Sacraments Study 1 - Baptism
Sacraments Study Two - Baptism, cont.
Sacraments Study Three - Communion
Sacraments Study Four - Communion, cont.
In the Protestant church two sacraments are recognised – those of water baptism and holy communion. The Roman Catholic Church and some other liturgical denominations recognise others such as confirmation, matrimony, penance and confession, holy orders and anointing of the sick.
A sacrament may be defined as a natural act where the Lord is present in a special way. Something spiritually significant happens when we do these outward things.
As I perform or watch our two sacraments I wonder in what way the Lord is (especially) present. Let me suggest some thoughts:
I have always believed, and practiced, total immersion for adults who are giving testimony that they are born again and identified with Jesus in His death and resurrection. It was not until I was forced to do a Bible study on this theme that I discovered just how little the Bible tells us about water baptism, though Jesus demanded it and the early church performed it. Paul teaches some things in only two places while Peter does so once.
Summarising these references we might write:
Romans 6:3-6 We are baptized so we can walk in newness of life. Our old man is crucified and the body of sin destroyed.
Colossians 2:10-13 Baptism is likened to a ‘circumcision’, not physical but a cutting away of the body of sins, dealing with the trespasses and ordinances that were against us.
1 Peter 3:21 Baptism is like Noah’s deliverance in that it gives a clean conscience (freedom from bondage and guilt).
Thus, I believe, at baptism, God does a work on ‘the old man’, cutting him off, putting him to death, removing his influence and condemnation, cleansing our conscience – removing what has become known as ‘original sin’. It was typified in the Children of Israel crossing the Red Sea where Moses declared, “These Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see no more forever.” (Ex 14:13).
To the Jews, water baptism was not something new that came with the NT church. It had been practiced by them as an act to welcome into the Jewish faith, those Gentiles who wished to convert to Judaism. By such, and circumcision, they became part of the covenant people of God. To the Jew, circumcision was the witness that he was a member of the covenant. By water baptism we also become members of a (new) covenant, cut off from our (original) sins and walking in newness of life.
I now begin to understand why the early church instituted infant baptism in an age where many died in infancy, without the (parent’s) peace of knowing they would be accepted by the Father, having had ‘original sin’ circumcised away.
Our Lord instituted the sacrament of holy communion the night He was betrayed and died. We read of that upper room in John’s Gospel, chapters 13 – 16 where He entertained His disciples for the last time before His death, knowing that would come tomorrow. I believe He dealt with priorities in all He did and said at that table. He promised them, and us, many things: a peace the world could not replace, a joy that would be full, the Holy Spirit to dwell in them and lead them into truth and revelation, a future home with Him, and more. He asked of them just three things: that they refresh one another (wash one another’s feet)(13:14); that they love one another (13:34) and that they obey His word (14:15). I believe He has kept His word – he wants us to do the same.
When He instituted the communion meal, He said, “this is the cup of the new covenant”. A covenant is an agreement between two parties – the drinking of the cup is a sign of agreement to the terms of the covenant. In the upper room Jesus was making a covenant with His disciples (and us). He would give us all the blessings He promises; we would respond by serving His people, loving His people and obeying His word. To take the cup without this commitment is taking it unworthily!
He signed His name to the terms of the covenant in blood on a Roman cross; he invites us to make our agreement, to ‘sign our name’, each time we take the communion elements.
Each time I take the bread I (consciously) say “thank you Lord that I am part of the body of Christ” looking around at members of that body I fellowship with. Every time I drink the cup I (consciously) say “Lord, I agree to the covenant. I will serve your people, love them and obey your word”.
Though I do take the elements ‘in remembrance’ of Him and ‘until He come’, their greatest meaning to me is the opportunity to renew my covenant vows to Him – vows He accepts by the Holy Spirit’s activity in transforming me to become a godly man after His own heart.
How wonderful it would be if, every time we attend a baptism or partake of the communion elements, these teachings would be known and the sacramental work of the Lord recognized – then we could truly celebrate!
Consider 1 Cor 12:13 – For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Is this water baptism? Or Spirit baptism? Or another?
Concerning Spirit baptism: this refers to that experienced by the disciples on the first Pentecost and, subsequently, by many others. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” - John the Baptist, Matt 3:11. See also Acts 1:4,5. This baptism was not for life but for power to minister – anointing. See Acts 1:4-8. They had already received life when Jesus ‘breathed upon them’ in the upper room (John 20:22). This baptism certainly is an experience by which we “drink (deeply) of one Spirit”. However, does one become part of Christ’s ‘body’ by being so filled? One must answer in the negative for, surely, even those who deny such an experience are evidently part of the ‘body’ – even as the disciples were before Pentecost. There is only one ‘body of Christ’ and all who are ‘born again’ (regenerated, converted, etc.) are part of that body.
Concerning Water baptism: we have a similar dilemma. If one’s new birth is consequent upon an act performed, such as baptism, can it be said to be “not of works” (Eph 2:8)? Surely there are many, evidently in the “body of Christ” by their testimony and fruit, who, for some reason or another, have never been baptized in water. Should such die, are they forbidden to enter heaven’s glory? Surely not!
Further, in Spirit baptism one is baptized by Jesus into or with the Holy Spirit. In Water Baptism one is baptized by another person into water. The baptism of 1 Corinthians 12:13 is by the Spirit into the Body of Christ. It is not a physical baptism but a spiritual one.
Let us for a moment consider what it means to be saved:
There is a saving from the penalty of sin – justification. This is a one-time saving in the past. It is salvation for your spirit which was dead ‘in trespasses and sins’ (Eph 2:1). It was your ‘new birth’ (John 3:3-8). It is Jesus ‘breathing into you His life (John 20:22). It is ‘looking to the uplifted Saviour’ and believing (John 3:14,15).
There is a saving from the power of sin – sanctification. This is an on-going saving in the present. It is salvation for your soul – mind, will, emotions. This is ‘believing and being baptized’ (Mark 16:16 – note past tense). It is confessing with the mouth and believing with the heart (Rom 10:9). It involves all the actions and attitudes of discipleship. This is where both water baptism and Spirit baptism have their ‘effects’.
There will be a saving from the presence of sin – glorification. That is future and is salvation for the body.
So, to repeat – to what baptism does 1 Cor 12:13 refer.
There is another baptism recorded in Scripture: (It is called the baptism of repentance. See Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4. In this last reference Paul declares that John’s baptism of repentance included saving faith in the Lord Jesus, or regeneration. John preached repentance; Jesus preached repentance; Peter preached repentance (Acts 3:19); Paul preached repentance (Acts 26:20). Repentance Gareth Evans Victoria BC 2017 is called a ‘baptism’ and this alone puts us into the ‘body of Christ’. Repentance is a ‘turning around’ – a choice to change direction – and is often accompanied with ‘godly sorrow’ (2 Cor 7:10).
In Acts 11:18 the Jewish Christian leaders exclaim “Then hath God to the Gentiles also given repentance unto life (eis zoen – into life)”. Repentance is a gift of God and an essential experience before salvation as it puts us “into life”.
Repentance alone is the ‘baptism’ by the Spirit into the Body of Christ. It is a gift given by God and is an essential experience before salvation since it puts us into life. However, Romans 8:10 tells us that ‘the Spirit is life’ (zoe) so the repentance that puts us into life must also , at the same time, put us into the church , Christ’s Body. Why? Because the Spirit Himself, who is now our life (zoe) is also the life and only life of the church.
“Again, Acts 2:7,10 says: “For grief according to God (genuine sorrow for sin) worketh an unregrettable repentance unto (eis – into) salvation” (literal meaning). Here God assures us that genuine repentance is needful to put us into salvation (eis soterian), and this assuredly means into the Church (the Body) of Christ.
Now, since John calls repentance a baptism (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3) and Paul calls repentance a baptism (Acts 13:24; Acts 19:4), and since true repentance is the gift from God which puts us into life (Acts 11:18), and also into salvation (2 Cor 7:10), then we know for a certainty that this baptism must also be the baptism which puts us into the body of Christ – the church. No one can deny this conclusion unless he is prepared to say that one can come into eternal life and into salvation, and yet not be in the body of Christ. This would be absolutely foolish. Hence the baptism of repentance which puts us into life and into salvation must be the baptism of 1 Cor 12:13 which puts us into the body of Christ.” (McCrossan – Christ’s Paralysed Church X rayed)
Recapping: re Water Baptism
It is not for regeneration (new birth – salvation for our dead spirits), nor simply as a witness of such a new birth. However, something happens when one is so baptized. There is a ‘cutting away’ of things, taskmasters, authorities, powers that one held us and to which we were obligated (debtors). It is a means of releasing us from their bondage into a new life. It must be preceded by repentance, leading to a new birth. Could it be that so many believers who struggle with the old nature, its habits and attachments, when they come through the waters of baptism showing little evidence of being set free, have never been taught that such a deliverance is what they should expect?
It is my contention that no one should be baptized without evidence of repentance, a testimony of new birth and this essential teaching.
The early church would gather in homes to eat meals together (Acts 2). This was daily but soon became weekly. It was a common practice among the Greeks at that time to hold a feast called eranos, like our ‘potluck dinners’. The new believers adopted this idea and the Agape or Love feast was established. It was a time for the rich and poor alike to bring what they could to the table to be shared by all. Soon this included the sacramental elements of bread broken and wine. This imparted a solemnity and sanctity to the whole feast. However, division soon entered and some rich would keep their food to themselves leaving the poorer with little to eat and ashamed of their poverty. It was in this context that Paul wrote 1 Cor 11:17-34 – the well-known record of the institution of the eucharist (communion or Lord’s Table), preceded by Paul’s concern about their behavior at the feast.
Let us now consider vv23-26: Paul had received revelation from the Lord (directly) which he had passed on to the church. His record is brief – just two quotes from Jesus. “This is My body which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me”; “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me”. The other comments are Paul’s. This is the first written account of what happened in that Upper Room. All four gospels have record of the Passover meal but there are slight differences between them as one would expect from historical recollections by three present and one heard ‘second hand’ (Mark). Paul (~10 years after) Mark (~40); Matthew (~50); Luke (~50) by consensus of scholars. Of these, Luke’s account bears most similarity to Paul’s in the order of partaking the elements. The bread would be taken at some time during the meal while the ‘cup of covenant’ would be taken after the meal, apparently after Judas had left. John’s gospel (~70 years after) has no mention of the institution of communion.
The Didache, written at the end of the C1st, confirms that the lord’s Supper was a meal, probably taking place in a house church, but has no mention of the Last Supper. Also the wine is taken before the bread unlike all present-day services. Instead it emphasizes two prayers to be spoken at the meal. It was the Didache which first gave the title eucharist.
As years went past, the service ‘morphed’ into the Catholic “mass” where the bread became literally the flesh of Jesus and the wine became literally His blood (Transubstantiation). At the Reformation (C16th), the Reformers adopted different views. Luther believed that when bread and wine were together taken, Christ became present in the elements (Consubstantiation); Calvin taught that Christ is not present in the elements but is present spiritually among His people (Receptionism); Zwingli rejected both of these and saw the elements as a reminder of Christ’s sufferings (Memorialism). This is the position most evangelical Protestant churches take today. So which is correct? If Zwingli is correct, then what is the ‘sacramental’ element? What happens ‘spiritually’ to the one who partakes, especially when one reads that if one partakes ‘unworthily’ sickness and even death may result. (1 Cor v11: 27-30).
Paul adds to the quotes from Jesus the following comments
(i) it proclaims His death until He comes v26
(ii) must take it ‘worthily’ – what does this mean? V27
(iii) guilty of body and blood of the Lord (?) v27
(iv) must examine oneself v28 Gareth Evans Victoria BC 2017
(v) must judge the body rightly v29
(vi) otherwise, judgment and possible sickness v30
(vii) such judgment is discipline of the Lord. V32
How do we understand these words? Surely, the sharing at the Agape Feast would be seen by unbelievers as so different from worldly attitudes, that it would be a message preached to the world – a proclamation of the result of Jesus’ death and resurrection. “See how they love one another!”
The taking of the elements ‘unworthily’ must speak to us of a solemn and sacramental meaning. Any such partaking is an act denying the very work of the cross – guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. We must recognize the ‘body of the Lord’ in our fellow believers. – treating one another as ‘brothers’, whether rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, black or white, etc. I would rather treat a man as my brother when, in reality, he is not, than not treat him as my brother when, in reality, he is. It is in the next chapter that Paul emphasizes this truth – ‘by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body’ (12:13). Therefore, examine yourselves – that you are in right relationship within the ‘body’. Remember, Jesus at that same meal, gave a new commandment “that you love one another” (John13:34). This is a command, not a suggestion!
It is possible that a believer may be sick for this very reason, that he/she is not in right relationships and has therefore taken the communion elements ‘unworthily’. I suggest this is the reason why one is exhorted to call for the elders of the church in James 5:13-16. It is not because they have greater power in prayer but because they have greater authority to address wrong attitudes and refuse further communion until the wrong attitude/sin is remedied. This discipline is important if one would grow in knowledge of the Lord. We should keep ‘short accounts’ with one another – “confess your sins and pray for one another” (James 5:16).
COMMUNION - part two
Let us now consider a particular aspect of the Communion service.
! Cor 11: 25: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
A covenant is an agreement between two parties. In the Old covenant (“Old Testament”) God laid out the terms with Moses on the mountain top having told him earlier, “I shall be your God and you shall be My people” (Ex 6:7). The terms of the covenant were the ‘ten commandments’ (Ex 20) followed by many ceremonial laws, by which they might attain righteousness. There were blessings pronounced upon all who kept the laws and curses upon all who did not. See, for example, Deut 27.
So, what are the terms of the New Covenant?
I believe there are such terms and obedience still brings blessings while disobedience still brings curses.
Consider the context of the first eucharist. It was at the celebration of Passover recorded in all four ‘gospels’. Passover was a time of great celebration and one can imagine the thoughts and feelings of the disciples as they came to the room Jesus had previously booked for them. Having seen the events of the past week they would have been filled with eager anticipation – “is this the time Jesus will establish His kingdom?” (by overthrowing their Roman overlords!). However, Jesus knew that tomorrow He would die! This was to be His last time to teach them so I believe He would deal with priorities. That evening He promised them, and us, some wonderful blessings:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled …” John 14:1
“In My Father’s house are many mansions …I go to prepare a place for you” John 14:2
“I will come again and receive you …” John 14:3
“Greater works than these shall you do …” John 14:12
“Ask anything in My name and I shall do it.” John 14:14
“I shall give you another helper … the Holy Spirit ..” John 14:16
“We shall make our abode in you” John 14:23
“The Spirit shall teach you all things …” John 14:26
“My peace I give you; world cannot give, cannot take away.” John 14:27
“You will bear much fruit …” John 15:5
“Your joy may be full” John 15:11
Did He mean to keep these promises? Of course, and multitudes throughout the years have found His promises true.
He also taught the disciples what He wanted of them in the ‘new covenant’. Three things He set out as priority.
i) He washed their feet and told us to do likewise. Ie; “serve one another”. John 13:14
ii) “A new commandment I give you – love one another.” John 13:34
iii) “If you love Me, keep My commandments – obey My word”. John 14:15.
Having taught this He offered them the cup – saying “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” I believe that every time I take the cup I am declaring my agreement to the covenant – “I will serve Your people; I will love Your people; I will obey Your word.” He ‘signed’ His agreement to the covenant in blood on a cross two thousand years ago! If I take the cup “unworthily” (I am not ‘serving, loving, obeying’) I may bring condemnation and sickness upon myself (1 Cor 11:29-31).
Personally, each time I take the bread (“This is My body for you”) I look around at the “body” present with me in others, and say “Thank you Lord that I am part of Your body”. Each time I take the cup I say (quietly) “ I will serve Your people; I will love Your people; I will obey Your Word”. If I do not “discern” (recognize) His body seated around me, I partake unworthily. (1 Cor 11:29).
I came to understand this ‘truth’ after reading a small book about Dr Livingston, the great missionary to Africa – “The Blood Covenant”. Let me recommend you to read on-line by typing in “The Blood Covenant – Dr Livingstone” in the search bar. There are many accounts you can read there. This now gives me a clearer understanding of those strange words of Jesus found in John 6:55 “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in yourselves”! Does this offend you? (v61). We are being called into a deeper covenant relationship with the Lord, symbolized and enhanced by our taking the eucharist elements.
Interesting that the word for ‘covenant’ (Heb: Berith. Grk: Diathek) literally means ‘to cut a covenant’.