Worship Through Ordinances
Historically, Baptists have not been known for deep reflection on sacramental theology. Though one might find happy exceptions in our history, we as Baptists have not always evidenced a rich appreciation for the place and power of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the life and worship of the church. I hope that we’re beginning to see a resurgence of careful thought and attention given to the place of the sacraments within Baptist life. So when Pillar asked that I write a blog on “worship through the ordinances,” I was delighted to do so. So let’s start with what should be obvious. . . Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances given to the church by Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize new believers in the triune name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19-20). This baptism was to signify the remission of sins and new life in union with Christ (Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3-11). It was to symbolize spiritual cleansing (Acts 22:16) and the receiving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). It was to mark out those who are true disciples of Christ and was to signify initiation into the Christian community, namely the church (Matt. 28:19-20). Baptism was to represent the first chapter in a life of discipleship in which the believer was taught to observe all that Jesus commanded. Baptism did not happen in isolation from the church. Rather, Jesus wanted his ministers to baptize believers into the church. This is precisely what we see happening at Pentecost when those who were baptized were “added to the church” (Acts 2:41-47).
When it comes to the Lord’s Supper, it is even more clear that this ordinance was given to the church exclusively. Jesus Christ himself instituted the Supper in the context of his gathered disciples (Matt. 26:26-29; Mk. 14:22-25; Lk. 22:14-23). The New Testament points to the regular observance of the Supper within the context of the gathered church (1 Cor. 11:17-34). The corporate dynamic of the Lord’s supper should be viewed as an indispensable part of the sacrament. Christ has given the Lord’s Supper to the church to be regularly observed till His return. This Supper is never to be observed on an individual basis in isolation from the church.
I start in this way simply to clarify what I know we all affirm, and that is that the sacraments belong exclusively to the church. We do not endorse the observance of either baptism or the Lord’s Supper outside of the local church. [quote]We do not endorse the observance of either baptism or the Lord’s Supper outside of the local church.[/quote] These ordinances are Christ’s unique gifts to His church and are to be observed only within the confines of the new covenant community. And so we ought to distance ourselves from spontaneous baptisms in the swimming pool out back, or observance of the Lord’s Supper at a youth camp around a bonfire, or even observing the Lord’s Supper at a wedding ceremony. These sacraments are uniquely for the church.
Worship Through Baptism
But this is a blog post on the ordinances in connection with worship – so let’s first ask the question, how do we worship God through baptism? In baptism, the individual being baptized plays a role, and the church who observes and affirms the baptism of the individual plays a role as well. Every Christian present at a baptism ought to be worshipping God. Let’s start with the person being baptized.
The individual being baptized ought to have a very high view of baptism and its significance. This act of baptism is an act of obedience to Christ. It is also a profound statement of one’s identification with Christ and His church. In the early church, and still in many places in the world, such an act might literally represent taking up the cross of suffering and even martyrdom. In many cases, it would represent complete detachment from father or mother, and husband or wife. In this sense, baptism is, for the individual, an act of solemn worship in which he or she is saying, “I belong to Christ, come what may. I identify with Him and His people. I do not identify with this world. I am dead to sin and alive in Christ.” The new believer worships God through baptism by making a profound statement of his or her identity in Christ before a watching world. [quote]The new believer worships God through baptism by making a profound statement of his or her identity in Christ before a watching world.[/quote]
Pastors, encourage those who are baptized in your church to appreciate the weight and significance of baptism. Resist the happy-clappy type of baptismal service that makes the whole event out to be something like a high school graduation ceremony. Such ceremonies are oh so common in the West and sadly reduce baptism to something trivial and insignificant. There ought to be some sense of gravity in a baptismal service and this should be communicated to the one being baptized. [quote]There ought to be some sense of gravity in a baptismal service and this should be communicated to the one being baptized.[/quote]
But it is not as though a Christian baptism is not a joyous occasion. The new disciple of Christ ought to understand that baptism is a profound expression of joy in Christ. It represents death to the old ways of sin, and new life in Christ. What a wonderful reality! Feelings of excitement and enthusiasm are in every way appropriate for the individual being baptized. This is another way in which the new believer can express worship to God through baptism. How honoring is it to God when a disciple not only identifies with Christ and His church, but does so with joy and thanksgiving to the Lord!
Now what of the church who is observing the baptism? How do they worship God? Whenever Jenna and I attend a wedding, and we hear wedding vows spoken between the bride and groom, we are reminded of our own wedding vows. In some ways, wedding ceremonies are like vow renewal services for the married couples in the audience. A baptism ought to function in this way. In Romans 6:3-11 Paul calls the believers to remember their baptism and to dwell on the significance of it. Disciples should frequently look back to their baptism and remember the spiritual realities that it represented. I encourage you, Christian, next time you witness a baptism, to use it as an occasion to renew the commitment you made to Christ in your baptism. In this way, you are worshipping God as you observe the baptism of a new believer.
The church also worships God through baptism by affirming and celebrating the candidate being baptized, and giving thanks to God for another sinner saved by His grace. Whether this affirmation and celebration comes through a corporate “Amen!” or applause or the reading of the church covenant together, the baptism is an occasion for the church to praise God for his work in saving sinners. One thing we do at my church in Mebane, NC that I really enjoy is to sing a song at the conclusion of each baptismal service, usually of thanksgiving to God for his grace and mercy in Christ.
Worship Through the Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper has, throughout church history, been seen as one of the most significant means of grace in the Christian life. In fact, the Lord’s Supper was often viewed as the very climax of worship services in the early church. Sadly, Baptists have often been criticized, not always unfairly, for holding a low view of the Lord’s Supper. And how can we object when many of our congregations only observe the Lord Supper three or four times a year? I praise God for the movement among many new Baptist churches to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with more frequency, even weekly in many cases.
The Bible’s emphasis in its teaching on the Lord’s Supper is not on our praise directed toward God in the Supper, but rather God’s grace directed toward us. We have, in the Lord’s Supper, a profound help for our faith. [quote]We have, in the Lord’s Supper, a profound help for our faith.[/quote] Jesus sweetly offered the bread and the cup to His sinful and imperfect disciples. It was to be a reminder to them of the gospel and of the reality that Christ’s body was broken and His blood was shed for them. He gives a personal offer to each one sitting at the table saying, “Drink from it, all of you.” What a special help this ought to be to the faith of God’s people!
With that said, Christians worship God in the very receiving of this token of His grace. Yes, the emphasis in the Supper is on Christ’s giving, but we must be active in receiving from Christ as we take the bread and the cup. With hearts full of fresh faith, fresh thanksgiving, fresh love, and fresh worship, we say “Yes!” to Christ and receive the sacrament with renewed joy in our salvation. The Lord’s Supper is an occasion for us to once again freshly acknowledge our appreciation for Christ and our recognition of our need for Him. So it is as we receive the Supper that we worship God.
We are also told that in the Lord’s Supper we “proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes.” The Lord’s Supper is an occasion to proclaim the gospel. It is an occasion to proclaim Christ’s body broken and His blood shed for sinners. We ought to worship God by thanking Him for the Lord’s Supper and by proclaiming the realities it is meant to convey.
The Lord’s Supper is also a recognition and celebration of our communion with one another. Sadly this point is often understated in our churches. We tend to think of the Lord’s Supper in merely personal and individualistic terms. However the Scriptures emphasize the corporate, horizontal nature of the Lord’s Supper. Even our confession of faith, the Abstract of Principles, Article XVI, acknowledges that believers should view the Lord’s Supper as a regular “bond, pledge, and renewal . . . of their church fellowship.”
We often refer to the Lord’s Supper as communion. Why? Is it because we commune with Christ at the Lord’s Supper or because we commune with His people? The answer is yes! The Lord’s Supper should be celebrated in such a way that each Christian is giving personal expression to his or her communion with Christ, but we should also give corporate expression to our communion with one another as the body of Christ. In the Lord’s Supper, we ought to express gratitude to God for salvation and personal conversion, but we should also express our gratitude for participation in and fellowship with the church body in all its wonderful diversity.
If you’ve never heard Keith and Kristyn Getty’s excellent song, Behold the Lamb (Communion Hymn), I highly recommend it for congregational worship. The Gettys masterfully capture the themes of individual communion with Christ and corporate communion with one another at the Table.
Whereas baptism represents a one-time act of obedience to Christ whereby we enter the Christian community, the Lord’s Supper is to be an ongoing ordinance because communion with Christ and His people is ongoing. We are to observe the Lord’s Supper frequently. Jesus wants us to reflect again and again upon His death. The Lord’s Supper is to be a constant encouragement to our faith and a continual act of worship to God as we freshly receive Christ by faith and proclaim His death till He comes. [quote]The Lord’s Supper is to be a constant encouragement to our faith and a continual act of worship to God as we freshly receive Christ by faith and proclaim His death till He comes.[/quote]
Pastors, I encourage you to consider ways in which you can make the sacraments more prominent and meaningful in the life of your church. Consider teaching on baptism and the Lord’s Supper in your church. Make sure your people understand the significance of these ordinances. When we participate in these ordinances with knowledge we worship God and bring glory to Him. A richer and deeper appreciation for the place of the sacraments in worship is greatly needed in Baptist life today. The church is poorer when the sacraments are downplayed and deemphasized. Let us be a generation that seeks to regularly and faithfully observe these sacraments and may we seek to practice and proclaim the truths that lay behind them.