The Ordinances of the Church


The Ordinances of the Church

February 14th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM

Matthew 28:18-20

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Matthew 28:18-20

2-14-82    10:50 a.m.




What happens in our church is we plan the program of the church months and months in advance.  And I study in my sermon preparation, not just a piece at a time, but I do it over a long period of time.   And this series on “What Shall I Do?” is prepared Sunday by Sunday, months in advance.  And it is turned negatively because of the question, “What shall I do?”  I’m Afraid To Die— that was the first one—What Shall I Do?  I Have Sinned, What Shall I do?   Each one is negatively announced because of that “What shall I do?”  So the one tonight, I Have Trouble in My Marriage, negatively.  Actually, it is a message on how to have a beautiful and happy marriage.

And there are three: it is a trilogy on the family.  Tonight at 7:00 o’clock, then next Sunday night at 7:00 o’clock; and the next Sunday night, What Shall I Do?  I Have Trouble with My Children.   But all three of them are on the home, they’re on the family, and it will be a blessing to your heart if you can come.

In our Bible, we turn to the last chapter of Matthew and the last three verses [Matthew 28:18-20].  In the morning hour, the pastor is delivering a long series of sermons on “The Great Doctrines of the Bible.”  It is divided into fifteen sections.  And this section, in which we are now engaged and engrossed and involved, is the section on ecclesiology, the great doctrines of the church.  And the message this morning: the doctrine of The Ordinances of the Church.

Now we must all understand that, when I deliver the message, it will be in my understanding.  And as I study and pore over the Word of God, the message that is prepared is to the best of my knowledge and my understanding.  There will be many—and by “many,” I mean multiplied millions—there will be many who would violently disagree with this pastor.  Now  I do not blame them, nor do I fault them.

But they must present the truth as they understand it and see it.  And I also am a man under authority.  I do not invent the message; I do not create it.  I am but a voice, an echo.  So the message that is delivered this morning on the ordinances of the church is a message that is the best that I can understand the truth and the revelation of God in these Holy Scriptures.

Now the Great Commission:


Jesus came and spake unto them, saying,

All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.

Go ye therefore, and disciple—


Matheteuō, an imperative, the only imperative in the commission, matheteusate, an imperative:

Go ye therefore, on the basis of that authority given unto Me,

and make disciples of all the peoples of the world, baptizing them—

in the name of the triune God—

in the name of the Father, of the Son, of the Holy Spirit:

Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and look, behold, lo, I am with you alway,

even unto the end of the age. Amen.

[Matthew 28:18-20]


The word “ordinance” is a Latin word.  It means “something ordained, something ordered.”  And on the basis of the infinite, omnipotent authority of our Lord, He has given us these orders, these ordinances.  They belong to the church, to the believing people and family of God. They do not belong to the Congress, or to the legislature, or to the judiciary, or to the fraternal organizations, or to the city councils.  They are preeminently and uniquely placed in the heart of the church; never outside of it, always inside it.  And they have been the battleground of forensic confrontation and bitter acrimony from the beginning of the Christian dispensation.

They argue over the number: are there two?  Are there three?  Are there five?  Are there seven?   And over the form, and over the purpose, and over the meaning of those ordinances.  They have been used and misused and abused, and endowed with all kinds of esoteric and superstitious overtones.

Baptism, for example:its original purpose and meaning was changed, and with the change in its meaning came a change in its form.  As the years developed, there also developed, to me, the strange and unusual doctrine that water—water, water like out of a hydrant, like out of a creek, like out of a pond, like out a reservoir—that plain water could wash away the stain in a man’s soul, that water could wash away sins; “baptismal regeneration,” that in the use of water we are saved from our sins.  And as that doctrine was proclaimed and came to be believed, why, what do you do about your sick?  You see, if the water washes away their sins, then the sick must be subjected to that use of water.  Then finally, the baby, the infant just born; if water washes away sins, then the baby must be placed under the water.  And with that came a change in the form.  Finally, out of convenience, they sprinkled just a few drops of water on the head of an infant, or on the head of the sick, and the sins were washed away.

That is a continuing confrontation in the theological world, in the Christian world.  I have here a clipping that I cut out, a pericope that I took out of Time magazine.  You listen to it:

Infant baptism is under fire.  The most recent attack on this traditional Christian practice comes from West Germany, where 350 evangelical Lutheran churchmen have petitioned the Rhineland Senate to abandon the rubric requiring infant baptism.  To give the demand more weight, fifty pastors in Germany have publicly indicated that they will not baptize their own children.

Perhaps the most formidable challenge to infant baptism has been made by Switzerland’s venerable Karl Barth, who recently died.  In the fourth volume of his great work, Church Dogmatics, Barth—

who was the greatest theologian in this century—

Barth argues that there is no biblical basis for infant baptism, and that the ritual is not an act of God’s grace, but a human response to it.  Which means that the individual must be mature enough to understand the meaning of such a decision.  The traditional understanding of the sacrament, he says, is simply an old error of the church.  St. Augustine—

the Time magazine continues—

St. Augustine articulated the gloomy theology of baptism that was to remain current in the church for a thousand years; that is, until the Reformation; namely, that the ritual was necessary to cleanse an individual of the stain of original sin, and that the unbaptized were doomed to hell.

Somewhat more merciful in his thinking, St. Thomas Aquinas later suggested that the unbaptized would not go to hell, but to limbo.  The original sin would still deny them entrance into heaven.

A growing number of Roman Catholic thinkers now look on original sin as the universal weakness of man, rather than a damning individual fault, which cuts the ground out completely from the need for infant baptism.  Still others object to the magical implications of the baptismal ceremony; namely, that a spiritual cleansing is achieved by the physical act of pouring a few drops of water on the infant’s head.

[Time, May 31, 1968, p. 58]


And thus, the article continues.  There is no doubt but that through the years and the centuries and the ages and today, the ordinances are a battleground for theological confrontation.

The Lord’s Supper is no different.  It also is a bone of bitter contention.  There’s not a schoolboy but that knows when the great Reformers sought to be together, to present a united front in the Reformation of the church, they vigorously and hopelessly divided over the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.  One of the famous confrontations was between Martin Luther and Zwingli, and they finally separated, never to agree.

When I went to the seminary, one of my learned professors taught that no one should take the Lord’s Supper save in the church to which you belong.  As I listened to the ecclesiastic, most learned, I thought, “How strange.  Paul observed the Lord’s Supper with the Christians in Troas [Acts 20:6-7].  He didn’t belong to that church.  He spoke of it at great length as he taught the people in the Corinthian letter at Corinth [1 Corinthians 11:20-34].  He didn’t belong to Corinth.”  So, it is endless, and you can go to any theological library and find volumes and volumes discussing those altercations and confrontations over the ordinances of the church.

Now I repeat: what you are going to hear from this pastor is a persuasion that comes to his heart as he pores over these Holy Scriptures.  They will be my position and interpretation and preaching, which will be deeply disagreed with; just understand that.  And I do not arrogate to myself an infallible and infinite wisdom; it is just I have to preach the gospel as I understand it.  I have no other way.

So first: to me, the ordinances are nothing but the plain, simple effort on the part of the Lord Jesus to place in dramatic form, in human experience, the great fundamental truths of the gospel.  In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Matthew, and the forty-first verse, our Lord says that “This gospel,” the fourteenth verse, Matthew 24:14: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.”  That means that, if the gospel of Christ is preached through all the nations of the world, then it has to be translated into different tongues and dialects, and it has to be presented to people of strange cultures and customs.  Not only that, but many times, the gospel is translated and presented into strange tribes and families and peoples by men who themselves are uneducated and untrained and unequipped.

How do you keep pure the great, meaningful, fundamental truths of the faith when it is so translated into those differing dialects and languages, into those different customs and cultures, and in many instances, by men who are uneducated, untrained, unable?  In the wisdom—in the infinite wisdom of Christ, the Lord took the common experiences of all men everywhere, and He placed in those common human experiences the tremendously meaningful, foundational, fundamental truths of the gospel.  All men everywhere eat and drink.  All men everywhere know death and burial.  And the Lord took those common, universal human experiences, and He sealed in them the great truths of the gospel.

This bread that we break is His body. This crushed fruit of the vine that we drink is the crimson of His life.  That is His atoning suffering [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26].  And this burial in water, we are buried with Christ in the likeness of His death.  Paul so eloquently describes that in the sixth chapter of the Book of Romans: “We are buried with our Lord in the likeness of His death, and we are raised with our Lord in the likeness of His glorious resurrection” [Romans 6:3-5].  And in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul says that is the gospel:


I make known to you, I declare unto you the gospel wherein we are

saved . . . how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures;

He was buried, and the third day He was raised—

for our justification [Romans 4:25]

according to the Scriptures.

[1 Corinthians 15:2- 4]


And those common experiences of universal life and death now bear the burden of the truth of the gospel: to eat and to drink, pictures of His atoning suffering grace [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]; and buried and raised, the marvelous promise of God to us who have found refuge in Him [Romans 6:3-5].

Number two: that ordinance that the Lord has instituted is a dramatic presentation of the gospel to the eye, as the preaching of the Word is the presentation of the gospel to the human ear.  We witness to the truth of the grace of God in our preaching.  In 1 Corinthians 1:21 the apostle says, “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

But we not only witness to the ear, we witness to the eye by the water, and by the bread, and by the crushed fruit of the vine.  These are dramatic presentations of the great message of the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  For example, our Lord will say in 1 Corinthians 11:24 to 26, He will say:


Take, eat: this is My body… this do in remembrance of Me. 

In the same manner He took the cup…

This cup is the new covenant in My blood: this do ye,

as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.

Then, He closes:

For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup,

ye do show—

kataggellō, ye do portray, you do dramatize, you do proclaim

the Lord’s death till He come, till He come.

[1 Corinthians 11:24-26]


The ordinances are a dramatization to the eye of the great truth of the gospel.  They do not procure our salvation, they proclaim it.  They do not possess magic, they witness to a majestic truth.  They do not expiate our sins; they exhibit the atoning love and grace of our Lord.  They proclaim the gospel message.  They are memorials; they are done in remembrance.  These are tremendous monuments that we could never, ever forget, to what Christ has done for us.  They are visible; they are effective, they are glorious.

If you’re near Boston sometimes, there you will find a Bunker Hill monument; brings us back to the memory of the men who fought in our Revolutionary War, our war of independence.  If you’re in the capital city of America, in the heart of it, you’ll see a great Washington Monument, to call us to remembrance of the dedication of that general who was the father of our country.

If you’re ever in Hodgenville, Kentucky, you’ll see one of the most effective monuments in the world: a beautiful marble edifice built over a little, humble log cabin.  And on the portico, on the front, facing the south, incised, engraved, are the words: “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”  That’s the place where Abraham Lincoln was born.

If you are near Houston, you’ll see a tall monument there where the Battle of San Jacinto was fought, the San Jacinto Monument, bringing back to us the memory of Sam Houston and his bunch, little bunch of straggling soldiers who won Texas independence.

In the same way, these ordinances are memorials.  They are monuments, enduring and forever, to call to our hearts what Christ has done for us and promised to us.  These other monuments crumble with the passing of time.  But the ordinances, the memorials, are recreated again and again in every human experience.  They are beautiful to behold, and thrice wonderful when we know what they mean, what they proclaim.

And last: it was never, ever the thought of our Lord, nor is it ever, ever in the Holy Scriptures, that these ordinances procure our salvation, that they are means of grace, that they are the channels by which we are saved.  My dear brother, if rite and ritual and ceremony and ordinance could have saved us, there would never have been any need for our Savior to come into the world to suffer and to die for our sins.

If you will pick up your Bible, you will find not just verses, not just paragraphs, not just chapters, you will find books in the Old Testament filled with the rites and ceremonies and ordinances presided over by officiating, mediating priests.  If those rites and those rituals and those ceremonies and those ordinances could have saved us, Jesus would never have had to come; never.

The whole Book of Hebrews concerns that great truth, especially the heart of the book, chapters 9 and 10 [Hebrews 9-10].  That marvelous preacher who wrote the Book of Hebrews is saying to us that the blood of bulls and goats, and the ordinances and ceremonies presided over by officiating priests, could never make us perfect before God, could never make atonement for our sins [Hebrews 10:4-14].  My dear friend, tell me: if we could wash our own sins away, why would we not do it?  Why would we need a Savior to come and to die for us? [1 Corinthians 15:3].  Tell me: if another man could wash my sins away, why would he not do it?  Why does he not do it?

We would not—I would not need our dear Savior to come and to die for me if there was anything another man could do for me, if there was anything I could do for myself to save myself.  The ordinances, the rituals, the ceremonies but point us to Him who has made it possible for us to be forgiven our sins in His grace, in His love, in His suffering, in His atoning death [Ephesians 1:7].

You sing that all the time:

What can wash away my sin?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What can make me whole again?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.


Oh! precious is the flow

That makes me white as snow;

No other fount I know,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

[“Nothing But the Blood of Jesus,” Robert Lowry, 1876]


This is the gospel.  It is never one of ritual or ceremony or ordinance or mediating priests.  It is always one of the atoning grace and love of our Lord.  And this is the way that I am saved according to the Word of God.  I am not saved by my own works, but by God’s grace.  Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest a man should say, ‘I did it, I did it!’”  When you get to heaven, you’ll not lift up your voice and your hands in praise, saying, “All glory to me, look what I did!  I did it!”  When you get to heaven, and you lift up your voice to sing with the hosts of glory, it’ll be, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain [Revelation 5:12], who hath redeemed us . . . by His blood out of every tribe, and family, and people, and race, and tongue” [Revelation 5:9].  It’s glory to Him; it will not be by our merit that we enter heaven, but it will be by His merit. 

As Paul wrote in Titus 3:4-5: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy has He saved us, by the lutron, the kiyyor, the laver of the washing of regeneration by the Holy Spirit.”  O Lord, and how beautifully simple has God made that door, that way into heaven.  Even a child can understand it; I did, and accepted it when I was ten years old.  I listened to a man this morning who said to me, “I was wonderfully saved when I was six years old.”  The way of our Lord is always a plain and a simple way [2 Corinthians 11:3], and especially so when God tells us how to be saved. 

If He made it difficult, and recondite, and hard to understand, we might have missed it.  But He makes it plain and simple, and the ordinance is so presented by turning.  The Bible calls that metanoeō, and you translate that by “repentance,” by “turning.”  If I’m going this way, God asked me to turn and look at Jesus.  If I’m out in the world following my own selfish goals and visions and aims, God asks me to turn and look to Jesus.  That’s Bible repentance.  It’s turning, metanoeō, “to turn,” by turning and by acceptance, “Lord, I open my heart heavenward and Christ-ward and God-ward.  Lord, come into my heart, and into my house, and into my home, and into my life, and into my work.  Lord, take me,” acceptance.  And God does something to a man who does that.  He comes into his heart, and He blesses the work of his hands, and He sanctifies every dream and prayer of his soul, and He writes his name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15; 21:27], and He stands by him as a fellow pilgrim.  And in the hour of death, He sends an angel to take us to heaven [Luke 16:22].

It’s a wonderful thing, what God has done.  And those wonderful, foundational, fundamental, saving truths are these that are presented in that humble, beautiful ordinance: to break bread, to drink the cup [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]; to be buried and raised in baptism [Romans 6:3-5].

In my studying and preparing for the message this morning, I read of a martyr in the second century, the second Christian century.  He was a nobleman who was called before the king.  And the king said to him in anger, “You renounce that Christian faith, and you recant the giving of your life to Christ.  And if you do not, I will banish you from the kingdom.”

And his nobleman replied, saying, “O king, I belong to the kingdom of Christ, and He said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’” [Hebrews 13:5].  And the king, infuriated, said, “I will not only banish you; if you do not recant the faith and disown and reject this Christ, I will confiscate everything you possess.”  And the nobleman replied, “O king, my possessions are in heaven.  My treasures are above, and they can’t be touched [Matthew 6:19-20].  It’s an inheritance for me in heaven forever” [1 Peter 1:3-4].  And the king, more infuriated, exclaimed, “I will slay you before my very eyes.  I will execute you here, if you don’t renounce that faith and give up that Christ.”  And the nobleman replied, “Sir, I have been dead these ten years with Christ, and buried with Him, and my life is hid with Christ in God” [Colossians 3:3].

My brother, how do you abolish, banish a cadaver, a corpse?  How do you confiscate a corpse?  How do you slay a corpse?  When a man is dead with Christ and buried with our Lord, you can’t insult him; he’s dead.  You can’t hurt him; he’s dead.  You can’t take away from him; he’s dead. 

O Lord, I just would to God I could enter into the fullness of the dead with Christ.  I can’t be insulted, can’t be hurt, can’t be grieved.  I’m dead with the Lord, and my life is hid with Christ in God [Colossians 3:3].  I am alive to Him.  O Lord, that I could be sensitive to God’s will and God’s cause, the pilgrim way that leads from earth to heaven.

And that is the meaning of the ordinance.  We remember in a memorial His sacrifice for us; breaking bread, drinking the cup [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26], and we are buried with Him; dead to the world.  And we are raised with Him; a new life, a new hope with God [Romans 6:3-6]. O Lord, if I could just be a better Christian, a better follower!  May we stand?

Our precious, precious Lord, in what infinite love and grace did You come to die for us [Hebrews 10:5-14; 1 Timothy 1:15].  And with what infinite wisdom did You embody those wonderful, gospel truths in ordinances that bring to our hearts and forever what Christ has done for us.  Now Lord, may we grow in that grace as we walk with Thee down that pilgrim way.  Bless this great company of people.  And Lord, if the truth has been proclaimed, may it find a place in our hearts to grow and bring fruit unto Thee.

In this moment when we tarry before the Lord, all of us waiting and praying and believing, a family you, to join with us in the worship of Christ our Lord; a couple you, a one somebody you, “Pastor, today we have decided for God, and here we come, here we stand.”  To follow the Lord in baptism [Matthew 3:1]; to place your life in the church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; to accept Jesus as your personal Savior [Romans 10:8-13], make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we sing, come.  Take that first step, which will be the most meaningful you’ll ever make in your life.  In the balcony, down one of these stairways, in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, we have decided for God, and here we are.”

And our Lord, bless these who respond with their lives, in Thy precious and saving name, amen.  Welcome, while we sing, while we wait, while we pray.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell



I.          Introduction

“Ordinance” a Latin word – “something ordained, something ordered”

B.  God
has given ordinances to the church, the believing people of God

II.         A battleground through the centuries

A.  Baptism

      1.  A change in
the meaning and purpose led to a change in the form

      2.  Unusual
doctrine of baptismal regeneration

B.  Lord’s Supper

III.        The
simple purpose of Christ to present in dramatic form the fundamental truths of
the gospel

A.  Gospel
to be preached to all nations(Matthew 24:14)

B.  He
took common experiences of all men everywhere and sealed in them truths of the

Eating and drinking; death and burial(1
Corinthians 15:3-4)

IV.       Present
gospel to the eye, as preaching the Word presents it to the ear(1 Corinthians 1:21)

A.  Dramatize the gospel(1 Corinthians 11:24-26)

B.  They are memorials,

V.        They were never meant to procure our

A.  If rite and ritual
could save us, Christ need not have come(Hebrews
9, 10)

B.  How are we saved?(Ephesians 2:8-9, Revelation 5:9, Titus 3:4-5)

C.  Martyr in the second
century – “I belong to the kingdom of Christ.”