Skip to comments.Covenant Theology: The Sacraments of the Church
Posted on 03/09/2004 1:04:53 PM PST by sheltonmac
Covenant Theology: The Sacraments of the Church
(Sermon Number Twenty-five)
James E. Bordwine, Th.D.
We presently are studying the doctrine of the Church as it is held in Covenant Theology. As an overview of the doctrine of the Church, I presented material on the Foundation, the Character and the Mission of the Church. Then I examined the worship of the Church. Now I would like to proceed with another related topic, which is the Sacraments of the Church. This issue receives far too little attention from Christians today. This oversight is most costly, indeed, because the sacraments are vital to the Church and when they are misunderstood, when they are ignored and when they are wrongly administered, the people of Christ, for whose sake the sacraments were given, suffer. A proper theology of the sacraments is essential to a proper ecclesiology and a proper ecclesiology is essential to life.
In this sermon, I will consider the subject of The Sacraments of the Church under these three headings: 1. The Sacraments in General; 2. The Sacrament of Baptism; and 3. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Under the first point, I plan to present a foundational theology of the sacraments. In the following two points, I will look in some detail at the two sacraments recognized by Protestants.
01. The Sacraments in General
The word sacrament is used to designate ordinances that were instituted by Jesus Christ to be observed in His Church. These ordinances are distinguished from all others, not only by the fact that they were so appointed by the Head of the Church, but also by their unique features. Sacraments involve the use of visible material to communicate invisible, or spiritual, truths. Under this first point, I want to present an introduction to the theology of the sacraments by discussing their nature and meaning.
The meaning of the sacraments is to be gleaned from the Old, as well as the New, Testament. Even though Protestants recognize only two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, both of which are instituted in the New Testament, we believe that the use of sacraments is common to God's dealings with man and, therefore, spans both Testaments. Moreover, these two sacraments, themselves, are not to be viewed in isolation, but are to be seen as continuations of certain ideas first given in the Old Testament. Consequently, I want to cite several passages, explain each one briefly and then comment on what these verses teach us about the nature and meaning of sacraments. As we examine at these passages, consider some of the implications of what is written; take note of what these passages teach us about sacraments.
In Gen. 17, God reveals His intention to enter into a special relationship with Abraham and the descendants of Abraham. According to God's announcement, Abraham would enjoy a saving relationship with God and this relationship would continue between God and Abraham's faithful posterity. Beginning in v. 7 of this chapter, we read:
7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. 9 God said further to Abraham, Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised.
These verses show us that God made certain promises to Abraham (which, by the way, are identified as the gospel in Gal. 3) and then He appointed a visible sign to represent the relationship that He was establishing between Abraham and the descendants of this patriarch; that outward, visible sign was circumcision.
Another passage for our consideration comes from Ex. 12. The context is the Lord's instruction regarding the Passover. After explaining that the Passover is, in part, a commemoration of Israel's deliverance from Egypt, and after explaining how this feast was to be observed in the land, God adds:
But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it. (v. 48)
Here the Lord appoints a feast to represent an event in the life of the nation that was a critical part of the people's redemptive history; and He limits participation in this feast to those who had entered into a covenant relation with Him and had, consequently, received the sign of circumcision. Circumcision identified those who had received and were trusting in the promises of salvation; the Passover commemorated an historical event that demonstrated, in an earthly manner, what God intended to do for His covenant people. Logically, of course, participation in a feast that commemorated a redemptive act had to be restricted to those who had received and were believing the promises of redemption. Therefore, the Lord says: No uncircumcised person may eat [the Passover meal]. By the very definition of circumcision, an uncircumcised person had no claim to the promises of redemption and, accordingly, no right to celebrate Israel's deliverance from Egypt, which was part of God's unfolding plan of salvation.
In the New Testament, I would point first to Christ's words in Matt. 26:
26 And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body. 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom.
This passage recounts the time when, in the presence of His disciples, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. The words of Jesus both establish this sacrament and explain its meaning. The disciples participated in a ritual that was intended to commemorate the all-important work of atonement, which was about to be completed by the Savior on their behalf. And from Luke's account, we learn that Jesus commanded that this ceremony be repeated by His followers after His departure (22:19).
In the passage of Scripture that we call The Great Commission, Jesus says:
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20)
To be baptized in the name of another is to identify with that party; it is to indicate one's desire to be associated with that party. In the case of Christian baptism, Jesus appointed it as a means of giving expression to the union between Himself and His people. As the gospel was preached, those who embraced it took part in the ritual of baptism as a way of identifying with the Savior in His work of redemption; in baptism, the convert professes that he has received and is believing in God's promises of salvation. The sinner is declared to be at peace with God and existing in a state of blessing when he is baptized in the name of the Triune God. The name of God that is invoked at baptism is meant to symbolize the reconciliation of the sinner to his Creator, a reconciliation that is effected by his union with Jesus Christ.
We see the application of the Great Commission recorded early in the book of Acts. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter had an opportunity to address the crowd that gathered in response to the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Christ's disciples. He told them that what they were witnessing was the fulfillment of ancient prophecy; he confronted them with their guilt in the rejection, trial and crucifixion of Jesus; and he declared to them that Jesus had been raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God. Peter's words were met with the cry: Brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2:37) To this plea, Peter responded:
Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself. (vv. 38, 39)
A few verses later, Luke, the author of Acts, records:
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (vv. 41, 42)
Peter identifies water baptism as a necessary sign of identification. Repentance was to be followed by the administration of the sacrament of baptism by which the subject made a declaration of faith in the risen Savior and was, subsequently, received into the number of the growing Church. The sacrament of baptism testified to the union between Savior and sinner.
Next, I would direct your attention to 1 Cor. 10 where Paul uses the negative example of Israel to warn the Corinthians about the necessity of faithfulness to God. The Corinthians lived in a culture steeped in idolatry, not unlike the culture that proved to be the undoing of Israel. After referring to Israel's transgressions, Paul writes:
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. 16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? 19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
The apostle uses the symbolism of the Lord's Supper to teach the Corinthians about the distinction between the people of God and pagans. The meaning of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper precluded fellowship with those outside the Church. Participation in the Lord's Supper served to segregate the Corinthians from all others in their city and, at the same time, to magnify the union they shared with one another in a common Savior.
In the next chapter of this epistle, Paul adds: For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. (11:26) In this verse, Paul draws a direct connection between the sacrament of the Lord's Supper and the atoning work of Christ, which was accomplished on behalf of the Corinthians.
Now that we have surveyed just a few relevant passages, we must ask: What do we learn about sacraments from these passages? What are the implications to be drawn from these verses that explain the Biblical doctrine of sacraments? I will offer a number of observations in response to these questions. First, we learn that sacraments serve to identify the existence of a covenant relationship; that is, sacraments serve as visible, observable signs and reminders of the relationship that exists between God and His people (cf. the Confession, which refers to sacraments as signs and seals of the covenant of grace). Sacraments are designed to point us toward a spiritual reality; they are meant to help us as we relate to God as His people. In Gen. 17, circumcision was appointed by God as an indicator that the subject had entered a special relationship with God; circumcision testified that the subject or the subject's head, in the case of children and slaves, had received and was believing in God's promises of salvation. This sign was so necessary that those who did not have it were not allowed to participate in a feast commemorating an act of God, according to Ex. 12.
Additionally, when we consider the words of Christ at the Last Supper, we see that He emphasized that the bread and cup would, from that point forward, be reminders of what He was about to accomplish for His people. The bread is My body, Jesus said; the cup is My blood of the covenant, He added. These elements were meant to portray the disciples' intimate union with the Savior; they testified to the existence of a relationship between Christ and those for whom He would died. Likewise, in Acts 2, the sacrament of baptism was given to those who received the word. Baptism was a sign of the relationship established between God and those who heard Peter's sermon and responded in faith and repentance. And, in 1 Cor. 10, Paul teaches that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is a sign and seal of the relationship that existed between the Corinthians and God. When Paul contrasts eating the Lord's Supper with eating from the table of demons, then we know that this sacrament was a powerfully meaningful symbol. Sacraments serve to identify the covenantal relationship that we have with God in Christ.
Second, sacraments serve to establish and emphasize a distinction between God's people and those who are not God's people or between those who are in a covenant relationship with Him and those who are not. Since sacraments are outward, visible signs of spiritual truths, this implication is easy to understand. There are those who do receive the sacraments and those who do not receive the sacraments. The nature of the sacrament necessitates a distinction between those for whom it is intended and all other people. Sacraments are signs of what God has promised and what God has done for His people. If we return to our passages, we see that in Gen. 17, circumcision clearly served the function of distinguishing God's people from all others; that sacrament was appointed specifically for this very purpose and throughout Israel's history, we find circumcision playing a vital part in the people's self-awareness as a holy nation. In Ex. 12, as I stated, the lack of circumcision put the stranger in a particular category, one which excluded him from God's on-going acts of redemption and their commemoration. And, of course, the same things can be said about baptism in Acts 2 and the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor. 10 and 11. In those passages, the sacraments distinguished the people of God; they were reserved for the people of God exclusively and, therefore, bore testimony to the unique and favored status of the recipients.
This observation, of course, leads to the related truth that the sacraments belong to the people of God only; the sacraments, by their very nature, have meaning only within the context of the covenant of salvation. The sacraments of the Church are constant reminders of our standing, constant reminders of the glorious work of Christ on our behalf. The sacraments of the Church are important; they are important because they identify us to the world and so bring honor to the God of our salvation.
Third, from these passages we learn that the sacraments presuppose an existing relationship between God and the believer. The sacraments presuppose the existence of the blessings they represent. In Gen. 17, circumcision was appointed as a sign of something that had already been enacted, namely, God's covenant with Abraham. In Rom. 4, Paul states emphatically that circumcision followed Abraham's expression of faith in God's promises. In v. 11 of that chapter, the apostle refers to circumcision as a seal of the righteousness of the faith which [Abraham] had while uncircumcised... The origin of the sacrament of circumcision, therefore, shows us that it can only be viewed as a testimony to something that already has been established.
Although we didn't look in great detail at the context of Ex. 12, I mentioned that it concerns God's establishment of a feast that commemorated a previous event. God's deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt was a defining act of redemption, which determined the character of Israel's relationship with God from that moment on. The Passover was appointed as a memorial to that event. The same thing is true of the Lord's Supper as explained by Christ in Matt. 26 and by Paul in 1 Cor. 10. This sacrament was appointed as a testimony to the blessings of union with Christ. And, in Acts 2, where the baptism of the many is recorded, we note that the administration of that sacrament followed reception of the gospel. Once again, therefore, we have a sacrament serving to confirm a previously existing relationship.
This leads to an important conclusion: the sacraments are not the means of salvation. The sacraments confirm and attest to salvation, but they do not confer salvation. As important as the sacraments are to our spiritual well-being, we must understand that they are not necessary for salvation for they only exhibit the grace that has come to the sinner, they are not the source of that grace.
Fourth, the sacraments require faith. Since sacraments are signs of some aspect of our redemption, they necessarily require faith. That is, sacraments remind us of what God has promised and, therefore, call us to believe what He has promised. The right use of the sacraments is an act of faith. In Gen. 17, notice that God first states a promise to Abraham: I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. (v. 7) Immediately following this magnificent promise, God appoints the sign of circumcision: Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. (vv. 9, 10) The promise comes first and the sacrament, or sign and seal of the promise, follows.
The Passover that is detailed in Ex. 12 was a sign of what God promised, in essence, when He brought the people out of Egypt. That deliverance simply was in keeping with what God had promised to Abraham many years before. The deliverance, then, was a reaffirmation of God's promise to be the God of Abraham's descendants. The Passover required faith in the continuing validity of that promise. This is why, of course, the uncircumcised could not participate in the Passover, as stipulated in Ex. 12:48. If one lacked the initial sign of faith in the redemptive promises of God, one could hardly celebrate what amounted to a reaffirmation of those promises, which is what the deliverance from Egypt was.
The Lord's words in Matt. 26 indicate the necessity of faith in the promises of redemption when He says: I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom. What does this say except that we are to look forward, in faith, to a coming day of consummation and that day is bound up symbolically in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper? Further, when Jesus commands that this sacrament be observed in His Church from that time forward (cf. Luke 22:19), we obviously are dealing with the element of faithin this case, it is faith that Christ will keep us throughout our lives and cause us to persevere and that He will keep the Church and cause Her to persevere to that great day.
In Acts 2, the element of faith is again apparent. Baptism was administered in response to the subject's profession of faith. Baptism was a sign that he believed the gospel, that he believed what God promises in the gospel. And, in 1 Cor. 10, the necessity of faith is evident when Paul asks the question: Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? (v. 16) The Lord's Supper was a sign of sharing in the blood of Christ and sharing in the body of Christ. The sacrament has meaning and benefit only if what it signals is believed by the recipient. Without faith, the sacraments are of no benefit.
At the same time, however, let's not miss an equally important point and that is that sacraments strengthen our faith. The sacraments bring to our senses a representation of what God has done for us in salvation; they encourage us, therefore, and help us perceive just what a wonderful thing God has accomplished for us. Sacraments are pledges from God; in the sacraments, we are reminded of our standing, we have our relationship with God invigorated as He blesses us with His grace.
Fifth, these passages teach that there is a relation between the sacraments. This observation comes from Ex. 12:48. Circumcision was required for participation in the Passover. This relation is not difficult to understand. Circumcision marked the subject's acceptance into the covenant community; the Passover was a celebration of that covenant community. Naturally, therefore, membership in the covenant community was required, via circumcision, before one could participate in the life of the covenant community. Likewise, of course, baptism now marks our entrance into a covenant relationship with God and His people. And, while there is not a direct, one-to-one parallel between Passover and the Lord's Supper, the same principle is applicable to our New Covenant sacrament of Communion. Therefore, we do not serve the sacrament of the Lord's Supper to unbaptized individuals. Once again, celebrating a sacrament that commemorates what Christ did on behalf of the covenant community requires membership in that covenant community and baptism testifies to membership.
Interestingly, Ex. 12:48 stipulates that all males under the authority of one who wished to celebrate the Passover had to be circumcised as well. This means, I believe, that the covenant had to be fully operational in the life of the one who wanted to take part in the Passover. He, along with his household, as God commanded in Gen. 17, had to be practicing covenant faithfulness. The man who desired to celebrate the Passover had to be observing God's command to be circumcised and to apply that sign to his children. Only when these conditions were met was the man allowed to join the nation in the celebration. This passage has significant implications for the modern Church where we routinely serve the Lord's Supper in an indiscriminate fashion, often not bothering to emphasize the requirement of baptism. Moreover, I believe this passage has something to say about the issue of obedience to the doctrine of covenant baptism and reception of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It suggests that the Church needs to reconsider just how seriously She should take the doctrine of baptism and its household application in connection with the administration of the Lord's Supper.
Sixth, the sacraments point to the unity of the people of God. This feature of sacraments is proven by the fact that they are intended for all of God's people who comprise the Church at any given time in history. God commanded that circumcision should be applied to all those who came within the provisions of the covenant that He revealed to Abraham (cf. Gen. 17). The celebration of the Passover was a national feast that, again, involved all the people of God in that day (cf. Ex. 12). Christ's use of the one bread and the one cup while applying its symbolism to the many disciples and the many who would believe through them further underscores this implication of the sacraments (cf. Matt. 26). Christ ordered that the same sacrament of baptism be administered to all who received the gospel, which, of course, demonstrated the unity of that Body of sinners who would be redeemed as the gospel was preached by Christ's disciples (cf. Matt. 28). God used Peter's preaching on the Day of Pentecost to bring many to faith and each one who was saved was subsequently baptized according to an identical formula (cf. Acts 2). Upon their baptism, the many converts were reckoned as members of the one Church of Christ.
No passage, however, speaks more clearly to this issue of unity than 1 Cor. 10. Paul writes: Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. (vv. 16, 17) First, through the bread and cup, Paul teaches, we share in Christ; that is, these elements and their consumption by the believer portray the indispensable, life-giving union we have with Him by faith. Second, he argues, since all believers partake of the one bread, they function as one body and, therefore, share in one another. As believers see the elements distributed, as they see one Christian after another taking the elements, as they receive the elements themselves and consume them, they can't help but have the notion of unity impressed upon them. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is a community activity; it is something that is done by all members of the body together and it pictures our mutual dependence upon the same Savior whose name we have received in the same baptism.
Seventh, these passages dealing with Biblical sacraments certainly imply a duty of covenant keeping. As I've stated, the sacraments serve to remind us of what God has promised and what God has done. At the same time, the sacraments, due to their nature, also must remind us of the obligations that belong to us as those who have been favored by God. When God revealed His plan to Abraham, He commanded the patriarch to fulfill a duty and that duty was circumcision. The continuation of Abraham's seed in the favor of God required obedience to God's word regarding that sign. The verse that we have been considering from Ex. 12 makes clear the obligatory nature of the sacraments. Unless circumcision was practiced, no participation was allowed in the covenant community. In practicing circumcision, of course, the man not only was obeying God's command regarding that sacrament, but he also was making a pledge of sorts to God that he would walk in obedience in every area of his life. This is one of the principles at work in the theology of the sacraments. When we receive them, we are indicating our desire to continue living within the covenant, which, of course, implies our willingness to live according to the terms of the covenant. And the terms of the covenant are found throughout the Bible. The passage in 1 Cor. 10 is a prime example of this principle of duty. Paul appeals to the fact that the Corinthians were partaking of the Lord's Table to emphasize the importance of faithfulness. They could not be united to Christ, which was indicated by the sacrament, and, at the same time, take part in idolatrous activities.
My application will be brief. I'm going to return to each of the seven observations that I've just made and offer a few thoughts concerning their practical implications.
First, I said that sacraments serve to identify the existence of a covenant relationship; they are visible signs of the relationship that we have with God. Assuming that this is true, then at the very least we must confess that the sacraments are highly significant components in our theology. Christians should understand what the sacraments mean and how important they are for our well-being. The Church's interest in and knowledge of the sacraments at any given time in history are good indicators of the Church's spiritual health. Regrettably, we live in a day when ignorance of the sacraments reigns supreme in many churches. However, if we will let the Scripture teach us, if we will listen to what God says about the sacraments, we will eagerly restore them to their rightful place in a well-balanced, Biblical ecclesiology. Let's remember that the sacraments are for our good and, therefore, every Christian should have a desire to see the sacraments rightly administered even if this means having long-held beliefs challenged. The sacraments are not insignificant practices that are to be tacked on to our services whenever we find the time; they are not to be placed in the background of a church's activity.
Second, I stated that sacraments serve to establish and emphasize a distinction between us and those who do not know God. For this reason alone, the sacraments of the Church should be highly regarded. When we give due attention to the sacraments, when they occupy a place of importance in the overall life of our congregation, when we are taught by the sacraments concerning our relationship to God, then we are going to be much more aware of our standing as a special people before God. One of the difficulties facing us today is the lack of awareness of this distinction in the minds of many Christians. As we survey church after church, we would have to say that the difference between those inside the church and those outside the church sometimes is not all that discernible. Regular and right use of the sacraments, however, will reinforce our distinction from unbelievers. We can have the sacraments, but they cannot have the sacraments. This is an important and highly symbolic difference. Instead of downplaying the importance of the sacraments, which is being done throughout Evangelicalism, we need to underscore their essential quality and use them rightly to train ourselves and our children so that the distinction between believer and unbeliever is, once again, blatantly obvious.
Third, I noted that the sacraments presuppose an existing relationship between God and the believer. In a day when the lines between historic Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are being blurredsometimes deliberately by misguided Protestantswe need to declare loudly and without apology this vital aspect of sacramental theology. We are saved by grace through faith alone. The sacraments testify to the free grace of God that comes to us in Christ; as meaningful as they are, the sacraments merely portray what God has done for us in the Savior and apart from faith, they are of no benefit. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the correct administration of the sacraments conveys grace to the recipient. This is the doctrine of ex opere operato (by the work performed) and it is an unbiblical doctrine. An erroneous view of the sacraments is as detrimental as a Biblical view is beneficial. Jesus Christ saved us and the sacraments only point us to His unique and great work of atonement.
Fourth, I said that the sacraments require faith. This matter is related to the previous where I mentioned that sacraments testify to what God has done and require faith to be beneficial. We observe the sacraments by faith; that is, we baptize converts and we baptize our children and we participate in the Lord's Supper each week because we believe the promises that God made to us. When the sacraments are observed, it is a time for us to review those promises concerning our redemption, a time for us to give thanks to God for accepting the work of His Son on our behalf and a time for us to examine ourselves as those who have received the grace of God. Faith is the essential element that allows us to do these things; the sacraments portray what God has done and by faith, we accept what is portrayed as true and dependable. This means, of course, that without faith, the sacraments are of no benefit to us, as I stated before. Whenever the sacraments are observed, our attention must be on that spiritual truth that is being exhibited to us and in this manner we will gain the most good from the sacraments.
Fifth, I said that the passages that we examined teach a relation between the sacraments. The Church must strive to preserve this relation. We must regard baptism as the initiatory rite by which one enters the covenant community and we must regard the Lord's Supper as the meal that sustains the regenerated soul during its journey here on earth. Only when the relation between the sacraments is preserved will they fulfill their intended purposes in the Church. For our part, we need to be willing to submit our notions about the sacraments to the teaching of Scripture; we need to be unashamed to declare that the modern Church lacks a Biblical understanding of the sacraments. Like so many other things, the contemporary Church's understanding of the sacraments is muddled. We should be willing to return to the Bible and to our heritage and be taught about the relation between baptism and the Lord's Supper and then gladly and humbly make whatever changes are necessary. I predict, however, that this is not going to be an easy road for the modern Church to travel. In this particular area of theology, we are, I believe, in desperate need of reformation.
Sixth, I stated that the sacraments point to the unity of the people of God. The ability of the sacraments to teach theology is nowhere seen more clearly than in this aspect. Every Christian shares the same baptism and every Christian is fed from the same Table. The grand display of our unity is particularly visible in the local congregation when the sacraments are administered. We might be different in countless ways, but the sacraments declare to us our unity as the one people of God in Jesus Christ. I hope that this emphasis is obvious to all, especially when we partake of the Lord's Supper. Our practice is to distribute and hold the elements until all have been served so that we can partake together and thus display this aspect of union with one another. You are my brothers, my sisters, and my children in Christ; I am your brother in Christ. If we would only keep this simple truth in mind, I imagine that many of the problems that arise in congregations would be settled effortlessly. Don't take this wonderful truth for granted, but enjoy it, give thanks for it and meditate on it every time you join others in eating the bread and drinking the cup.
Seventh, and finally, I said that the sacraments imply a duty of covenant keeping. Your baptism represented a promise on your part or the part of your parents that you would live according to the teachings of God. When you receive the Lord's Supper, that promise is being underscored. Look to your baptism to understand who you are and what course your life should be taking. Look to the Table for confirmation that you still are pursuing that course and are being aided by Christ Himself.
While the sacraments portray God's works of grace in our redemption, they presuppose covenant faithfulness on our part. We cannot continue in God's favor if we disobey Him and deny the requirements of the covenant and those requirements are presented anew at every baptism and at every observance of the Lord's Supper.
Conclusion (preparation for the Lord's Supper)
Keeping all this in mind, let us now observe the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Remember that this sacrament testifies to your standing in Christ, it emphasizes the distinction between us and the unsaved world. You will now receive the elements and, by faith, have God's promises of salvation renewed. Let us give thanks for this aid to our faith and let us give thanks for the wonderful work of God that is evidenced by the many who will, this morning, partake of this Table.
This sacrament is for the people of God. Therefore, all who have been admitted to the Table by the elders of this church are invited to participate. In addition, those who are members in good standing of another evangelical church are invited to participate.