Archives For Ordinances

In the EFCA we are primarily noted as affirming believer baptism by immersion in doctrine and practice. (We have, however, chosen not to divide over the doctrine of baptism, so even though we are mostly believer baptism by immersion (credo-baptism), we also allow the baptism of infants (paedo-baptism).)

For most who are raised in a local EFC church, they are not baptized until they are somewhat older. For many of these young people, they profess faith in Christ quite some time before they are baptized. There are some valid reasons to wait to be baptized. And yet, there is something not quite right about it either. If one has truly been born again, baptism follows a profession of faith, sometimes immediately (Acts 16:30-33).

If one professes faith in Christ and is truly born again, should one be baptized before one participates in the Lord’s Supper? Or upon profession of faith, should one then participate in the Lord’s Supper while delaying baptism? Is there an order to the ordinances?

From my sense, fostered from both observation of local church practices and conversation with others, most do not think about an order to the ordinances at all. Although they affirm they are reserved for believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, they don’t think of an order at all.

Here is how this is addressed in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, 169:

As we come in faith to be baptized or to share in the Lord’s Supper, God the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to attest to the gospel of which they speak—the one confirms the new believer in the inaugural act of faith and the other nourishes the believer in the ongoing Christian life. (For this reason, historically it has been the near universal practice in churches of all denominations to require baptism [in some form] before participation in the Lord’s Supper. In the EFCA this is a matter that is left to the local church.) Both serve to separate the believer from the world and to give a visible designation of those who belong to the body of Christ.

As we consider the order of celebrating the ordinances, it is important, as noted in Evangelical Convictions, to remember what each of the two ordinances signify. Baptism is a one-time experience that marks the new life a believer has experienced by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The Lord’s Supper is an ongoing experience that reflects the spiritual strengthening a believer receives for the journey when participated in/by faith. The former marks the beginning of one’s spiritual life; the latter marks the ongoing journey in one’s spiritual life.

Because of what the ordinances signify, I believe there is an order to their observance. In my parental practice, even though my children professed faith in Christ, I did not allow them to participate in the Lord’s Supper until they were baptized. This is also reflected in my pastoral counsel.

Although the Bible does not give an absolute on the order in which the ordinances are to be observed, it seems that there is a strong theological inference based on their meaning and significance. This is why something has been stated in Evangelical Convictions. It is important enough to address explicitly. However, recognizing this strong theological inference and our congregational polity, we also acknowledge that the practice of the ordinances “is a matter left to the local church.”

A few important questions for you to ponder:

  • How do you understand the order of the ordinances?
  • What is your pastoral counsel to parents and why?
  • What is your pastoral practice and why?
  • What does an open invitation to the Lord’s Supper with no connection to baptism whatsoever signify? Or asked from the other side, what might discouraging a true believer who has not been baptized from participating in the Lord’s Supper signify?

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.