August 13, 2004

Baptism and the Sunday Service

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

Recently, I was asked why we perform baptisms in connection with the call to worship. In many Reformed churches, baptisms take place after the sermon. Perhaps that’s because baptism is a sacrament and the sacraments go with the Word and so people conclude that both baptism and the Lord’s Supper fit best after the Word has been preached.

But the Word is not present only when Scripture is read and preached. The whole service is permeated by the Word, from the call to worship to the benediction at the end of the service. Thus, the close link between baptism and the Word does not determine where in the service baptism fits best.

While we think of both baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “sacraments,” we must be careful not to allow that way of describing them to blur the distinctions between them.

In the Old Covenant, Israel shared a meal with God — the peace offering — only after she offered a sin offering (which emphasized cleansing from sin) and an ascension or burnt offering (which emphasized consecration to God).

So, too, in the New Covenant, we eat the Lord’s Supper only after the Lord has called us to Himself, cleansed us from our sins, and re-consecrated us to Himself by His Word so that we can present ourselves and our offerings as acceptable sacrifices to Him. That’s why the Lord’s Supper follows the sermon, the congregational prayer, and the offering.

The Lord’s Supper is communion with Christ and it’s the climax of the service. But baptism isn’t the climax. Baptism has to do with beginnings.

The Sunday service is the assembly of the church, the body of Christ, and baptism is how we enter the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 74). In the whole service, we come to God in union with Christ. But how are we united to Christ? Paul says we are baptized into Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27).

God calls us to worship. But how can we draw near to Him with boldness? How can new converts come into His presence to worship? How can our little children come?

Hebrews 10 tells us: We enter boldly by Jesus’ blood (v. 19) and through His flesh (v. 20). He’s our High Priest (v. 21). And therefore, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

As the Old Covenant priests drew near to God after being washed, as unclean Israelites drew near after being washed, so do we. First comes God’s call. Then comes washing. Then comes our bold approach to God.

Baptism, therefore, fits best as part of God’s call to worship so that, having been washed with pure water, our new members may respond to that call and draw near to God, in union with Christ and with us as His body, to share together in the Lord’s service of covenant renewal.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:59 am | Discuss (0)

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