Thursday is for Theological Terminology:
The Study of Specialized Words relating to Theology

June 9, 2011

By Ron F. Hale, Minister of Missions, West Jackson Baptist Church, Jackson, TN


With the voice of experience and the education of a scholar, Dr. W. A. Criswell shares the following definition:

The word ordinance, as we use the term in the church, refers to a religious rite ordained by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Upon his authority and institution, and following the practice of the apostles, we receive the ordinances of the church from his and their gracious hands.  The word ordinance in the Old Testament represents something prescribed, enacted, and usually refers to a matter of ritual.  For example, according to Exodus 12:14, the Passover was “an ordinance forever”; that is, a permanent institution.  The word ordinance in the New Testament is a translation of four different Greek words.  Although not technically referring to just the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, I like the translation of the Greek word paradoseis in I Corinthians 11:2.  “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.”  That is what we are to do, faithfully and scripturally and perpetually.

–W.A. Criswell, Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1980), 199.

Dr. William W. Stevens differs with Dr. Criswell and writes that the word paradoseis should be translated “traditions” instead of ordinance (William W. Stevens. Doctrines of the Christian Religion. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1967, 324).

Southern Baptists have historically observed two ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Primitive Baptists and a few other groups recognize footwashing as a third ordinance by means of a literal interpretation of John 13:12-17.

Although the word is not mentioned, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 define the two practices that we teach as ordinances:

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.

Matthew 3:13-17; 26:26-30; 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; 14:22-26; Luke 3:21-22; 22:19-20; John 3:23; Acts 2:41-42; 8:35-39; 16:30-33; 20:7; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:16,21; 11:23-29; Colossians 2:12.

Southern Baptists have steered clear of the term sacraments in reference to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The word “sacrament” implies a magical or mystical supposition stemming from a “transfer-of-grace” premise.  Seven sacraments make up the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches, and they include baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, matrimony, penance, holy orders, and extreme unction.

Southern Baptists totally reject sacramentalism through which the church dispenses grace.  Dr. Roy T. Edgemon teaches us that grace is conferred directly from Christ to the believer.  There is no intermediary of any kind, whether priest or substance (Roy T. Edgemon. The Doctrines Baptists Believe. Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1988, 117).

With an understanding that the ordinances are symbolic, we should never minimize the importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Although they are not essential for salvation, they are necessary for our spiritual growth and obedience because we are asked to do them by our Lord and Savior.


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Steve Evans

Ron, nice job in your explanation of the ordinances. Having come from Roman Catholicism, I all too well know about the sacraments. But I am very thankful for the scriptural baptism I received after I trusted Christ. When speaking to children about it I use a picture to explain what baptism is all about. Just that – a picture of what has already happened. “not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Ron Hale

Good hearing from you and your journey of faith! I’m thankful for the work that He has done in your life. <

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