Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Badge of the Christian

A badge is something that identifies the wearer. Whether it is the badge of a law enforcement officer or a name badge at a conference, it lets us know something about person who wears it. The outward signs of the Christian are the ordinances or sacraments. They are also one of the biggest matters of contention among Christians down through the ages. In fact, it is hard to talk about them without taking a position by the words you use. Is there any way out of this fight?

The underlying question is what the ordinances do for us. They are a confession of faith in Christ, but, beyond that, opinions range from their being purely symbolic to their actually giving something to the recipient. In the case of the Lord's Supper or communion or the Eucharist, this can go as far as receiving the physical body and blood of Christ. But the interesting thing is the Scripture does not go into any detail on this, leaving both sides to build their case on hints and implications. If, as I would affirm, God has communicated to us what He intended to communicate, I am forced to question whether this is meant to be dogmatically affirmed. Could it be that the person who receives the sacrament, receives the benefit of the sacrament. If it is a symbol, they perceive the symbol, and if there is something given, they receive whatever that something is. Nowhere in Scripture is the receiving of the benefit of an ordinance said to depend on one's theory about it. Should we divide over something the Scripture does not clearly assert.

A further issue is whether the validity of the sacrament is based on the way it is performed. Again, I do not find this delineated in Scripture. If God required the ordinances to be done a certain way, don't you think He would have told us in no uncertain terms. If you think God is unwilling to do this, you need only examine the requirements in the Old Testament Law to see He is not. I do admit it is at least relevant whether we should baptize infants. I believe the New Testament pattern is to baptize believers only, but I do not think it something worth dividing over. None of these things are a matter of emphasis in Scripture.

The final question is who is eligible to perform the sacraments. Again, the Scriptures are silent. In Matthew 28:16-20, it implies that those who are Christ's disciples, His followers (not apostles, as referring to their office), have been commanded, among other things, to baptize. There is no place in Scripture where the right to perform the ordinances is limited to certain people (or certain contexts). Rather, the issue is the heart of the recipient, not the person who officiates (Acts 10:47; 16:14, 15, 16:30-33). Should any of these matters be points of dispute for genuine followers of Christ.

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