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The Christian Understanding of the Ordinances

This is the eleventh of an ongoing series of articles exploring Calvary Grace's Congregational Confession of Faith.

XI. The Ordinances

We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has committed two ordinances to the local church, baptism and the Lord's Supper. We believe that Christian baptism, performed in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, is the sign of the New Covenant in Christ and proclaims our union with him in his death and resurrection. We believe that the Lord's Supper was instituted by Christ for commemoration of His death. We believe that these two ordinances should be observed and administered until the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In keeping with the Baptist tradition, we prefer the term “ordinances”—implying their nature as something appointed by God—instead of “sacrament,” which can carry the erroneous idea that they are or do something “magical.” We don’t mean to imply that it’s sinful or wrong to use the word “sacrament,” but merely note that the word comes freighted with confusing ideas that must be accounted for. It’s worth looking at these ordinances in some detail as they are a key part of both one’s individual life as a Christian and the life of the church as a whole. Hence, the eleventh article of our Congregational Confession of Faith deals with this subject.

The Lord’s Supper is a display and picture of the Gospel. By way of all the senses—hearing as the elders lead the service, seeing the elements on the Table, touching the elements as they are distributed, smelling and tasting the elements as they are consumed—we are not only reminded of what Christ has done; we are also expressing our faith in him and declaring our identification with him in his death and resurrection. So it is not merely a “memorial” or “remembrance,” though it is certainly that. It is a means of grace by which the believer is spiritually nourished by faith, accepting and celebrating and enjoying Christ as the Bread of Life broken for us and as the Lamb whose blood is poured out to cleanse us. So there is a true sense in which we are “feeding” on Christ spiritually as we take the Supper.

This is not to say that there is any magical or esoteric change in the bread and wine or juice themselves. Jesus died once and for all and was raised once and for all. The Supper is not a re-sacrifice. The elements represent his body and blood, but are no more actually or literally turned into his flesh and blood than Jesus’ description of himself as “the door” literally changed him into wood. That said, because of what it points to and represents, the Supper is a holy thing. It is not to be taken lightly, without self-examination.

It is our conviction that the Lord’s Supper in this life is for everyone who in the next life will partake of the heavenly table that the Supper now points forward to. This means that the Supper is to be enjoyed by all of God’s “family members” and that their adoption as sons is by itself the invitation to the Father’s Table. So we call every true and Gospel-believing follower of Christ, regardless of theological maturity, to join us at the Table. That means that once the self-examination called for by Scripture takes place, the believer is summoned and commanded to partake. The Supper is not for the super-spiritual who have conquered their sin. It is for sinners who recognize their need for more grace—in other words, it’s for all believers. Refusing to partake because you “feel unworthy” is a lie of the devil; it’s precisely because you are unworthy that you need to partake.

With respect to baptism, we teach and practice the baptism of believers at Calvary Grace, and require baptism as a prerequisite for membership; however, for those who are firmly convinced of covenantal infant baptism in a Reformed tradition, we make an exception and will permit them to become members—again, because we would welcome them to the Lord’s Table on the grounds of their faith in and profession of Christ, we will welcome them to membership on the same basis. That said, we hold to believers’ baptism for a reason; the Bible commands Christians to make disciples and then to baptize those disciples (Matthew 28:18-19). The Bible gives no examples of the baptism of the children of believers, but everywhere in the New Testament presents it as a response to faith.

We confer baptism by immersion because it best pictures and represents the burial of the old self and the raising to new life of the new (Rom. 6:4). The one being baptized gives a testimony of their salvation by God to the congregation. Then we immerse them publicly, in the presence of the church and others (we try to do it outdoors as much as possible). Baptism is, like the Supper, a picture and display of the Gospel. While the Supper pictures what happened to Jesus to save us and how we depend on him as our very food and drink, baptism pictures our own experience of dying to self and receiving new life as a reflection of Jesus’ own death and resurrection.

Because both the Supper and baptism are displays of the Gospel, they have an evangelistic purpose. We continue to practice these here in this age as a sign of the hope that still remains for sinners to turn and rest in Christ. They also underline the certainty of Jesus’ coming return. Jesus will one day return, literally and bodily—a return as real and physical as the bread and the fruit of the vine on the Lord’s Table and the waters of baptism.