Doctrine of the Church (Part 1)

April 28, 2014     Time: 00:28:55

Let’s step back for a moment and reorient ourselves to understand where we are. The Defenders class has a threefold purpose which I want you to recall. Our purpose is:

1. To train Christians to understand, articulate, and defend basic Christian truths. Our goal is to help equip you to better understand what you believe, to articulate it carefully, and to be able to defend it.

2. To reach out with the Gospel to those who do not yet know Christ, always being ready to give a defense to anyone who asks the reason for our hope. So the second purpose is evangelistic – to reach out with the Gospel to those who don’t yet know Christ.

3. To be an incendiary fellowship of mutual encouragement and care. It is our church within the church so to speak as we come to know each other personally and mutually encourage and pray for one another as we grow as Christians.

So those are the purposes for which the Defenders class exists.

Our class is structured according to the so-called loci communes of classical Protestant theology. The loci communes were the common places (or the chief themes) of systematic theology. This class is structured in sections, each of which takes one locus (or one theme) of Christian doctrine. So we began, for example, with Doctrine of Revelation and looked at how God reveals himself in nature, in Scripture, and in Christ. We spent a good deal of time on Doctrine of God, understanding his existence and attributes as well as the Trinity. We discussed Doctrine of Creation – God’s providence over the world and his miraculous acts in the world. We talked about Doctrine of Christ and Doctrine of the Holy Spirit as well – both the person and the work of Christ. Just recently we’ve completed a section on Doctrine of Salvation where we looked at such topics as justification by faith, perseverance, the new birth, mystical union with Christ, and so forth.

Now we are starting a brand new section. This is going to be on Doctrine of the Church. This is going to be the second-to-the-last section of the class. So we are really rounding the bend, coming into the home stretch. We’ll look first at Doctrine of the Church, and following that we’ll look at Doctrine of the Last Things. That will complete the series in the Defenders class.

We have outlines available. The purpose of these outlines is to help you to take notes so that you can then keep the notes, compile them in a notebook, and gradually build up a very nice notebook covering the whole body of Christian doctrine. Hopefully this will serve you well if you are called upon to teach a Sunday school class or lead a Bible study at some point. You can pull out your outline and share some of this material.

Sacraments / Ordinances


Definition of Sacrament / Ordinance

The first thing that we’ll want to talk about with respect to Doctrine of the Church is the church’s sacraments, or alternatively ordinances. What do we mean by a sacrament? A sacrament is a means of grace belonging to the church. By contrast, an ordinance would be merely a sign which belongs to the church.[1] An ordinance is not a means of grace. Rather it is a sign or evidence of grace. But a sacrament would be an actual channel by which grace is imparted to the believer. So the question is: when we participate in baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and perhaps other activities, are these means of grace which the church administers or are these merely signs of things that the church carries out? This will largely depend upon your view of what you think the church is. Is the church the means of salvation which God has given to mankind? Is the church itself in a sense a kind of primary sacrament? Is the church the means of grace that God has given to mankind through which we receive salvation. Or, is the church simply the fellowship of those who, through faith in Christ, are united together? It is not a channel of God’s grace that he has instituted, but it is rather the fellowship of those who have come to know him through faith in Christ.

I hope you can see the difference between a sacrament and an ordinance. Although many times certain Protestants will speak loosely of sacraments, they don’t really believe that, for example, baptism or the Lord’s Supper are sacraments. They actually think they are ordinances but they are not means of grace.

What constitutes a sacrament or an ordinance? It will typically be the Word of God conjoined with some sort of visible element. It will be a conjunction of the Word and a visible element. For example, water or bread and wine would be the visible element conjoined with the Word of God which is proclaimed.

Efficacy of Sacrament / Ordinance

We will want to know then how are these sacraments to be understood in terms of their efficacy. What do they actually do? What actually happens as a result of participating in a sacrament? Here Christians have a diversity of views.

On the Catholic view, the sacraments are a means of infusing grace into a person. You’ll remember when we talked about justification under a Catholic view justification involves the actual infusion of God’s grace into an individual person. This happens through the sacraments. By taking the Lord’s Supper, going to Mass, being baptized, and participating in other sacraments, God’s grace is infused into you by these sacraments.

The Lutheran view is slightly weaker. On the Lutheran view, the sacraments are a means of grace by virtue of the Word which is bound up with the sacrament. Remember we saw that a sacrament involves the conjunction of the Word of God with some visible element. For the Lutheran, yes these sacraments are means of grace, but it is in virtue of the Word that they impart grace to those who partake in them.

The Reformed view, which would be practiced in Reformed churches or Presbyterian churches, says that the sacraments are a confirmation of grace by means of a visible sign. So when you participate in a sacrament, what you are seeing is a visible sign confirming the grace which God has imparted to you.

Finally, on the Baptist view, which would be the weakest of all, the act is simply a confessional act on the part of the believer. In baptism, you give public confession to your allegiance to Christ and to your conversion to Christian faith. Or in the Lord’s Supper, you confess your faith in him until he comes again and confess your sins. It is simply a confessional act; it is not a means of grace.[2]

Number of Sacraments / Ordinances

What about the number of the sacraments? Again, Protestants and Catholics differ on this view. On the Catholic view, according to the Council of Florence (which dates from 1439), the Council of Florence ratified seven sacraments which are recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. These are: baptism, confirmation (where an individual, typically a youngster, will confirm the decision that was made in baptism), the Eucharist (or the Lord’s Supper), penance (which will involve confession and performing some act of contrition), marriage (interestingly enough), ordination (such as when a priest is ordained to the ministry), and finally extreme unction which you take when you die as the Last Rites which the Church administers to you.

By contrast, Protestants tend to recognize basically two sacraments or ordinances. These would be baptism and the Lord’s Supper.


Question: Just a comment. I just recently heard a piece where they said that the Catholics now no longer emphasize extreme unction just at the time of death. They are now backing it up and using it even in healing conditions or services, anointings, etc. I just recently heard it.

Answer: I wonder if this might be the influence of the Charismatic movement within the Roman Catholic Church, which would have a stronger emphasis on healing. That is very interesting. I hadn’t heard that.

Question: Could you describe extreme unction a little bit more? I have a feeling that a lot of people listening to this aren’t quite sure what it is. Is that like extreme skiing or something like that? [laughter]

Answer: Typically (although it has to be qualified in light of what was previously just said) the priest will administer the Eucharist to a person before he dies as a kind of last infusion of grace into the person to prepare him for going to be with God, to be sure this person dies in a state of grace and is therefore ready for meeting God.


Biblical Data

Let’s turn now to the subject of baptism. We want to look first at the biblical data concerning baptism before we reflect on it theologically. It is really quite remarkable how much the New Testament talks about baptism. Just from the number of passages dealing with baptism in the New Testament, one would see that this is extremely important in the New Testament church. The New Testament, indeed, opens with the figure of John the Baptist on the scene who is proclaiming a baptism of repentance and calling people to be baptized in the Jordan River.

Let’s look at Mark 1:4-5. Mark says,

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

So right at the beginning of the New Testament – of Jesus’ ministry – you have this enigmatic figure of John the Baptist calling people to the Jordan to repentance and baptism for sin.

Significantly, Jesus himself was baptized.[3] He was among those in Judea who went out to John the Baptist to submit to John’s baptism. Matthew 3:13-17:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

So Jesus himself submitted to John’s baptism at the beginning of his ministry. Then Jesus continued the practice of baptizing others, interestingly enough. He, himself, was involved in carrying out a ministry of baptism. John 3:22-24. You wouldn’t know this apart from this brief passage in the Gospel of John in which John records this. John 3:22-24 says,

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people came and were baptized. For John had not yet been put in prison.

Here Jesus is carrying out a ministry of baptism contemporaneously with John the Baptist. John hadn’t yet been arrested and Jesus is carrying out a similar ministry of baptizing people at the same time as John.

Turn over to John 4:1-3, “Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John” – his ministry was becoming more successful than that of John the Baptist. More people were coming to Jesus to be baptized than were coming to his cousin John. Then John adds this parenthetical comment, “(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples).” So he was apparently having them do the baptizing for him. “He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.” Here, again, it is the ministry of Jesus in baptizing people as described, and he is doing it through the agency of his disciples whom he had called to follow him.

When we turn to the book of Acts following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, we discover that baptism did not disappear. Baptism was not something that simply belonged to that early time of the ministry of John and Jesus; rather, baptism typically accompanied conversion in the book of Acts. When people came to Christian faith, they were baptized. So baptism continued.

Acts 2:37-38, 41. This concerns the persons who were converted through Peter’s preaching at the Feast of Pentecost. Luke writes,

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. . . . So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

So when people were convicted of the message of the Gospel, what they were supposed to do by way of response was to repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name.[4]

Look at Acts 8:36-38. This is the story of the conversion of the Ethiopian official who had been visiting Jerusalem and was on the way home, and Philip shares with him the Gospel. Luke writes,

And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.

The response of the Ethiopian eunuch to Philip’s sharing of the Gospel was to say, “Well, then baptize me now. Here’s water.” And Philip does baptize him.

Turn over to Acts 9:19a. This is the story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee and the chief persecutor of the early Jesus movement in Jerusalem. He sees a vision of Jesus on the Damascus Road which leaves him blind and helpless. He goes into Damascus and Ananias comes to meet Saul and to carry out the Lord’s commission to Ananias. We read in Acts 9, let’s begin with verse 17:

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized.

Again, the immediate response to his conversion is to submit to Christian baptism.

Turn over to Acts 10:45-48. This is the story of Peter’s preaching to the household of a Roman centurion, Cornelius. Now the Gospel goes to Gentiles – not to other Jews, but to actual Roman persons. In verse 45 we read:

And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

These Gentiles, hearing the proclamation of the Gospel, received the Holy Spirit and Peter says, “Why not proceed then with baptism? Can anyone prevent me from baptizing them?” No one can, so they are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

This is the regular pattern over and over again in the book of Acts. Christian conversion is accompanied by baptism in the name of Christ.

In Galatians 3:27, Paul says this, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Look how closely linked baptism is with Christian conversion in that sentence.[5] “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” I think for these New Testament Christians it would have been unthinkable for a person to say “I believe in Christ – I am a Christian” and yet not to submit to Christian baptism. That would have just been incomprehensible. As many of them as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Conversion and baptism went like hand in glove.

What then is the meaning of baptism? Let’s just look at three passages in the New Testament that speak to the question of the meaning of baptism. We’ll talk more about these later but we want to get these passages out on the table.

Romans 6:3-4, here Paul writes,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Here baptism is an identification with the death of Jesus. We are said to be baptized into Jesus’ death and identify with his death on the cross.

Colossians 2:12, Paul says, “you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” In Romans, baptism is into the death of Christ with a view toward walking in newness of life.[6] But here in Colossians, it makes it explicit that baptism is not only an identification with Christ’s death, it is an identification with his resurrection. He says that “you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him.” So in baptism we are identified not only with the death and crucifixion of Christ but also with his resurrection.

The final passage is 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Here Peter says that baptism saves us, not through an external washing, but it is an appeal to God for a clear conscience.

So those are three critical passages about the meaning of baptism in the New Testament. What we will do next time is to begin to ask several probing theological questions about this biblical data with a view toward understanding the significance and meaning of baptism.[7]


[1] 5:00

[2] 10:08

[3] 14:54

[4] 20:13

[5] 24:55

[6] cf. Romans 6:3-4

[7] Total Running Time: 28:54 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)