Embraced  by  Truth . . .
                                    reflections on theology and life

Theology > Church > Ordinances of the Church > Two Ordinances


The Christian Faith has three main divisions: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism; and each of these branches has its own view of the Ordinances:

Orthodoxy: Orthodoxy has seven mysteries (instead of “sacraments” the word “mysteries” is preferred): Baptism; Chrismation (Anointing, Confirmation); Eucharist; Confession; Holy Unction (Anointing of the Sick); Matrimony; and Ordination (Episcopate, Priesthood, Diaconate); these are the major mysteries, but all of the actions of the Church, including those not listed here, are in some sense sacramental.

Roman Catholicism: the Roman Church has seven sacraments: Baptism (Christening); Confirmation (Chrismation); Eucharist (Communion); Penance (Reconciliation); Extreme Unction (Anointing of the Sick); Matrimony (Marriage); and Ordination (Episcopate, Priesthood, Diaconate); these are necessary for salvation, but all are not necessary for every individual.

Protestantism: most Protestants affirm two ordinances: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Church use two guidelines for determining what constitutes an ordinance of the Church: one, it was instituted by Christ; and two, it must be a means of grace. In opposition to these positions, the Protestants only give prominence to what Christ instituted.

The Eastern and Roman view assumes that the acts convey grace/salvation, one or both, and this is necessary for the believer to be saved or to advance in holiness. The fundamental issue for the Church in each of its historical expressions—Orthodox, Roman, Protestant—is whether the acts give testimony to grace or whether they actually convey grace; some point to the fact that either meaning is acceptable for the word “sacrament.” Even if this is the case, it seems questionable for one who absolutely rejects the interpretation that the acts convey saving or sanctifying grace to use the word as a synonym for the acts. To use sacrament and ordinance as synonyms confuses the significance of the issue—the relationship of the act to grace.

There is no Scriptural justification for the view that sacraments or mysteries communicate saving or sanctifying grace.  They communicate grace no more or less than the grace that is communicated by all of the events of life; from this perspective all of life is sacramental, in that, life from beginning to end is what it is because of God’s grace. But this is a separate point from the question of the meaning of the acts.

Thus, there is justification for only two ordinances, which believers have been instructed by Christ to do in relationship to faith in Him: be baptized, and take the Lord’s Supper.

BAPTISM (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:37-41; 16:15)

Questions: Is baptism a Divine work or a human work, that is, is baptism something that God does, or is it something that man does? Is it an initial work of grace by God, or is it a response by man to the initial work of God? Should baptism be viewed as the work of God, or the work of man by which man affirms the work of God?

There are numerous references to baptism in the New Testament: Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:37-41; 8:12-17, 35-38; 9:18; 10:44-48; 16:13-15, 30-34; 18:8; 22:16; and I Cor. 1:14, 16.

There is no reason for affirming that baptism removes the consequences of original sin, because there  is no Scriptural justification.

There is no support for infant baptism in the New Testament.

The reason for baptism can be stated in multiple ways: forgiveness of sins; deliverance from death; regeneration; gift of the Spirit; renunciation of Satan; identification with Christ (it is interesting note that the first four were listed by Tertullian in his Against Marcion).

It is not that Baptism effects any of these states, but that Baptism is a testimony that these things have happened to the believer; in other words, baptism is symbolic of numerous spiritual events, or testimony that these events have transpired in the life of the believer.

LORD’S SUPPER (Matt. 26:26-30; Mk. 14:22-26; Lu. 22:18-20; I Cor. 11:23-26)

Note: Jo. 13 speaks of the last meal, the Passover, but not of the Lord’s Supper.

Various terminology is used to speak of this ordinance:

the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42, 46);

Communion – ( I Cor. 10:16; “communion,” is koinōnia, meaning “fellowship” or “sharing”); therefore, Communion speaks of fellowship with Christ and with other believers, or of the sharing with another; term is mostly used by Protestants; also called Holy Communion;

the Lord’s Table (I Cor. 10:21);

the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11:20);

Eucharist (Gr., eucharistia, “thanksgiving” or “giving of thanks”; see: I Cor. 11:24); speaks of Jesus giving thanks before He gave the bread and the wine (Matt. 26:27; Mk. 14:23; Lu. 22:17, 19); term used by Roman Catholics and frequently by Episcopalians;

Mystery – word preferred by the Eastern Orthodox Church;

Sacrament – from a Latin word meaning “sacred”; preferred by the Roman Church;

Mass – term used by the Roman Church; specifically it refers to the elements becoming the actual body and blood of Christ; the appearance of the elements is unchanged but the essence becomes different.

Possible interpretations of the bread and wine are listed by Millard Erickson in his Christian Theology, p. 1121:

1. The bread and wine are the physical body and blood of Christ.

2. The bread and wine contain the physical body and blood.

3. The bread and wine contain spiritually the body and blood.

4. The bread and wine represent the body and blood.

The significant point is that through the taking of the bread and wine there is the confession that Christ gave Himself for the sins of man, and also the believer is confessing his identification with Christ. For the believer His body was broken and His blood was shed. The observance is a continual recognition of an accomplished act, the act being the death of Christ in which He proclaimed: “It is finished” (Jo. 19:30); and the observance is acknowledgement of His accomplishment.

The ordinance is both a looking back and a looking ahead: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (I Cor. 11:26); the believer is remembering His death and is anticipating His coming.

Return to: Ordinances of the Church; Next Article: Principles Related to Baptism 

For overview of THEOLOGY, see: Site Map - Theology
Copyright © Embraced by Truth
All rights reserved.
Materials may be freely copied for personal and academic use;
appropriate reference must be made to this site.
Links are invited.