We have come at last to the main thrust of this book, the consideration of the church and the ordinances. If the reader accepts our interpretation of the mission of the church, it will not be difficult to see the proper relationship between the church and the ordinances.
It may seem strange that we have written so much about the church and have not come yet to a positive definition of a scriptural ekklesia. We have insisted that a scriptural church is local and visible, but it becomes necessary now that we give it a definition. We raise the question, then,
WHAT IS A SCRIPTURAL CHURCH?
It is a visible assembly or congregation of people who have had the common experience of "repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," who have declared that experience in the Christ-chosen symbol of immersion in water and who have joined together in the covenant of a common purpose of making, baptizing and teaching disciples of the Lord.
Thus, as we have indicated elsewhere, a scriptural church is united in both the experience of salvation and in the interpretation of that experience. This is another way of saying that a church must be united, not only in the Spirit (which the ecumenical brethren say is our "essential unity"), but also in the Word (doctrine). Being saved is an experience, but telling how we are saved is a doctrinal preachment or interpretation of our experience. Since a church is a preaching institution, designed to propagate the message of salvation, it must also give the right expression or interpretation of that experience. Disagreement on either of these points breaks the unity of the church, and, unless we be agreed on these, we cannot walk together in church fellowship. Yea, we cannot walk far in the fellowship of the experience without coming to the fellowship of the interpretation. Our church
fellowship, then, depends as much upon how we tell that we are saved as it does upon the actual experience of salvation.
The interpretation of the experience is where we find the greatest variety of divisions. All saved people have fundamentally an identical experience, but they may differ in the way they tell about it. While the experience is the same in all believers, in the interpretation we may often find a mixture of truth and error.
The interpretation of the experience begins in the church by the use of symbols. One who has been saved is asked immediately to give expression to that salvation in a symbolic manner, namely, baptism. Here, then, we have
THE PURPOSE OF THE ORDINANCES.
We assume that it is generally believed that the two ordinances of a scriptural church are baptism and the Lord's supper. Through these ordinances the church requires its members to give a right interpretation of the experience which they have had with Christ and are having with Him daily as they grow in His grace. We also declare in these ordinances our hope of the resurrection. These ordinances were given as the symbolic interpreters of the full salvation. They were given to the churches because they (the churches) are the institutions through which our Lord chose to preach to this lost world His message of salvation. See how they work with God's purposes in His churches.
1. They make the gospel plain.
"Therefore we are buried with him by baptism in (unto) death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). The verses which follow go on to elaborate upon the death of Christ. Christ dying for us becomes the basis of our justification; our dying with Him (repentance) and trusting Him for eternal life (faith) makes our salvation a personal experience with us. This is declared to the church, to the world and by the church in baptism. By this baptism we make the gospel plain, yea, we thus symbolically preach the way of salvation, dying to self and arising anew in Christ.
By the Lord's supper we preach that the death and resurrection of Christ is working in us to save our lives. This is the continued experience of what was once for all declared in baptism. That is why we take the Lord's supper again and again, to declare
that we are dying in the old life and living in the new as an actual experience every day. Thus, we keep on declaring "the Lord's death until he come" (I Corinthians 11:26).
By these two ordinances we preach both the initial experience of a once-for-all salvation as it is written on God's record in Heaven and the living of that experience as it works in our lives daily here on earth. Furthermore, by both of these ordinances we declare our hope in the resurrection of the body. This is the full gospel. Someone has called the ordinances, as the title of this chapter indicates, a means of "picture preaching and table talking." This is a good description of their use in making the gospel plain.
2. They keep the gospel pure.
The Old Testament tabernacle had to be made exactly "according to the pattern" (Hebrews 8:5). Why? Not only to make the message of salvation plain, but also to keep it pure. Thus the fundamentals of the gospel message in the New Testament are set in the ordinances. These must be kept as strictly as they are given if we are to keep the gospel pure. When men tamper with the ordinances, they also tamper with the message of salvation. Much more will be said about this later on, but let us here take an example or two for illustration.
First, let us say that apostasy is not a falling away from the experience of salvation, that is, being lost after we have been saved. It is a falling away from the truth or doctrine of salvation, from the interpretation of the experience. There may be some saved people in apostatized churches just as there may be lost people in true churches. The former have fallen away from the truth, the latter never knew the experience.
In our view, salvation is by grace through faith alone, nothing added. All who repent toward God and trust the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour are saved, saved forever and without any further condition. They are created in Christ Jesus by the new birth to do good works, but any act of obedience to God must follow salvation and cannot possibly be a condition or cause of it. This view is held generally by Baptists and by many other evangelical Christians. This would preclude, for example, any effect that water baptism might have upon the convert.
One of the first doctrinal errors was baptismal regeneration, the doctrine that baptism was a part of the saving experience.
History will show that it came about gradually. There was an accompaniment of joy when newly-born souls were baptized. It was only natural for one who obeyed his Lord in baptism to feel such joy, and it still is. Gradually this emotional happiness began to be interpreted as a part of the saving experience, until some began to teach that it was necessary as a condition of salvation. Some passages of Scripture, when isolated from the whole teaching on the salvation experience, can be interpreted to mean that water baptism is necessary to being saved. With these passages so interpreted, it was easy to estabish the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
The error lay in the misinterpretation of emotional joy, thus making baptism something which, in our view, God never intended it to be. When the whole teaching of the Bible on this subject is considered, we hold that water baptism can be nothing more than a symbol of our own experience (through repentance and faith) in the death and resurrection of our Lord. If we read into it anything more than a symbolic meaning, we are, as I have indicated, tampering with the ordinance of baptism.
As a good illustration of how one's emotions can lead one into wrong understanding of such a matter, the author would like to refer to his own baptism. I was baptized in a small creek in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky during the early days in March. A soft, mushy ice had frozen the night before, and the water was full of that ice. I had had a very genuine and happy experience of saving grace and was very serious about my baptism. But the water was cold, terribly cold! I had heard some fanatical expressions, on occasions when the brethren had cut away the ice to provide for baptism, to the effect that "religion would melt ice." Well, it didn't do it on that day, and I walked to the house shivering. But here is the point: I condemned myself and felt disappointed because I was cold. Had I known what I do now, I would have rejoiced in what baptism meant rather than in the experience of the water itself. I feel sure that thousands of people have had similar feeling on baptismal occasions.
Of course, I had no idea that baptism had any part in my salvation. I knew I was already saved. But this serves to show how the symbolic thing can usurp the truth which it is set to represent. This has been true of religion in all ages. At Sinai, while Moses was up in the mountam getting the law of God, the Israelites were making a golden calf down in the valley. But let
it be well remembered, they never intended this calf to be a substitute for God; it was to be merely a representation of Him. But later years proved that the calf became God to them (under Jereboam's reign, et al.). It is almost a natural thing for the symbol to become the reality in the experiences of mankind.
Transubstantiation may have come about in the same way. The bread and the fruit of the vine were never intended to be anything but symbols of the body and blood of our Lord. To millions of people today they are sacraments (means of savlation). Many a time in the experience of this author, we remember trying to "feel spiritual" while we partook of the Lord's supper. Has not that been also the experience of thousands? Certainly, we should feel deeply the great things involved in the death of our Lord. We should remember His death and show it forth in this symbolic manner. But we must remember also that those elements which we take in the Lord's supper taste exactly like they do and are exactly like they are when they are on the kitchen table. The attempt to press into this ceremony, because we feel condemned if we do not have it, a deep religious or spiritual feeling has a tendency to center our affections upon the symbol rather than the great truth which it represents.
If baptism and the Lord's supper were intended only as symbols, then it is clear what havoc has been wrought by reading into them what was never intended by our Lord. But the matter goes farther than this. If baptismal regeneration became a dogma and churches were established to propagate this doctrine, like all error, it tended to encompass more and more territory. In the early churches nothing was known of infant baptism. Only those who had come to the age where they could experience saving faith and had professed that faith were baptized. Now, baptism takes the lead over the experience, and adults may express a superficial faith and receive baptism. If water will save such adults, what about children who may die in infancy? The water reaches out to envelop them, and we have infant baptism, with the final result of taking in all children. But immersion is not convenient for all these demands. Sick people and infants which cannot conveniently be immersed open the path to a change in the mode of baptism. Now we have sprinkling and pouring, neither of which represent death and resurrection. But long before we arrived at this stage of error, tampering with the ordinances had done away with the necessity of a regenerated membership
in the churches. Only those who still held that the ordinances were pure symbols had remained with the saving experience which makes us children of God.
Thus, we see that when the symbol takes precedence over that which it represents, we have tampered with the ordinances and have gone from truth to error. These ordinances are set in the church to keep the gospel pure. Any preaching which is not in strict line with the symbolism of baptism and the Lord's supper will become mixed with error.
3. They keep the church pure.
Strict obedience to the ordinances not only keeps the message of the church pure from error, but they form a separating wall between the church and the world with respect to the constituency of the church.
Baptism guards the door to the church; the Lord's supper keeps the body in spiritual discipline.
a. Baptism. The right observance of this ordinance will separate the saved from the lost, the church from the world. The act of baptism implies that the one making the profession has, in that one's own experience, died to the world in all its connections and has arisen to walk in newness of life. From there on, his citizenship is in Heaven, and his association in this world is with pilgrims and strangers who likewise are on the journey home. Nobody has any reason to walk through the baptismal waters who has not had this divine experience. There are, of course, instances of error in judgment, on both the part of the baptizing church or the one being baptized, but the ideal application of this ordinance will prohibit a church membership without the divine experience.
b. The Lord's supper. A proper observance of this ordinance will maintain the separation of the church from the world. It centers around the death of our Lord and keeps the believer reminded that he has declared before the church and the world his own death with Christ. It is also his own public declaration that he is in fellowship with the people of God in the continued experience of dying to the world and living unto Christ.
Here let us make an important observation. Believers who have lapsed into a state of delinquency, that is, who have allowed sin in their lives and have lost fellowship with God, are no more
eligible to participate in the Lord's supper than are unconverted sinners to be baptized. The simple reason is that they cannot publicly declare what is not working in their lives. There must be confession of sin and renewal of fellowship with God before they can publicly declare in the Lord's supper that they are living in this state.
The fact that a careless church takes no notice of their state and accepts them at the Lord's table may leave them theoretically eligible, but in their hearts they are not. The Lord's supper rightly applied in such instances would call them into the judgment of their sinful state; and bring them into fellowship with the church before they could partake of the supper. Remember, we are not referring to personal, daily sins which all of us realize and confess often (1 John 1:7), but to the state of sin in which fellowship with the church is strained and the believer's attitude is careless or impenitent. Such an attitude prolonged beyond the point of scriptural dealing with the member in question would not only draw the line at the Lord's supper, but would also necessitate the withdrawal of the hand of fellowship. Thus, the ordinance, rightly applied and followed, preserves the character of the church in its daily experience just as baptism guards the door.
This, then, is how the ordinances, rightly used, form the much-needed wall of separation between the church and the world.
4. They keep the gospel personal.
While it is not necessary to enlarge upon this point, it is yet very vital. There are no proxies in the observance of these ordinances. The Roman Church has instituted such proxies, and so have some of her satellites, but not so the churches of scriptural conduct. Salvation is a personal matter. Each sinner who is saved must personally repent and believe the gospel (Mark. 1:15). There can be no substitutes. So, each one is led, on a personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ the Saviour, into the baptismal waters and there buried with Christ in baptism (Romans 6:4). This declares his own personal experience. So it is with the Lord's supper. Each one who has been baptized participates personally in the supper to declare his own continued fellowship in the death and resurrection of Christ, thus proclaiming also his hope of resurrection when Jesus comes again. No priest or godfather or
anyone else can take the place of the believer. But if we stay not with the ordinances in this implication, we shall find ourselves drifting from the personal experience to faith in a proxy. It may be a priest, it may be a saint, or it may be Mary, but finally it will not be Christ.
It should be obvious now that the strict application of the ordinances in church life will have a definite effect upon the message and character of the church. Such an important task as a church assumes, namely, that of guiding lost souls to Heaven, demands chart and compass from which there can be no deviation. Without making a technical assignment as to which is which, the ordinances are that chart and compass to the church. They are the symbolic interpretation of that message which saves, and they serve as both a guard and a guide to the church which carries that message. They thus become the plumb lines of both the character and message of a church. This they do by "picture preaching and table talking." =============
[Buell H. Kazee, The Church and the Ordinances, Lexington, KY, 1965, pp. 89-96.]
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