As we have seen in preceding studies, there is much talk in today’s church of “the worship experience.” There is nothing necessarily wrong with experience; indeed, believers ought to experience God as they worship. But we rarely hear as much of the worship service as we do of the worship experience. Sadly, the worship experience often turns out to be largely individualistic, for it focuses upon what I can get out of the church service. Biblically, however, worship is a corporate affair. There is no doubt that we are to worship privately, but our private worship is simply preparation for our corporate worship.
Because of our emphasis on “the worship experience,” there is a great deal of effort put into many church services to create the correct atmosphere for worship. This is why music has assumed such a central (and largely unhealthy) role in many churches today: because of its ability to move the emotions. Music is a wonderful gift of God, but many churches today employ music as a means to stir the emotions rather than a means of accompanying truth taught in song. This is perhaps nowhere more clearly seen than in the practice in some churches of the invitation system. The pastor will preach, and will then give an invitation for his hearers to respond to the message. During this time, the pianist will play music softly in the background, which has a tremendous emotional affect on those being called to respond. I would not challenge the motive of preachers who employ this practice in their churches, but I find little biblical support for the method. Again, music is not designed to move the emotions in a worship service; God’s design is that it attend the message we sing.
Perhaps one of the most neglected areas of corporate worship, particularly in many Bible-believing churches, is that of the ordinances (or, sacraments). In my studies of biblical worship, I have grown in appreciation of my understanding of the sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Table. The sacraments are signs, given to us by God, through which He does wonderful things. We read something of these “signs and wonders” in the record of the early church:
Then they that gladly received his word were baptised: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
When 3,000 individuals responded to Peter’s gospel message at Pentecost, the church in Jerusalem was founded. The believers, amongst other things, were “baptised” and became involved in the “breaking of bread” (i.e. the Lord’s Supper). We then read that “fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.”
When Luke writes in Acts 2 of “signs and wonders,” he is talking, of course, of the miraculous gifts that the New Testament apostles (and many church members) were given by the Lord (healing, exorcism, prophecy, tongues, etc.). When I speak of “signs and wonders” in our own age, I do not mean the same thing. But, if you will permit me to play on words, I want to deal with the signs and wonders that the church still experiences today. There are two primary signs: that of (1) baptism and (2) the Lord’s Table. These sacraments are given to us by the Lord to visibly signify the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. In preaching, the gospel is verbally declared; in the ordinances, the gospel is visibly declared. And, when these signs are properly observed in the local church, God will do wonders in that congregation! That is, if we understand the significance of the Lord’s Table and baptism, and properly observe these in the local church, the Spirit of God may do some wonderful things in the fellowship.
In many evangelical churches–and many Baptist churches in particular–the sacraments have been sorely undervalued. We have tended to view baptism and the Lord’s Supper as merely ordinances; that is, symbols that we merely observe to remember what Jesus Christ did for us. But we have lost sight of the fact that, though they certainly are symbols, they are also, when properly observed, means of grace. By “means of grace,” I am not referring to the Roman Catholic teaching that the sacraments are effective for the forgiveness of sins. Biblically, only those who have been saved are permitted to partake of the ordinances. The ordinances are given as a sign that the partaker has been washed in the blood of the Lamb. In baptism, the partaker declares, “I have been crucified, buried and resurrected with the Lord Jesus.” In Communion, the partaker declares, “I have eaten of His flesh and drunken of His blood.” But the ordinances are more than mere symbols. I cannot explain it all, but somehow, when the believer biblically observes the ordinances, God’s grace is ministered to him or her in a special way. By God’s grace, we are strengthened, edified, built up as we observe the sacraments in obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a sense in which the sacraments are visible sermons. In some ways, preachers don’t have to preach long when the ordinances are observed, for the observing thereof are as silent sermons. Again, the exposition of the Scriptures is verbal preaching; observing of the ordinances is visible preaching. When the local church has a baptismal service in which five people are baptised, the congregation visibly beholds five gospel messages. When the local church corporately partakes in the Lord’s Supper, the congregation corporately beholds a visible gospel presentation.
I am accustomed to speaking of ordinances rather than sacraments when speaking of baptism and the Lord’s Table. There is nothing wrong with the term “ordinances,” but I would like to get into the habit of referring to the ordinances as “sacraments.” I recently looked up the word sacraments to find out precisely what it means. Our English word “sacrament” is derived from the Latin word sacramentum, which is equivalent to the Greek word musterion, translated as “mystery” in our English Bible (see Colossians 1:26-27, etc.). A sacrament, then, is a significant event in which we are involved during which something mysterious takes place. John Calvin once said that he would rather experience the ordinances than try to explain them. He understood that there is something mysterious in the sacraments by which God ministers grace to His people.
I’m afraid that we sometimes tend to tack on the ordinances at the end of the service. I was once in a church where the congregation was talking and joking with each other as the bread and wine were passed around during Communion. I have been in large churches in which the Lord’s Supper was served in less than ten minutes. Everything was perfectly mapped out for the most time-effective means of partaking in the Supper, but the entire service lacked reverence.
The terminology may not be the most important thing; what is important is that we understand the Lord to be ministering grace to His people in the Lord’s Table.
This study concludes our consideration of biblical worship. We cannot conclude our study until we consider the role that the sacraments play in the worship of the local church. I trust that we will learn from the Scriptures, and be exhorted to partake in a worthy manner, that we might experience the grace of God as we observe the sacraments in obedience to Him.
The Commencement of the Sacraments
First, we must consider the origin of the sacraments.
The first we read in the New Testament of baptism is in the ministry of John the Baptist. Matthew introduces us to John’s baptism thus:
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptised of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
John’s baptism is described as a “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4). That is, he would only baptise those who were serious about repentance. John, who had evidently never considered Dale Carnegie’s lessons on how to win friends and influence enemies, greeted them thus:
O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptise you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
John did not rebuke everyone that came to him in this manner, but he knew the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They believed that they were right with God simply because they were Jewish by birth. And so he challenged them to bring forth fruit meet for repentance. He would be glad to baptise them, but only when they proved to be serious about following the Messiah.
Jesus Himself was baptised, though He knew no sin. When He came to John, “John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptised of thee, and comest thou to me?” But Jesus assured Him that it must happen that way: “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:13-15). Why did Jesus need to be baptised? Because it was a picture of His death, burial and resurrection. In His baptism, He pictured His identification with those He came to save; in our baptism, we picture our identification with the One who came to save us.
It is a joyous occasion when we observe a believer submitting to the ordinance of baptism. But Jesus’ baptism was far from joyous! You see, when Jesus was baptised, He identified with sinners. In His baptism, He portrayed the fact that the sin of all the world would soon be placed upon His shoulders. He would soon give His life for the sins of His elect. The blessing for Jesus came after His baptism when, as He came out of the water, “the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him.” At the same time, the Father spoke to Him and those watching, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17). Certainly the descent of the Spirit and the voice of the Father were joyous experiences for Jesus, but the actual baptism was nothing more than the beginning of His march to the cross.
In Acts 2, the apostle Peter preached a powerful gospel message. He explicitly placed the blame of the Son of God’s murder upon His hearers. As they were convicted by the Holy Spirit, they cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). They finally understood what they had done. Paul tells us that, had they understood at His arrest that He truly was the Lord of glory, they never would have crucified Him (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). At that time, they did not understand, but God opened their understanding through Peter’s preaching. Gripped with fear, they asked what they could do to escape God’s judgement. To which Peter said, “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). The charge was for them to repent of their sins. If they truly repented, they would have no problem submitting to the ordinance of baptism.
The Lord’s Supper
Matthew tells of the institution of the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26:26-30:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
Paul also gives instruction concerning the Lord’s Table:
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.
(1 Corinthians 11:23-34)
We see that Jesus Christ Himself instituted the Lord’s Supper, on the very night of His betrayal. It was as He and the disciples were celebrating the Passover that He broke the bread and passed out the wine. Once again, the concept of identification was prevalent. The disciples must identify with the Lord: they must eat of His body and drink of His blood. It spoke of covenant and communion, resulting from the forgiveness of sins.
The Commandment of the Sacraments
We see also that the sacraments are not mere suggestions or good ideas. The Lord did not ask that we observe these two ordinances: He commanded it. It is not for us to decide whether or not we will participate; we are obligated to do so in obedience to His commands.
The command to baptise (and, hence, to submit to baptism) is clear in the Great Commission. Jesus came to His disciples, claiming, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” Based on the fact that He has all authority, He commissioned them, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:28-20). Mark’s version of the Great Commission also stresses the importance of the ordinance, “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). Peter, too, understood the necessity of baptism:
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Of course, verses such as this have been gravely distorted by some in the professing church. There are groups, like the Church of Christ (the Campbellites), who teach that you must be baptised in order to be saved. The problem, of course, is that this claims that salvation is in Christ plus baptism. And Scripture makes very clear that any “Christ-plus” teaching is to be forthrightly rejected.
The Church of Christ would appeal to Acts 2:38 to support their doctrine: did not Peter say that you must repent and be baptised for salvation? Nothing could be further from the truth! The New Testament teaching on justification is very clear: we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for God’s glory alone, according to the Scriptures alone. But the New Testament ties baptism very closely to true conversion. That is, the New Testament assumes that if you are saved, you will be baptised. It is not that baptism has any saving value, but it is the first logical public step to take after being saved. The emphasis is that the true believer will have no problem being baptised. If someone claims to have been saved for many years, but absolutely refuses to be baptised, you have pretty good biblical basis to call that person’s profession into question. It is not that you can see his heart, but his refusal to be baptised shows a serious spiritual problem. Those who have been truly saved by Christ have no problem submitting to the commands of Christ. “And why,” asked Jesus, “call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
This significance of baptism is understood even in other religions. It is interesting to see that, when people convert to Christianity from false religions, the family (though certainly not happy with the professed conversion) can live with the profession, until the new convert it baptised. It is as if baptism is the point of no turning back. Why? Because they understand that baptism is a very public claim with regard to one’s new “religious allegiance.”
I think it is fair to say that if you reject the ordinance of baptism, you reject the One to whom it points. I am not talking primarily of the mode of baptism. There are godly men and women who are confused about the proper mode of baptism. I believe Scripture to teach full immersion of consenting, believing adults as the legitimate baptismal mode, but there are many godly believers who practise infant baptism, fully believing it to be Scriptural. Those, however, who stubbornly reject baptism by any means also reject the One to whom the ordinance points.
The Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper is no less a command than baptism. “Take, eat; this is my body,” said Jesus. And again, “Drink ye all of it” (Matthew 26:26-27). We are to do this “in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). The believer, then, has no more right to refuse participation in the Lord’s Table than he does to refuse participation in baptism.
As with baptism, those who refuse the join in Communion around the Table also reject the Person to whom the symbols of the bread and wine point. When I notice professing believer consistently refuse to join the church in the Lord’s Supper, I begin to pray for their salvation. By refusing Communion, you reject the body and the blood of the Lord. Once again, I do not know the hearts of those who refuse to partake, but I don’t want to assume too much either!
The sacraments are that important! Our Lord gave us two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Table. These are not suggestions; they are commandments. They are ordinances that point to the finished work of Christ and the salvation that we find in Him. In our church, we only have Communion on Sunday evenings. The reason we do this is because those who gather with the church for the evening service are usually the ones who are more serious about Christ. We have more visitors and occasional attendees at our morning service. In order to guard against (1) tempting people to partake unworthily and (2) presenting the false notion that the Table has saving value, we celebrate the Supper during our evening service. We want to guard against ritualism and false assurance; the best way to do this in terms of the Lord’s Supper is to celebrate the ordinance during our evening service.
The Continuity of the Sacraments
The issue of sacramental continuity is largely a missing link in the church of God. By this, I mean that we often completely cut ourselves off from any relation whatsoever to the Old Testament church (i.e. Israel), for we do not understand the roots of the sacraments in the Old Testament. But there is, as we shall see, continuity from the Old to the New Testament.
Reformed theologians correctly understand baptism to be rooted in the Old Testament rite of circumcision. Circumcision was a sign–a visible mark–that showed the person belonged to God. It made the Israelites different from surrounding nations. God instituted circumcision in Genesis 17: from that point it was a sign that the nation of Israel had a special relationship with God (and circumcision, as with baptism, was a command, not a suggestion).
Now, we must understand that continuity does not necessarily mean identicality. That is, because baptism is rooted in circumcision, that does not mean that we perform the two ordinances in the same manner. For instance, infants were circumcised in the Old Testament. Should we then baptise infants today? Certainly not! As one man put it, circumcision proclaimed, “I must be born again,” and baptism says, “I have been born again.” Since an infant cannot say, “I have been born again,” we ought not to baptise infants. Nevertheless, baptism certainly seems to find its roots in circumcision.
The Lord’s Supper
There is a similar sense of continuity in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus instituted it as He was enjoying the Passover meal with His disciples, and even used the very elements at the Table in its implementation. Just as baptism is the New Testament fulfilment of circumcision, so is Communion the New Testament fulfilment of the Passover Feast. Just as the Passover was a command to the Israelites, so is Communion a command for God’s people today.
Again, we must understand that the two are not identical, though they are connected. Unbelievers took part in the Old Testament Passover Feast (for every Israelite was to take part, and we know that not every Israelite was saved). But unbelievers have no part in the New Testament Table of the Lord (yet we realise that some unbelievers do sometimes, without warrant, partake).
In both circumcision and Passover, God was communicating His blessings to His people. He was calling them to remember His grace to them as a nation, and to remember His covenant with their forefathers. In the same manner, baptism and the Lord’s Table communicate God’s grace with the Church. In the sacraments, we are called to remember God’s grace and covenant with His people. His grace is ministered to us in a special way as we observe His commanded sacraments: He declares, “I recognise that you belong to Me!”
The Covenant and the Sacraments
This is the crux of the entire matter. If we understand the Old Testament to New Testament continuity of the sacraments, we will understand the covenant to which they point.
The Old Covenant
In the Old Testament, circumcision and the Passover Feast were signs of God’s covenant. In circumcision, He declared His unconditional and gracious selection of Israel. The Passover was God’s sign of His covenant to save His people by blood. Both spoke of God’s gracious forgiveness and deliverance. Both spoke of His initiative in the covenant. Both spoke of His assurance that He would keep His people. Both spoke of His faithfulness and of bloodshed. And both pointed to an ethical obligation. In short, both circumcision and Passover were signs of what God had done and would do for His people. That is, both pointed to the gospel.
The New Covenant
The sacraments of the New Testament point to the same things. Baptism signifies the death, the burial and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Table signifies His body and blood: His substitution for us in His life and in His death. That is, both sacraments point to the gospel: the most important message that anyone–believer and unbeliever alike–needs to hear.
Is there any more important message than the gospel? Certainly not! I can recall the last days of man in our church who went to be with the Lord, after a long struggle with emphysema. I visited him almost daily during his final week-and-a-half in the hospital. When I first received the call informing me of his near-death state, I went to see Him. After greeting him, I asked, “Are you ready to go?” He assured me that he was. When I asked why he was sure, he said, “Because of Jesus Christ.” From that morning to the day of his death, I pointed him to Christ every time that I saw him. I have no doubt that this man knew the Lord; even so, there was no more important message that he could hear than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Dear reader, whether you are saved or not, your greatest need is to look to Christ! And that is why baptism and the Lord’s Supper are so important: for they preach the gospel to us! I can think of no greater means of grace than God’s own two ordinances by which He preaches the gospel to His people! As we observe professing believers go through the waters of baptism, we see a visible sermon concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. As they are placed under the water, we are reminded of Christ’s death and burial; as they are brought up again, we are reminded of His resurrection. The believer is able to walk in newness of life because of the finished work of Christ. In the Table of Remembrance, we see a visible presentation of the gospel: that Christ gave His body and blood for us. The righteousness to which He attained in His body is imputed to us; and our sins are imputed to Him and cleansed by His precious blood. We can rejoice as we remember these things until the Lord returns. There is much merit in the weekly observance of the Lord’s Table, and I would love to have a baptismal service every week (not rebaptising believers, but baptising those whom the Lord would add daily to the church, see Acts 2:47).
The Covenant and the Sacraments
Both the Lord’s Supper and baptism point us to the eternal covenant made within the Godhead. The believers in Acts 2:14-36 submitted to both ordinances, for they were clearly reminded of God’s covenant. As you read Peter’s message in the preceding verses, you see how often he pointed them to God’s promises: “I will pour out of my Spirit,” “I will show wonders in heaven above,” “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” “thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption…his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption,” “God had sworn with an oath,” etc. After exhorting his hearers to repentance, Peter said, “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
Baptism as a Covenantal Response
When a person is baptised, he recognises that God called him unto Himself. In light of that, he is willing to undergo God’s ordained covenantal response, publicly identifying with Christ completely. When we baptise, we ask the candidate whether he or she commits to the church holding him or her accountable, and if he or she will do the same in the church. You see, the candidate is professing in baptism that he or she has embraced Christ as Lord. He or she is publicly testifying that he or she will not only call Christ Lord, but will also obey Him as Lord, with the help of the local church. Identification with Christ carries with it ethical obligations. Church membership is not the same as membership of a health club. You do not choose whether or not you will be faithful to the local church. Once you have identified with Christ, you are under obligation to persevere in your profession within the ministry of the local church.
Baptism is a covenantal response, not primarily in the sense that the candidate makes a commitment to follow Christ, but in the sense that he acknowledges the commitment Christ made to save him. The response is only proper in light of what He has done for us.
The Lord’s Table as a Covenantal Remembrance
There is a danger in the Lord’s Supper that we scare people from partaking. We can spend several minutes charging people to make sure that they are saved, that they have confessed all their sin, that they are faithfully serving the Lord, etc. and focus so much on those things that we actually discourage them from partaking. The believer may conclude after our admonition, “I am not worthy to partake; let me rather refrain!”
But the sacraments are not designed to encourage us to do anything; they are designed to help us remember what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Nobody comes to the Table sinless; but we all come to look upon the sinless Son of God, who gave His life for us. Certainly you should examine yourself when you partake. Certainly you should confess any known sin to the Lord. But, just as certainly, you are to partake while focusing upon the Lord Jesus Christ. “I am a vile sinner,” we say, “but look at what Christ has done for me!” It is as we look to Christ that the wonders accompany the signs: God does something wonderful in our life, for we are focused upon Christ. In our own church, there is usually a wonderfully different spirit in the congregation on those nights that we celebrate around the Table. This is because we have focused on Christ. We have acknowledged, in the words of Michael Horton, the “perpetual ratification of God’s peace treaty with His people.” [Michael S. Horton, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centred Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), pg. 19] As we remember God’s covenant with us, “the goodness of God leadeth [us] to repentance” (Romans 2:4).
No believer should stay away when the church celebrates around the Lord’s Table. The temptation is for us to think, “I have not walked with God this week like I should have; let me rather refrain from partaking unworthily.” No, dear believer, partake! The Supper is for sinners. Look afresh to Christ, and let His goodness lead you to repentance.
We must remember that we feast on Christ by faith. The feelings play very little part in biblical observance of the sacraments. We must guard against trying to work up a certain type of feeling when observing the ordinances. There are times when we partake of the Lord’s Table where there is no feeling of the transcendent. But it is not about feelings; it is about faith.
I remember many years ago using the Four Spiritual Laws tract in witnessing. I would go out and share the gospel with people, and then encourage them to pray “the sinner’s prayer.” Often, the person to whom I was witnessing would tell me that they didn’t feel like they were ready to come to Christ. I exhorted them that it was not about feeling, but about faith. Eventually, they would agree to pray the prayer, after which I would immediately ask, “So, how do you feel?”
I have grown much in my understanding of the things of God since then. Just as salvation is about faith rather than feeling, so are the sacraments. We do not partake when we feel like it; we partake when there is opportunity to do so, looking to Christ in faith, remembering what He has done for us.
The Community and the Sacraments
The sacraments are a family affair, and they are to be observed corporately. I have already mentioned the man in our church passed away after his struggle with emphysema. Late one night, several church members were in the hospital with him. One of the nurses came into the room and asked us to leave, telling us that only family were permitted to be there at that hour. We all looked at each other and, one by one, said, “We are family!” Those were not just pious words: those who are in Christ are family.
I have something of a problem with private baptisms and observances of the Lord’s Table. These things are not to be done privately in the home, but corporately with the family of God as represented in the local church. This is the pattern of the New Testament. When someone is baptised, we rejoice with them. We tell baptismal candidates in our church to relax, assuring them that they are with family.
As we observe the sacraments in the local church, we look together in faith to Christ. The church thus corporately experiences the grace of God as we celebrate with one another what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.
As a body in the local church let us, as often as we observe the sacraments, experience God’s signs and wonders as we commune with Him and with each other through those ordinances that He has commanded for us. Let us reverently and rationally respond to His self-revelation in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ.