Thursday, October 27, 2016

Theological Statement, Part 7 - The Ordinances

(Painting: "A Baptizing on the South Branch of the Potomac," by William Thompson Russell Smith, 1844)

Baptism – Baptism is an ordinance commanded by Christ and practiced by the apostles. It represents for us an affirmation of personal faith (Ac. 8:36-38), a symbol of initiation into the church (Ac. 10:47), of the new birth we have in Christ (Jn. 3:5), of our sharing in death and resurrection with Christ (Rom. 6:3-4), and of purification from our sins (Ac. 2:38). I believe this rite to be symbolic rather than efficacious in and of itself; it is an outward sign of an inward reality already accomplished by the grace of God. However, the fact that it is a symbol does not mean it can be taken lightly. Baptism stands as the physical, corporeal way for us to say “Yes,” to the Gospel, in partnership with our spiritual “Yes” at the moment of conversion. Since one of its primary meanings is as an affirmation of personal faith, I believe that it is only properly performed for those who are old enough to have made a personal decision for Christ (an interpretation which seems to match the examples of baptisms recorded in the New Testament). I further believe that the most appropriate way for baptism to be administered is by immersion, since this fits best with the biblical symbolism of death and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-4). However, exceptions can be made in certain circumstances to allow other modes to be used. Baptism is to be done with the invocation of the Trinity, as commanded in Matt. 28:19.

The Lord’s Supper – I believe that Communion is a symbolic rite, an ordinance commanded by Christ which communicates to us the core truths of the Gospel, and as such it ought to be highly honored and regularly practiced. Though it is symbolic rather than independently efficacious, communion is uniquely suited for God to use in extending hope, encouragement, and grace to us if we approach it in the right attitude. Communion symbolizes at least five different aspects of our Christian life: (1) It is a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. The dual symbols of body and blood evoke the memory of his death on the cross. Christ himself commanded, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22:19). As such, communion is a time for confessing our sins to God and accepting anew his unspeakable gift of grace through the death of Christ. It is a time for both repentance and celebration, a time for grieving for our sins and a time for rejoicing in our forgiveness. (2) It is also a forward-looking reminder of our promised destiny. It symbolizes the “Wedding Supper of the Lamb,” the messianic banquet to be enjoyed in the presence of Christ and all God’s people at the end of time (Rev. 19:9). Christ himself alluded to this future event when he instituted the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:18). As such, communion is a joyful anticipation of the world to come. (3) It is an expression of the unity of the local church. When the apostle Paul discusses communion, he does it in the context of a larger discussion about church unity (1 Cor. 11). Therefore, we ought to practice the Lord’s Supper as a communal act, recognizing that we are a family brought together by the grace of God. (4) The act of communion is also an act of thanksgiving. Jesus is recorded as “giving thanks” twice during the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Mt. 26:26-27); and when we come to his table, we too give thanks for the great act of salvation which Christ has wrought for us. (5) It is a symbolic reminder that our life and growth as Christians depend on feeding on Christ (Jn. 6:48-58). Just as we are called to take the symbols of the body and blood of Christ and join them to our own bodies, so we must remember that the only way we grow as Christians is to stay connected to Christ (Jn. 15:1-8) through prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with other believers. Communion is an active reminder of this process.