LAWTON CHURCH OF GOD, LAWTON OKLAHOMA

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Chapter 11

 

CHRISTIAN ORDINANCES

 

 

We believe water baptism by immersion, the Lordís Supper, and the washing of feet are ordinances to be observed by the Church during this age. They are, however, not to be regarded as means of salvation or prerequisites for church membership.

Baptism and The Lordís Supper are universally practiced by Christian churches, the washing of feet is practiced by fewer Christian churches. These three rituals are known as church ordinances or sacraments. Ordinances are rites that believers practice as part of their Christian faith. These rites are outward symbols and testimonies of inward spiritual grace. However the experience of baptism, the Lordís supper and washing of feet do not create spiritual change. Only God through Christís shed blood can make us a new creation.

No act of man, or ritual observed, will create merit in a person. Our very best works, no matter how well intentioned, do not change spiritual reality. We can however publicly and privately demonstrate our belonging to Christ by being baptized and having Holy Communion.

 

Baptism

 

When we are baptized we are doing several things. The first mention of baptism is in Matthew 3:6 where the Bible says ďConfessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.Ē In this passage John was teaching the people to confess their sins and be cleansed. This was before the ministry of Christ. This early baptism was a baptism of water only. John spoke of one who would come to baptize in the spirit. In fact some of the people who were baptized by John ďof waterĒ were later re-baptized ďin the SpiritĒ.

An example of this is found in Acts 8:15Ė17. ďWhen they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Another verse that speaks of this is Acts 11:16. ďThen I remembered what the Lord had said: ĎJohn baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.íĒ The Baptism that the believer receives is both a baptism of the Spirit and of water.

Baptism has always been the churches initiation rite, an event that marks the beginning of committed membership in the church. In believerís baptism the Holy Spirit is also available to empower the new Christian to live a new life. The receipt of the Holy Spirit may happen before or after the act of baptism.

The order that events happened varied from case to case. In Acts 2:38 it was faith-baptism-Spirit. In Acts 10:44Ė48 it was Spirit-faith-baptism. And in Galatians 3:2 it was faith-Spirit-baptism. The order is not as important as is the result. The result is a new life in Christ enabled by the Spirit and sealed by the blood of Christ.

Baptism as was commonly practiced in the New Testament church was immersion baptism. The word ďbaptismĒ comes from the Greek word ďbaptizoĒ which means to dip. This word (baptizo {bap-tidí-zo}) is from a derivative of bapto (to dip); and is a verb. The word can have the following meanings 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (as in the ship sank).  2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash oneís self, bathe.  3) to overwhelm.

 The clearest example that  shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words bapto and baptixo. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable  should first be Ďdippedí (bapto) into boiling water and then Ďbaptizedí (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptizing the vegetable, produces a permanent change.

When used in the NT, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. For example in Mark 16:16 the Bible says ďHe that believes and is baptized shall be saved.Ē Christ is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with Him, a real and permanent change, like the vegetable changing to the pickle!

Why baptism by immersion? The reason for this is not precisely known but several ideas have been presented. One idea is that in believerís baptism we die to sin and are born again to Christ. (See Romans 6:3Ė5, Colossians 2:12) Thus the immersion in water is symbolic of our death to sin, and when we emerge we are coming out of the grave a new creation in Christ.

Another explanation is that rivers and lakes were the most convenient sources of water where the believer could be publicly identified with Christ. Yet another idea notes that many of the Jewish ceremonial cleansings took place in the Jordan or other rivers, so the immersion in a river for symbolic cleansing had the weight of culture and tradition. However, both washing in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:8) and sprinkling (Numbers 8:7) are given as ways to be cleansed.

In the New Testament we are told to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. This is specifically mentioned so that we always remember that it is the sacrifice of Christ that cleanses us from sin, not our own actions. This is sometimes a source of controversy between denominations. Most baptisms are done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because of what Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19.

Who should be baptized? This question likewise is a source of disagreement between church denominations. Few, if any, Christians would argue against the baptism of all Christians. The Scriptures are very clear on this requirement. Baptism is part of the great commission given in Matthew 28:19. Here Christ charges the disciples; with baptizing all believers. When the people of Jerusalem where confronted with a living Christ, the Son of God, whom they had crucified, they were afraid and asked what they should do.  Peter said ďrepent and be baptized every one of youĒ.

The controversy is not so much a case of who, but rather when. When we look at the New Testament church we are also looking at first generation believers. Therefore, it is not a surprise that the vast majority of the Scriptural record deals with adult baptism.  The question hinges on whether or not this fact is due to design of circumstances.

The church is divided into two camps. A large section of the church believes that infant baptism is a must, and that delaying baptism may imperil a child salvation if it were to pass away. Thus, many people will have a sick baby baptized at birth.

The second group practices ďbelieverís baptismĒ. In this case only people who are of age, and who have professed an acceptance of the message of Christ are baptized. The Lawton Church of God and many other evangelical churches have this view.

Baptism is picture for us in 2 Kings 5:1Ė14. Baptism is promised for us in Ezekiel 36:22Ė32.  Baptism is realized for us in Titus 2:11Ė3:8.

Martin Luther was prone to fits of severe depression. During these times of depression he thought back to the fact that he had been baptized.  In addition to the other meaning of baptism it is the mark of belonging to Christ. We may not remember the day we first believed, the day Christ first became real to us. However we can all either remember our baptism, or easily assure ourselves that we have been baptized. The fact of our baptism is a sign of Godís grace given to us.

 

The Lordís Supper

 

What is the Lordís Supper? The Lordís Supper is also an ordinance of the church. As with baptism there is controversy surrounding the meaning and practice of celebrating the Lordís Supper or Communion. Other names for the Lordís Supper are Holy Communion, Breaking of Bread, and the Eucharist.

Luke 22:19Ė20 says the following in the Authorized (King James) Version ďAnd he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake [it], and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup [is] the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.Ē The New International Version translates the same passage as follows. ďAnd he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ĎThis is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.í  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ĎThis cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.íĒ

This request from Jesus to remember Him in this way is a logical one. We can see from His request that He truly understands us. The act of eating the bread, and drinking the wine will remind us that He has gone before us and paid the price for our salvation with His body and blood.  Each time that we take the Lordís Supper we are physically reminded that He has died for each one of us individually. As we share in the communion we also share the gift of His life poured out for us.

When we have the Lordís Supper we are also in the fellowship of other believers. We are reminded that we have been given the gift of salvation by Jesus one by one, but also that He has given us a living body, His church to be a part of. The Lordís Supper points us back to His death on the cross, forward to His present life in glory and His church.

It is important to remember that the ďLast SupperĒ above was similar to the celebration of Passover. The Passover is the most holy of days for the Jews. The Jewish people eat the Passover supper every year to remember the covenant that God had made with them.

The Lordís Supper is also a covenant meal. It is a symbol of the new covenant in Jesusí blood, not that of a lambís. In the same way as God made provision life and freedom for the Jews in Egypt, Godís action through Christís death made a way to new life for all believers.  It is a reminder of the forgiveness that His shed blood purchased for us.

What is meant by ďThis is my bodyĒ? Christ here has taken the bread and broken it into pieces to that all of the apostles could share it. On a symbolic level we can think of the bread as we eat it as food for our souls. Christ, in His humanity, gave His real earthly body over to death to create the believer, a new creation. His work here on earth was daily a labor of feeding and nurturing us. This ministry extends to this day through the Scripture.

The eating of the bread commemorates and confirms Godís commitment to us. The taking of the Lordís Supper also confirm our commitment to Him. We are told to have Holy Communion in unity, so it also commits us to each other and His church. Indeed the Lordís Supper is thought of as a wedding feast. Christ is the groom and the church (thatís us), is the bride. (Ephesians 5:25, Revelation 19:9)

The early church struggled with many of the same issues that we do. One of them was the practice of the Lordís Supper. This had caused division and bitterness between believers. The following passage is taken from Paulís letter to the Corinthian church. The letter addresses several issues surrounding church practice; however, we will look only at what he has to say about the Lordís Supper. The passage is from 1 Corinthians 11:20Ė29 (NIV).

 

ďWhen you come together, it is not the Lordís Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk.  Donít you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ĎThis is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.í In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ĎThis cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.í  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lordís death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.Ē

 

How are we to properly celebrate the Lordís Supper? Paul suggests for starters that we should remember the time that it was instituted. It is only a matter of hours before Christ was to be lead away to death on the cross. Both the fact that it is a remembrance of the Passover supper, and the imminent death of Christ tell us that the Lordís Supper is a solemn affair. We would never treat a remembrance of out earthly parents lightly. How therefore, can we treat a remembrance of our heavenly Fathers work lightly?

Paul commands the church to order and propriety when taking the Lordís Supper. He tells us that those who receive the Lordís Supper unworthily are guilty of the body and blood of Christ. Instead of being cleansed they eat and drink judgment unto themselves. This does show that the penalty of taking the Lordís Supper in an unworthy manner is an individual penalty of judgment. This doesnít mean that we are ever worthy to be in Godís presence, rather it is our attitude towards Jesusí work and death that we need to examine before taking communion.

Therefore I believe that each individual needs to prayerfully consider our heart attitude before taking of the bread and wine. I do not believe that the church should prescribe tests to prevent those who wish to, to sit at the Lordís table. In the same way we do not claim to be able to read the state of anotherís heart, and where it lies in relation to God.

How can we be unworthy to have Holy Communion? If we, in our own heart, know that we donít belong to Christ, the unity with Christ which makes the Lordís Supper meaningful is missing. If we are harboring a known unconfessed sin, we are offending Christ by coming to His table to share the meal with His children. If we come without repentance we are not recognizing the holiness of Christ.

When Christ celebrated His last supper with the disciples He washed their feet.  This was an unusual thing that got all of the disciples attention. One of the reasons that Christ washed their feet was to show clearly the attitude we are to have to each other. It is one with no distinctions of class between brothers. This was a problem that the church in Corinth was having, and one we should be sensitive to as well.

We should take the Lordís Supper regularly. In the same way that our body needs continued feeding and nourishment, so our soul needs nourishment. The Lordís Supper is nourishment in Christ for our soulís growth and maturity. We are told to practice the Lordís Supper until Christ returns, so the Lordís supper continues to be celebrated today in the true church worldwide.

Christ did not lay down a schedule, so we do not know if regularly means daily, or weekly, or some other interval of time. This is left up to the beliefs of the individual church and believer.

For more information on the Lordís supper see Acts 2:46, Jude 12, Mark 14:22f, Matthew 26:26f, and 1 Timothy 4:4Ė5.

What are the bread and wine that we use to celebrate the Lordís supper? There are three positions on this subject. Most Protestant and non-denominational churches believe that the bread and wine (elements) used in the Lordís Supper are symbols of Christís body and blood. They believe that we are sitting together at the Lordís table to remember His covenant with us and His sacrifice to us. Since Christ is present at all times in all places with the Christian there is no special indwelling or changing of the bread or wine.

The Lutheran church holds the position that Christ is present with the bread and wine. This is called consubstantiation. In this view Christ is present with the unchanged bread and wine in a unique way.

The third view is that of the Roman Catholic church. They have the view of transubstantiation.  They believe that during the celebration of mass the actual body and blood of Christ are present. The celebration of mass they say changes the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The bread and wine are changed and are no longer bread and wine. This also means that Christ is continually dying and shedding His blood. This means that Christ did not die one time for all on the cross of Calvary but is continually sacrificed.  (Hebrews 10:14, 18)

 

FEET WASHING

 

What do we mean by washing feet? This is simply the act of bowing at your spiritual brotherís (for men) or sisterís (for women) feet, placing the bare feet into a pan of water and then drying them with a towel.

Not too many churches practice feet washing, but it is an ordinance instituted by Jesus that is plainly taught in the Bible. In John chapter 13 we see Jesus washing the feet of His disciples at the last supper. In verses 12 through 17 we see the words of Jesus commanding us, if we are His disciples, to wash each otherís feet. So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ďDo you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one anotherís feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.Ē

Jesus plainly said that since He washed the feet of His disciples, we ought to wash each otherís feet. We cannot think of ourselves as greater than Jesus and if He was humble enough to wash the feet of His disciples, we should be humble enough to wash the feet of Godís people.

Jesus said there is a blessing of happiness if we understand and practice feet washing. I have encountered people from churches that do not practice feet washing who, when they have obeyed this ordinance, experience that blessing of brotherly love and happiness Jesus was talking about.

The object of feet washing is humility and expressing love for Godís people. It is also to be carried out in a decent manner. Generally, that means the men wash the feet of men and women was the feet of women for the sake of modesty. 1 Timothy 5:10 speaks of widows being supported by the church; one of the qualifications is ďif she has washed the saintsí feet.Ē

Common beliefs among churches that do not practice feet washing is that the incident with Jesus was a one-time event; the passage about widows refers to hospitality; and feet washing generally means doing something to be a blessing to others. Certainly it is good to do things to be a blessing to others, but if Jesus had meant that I am sure He would have said that and not left it up to us to figure it out. This is not to be critical of people that do not practice feet washing.

 

 

Discussion Questions

 

 

1)  What clue does the Greek word for baptism give to the significance of baptism?

 

2)  What is the relationship between faith and the ritual act of baptism?

 

3)  Can we have fellowship with Christ without being spiritually washed?

 

4)  What might make it wrong for you to have Holy Communion?

 

5)  What is present in the elements of Holy Communion?

 

6)  Who decides who should have communion?

 

7)  Who may celebrate the Breaking of Bread?

 

 8)  Why should we wash the feet of Godís people?