Chapter 28: Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

PARA 1 – Baptism and Lord’s supper are of positive and Sovereign institution

1._____ Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, to be continued in his church to the end of the world.
Matthew 28:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 11:26 )

Explanation of “of positive and sovereign institution”

Some of God’s laws are binding on all people in all places at all times. This is so simply because people are made by God to bear His image (Genesis 1:26, 27). We would call these laws “moral”, and they are summarized in the Ten Commandments. All men, simply because they are the intelligent creatures of God, should worship Him exclusively, in the way that He prescribes, with reverence, and especially on His holy day. They should always respect authority, life, sexual purity, the truth, and property. It could never be otherwise simply because of who God is and because of who we are.

There are other commandments of God which are not moral. It is not a matter of moral necessity, for example, that God be worshiped only in Jerusalem, and only in one building in that city. Nor is it a matter of moral necessity that a man refrain from eating pork products. God has a perfect right to issue such commands and require obedience from his people, of course, but they are not moral laws. We would call these laws “positive.”  In making such demands upon His creatures, God is exercising His sovereignty; He is acting as king over His creation.

The Confession says that baptism and the Lord’s Supper fall into the latter category of laws. They were not always binding. They were not commanded until the time of Jesus Christ (cf. Chapter 29, paragraph 1; and Chapter 30, paragraph 1). They belong to the era of the new covenant.

Eg:  Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat the fruit of a particular tree. This was a true test of their love for God. There seemed to be no good reason to obey this command, except that it was a command of God. Same way observing baptism and Lord’s Supper is matter of obedience to Lord Jesus “the only lawgiver”. He is the only One who has the authority to issue such orders to the churches. The churches may add no others. No individual or group of individuals may assume the authority of Jesus Christ.   There can be little doubt that this statement is meant as a rejection of the authority of a pope. 

There are many churches that would not think of bowing the knee to a pope, but neither do they acknowledge the sole authority of Jesus Christ. There are many churches that order their worship in accordance with the ideas of men rather than the words of Scripture.

Some churches, for example, are bound by a tradition which does not reflect the teaching of the Scriptures. They do what they do because they have always done it that way! Other churches do what they do because they think it will make worship more interesting to the members and more appealing to prospective visitors.

The Confession reminds us that only Jesus Christ possesses the authority to order the worship in His churches, and He consciously exercises that authority. Pastors are to see to it that the will of Christ is implemented (1 Timothy 3:14, 15). The worship in our congregations should be based upon the Scriptures, even if that means changing things that have been done for years, and even if it does not seem to be appealing to men.

The Duration of the Ordinances

“to be continued in his church to the end of the world”

There are some features present in the churches described in Scripture that are not to be regarded as permanent institutions. We read, for example, of apostles and prophets. We are told of tongue sspeaking and miraculous powers. There are are not meant to be permanent but rather temporary.  These ordinances, by way of contrast, are not temporary, but permanent. They are “to be continued in his church to the end of the world”. Wherever and whenever Christian disciples are made and Christian churches are established, we should expect to see those disciples baptized and brought into those churches according to great commission in Mat 28.

The founder of Quakerism, George Fox, lamented the deadness found in many churches. Accordingly, he emphasized the importance of a genuine relationship with God which would permeate all of life. He and his followers known as the Society of Friends rejected all outward forms of religion, including baptism and the Lord’s Supper. 

While it is certainly true that the ordinances must not become a substitute for a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ, it is also true that Christ has commanded His disciples to be baptized and to observe the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis. The ordinances need not be formal and lifeless! The proper response to an abuse of the ordinances is not rejection, but personal repentance, and a restoration of the ordinances to their proper place in the church.

PARA 2 – Pastors or pastor delegates are to administer ordinances.

2._____ These holy appointments are to be administered by those only who are qualified and thereunto called, according to the commission of Christ.
Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 4:1 )

Introductory Notes

The framers of the Confession did not regard the ordinances of church as issues of minor importance. They could have inserted a paragraph or two about ordinances in chapter 26, “Of the Church”.  Instead, three entire chapters are devoted to the ordinances!  Each ordinance is treated separately (baptism in chapter 29, the Lord’s Supper in chapter 30).   New Testament ordinances are not just outward religious ceremonies, a correct understanding of the ordinances is dependent upon a correct understanding of the gospel itself.    Now in chapter 28, we have a general statement on the two New Testament ordinances.   

Baptism is a picture of the believer’s union with Christ in His death and resurrection, with all of the attending benefits of that saving union. In the Lord’s Supper, believers express their unreserved commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and to His people. Far from being minor details of church life, these ordinances are precious gifts of Christ. They are visual displays of the amazing grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and of the appropriate response of repentance and faith.

In the employment of the word “ordinance”, the 1689 departs from the language of the Westminster Confession of Faith which had been published by English Presbyterians in 1646.  That confession employs the word “sacrament” rather than “ordinance” in referring to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Baptists consciously rejected the word “sacrament” and substituted the word “ordinance” wanting to avoid even the suggestion that there is any saving grace actually communicated in baptism and the Lord’s Supper (as taught by Roman Catholics also falsely teaching it is the activity and the intention of the priest, rather than the spiritual state of the participant, upon which the sacrament mainly depends for its efficacy).

Whether we call them sacraments or ordinances, it is important that we understand that baptism and the Lord’s Supper do not save anyone. They are vivid pictures of the redemption that comes to the believer through the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the appropriate response of faith and repentance which must be made by the believer, but the ordinances themselves do not and cannot save.

This point cannot be emphasized too much. In every generation, the church must guard against the constant tendency to equate saving religion with the observance of religious ceremonies. There is something of a desire in every sinful heart to be on good terms with God without actually obeying God. Many people wish to be saved from the penalty of sin while they themselves continue to live in their sin, and they frequently look to the ministers of the church to make the necessary arrangements with God. Most often, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are seen as those channels through which grace automatically flows.

That is why the church must make it very clear that participation in baptism and the Lord’s Supper will not benefit anyone who does not truly repent of his sins and exercise saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Protestant Reformers made it a rule that the ordinances were never to be separated from the Word. Whenever a baptism takes place, or whenever the Lord’s Supper is observed, the act is explained from the Scriptures, and the absolute necessity of repentance and faith is emphasized.

It is interesting to note that this principle even influenced church architecture. In Roman Catholic cathedrals, the altar is at the center of the platform, while the pulpit is off to the side. The Reformers changed that, placing the pulpit at the center, emphasizing the centrality of the preaching of the Word. The baptismal tank and the table which holds the elements of the Lord’s Supper are usually present and visible, but are not as prominent as the pulpit.

Acknowledges for notes:  Bob Carr

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