MEANINGFUL ORDINANCES OF THE CHURCH
BY DR. RICHARD D. DOBBINS
Baptism is one of those ordinances the enemy has used to divide the Church.
If we are not careful, the institutional church will place more emphasis on the method of baptism than on the meaning of baptism.
Volumes have been written on when an individual should be baptized. Additional controversy has been created over whether the Trinitarian formula–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–or the Unitarian formula in the name of Jesus–should be used when one is baptized in water.
There is a controversy among Christians as to whether infants are born as sinners or born innocent. If you believe that the infant is a sinner, then infant baptism is a way of extending the grace God has brought to parents over the infant until the infant is old enough to make his own decision. There are churches that believe that infants are morally innocent and will arrive at an age of accountability or sin. That is why babies are dedicated rather than baptized.
As for me method of baptism, we point to the fact that Jesus was immersed in water, John baptized people in the Jordan River, and that the Early Church baptized believers by immersion (see Matthew 3:13-17; Acts 8:36-39). So, we have a strong biblical basis for believing in immersion. On the other hand, the people who believe in baptism by sprinkling have their own Greek scholars. So we are not going to resolve the controversy.
As divided as we are about the methods of baptism, Christians are united in stressing the importance of baptism. Jesus commands His disciples to baptize those who believe the gospel (see Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:16). Christians have never seen baptism as optional. Jesus commanded the apostles concerning this ordinance–the apostles strictly obeyed. Whenever baptism was physically possible, it was a required part of the believer’s expression of salvation.
Communion is when we remind ourselves of the price Jesus paid for our redemption. Unfortunately, institutional Christianity has created major divisions over the meaning of this ordinance.
Our Catholic friends believe in transubstantiation. That is, they believe that when the priest prays over the wafer, it is transformed
into the body of Christ. And when he prays over the cup, it is transformed into the blood of Christ.
Our Lutheran friends believe in consubstantiation. That is, they believe the body of Christ is present with the wafer and the blood of Christ is present with the cup.
Then, many of us, as evangelicals, believe that the wafer and cup are emblems of the body and blood of Christ. That is, they are symbolic of the body and blood of Christ. And there are those who believe simply that Communion is a memorial service where Christians commemorate the death of Christ for our sins.
Each believer should simply see Communion as an opportunity to examine himself and find in communion a way to ask Christ for fresh cleansing from sin. Communion is not to be taken casually. Paul says that if you do not examine yourself, taking the bread and cup is going to bring damnation on you (see 1 Corinthians 11:27-30).
So, if I have offended others, Communion is the time for me to determine what I can do to right the wrongs I have done. Jesus tells us in Matthew 18 that if we have an issue with our brother when we come to the altar, we should leave our gift there, go reconcile with our brother, and then come back to the altar.
In our evangelical churches, we dedicate infants and children. Because we believe that a child is born innocent and then, once the
conscience is formed and they reach the moral age of accountability, then they become responsible for their sins.
The dedication service is to remind the parents that the child is God’s gift to them. Biblically, we find examples of this in the Old
Testament such as Abraham and Isaac (see Genesis 22:19) and Hannah and Samuel (see 1 Samuel 1:11-28). In the New Testament, there were 2 reasons Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the Temple (see Luke 2:21-24). First of all, on the eighth day Jewish males were to be circumcised. Second, He was to be presented and dedicated to the Lord.
Infant dedication, at the time, has very little meaning for the child. Later in life, parents can remind the child of this service as a
means of helping the child understand how important he is to God and to his parents. As the child grows up with this awareness, it will help him find divine meaning in life. I can remember, for example, my aunt (who raised me) telling me that she heard my mother pray for me and dedicate me to God before I was born.
The dedication service is useful in challenging the parents to provide biblical instruction to the child and to model the Christian
life they hope the child will choose. Another major meaning of the dedication service is to challenge the congregation to see this life as a gift from God to them. Wise pastors not only will challenge the parents, but all the adult members of the congregation.
Secular marriage is a contract between a couple and the state. Either of the couple can terminate the contract when they think the
other is not living up to the conditions of the contract. Christian marriage is a covenant between a Christian couple and the Lord. Only the Lord can release them from that covenant.
In a biblical marriage, a covenant is a solemn oath that a couple takes in the presence of God. In today’s secular society, many couples only see marriage as a contract. In fact, they want to rent a church, hire a preacher, and write their own wedding ceremony. There is no indication they are submitting their marriage to the lordship of Christ.
If you read the old Episcopal marriage ceremony, for example, you see what the church in early times believed about marriage. There is recognition that God is witnessing the ceremony. More importantly, from a biblical point of view, God is the author of marriage. He brought Eve to Adam and, in a sense, conducted their wedding (see Genesis 2:21-24).
The social consequences of a marriage are deeply reflected in a Christian wedding ceremony, as well as the sacredness of marriage. No nation is any stronger than the families that form it. No family is any stronger than the marriage on which it is built. When a marriage is weakened, the whole community is weakened, the whole church is weakened, the whole nation is weakened.
A Christian’s funeral is his last opportunity to witness to the community. A Christian’s funeral should be the celebration of his life
and it belongs in the sanctuary of God’s house.
There are several functions of the Christian’s funeral:
1. It is to remind everyone that we all are going to die. Much in our society is dedicated to the denial of death. We are distracted from the truth that it is appointed to a person once to die and after that, the judgment (see Hebrews 9:27).
2. The funeral reminds us we need to prepare for our death. This is true not only spiritually, but also financially. The funeral should fit the person spiritually and financially. You are not going to benefit the person who has gone to be with the Lord by having a funeral that the family cannot afford.
3. The funeral allows us to express through our grief what we did not express when the person was alive. Now is the time to let your loved ones know how much you appreciate them. It is the wise family that prepares for death emotionally as well as spiritually and financially.
4. The funeral reminds us that we are responsible and accountable for this life. The person who has never accepted Christ will have to face judgment for his sins. Those of us who have accepted Christ will have to give an account to Him for how we have chosen to live.
THE ABOVE MATERAIL WAS PUBLISHED BY GUIDELINES FOR GOOD LIVING, A PUBLICATION OF THE MEDIA MINISTRIES OF THE ASSEMBLIES OF GOD, VOL. VII, NO. 87.
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