 22:14-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-30; Mark 14:17-25; John 13:1-38.

The various views of the Lord's Supper:

Transubstantiation : Romanists assert that the elements used in the ordinance are literally transformed as the actual body and blood of Christ at each observance. They are said to have intrinsic sacramental value for all who partake, with immediate consequences of grace and merit.

Consubstantiation : The doctrine of consubstantiation denies that the elements change, but asserts that the literal presence of Christ is present in, under, and with the elements so that Christ may be received sacramental by those who observe the ordinance.

Memorial: The doctrine of symbolic commemoration asserts that the term body and blood are not to be taken literally, but only symbolically and that the observance of the ordinance is a commemoration of the death of Christ in which Christ is spiritually present. Put simply, the Lord's Supper is a visual aid.

The meaning of the Lord's Supper:

It is a reminder of the Lord's death. We eat the bread and drink the cup, as Christ says, "in remembrance of Me" (I Corinthians 11:24-25). By this feast we "proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (v.26). When we, as obedient believers, participate in the Communion service, we manifest a mutual faith and fellowship in His death for us (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

The observance of the Lord's Supper:

How often? (I Corinthians 11:26) "For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup…” (i.e. great liberty).

Where should it be observed? It is a church ordinance.

Who should administer it? Anyone authorized to do so by the church.

Should we practice closed or open Communion?

  • Closed: only membership of the local church allowed.

  • Open: those who know Christ allowed. This is our position.

Who is to participate?

  • Born-again Christians (Non-believers are excluded).

  • Growing Christians (1 Corinthians 11:17-32).

What about children?

If in doubt, don't (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-28). Use observance as teaching time.

The importance of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:24-26):

  • Subjection: to Christ's command, " this in remembrance of Me" vs. 24-25).
  • Self-examination: in the light of His sacrifice and suffering (vs. 27-28)
  • Demonstration: " proclaim the Lord's death..." (v.26)
  • Anticipation: "...until He comes" (v.26)

Life Application

Have you followed the Lord in believer's baptism? If not (assuming that you have already come to saving faith in Jesus Christ), why not talk to your pastor about being baptized.

Just as baptism has to do with our obedience to Christ, so also does our participation in the Lord's Table (Commnunion). How is your participation in the Lord's Table? Is it regular or random? And when you are participating--is it mechanical or meaningful? The key to making the Lord's Table all that He designed it to be is careful, intentional preparation of your heart. The next time you participate in the Lord's Table, why not spend some time beforehand preparing yourself. A suggestion would be to review the verses on the meaning and importance of the Lord's Table (1 Corinthians 11:17-33). And during the Lord's Table, why not enhance your "remembering" by looking at a passage that reminds you of all that Christ went through for you! (Try reading one of the crucifixion accounts located at the end of any of the four Gospels--or go to Isaiah 53 or Psalm 22 etc.).

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Recommended Resource

The Meaning & Mode of Baptism
Jay Adams

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