Before Jesus ascended to His Father, He left His church two “ordinances”––baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Jesus commanded His followers to observe these ordinances as signs of the New Covenant and the future awaiting them in His coming Kingdom.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . .” (Matt 28:19, emphasis added)
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:26, emphasis added)
Ordinances in the first church
In the book of Acts, we see in the first church that “those who received his word were baptized,” (Acts 2:41). In the next verse, they “devoted themselves . . . to the breaking of bread . . .” (Acts 2:42). We might debate the nuances of when, where, and how they practiced these ordinances historically. Even whether “ordinance” is the correct term to describe them. The fact is that these are gifts that our King has left for us as signs (or, some might say, reminders) of both our past and our future. They ought to be practiced regularly.
Lack of baptisms and the Lord’s Supper
Unfortunately, however, the presence of a gospel witness in our part of the world is still relatively immature. The result is that few of the fellowships calling themselves “churches” have a biblical view or practice of the ordinances. I spend lots of time with my students (I am a lecturer at a Baptist Seminary that trains pastors). I guide and direct discussions about the biblical mode, meaning, and subjects of baptism. But despite the frequency with which we discuss this topic, I rarely see it faithfully carried out. Cultural and traditional factors too numerous to discuss have virtually blockaded the biblical observance of baptism.
Similar to the Lord’s Supper; we attended various Baptist churches in Africa in three years. We have had the opportunity to observe the Supper only twice. Both times it was under leadership that included other Americans.
As I mentioned in an introductory post, my point is not to complain or to criticize the church in Africa, but rather to report on the status of the church’s maturity level in this region. I hope that healthier churches back home will be more grateful for the grace they regularly experience. That they will grow in their understanding of how best to pray for and minister to the missionaries they support and send out.
A true home
Americans have grown accustomed to observing the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis. And we see a very regular stirring of the baptismal waters in our local congregation. So, the hunger and thirst for a taste of our heavenly home has gone largely unquenched. I remember well the feeling when we have travelled to neighboring countries and eaten a McDonald’s cheeseburger or a Taco Bell burrito. Or the wave of familiarity and comfort we feel anytime Americans visit us, even if they are relative strangers. Their familiar way of acting and talking, including their topics of conversation, give us that feeling of “home.”
But this feeling should pale in comparison to the sense of “familiarity” and “home” we feel every time we witness a believer plunged beneath the waters of baptism or the bread broken and the cup poured out. These are signs of our true home, and we really miss seeing them!
This is the second article in a series dealing with the challenges of a missionary in a region where the church is less mature. For the introductory article in this series, read What We Miss from Our American Church Family.
Baptists believe that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two ordinances that have been practiced by New Testament churches since the church’s institution in Acts 2.