The good father: a church with Biblical sacraments...

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Sorry, this one is longer than usual, so please be patient and read the whole way to the end. What we're thinking about here is eternally important.

Right now, when your little family is just getting started and your newborn son or daughter is all a wonder to you, it seems a bit over the top to be talking about how important it is to find a good church. But watch out! Life seems to be passing slowly right now, but it's not. In a day or two, this infant will be leaving your home for college, and then comes marriage and grandchildren. Before you can snap your fingers, your children will be all grown up and the fruit of your fatherhood will be clear.

Last week, we saw that the most important food we provide our family is God's Word. Choosing a church where God's Word is preached faithfully is how we provide them that food. Yes, we read the Bible to our family at home, but home isn't enough. We must have the household of faith, and the most important mark of a Biblical church is faithful preaching. But there are three marks of a true church, so now we move to the second:

  1. A true church has preaching that is faithful to Scripture;
  2. A true church administers the sacraments as Scripture commands;
  3. A true church correctly disciplines her members.

What on earth are sacraments?

Sacraments are physical things God gives us to help us in our weakness...

What weakness?

Well, we have trouble seeing and feeling the things of God. Sometimes God seems very far away and we need earthly things we can see and touch to remind us of Him. Sacraments make visible to us what the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has done for our salvation. There are two sacraments, baptism and the Lord's supper, and each sacrament is both a "sign" and "seal" of the righteousness of Jesus Christ given to us through faith (Romans 4:11).

Baptism marks us and the members of our household as members of God's Household of Faith. By faith, we ask for baptism as a sign of the faith God has given us. Then God works through baptism to wash us and our household clean of our sin and guilt and shame. Thus Paul and Silas promised the Philippian jailer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31), and Scripture records later that night both the jailer and his household believed and were baptized.

Like circumcision in the Old Testament, baptism is the rite of initiation into God's household, the Church.

The Lord's supper is the other sacrament commanded by God in the New Testament and its parallel in the Old Testament is the Passover meal.

Baptism has replaced circumcision as the rite of initiation.

The Lord's supper has replaced the Passover meal as the Church's meal pointing to the death of the Lamb of God Who takes away our sins.

Now we're walking through a minefield, here. Nothing divides Christians like the sacraments. Yet every denomination, church, elder, deacon, and pastor is under the authority of God's Word—not his church tradition—in the administration of the sacraments. So, while allowing for disagreements over secondary matters such as how and when to get the water on the body and what kind of wine or bread to use and how often to celebrate the Lord's supper, Scripture requires some things that can't be violated if we are to partake of the sacraments as God has commanded. I'll mention two.

First, the sacraments do not belong to you as head of your household. They belong to the household of faith, the Church of the Living God. In the Old Testament, both circumcision and the Passover meal were centered in the family. But in the New Testament, both baptism and the Lord's supper are administered in and by the church.

The father does not preside over baptism and the Lord's Supper. The church owns these sacraments and delegates their administration to their pastor. Thus, depending upon which officers your church has, it is the pastor with those officers you must go to and request permission for you and your household to partake of both sacraments. If they grant permission, it must not be you yourself who baptizes or feeds your household the elements of the Lord's Supper. This is the officers' duty and you must be careful to show your family that you submit to those officers. In church, you and the members of your household are all under the authority of those God has called and ordained to rule His household of faith.

Do not rebel against God's authority He has delegated to His Church officers. Don't you dare administer His sacraments to your family. Don't you dare insist the pastor and elders allow you to insert yourself between them and your family members in baptism or in the service of the Lord's supper. Depending upon how your church serves the elements, you may need to pass the elements to the member of the family sitting next to you. Nevertheless, do not act as if they are receiving it from your hand. They are not. They are receiving it from the hand of the Lord through the hands of those elders He has called and ordained "in every city" (Titus 1:5). The Ethiopian Eunuch asked the deacon, Philip, if he could be baptized? And he didn't baptize himself. Deacon Philip baptized him.

Second, watch how the Lord's supper is administered. Just because it's handed out by your church officers and they read Scripture and pray doesn't mean it's being done Biblically. They must warn everyone who comes to the table that their life and health depend upon how they participate. If this sober warning is never spoken and if all their exhortations are affirming and positive, they are false shepherds who are stealing the fear of God from you and the members of your household.

God's signs and seals, His sacraments, don't only heal and forgive and bless; they also wound and judge and kill. God's sacraments are holy and those who trifle with what is holy will suffer the judgment suffered by Aaron's sons in the Old Testament (Leviticus 10:1, 2) as well as the Corinthians in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 11:26-29). What did the Corinthians suffer?

Their church was filled with all kinds of wickedness. It had incest, a consuming pride, and gluttony and drunkenness around the Lord's table, so there was no unity as they ate and drank. These sins against one another showed they were not discerning the purity of Jesus' body and blood there in the elements, nor the unity of the body of Christ, the Church. Thus the Holy Spirit afflicted many of them with sickness and He even killed some of them—just as earlier He had killed Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).

The sacraments are terribly important. God has given them to the Church, not so the church's members can abuse them by taking part in them thoughtlessly, with evil motives and stained by unrepentant sin. Rather, He gives them to the Church so we will take part in them discreetly, soberly and in the fear of God—with repentance and faith in the shed blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

All through history, priests and pastors have liked to think and act as if their giving us stuff and saying spiritual things as they give us stuff is the way God saves us. They abuse the physical things of the sacraments to cloud the fact that we are saved by grace, through faith. And that this saving faith is the gift of God—not the gift of our pastor when he pours water or hands us bread or wine.

Yes, God works His grace of salvation partly through His sacraments, but don't allow your pastor to mislead you into thinking that you and your wife and children's eternal salvation is guaranteed through the water, bread, and wine themselves, and thus the man who gives them to you.

If you want to know whether your pastor and elders and church believe it is faith that saves you, and not the administration of the sacramental elements, just listen to the words your pastor speaks prior to the administration of the Lord's supper. If all he says is positive and uplifting; if he only tells you to come, and never to stay away; if he only speaks of God's forgiveness coming through the table, and never God's judgment; if he only speaks of God's blessings being given through the table, and never sickness and death; he is not administering the sacraments in submission to what Scripture commands.

The Bible says every man and woman, girl and boy who comes to the Lord's table to partake must "examine himself":

But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. (1 Corinthians 11:28, 29)

There's good reason for every last person coming to the table to examine himself. These are holy things reserved for holy persons. Thus tremble with fear and joy as you come. Never trust a pastor who only tells you half of any story. Never trust a pastor who does his best to get you not to fear God. Our God is a consuming fire.

The pastor who turns baptism and the Lord's supper into blankies the father can hold onto when his son is off bedding whores and slopping pigs is a man who is unfaithful to his calling as a shepherd of God's flock. His administration of the sacraments is teaching you, contrary to Scripture, that all Israel IS Israel, and that there is no difference between a circumcised foreskin and a circumcised heart.

Don't risk your own soul or the soul of the members of your household by remaining under this man's protection. He is the hireling Jesus warned us against (John 10:12, 13).

Find a new church.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!