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Two Ordinances

This article is part of our current article and Text-Driven Podcast series, "Distinctly Baptist."

Over the last several articles, I shared with you the acronym “Baptist.” This acronym is our guide to help us understand God’s design for the church. At the beginning of the series, I answered the question, “What is a Baptist?” The answer to that question was grounded in theological convictions. Being a Baptist is more about doctrine than identity. For a Baptist, identity is rooted in Scripture instead of tradition, heritage, or denomination. Essentially, to be a Baptist has more to do with how a person thinks about Scripture and the church than anything else.

Following the introductory article, I began to define each letter in the acronym “Baptist.” The first letter–B–is foundational for the rest of the Baptist acronym. The “B” in Baptist represents “Biblical Authority.” To be a Baptist, you must hold to the teaching that the Scriptures are the final authority for all matters related to the church and personal life. Because there is no authority higher than God, Scripture, by virtue of it being God’s Word, is the highest authority. Once a church is settled on the authority of Scripture, they are then well on their way to being a Baptist church.

The second letter–A–represents the teaching of "Autonomy." Local church autonomy begins the discussion of church governance. A distinguishing mark of Baptist churches from every other church is that there is no hierarchy of leadership. Each congregation is solely autonomous to govern themselves in the manner that they see fit according to Scripture. This means that their ecclesiastical governance is autonomous from other congregations. Along with being autonomous ecclesiastically from other congregations, local churches are autonomous from national governance. This means that Baptist churches believe in religious liberty. The government does not have biblical authority to impose a national religion. There will never be among Baptists a support for a “National Baptist Church.”

The third letter–P–represents the doctrine about the Priesthood of all Believers." The responsibility of the priest was twofold. One, the priest was responsible for bringing God to the people. Two, the priest was responsible for bringing the people to God. Through Christ, both of those responsibilities were fulfilled perfectly. Therefore, because of the completed work of Christ, we can come into God’s presence with confidence. As children of God, we have the right and privilege to talk with our Heavenly Father without a human mediator. Jesus has granted us access to the Father through His atoning sacrifice.

The fourth letter–T–is the topic of our discussion for this article. The letter “T” in our “Baptist” acronym represents the New Testament teaching concerning the two ordinances of the church. To help us think through the two ordinances of the church, I will answer two questions for us: 1) What are the two ordinances? and 2) Why are the ordinances important for local churches?

What are the two ordinances?

Baptist churches recognize only two ordinances that are mandated in Scripture. The two ordinances that are recognized in Baptist churches are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Several important truths need to be outlined first concerning these ordinances. One, baptist churches understand the New Testament to teach that each ordinance is symbolic. Two, baptist churches understand the New Testament to teach that each ordinance is intergalactic to church membership. We will address the practical implications of the ordinances for church membership when we look at question two, “Why are the ordinances important for local churches?” Three, baptist churches understand the New Testament to teach that each ordinance is confessional. Let’s begin by explaining what the ordinances are in their essence.

Baptism: Confession of Our Identity

The first ordinance is baptism. The practice of baptism is as varied as denominations. For instance, some denominations practice what is termed pedobaptism. A pedobaptist believes that baptism is for infants. Another baptism practice is what has been termed “baptismal regeneration.” Those practicing baptismal regeneration believe that baptism is an action necessary for salvation to be effective personally.

The practice of baptism that is described in the New Testament is vastly different from what I just described. First, the term baptism refers to thorough washing or cleansing by immersion. Any concept of baptism that is not directly symbolic in mode to the usage of the term is not a valid baptism; this would include the mode of sprinkling. The proper mode of baptism is full immersion. The first century would have directly associated the word “baptism” with the concept of immersion for cleansing or washing purposes.

Second, the term “baptism” was used in the New Testament to reference a person’s confession of gospel truth. For instance, the individuals who were baptized by John in the Jordan were confessing their allegiance to the truth of their need for repentance and faith. Likewise, the first Christians who were baptized on Pentecost did so as a confession of their faith in Jesus. Therefore, baptism, as practiced in the New Testament, can not include infants due to the fact that an infant is incapable of confessing their faith in Jesus.

As just shown, the practice of baptism is tied to an individual’s confession of faith in Jesus. Thus baptism is a statement of identity. Romans 6 makes it clear that baptism and identity go together. In baptism, a person is doing more than confessing their faith. They are making a statement that their life is to be identified with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Lord’s Supper: Confession of Our Identity

The second ordinance is the Lord’s Supper. Like baptism, you will find churches that have varied beliefs concerning the Supper. Denominational lines are drawn to reflect a church’s beliefs on the Supper. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church has a very different teaching on the Supper than a Baptist church. Also, the Presbyterian church would see the Supper differently too.

Before we look at what the New Testament teaches concerning the Supper, let’s explore the other two options that are practiced. The first is called, “transubstantiation.” Transubstantiation is the teaching that the Lord’s Supper elements (bread and cup) are transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ. The main group who hold to this view would be Roman Catholics. Another view of the Supper is called “consubstantiation.” Consubstantiation is the teaching that the Lord’s Supper elements exist in their current form alongside the actual presence of the body and blood of Jesus. With consubstantiation, you have not only the elements but also the presence of Jesus' body and blood. The main denominations holding to this view are Lutherans and Presbyterians. However, Presbyterians would not say that the actual body and blood of Jesus were present at the taking of the Supper. They would say that there is a spiritual presence of the body and blood of Jesus present.

The third option is the one that is taught in the New Testament and held by Baptist churches. The third option has been called, “memorial.” The memorial view understands the teaching of Jesus at the Last Supper as informing His church to take the supper in memorial of Him. Therefore, all the elements of the Supper are merely symbolic to help the church remember the atonement.

The logic of the memorial view is pretty straightforward. Consider these questions: 1) How could the bread be the body of Jesus when Jesus is currently speaking to them? and 2) How could the cup be the blood of Jesus when Jesus had not yet shed His blood? The obvious answer to both of those questions is, “It’s impossible.” Therefore, the only viable option that is congruent with the New Testament teaching of Jesus is a memorial view.

Why are the ordinances important for local churches?

The next question we need to consider is why are the ordinances important for local churches. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are very important for the integrity of local churches. I want to give you three reasons why the ordinances are important.

First, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are important for local churches because they help to maintain the purity of church membership. Another hallmark of a New Testament church is regenerate church membership. We will discuss regenerate church membership in more detail in a forthcoming article very soon. Suffice it to say, that regenerate church membership is the belief that only those who are Christians can be called church members. Baptism, as explained earlier, is a confession of one’s repentance and faith in Christ alone for salvation. Also, baptism is done in conjunction with being in covenant with other believers. Acts 2 says that after they were baptized, “they devoted themselves…” (Acts 2:42). Following the baptism of these new believers, they joined simultaneously into a local covenant community with other like-minded Christians.

Second, God gave the church the function of administering the ordinance as a means of confessing the gospel rightly. The Lord’s Supper like baptism is a confession of the gospel. When the Supper is taken along the principles outlined in the New Testament, Christians are proclaiming the gospel. The proclamation of the gospel at the Lord’s Supper is to one another in the church membership. By making this proclamation to one another, church members are affirming the gospel at work in their fellow church members.

Third, the ordinances protect the unity of the church. A byproduct of practicing the ordinances in the manner outlined in the New Testament is that a congregation will remain unified on its mission. As baptism practiced biblically only admits members to a church who are regenerate and the Lord’s Supper practiced biblically confesses the gospel to one another, the outworking of a regenerate church with a correct understanding of the gospel is unity. Regenerate church members preaching the right gospel is the recipe for a unified church pursuing the Great Commission.

Baptist churches are churches that practice two ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These ordinances are critical to the health of a church. For they help to maintain the purity of the church’s membership, preaching of the gospel, and unity to stay on mission. If you get the ordinances wrong, you will not have a text-driven church.

The "Distinctly Baptist" series will also be on the Text-Driven Podcast. You can listen to the Text-Driven Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or at


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