Baptism and the Lord's Supper

      Baptism and The Lord's Supper are universally practiced by Christian churches.  These two 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 and the Lord's supper do not create spiritual change.  Only God through Christ's 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 " Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River."  In this passage John was teaching the people to confess there 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 baptise in the spirit.  In fact some of the people who were baptized by John "of water" were later re-baptized "in the Spirit".
 
     An example of this is found in Acts 8:15-17. " When 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.  "Then I remembered what the Lord had said: `John baptized with water,  but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'"  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 believer's 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 10:44-48 it was Spirit-faith-baptism.  And in Galatians 3:2 it was
faith-Spirit-baptism.  For infants through the ages it has obviously been baptism-faith-Spirit.  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 "baptism" comes from the Greek word  "baptizo" which means to dip.  This word (baptizo {bap-tid'-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 one's 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 'dipped' (bapto) into boiling water and then 'baptized' (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 baptising 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 'He that believes and is baptized shall be saved'. 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 believer's baptism we die to sin and are born again to Christ.  (See Romans 6:3-5, 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 in the church.  Many modern baptisms are done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
 
     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 baptising 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
"repent and be baptized every one of you".
 
     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 where to pass away.  Thus, many people will have a sick baby baptized at birth.  Indeed I have a sister who briefly stopped breathing as a newborn.  She was immediately baptized by the nuns who worked in the Roman Catholic affiliated hospital.
 
     The second group practices "believer's baptism".  In this case only people who are of age, and who have professed an acceptance of the message of Christ are baptized. 
 
     Most of us, myself included were baptized as infants, and many churches, ours included recognises this as a valid baptism.  When we are baptized as infants we are publicly committed to become a member of the body of believers.  However the rite of baptism does not create
righteousness or faith in the baby being baptized.
 
     There is Scriptural evidence of children being baptized in several passages in the Bible.  When the head of the household became a believer the common practice was for the whole household to be baptized as well.  This includes not only children, but often servants as well.
(See Acts 3:38-39, Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33, Acts 18:8, 1 Corinthians 1:16).  In all of these cases, belief by the head of the household at the very least was present before baptism.
 
     Ultimately our view of who should be baptized has more to do with what we believe baptism to be.  If we accept baptism as outward sign then we will want faith first and baptism second.  If we believe that the act of baptism will create faith, and destine us to become a
believer and receiver of the message of Christ, then of course we will practise infant baptism.
 
     Baptism is picture for us in 2 Kings 5:1-14.  Baptism is promised for us in Ezekial 36:22-32.  Baptism is realised for us in Titus 2:11-3:8.
 
     Martin Luther was prone to fits of severe depression.  During these time 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 God's grace given to us.

                   The Lord's Supper
 
     What is the Lord's Supper?  The Lord's Supper is also an ordinace of the church.  As with baptism there is controversy surrounding the meaning and practice of celebrating the Lord's Supper or Communion.  Other names for the Lord's Supper are Holy Communion, Breaking of
Bread, and the Eucharist.
 
     Luke 22:19-20 says the following in the Authorised (King James) Version " And 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." The New International Version translates the same passage as follows.  " And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ``This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.''  In
the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ``This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. "
 
     This request from Jesus to remember Him in this way is a logical one.  We can see from His request that He truely 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 Lord's 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 Lord's 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 Lord's 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 "Last Supper" above was 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 Lord's Supper is also a covenant meal.  It is a symbol of the new covenant in Jesus' blood, not that of a lamb's.  In the same way as God made provision life and freedom for the Jews in Egypt, God's action through Christ's 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 "This is my body"?  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 commemorate and confirm God's commitment to us. The taking of the Lord's 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 Lord's Supper is thought of as a wedding feast.  Christ is the groom and the church (that's us),
is the bride. (Ephesians 5:25, Revelations 19:9)
 
     The early church struggled with many of the same issues that we do.  One of them was the practice of the Lord's Supper.  This had caused division and bitterness between believers.  The following passage is taken from Paul's 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 Lord's Supper.  The passage is from 1 Corinthians 11:20-29 (NIV).
                           
     "When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk.  Don't 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, ``This is my body,
which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.''  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ``This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.''  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's 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 recognising the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. "
 
     How are we to properly celebrate the Lord's Supper?  Paul suggests for starters that we should remember the time that it was instituted.  This was Christ's last sharing of passover with His disciples.  It is only a matter of hours before He will 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 Lord's 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 Lord's Supper.  He tells us that those who receive the Lord's 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 Lord's Supper in an worthy manner is an individual penalty of judgment.  This doesn't mean that we are ever worthy to be in God's presence, rather it is our attitude towards Jesus' 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 Lord's table.  In the same way we do not claim
to be able to read the state of another's 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 don't belong to Christ, the unity with Christ which makes the Lord's 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 passover 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 Lord's Supper regularly.  In the same way that our body needs continued feeding and nourishment, so our soul needs nourishment.  The Lord's Supper is nourishment in Christ for our souls growth and maturity.  We are told to practice the Lord's Supper until Christ returns, so the Lord's 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 Lord's supper see Acts 2:46, Jude 12, Mark 14:22f, Matthew 26:26f, and 1 Timothy 4:4-5.
 
     What are the bread and wine that we use to celebrate the Lord's supper? There are three positions on this subject.  Most Protestant and non-denominational churches believe that the bread and wine (elements) used in the Lord's supper are symbols of Christ's body and blood.  They believe that we are sitting together at the Lord's 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)
 



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