BAPTISM as an ORDINANCE of the Church
Question for Consideration - Is water baptism an "ordinance of the church" ?
For Roman Catholics and others, baptism is one of several "sacraments".
(Please click on sacramentalism for that discussion).
Many protestant churches, having broken away from the Church of Rome in the "Protestant Reformation" abolished some of the practices and tenets of Catholicism, but they retained more than they ought to have retained. Many Protestant churches therefore have two "ordinances" rather than Rome's seven "sacraments". Most Protestants would argue that "ordinances" are not the same as "sacraments" in their meaning nor, many times, in their observance, yet these "ordinances" seem to be merely vestiges of the old which remain deeply embedded in Protestant thinking as the two specific things that the Church is commanded to do (the other being the Lord's Supper - we highly recommend that you view that link in conjunction with this study as the two go hand-in-hand). It seems a bit odd that there are so many things that Christians (the church) are instructed to do in the New Testament, yet these two rituals rise to special significance (to the level of "religious ceremony") - and we at BibleTruthForToday question whether that is Scriptural. When asked why Baptism is an "ordinance" of the church, those that have any idea at all will likely respond along the lines that (1) Jesus did it and (2) it is commanded in the Great Commission. While both of those statements are true, is it not also true that Jesus did many things other than being baptized, and does not the Great Commission encompass more than just a command to baptize? Are not the other things at least at par with these two things? The "Great Commission" in fact contains several commands. According to Matthew 28:19-20: "Make disciples of all nations" is the primary command (and objective) of the "Great Commission". Associated with that primary command are these related activities: "baptizing them" (that is, the disciples that are "made") and "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you".
Some of the key points are as follows:
(1) Water baptism as an "ordinance of the church" seems to us to be a carryover from the "sacraments" of the Church of Rome, although infused with different significance.
(2) The meaning associated with baptism in the Church of Rome was not lost in the Protestant Reformation - for many it continues to be a means to administer God's grace and, for some, salvation itself is in the act of water baptism (see Baptismal Salvation).
(3) For many people, there is a correlation between the rite of circumcision in the Old Testament and the water baptism of the New Testament - we disagree with this conclusion and have discussed that on various pages on this site, including the page on infant baptism.
(4) There are many things other than baptism that are to be part of the Christian life that are no less important to the Christian life than baptism - which makes us question why baptism should be elevated to a special status as an "ordinance".
Additional consideration - the level of attention given to water baptism - the form, the ceremony, the timing, the appropriate age, who should be invited to attend, what gift should be given to the person who is baptized, etc. takes attention away from a significant Bible truth which is (hopefully) very clear from the following Scriptures:
Matthew 3:11 "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Mark 1:8 "I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Luke 3:16 "John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
John 1:33 "I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit'."
Acts 1:5 "for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Acts 11:16 "Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit'."
The important baptism is NOT the baptism of water, but that of the Holy Spirit. To make water baptism an ordinance of the church is to relegate it to a religious ceremony. On the other hand, "Spirit baptism" CANNOT be an ordinance of the church because only God can do that! Yet water baptism becomes a "test" of whether a person is a Christian or not, whether a person can be part of a local fellowship of believers or not, whether a person is "eligible" to participate in the "Lord's Supper" or not, and so on.