Friday, June 30, 2006

Article on the Ordinances

I am putting the finishing touches on an article on Baptism and Communion for the inaugural issue of Theology for Ministry a new journal published by Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. I am encouraged by the goal of the editors which is provide a venue for discussion of shaping our ministries theologically rather than keeping theology neatly closed off from our practical work.

My assignment for this article was to address ways to improve our practice of the ordinances. While I cannot post the article, I thought I would mention the main points I am arguing. This may advertise for the journal and will also (hopefully) generate some conversation here on these important topics. I first gave some of the reasons that I think have led to the downgrade in our practice of the ordinances, arguing along the same lines of what I posted on the topic previously. Then I argue for one point in regard to each ordinance. On baptism I argue that baptism is the profession of faith, and as such it should be administered as closely as possible to conversion (similar to the argument in the post linked above). How else can it be the public profession? Dr. Bob Stein has argued for something similar here. I commend Stein’s article though I think in the end he may argue for too much.

Then, on baptism, as suggested by a Spurgeon quote posted previously, I argue for the weekly celebration of communion. I think the NT suggests this was the pattern of the early church. Beyond that it can be such a help to us as God’s ordained means of keeping our minds fixed on the finished work of Christ.

What do you think?


Nathan Finn said...

I agree that baptism should follow a profession of faith as soon as reasonably possible. I am not comfortable with "baptism classes" and other such prerequisites.

As for communion, I am not sure a weekly observance is the NT pattern, but I hardly think our current practice of 3-4 times a year is either. I would love to see churches at least practice the ordinance monthly, and would personally be quite comfortable with weekly observance.

Anonymous said...

Ray - I don't know that we have ever talked about this, but I totally agree with you. It is a shame in my mind that the Southern Baptist church as a whole seems to have lost their sense of just how glorious these sacraments are. In regard to baptism, it is the opportunity not only for the person to profess publicly their allegiance to Christ, but for the body as a whole to rejoice and proclaim the glorious of our Savior in saving another sinner. If the angels in heaven rejoice when one sinner repents, should not the church follow suit. And in reference to the Lord's supper, it seems that many Southern Baptists are so afraid of looking like they are Roman Catholics that they almost make it seem as if they are afraid to do it more than once a quarter. While I definitely think the transubstantiation route is wrong, there is something glorious, powerful and somewhat mystical in the Church body regularly following the command of their Lord in taking the supper. It helps us constantly remember that which is the very grounds of our faith, and it also causes us to look forward with hope to the day when we will take it together with our Savior in heaven. I pray that we as a church, by God's grace, would regain a correct Biblical understanding of these glorious sacraments.

Chad Davis

Carey D said...

Man, I'm glad you posted on this, Ray. My wife and I have spoken many times regarding(in our opinion) the inadequate quarterly observance of communion in the baptist church. I would love to see at least a monthly observance become the norm.

Carey D

murray said...

In Scotland communion is I believe every Sunday. Certainly for my church anything else would be unthinkable. My questions are what is going on at communion. What is your understanding (Luther, Calvin or Zwingli) On the pastoral level when do we deal with members who absent themselves from the table and what of those who are unable to attend through frailty or illness? Do we take communion to them? After how long? Do we wait till they ask? etc

toms blog ID said...

I was jumping from blog to blog and ran accross yours. As a member of the Church of Christ here in Jackson it appears you are now becoming in full fellowship with the Independant Christian Church. Where you can celebrate conversion and baptism at the same time and have weekly communion. :-)
All kidding aside.
I am not going to expound on baptismal regeneration but your views are exactly the reason Churches of Christ and Independant Christain Churches defend the practice strongly as an example to be followed today. Not having a weekly communion time is something I cannot choose to forgo even if the biblical example and history tells us they did it weekly. It is that important to my spiritual walk. God Bless.
Tom Ward

murray said...

Again I give my church practice (Scottish Baptist)for info and comment. We have people from different traditions who come to us because we are evangelical. When baptism comes up as the pastor preaches through a book these belivers have questions and sometimes classes are held for those people to explore further.
For people who were unconverted this is not the case in general. Those who express a desire to be baptised because they have just come to faith are interviewed by a deacon ( we have no elders other than the pastor) and a member. This would be a female if the person requestion baptism is female. They would then bring a report to the church meeting. Of course those belivers who attended classes would also go through this process if they were convinced of the need. How do you do it?

P. Beard said...

How strange it seems to me now that you use the word "ordinance" instead of sacrament. But, I think this is precisely where the problem lies in the Southern Baptist world.
The definition of ordinance in my daughter’s student dictionary says, “A statute or regulation, especially one enacted by a city government.” Another dictionary adds, “A religious rite or ceremony”.
The definition of sacrament in the same dictionaries reads, “a sacred rite considered to have been instituted by Jesus” and “a manifestation of God’s grace on earth.”
In our Baptist rebellion against tradition, “church talk” and “dead liturgy” we have created new words and rites that have been diluted of any meaning and simply created new traditions, jargon and liturgy that are devoid of depth.
Growing up in an SBC church I knew that the “Lord’s Supper” was special, you had to be real somber and make sure that you had confessed all your sins or you might go to Hell. But, I also knew that it was ONLY “a symbol” and that it was just bread and juice. In an effort to remove mystery we had created a superstitious symbol that had the power to curse. No wonder Baptist don’t want to take communion more than 3 or 4 times per year.
It was at a weekly ecumenical men’s prayer meeting that I first started seeing communion as communion. We believed that God’s grace was being manifest to us in a tangible way as we broke bread and shared a common cup of wine. By faith we were receiving and sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ. I saw for the first time that disunity and hatred of my brothers made communion hypocrisy and me unworthy to proclaim my part in the Body. I came to understand that this group of men, my church and the Church universal is the Body of Christ. It was at this meeting that Christ’s Body was discerned — given on earth, residing in Heaven and manifest in the Church. It was in every way a sacrament and communion.

P. Beard said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ray Van Neste said...

In response to soem of the questions and comments I wish I could post the whole article, but of course can't. I use the word ordinance and the word sacrament. I think they can both be helpful words though abuse of each has caused trouble. I don't think ordinance need be a dead term nor sacrament be a term connected to transubstantiation.

On what is happening at communnion, much could be said. As far as the historical debates, I affirm the memorial aspect as well as spiritual presence as Calvin argued. I do think though that memorial is what the NT talks more about. If we appreciate teh symbolic then the reminding aspect is deeply powerful as week in and week out we are reminded that God the son has died for us and invites us to partake of Him. It is significant that God has given us a tangible, physical reminder of this. What a blessing it is to have this after hearing the Word preached. When my sin has been exposed and rebuked, I benefit greatly from seeing again the body of Christ broken for me and His blood spilled for me. In taking I rejoice in the gospel.

Of course for any of that to take place we must be aware of the meaning, purpose and benefit of the Supper. In far too many places (as Patrick aluded to) the positive meanign has been so evacuated as we have downplayed tyhe benefit of the Supper that all we have left is an ominous curse if we do it wrong. We are left with Sinai without Zion (Heb 12:18ff).

Crrrrrrraig said...

I think it's safe to say that communion is both real and symbolic - the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One, and Jesus is present with us whenever two or more are gathered, as He promised. We don't have to understand the sacraments to partake of them; it honors Christ more just to be obedient. I don't know why we pray, when the Father already knows our needs - but Jesus said to pray. I don't know why we evangelize, when the names of the saved were written before the foundation of the world - but Jesus said to evangelize. And so we undergo baptism and take communion. Perhaps the sacraments are largely symbolic to many Christians, but God's symbols are a lot more real than our reality. The blood of the lambs spread on door frames in Egypt was only a symbol of an event still 1,500 years away, but it was sufficient to halt the angel of death.

Unknown said...

Growing up, I went to a church where we had communion every week. It was reserved for baptised believers so I always saw it as a barrier between me and God. Now, I see it as an invitation to fellowship. Back in November I wrote some devotional thoughts to share with our congregation before we had communion. You can read it on my blog here:

John Mark Hick has written extensively on this topic. You might find his book, Come To The Table, to be quite helpful.