The Ordinances of the Church
February 14th, 1982 @ 8:15 AM
1 Corinthians 11:24-26
THE ORDINANCES OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 11: 24-26
2-14-82 8:15 a.m.
And God bless all of you who are listening on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message. It is a pivotal one in "The Great Doctrines of the Bible," and this one concerning the ordinances of the church. And I humbly ask God to bless our minds as well as our hearts as we listen. Of course, what I preach, I think, is the very truth of the Almighty. Now, there are, everybody in differing denominations that would differ from it, but this is the truth of God the best I can understand it from the Word of the Lord. The title of the sermon is The Ordinances of the Church.
Matthew closes his Gospel with what we call the Great Commission. "Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore," on the basis of that, "and make disciples of all the peoples, baptizing them 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, lo" – isn’t that a strange thing? "Lo," as though it were a great surprise – "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age. Amen" [Matthew 28:18-20].
The word "ordinance" is a Latin word, and it refers to something authoritatively ordained or ordered. So the ordinances are ordained, they are ordered of our Lord. "All authority is given unto Me," He says, "in heaven and in earth" [Matthew 28:18]. And this authoritative commandment is addressed to the church. The ordinances are always within the church, never outside of it. They do not belong to the Congress, or the legislature, or the judiciary, or the fraternal or civic organization; they belong to the church. The ordinances are always in the church.
Now, they have been a battleground from the beginning. Through the centuries and through the millennia, the ordinances of the church have been causes of division and contention and sometimes bitter debate. They, through the years, the followers of the Lord, have differed over the number of them. Are there two? Are there three? Are there five? Are there seven? They’ve differed over their purpose and form. They have been used, and misused, and abused, and endowed with all kinds of strange superstitious esoteric powers. For example, baptism: when the purpose of it was changed, the form of it was changed. There developed that strange, to me, and unusual doctrine that in water the stain of the soul was washed away – we are washed from our sins by baptism.
When I was a youth preaching out in the country, a man said to me, "I want to be baptized in a running river so my sins will be washed on down the creek bed." Even as a youth that sounded so unusual to me – that water, like out of a hydrant, water like out of a creek, water like in a stock pond – water could wash a man’s sins away. And of course as time went on, and that doctrine of baptismal water regeneration became regnant, why, they began to apply it to the sick. Sick was about to die and water saved him, so they began to baptize the sick and then finally to baptize infants. And of course, as the days passed, it became more convenient to use less and less and less water until finally they sprinkled a few drops on the head of the baby, and that washed sin away. But you can’t fall into doctrines like that and not also fall into all kinds of forensic confrontations and discussions.
I have taken this out of Time magazine, a thing going on today:
Infant baptism is under fire. The most recent attack on this traditional Christian practice comes from West Germany, where three hundred fifty evangelical Lutheran church men 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. In part four of his master work Church Dogmatics, 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 – ‘sacrament is simply an old error of the church.’
Then the Time magazine article continues:
Saint Augustine, who lived about 400, Saint Augustine articulated the gloomy theology of baptism that was to remain current in the church for a thousand years, until the Reformation; 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, Thomas Aquinas later suggested that the unbaptized would not go to hell but to limbo, though original sin would still deny their entrance into heaven. A growing number of Roman Catholic thinkers now look on original sin as universal weakness of man rather than a damning individual fall, 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.
This from Time magazine. I read that to you just to show you the vast differing opinions concerning the simple ordinance of baptism.
No less so is it a battleground concerning the Lord’s Supper. When you see children go out here and say, "Hocus pocus," and they are going to do some magical trick, what they did they saw the priest in the church, and with a wave of his hand, who– he says, "Hoc est corpus meum, hoc est corpus meum" : "This is my body," Latin, hoc est corpus meum; and he changes the elements, bread and the fruit of the vine, into the actual body and blood of Jesus. Well these kids, as they go to the mass, listen to that; to them it sounded like "hocus pocus, hocus pocus, hocus pocus," so they go out here and wave their hands over a mud pie to change it into some kind of a bird or something.
As any schoolboy knows, the leaders of the Reformation were able to agree on many of the fundamental basic thrusts of that purification of the church; but they fell apart when they came to the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Luther and Zwingli had a vigorous confrontation over it, and separated over it. When I was in the seminary, one of my professors had one of the strangest persuasions about the Lord’s Supper. He taught us that no one should take the Lord’s Supper except in his own church, the church to which he belonged. That sounded so strange to me. Paul observed the Lord’s Supper in Troas [Acts 20:6-7]; he never belonged to that church. Wrote to the church in Corinth about their Lord’s Supper [1 Corinthians 11:23-34] – did he belong to that church? I don’t know. You’re just buried beneath the differing doctrines, the veritable battleground of the ordinances of the church.
Now, I repeat, what I say is to the best of my ability the true doctrine of those ordinances, the best I can understand as I read this holy revealed Word of God. Number one: the ordinances are nothing other than a plain and simple authoritative command on the part of our Lord to keep, to seal, to preserve in human experience the great fundamentals of the faith of the gospel. For example, the Lord will say, in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, that this gospel will be preached throughout the world, to all the nations for a witness unto them [Matthew 24:14]. Now, if that is true – and the Lord said it would be true – this gospel will be preached throughout all the world to all the nations, then the gospel has to be translated in many languages and dialects and presented in many cultures, tribes, customs; oh dear, think of the polyglot nations of the world! And when the gospel is preached in translation, in dialect, in differing cultures, it is done many times by uneducated, untrained, unqualified, unequipped men. How do you keep, in those many translations and many dialects, the presentation of the gospel in different cultures by unequipped and untrained men – how do you keep it fundamentally true? Well, the Lord in His infinite wisdom set the great truth of the gospel message in the common experiences of all men everywhere. All men, no matter the culture or the language, all men everywhere eat and drink. All men everywhere experience death and burial. It is universal human experience. And the Lord took that common denominator of every tribe and every language, and He made them instruments to present the fundamental faith of the gospel.
We eat broken bread. We drink the crushed fruit of the vine. That is His atoning and suffering death [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. And we are buried with the Lord in the likeness of His death, and we are raised with the Lord in the likeness of His glorious and triumphant resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. And the Lord took those common experiences of all mankind and made them vehicles, instruments for the presentation and the preservation of the fundamentals of the faith.
Again, those ordinances preach the gospel to the eye. It is dramatized where one can see it, as well as the presentation and the preaching of the gospel to the ear. We witness to the grace of God, to the truth of the gospel in our preaching in the pulpit, such as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:21, "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." We witness to the gospel in our preaching and address it to the ear. But we also witness to the gospel in the water, and in the broken bread, and in the crushed fruit of the vine. Both of them, whether it be addressed to the ear or to the eye, both of them are the presentations of the true gospel of the Son of God. It is a remarkable thing, this dramatization of the blessed Word of the Lord.
It is a beautiful and effective thing. For example, the apostle Paul will write, he will say, that the Lord says, "This bread is My body: eat in remembrance of Me," and "This cup is My blood: drink in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show," you dramatize, you proclaim, katangellō, you present in dramatic form, "the Lord’s atoning death until He comes back again" [1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. It is a magnificent thing God has done in these ordinances, if we will just remember what they are. They do not procure our salvation; they proclaim God’s redemptive grace. They do not possess magic; they dramatize majestic truth. They do not expiate sin; they exhibit Christ’s marvelous atoning love. As Paul calls them, they are "memorials" [1 Corinthians 11:23], they are monuments to remind us of God’s love and grace.
If you are ever in Boston area, you’ll see a monument there on Bunker Hill, the Bunker Hill Monument. That reminds us of the struggle of the Civil War. If you are in Washington, you’ll see a Washington monument that reminds us of the devoted labors of the father of our country. If you’re in Hodgenville, Kentucky, you’ll see one of the most effective monuments you ever saw: a glorious building over a humble log cabin in which Abraham Lincoln was born, facing the South, and over in the frieze below the pediment, "With malice toward none, with charity for all." If you go near Houston, you will see that tall San Jacinto Monument, bringing us back, calling us back to a remembrance of Sam Houston and the little struggling band that won Texas independence.
That’s what these great monumental ordinances are, except they’re not made out of crumbling stone; they are recreated again and again and again, and they bring to our minds the great doctrines of the faith. This our Lord did for us that we might be saved. And this is His promise: if we are buried with Him, we shall reign with Him, live with Him, be resurrected with Him [2 Timothy 2:11-12].
Last: those ordinances were never intended to be means or instruments of our salvation, never. They are memorials: "This do in remembrance of Me" [1 Corinthians 11:24, 25]. They do not procure; they proclaim. They do not expiate; they exhibit. My dear people, listen to me: if ordinance, if ritual, if ceremony, if priestly officiation could have saved us from death, from our sins, there would never have been any need for the atoning suffering of Christ our Lord. My brother, take your Bible, and you will find in the Old Testament not only verse after verse of ritual, not only paragraph after paragraph of ceremony, not only page after page of priestly mediation, but you will find book after book in the Old Testament outlining almost endless ritual, endless ceremony. The great thrust of the central part of the Book of Hebrews, such as chapters 9 and 10, is this: that those ordinances, the blood of bulls and goats, could never suffice to wash our sins away, never [Hebrews 10:4-14]. If we could have been saved by ceremony or ritual, Jesus our Lord would never have had to come to die for our sins. If we can be washed from our sins by something we can do for ourselves, then why should we not do it? Why would Christ have to die? If we can be washed from our sins by something another man can do for us, then why doesn’t he do it? Then Christ would not have to die. It is because ritual, and ceremony, and priestly mediation, and ordinances can never suffice to wash the stain of sin out of our souls. The whole gospel message is this: "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures: and He was raised from the dead for our justification according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 4:25]. We are lost without Him [John 4:6; Acts 4:12]. It is He whose atoning grace saves us, and never any work of righteousness or any ordinance that we can keep acceptable unto God [Ephesians 2:8-9].
So we come to that great fundamental New Testament preaching of the gospel. How are we saved? Are we saved by what we can do, by our works, whatever they are? Are we saved by any rite or any ritual or any ceremony or any ordinance? The gospel message is this in the Bible: it is not by our works, but we are saved by the grace of God. Ephesians 2:8-9, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His grace does God save us." It is a free gift. "By grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." When we get to heaven we’re not going to sing up there, "O glory to us, look what we did!" What we’re going to sing when we get to heaven is, "All glory and honor be to Him who washed us from our sins in His own blood" [Revelation 1:5]. It is not by our merit; it is by His merit that we enter heaven. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy did He save us, by the laver, the kiyyor, the washing of regeneration" [Titus 3:5].
It is never by our achievements that we stand holy and blameless before God; it is in the love and mercy and forgiveness of Christ our Lord, which is mediated to us by the Holy Spirit in two simple, humble acts: one, in turning; in turning [Acts 20:21]. The Bible calls that metanoia, "turning," a change of direction, a change of heart and mind. I’ve been going this way, been going away from the Lord, I’m going to turn around. I’m going toward Him. That’s what the Bible calls metanoia: a repentance, a turning. I’m going to turn around, I’m going to turn to the Lord, I’m going to face in the direction of heaven, and, by faith [Ephesians 2:8-9], the simple, humble acceptance of the grace and mercy and forgiveness of the Savior. And when you do that, the Bible says, you’re in, you’re saved, you’re a part of the family of God, you have come into the kingdom [Hebrews 12:28]. Isn’t that a marvelous thing? A child can do that – I know because I did it. And I see children all the time do it. Aren’t you glad? It is something of the soul, it’s something of the heart, it has to do with Jesus and us; never "me and somebody else," it’s between Jesus and me, always, always. This way, never that way. Never that way, a baptistery; never this way, a communion table; never that way, always this way.
That’s why if a man will look up he’ll always be blessed of God. When you look this way, you get in all kinds of trouble because people are so faulty and full of failure. Don’t look this way, look this way. However I may be, Jesus is all right. However the church may be, deacons may be, Jesus is all right. However anybody may be, the Lord is all right. And when we center our faith and our hope and our salvation in Him, it’ll always be all right. He is able to keep us.
In preparing this message, I read of a second century martyr. He was a nobleman, and he was called before the king and accused of being a Christian. And it infuriated the king. So he said to the nobleman, "You recant, and you renounce that Christian faith, or else I will banish you from the kingdom!" And he replied, "O king, I belong to the kingdom of Christ, and He says, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee, forever’" [Hebrews 13:5]. And the king more infuriated, said, "If you don’t recant and renounce that Christian faith, I will confiscate all of your property!" And the nobleman replied, "O king, my treasures are in heaven [Matthew 6:19-21]. My inheritance is in glory, and no one can touch it. It’s up there." And the king in fury said, "You will recant your faith, you will recant your faith and repudiate this Christ, or I will execute you here before my very eyes." And the nobleman replied, "O king, I have been dead over ten years already. I have been dead with Christ, and I now live a resurrection life with Him" [Ephesians 2:5].
That is the ordinance. We have been buried with our Lord, we have been slain with our Lord, we have been killed with our Lord, and how do you insult a corpse? Or how do you banish a corpse? Or how do you confiscate a corpse? Lord, I wish I could live a triumphant life like that. "You can’t insult me, I’ve been dead with my Lord. You can’t hurt me, I am alive with Jesus" [Colossians 2:13]. I tell you people, it’s a wonderful thing to follow in the footsteps of our blessed Savior. And He made those great fundamental truths to live in the common experiences of our lives; to eat bread, and to drink the crushed fruit of the vine [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26], to be buried and raised in baptism [Romans 6:3-5]. May we stand together?
Our wonderful, wonderful Lord, O Savior, would God we could say the word as it really is in the power of the Holy Spirit. But Lord where we fail and stammer and stumble may God’s holy presence bear the word of truth and salvation to the hearts of these who listen. And our Lord, we pray that the truth of God, the wonderful, wonderful ordinances of our Lord in their explanation, and the message of salvation from the heart of Jesus, from His cross, from His tomb, and from His throne in heaven, will woo and win men and women this morning.
And in this moment that we tarry, a family you, a couple, or just one somebody you, to give your heart to Jesus, to come into the fellowship of this dear church, to be numbered with the family of God, make that decision now in your heart. And in this moment answer with your life, do it. And our Lord, thank Thee for those who will come this sacred hour. In Thy dear name, amen. While we sing, welcome, welcome.