Taken from Section II of the Presiding Bishop’s Annual Address of the 16th annual General Assembly of the Zion Assembly Church of God. Written by Presiding Bishop Wade H. Phillips.
Our pioneer fathers and mothers in the very beginning of the restoration of the church in 1886, under the oversight and guidance of R. G. Spurling, taught and practiced three divine ordinances—baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and footwashing [the latter also referred to as “washing the saints feet”] (see R. G. Spurling, The Lost Link, p. 44). Later under the general oversight of A.J. Tomlinson (1903-1943), and still later under the successive tenures of M. A. Tomlinson (1943-1990), Billy D. Murray Sr. (1990-2000) and Fred S. Fisher Sr. (2000-2004) the church continued to teach and practice these three ordinances (see Phillips, Quest to Restore God’s House, pp. 332-340). Since 2004 Zion Assembly has continued to teach and practice these three ordinances.
It is noteworthy that in adopting these ordinances in 1886 we were following in the radical tradition of the Reformation that had begun in the sixteenth century. In doing so, we were standing in contradistinction of the Roman Catholic tradition on one side and the mainline Protestant tradition led by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli on the other. Thus, our early pioneers were identifying with the tenets of faith and practice of certain Anabaptist groups—Mennonites, Brethren, Dunkers and other marginalized and persecuted groups (see Quest, pp. 323-332).
The Roman Catholic Church [and later most of the Greek Orthodox Churches] adopted a system of seven “sacraments” beginning in the fifth century, particularly under the guidance of Augustine (354-430) which culminated in the thirteenth century under the influence of the scholastics [schoolmen], particularly Peter Lombard [ca. 1100-1160] and Thomas Aquinas [1225-1274). The seven sacraments of Roman Catholicism are “baptism”, “confirmation”, “Eucharist” [Lord’s Supper], “penance” [reconciliation], “anointing the sick” [extreme unction], “marriage”, and “holy orders” [ordination].
Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli in the sixteenth century based their reformations on only two sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper [Eucharist]. Zwingli and his followers [Swiss brethren] differed however with Luther and Calvin in holding the Lord’s Supper to be merely a “memorial” of Christ’s death and accordingly denied the “real presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper and the doctrine that sacraments confer grace upon the recipients.
In studying the historical development of this subject in our own tradition, it is obvious that our forefathers in Zion Assembly in the nineteenth- and early twentieth century did not give much thought to the nature, characteristics, and number of church ordinances. They simply accepted the status quo handed down from the sixteenth- and seventeenth century radical reformers. I can still recall as a young minister in our Bible Training Institute in the early 1970s asking the question, “Why three ordinances—why not two as some groups teach or seven as some others teach?” The instructor admitted that he did not know but said he would get some counsel on the subject and get back with me. He never got back with me.
I have considered for many years now—beginning in the late 1970s—that understanding the nature and number of the divine ordinances of the church is fundamental to our faith and therefore of paramount importance. Accordingly, it would seem wise for us make a careful study of the Scriptures on the subject. Since I was not in a position during most of my ministry [in our former fellowship] to impose upon the church my thoughts on the subject, I remained relatively quiet speaking only on occasion with a few friends on the subject. In my capacity as Presiding Bishop since 2004 the subject has continued to agitate my mind and spirit so much so that I believe it is time for the church to look more deeply and thoroughly into the Scriptures on the subject.
I am sure a fresh and thorough study of the ordinances will be profitable for the church, especially the ministers, and we all will be illuminated and strengthened by any additional light received on the nature and number of the ordinances. Any additional light can do nothing but add weight and support and a deeper sense of worship and reverence for the very doctrines and institutions that we are endeavoring to restore and establish in these last days: for example, the authority and infallibility of the Bible; the nature, authority, and government of the church and its ministry; and the sacred and indissoluble bond of marriage. We may discover that we have several teachings and practices in the church that should be raised to the level of divine ordinances, and incorporated as such into our worship, practice, and discipline.
Since the ordinances are foundational to the very nature and function of the church, both for internal edification and to give light and witness to the outside world, we will do well to search for additional light to more perfectly carry forward God’s perfect plan and order.
Nature and Characteristics [Traits] of the Ordinances
Denominations and various Christian groups have differed with each other on the nature, character and number of the ordinances [“sacraments”], but they have generally held through the centuries that the ordinances were instituted by Christ during His earthly ministry and practiced thereafter by the universal church under the apostles’ oversight and guidance. Our forefathers in the Church of God did not dispute this viewpoint, nor have we in Zion Assembly. We hold therefore that the ordinances of the church were instituted by Christ either in word [explicitly or implicitly stated] or by example during His earthly ministry and afterward were given further emphases and clarity by the apostles, and, accordingly, practiced by the New Testament churches.
The ordinances belong properly to the church; however, in the present dispensation of God’s unfolding plan, when most regenerate believers [“other sheep”] have not received the light on the Bible church and remain scattered in denominationalism and independent churches (Is. 60.1-5; Jn. 10.16; 17.20-23; Eph. 1.10; 4.11-16), the Lord is patiently accepting the imperfect observance and administrations of the ordinances until the “perfect day” comes: “For the path of the just is as a shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Prov. 4.18; see also Num. 11.26-29; Is. 60.1-5, 7, 10, 14; Mk. 9.38-41; Lu. 9.49-50; Acts 18.24-28; 1 Cor. 3.1-2; Eph. 1.10; 2.11-18; 4.11-16; 5.26-27). Accordingly, Zion Assembly invites believers outside the church to receive the ordinances under its administration on condition that they “[show] forth fruit meet to repentance” (Mt. 3.8; 1 Cor. 5-1-12), that is, have openly confessed Christ as Lord and Savior and have given evidence of a life changed by His grace and power.
(Note: The exception to this is marriage: for marriage is a holy and honorable estate even if the man and woman [the covenant partners] are not spiritually regenerated and sanctified. The inspired writer of Hebrews says, “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13.4). In other words, marriage symbolically sanctifies procreation and the sex act between those duly married before God and recognized as such by the church. It is not salvation therefore that sanctifies procreation and the sex act but the ordinance of marriage. The apostle Paul says, “What? Know ye not that he which is joined to a harlot is one body? For two, saith he, shall be one flesh” (1 Cor. 6.16). Significantly, the Greek word translated here “joined” is perfectly equivalent to the Hebrew word translated “cleave” in the original marriage in Gen. 2.24. Again, the apostle emphasizes and strengthens this point by indicating that children born of unsaved parents are made positionally holy and clean by virtue of marriage (1 Cor 7.14) and again, “it is better to marry than to burn [with passion]” v. 9; see sub-topic “Marriage” below).
We thus stand in Zion Assembly between “open communion” and “closed communion” on a “guarded communion.” This means that we do not carelessly invite everyone indiscriminately to participate in the ordinances, but neither do we restrict participation to Zion Assembly members only. Accordingly, the overseers and watchmen over God’s house are responsible to give biblical counsel and guidance in spiritual matters and to make certain judgments before administering the ordinances to those who present themselves: for we are called and ordained to “bind” and “loose” and “remit” and “retain”, that is, to judge and discipline God’s people (Mt. 16.19-20; 18.18-20; Jn. 20. 23; 1 Cor. 5.1-12; 6.9-11; 2 Cor. 6.14-18; 1 Tim. 4.13-16; 2 Tim. 2.14-26; 3.1-5, 14-17). We counsel our pastors and ministers, however, to use love, wisdom, and discretion in refusing to administer the ordinances to known fornicators, adulterers, extortioners, idolaters, drunkards, thieves, revilers, etc.
There is no single word that perfectly captures the meaning of an “ordinance”, for each ordinance has certain peculiar traits. Still, however, there are several common traits that may be deduced from passages that deal with specific ordinances enabling us to identify and define them as a collective body. These common traits are not equally prominent, that is, one trait may be more pronounced in one ordinance than in another; for example, the symbol of forgiveness and cleansing is more pronounced in baptism than in footwashing; but the symbol of humility and servanthood is more pronounced in footwashing than in baptism. Again, baptism and marriage are normally observed but once in the lives of believers, whereas the Lord’s Supper and footwashing are expected to be observed often by believers. It comes within the purview of the church’s responsibility therefore to identify and define the ordinances and develop a sound theology of them.
The ordinances are rites that furnish the church with something material or tangible to help build and sustain the spirituality of the individual believer and the corporate identity and fellowship of the church universally, as well as the local churches. Ordinances are thus outward “signs” or “witnesses” with sacred and deeply held spiritual meanings—signs that point to the hidden mysteries of the Gospel. In another sense they may be considered “helps” and “governments” that unite and nourish the church (1 Cor. 12.28; Eph. 4.16; Col. 2.19).
It is critical that the church holds to the symbolic view of the ordinances rather than to the idea that in the act of administration the elements [bread, wine, water, oil, paper and ink, laying on of hands, etc.] somehow have an independent and intrinsic power of their own—a self-inducing power to regenerate, sanctify, and heal believers. The error in this doctrine is especially pronounced in religious traditions that hold to baptismal regeneration [that somehow regeneration happens when one is sprinkled or submerged in water by a duly appointed minister], or that saving grace is bestowed upon the recipient of the Eucharist because somehow the elements of bread and wine are miraculously converted into the real flesh and blood of Christ in the act of administration; or that the “real presence” of Christ is in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper [Eucharist]; or that in the case of footwashing the element of water somehow efficaciously produces humility and cleanses the recipients; or that the power of healing is intrinsically present in anointing oil; etc. Rather the ordinances and their elements are symbols and “signs” that have no efficacy of grace within them nor any real objective virtue except in their divine design as signs, symbols and memorials of the Gospel mysteries.
Ordinances signify [“sign-ify”], that is, point to the hidden mysteries of the Gospel in Christ. In this sense they may be “a means” to confession, consecration, and strengthening grace, that is, the Holy Spirit may use the ordinances as vehicles or channels to do a supernatural work in the heart of believers. As such, the ordinances give occasion and opportunity for confession and consecration and for the Holy Spirit to bless and reconcile and strengthen believers: and they serve at the same time as visible witnesses to an onlooking world of the invisible grace and power of Christ. It is important therefore to maintain that the ordinances do not have any redemptive grace and quality in and of themselves. They do not work ex opera operato, as Roman Catholicism teaches, that is, they do not have any intrinsic or peculiar power within themselves to work independently of the Holy Spirit to change a recipient’s heart. To put it another way, ordinances [“sacraments”] are never the “cause” of redemptive grace and salvation; thus the observance of an ordinance is not necessary to obtain justification [regeneration] and sanctification: for spiritual transformation is essentially the work of the Holy Spirit through personal faith on the part of the believer. The repentant thief on the Cross in Luke 23.43, the Spirit-baptized believers in Acts 10-44-47, and the believers before Abraham’s time provide indisputable evidence of this truth.
Ordinances symbolize divine principles and mysteries that are vital to the church’s worship, unity, and outward structure. As such, they have practical value as well as spiritual value, that is, they give witness to the outside world of the intrinsic, dynamic power of the Gospel working within the church, and in the same instant help to identify the visible church and to solidify and edify her corporate union and fellowship. Inward spiritual experience calls for an external witness! It is important to maintain, therefore, that the mysteries signified by ordinances are essentially in the operations of the Holy Spirit not in the elements of the ordinances [water, bread, wine, oil, flesh and blood, etc.] nor in their administrations and performances, nor in their administrators and dispensers. That was the powerful deception that gradually led to Constantinian Christianity in the fourth century that plunged the church into darkness and apostasy!
Since the ordinances have symbolic meaning as well as practical, they are ceremoniously observed [some more so than others, as in the case of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, footwashing, and marriage]. In this way, though the very essence of ordinances is spiritual in significance the outward observance of them gives witness to the outside world and serves at the same time as channels through which grace by faith may be ministered to the church—to the “members in particular”. They are therefore signs and symbols but also acts of obedience in conformity with the divine order of Christ for the church on earth. This is important to grasp, for otherwise—since we hold that the elements [water, bread, wine, oil, flesh and blood, etc.] of the ordinances symbolize rather than embody the “real presence” of God—the ordinances would fade in significance and inevitably cease to be observed. It is incumbent upon God’s church therefore to establish a proper biblical estimation of the ordinances as well as to correct any overestimation of them. In other words, we should not exalt nor idolize the “baby” [the elements and ceremonial exercises], but we should be just as careful not to “throw away the baby with the bath water”.
The ordinances thus have several essential characteristics or traits. We have seen that they 1) were instituted or affirmed by Christ during His earthly ministry; 2) serve as signs of the very “mystery” of the life and transforming power of the Gospel; 3) symbolize the mysteries of the Gospel; 4) memorialize the mysteries of the Gospel; 5) provide tangible aids to reenact [“show forth”] the mysteries of the Gospel; 6) provide channels or mediums for forgiveness, cleansing, reconciliation, and consecration. We see these characteristics in baptism, the Lord’s Supper, footwashing, marriage, the ministry and proclamation of the Word of God, anointing with oil, laying on of hands, etc. [Jn. 13.8-10; Acts 10.44-48; 1 Cor. 7.9-16; 11.27-33; Eph. 5.26-27; Heb. 4.12; Jas. 5.14-15); and, thus, we should expect to see a symbol of cleansing represented in any divine ordinance of the church; 7) finally the observance of the ordinances by the church is commanded by the Lord and the apostles (Mt. 26.26-28; 28.19-20; Mk. 16.16; Jn. 13.14-15; Acts 12.38; 0.48; 1 Cor. 11.23-25; Jas. 5.14-15).
“Ordinance” preferred over “Sacrament” or “Mysteries”
Several terms have been used in Christian history to identify what we refer to now as “ordinances.” Included among these are “mysteries”, “sacraments”, “ceremonies”, and “witnesses.” By the third century the term “sacrament” became the predominate term in the Latin-speaking churches, whereas the Greek-speaking churches preferred the term “mysteries”. Among the radical reformers in the sixteenth century the term “ordinance” came to be preferred over against “sacrament” because the Early Church soon after the passing of the apostles began to corrupt the meaning of a sacrament.
“Sacrament” is derived from the Latin sacramentum [“vow”, “oath”, “pledge”] and was substituted in lieu of the biblical word, mysterion, “mystery”, e.g., in Eph. 5.32. The term was not offensive at first and was even helpful so long as it implied simply the element of a sacred commitment as it was originally used in military circles in the Roman world. In those days it signified a solemn pledge to duly appointed authority and principles, and in that sense was an appropriate and fitting term to encourage a sober and sacred pledge of consecration and commitment to the government of Christ and His church in the observances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But once the term was perverted to mean that the mystery or hiddenness of the Gospel was infused into the recipients of the sacraments, for example in Communion via the priest claiming to act in the person of Christ and invoking and “calling down” the Holy Spirit to miraculously change the elements [bread and wine] into the body and blood of Christ, making them thus inherently efficacious, then the term and the whole sacerdotal [priestly] system was to be rejected.
These ideas were kernels of heresy sown in the early centuries that eventually germinated, took root and grew up to corrupt and divide the church. Augustine in the fifth century, following in the steps of Tertullian and other second- and third century Church Fathers, lent his powerful influence to the developing sacramental and sacerdotal system, defining a sacrament as “the visible form of an invisible grace”, and, after the manner of Greek Mystery religions, thought of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as initiatory rites into God’s kingdom and church. The door into the Dark Ages was thus thrown wide open. Thomas Aquinas, following in this tradition in the thirteenth century, defined a sacrament as a “Sign of a sacred thing in so far as it sanctifies man”. The church of the Dark Ages thereafter increasingly believed that the “sign” and “visible form” of the sacrament automatically and mechanically bestowed grace upon the recipients. It was thus that the dynamic and spiritually powerful church that we see operating in the New Testament—“a habitation [dwelling place] of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2.21), whose ministers were quickened and sanctified and charged with the power of God (Acts 1.8; 2.1-4, 15-18, 31-33, 37-47; Heb. 1.7), became a static organization composed in large part of empty forms, Christ-substituting rituals, and spiritually dead [unregenerate] members (Mt. 5.20; Col. 1.21-23, 27-29; 2.4-15, 18-23; 3.1-6; 1 Tim. 4.1-3; 2 Tim. 3.1-8; 2 Pet. 2.1-3, 14-19; Jude 3-8, 11-19; Rev. 1.9-11, 20; 2.5, 13-17, 20-23, 26-29; 3.3-6, 11-13, 15).
Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Anglican churches agree today that some form of “transubstantiation” takes place in the administration of the Eucharist [Lord’s Supper]: that is, that the elements in the Lord’s Supper are somehow mysteriously changed into the real body and blood of Christ; and others, e.g., Lutherans, teach that the “real presence” of Christ is in the elements of the sacraments, particularly in the Lord’s Supper.
As early as the second- and third centuries, certain Church Fathers [Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Irenaeus, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, Ambrose, Methodius, et al.] began imagining that the effects of the “Paschal Mystery” of Christ—His suffering, death, and resurrection—were somehow conferred upon the recipients of the sacraments through duly ordained priests speaking “consecrated words” invoking the Holy Trinity and transforming the elements into “another reality.” The mysteries or “hidden things” of God were thus believed to be infused into believers through participation in the “sacred rites”. It was in this way that, soon after the passing of the apostles, old pagan temple rites and superstitious concepts became mixed with Christian teachings and found their way into the church.
We have noticed that the infusion of Greek Mystery religion with its forms of magic and superstition had begun to be associated with baptism and the Lord’s Supper very early in the worship and practice of the church in the second- and third centuries and was later more fully developed in the Roman Catholic tradition. During the Middle Ages, Roman Catholic scholars [scholastics/schoolmen] in the eleventh- through the thirteenth century had come under the influence of Aristotle’s philosophy, particularly his metaphysics, and accordingly developed a crafty and sophisticated distinction between “matter [substance]” and “form” in an attempt to defend and explain the mystery of “transubstantiation”. As such, it is said that the “substance” of the bread and wine in the Eucharist is mysteriously converted [“radically changed”] into the real body and blood of Christ while the “accidents” of the bread and wine [their weight, texture, color, shape, etc.] remain the same. Moreover, the celebration of the Mass began to be perceived as a “sacrifice” early on in Christian history [third century] but was more craftily developed during the scholastic period. In the process the priest was exalted as one acting in the person of Christ to “make” the “sacrifice” effective! The “miracle” happened as the priest lifted upward the “host” [bread] and uttered the Latin words, Hoc est enim corpus meum (“for this is my body”).
We should pause here to say that, though the Roman Catholic Church propagates many doctrinal distortions and a great deal of practical corruption, there were during the Dark Ages, even as there are now, many wonderful and dedicated Catholic Christians in the world—believers whose hearts God has touched and transformed by grace through faith in spite of the corruption of the institution of which they are a part. We can be thankful moreover for the many good works that has been done [and is being done today] in the name of the Lord among Roman Catholics. Accordingly, we are not judging the hearts nor the sincerity of Roman Catholic individuals nor the individuals of any religious group (only the Lord can do that); but we are divinely instructed to discern and test through the Holy Spirit the “spirit of error” and judge right and wrong by the rule of God’s Word in Holy Scripture (Mt. 22.29; Jn. 20.9, 23; 1 Tim. 4.13-16; 2 Tim. 3.15-16; Rom. 15.4; 2 Cor. 5.1-13; 6.2-5; 2 Pet. 1.16-20; 1 Jn. 2.18-19; 4.1-6). Further, we should pray for our brethren in other religious groups that their heads and not their hearts may be charged for any errors and deceptions and intercede for them with our Lord in saying, “Father forgive them for they not what they do.” And we can hope and pray that they will hear that prophetic “voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18.4).
During the early Middle Ages, the superstitions associated with transubstantiation and priestly powers captured the imagination of lay Catholics and ordinary people everywhere in the Western World—especially in European states and in the British Isles. This phenomenon was the more enhanced by the priests administering the sacraments in Latin idioms [a language spoken and understood almost exclusively by educated priests]: for it seemed to the average person—in an age of widespread and prevailing illiteracy—that the sacramental ceremonies were performed not only under peculiar mystical powers but under a transcending sacred canopy—“the Holy Mother Church”. Liturgies spoken in Latin provided a convenience which the institution tended to manipulate to control the people.
Many “miracle stories” associated with the Eucharist were fanciful and sensationalized. Theologians and priests described the Mass in fantastic and metaphorical ways, for example, the priest washing his hands at the altar supposedly reflected Pontius Pilate washing his hands of the judgment of Christ. Though the priests had no power to manufacture deity nor to “call down the Holy Spirit”, yet it was made to seem so especially in the imaginations of the biblically illiterate and ill-informed. The faithful were taught to tip their hats in reverence and “gaze adoringly” upon the host [bread] as the priest performed the mysterious ceremony. It was not uncommon for people to run from church to church to capture the moment in the Mass when the priest lifted up the “host” and the chalice [wine cup], for it was commonly believed that beholding the Eucharist helped to preserve youthfulness and heal the sick. There was also a proliferation of Masses privately celebrated for the dead and for wealthy recluses. Remains of the consecrated hosts [Communion bread] was often held back and given to the sick, based on the popular superstition that the bread, having been consecrated by the priest, contained miraculous healing powers.
Since we know that such “hocus-pocus” does not actually change the bread, how then is such a practice not plain and simple idolatry? For the bread has no more deity in it than did the wood and stone idols of the Egyptians, Canaanites, and Babylonians (Is. 44.9-20). The “blest bread” can no more see, hear, and speak than the graven images and dumb idols of pagan Persia, Greece and Rome. For transubstantiation or salvation is not in the hands and words of priests but in the souls of believers who receive into their hearts and confess with their mouths the Lord Jesus Christ: having been quickened to newness of life by grace through faith and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 3.3-8; Rom. 4.17; 5.5; 8.9-11; 10.6-10; Eph. 2.8; Col. 1.13). Accordingly, what needs transformed is not the bread and wine but the person observing the ordinance as he/she recalls the symbolic meaning of the bread and wine.
The Roman Catholic Church continues today to teach that Jesus’ one bloody sacrifice on the Cross is repeated over and again in an “unbloody manner” so that every generation of Roman Catholics can miraculously have the full benefits of Christ’s historical death and resurrection in present space and time. Accordingly, Christ is offered up as a sacrifice thousands of times on any given day—an irreverent fiction and heresy contradicted plainly by the Scriptures and reason (cf. Rom. 6.9-10; Heb. 9.24-28; 1 Pet. 2.24; Rev. 1.18; see also Is. 53.4-12). But the more subtle danger of this teaching is that it inevitably tends to substitute the sacrament and its priestly administration for the dynamic ministry of the Holy Spirit and personal, regenerating faith on the part of the participating professing believer.
“Beware lest any man spoil you [take you captive] through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments [principles] of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2.8).
The doctrine of “transubstantiation” was taught in the Lateran Council in 1215, reinforced in the Council of Trent in 1551/1562 and reaffirmed in Vatican Council I (1869-1870) and Vatican Council II (1962-1965). It continues today to be a cardinal teaching of Roman Catholic faith and practice, and a primary pillar of that ecclesiastical institution (cf. Mt. 15.3, 6; Mk. 7.6-9, 13; Col. 2.6-8 Thess. 2.7-12; 1 Tim. 4.1-8; 2 Pet. 2.1-3, 10, 14, 17).
Salvation Plain and Simple
It was thus that the plain and simple teachings and practices of Jesus and the apostles regarding how salvation is received were superseded by the doctrines and practices of the sacramental and sacerdotal [priestly] system of Roman Catholicism during the Dark Ages, and spread thereafter through the East by the Greek Orthodox Church after the “Great Schism” in 1054, and throughout the British Isles and the American Colonies by the Anglican Church in the sixteenth- and seventeenth centuries. The whole of Western Civilization was thus permeated with a sacramental and sacerdotal view of Christianity.
In contrast to this sacramentalism and sacerdotalism, the simple Bible steps to justification and spiritual transformation which were taught and illustrated by Jesus and the apostles are as follows: 1) by the anointed proclamation of the Gospel via preachers, lay witnesses, and/or directly by the Holy Spirit speaking to one’s conscience (1 Sam. 3.4-10; Is. 52.7-8; Jn. 10.16; Acts 1.8; 2.36-37; 9.4-5; Rom. 1.15-16; 10.8-9, 14-16; Eph. 4.11-16; Titus 2.11-12; Heb. 4.12); 2) by outwardly and inwardly hearing the Word of God (Acts 2.37; Rom. 10.8-9, 14-17; Gal. 3.2-5); 3) by being convicted [reproved] by the Holy Spirit of one’s sinfulness (Jn. 16.8; Acts 2.36-37); 4) by sensing the guilt of one’s transgressions (Ex. 34.7; Deut. 21.9; Lev. 5.3-5; Ps. 51.1-4, 6-10; Acts 2.36-37; 7.51-54); 5) by “godly sorrow”, confession and repentance (Mt. 3.1-2; 11.21; 12.41; 26.75; Rom. 10.9; 2 Cor. 7.8-10; 1 Jn. 1.9; 2 Sam. 12.13); 6) by opening one’s heart to receive Christ (Rom. 10-8-10; Eph. 4.18; Rev. 3.20); 7) by regeneration [“born again”] (Jn. 3.3-8; Titus 3.5; 1 Pet. 1.22-23), that is, by personally receiving Jesus into one’s heart by “grace through faith” as Lord and Savior, being transformed thereby into a “new creature” in the image of Christ (Rom. 8.9; 2 Cor. 3.18; Eph. 2.8; Col. 1.13; 3.10).
It is of paramount importance to maintain that these steps may be taken and salvation experienced fully without priest or sacrament (Jn. 1.12-13; 3.5-8; 5.24; 6.29; Acts 10.44-47; 16.30-31; Rom. 8.8-11; 10.8-11; 2 Cor. 5.17; Gal. 3.26; Eph. 2.8; Col. 3.10; 1 Jn. 1.9; 4.7-9). This is not to discount the importance and place for an ordained ministry and ordinances in the church, but simply to put things in proper biblical perspective. As such, pagan superstition and “any-thing-goes” liberalism may be avoided on one hand and legalism and rigid religiosity on the other.
It was inevitable that the “doctrines of demons” and “damnable heresies” embedded in sacramentalism and sacerdotalism would be substituted in lieu of a true and efficacious transformation of one’s life through faith and the Word of God: for natural [unregenerate] man desires salvation without true spiritual transformation (Mt. 23.23-29, 37; Mk. 8.34-38; Rom. 1.16-32; 1 Cor. 1.18-31; 2.1-16). Sinful men desire justification without regeneration; religion without righteousness; glory without suffering; heaven without holiness. It was thus that, according to the prophecy of the Holy Spirit, religious forms [sacraments, etc.] were instituted to fill the vacuum of the absence of the dynamic and supernatural workings of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men.
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils [demons]; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron . . . If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives’ fables and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things . . . Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands by the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear before all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing so thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4.1-16).
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be . . . covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers . . . unholy . . . Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof . . . Ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith . . .” (2 Tim. 3.1-8).
The heretical illusion that somehow the Paschal Mystery of Christ transforms a believer through a sacred sign or “visible word” and material element administered by a priest led Jerome in the fifth century to purposely render the Greek term mysterion, “mystery” as sacramentum in his Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible (see Eph. 1.9; 3.2-5, 9-10; 5.32; Col. 1.26; 1 Tim. 3.16; Rev. 1.20; et al). But, as noted earlier, sacramentum was first substituted for mysterion by Tertullian in the third century and this led later to the corruption of the “sacraments” and ultimately to the fall of the church in the fourth century.
Zion Assembly stands between Two Extremes
Some of the radical reformers in the sixteenth- and seventeenth centuries—after they had been awakened to the evils of the sacramental and sacerdotal system—gave a great deal of thought to this subject but tended to overreact against the Roman Catholic view of the efficacy of the sacraments as inherently containing grace and being able to bestow grace upon the recipients. In many cases these reformers either completely spiritualized the sacraments or abolished them altogether [e.g., certain Anabaptist groups led by men like Hans Denk, Jacob Kraus, and Hans Bunderlin, and later George Fox and the Quakers], while others like Zwingli and the Swiss brethren maintained the need for sacraments but saw them as mere symbols. On the other hand, Pilgram Marpeck [d. 1556] of the South German Anabaptists insisted that the ordinances should be observed but that they were more than “mere symbols” [in contrast to Zwingli], yet they did not “contain” nor especially “produce” grace [in contrast to Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy]. He developed a theology of the ordinances that gave the observance of them deep meaning yet denied that they contained and/or produced grace and salvation. Accordingly, the “real presence” of the Lord could indeed be experienced in the life of the believer during the administration of the ordinances, but not automatically or in any mechanical sense nor as a natural consequence of the observance; rather it was through faith and reverent obedience to the divine order of things appointed by the Lord. The ordinances simply provided the form, the Holy Spirit and the faith of the believer produced the spiritual dynamic and divine blessing. Thus, without the active agency of the Holy Spirit and the faith of the recipient the ordinances were merely external acts, empty forms, without any real meaning—mere perfunctory bodily exercises (cf. 1 Tim. 4.6-8; 2 Tim. 3.5-7; Titus 1.16; and cp. Amos 5.21-26).
Marpeck maintained that Communion [Lord’s Supper] was basically a memorial meal and held “for the renewal, strengthening and comfort of the soul, and for nothing else.” The members of the church were to examine themselves earnestly to see whether they stood in love and harmony with their brothers and sisters in Christ, and if they were loving their enemies and loving the Lord enough to be willing to give up their lives for Him. As such, the ceremony of Communion is to give place for consecration and for reconciliation, if need be, both for the individual member and for the members of the church collectively. Ultimately, the aim of a disciplined observance of the ordinances is to cultivate and maintain a pure church.
Ordinances Distinguished from Commandments
The divine ordinances of the church are distinguished from and contrasted with commandments, precepts, and statutes. In the broad sense, the meaning of “ordinance” is almost synonymous with “law” and “commandment” (Ex. 18.20; Lev. 18.4; Num. 9.12; Eph. 2.15; Col. 2.14). But in the stricter traditional sense ordinances came to signify religious rites that represent and symbolize the most vital and fundamental principles of the church. As such, they are foundational pillars of the church and less in number than commandments and statutes in general. Another distinction is that ordinances involve two or more persons or members of the church, whereas commandments, precepts, and statutes apply axiomatically to each member or believer individually; and thus, as already noticed, the ordinances belong properly to the church as a corporate body [though, as noticed earlier, are observed and administered imperfectly outside the church].
There is also a distinction of things that may be said to have sacramental traits yet lack the status of an ordinance and accordingly should not be celebrated as such: for example 1) personal and corporate [communal] prayer [Mt. 6.5-15; 1 Cor. 16.15, 19]; 2) church covenant [Ex. 19.5-8; 24.6-8; 2 Kg. 23.1-3; Mt. 18.18-20; Jn. 17.6, 8, 8]; 3) anointing with oil [Ex. 29.21; Lev. 8.12; 14.18; Ps. 92.10; Mk. 6.13; Jas. 5.14-15; 4) right hands of fellowship [Gal. 2.9; see also 2 Kg. 10.15; Ezra 10.19]; 5) assembling together [Ps. 122.1; Mt. 18.15-20; Lu. 4.16; Acts 1.13-14; 2.42; 15.2-4, 6-19, 22, 25; 1 Cor. 1.10-13; 5.4-13; Heb. 10.25]; 6) laying on of hands [Num. 8.10; 27.18; Mk. 5.23; 16.18; Acts 6.6-7; 8.15-17; 9.17; 13.3; 19.6; 1 Tim. 4.14; Jas. 5.14]; 7) holy kiss/kiss of charity [Rom. 16.16; 1 Cor. 16.20; 2 Cor. 13.12; 1 Thess. 5.26; Acts 20.37]; 8) devotional covering/veiling [1 Cor. 11.1-16], 9) singing of hymns and spiritual songs [Ps.95.1-2; 96.1-4; 98.1-2; 105.1-2; Eph. 5.19; Col. 3.16]; 10) fasting [Neh. 9.1; Ps. 35.13; Joel 1.14; 2.12, 15; Mt. 6.16-18; 9.15; Lu. 2.37; 2 Cor. 6.5; Jas. 4.9]; 11) solemn thanksgiving [Ps. 1.14; 95.2; 105.1-2; 106.1-2; 1 Thess. 5.18]; etc. It will be noticed that most of these practices are observed in connection with the church as the ordinance proper.
The following institutions and practices seem to bear all the marks of an ordinance [sacrament] and therefore should perhaps be recognized and observed as such. Among those to be considered are: 1) the church itself [see below]; 2) ministry/ordination [see below]; 3) marriage [see below]; 4) public Bible reading [see below].
Number of Ordinances
We have seen that baptism, Lord’s Supper, and footwashing were accepted in the very beginning of the restoration of the church in 1886 and have never been questioned; and therefore need not be reviewed here. The question is: are there other ordinances that we should be practicing and celebrating? If so, how many? In my estimation there are at least seven common practices of the church that should be considered and possibly recognized as divine ordinances. I raise this point not to create controversy nor because we have nothing better to do, but because I can see where these practices might significantly stabilize and nourish the church and enhance her ministry and outreach to the nations. And, further, it may help support our claim that God directed our actions in 2004 and raised up Zion Assembly to be the prophetic “city set on a hill” to shine forth the light and truth of Christ to the nations (Is. 2.2-4; 49.6, 23; 60.1-5, 14; Mt. 5.14; Eph. 5.14; Phil. 2.12-15; 1 Tim. 3.15; Rev. 19.7-8; 21.2-3, 9-11).
Foremost in our consideration and reevaluation of divine ordinances should be the church itself. For the church is not only a divine institution but bears all the marks of an ordinance. First, the mysteries of the Gospel are embodied in the church, the “body of Christ”, and are proclaimed [preached] by the church (Mt. 29.18-20; Jn. 17.6-14; 2 Cor. 3.23; Eph. 1.2-9, 15-23; 2.11-22; 3.6, 9-12; 4.1-16; 5.24-32). The church is therefore a visible sign and witness to the world of the grace of God and His transforming power, and a channel through which that grace may be obtained (Song 6.8-10; Is. 60.1-5, 14; Mt. 5.13-14; 2 Cor. 3.2-3; Eph. 3.3-6, 9-10; Heb. 11.7; 1 Tim. 3.15; Rev. 12.1-17; 19.7-9; 21. 2-3, 9-11).
Second, the church owes its life and being to the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ: for as Eve was formed from the rib of Adam, so the church came from the broken side of Christ and was purchased by His blood (Jn. 19.34-37; 20.27-29; Acts 20.28; 2 Cor. 11.2-3; Eph. 1.14; Col. 1.26-28; Heb. 9.11-17; 1 Pet. 18-23). Indeed, the church is crucified and resurrected with Christ, and “[sits] in heavenly places in Christ” (Rom. 6.4-6; Eph. 1.3; 2.5-6; Phil. 3.20; Col. 3.1-2). In one sense the church is an extension of the Incarnation (2 Cor. 3.2-3; Col. 1.24), which is symbolized in the metaphors “Body of Christ”, “City of God”, “House of God”, “Temple of the Holy Spirit”, etc. (Mt. 5.14; 1 Cor. 6.19; 12.24-27; Eph. 1.23; 2.16, 21-22; 3.6; 4.4, 12-16; Col. 1.18; 2.17-19; 1 Tim. 3.15; Heb. 12.22; et al).
Third, to more impactfully emphasize the mysterious union between Christ and the church, the apostle compares it to the divine institution of marriage, saying, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5.31-32).
In that the church embodies in its very soul and spirit the “real presence” of Christ, it may be said that the church is the most fundamental ordinance [“sacrament”] for mediating salvation (Gen. 28.10-22; Is. 49.1-6; 60-1-5, 14; Mt. 18.17-20; Jn. 17.20-23; 1 Cor. 12.12-27; 2 Cor. 3.2-3; 5.17-20). For the very life of Christ is reenacted through the life and experiences of the church, that is, the church is dead [crucified] with Christ; suffers with Him; is resurrected with Him; labors together with Him in the ministry; will ascend with Him in the Rapture; will return with Him in the Second Coming; and will rule and reign on earth with Him in the Millennium (Dan. 7.14, 18, 22, 27; Mt. 19.28-29; 20.23; Lu. 19.12-19; 22.29-30; 1 Cor. 6.2-3; 2 Tim. 2.12; 1 Pet. 2.21-25; 3.14-18; 4.1; Rev. 2.26-27; 5.10; 12.5; 19.11-16; 20.1-6).
What the apostle Peter said of obedient wives regarding unbelieving husbands therefore may be said of the church as an ordinance: “that if any obey not the word, they may also without the word be won by the [chaste conduct] of the wives” (1 Pet. 3.1-2), that is, the embodiment of Christ in the church is a powerful witness to a watching world. Indeed, the Word of God lived out is sometimes more powerful than preaching! (cf. 2 Cor. 3.2-3). The apostle Paul speaks along these same lines, saying, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now they are holy” (1 Cor. 7.14), that is, the church may serve as a channel as well as a sign and symbol of the grace of God. Again, Paul says in 1 Cor. 14.23-26 when “the whole church be come together into one place” in an orderly fashion and “all things be done [in an edifying way]”, and one comes into the meeting who is an unbeliever or unlearned he will be convicted and judged by all that he sees and hears and “the secrets of his heart [will be] made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.”
We have stressed that the ordinances do not contain nor especially produce grace in and of themselves. It is so also with the church. The Roman Catholic view that sacraments are effective ex opere operato—that is, as valid and efficacious works of saving grace in and of themselves—therefore cannot be maintained. As we have noted elsewhere, the ordinances cannot be effective except on the bases of personal faith and the dynamic operations of the Holy Spirit working within the recipient believers. The presence and power of the kingdom of God working within the church is necessary and of paramount importance to validate and energize the church as a vehicle or channel for grace (Lu. 17.20-21; 22.18-20; Jn. 3-8; 20-23; Acts 1.6-8; Rom. 1.16; 8.16; 14.17-18; 1 Cor. 2.1-5, 7, 10-16; 4.20; 1 Thess. 1.5; Rev. 2.5, 17. It was thus that Jesus, upon making His famous declaration, “. . . upon this rock I will build My church” then immediately emphasized, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16.18-19). The obvious implication is that the church’s actions on earth must be in harmony with the will of God in heaven. The “binding” and “loosing” by the church on earth is authorized and validated only by the headship of Christ working through the Holy Spirit in accord with the Word of God (Jn. 14.26; 15.26; 16.7, 12-15; Acts 1.8; Rom. 8.1, 10-14; 1 Cor. 2.7-10, 12-13; 12.3-11; 2 Cor. 3.17-18; Eph. 2.17-23; 4.1-7; Col. 1.12-29; et al).
The ministry of the church was divinely instituted by Christ during His earthly ministry: in fact, at the very founding of the church under the terms of the New Testament (Mt. 5.1-7.28; 10.1-5; Mk. 3.13-16; Lu. 6.12-17; 10.1). It is noteworthy that the ordination of the Twelve Apostles served as a symbolic representation of the twelve tribes of Israel, “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7.38), which was founded at Mount Sinai under Moses (Ex. 19.3-8; 24.3-8; Deut. 4.5-10; 26.17-19: Is. 2.1-4). As such, Jesus simply brought the Old Covenant church to terms under the New Covenant (Jn. 1.1-5, 14-18; Heb. 3.1-16; and compare Ex. 19.5-8 with 1 Pet. 2.9): and then purchased it “with His own blood” (Acts 20.28). The “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt. 5.1-7.28) was virtually an exposition of the teachings and principles of the New Covenant upon which Jesus newly founded the church in contrast with the teachings and principles of the Old Covenant that had been established under Moses (Heb. 3.1-6; 8.1-9.28; Col. 2.6-15).
A significant part of Jesus’ work on earth was to establish the authority and divine nature of the ministry of the church; which significantly formed the very foundation of the church, Christ himself serving as the “chief cornerstone” (Mt. 16.15-28; 18.15-20; Mk. 13.34; Jn. 20.23; Acts 2.42; 1 Cor. 3.9-15; 12.28-31; Eph. 2.20; 4.1-16). As such, the ministry is “set apart” for special services, having been planted in the womb of the church by the very seed of God. Divine authority and ordination are thus derived essentially from God himself (Mt. 28.19-20; Mk. 13.34; Rom. 13.1-3). Still, it is important to maintain that there is no sharp separation between the “clergy” and “laity”. This was in fact a grave error fostered by the apostate church of the Dark Ages, which led to extravagant views of ecclesiastical power. After the passing of the New Testament apostles, the church began to “fall away” and “depart from the faith” (Acts 20.29-31; 2 Thess. 2.1-12; 1 Tim. 4.1-3; Jude 3; Rev. 2.4-5; see also Is. 60.2). Gradually the church espoused and maintained that God had bestowed upon the ordained priesthood the power to forgive sin and to open and close at will the gates of heaven. Further, this priesthood morphed into a pyramidal hierarchy of authority that ascended into the solitary office of the pope, whom it was claimed was by virtue of his office “the supreme head on earth of the universal church” and “vicar of Christ”. Accordingly, the pope often exercised authority and made declarations that contradicted the headship of Christ and His teachings.
Significantly, many of the church fathers in the second- and third centuries opposed the idea of an exalted distinction of overseers, bishops, and priests over against the laity—for example, Hippolytus [d. ca. 236) and Cyprian (d. 258). They emphasized the connection of the ministers with the whole community of faith and the whole church’s involvement in the selection and appointment process of overseers and ministers. Nevertheless, the view of ministry as a static institutional structure won out in the long run over against an anointed, gifted, and Spirit-guided ministry.
This apostate view of the government and discipline of the church is why our forefathers in the Church of God in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth century established a rule of order in which a candidate for the ministry is first recognized and endorsed by the local church of which he/she is a member, and thereafter is examined by the presbytery [the representatives of the universal church], composed of the presiding bishop and national/state overseer [and on occasion a whole body of assembled elders with the people of God] (see, e.g., Numb. 8.9-14). Further, only after the presbytery is fully convinced that the candidate is spiritually fit and divinely gifted (1 Tim. 5.22), is he/she fully endorsed and “set apart” for ministry by the “laying on of hands” (Numb. 8.10; 27.18; Acts 6.3-6; 9.11-17; 13.2-3; 1 Tim. 4.14). Accordingly, the church simply recognizes the gifts and callings of God upon the men and women whom He has sovereignly chosen (Mk. 3.13-19; Lu. 6.12-16; 10.1-11; Jn. 17.6-19; 1 Cor. 1.1; 12.18). Thus, just as the church proceeds from Christ so also does the ministry.
Remarkably, the church shares in the very priesthood and kingship of Christ; mediating salvation, disciplining believers, and ruling and reigning with Christ in His throne (Is. 49.1-6; Dan. 7.22, 27; 12.3; Mt. 10.1, 8; 16.18-19; 18.18-20; 19.28-29; Lu. 9.1-2; 19.12-27; Jn. 20.23; 2 Tim. 2.12; Rev. 3.21; 20.4-6). Ministers are indeed not only “laborers together with Christ” and “ambassadors for Him” on earth in this present age (2 Cor. 5.19-20; 6.1), but, astonishingly, “kings” and “priests” of God and “joint heirs with Christ” of all the glorious promises of God in the Gospel (Rom. 8.17; Rev. 2.26; 3.21).
As such, the ministers of the church are channels for salvation and divinely gifted instruments appointed “for the perfecting of the saints” (Eph. 4.11-16). Thus Paul could say, “I have begotten you through the Gospel” (1 Cor. 4.15) and again “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4.19); and yet again, “Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given me for you, to fulfill the word of God; even the mystery which . . . now is made manifest to his saints . . . which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1.25-28).
We see then that the church—the very “apple of God’s eye” (Deut. 32.10; Zech. 2.8)—cannot be formed nor nourished nor perfected without the various gifts and offices of the ministry: overseers [elders/administrators], evangelists, pastors-teachers, and deacons (Acts 20.28; 1 Cor. 12.28; Eph. 4.11-16; Col. 1.28; 1 Tim. 3.1-13; Titus 1.5-9). We are admonished therefore to “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5.17) and to “know [recognize/honor] them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their works’ sake” (1 Thess. 5.12-13); and again, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they must give account . . .” (Heb. 13.17; see also vv. 7, 24).
Recognizing and maintaining a biblical view of the ministry as an ordinance of God is necessary for the formation and discipline of the church. This has perhaps never been truer than it is today in view of the universal resistance to duly established government and authority, secular and religious. There is indeed a spirit of “lawlessness” in the air. As God’s church—“a city set upon a hill”, we are to set the example of how to govern and to be governed with grace and harmony and in love, holiness, and truth, manifesting disciplined lives, individually and corporately as God’s “holy nation” and “the body of Christ” (Ex. 19.5-6; Lev. 10.10-12; 20.22-26; Deut. 4.5-8; 26.17-19; Is. 2.1-5; 1 Tim. 2.15; 1 Pet. 2.9; Rev. 20.4-6).
Marriage is a holy institution ordained by God for the benefit and sustenance of humankind (Gen. 2.18, 22-24; 5.2; Mal. 2.14-16; Mt. 19.4-6; Mk. 10.2-12; Eph. 5.23-33). God is its author both for the mutual benefit of the covenant partners and for an orderly rule in the church and the whole of human society (Gen. 1.27-28; Heb. 13.4). Jesus honored and exalted the institution of marriage by attending with His disciples the celebrated marriage at Cana and performing His first miracle there. He thus honored it with His presence and participation (Jn. 2.2-11). The apostle Paul indicates that the very “mystery” of marriage points to the Gospel and one’s initiation into the very life of God (Eph. 5.29-32).
Matrimony has three primary objectives in the divine wisdom: 1) To reflect in the sacred union of man and woman the divine image of God; which is to say, the union of the genders [masculine and feminine] reflect together the wholeness of God; but also marriage reflects the union of God with His people. This is why the Lord calls His union with His covenant people a betrothal/marriage (Deut. 20.7; 22.23-27; Jer. 3.14; 31.31-33; Ezek. 16.8; Mt. 1.18-25), an image that is perpetuated and perfected in the New Testament under the sacred union between Christ and the church as bridegroom and bride (Jer. 31.31-33; Eph. 5.22-32; Rev. 19.7-8; 21.1-2, 9-10). 2) To create a divine order in which the genders [male and female] mutually edify and sustain one another: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually; for each is the counterpart of the other (Gen. 1.27-28; 2.18, 22-25; Mt. 19.4-6; Mk. 10.6-9; Eph. 5.23-33). 3.
To establish a hallowed and pure way to populate and perpetuate the race of man on earth—“be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth” (Gen. 1.28; 2.22-24; Mal. 2.14-16; 1 Cor. 7.2-5, 9-11; Eph. 6.1-4).
It is not our purpose here to explain and defend our view of the sacredness and indissolubleness of the marriage bond [covenant]: for this has been well established among us in our tradition of faith. We believe that death alone dissolves a marriage which has been ordained by God and recognized as such by the church (Mt. 16.19-20; 19.8-12; 22.23-30; Mk. 10.6-9; Rom. 7.2-3). What we are endeavoring to do here is establish that the divine institution of marriage bears all the marks of a holy ordinance of God and therefore should be adopted as such by the church.
The sacramental traits of marriage include the following: 1) a biblical marriage is a reflection of the sacred unity within God himself (Gen. 1.27; 2.22-25; 5.2; 1 Cor. 11.3, 7-12; Eph. 5.22-32); and is a symbol of the sacred union between God and His people as bridegroom and bride (Ex. 19.5; Song 5.1; 6.2-9; Is. 49.14-18; 62.5; Ezek. 16.8; Jn. 3.29; Mt. 22.2; 2 Cor.11-2-3; Eph. 5.25-32; Rev. 19.7-8); 2) Jesus and the apostles honored and exalted marriage as a divine institution and sacred ordinance. The apostle Paul indicates in fact that the very “mystery” of marriage points to our spiritual union with Christ in the Gospel and our corporate union together with Him in the church (Eph. 5.23-32; see also Mk. 10.6-9; Jn. 2.2-11; 1 Cor. 12.12-28; Heb. 13.4); 3) it is entered into by a sacred covenant between two eligible persons [male and female], God himself authorizing and witnessing to the sacred union (Gen. 1.27; 2.22-25; 5.2; Mal. 2.14-16; Jer. 3.14; 50.5; Is. 62.5; Ezek. 16.8; Mk. 10.2-12; 1 Cor. 7.2); 4) it is sustained by grace and a sacred commitment [sacramentum] (Gen. 2.24; Deut. 10.20; 11.22; Jer. 13.11; Mal. 2.14-16; Mk. 10.2-12; Rom. 7.2-3; 1 Cor. 7.2-5, 10-14); 5) it is a universal witness of God’s divine order for the human race (Mal. 2.14-16; Mt. 19.4-5; 1 Cor. 7.2-5, 14; Hebrews 13.4; Eph. 5.22-32; Rev. 19.7-8); 6) it is a channel through which the human race, and more particularly the church of God, is divinely ordered and sustained in holiness, truth and divine order (Mk. 10.6-9; 1 Cor. 7.14-16; Eph. 5.22-32); 7) it is universal in its scope, expected to be entered into and honored by all men (Gen. 1.27-28; 2.22-24; Mk. 10.6-9; 1 Tim. 5.14; Heb. 13.4; Rev. 21.2-3; 9-10), excepted only by those who by “the gift of God” remain unmarried and celibate [born as such “from their mother’s womb”] and others “which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” (Mt. 10-12; 1 Cor. 7.7-9).
Public Reading of the Word of God
The Bible, the written Word of God, is a visible sign and witness pointing men to the Gospel of Christ. It is inscripturated prophecy centered on the work and glory of Christ (2 Pet. 1.19-21; 1 Tim. 4.1-3): for “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19.10; see also Lu. 24.27; Jn. 5.39). The Bible is thus a sacred record or witness of Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, ascension, glorification, and on-going intercessory work in unity with the Father in His heavenly throne (Acts 7.55; Rev. 3.21). The sacred Book is a written revelation of the saving work of God in Christ, and thus analogous to God’s Word inbreathed into the hearts of believers.
“Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables [tablets] of the heart” (2 Cor. 3.2-3).
Note the contrast in this Pauline passage between the Word of God written with “ink” in v. 3 and “engraven in stones” in v. 7 with the Word of God written by the “Spirit of the living God” in the hearts of men in vv. 3, 6, 8. The apostle’s words thus reflect the words spoken by Jesus in Jn. 6.63: “. . . the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (see also Gen. 2.7; Ps. 119.93, 130; Mk. 1.22; Lu. 24.32; 2 Tim. 3.16; Heb. 4.12; 2 Pet. 1.20).
Most professing Christians, including a great many preachers and teachers, read the Bible selectively: choosing certain scriptures to support some hobby horse or traditional bias. But God’s church is bound by a sacred covenant to read, study and obey “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Deut. 8.3; Mt. 4.4; see also Ps. 119.6, 13, 128, 151, 160, 172); 1) to proclaim “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20.27); 2) to teach believers in all nations “to observe all things whatsoever that [Christ has commanded]” (Mt. 28.19-20; 2 Tim. 3.16.); and 3) to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2.15).
Finally, the written Word in Scripture is a sign and witness of the living Word of God and leads us to the living Word (Jn. 1.1-3, 14). Thus, Jesus said, “My doctrine is not mine but His that sent Me” (Jn 7.16). It is the living Word of God through the Holy Spirit that brings conviction, invokes godly sorry and repentance, produces saving faith, and transforms sinners into saints (Jn. 16.7-15; Rom. 10.17; 2 Cor. 7.8-11; 1 Pet. 1.22-23).
“This Book contains the mind of God; the state of man; the way of salvation; the doom of sinners; and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy; its precepts are binding; its stories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise; believe it to be safe; and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you; food to support you; and comfort to cheer you. It’s the traveller’s map, the pilgrim’s staff; the pilot’s compass; the soldier’s sword; and the Christian’s charter. Here is paradise restored; heaven opened; and the gates of hell disclosed. CHRIST is its grand object; our good its design; and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened at the judgment, and remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the laborer, and condemn all who trifle with its contents!” [Anonymous]
Where observed with sobriety, sincerity, and gravity the Reading of Scripture can produce revival, restoration, and reconciliation (Ex. 24.7-8; Josh. 8.34-35; 2 Kg. 23.1-20; Neh. 8.1-8, 14-18; 2 Cor. 5.18-20). As such, the reading and on occasion responsive readings of the Sacred Scriptures bear all the marks of an ordinance, and thus should be observed as a divine order of worship, ministry, and theocratic administration.
Public Reading of the Word of God is pure proclamation, allowing the Word to speak for itself (Ex. 24.7; Deut. 17.18-20; 31.10-13; Josh. 8.34-35; Jer. 23.29; Jn. 6.63; 7.16-17; Lu. 11.28; Acts 7.38; 1 Tim. 3.13; 2 Tim. 3.15-16; Heb. 4.12; 5.12; 1 Pet. 1.22-23; 4.11; Rev. 1.3). When asked about defending the truth and reliability of the Bible, Charles Spurgeon once answered, [“The Bible is like a lion, it doesn’t need defending; just let him out of his cage and he will defend himself”].
The Reading of Holy Scriptures is commanded and encouraged in both Old and New Testaments, and otherwise taught by precept and example by Christ and the apostles and prophets (Deut. 31.10-13; Josh. 8.34-35; 2 Kg. 22.8, 10-13; 23.1-3; Neh. 8.1-8, 14-18; 9.3-6; Ps. 119.11; Is. 34.16; Jer. 36.6-8; Lu. 4.16-22; Acts 13.13-15; 17.2-4; Tim. 4.11-13; 2 Tim. 3.14-16; Rev. 1.3); and it was practiced in the New Testament churches (Acts 15.13-17, 21; Rom. 15.4; Col. 4.16; Rev. 1.3; 22.10, 18-19).
The significance and result of the act of Public Reading: 1) revelation (Neh. 8.8; Ps. 119.27, 105, 130; Acts 15.6-8, 13-17, 21); 2) cleansing [personal and corporate] (Ps. 119.1-2, 9; Jn. 17.17; Jn. 15.3; 17.19; Eph. 5.26-27); 3) consecration (2 Kg. 23.1-3; Ps. 1.2; 119.11, 80, 88, 117, 156); 4) healing (Ps. 107.20; 119.159; Lu. 4.16-22; 5.17); 5) edification (2 Tim. 3.16; 2 Pet. 1.16-21; 3.1-2; Jude 17, 20); 6) comfort (Josh. 8.32-35; 2 Chron. 34.30-33; Rom. 15.4; Eph. 3.3-10; Col. 4.15-18); and 7) corporate union (Ex. 24.3-4, 7-8; Josh. 8.34-35; 2 Kg. 23.1-3; Acts 15.15-28; Eph. 4.4-6, 11-16; Col. 4.15-16).
The practice of public Bible reading and—as occasion may warrant—congregational responses is at the very heart of the Gospel of Christ; and therefore should be considered a sacred discipline of the church. It demonstrates a sober reverence for the Bible, the written Word of God, the latter being “the record [documented witness/testimony] that God gave of His Son” (Jn. 1.32, 34; 19.35-36; Jn. 20.31; 1 Jn. 5.9-13; Rev. 1.1-3).
In an age in which the great majority of professing Christians are biblically illiterate and falling away from confidence in the Bible as God’s infallible Word written in Scripture, and consequently from serious Bible reading and study, God’s church stands out like a “city set on a hill” holding forth the light of His Word! Like the noble Bereans over against the less noble Thessalonians, the ministers and members in Zion Assembly 1) “read” the Word (Deut. 32.10-13; Is. 34.16; 1 Tim. 4.13; Rev. 1.3), 2) “hear” the Word (Mt. 7.24; 13.16-20, 23; Lu. 11.28; Rom. 10.17; 1 Tim. 4.13; Rev. 1.3); 3) “believe” and “receive” the Word (Jn. 5.24; 8.46-47; Acts 17.11; Heb. 4.2) 4) “search” the Word (Jn. 5.39; Acts 17.11; Is. 8.20; 34.16), 5) “study” the Word (Ps. 1.2; 119.11, 97; 2 Tim. 2.15; 2 Pet. 1.16-21); 6) “love” the Word (Ps. 119.97, 113, 140, 159, 167); 7) “obey” the Word (Deut. 11.27-28; Ps. 119.59-60; Lu. 6.46-49; Jas. 1.22-25).
Observing the Ordinances with Spiritual Peace and Joy
It is expected that a sense of solemnity and gravity will attend the observance of the ordinances; yet since the ordinances are observed by members of the church and born-again believers who testify of being transformed by the grace and power of the Gospel, then it seems only fitting that they be celebrated also with a sense of justified peace and sanctified joy. It should not be odd to witness the recipients rejoicing in the Holy Spirit and manifesting the very graces and spiritual gifts that the ordinances signify, symbolize and memorialize. Moreover, since the ordinances are channels through which the members are called to self-examination, consecration, and obedience (1 Cor. 11.27-33), which on occasion may involve repentance, forgiveness, and cleansing, we would expect to see a renewed spiritual awe for the Lord and the government and discipline of the church, with reverence, diligence, “vehement desire”, zeal and vindication! (2 Cor. 7.5-11). We may assume then that Jesus’ words spoken in the context of footwashing are applicable to all the ordinances: “If ye know these things, happy are ye if you do them” (Jn. 13.17).
Finally, brethren, it seems certain that the significance and benefits of peering deeper into the subject of the sacred ordinances of the church and making any adjustments to our present system of government, worship, practice, and discipline will serve us to great advantage. For when it is realized that in observing these ordinances we are proclaiming [reenacting/ “showing forth”] in a unique way the Gospel of Christ, our ministers and churches will surely desire to commit themselves afresh to the Lord and the government and ministry of His church.