Pastor Jeff Struecker
December 7, 2023
We’ve been discussing the doctrines of the church, covering various topics in recent weeks such as church polity, spiritual gifts, and even the often-overlooked subject of church discipline. These topics naturally come with their share of controversy. Today, our focus shifts to another potentially divisive topic: the sacraments of the church.
The term “sacrament” is a theological word that itself sparks debate among pastors, priests, and theologians. Some argue over whether it should even be used. I’ll be describing the two sacraments, or as some prefer, ordinances of the church.
When we use the term “sacrament,” it’s essential to note its theological nature. This language may not be a part of everyday conversation for most, including myself, despite being a pastor. The theological underpinnings of this term become crucial. Some churches view sacraments as God’s way of demonstrating His grace, while others emphasize God’s direct, personal presence in these acts of forgiveness. Disagreements over the term itself lead some to prefer the term “ordinance.” An ordinance, in this context, is seen as a prescribed action that the church, acting on behalf of God, is obligated to perform collectively.
Today, when I use the term “sacrament,” I want you to consider two specific things– the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Jesus, before his ascension, instructed his disciples to continue practicing these two acts until his return. While there are numerous teachings from Jesus, he specifically highlighted these two practices for ongoing observance.
Now, how can God actually show up when we’re taking communion or in the water during baptism? To help you understand, let’s examine the language surrounding the word “baptism” in the Bible 1 Peter. Here’s 1 Peter 3:21:
I won’t talk much about baptism today; we’ll do that in a few weeks. But I want to highlight the words you just read. It’s saying that this thing we do, this physical act, is important. I didn’t write this verse; it’s Peter, a follower of Jesus, who said it. He thought of baptism as a kind of cleansing, a public way to show you’re following Jesus. It’s not just about cleaning dirt; it’s like a symbol of Jesus coming back to life.
Peter is talking about something called a sacrament, like what Jesus did during his last supper and his baptism. Even though Jesus didn’t do anything wrong and didn’t need to be baptized, he still did it. When he got baptized, a big moment happened: God talked from the sky, Jesus stood in the water, and the Holy Spirit came down like a dove. Peter says when you get baptized, it’s like doing what Jesus did for real, and it becomes true inside you, not just a symbol.
Jesus told his followers to keep doing them until he comes back, showing they matter. The word “sacrament” means God’s kindness in these acts and to his people because of what’s in their hearts.
Now, here’s a question to make you think. It’s not easy, so if you’re with your kids, ask them to think about it and share their ideas. If you’re in a group, talk about it before rushing to an answer.
In these two acts – sacrament and ordinance – where does God’s grace start and finish? These terms suggest that God is graciously present in these acts. So, where does it begin? Is it when you decide it’s time to go into the water or when you actually step in?
Similarly, with the Lord’s Supper, is it when you decide to join the table or when you actually take the elements into your mouth? Where does it begin? Equally important, where does it conclude in these two acts? I want you to think about that so that you can have a proper biblical understanding of the word sacraments.