Three Gospel Ordinances
"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. Ö And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. Ö And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; Ö And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. Ö And 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, Ö Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.Ē††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††† -- Acts 2:41-47
In Acts 2 Peter preached the gospel to a great multitude on the day of Pentecost. He simply told them the wondrous story of redemption and grace by Christ, and proclaimed the glorious exaltation of Christ as Lord and King of the universe. He preached with the power of God the Holy Spirit upon him; and three thousand people were converted by the grace of God, baptized, and united with the church in one day!
Three things characterized this early church, three things which were tokens of Godís blessings upon his people at Jerusalem: Baptism, Church Membership, and the Lordís Supper. These are things which should be of great interest and concern to every believer. They are matters about which every local church needs to be informed and well established. In this study we will examine what the Word of God has to say about our responsibilities as believers regarding these ordinances of the gospel.
We recognize the fact that the church of God is made up of all true believers in every age. Godís elect are his church. Some are in heaven, and some are on the earth. Yet, we are all one body in Christ (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22-23; 3:15-16; 5:25-27; Heb. 12:22-24). We also recognize that the New Testament places great emphasis upon the importance of the local church (Matt. 18:20; 28:18-20; 1 Tim. 3:15). The great commission was given to and is carried out by local churches. Local churches support, maintain, and send out pastors, missionaries, and evangelists to preach the gospel. Local churches administer the ordinances of Christ. The local church is a family, a brotherhood, a body of believers united together in Christ (1 Cor. 12:25-27). Every local church should be a miniature of the church universal, a habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:20-22; 4:1-7).
Our relationship to the church of Christ is a matter of obedience to Christ himself. The importance of a believerís relationship and faithfulness to the local church cannot be overemphasized. It is a great privilege and blessing to be a part of a true gospel church. With this great privilege, we assume a great responsibility. Our relationship with the church of Christ, in great measure, reveals our relationship to Christ.
††††† Obviously, I cannot begin to explain all that the Bible teaches about Baptism, Church Membership, and the Lordís Supper in a single article. That is not my intention. I want to simply give you a brief definition of these three things and encourage you to honor our Lord by faithful obedience to him in these three areas.
Baptism is the believerís confession of faith in Christ (Rom. 6:1-11). If we want to know what the Bible teaches about a specific doctrine, we must go to that place in the Bible where that doctrine is taught and explained. Romans 6 explains the meaning of believerís baptism.
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? Ö God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Ö Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Ö Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Ö For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Ö Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. Ö For he that is dead is freed from sin. Ö Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Ö Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. Ö For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Ö Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.Ē† †-- Romans 6:1-11
What is baptism? Baptism is a symbolic picture of the gospel (Acts 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). It is the means by which believers publicly confess faith in and consecration to the Lord Jesus Christ, showing symbolically how God has saved us through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as our Substitute. By this means, we publicly identify ourselves with Christ, his gospel, and his people.
Baptism is a publicly avowed commitment to the glory of Christ. All believers are to be baptized, and only believers. Nowhere in Holy Scripture is there even a hint of unbelieving children being baptized. The solitary requirement for any to be baptized is faith in Christ; but that faith is the condition that must be met before any can be baptized (Acts 2:38-41; 8:37).
How is baptism to be performed? The answer to that question is so obvious in Scripture that the question itself is ridiculous. Baptism cannot be performed except by immersion. Not only is it true that none were baptized in the New Testament by any other means, the very word ďbaptizeĒ means ďto immerse.Ē Immersion is not a mode of baptism. Immersion is baptism. Without immersion, there is no baptism (Matt. 3:13-17; Acts 8:38; Col. 2:12).
Why should all true believers be baptized? Again, the Scriptures are clear. Our Lord commands it (Mark 16:15-16). Baptism is not an option, but a requirement. All who believe on the Son of God are required by him to be baptized. It is the answer of a good conscience to God (1 Pet. 3:21).
Can a person be saved without baptism? Certainly! All who are saved are saved without baptism. Salvation is the work of Godís free and sovereign grace alone. Our works of obedience have absolutely nothing to do with Godís gift of grace and salvation. Yet, it must be understood that obedience to Christ is the fruit of Godís grace. That means that anyone who refuses to be baptized is not saved. Godís people are not rebels. They obey Godís commands; and to us his commands are not grievous.
Should believers ever be rebaptized? No! If a person has been baptized since believing the gospel, there is no reason for him to ever be baptized again. However, if a person was immersed before God granted him faith in Christ, in some profession of false religion, then he needs to be baptized and confess Christ. Baptism in the New Testament is the believerís public confession of faith in and allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Church membership is the believerís fellowship and communion with Christ in his body, the church. Many think little of church membership. Many who profess to be believers are not identified with or committed to any local church. Whatever their reason is, they are wrong. In the New Testament, men and women who followed Christ, by one means or another, applied for and obtained membership in local churches. They publicly identified themselves with and committed themselves to the church of God (Acts 9:26; Rom. 16:1).
††††† Church membership is for believers only. A local church is a body of believers, voluntarily united together in the name of Christ for the glory of Christ, the furtherance of the gospel, the salvation of Godís elect, and mutual edification. In many ways church membership is similar to baptism. Though I was baptized before I moved to Danville, when I joined Grace Baptist Church, I publicly identified myself with this congregation and its doctrine. I publicly committed myself to this church. I said, ďThy people shall be my people and thy God shall be my God.Ē
††††† The fellowship of believers in a local church is vital to their spiritual welfare. The believerís spiritual growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is in many ways dependent upon his relationship to and fellowship with the body of Christ. Believers need the fellowship of other believers. We need the encouragement of our brethren. We need the strength of our brethren. We need one another. The first signs of apostasy are usually seen in the neglecting of the assembly of Godís saints (Heb. 10:24-29). Membership in a local, gospel church basically involves these three things:
Church membership is an avowed commitment to the body of Christ (Phil. 2:1-4). The church of Christ is my family. I am committed to my family. I prefer my family to myself. I seek the welfare of my family above my own welfare. I seek the happiness of my family above my own happiness. I seek the comfort of my family above my own comfort.
††††† Godís people are a family; and the members of Godís family are committed to one another. Commitment is dependability, faithfulness, and loyalty. It always requires a measure of self-denial and self-sacrifice. It always requires some effort. I pray for my family, support my family, serve my family, speak well of my family, promote my family, and enjoy the company of my family. My family can count on me. That is what commitment involves. Church membership involves commitment to the family of God.
Church membership also gives us the privilege of communion and fellowship with the body of Christ. ďBehold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unityĒ (Psa. 133:1). We love the fellowship of Godís people, because in the fellowship of Godís people we find fellowship with Christ (Matt. 18:20). Our Savior still walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks and makes himself known in his churches.
††††† Blessed are those people who are members of a gospel church that enjoys sweet unity and fellowship in the gospel. Let all who are so blessed of God pray that he will ever enable them to zealously guard and promote that unity of the Spirit and bond of peace which he has given them (Eph. 4:1-6). This unity is not a mystical, or even an emotional thing. The unity of Spirit, the bond of peace that makes a gospel church strong, is a unity of doctrine. All Godís people hold the same doctrine. It is the doctrine of Christ. This unity of the Spirit is an agreement of hearts. All who are born of God love the same thing and seek the same thing. We love God our Savior, seek his glory, his will, and the interests of his kingdom. This unity of the Spirit, the bond of peace that makes local churches strong, involves a willing submission to one another for Christís sake (Eph. 5:18-25). Like any earthly family that is strong and united, the family of God is made up of frail, sinful men and women who have many faults; but, loving one another, they cover one anotherís faults, forgive one anotherís wrongs, prefer one anotherís happiness and welfare, and gladly yield to one anotherís desires.
A true, gospel church is a fellowship of real, sincere love (Eph. 4:32-5:1). Church membership is more than having your name on the same church register. It is commitment to the body of Christ and communion with Christ in his body. And it involvesÖ
Membership in a local church involves care for the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:24-27). The people of God care for and take care of one another. They care for one another in their own local assembly and care for believers everywhere. Without denominational organization, the force of ecclesiastical hierarchy, or pressure from any group outside itself, gospel churches give to the aid of and seek to assist, support, and promote faithful pastors, missionaries, and other churches around the world.
The Lordís Supper
The Lordís Supper is the believerís blessed remembrance of Christ. One of the most blessed privileges we have in this world is the privilege of coming together at the Lordís Table to celebrate our redemption by eating the bread and drinking the wine set before us at the Lordís Table.
††††† This is not an ordinance shrouded in mystery. It is a very simple, but very precious, picture of our redemption by Christ. Every child of God needs to understand what the Lordís Supper is, so that he may receive it, enjoy it, and profit by it to the fullest possible degree (1 Cor. 11:23-30).
Why was the Lordís Supper given? It is a symbolic remembrance of Christ and what he has done for us. Like baptism, the Lordís Supper sets the gospel before us in picture. The unleavened bread represents his body, the wine represents his blood sacrificed for us. Eating the bread and drinking the wine is a picture of faith feeding upon Christ and his sacrifice. The Lordís Supper is a vivid, pictorial proclamation of the gospel.
What are the elements to be used in the Lordís Supper? ††††† I know that this is a matter of great controversy with some; but the controversy ceases once the meaning of the ordinance is understood. The Lordís Supper can be observed only by eating unleavened bread and drinking wine. Why?
1. When Melchizedek, who was a type of Christ, met Abraham, he brought forth bread and wine as the symbols of Godís blessing through a sacrifice (Gen. 14:18-20).
2. In the original institution and in all the New Testament churches, the Lordís Supper was observed by the use of unleavened bread and wine.
3. Only these elements, unleavened bread and wine, can properly portray our Savior and his work of redemption.
The unleavened bread represents the spotless, sinless, holy body of our Lord Jesus Christ. The breaking of the bread represents the crushing of our Saviorís body in death to accomplish our redemption. The wine represents the pure, holy, sinless blood of Immanuel, by which our sins were washed away and the covenant of grace was ratified. The two, bread and wine, body and blood separated implies the certain death of our Redeemer.
Who should observe the Lordís Supper? When we come together for the observance of this blessed ordinance, we come to the Lordís Table. The Lordís Table is open to all the Lordís children (Acts 20:1-7). Not only is the Lordís Table open to all his children, all his children are commanded by him to receive it. Like baptism, this is not an optional thing. The Son of God does not tell us we ought to do this. He says, ďThis do.Ē The ordinances of divine worship are not optional.
When should the Lordís Table be observed? The Scriptures lay down no fixed time. Therefore, we must not insist upon any. Yet, three things are obvious:
1. In the New Testament it was observed on the Lordís Day.
2. Because it is called the Lordís Supper, and because it was originally so, I think it should be observed in the evening.
3. It is to be observed often. Throughout the Book of Acts it was observed every week.
What makes us worthy to observe this holy ordinance? Multitudes have been taught to fear receiving the Lordís Supper because of personal unworthiness. I would be very fearful if I thought for a second that I had any personal worthiness to partake of Godís ordinance. Our worthiness before God is not in ourselves, but in Christ.
††††† That which makes us worthy of baptism and church membership makes us worthy to receive the Lordís Supper; and that is faith in Christ. Nothing else! Christ is our worthiness. Those who are united to Christ are worthy to receive the bread and wine, for they, and they alone, discern the Lordís body. They know their need of a Substitute and understand how that Christ accomplished redemption by the sacrifice of himself. Those who do not believe are not worthy, because they do not discern the Lordís body. They do not discern the need of our Lordís incarnation. They do not discern the righteousness established by Christís obedience. They do not discern the satisfaction of justice by the sacrifice of Christís body upon the cursed tree.
The basis of our faith is the Word of God alone. We must add nothing to it and take nothing from it. We must obey every precept of the Word. We must follow every precedent of the Word. We must reverence every ordinance of Christ given in the Word. It is our responsibility to obey Christ and keep his ordinances, exactly as he gave them. We need never fear doing what our Lord commands us to do.
∑ Baptism is the believerís confession of faith in Christ.
∑ Church membership is fellowship and communion with Christ in his body.
∑ The Lordís Supper is the believerís blessed remembrance of Christ.