Sacraments are holy, visible signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by their use he might the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel.
Acts 2:42 tells us that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.” The phrase “breaking of the bread” probably describes the Lord’s Supper. A verse earlier, in Acts 2:41, we read that “those who received [the preached] word were baptized” as they became part of Jesus’ church.
The Lord Jesus Christ gave us two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The sacraments show us the gospel message, and so underscore the preaching of God’s Word. Both sacraments tell us that there is new life for sinners through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What does the symbolism of baptism tell you about your salvation?
What does the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper tell you about your salvation?
Baptism is a sacrament of incorporation, of becoming a member of Jesus’ church. Jesus said: “Go, make disciples of all nations and baptize them…” Baptized people are disciples, or students of Jesus; and followers of Jesus should be baptized. If you have not been baptized, your profession of faith and baptism will be combined.
The fact that you are baptized is a powerful personal message for you. God will forgive your sin and give you new life, just as certainly as the water touched your body. But witnessing the baptism of others is also a powerful reminder of the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood.
We baptize newborn children of believers because they belong to the church as well. From the beginning they are, you could say, enrolled in the school of Christ. This is not true for all infants, but only for children of believing parents. God’s promises are not only for us individually, but also for our children; and baptism shows that.
If you become a parent, the elders of the church will be in contact with you about baptizing your child. Because he or she belongs to the church from the very beginning, we try to baptize as soon as possible– within reason. Before the baptism, the minister and/or elder will visit you to make sure you understand what the baptism means. During the service, the parents answer a few questions. In doing so, they profess their faith in Jesus Christ and promise to raise the child as a disciple of him.
The Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper is also called communion or the eucharist (“thanksgiving”). It is a meal in which we celebrate fellowship with Jesus Christ. The bread and wine symbolize that we receive the broken body of Jesus and his poured-out blood to sustain our spiritual life. Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)
Many Reformed and evangelical Christians think of the Lord’s Supper as merely a symbolic ritual. But that does no justice to its important in the church and as part of the liturgy. We believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in a special way in the sacrament. Not that the bread and wine magically make you a better person; but when you use the sacrament with a believing heart, you have special spiritual fellowship with the Lord Jesus. Therefore we call the sacraments “means of grace”.
The Lord’s Supper is for mature believers; that is, people who really understand their sin and need of salvation, who really depend on Jesus as their Saviour, and who want to live their lives for him. This is the reason why young children are not allowed at the table; and why we ask that you make public profession of faith before attending the Supper.
This is also the point of self-examination, based on Paul’s instruction in 1 Cor 11:28. Make sure that you participate with the right attitude. Not because you’re used to it, not because others expect you to do it, not to show off that you are such a wonderful Christian, but to have fellowship with Jesus as a sinner whom he saved by his body and blood. For centuries, the Reformed churches have had the practice of encouraging self-examination in the week leading up to the Lord’s Supper; that is why we read the first part of the form on the Sunday before. It is good to make that kind of preparation. On the other hand, self-examination is essentially something that you should do throughout your Christian life, not lost in the weeks before the Supper.
If a church member clearly leads a sinful life and does not want to repent from his sin, one of the first steps of discipline is to keep him from the Lord’s Supper. Intimate fellowship with Lord is only for those who hate their sin and rely on him.
When you visit another congregation, they do not know that you if you are really a Christian. In that case it is helpful to bring an attestation, that is, a letter from your elders that states that you are a professing member—”in good standing”, that is, without any known reason for discipline. Most Canadian Reformed congregations will not receive guests at the Lord’s Supper unless they have an attestation from a church in the federation (or the URC or OPC). The reason for this strict “fencing” of the table is the desire to keep the sacrament holy.
(If you plan on attending the Lord’s Supper in another church because of travelling, this is called a “travel attestation”. You should also ask for an attestation if you move elsewhere and join a different congregation. In principle these two types of attestation are the same, but in practice we make a distinction.)
In many Reformed churches (most outside the CanRC federation, some within) you may find a different practice: guests for the Lord’s Supper will be asked to speak with the elders, so that they can ensure that you are indeed a believer in Christ. In effect, you make a profession of faith so that they know that you can truly participate.
Memorize: q&a 66.
Journal item: catch up on previous journal items…