Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Only a Symbol

There seems to be no greater subject of contention in the Christian church than the sacraments or ordinances. Often the disputes center around issues that are not clearly addressed in Scripture. So what does Scripture about them? Circumcision is described as a sign and a seal of faith (Romans 4:11). Something that identifies the person as belonging to God and declares to others where they stand. The later sacraments serve the same purpose. The Lord's Supper is described as a remembrance, a declaration, and an anticipation (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 22:14-20; Mark 14:22-26). It reminds us of who we are in Christ, declares that to others around us, and anticipates His coming back for us. Therefore, the ordinances are a recognition and declaration of what God has done for us. This is based on the faith through which we are saved (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9).

But Scripture is opposed to relying simply on outer ritual to make us acceptable to God (Malachi 1:10; Matthew 6:1-18; John 4:23,24). Therefore, going through the motions of celebrating the sacraments apart from genuine faith accomplishes nothing. Even those who would deny that the sacraments are valid apart from faith can fall into the idea that, just because I am baptized and take the Eucharist, I must be right with God. On the opposite extreme, we can see the ordinances as simply one more duty we perform. Underlying this is an idea that physical things are unimportant and should not be taken too seriously. Both of these are based on an emphasis on the outer ceremony. I am convinced that the road between is established by a real appreciation of grace. Christian worship is not primarily focused on what we can do for God, but on what God has done for us (Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 4:9,10; Galatians 2:21). But we must avoid exalting the external to be the main thing or minimizing it into unimportance.

As for the details we fight over, none seem as important as the real substance of faith in Christ. We dispute over what the sacraments do to us, something Scripture never addresses. Much less does it deal with in what mode Christ is present in the communion. I do believe that Christ meets us and works in us whenever we come to Him. But in exactly what fashion seems to me to be speculation. I do not believe that the baptism of infants is taught anywhere in Scripture. But the main issue is that circumcision (which was commanded to be done on infants) was stated to be useless if not inwardly affirmed when the person became older (Romans 2:25-29; 9:6-8; Jeremiah 4:4). And we need to be careful of judging people based on things God has not explicitly commanded (Romans 14:10; James 4:11,12; 1 Corinthians 8:1-3). So we need to avoid focusing on the details of the ordinances and to look beyond them to the grace of God to which they point.


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