God's Sacred Ordinances
20 May 2006, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
God's Sacred Ordinances
The sacred ordinances of Baptism, foot washing and the Lord's Supper as revealed in the Scriptures are all sanctioned by Christ's example. They serve to initiate and renew the assurance of eternal life. They are more than mere symbolic rituals as they are the appointed means of grace through which God gives His effective testimony of faithfulness. While the ordinance of baptism is seen as the gateway into the Church, the ordinance of foot washing and the Lord's Supper is designed to be of benefit to those who are members (Ministerial Association, 1988: 202).
Like many other Christians, Seventh-day Adventists prefer to use the term ordinance to refer to these services instead of the word sacrament. While an ordinance is a service established by a direct command of Jesus and expresses in a symbolic act our relationship with Him, a sacrament is defined more as a ritual that imparts saving grace for the participant, thus granting immediate salvation. While sometimes the word sacrament has been used in some of the Church's publications to refer to these services, the Church does not view them as sacramental.
The ordinances of foot washing and the Lord's Supper make up the Communion Service. Both these were instituted to assist us with entering into communion with God.
'The ordinance of foot washing is an ordinance of service. This is the lesson the Lord would have us all learn and practice. When this ordinance is rightly celebrated, [we] the children of God are brought into a holy relationship with each other, to help and bless each other…'
This ceremony [should] mean much to us. God would have us take in the whole scene, not only the single act of outward cleansing. This lesson does not merely refer to the one act. It is to reveal the great truth that Christ is an example of what we, through His grace, are to be in our intercourse [interactions] with each other. It shows that the entire life should be one of humble, faithful ministry…The ordinance of foot washing most forcibly illustrates the necessity of true humility' (Nichol, Vol 5, 1957: 1138, 1139). It also represents a higher purification - a cleansing of the heart (Ministerial Assoc. 1988: 197).
When Peter asked Jesus to wash him all over, Jesus said in John 13: 10 that 'He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean.
It needs to be understood that while a person who takes a bath is clean, open sandaled feet soon become dusty and need washing again. As it was with the disciples, so it is with us. Our sins are washed away through baptism, but temptation can lead us all to cherish pride, jealousy, and other forms of evil in our hearts. We are not ready to be involved in an intimate communion with our Lord (Ibid).
THROUGH THE FOOTWASHING JESUS WAS PREPARING US TO TAKE PART IN THE LORD'S SUPPER.
We need to remember that when we have accepted Christ and been baptised, we have been cleansed by His blood. But as we continue to walk the Christian life, we often fail - OUR FEET BECOME DUSTY. Hence, the need to come to Christ again and let His cleansing grace wash away the dirt and grime of sin (Ibid).
This does not require baptism again for' he who is bathed needs only to wash his feet. The ordinance of foot washing reminds us of our need for regular cleansing and that we are totally dependant upon the blood of Christ. It is not the foot washing that cleanses from sin, only Christ can do this for us (Ibid).
AS JOHN 13: 1 TELLS US, THIS SERVICE DEMONSTRATES CHRIST'S LOVE FOR US 'TO THE END'.
When Peter refused to have his feet washed Jesus said in John 13: 8, 'If I do not wash you, you have no part with me. NO CLEANSING - NO FELLOWSHIP.
Those who desire to continue in their fellowship with Christ will see their need to participate in this service (Ibid).
This assurance of God's love and continued help in our lives flows through to the ordinance of the Lord's Supper.
Like baptism, the Lord's Supper is an ordinance that reminds us of our covenant relationship with Jesus. As in the Passover celebration, our participation in the Supper commemorates our deliverance from sin. The Lord's Supper reminds us that through His death, Jesus has provided all that is necessary for our salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life. The eating of the bread and the drinking of the fruit of the vine symbolize our acceptance of Jesus' life and death as our guarantee of eternal life.
The Supper also highlights our corporate communion with Christ. No Christian is an island, and this ordinance reminds us that we are all part of the body of Christ. The Supper celebrates unity in the Church and in Christ and our mutual interdependence. The bread is broken into many pieces, which we eat. This signifies the fact that all believers who partake of the communion service are united in Him whose broken body is typified by the broken bread. By all taking part, Christians publicly declare that they are united and belong to the one great family, of which Christ is the head. At the Lord's Table we all meet on common ground with no barriers to separate us from each other.
THE BLESSINGS WE RECEIVE ARE ONLY GIVEN IN PROPORTION TO OUR FAITH
In celebrating the Lord's Supper we also anticipate Christ's second advent. The apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Cor 11: 26 that each time we partake of the emblems we proclaim His death until He returns. IN DOING SO THE SUPPER POINTS TO THE CLIMACTIC EXPECTATION OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
'Never was Christ truly greater on earth than on the memorable occasion of the Lord's Supper, when He took the place of a servant and humbled himself. Never is Christ greater in heaven than when He ministers to His saints' (Ministerial Association, 1988: 202). 'This is the climactic expectation to which the Lord's Supper points us, the joy of future glory through a personal fellowship with Christ in His everlasting kingdom' (Ibid).
The salvation of men depends upon a continual application to their hearts of the cleansing blood of Christ. So it is through these ordinances that we are continually reminded of just how dependent we are upon Christ, not only for redemption but also for sanctification, and, finally, glorification.
My prayer for you this morning is that we continue to accept His invitation to sit with Him at this special table 'till He comes.'
Nichol, F. D. (1956) The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol. 5. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association
Ministerial Association GC of SDA (1988) Seventh-day Adventists Believe… Hagerstown, Maryland, USA: Review and Herald Publishing Association
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