Another oldie but goodie from my studies on the sacraments.
Can the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper be overstressed? Of course they can. It’s apparent in the beliefs that center on Baptism being salvific or regenerative or in the Supper that implies the actual physical consumption of Christ’s blood and flesh. The list of extremes goes on a bit from there but I’ll hang my hat at this point. Also, I’m not going to go all through the details of baptism and the Supper – that’s not the point here, so when I speak on the importance and meaning of these two, I am not including all that is implied in the Reformed view of the sacraments.
On the other hand, is it just as possible to under stress them? And if so, which is worse? Overdoing it or minimizing the importance sacraments? I’m leaning toward thinking the greater of the two evils is putting Baptism and the Supper down at the bottom of importance. I’ll qualify that by remembering Baptism doesn’t save, which hopefully isn’t easy to miss in previous posts here at LAH.
Take a look at this, from a church in Wichita, Kansas: Lord’s Supper Fallacies.
And this is from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Basic Beliefs:
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water. …It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.
I think responses to the overdone Roman Catholic idea of baptism (as well as perhaps that of the Pentecostal idea that the H.S. indwells at baptism) have some responsibility for the loss of sacramental weight in the church. In addition to that, superficial study of the Scriptures certainly could lead to conclusions that make the sacraments to be little more than obedience and memorial. I’d rather deal with someone over-dosing on grace than to lose it altogether. Therefore (at risk of my own neck, theologically speaking), I’ll hazard that receiving the sacraments as a phased imparting of grace is safer than the dead works of cold obedience.
Here are some references via Biblos, one of my favorite online resources: Baptism Occurrences.
I’d like to mention what convinced me of the inaccuracy concerning ordinances of my youth in the church.
- The heavy weight of coming to terms with infant-baptism demanded much reading and thinking.
- My family and I were joining a church that greatly stressed the importance of the sacraments.
- In reading through historical Christian works, I kept encountering well developed indications that there has always been more to baptism and the Supper than I’d been taught growing up.
- It just seemed difficult to really accept that the two ceremonies instituted by Christ should mean so little to individual and corporate Christianity.
One big thing I’ve been thinking about lately is assurance. The sermon series in the evenings at our church is working through Acts. There is plenty about baptism in Acts and so plenty of opportunity to think about the point. Our pastor has banged away at this over and over again: we have these sacraments not just as memorials and rituals of obedience but as concrete assurances. We are certain that God is for us, loves us and cares for us by the promises in baptism and the Supper. We can look back to our baptism as God’s claim on us and look forward to the fulfilment of His claiming us at the End. We can put our trust in Him as He never fails to provide the Supper for us, a (weekly, in our case) meeting place where we commune with Christ.
There is hope and assurance in these ceremonies which, though they do not save or make us more holy, do serve to keep us – preserve us in our memories and hopes and present state. To reduce baptism to a simple act of obedience makes nothing more than a new law and it is neither not redemptive nor representative of the Gospel. Conversely, if we switch views around and see that God, through His minister and the Church, is baptizing us into Christ’s Church and marking us with the promises (covenant) that He makes, is that not grace? The first version leaves the burden on us — we have gained nothing through baptism. In the latter, we have gained everything — the promises, place and hope of the Church and redemption.
The same situation goes for the Supper. If we deny everything but the tombstone memory of a Savior broken and slain for our sins, what does that for us? We don’t need a ceremony for that — there are hymns and Scriptures for that. Why not just read the crucifixion for 15 minutes every Sunday. If we switch views as with baptism, why not see God the Father, through His minister and the Church, bringing us to the Table with our Lord and Savior to fellowship in spirit (through the Spirit) over the grace and mercy we have in Him as Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father? Is that not grace when we are assured that we have a place waiting for us?
I believe that these themes are especially important in this age of electronic mist and passing information. The physical world is becoming less and less important to many (if not most) of us. Because of this, we show up in church on Sunday to consume data, regurgitate a few disposable MP3 songs together and then file it all away until next week. We go home no more confident in our God’s promises than 6 months ago or a decade ago. Unless the mind and spirit, the intangible realm are brought to us in the physical through some medium.