Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement, a section at a time, in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.
Ordinances: We believe that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only two ordinances (or sacraments ) of the church commanded by Christ, and that they are a scriptural means of testimony for the church. We believe that baptism has no saving power , but is a one-time act of obedience for a believer to publicly identify with Christ and with His people . The Lord’s Supper is a regular, symbolic , commemoration and proclamation of Christ’s work on the cross , anticipation of His return , and a New Covenant celebration of our union and fellowship with Christ and with our fellow believers . As such, the Lord’s Supper marks out who the church is, and thus is only for believers.
(Matthew 28:19–20; Luke 22:14–20; Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12–13; 36-39; 10:47–48; 16:30–34; 18:7–8; Romans 6:3–6; 1 Corinthians 11:17–34; Colossians 2:12)
1) I don’t mind the word sacrament if you’re emphasizing the “sacred” aspect of the word’s meaning. But I certainly understand Baptist and independent reactions toward the “mystery/mystical” aspect, and the misuse of the sacraments by those who use that name. So, I am fine with “ordinances” (practices or rituals that the church has been commanded to maintain) as well; although, definitionally speaking, there are several more things we could lump into the category of “ordinances.”
2) It’s helpful to have this clarification included.
3) Baptism is commanded by Christ and the Apostles. Therefore, the logical and simple conclusion is that every believer should obey that command and be baptized.
4) A believer’s act of obedience cannot be carried out by an infant, so I hope this serves to clarify explicitly that we hold to believer’s baptism.
5) Salvation itself is a “private” occurrence, in that belief happens in the heart, and God saves us and regenerates our heart. But the next step of a believer is to publicly proclaim that faith by formally identifying oneself with Christ and with the believing community.
6) Baptism is not only a profession of our faith, but an initiation into the community of faith. In the New Testament (and still in many countries around the world), when someone is saved, they are then baptized into the local church community.
7) Symbolic: this covers transubstantiation, and perhaps consubstantiation.
8) Looking back, with faith.
9) Looking forward, with hope.
10) Looking around, with love. This is an oft-forgotten aspect of the Lord’s Supper — that it is not simply a somber remembrance of Christ’s death, but a community celebration of what His death has accomplished for us, and how this new life He’s given us allows us to have fellowship not only with Him, but also with one another. In 1 Corinthians 11:27, when Paul says that anyone who partakes in the meal “unworthily” will be judged, he is using “unworthily” adverbially in reference to the manner in which they observe the meal (in an unloving, selfish manner), rather than adjectivally referring to the unworthy state of the person’s heart. The context of the whole passage is Paul’s rebuke of the unloving manner in which “each one goes ahead with his own meal” (11:21), and the higher–class people would arrive and consume the meal and get drunk on the wine before the poorer people, perhaps slaves as well, could even arrive (later in the evening), thus ignoring the fellowship that the body is meant to enjoy (10:17). He is rebuking them for ignoring the body (11:29) and thus making it “not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (11:20).