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Ordinances of the Church

Two Symbolic Actions

This lesson reviews some important practices in the life of the believer.  Each represents an important act of discipleship and faithfulness to the Lord.  The believer is not merely acting out a ritual in the keeping of these ordinances but is fulfilling the commands of the Lord.

Jesus ordained two symbolic actions for the believer: baptism and communion after repentance.  These two practices work together to portray the life of the believer.  The moment Jesus died, a new covenant became effective in much the same way as the legal Will of a person today takes effect the hour of his death.

The event itself was over in a matter of hours, but all of eternity was shaped by it.  The significance of what took place could never be forgotten.  Future generations of believers were to intimately associate themselves with Christ through communions’ faithful reminder of His sacrifice.  The believer who recognizes the eternal significance of these symbols will gain greater benefit from them.

These were not acts to be done once or only by the disciples who lived during the time of Jesus.  Rather, all believers are to demonstrate their faithfulness in each of these acts.

Acts 2:38

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The three acts are

  • Water baptism: professing salvation publicly
  • The work of the Son: in the name of Jesus Christ
  • The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit: the gift imparted

Water baptism is a confession, having repented, with the authority of the Father, to be baptized, the work of the Son, in the name of Jesus Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, having received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The phrase “In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Ghost” indicates that water baptism has a deeper significance than just a ritual the believer performs; rather, the part of Jesus’ command, voiced by Peter, indicates the involvement of the triune Godhead.

Paul recorded the Lord’s Supper as a vital part of the life of the Corinthian church.  Paul also listed washing the saints’ feet as a practice and criterion of faithfulness in the church at Ephesus when he wrote to Timothy.  Joy and blessing are received when the believer is faithful in these practices.

Baptism is a visible witness to the world that a person has passed from a life dominated by sin to a life of faithful obedience to the Lord.

Matthew 28:19, 20 (Jesus speaking)

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20Teaching 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.

This passage in Matthew is precious because it is the last admonition given by the Lord to His disciples as He was preparing to depart from them and return to the Father.  This command known as the “Great Commission” is one of the primary texts, “word” to instruct the believer about the call of the Lord to evangelize the world.

The words “Go ye” are literally in the Greek text “as ye go”.  In other words, “as you are on the path of discipleship this is to be part of your lifestyle.”  The Lord was instructing the disciples that their Christian walk should be marked by evangelism and discipleship.  The believer was to follow Christ as his model; in turn the Christian was to be a model of obedience as he was faithful to the Lord.

Luke 22:14, 15-21 (Jesus speaking)

14And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. 15And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:  16For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. 17And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: 18For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. 19And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. 20Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. 21But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

23For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:  24And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

Celebrating His last Passover Supper with the twelve held great meaning for Jesus.  It was His last opportunity to teach them before His death, and He had much to say that evening.

The central act for the evening was the sharing of wine and bread as pictures of Christ’s blood and body.  The disciples were still unable to comprehend the true nature of Jesus’ mission on earth.  Jesus had plainly announced His impending death.

Mark 10:33, 34 (Jesus speaking)

33Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: 34And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.

The disciples could not seem to tear away from the idea that the Master’s mission somehow involved an imminent earthly kingdom.

Even at the last supper, they argued over who would be greatest.  The events surrounding Jesus’ arrest and trial further proved that the disciples were unprepared to see their Master suffer.  Their desertion, as well as Peter’s personal denial of Jesus, both point to a short-sighted view of what was taking place.

Luke 22:18 (Jesus speaking)

For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.

Jesus asked that they share the cup.  What Christ was saying was His work as the “sacrificial lamb” would only begin at the cross.  His work on intercession before the end, and His work as “victor” during the end times, would be fulfilled before He had the Passover meal AGAIN with His disciples.

This was in reference to the Heavenly communion of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  In the observance of Holy Communion, we not only look back to the cross as the place of our redemption, we also look to the future, when Christ, who lives forever, will come again.

His communion table speaks of His scourged, thorn-crowned, nail-pierced body and His precious blood poured out for our salvation and healing.  His communion table is also a celebration of hope until He comes again.

1 Corinthians 11:26

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

The purpose of The Lord’s Supper is to remember and testify to the power of the sacrifice of Christ.  The communions should demonstrate the faith of the believer.  If the participant is taking the communion for some other reason, especially for personal gain, it is a dishonor to the sacrifice of the Lord.

Paul exhorted the believers not to participate in The Lord’s Supper “unworthy”.

1 Corinthians 11:28, 29

28But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

These verses convey two key concepts concerning the manner in which the participant in The Lord’s Supper should honor the Lord.  First, examine the Word. This means that a person should place himself under scrutiny of the Lord’s sacrifice so that he might be approved by the Lord.  Second, discern. This signifies the careful manner in which the participant recognizes the importance of Christ’s sacrifice.  Every time we partake of the elements of communion, we need to ask ourselves what is involved in this act of remembering.  More than just a reminder of historic fact, communion stands as a powerful symbol of who Jesus is, the Word made flesh, who gave His life for our redemption.

As we personalize this truth, we can experience afresh the joy of accepting His atonement.

1 Corinthians 11:17-22 (Paul the apostle to the Corinthians)

17Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. 18For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. 19For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. 20When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. 21For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

In these verses Paul described how communion was being mishandled. Divisions had created unloving attitudes and the attitudes were openly displayed at communion. Instead of The Lord’s Supper being a time of solemn devotion, the Corinthians had turned it into a sort of ‘potluck’ dinner.

Everyone brought his own food and those who had plenty to eat refused to share it with those who were hungry.  Paul warned the Corinthians that misusing communion is a sin with severe consequences.  To lightly esteem the symbols of Jesus’ body and blood is to be guilty of an offense against His body and blood.

To avoid taking communion unworthily, Paul encouraged Christians to examine themselves carefully.  Paul was not telling Christians to avoid participating in communion when they find a fault in themselves, rather, the intention of this warning is to cause Christians to acknowledge their sins, ask forgiveness and then enjoy the blessings of communion.  No one is worthy of any of God’s blessings due to personal goodness.

Communion, like any other aspect of relating to God, is enjoyed by those who recognize their own moral failure and commit themselves wholeheartedly to Christ’s redemptive power.  Ordinances are not options. Jesus never said that we could decide if we wanted to be baptized.  He did not present the communion emblems as nice additions to our worship that we can use or ignore.

The responsibility to follow the Lord’s command to be baptized is also not optional.  We must obey Him by humbly remembering His sacrifice for us which can be expressed through communion.  At “The Lord’s Table” we have communion with Him and fellowship with other believers.

Author: Nannie Mae Jordan
(Transcribed by Joyce Carter   Transcribed and Formatted by Jerry Knight)


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