What are Ordinances?

It’s been a while since I’ve written a Words Not Found in Scripture post… but I still have a list of words that I want to get through. Today’s word is Ordinance. You may have heard this word from time to time while listening to a preacher or perhaps in a business meeting. It is usually coupled with the word “Church” as in “Church Ordinance”.

There are several different ways to define Church Ordinance and the differences largely depend on your religious views. I would say the most global way to define Church Ordinance is a command or ritual that was given to the Church and must be obeyed. The list of ordinances will grow or shrink depending on your religious views. For instance, Baptist commonly hold two church ordinances

  1. Believer’s Baptism
  2. The Lord’s Supper

From my understanding of Church Ordinances, they are tasks that are given to the church to perform and only by the church can they be performed. So, the Lord’s Supper and Baptism must be administered to the church, by the church. Some might argue that their validity lies in the who is doing it and who is receiving it.

In Catholic circles, Church Ordinances are synonymous with their Sacraments, which are:

  1. Baptism
  2. Penance (Confession)
  3. Holy Eucharist (The Lord’s Supper)
  4. Confirmation
  5. Matrimony
  6. Anointing of the Sick
  7. Holy Orders (“Ordination” or recognition of people as “ministers”)

Usually in practice Baptists believe that “Ordination” can only be administered to the church, by the church — but I would doubt they would say it is an Church Ordinance (in the scripture sense). I have also heard of some Baptist theologians who believe that Matrimony is indeed a Church Ordinance.

In practice, we generally look for a single professional to administer these ordinances. In Catholicism, they have Priests who perform these deeds; Baptists usually look toward their Pastor to perform them. Sometimes this changes the definition of Church Ordinance, from “tasks that are given to the church to perform and only by the church can they be performed” to “tasks that are given to the church to perform and only by leaders of the church can they be performed.” I contend that this change can be somewhat detrimental to the heal of the church.

Church Ordinances Are Not Found in Scripture

Of course, most of the things we usually call Church Ordinances or Sacraments can be found in scripture. The Lord’s Supper is very good to recognize, to remember the sacrifice made for us by Jesus. Baptism is a great ritual, as a recognition of the accepting of God’s freely given gift. But these rituals are not commanded, nor are they prescribed, and they are barely even described. Their lack of description is mainly why Catholics believe the Lord’s Supper turns into the physical blood and body of Christ (transubstantiation) and Baptists believe the Lord’s Supper is merely a symbol or memorial to Christ himself. Or why Catholics believe that Infant Baptism is the proper mode and method of Baptism, while Baptists believe that Believers Baptism is the proper mode and method.

One could say that a devout non-believer performing the Lord’s Supper ritual is meaningless and essentially I would agree. However, the examples we have in scripture of the Church performing this ritual does not mean that it was an Ordinance given to the church to perform. It is merely an example of what the Church did to recognize and remember their savior.

Church Ordinances, Are They Found in Scripture?

Ok, so maybe I lied… there is not an official lists of Church Ordinances, but there are some rituals and commands that were given to the church and would be beneficial if we followed them today. I am just not sure that Believer’s Baptism or the Lord’s Supper are them. How about these?

  1. Consider One Another (Hebrews 10)
  2. Imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11)
  3. Rejoice in Jesus (Philippians 3)

What about you, can you think of some Church Ordinances that we ignore?