Understanding the Sacraments
Jesus left His Church two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This booklet has been prepared to help you understand these sacraments and to explain how they are administered at Grace Bible Church.
RITUALS, SACRAMENTS OR ORDINANCES?
Some Christians think rituals are bad. They are not bad. As long as rituals are (a) biblical, (b) observed with proper heart motivations, and (c) not observed without thought, or knowledge of what they mean, they are an important part of Christian life and worship.
A ritual is a ceremony, particularly a religious ceremony. Weddings and funerals are rituals and they are not bad. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are also rituals, and they certainly are not bad. We do not normally call them rituals, but that is what they are. We normally call them ordinances or sacraments. Here again the terms may confuse some folks. Some call them sacraments. Others call them ordinances. Is there a difference? Which is right? When we understand what the terms sacrament and ordinance mean we see that both terms are correct.
An ordinance is an “authoritative order or command.” Since the Bible commands Christians to be baptized and to partake of the Lord’s Supper, both are ordinances.
A sacrament is an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are outward signs of inward graces since neither has power in themselves to save or confer saving grace, so they are sacraments as well.
The terms sacrament and ordinance may be used interchangeably.
TWO COMMON EXTREMES
There are two common extremes regarding the understanding and practice of the sacraments. The first is that some tend to over-emphasize them, believing that a person is saved or kept by observing them. This is error because salvation is “by grace through faith, not of works” (Ephesians 2:8). Others tend to under-emphasize the importance of the sacraments as though they are optional. In doing this, some end up neglecting them all together. Both of these extremes are error. Christians should obey God’s Word by partaking of the sacraments, while keeping in mind that they have no saving power in themselves, but that they are important outward signs of inward or spiritual graces.
Why We Believe In Believer’s Baptism
SHOULD I BE BAPTIZED?
There are four reasons every believer must be baptized:
The Great Commission given by Jesus to the disciples commands that disciples be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20).
Jesus set an example by being baptized. This event was significant enough to be recorded in each of the four gospels (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34).
The book of Acts records the Church as requiring baptism for believers, not as a means of salvation, but in response to salvation (Acts 2:38-41, 8:36-39).
Baptism is taught in the letters of the New Testament (Colossians 2:11-12; l Peter 3:21).
WHY BELIEVER’S BAPTISM?
There are no instances in the New Testament in which either infants or non-believers were baptized. Therefore, we baptize only those who are of an age to choose for themselves to be baptized. We feel strongly on this point, but we do not condemn infant baptism or those who practice it.
The word baptize means to dip or to immerse. Baptizing by immersion symbolizes the believer’s death, burial and resurrection with Christ in a water grave. Therefore, we baptize by immersion rather than sprinkling. In addition, the language used in the Bible to describe baptism indicates immersion. Matthew 3:16 says, “When He [Jesus] had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water.” A person does not come up from sprinkling but from immersion.
POOR REASONS TO BE BAPTIZED . . .
In order to be saved. Baptism does not save anyone. It is done because one is saved already. (Acts 8:38 41; 1 Peter 3:21)
In order to become more spiritual. Baptism does not make one more spiritual. Believers in Corinth were baptized in water, yet they were called carnal, or fleshly. (1 Corinthians 1:13-16)
Due to pressure from others. One should not be baptized because of pressure from others, or in order to please others (i.e., parents, spouses etc.). It should be done out of personal conviction to obey Christ and the Scriptures.
CORRECT REASONS FOR BAPTISM . . .
Baptism is an act of obedience to Christ and the Scriptures.
Baptism is a physical demonstration of the believer’s association with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. (Colossians 2:11-12)
Baptism is symbolic of being cleansed from sin. (Acts 2:38)
Baptism identifies Christians as being partakers of the New Covenant just as circumcision identified Jewish males as partakers of the old covenant.
Baptism is a public testimony of what God has done for the believer by saving him or her. Therefore it is good to invite family and friends to baptisms.
BEFORE BEING BAPTIZED . . .
At Grace Bible Church, candidates for baptism are required to attend a class taught by the pastor. If you desire to be baptized please contact the church office and you will be informed about the next class.
WHEN BEING BAPTIZED . . .
The person being baptized is asked, “Why do you want to be baptized?” The question is answered with a declaration of Jesus as Lord and Savior, and a word of testimony about one’s conversion. The person being baptized will then be lowered under the water, and brought back up, while the baptizer says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
WHAT IF I WAS ALREADY BAPTIZED?
Those who were baptized either as infants, small children, without a proper understanding of salvation, or in an unbiblical religion, will want to be re-baptized as believers. At Grace we make one exception. If a person was baptized as an infant in a Protestant Reformed church that practices infant baptism can articulate the theological significance of that baptism, and if he has convictions that disallow him from being re-baptized, we will honor that prior baptism. This is so rare, we cannot remember it ever happening.
HAVE YOU BEEN BAPTIZED?
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and have not been baptized, may I suggest that you waste no more time. Contact your pastor right away and take the necessary steps to obey the command to be baptized.
For information on baptism of children and youth, please refer to “Baptism of Children and Youth” in the church lobby or at http://gbcmpk.org/BaptismChildrenYouth.htm
ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES OF THE REFORMATION
John Wycliffe (1329-1384) challenged Rome’s understanding of communion. Later, Martin Luther (1483-1546) challenged the Roman position even further. At the same time, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, while agreeing with Luther that Rome’s understanding was incorrect, differed from Luther’s position—and each other!
Differences of opinion about the Lord’s Supper were grounds for excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church, and grounds for separation even among Protestants. I do not bring up this brief history lesson to promote or celebrate division in the Body of Christ. Rather, I bring it up to point out how important the Lord’s Supper has been, and therefore should be, to we who believe. In this article, I would like to address several issues concerning the Lord’s Supper, or Communion:
WHY COMMUNION IS SO IMPORTANT
Our Lord left His Church with two sacraments, or ordinances: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is usually a one time experience in the life of the believer, done soon after conversion. Communion is a recurring sacrament that Christians partake of numerous times throughout their lives. Both of these sacraments were given in the form of commands from our Lord. Although they do not confer salvation, they are “means of grace,” meaning that through their observance, believers receive spiritual benefit.
The Lord’s Supper is important and should be held in high regard by all believers. The three synoptic gospels all record the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper. It is referred to in Acts. It is taught in 1 Corinthians. It was a major topic addressed by the Reformation. These facts are reminders of the importance of Communion.
COMMUNION: FOUR VIEWS
There are four main schools of thought on Communion. I will briefly explain each, indicating which we at Grace Bible Church embrace and practice.
Transubstantiation is the Roman Catholic view that says the bread and the wine actually become the flesh and blood of Christ.
Consubstantiation is the Lutheran view that says the bread and wine do not actually become the flesh and blood of Christ, but that Christ is physically present in the Supper. (Some argue that this is not much different from the Roman view.)
The Memorial view was held by Ulrich Zwingli, and is probably the most common view held by American Protestants in this day.
This view, like its name implies, says that the Supper is merely a Memorial Supper.
The Dynamic view was championed by John Calvin and is retained by Reformed Christians. This view says that although Christ is not physically present in the communion elements, He is spiritually present in the Supper. This view teaches that Christ spiritually nourishes those who partake of the Supper in faith.
WHAT WE BELIEVE AT GRACE BIBLE CHURCH
The view that is taught at Grace Bible Church is the dynamic view. We do not believe either the Roman or Lutheran view, but we believe more than the memorial view. The dynamic view rejects what seems to be the overly mystical positions of Rome and Luther, but chooses not to remove the spiritual significance as the memorial view does. This again underscores the importance of Communion and the need for Christians to partake of the Supper frequently, and as regularly as possible.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD BELIEVERS RECEIVE COMMUNION?
Some Christian traditions celebrate communion every week as a part of the standard worship service. This often places greater priority on the communion service and less on the preaching of the Word of God. Since the Reformation, Protestants have typically placed a higher emphasis on the preaching and less on communion. This is why most Protestant churches celebrate communion on a monthly basis.
The only instruction we can derive from the Bible concerning how frequently believers should receive the Supper is that it be received at the very least annually since New Testament Communion is related to the Old Testament Passover which was to be observed annually. While Christians should receive communion annually at the very least, since it is such an important sacrament, we ought to desire it far more frequently.
While some harshly accuse those who celebrate communion in every worship service of worshiping the sacrament instead of the Lord, sadly, many Protestants have allowed Communion to slip into the background of their faith. Let us not make the error of placing too little emphasis on the Supper as a reaction to those who may place a greater emphasis on it. Let us endeavor to receive communion at least every month.
WHY WE CELEBRATE COMMUNION THE WAY WE DO
The Lord gave the sacrament of Communion to His disciples, so communion is for believers only.
Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 11 believers need to examine themselves before receiving the Supper. We need to examine ourselves regarding sin in our lives. We must repent of all known sin before receiving the Supper. In addition, believers in Corinth were receiving communion while failing to “discern the body of Christ.” Personal sin and this failure to appreciate the importance of the church and one’s role in it was the reason some in the church were sick and some had even died. This underscores the importance of coming to the table with a right heart regarding sin and the church.
Historically, many have held the position that a person must be baptized to receive communion. While we do not insist on this, we would question those who are believers in Christ and receive the Lord’s Supper while remaining in disobedience to Christ’s command regarding baptism.
Some churches only serve communion to those who are members of that church. This practice is called “closed communion.”
At Grace we practice “open communion,” meaning that people are welcome to receive the Supper whether they are members of our church or not as long as they are believers. Non-believers are asked to refrain from partaking of the communion elements out of respect for our belief that communion is only for believers.
At Grace Bible Church we celebrate communion two times each month; on the first Thursday and on the third Sunday of each month.
WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN AND COMMUNION?
Those who believe that a person must be baptized before they are eligible to receive communion obviously exclude unbaptized children from receiving the Supper. At Grace Bible Church, while believing that children should wait until they are old enough to understand what they are doing before being baptized, we acknowledge the faith of a child as valid. Therefore, we invite children to receive the Lord’s Supper, as long as they understand what it means, leaving the decision of when a child is mature enough to receive communion up to the child’s parents.
“TAKE EAT . . . DRINK FROM IT, ALL OF YOU.”
I strongly encourage you to partake of the Lord’s Supper, being obedient to Christ’s command to eat and drink, and thereby receive the spiritual nourishment He offers.
Lord, please give us understanding, appreciation and the desire to participate regularly in the Sacrament of Communion. May we receive spiritual nourishment as we obey Your command to eat and drink it. Amen.