Have you ever wondered why baptism and the Lord’s Supper are considered ordinances of the church? Jesus gave many commands, so why is it that these two commands have divine warrant to be obeyed/practiced by the church universally and perpetually?
What makes these commands given by Christ for the church’s practice is found in their unique purpose. Their practice is rooted most clearly in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Stated simply, the ordinances visibly and tangibly express the gospel.
This truth is articulated in Evangelical Convictions (p. 167) in the following manner:
Why have these ordinances been given to the church? What purpose do they serve? Most significantly, baptism and the Lord’s Supper visibly and tangibly express the gospel. Certainly, the mere application of water or the eating of bread and the drinking of the cup do not have inherent meaning. For that reason, these acts must always be set within a context that includes the proclamation of the Word of God. When the gospel is preached in conjunction with these ordinances, they become, in the words of Augustine, “visible words.” These observable acts speak to us of the wonderful truths of the gospel—Christ’s sacrificial death, our union with him, the new life that is ours and his glorious coming by which God’s saving purpose will be brought to completion.
Yet the ordinances are not only seen, they are also experienced physically—we “eat and drink” and we are “washed,” hence, the term “tangibly” in our Statement. In our participation in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the preached gospel is personalized, and we are individually engaged in a tangible response. These are God-given means by which we respond to the gospel personally as it is set before us in these visible and tangible ways.