Baptist Heritage Series: Scripture and Ordinances Ephesians 4:1-6; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 November 11, 2007

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1 Sermon/ Baptist Heritage Series: Scripture and Ordinances Ephesians 4:1-6; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 November 11, 2007 NRS Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. NRS 1 Corinthians 11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.

2 Sermon/ We share at least three symbols today, powerful expressions of the presence, grace and love of God. Those who think all three should be something more than symbols hold that symbolism is overrated. It would be better if their identity were fixed, their meaning clear and certain. However, Paul Tillich, a great theologian of a the twentieth century, believed that symbols have the power to carry far more meaning than those items, notions or enactments that are seen in a singular way. He believed that to speak of symbols was not to relegate the concept to obscurity, but to elevate the concept to prominence. It s only a symbol, is replaced with it s no less than a symbol. As a consequence one can rally around the symbols or become divided by the variety of interpretations regarding them. Historically Baptists have often rallied and sometimes gone their Separate, Primitive, Two-Seed-in-the Spirit, General, American, Southern Baptist and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ways. Remember, Baptists strongly embrace the idea of the priesthood of all believers, which means that every person stands on equal footing before God, that each individual has equal access to God; there are no creeds, no official set of beliefs that one must embrace. Each soul is competent to read the scriptures, pray, seek forgiveness, be forgiven and live in relationship with God without any person acting as an official intermediary between that person and the Almighty. We are priests to each other before God, a privilege and a responsibility. In a way, baptism is an outward demonstration of our willingness to accept the privilege and live out the responsibility of our priesthood. Baptism is a symbol of the inner transformation of the one who is baptized, a transformation accomplished by the individual s acceptance of the grace and mercy of God. This must be of great importance to Baptists since we took our name from the symbol. If Luther is important to Lutherans, Rome to Roman Catholics, assemblies to Assemblies of God, method to Methodists, press to Presbyterians, and angles to Anglicans then baptism must be crucial to Baptists! Some have argued that Baptists took their name from their founder and namesake, John the Baptist, which would make Baptists slightly older than Jesus, a notion that suits some Baptists just fine. Those who espoused this lineage did so at great historical peril since it isn t true. Baptists are not direct descendents of Zachariah and Elizabeth s boy who wore camel hair and preached on a busy street corner in ancient times. Instead we grew out of a movement called Anabaptists, folks who became convinced that one must come to faith of one s own accord. These early Baptist forbearers plunged themselves beneath

3 Sermon/ baptismal waters because they believed that baptism done without their consent wasn t baptism that ultimately mattered. If baptism is an indication of a commitment then it should be the indication of one s own commitment willingly offered and sincerely believed. Ana-baptist literally means to be baptized again; those who first practiced this rite had already been baptized as infants. As a consequence, Baptist congregations are comprised of believers, folks who believe in the Christ as the most complete incarnation of God s grace and love, and are committed to live as best they can in accordance with the teachings of Christ. Only those who were baptized were members, which perplexes and challenges church demographers since those who attend but are not converted, who have not been baptized, count much to the church but not at all with regard to the number of folks who officially belong. Faith and Leah are church members now since they have been made their profession of faith and been baptized, though they have always mattered a great deal to us and have always counted. Baptists baptize believers who themselves decide, aided by the grace and mercy of God and often the encouragement of other believers, to give their hearts to Jesus and commit to live as a disciple of Christ. All of which is a long way to say that Baptists don t baptize infants; no one is born into the Baptist church. Living in a particular part of the world or being a citizen of any nation does not make one a Baptist. Being Baptist is an individual s decision, as is affirming Jesus as God s Son and one s Savior. The traditional Baptist mode of baptism is immersion. Baptists will often remark that the Greek word for baptize means to plunge beneath the waters, not to sprinkle or pour. You can become a Methodist by walking in the rain, I once heard a minister say as he disparaged sprinkling as a way of baptizing. When you come to Jesus in a Baptist church you are going to get very wet. Some thought the emphasis on the mode was arrogant since Methodists or other Christians who had been baptized as believers by another method were often required to be re-baptized in order to join the Baptist church. Some believed adherence to immersion as the only acceptable mode questioned the prior commitment of those who came from other traditions. Some Baptists even wondered if believer s baptism by immersion performed by a non-baptist was effective, though most would have thought that more than a bit excessive for a group who didn t believe in creeds and didn t elevate clergy above laity. Throughout the years Baptists have agreed to disagree about how each church deals with baptism. Our congregation, for example, accepts alien baptism, which is an indelicate way of saying that any baptism is

4 Sermon/ acceptable if it was and is meaningful to the one who was baptized. This isn t about characters from Star Wars or Star Trek, about people from a galaxy far, far away; it is to say that though one s baptism may be quite different from what we regularly practice we have no desire to question one s commitment to Christ because one chose or had chosen for him or her a different way. When someone comes before our congregation and declares that he or she has made a profession of faith, and if that individual can physically be placed beneath the waters, we immerse him or her as testimony of the death and resurrection of Christ. Baptism symbolically demonstrates that Jesus rose from the dead, and is a declaration that the believer has risen from death in sin into life found through the forgiveness, grace and love that God offers to all who will accept it. The waters are not special Fairfax County supplies our baptismal water; the waters do not save the individual. There s nothing unique about the waters or the action. What is unique is that person s decision to become a follower of Christ. In Baptist life baptism is usually not considered a sacrament a means of dispensing the grace of God. Since all of us are priests there are no sacraments, no specific holy acts that only holy folks can perform. Instead, baptism is an ordinance, an act ordained commanded by God through Jesus example. Since he was baptized so are we. Though it is usually a minister who holds the hand of the one who is baptized it does not have to be. Since we all are priests all are qualified to help another as he or she makes the decision to follow Christ and seals it by observing the ordinance. Baptists believe they have come to this theological position after reflection upon the scriptures, since scripture, and not tradition, is our authority. However, anyone who has ever been part of a Baptist church has heard someone say during some controversy or new proposal, We ve never done it that way before! which is a declaration that tradition is important, too. Having scripture as our authority has sometimes led to bibliolatry, an elevation of the Bible above God, rather than understanding that the Bible reflects God s word. At issue is whether the understanding of the scriptures changes, or if interpretation is fixed and unchanging. Does one understand the Bible literally or not? What portions does one understand literally? Love your neighbor as yourself is a command, and love your enemies is a suggestion? Jesus says it is not right for a man to look at a woman with lust in his heart, so it s okay for a woman to look at a man with lust in her heart? In the Baptist church of my childhood a man could become a deacon even if he was a convicted and God-forgiven axmurderer, but a divorced man, or a woman - divorced, widowed, married or

5 Sermon/ single - didn t stand a chance. We believed Jesus when he said, blessed are the poor, but we didn t want to find out for ourselves. We understood that it was more difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it was for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, and though we wanted to go to heaven we thought poverty an awful price to pay for eternity. The truth is no one can tell you what you must believe about the scriptures. One must read them for one s self, wrestle with them, be challenged by them, and encouraged by them. Sometimes the scriptures will make one laugh; sometimes they ll make one weep. Sometimes one will see with great clarity and at other times the truth is obscured. What the scriptures meant to me a few years ago is different than what they mean to me now, and I suspect will be different again in a few more years. The word of God is a living word that encounters and confronts life. The Bible is not worshipped, is not elevated above all else. It is not placed upon a pedestal; it is placed within one s heart so that it can be lived. When one hears someone say, I believe the Bible! what he or she usually means is that he or she believes the Bible as he or she interprets the Bible. Usually the statement is used as an accusation against those who, according to the declarer, don t believe the Bible, which often means they do believe it, just differently than the declarer. Remember: we are all priests and everyone gets to wrestle with the text himself or herself. That s why we give these Bibles as gifts to our 3 rd graders. Here s the Bible; read it yourself, and listen as others read it to you and with you. May the words that reflect that character and nature of God serve as reminder of how we are to live. May the text be an aid for us to live lives worthy of our calling throughout our journey of faith. In a similar manner, may this supper be a reminder, too. This supper that unites all in Christ divides a good many of us. Baptists see this meal - this Lord s Supper, this communion, this Eucharist as a second ordinance, commanded by Christ to do in remembrance of him. It is a reenactment of the last meal, a Passover meal, a Jewish festival and feast that Jesus shared with his disciples. Jesus reinterpreted the meal that originally testified to the Hebrews deliverance from their oppression in Egypt. He offered a new deliverance, a deliverance from ego and the sin that resulted from holding tight to self. He offered forgiveness of sins and a new life built upon the foundation of grace and mercy that God offered. The shared bread represented his body and the shared cup his blood. He told those who followed him to share this meal until he returned, an act of remembering him. Often we have focused on the crucifixion, of Jesus

6 Sermon/ wounded body and his shed blood, and perhaps that is exactly what Jesus meant for us to do. Perhaps the meal is to remind us of Jesus sacrificial death. Or perhaps the meal reminds us of Jesus sacrificial life. Beth Harvey suggested to me that Jesus may have meant for us to remember him by living our lives as he lived. In other words, to take the bread and cup is to be reminded once more that Jesus cared for the poor, that Jesus thought more of others than self, that Jesus turned the other cheek, that Jesus loved his neighbor as himself. I suspect the supper might mean both, though I believe one probably emphasizes one aspect more than another, which has as much or more to say about those who partake of the meal than the one who ordained it. Since we all are priests I have no right to tell you how you must understand this supper. As priests to one another before God we offer it to all who trust in God s grace, mercy and love. The bread and cup are symbols. Different from some other traditions there is nothing intrinsically special about these elements. So we serve one another these symbols, and we are strengthened for the journey of faith by the ones who sit beside us, before us, behind us and by the grace of God always with us. Please share this supper and this journey with me. LORD S SUPPER There s one other tradition we share. It s the invitation hymn, which is far more than just a fitting way to conclude a service. I understand that when one comes to faith it probably doesn t take place within the confines of a worship service. The hymn of commitment provides an opportunity for those who have given their hearts and lives to Christ to share that decision with our congregation. By letting us know of your decision we can better offer support, encouragement and help for the journey of faith. Since we all are priests we offer the grace, mercy and love of God to and with one another. You may feel a need to request the prayers of the community, or you may want to make it official that this is your church home, that you belong here, that you find life and love, help and encouragement in among these people, these priests. This hymn is an opportunity for folks to let us know what is on their hearts and minds. As we sing this hymn, please feel free to respond as God leads you.

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