The Marks of the True Church: 2. “The Right Administration of the Sacraments”


Sermon Text: Acts 10:14-22 / Numbers 9:1-14
Main Points:
I. The Sacraments Jesus instituted
II. Baptism, the Sacrament of birth
III. The Lord’s Supper, the Sacrament of growth
IV. The Sacraments as the visible preaching of the word

Continuing from the message we heard last Lord’s Day’s, the subject we have this morning is what marks a church true, what characterises a church true to Christ, namely, the ‘marks of the true church.’ Last Sunday, we heard about the first mark, that is, ‘the true proclamation of God’s word.’ To put that mark in a word, Christ’s church is built upon God’s word and exists to proclaim His word. For that reason, the first mark is the most important mark of the true church because the word is not only the foundation of Christ’s church, but also the source of the next two marks of the true church. The next two marks are ‘the right administration of the Sacraments’ – our topic for this morning – and ‘the faithful exercise of church discipline.’

So, what does this second mark, ‘the right administration of the Sacraments,’ mean? It simply means that carrying out what the Lord set as the Sacraments (or special rites or ceremonies) for us to observe in the way He set for us. It’s a simple matter; nothing is complicated. Following the Lord and keeping His way is a characteristic of the true church of Jesus and disregarding or neglecting the Lord’s way brands the opposite, that is, the false church.

Despite the simplicity of this matter, church history points out that there has not been a unified view on this among churches and their members. Especially in the Reformation era, the Roman Catholics and the Protestant Christians were in a serious disagreement on the doctrine of the Sacraments. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Protestant Church came into being in its protest against the Roman Church’s wrong view and wrong administration of the Sacraments. Yet, the same problem we face even in our days. But this time, it’s not only between us and the Roman Catholics, but also among the Protestant churches. Yet, the principle I mentioned earlier hasn’t been changed; the same mark characterises the true church of Jesus, and distinguishes the true from the false church. And that principle is this; following the Lord’s way characterises the true church of Jesus and disregarding or neglecting the Lord’s way brands the false church. So, it is a critical matter for us to know what the second mark of the true church means, and to keep this mark by God’s grace in our midst, always examining ourselves against various worldly teachings.

So, let us begin with the Sacraments. As many of you know well, we have two Sacraments Jesus set for us in His church – they’re Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We often take it for granted, but many lives were tried and spent to keep this teaching over many years, especially against the Roman Catholic’s doctrine. The Roman Church claims seven Sacraments since the middle of 1500s. They add Confirmation, Penance, Matrimony, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick to Baptism and Eucharist (which is the RC’s term for the Lord’s Supper). Unlike the Roman Catholic’s view, the Eastern Orthodoxy holds a loosed view on Sacraments. They say that anything the Church does as Church is in some sense sacramental. They recognise the seven Sacraments and point them as the ‘major’ sacraments but without giving them any special significance. Protestant churches and denominations generally hold Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the only Sacraments for the NT church, although some churches consider one or two others as sacraments.

But we of the Reformed faith uphold only Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the Sacraments Jesus our Lord instituted. Why do we recognise only two rather than seven? Because THE BIBLE TEACHES US SO! As Christ’s Church is built upon His word and proclaims His word alone, we don’t invent anything but recognise only those the word of God teaches us. This is the beginning point for understanding the meaning of ‘the right administration’ of the Sacraments.

Now, let us briefly consider each of these Sacraments, beginning from Baptism. Jesus instituted this by being baptised with water. I believe you remember that occasion with John the Baptist. Confused and perplexed, John the Baptist asked the Lord, “I need to be baptised by You, and do You come to me?” What a strange thing it must’ve been for John the Baptist to see the Son of God came to him for baptism of repentance? He had no sin to repent, but came and demanded that ritual for repentance! John the Baptist could not understand it, so, he didn’t want to pour or sprinkle water upon Jesus, the symbol of washing of sins. But Jesus said, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” By this, our gracious Jesus meant to show to every sinful eye and teach every sinful heart that water Baptism symbolises washing of sins which leads to believing in the Son. And through repentance and faith a sinner is saved and reconciled to God the heavenly Father.

And Jesus received this ordinance of washing of sins, water Baptism, to accomplish a couple of things; first, to prove to us that He came to be the ‘firstfruits’ of all saved children of God like you and me; and second, to give us His example for us to follow and, by following Him, to desire and receive in faith all spiritual benefits promised for the children of God. This is what 2 Cor. 5:21 means when it talks about Jesus and says, “For our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Putting this in a word, Baptism is the sacrament of entrance into Christ’s church; Baptism is the ordinance that signifies death to sin and life to Christ; Baptism is like the ritual of delivery room, a new life is just born through repentance and faith, and that’s what Baptism points out.

So, this is an ordinance of vital importance which cannot be carried out inattentively, carelessly or wrongly. After all, both in and out of a delivery room, no one waits for the arrival of a baby unwillingly or uninterestedly, rather everyone pays full attention for the birth of a new life. Likewise, what water Baptism signifies must be carefully taught and received, and administered in the way the word of God directs us.

Based on this, we Reformed and confessional Christians administer Baptism in the presence of the Lord’s church because Baptism is the sacrament of entrance into the covenant family of God. A new family member is added to the number through a new birth and we don’t see it as something that takes place away from the presence of the rest of the family. This is why we Presbyterians don’t usually baptise a new convert by emerging him in a river or pool, unless the whole congregation is there at the Baptism. Also, the Lord’s Day is the day all church family gather together to worship our heavenly Father, so, we administer Baptism in the presence of all on the Lord’s Day. Therefore, pouring or sprinkling water is the best suitable mode. After all, that’s the way the members of the OT church were cleansed of their sins as the priest dipped a hyssop branch into the blood of the animal sacrifice and sprinkled it on the altar and on God’s people.

As we baptise adult converts, we also baptise our infants, knowing that the covenant grace of God is for us and for our children as we read from the apostle Peter from Acts 2:38-39 in these words, “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” So, committing our infant children to God and His covenant grace through water Baptism is necessary; we cannot delay it or neglect it.

In every occasion, Baptism is a solemn yet jubilant ordinance not only for the one baptised but also for all in the congregation. Baptism is a joyful and exciting occasion, but it must be a solemn ordinance due to the blood of Jesus shed for cleansing of our sins!

The next Sacrament we received from Jesus is the Lord’s Supper. We eat His bread and drink His wine in faith. We observe this Sacrament until He comes to us again.

If Baptism is the sacrament of entrance into the covenant family of God, this Lord’s Supper is the Sacrament of growth in the midst of God’s family. If I put these in the lifecycle of a person, a child is born (that’s Baptism), and grows to maturity and in this process of growth, he eats and drinks, and receives all necessary nutrition (and this is the Lord’s Supper). So, whereas Baptism is to be administered once only to any person because that’s sufficient, a baptised Christian needs to observe and partake in the Lord’s Supper as long as he lives, unless the Lord Jesus returns before his death.

In the Lord’s Supper, we remember Jesus’ sacrificial death; and what we’re fed in this Sacrament is all true, inward and spiritual benefits of Jesus’ sacrificial death. He died for you and me to give us freedom from sin and death. Moreover, He gave His life for us to have the fullness of His life even now on earth which will be fully manifested to us in heaven. What I mean is that, by receiving the bread and the wine from the Lord’s table, you and I are to remember that Jesus overcame death and freed us from the fear and pain of death. So, we should no longer fear death, but rejoice in Jesus’ glorious life.

But we soon forget this blessing; we need to be reminded of this freedom and power and joy in Christ. So, we’re called and invited back to the Lord’s Supper again and again to receive His grace. As a boy forgets the fact that he just had a meal and soon feels hungry, our soul feels hungry for the Lord’s freedom and His heavenly blessings. And the Lord feeds us through this Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

Having said, is this Sacrament for anybody and everybody in church? No. There’s a condition for the participants of the Supper, that is, to understand the meaning of this Sacrament and be able to examine himself/herself through the word and the Spirit. If anyone is unable to do either of these, that person cannot receive the bread and the wine. For this reason, we Reformed and confessional Christians do not allow underage children to partake the Lord’s Supper. Although our children are baptised members of Christ’s church, because they’re yet to fully understand the meaning and significance of this Sacrament, it is not helpful to give the elements to them. We wait for the time of the Lord who will invite all who are ready for this blessed Sacrament.

Another point we need to remember with the Lord’s Supper is that it is a solemn yet jubilant ordinance as is Baptism. Remembrance of Christ’s body torn and His blood shed pains our heart, yet, His joy for saving us cheers our soul!

Also, the Lord’s Supper is for God’s family to participate and celebrate together, rather than individual’s practice. In this regard, the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are same – these are family affairs. Without the presence and participation of the whole family, there’s no meaning to them. Yet, I don’t mean this as the absolute principle; in a special case, a convert could be baptised in the absence of a congregation, like the case of Philip baptised the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. If a dying person seeks Baptism of repentance and faith in Jesus, we shouldn’t wait for a whole congregation’s arrival, but baptise that person in the name of the Triune God. The same should be practiced with the Lord’s Supper in some specific and special occasions. But, the original and usual administration of these Sacraments is with and in the presence of the family of God, that is, a local church.

Because of this, every member of a local church should eagerly desire to participate the Lord’s Supper and receive the bread and the wine. He/she shouldn’t neglect coming to and receiving from the Supper. It is not a man-made rule, but the principle taught in the Bible that every time the church observes the Lord’s Supper, everyone should faithfully prepare, diligently come and joyfully participate. Yet, once again, anyone’s absence to it due to certain legitimate reasons is permitted. The Lord’s purpose through this Sacrament is not to make us legalistic, but to lead us to come to Him and always abide in His saving grace.

In a word, both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the word of God preached to us visually. When God’s word is proclaimed, it is preached to us through our ears, but Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the word preached to us through our sight and touch and taste. In this regard, these two NT Sacraments share the same nature with the OT ordinances such as circumcision and the Passover.

Both the NT Sacraments and the OT ordinances and festivals are God’s salvation preached to us through our senses. What we read from Num. 9:1-14, for example, describes it clearly.

Consider briefly the case of the Passover in this regard. As you know well, the OT Passover was a strongly visual ordinance. First of all, they were commanded to kill a lamb or goat, roast it with its head and intestines. Then, they had to eat it in a night of the month of Nisan together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Can you picture that meal in your mind? Can you imagine the smell of roasting and biting a piece of unleavened bread and chewing bitter herbs together? It must be a full spectrum of sensations with sight, smell, taste and touch. At the end of their colourful meal, all that is left must be burnt before morning.

What was the purpose of all those things so vividly presented to the members of the OT church? To remember what had been done on the night of God’s deliverance of His people from their slavery in Egypt; to remember the words delivered to each one’s ears and know that the Lord God had made them His own. The OT Passover was God’s word preached to the OT church through full sense of sight, smell, taste and touch. The same message we hear through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, yet, in full sense because the Son of God saved us through His death and resurrection!

Such are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And these Sacraments must be administered and observed in accordance with the Bible, meaning that they are the Lord’s salvation preached to us by sight and touch and taste. So, their right administration surely characterises the true church.

Since the beginning of the NT church, even from the time of the apostles, the Lord in His grace has kept the purity of these Sacraments in His true church, yet, through the lives of His dear and faithful children. And this task is now on our hands; keeping the purity of this doctrine is our task. So, let us seek the Lord’s strength and, with joy, carry it out together in the Lord’s true church! ***

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