Chapter 28: Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
What does it mean that the ordinances are positive institution? What is the difference between the Reformed and Roman Catholic understanding of the Sacraments? Who may administer the ordinances?
§1 Ordinances Of Positive And Sovereign Institution
- Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, 1 to be continued in his church to the end of the world. 2
- Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:24-25
- Matt. 28:18-20; Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 1:13-17; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 4:5; Col. 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21; 1 Cor. 11:26; Luke 22:14-20
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances and commandments of positive and sovereign institution. They have been instituted and commanded by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver and are therefore to be obeyed and continued in His church to the end of the world (Matt. 28:19-20; 1Cor. 11:26). What does it mean that the ordinances are of positive and sovereign institution? It means that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are moral commandments which are added to the moral law already existing. They are not things which of themselves are moral, but they are moral because they have been instituted and appointed by the Lord Jesus. They are given to us as a law, which the Lord Jesus Christ, by His power and authority as Head, King and Lawgiver of the church has instituted. Finally, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only ordinances under the New Covenant which the Confession speaks about. Christ has given us only to ordinances which we ought to obey, not seven Sacraments according to Roman Catholic teaching.
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two ordinances or Sacraments which the Lord Jesus by sovereign authority instituted and commanded us to observe. Now, what does the word “positive” mean in the sentence “positive and sovereign institution”? Does it mean something that is happy and good, over against something negative and bad? No, that is not the contextual meaning of the word. Rather, by “positive institution” or “positive command,” the Confession means an institution or a command that is not inherently moral. A person who has not read the Bible or heard of the God of the Bible, still knows that murder is wrong and lying is bad. But, can it be argued that they know that not being baptized is sin and not partaking of the Lord’s Supper is sin? Obviously not. So, these things, just like the command of Genesis 2:16-17 in the Garden, are things which are not inherently moral, but become moral when God commands them. They are things that are good because commanded, in contrast to pure moral laws that are commanded because they are good. The Lord Christ, by His own power and authority, established two ordinances for the New Covenant people of God. But, what do we mean by ordinance or sacrament? A.H. Strong writes, “By the ordinances, we mean those outward rites which Christ has appointed to be administered in his church as visible signs of the saving truth of the gospel. They are signs, in that they vividly express this truth and confirm it to the believer.” They are the only visible signs which God has given His people to show the truths of the Gospel with. He has not allowed us to use image of any of the blessed Persons of the Trinity (see here), but has given us the bread and wine, and the waters of baptism as signs which symbolize the truths of the Gospel.