Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why Baptists call Baptism an ordinance

Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

In Baptist churches you will hear baptism (and the Lord's Supper) being referred to as "ordinances of the church".1  As we saw yesterday, the first reason why baptism is important is because it was mandated by Jesus Christ.  In other words, Christ modeled it and then commanded it.  It is on this last thought that I want to  unfold to you why we refer to Baptism as an "ordinance", and why that matters.

1. Ordinances are those things commanded by Christ
The word "ordinance" comes from the Latin "ordo" meaning "to command, set in arrangement, to commission".  Thus you may have heard of a minister or a Deacon (or in some churches elders) being "ordained".  Many cities have city "ordinances".  When we come to the New Testament, Christ of course gave commands to his church.  However, there were two specific commands that included certain practices and pictures - namely Lord's Supper and Baptism. 

When Christ commanded baptism, it was to be practiced by the church.  One writer has noted this about the proper administrator of believer's baptism: "The local church is commissioned to do this and the pastor who baptizes is merely acting on behalf of the church."Thus whether it be primarily the Pastor, a Deacon or even on occasion that of a father immersing his believing child, the point is that Christ ordained baptism to be done by the local church or those representing the church over which Christ rules as Savior and Lord. 

Second, it was to picture that believer's prior identification of faith in His death, burial and resurrection. (Romans 6:4-5)  To use older language, baptism was a sign pointing to something that was being signified - namely the event of Christ's death, burial and resurrection and the believer's prior experience of faith in that event. 

2. Ordinances are those things taught in the Gospels, preached in Acts and Explained in the Epistles
Ordinances carry the weight of authority, and that authority is most chiefly expressed in their reappearance throughout the New Testament.  In the nearly 100 places where see Baptism occur, it is mentioned nearly 40 times in the Gospels, almost 25 times in Acts and close to 20 times in Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Hebrews and 1 Peter.  Baptism, along with the Lord's Supper, are the only two practices that were commanded by Christ, preached by the Apostles and Acts and explained in detail in the Epistles.

3. Ordinances picture or communicate the Gospel
Baptism is used by God to encourage the saints to reflect on what is being pictured before them: Christ's death, burial and resurrection.  For the child of God getting baptized, they are getting an opportunity to publically profess their faith in Jesus Christ in order to not be guilty of being ashamed of Him before men. (Luke 9:26)  For the New Christian, baptism gives them a chance to pledge a good conscience to God, emphasizing the truth that true saving faith results in good works. (James 2:17-18; 1 Peter 3:21) 

Adrian Rogers notes about all that is pictured in believer's baptism: "Just think of what this pictures. I have been delivered from my sin! My sin is buried in the grave of God's forgetfulness, hallelujah! I am a new person. Baptism not only pictures my death with Him, my resurrection life with Him, but it pictures my ultimate glorification with Him."3

4. The ordinance is used to remind Christians that baptism does not convey salvation, but rather is done as a result of salvation
Some people are under the impression that water baptism is the cause of salvation in a person's life.  In most (not all) other circles where baptism is termed "a sacrament", the idea is that some measure of God's saving grace is communicated to the recipient whether it be through the waters themselves or the act itself.4

For sake of clarity, Baptists have preferred the term ordinance over the term "sacrament".5   This move ensures to all who attend or join our churches that from convictions gained from scripture, we by no means advocate baptism as being the means or agency of salvation.  Rather, baptism primarily functions to picture one's salvation, desire for obedience and participation in Christ's Lordship, eagerness for His return and preference for walking under an open heaven rather than returning to their former pre-conversion love affair with sin. 

End Notes________________________
1. In surveying the historic Baptist Doctrinal Confessions dating back before the Reformation period beginning at 1517, I noticed that coming out of the reformation, self-identified Baptist Groups began to use the term "ordinance' to distinguish themselves from the Roman Catholic belief system.  The first instance of this is in the 1596 Baptist doctrinal statement simply entitled: "A True Confession".  As a general pattern, most other Baptist groups from that time to present have used the term "ordinance" as opposed to "sacrament".  For current examples of baptists doctrinal statements using this word, go to the Southern Baptist Website: 
2. Frank Barnes. Church Membership Orientation for Baptist Churches. 
3. Adrian Rogers. What Every Christian Ought to Know.  B & H Press. Nashville, TN. 2005
4. Presbyterian and most Reformed churches use the term "sacrament", however they do not advocate baptismal regeneration.  Otherwise one can compare doctrinal statements of the following groups which advocate salvation through baptism or "baptismal regeneration" as stated in this blog: "The Formula of Concord" on website of the Lutheran Church,  Missouri Synod at  The official website of the Roman Catholic Church, which advocates an even stronger view of baptismal regeneration, is found at the Vatican website:  There one can look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Any viewpoint which advocates baptismal regeneration does so from tradition mixed with biblical convictions, rather than strictly biblical-only convictions.   
5. Most Baptist bodies stuck with the term "ordinance" in order to communicating the non-saving character of baptism.