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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Similarities and Differences in the Two Sacraments

The month of November must have been the month when all Presbyterians went on Sabbatical!  We have never had so many dates when this writer has been forced to say that little or no significant dates of Presbyterian history have been found.  But December will be better for Presbyterian dates.  For now, on November 30, we go to two questions and answers from the Larger Catechism, and together these will end our extended study on the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Question and answer 176 reads: “Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper agree?  A.  The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper agree, in that the author of both is God; the spiritual part of both is Christ and his benefits; both are seals of the same covenant, are to be dispensed by ministers of the gospel, and by none other; and to be continued in the church of Christ until his second coming.”

Question and answer 177 reads: “Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ?  A.  The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ, in that baptism is to be administered but once, with water, to be a sign and seal of our regeneration and ingrafting into Christ, and that even to infants; whereas the Lord’s supper is to be administered often, in the elements of bread and wine, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment to the soul, and to confirm our continuance and growth in  him, and that only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.”

Both of these questions would be great questions to ask potential officers of our churches, including those who would seek to be pastors in our presbyteries, for they require an overall understanding of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Indeed, they are an excellent teaching tool for the Christian parent to prepare the children for church membership.

There are five areas of agreement between the two sacraments. For both, the author is God.  Christ and His benefits are represented as being instituted. Both are seals of the covenant of grace. Both are church sacraments.  And both are to be practiced until we see Christ in the flesh at His second coming.

The differences are simple and understandable.  The outward elements are water, in the one, contrasted with bread and wine in the other sacrament. Then too, the timing of Christ’s benefits to the believer differ, in that baptism speaks of the beginning of the Christian life, while Communion speaks of its continuance. Baptism is to be done once and not repeated. The Communion is to be done often. Baptism includes infants while the Lord’s Supper implies the ability to discern the elements.

Words to live by:  Our two catechisms considered today are definitely doctrinal in scope.  Yet at the same time, they presuppose a basic understanding of the two sacraments which will enable God’s people to participate in them with a greater  understanding.  Let us make sure that their spiritual experience describe us, not just their outward and external experience.  “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?. . . .” (ESV – 2 Corinthians 13:5c)

Through the Scriptures:  Acts 20:2 ; Romans 1 – 4

Through the Standards:  Rules for keeping some from partaking

WLC 173 — “May any who profess the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s supper, be kept from it?
A.  Such as are found to be ignorant or scandalous, notwithstanding their profession of the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s supper, may and ought to be kept from that sacrament, by the power which Christ has left in his church, until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Have You Cashed In Your  Baptism?

At the PCA Historical Center listed on the web, there is a sermon preached by the Rev. Donald Dunkerley at Mcllwain Presbyterian Church in Pensacola, Florida, on November 26, 1972.   For those who know the history of the Presbyterian Church in America, this would have been a full year almost to the day when the latter church began her witness as a separate denomination outside of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.  The theme of this message by the veteran pastor was that of the sacrament of baptism, in the light of the Word of God.  This writer would like to quote its concluding paragraphs which have an excellent gospel challenge to them.  Pastor Dunkerley writes:

“One must not trust in baptism.  One must not trust in anything that he has done or in any works of man, but only in Jesus who died for us.  Baptism is a sign that God offers us a Savior and promised to cleanse us if we believe in Him, if we stop trusting in anything in ourselves — even in our baptism — and put all our trust in Jesus alone.  Then we will be cleansed from sin.  But until we come to that point of renouncing all self-trust and put our trust in Jesus alone, then our baptism is sign of our condemnation.

“A pastor I know was once calling on a man who was not a converted person.  He frequently attended the church where this man pastored, he had lived in that town all his life and indeed, years before as an infant, he had been baptized in that very church.  He was showing the pastor around his house, and the pastor noticed a frame certificate on the wall and he turned to the man and he said ‘What is this?’  ‘Oh,’ the man said, ‘that’s my baptismal certificate.  I was baptized in our church, you know!’  The pastor said, ‘Ah, your baptismal certificate. Very good!   Tell me, when are you going to cash it in?'”

To read the rest of Rev. Dunkerley’s sermon, click here. [PDF file]

Words to live by:  The pastor of this sermon asks a serious question to those who have been baptized in their infancy by godly parents.  When are you, the adult now, going to claim the promise signified by your outward baptism?  You are baptized for sure.  You may even have the baptismal certificate signed by the preacher and any witnesses who were there to see it. But unless you have put your personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that baptism is a sign of your condemnation, not a sign of the covenant.  Reader, how is it with you?  Have you received the gift of eternal life?

Through the Scriptures:  Acts 19:11 – 20:1 ; 2 Corinthians 1 – 3

Through the Standards:  The manner of partaking the Lord’s Supper

WCF 29:7
“Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Preparing for the Lord’s Supper

With no observable reflection of Presbyterian history on this November 14, we look at the necessary preparation which every Christian must have before they partake of the Lord’s Supper.  In colonial days and up to the present in some churches, there was a spiritual examination of every member of the congregation by the pastor as to their readiness to come to the Lord’s table.  Those who were found ready were given tokens, or little round metal pieces, which were then exchanged for the privilege of partaking of the bread and wine.  Those who failed that examination were forbidden to partake, and urged to do the necessary spiritual work to partake aright the next time the sacrament was offered.  Such practices are few and far apart in Reformed congregations and people today, though some Scottish and Irish Presbyterian churches continue the practice.

It is good to know then of a Larger Catechism which speaks to the need for self-examination so as to prepare ourselves properly for the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Larger Catechism 171 states, “They that receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves of their being in Christ, of their sins and wants; of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance; love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience; and by renewing the exercise of these graces, by serious meditation, and fervent prayer.”

Self-examination!  Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:28 tells us that one must not come and partake of the Lord’s Supper without it.  “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”  (KJV)  Before partaking, examine yourself to see if you are worthy to partake of the elements of bread and juice.  The content of this self-examination is as follows.

First, are you really a child of God?  Have you by faith come to Christ, confessing your sins and your need of His saving grace and mercy?  “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves. . . .” (2 Corinthians 13:5 ESV).

Second, examine yourself of your sins and wants. Examine the living out of the faith that you profess. Are there sins of commission and omission found in you? If so, if you have failed to confess and acknowledge their presence in you, then do so. Separation from the sins which so easily beset us is needed before we partake of the Lord’s Supper.

Next, self-examination of the truth and measure, the reality and growth of our spiritual knowledge, faith, repentance, love both upward to God and outward to man, including charity to all, with forgiveness extended to those who have wronged us, our desires after Christ, and our practice of obedience to God and His Word.  Our Confessional fathers have given us a lot of areas to spiritually “chew upon”, but each and every one by self-examination can be used by the Holy Spirit to revive us spiritually, and prepare us for participation in the right observance of the Lord’s Supper.

When we find shortcomings, or as we find shortcomings in these graces, we can then renew ourselves in the exercise of them, by serious meditation and fervent prayer.

Words to live by:  Before you come, whether it is the preceding week, the Saturday night before the Lord’s Day, the Sunday time proceeding church, or the preparatory service conducted by the church, here are your spiritual “marching orders” of preparatory attitudes and actions. Christians today need to pay closer spiritual attention to preparing for their observance of the Lord’s table. How will you do so?

Through the Scriptures:  Acts 13 – 14

Through the Standards:  The necessity of baptism

WCF 28:5
“Although it be a great sin to condemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Celebrations at a Memorial Service

With few Presbyterian historical events to remember on this date, we turn our attention to Shorter Catechism question and answer number 96.  It asks, “What is the Lord’s Supper?” and answers “The Lord’s Supper is a Sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.”

Here is the other Sacrament after the initial one of baptism.  Its essence is by “giving and receiving bread and wine,” Christ’s death is “showed forth.”  In one phrase, the truth of the substitutionary atonement of Christ dying in place of sinners is represented.  Christ clearly appointed that meaning when he instituted it near the end of His earthly life.

The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is put forth as a spiritual edification or building up of the Lord’s people. That this is so, is made clear by our Confessional fathers when they specifically state that “the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, make partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.”

The churches of the Reformation divided over the manner of the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Roman Catholics believe that the actual body and blood of Christ are present in the bread and wine. Lutherans believe that the actual body and blood of Christ are in, with, and under the elements. Presbyterians believe that Christ is spiritually present in the Lord’s Supper, while He in His physical body is in heaven as a glorified body, seated at the right hand of God. So, when we partake of the elements of bread and wine, we do  in a spiritual manner partake of His body and blood. Rightly partaking of them will strengthen, encourage, and spiritually build us up in the totality of the Christian faith and walk.

Words to live by: In succeeding days, when we have nothing to report of historical persons, places, and things of Presbyterianism, we will look at the Larger Catechism’s treatment as to what duties we are to perform before, during, and after our observance of the Lord’s Supper. For now, do not be carelessly absent when the Lord’s Supper is offered at your congregation. It is a means of grace to our souls, a channel of blessings of the covenant of grace.

Through the Scriptures:  Acts 10 – 12

Through the Standards:  The subjects of baptism according to the Shorter Catechism

WSC 95 — “To whom is baptism to be administered?
A.  Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Have You Been Improving Your Baptism?

Without a meaningful Presbyterian topic on this November 10th, we close our out confession and catechism study on Baptism by noting Larger Catechism question and answer 167.  It deals with a needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism.  It states, “The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration  of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privilege and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.”

Neither one of the other creedal statements in the Confession or Shorter Catechism  make reference to this duty of improving our baptism.  There is one phrase in the Confession which leads into it however.  It is when our confessional fathers state in chapter 28, section 6, that “the efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time, wherein it is administered.”  Frankly, this false concept that we Presbyterians tie the efficacy of Baptism to the exact time the infant or adult is baptized, is one of the reasons why people oppose this sacrament.  But we believe that baptism is not tied to the time it is initiated in a person’s life, but that baptism applies to the whole life of the baptized person.  We are to improve our baptism, that is experience its meaning and work out its application to our spiritual lives.  The fact that this is misunderstood so much shows in the Fathers making reference to “the needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism.”  It was needful and much neglected duty back in the seventeenth century, as it continues to be today in the twenty-first century.

Especially are we to fulfil this duty when we are in times of temptation and/or present when the vows are taken at baptism of others, including infants.  In the first case, when we are tempted by sin, we need to remember that we are God’s people, not  only in name, but also in practice.  We have covenanted, or our parents have covenanted for us, that we are to live godly and righteous in this world.  The other occasion of improving our baptism is when the sacrament takes place, and we hear the questions charged to either parents or adults, overhearing their affirmative answers.  We can reflect on our answers taken in the past,  indeed, we can reaffirm our covenant vows at that time again with respect to ourselves or our children.

The rest of the catechism answer deals with several ways of  improving our baptism. It speaks of being humbled for the remnant of the sin nature still within us.  It describes our growing more and more in the realization of pardon of sin.  We are to be constantly drawing strength from the atonement of Christ, to put sin to death and not have it reign over us, as well as saving and sanctifying grace being realized more and more.  We are to conduct ourselves in holiness and righteousness as we live by faith and for faith.  And one last point is given.  We are to walk in brotherly love, understanding that we are one body.

Also this day:

Words to live by:  It is very possible that you as a baptism person did not know that there was to be improvement in your baptism.  Well, now you do!  Let it be said of you that this improvement of your baptism is to be no longer a neglected duty in your spiritual life.  Indeed, let it be a needful duty for you, your family, and your friends.

Through the Scriptures:  Acts 1, 2

Through the Standards: Mode of baptism

W.C.F. 28:3

“Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.”

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