Symbolism in sacraments

(Carol Lou) #1

It seems that some of the differences between denominations are over how the sacraments should be observed. For example, in baptism, some denominations do infant baptism, some denominations believe that sprinkling is enough while others insist on full dunking and do not believe that sprinkling is a valid baptism. They feel that this sacrament must be performed as it was in biblical times. My question actually then has to do with the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. I am wondering why is it okay for the Lord’s supper to be symbolic- hence it is not be celebrated as it was in biblical times with a real meal and wine- and yet baptism cannot be symbolic with sprinkling and not full dunking. How would one explain this discrepancy to a seeker who looks upon this as hypocritical within the church?
And I am unsure how to explain to a seeker how the Protestant church came up with just these two sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s supper) as the only ones being established by Jesus and leave out foot washing where Jesus actually said the words, “you ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Thank you all for considering my questions.
I am so grateful for all the thoughtful answers that people post to the many questions posted on RZIM connect. The answers are always well thought out and contain much insight.

(SeanO) #3

@clou Great question! I served in a ministry one summer that used foot washing and it was powerful. And yet I had never thought to ask this question. My first response to the skeptic in question would be that they have a point that the Lord’s Supper was a full meal that included real food and fellowship. But they should be slow to condemn the Church for hypocrisy on this point - we are saved by the Gospel; not by the sacraments. I would try to press them back into Christ:

“If the Church is not perfect in their practice in this matter, why would that keep you from coming to Christ?” Or perhaps you could think of a better question.

Here is an article from Ligonier that seems to address a few of your questions in one place.

Immersion and the Meaning of Baptism

I believe baptism by immersion is the best symbol for what Christ has done for us, but I personally think people can be legitimately baptized by sprinkling as well. Though I will always believe the better symbol of death and resurrection is immersion.

Generally it is argued from passages like Romans 6:3-4 that baptism is a symbol of our death and resurrection, which I am sure you know. Therefore baptism must be by immersion in order to properly demonstrate death (into the grave or under the water) and resurrection (out of the water to new life). Also an appeal is made to the fact that, as far as we know, the apostles practiced immersion.

Romans 6:3-4 - “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, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life”

Why not footwashing?

This quote is from the Ligonier article. I would also note that the command to ‘wash one another’s feet’ was about humbly serving one another - not literally about washing feet. I do not think Jesus was telling them to have foot washing services - and we read no account of that in the Bible. Rather, Jesus was saying that if He, as Lord and Teacher, was willing to humble Himself and serve them they also must humble themselves and serve one another. The commands to remember the Lord’s Supper and to be baptized were to repeat the symbol - “baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and “As often as you do this, remember me” and therefore we see the apostles repeating these symbols in their ministry in the Bible.

“Clearly, whatever freedom churches might have to engage in foot washing, no church body may impose it as a sacrament upon its people. First, the early church did not see in John 13 a command for the church in every age to wash feet. Acts, for example, records the disciples administering the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (2:37–42), but this New Testament book never records Apostolic foot washing. Second, Dr. R.C. Sproul notes in his commentary John that the majority of the church has not regarded foot washing as a sacrament because the central significance of foot washing is the same as the central significance of baptism. Jesus’ washing of His disciples’ feet illustrated the cleansing from sin that He provides, but we have baptism to signify and seal this cleansing and forgiveness (pp. 242–43).”

(Carol Lou) #4

Thanks for the answers. The information about foot washing is quite helpful, especially that Acts only records baptism and the Lord’s supper. I had never thought of that.

And what a great question ask in response- even though the church is not perfect in their practice… why would that keep you from coming to Christ? It is always so important to bring the focus back to Christ and not get lost in the fog of details. And we are called to follow Christ- not Christians.

(SeanO) #5

@clou “We are called to follow Christ - not Christians” - love it! Glad it was helpful. May you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus!