Contrary to popular Christian belief
we are not under the great commission
as given by Christ to his apostles

Christ’s commission has water baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Unfortunately the misapplication of Christ’s commission gives the wrong foundation, and indeed reinforces the misinterpretation, that water baptism is an ordinance for the church.
As the jailer said “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” and Paul replies “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 16:30-31).

If Paul didn’t come to water baptize (1Cor 1:17), and we are to be followers of Paul, why would he then make it an ordinance for the church to do what he didn’t do? He wouldn’t.

The Lord’s supper “… he took the cup, as OFT as ye drink it …”. (1Cor 11:25)

This is not an ordinance but for remembrance as often as you drink it. It’s not a mandatory thing or a must do. In fact, you might never have the Lord’s supper, or indeed, be water baptized.

There is a set belief among many Christians that water baptism and the Lord’s supper are ordinances for the church today. Is this correct? No

We must remember that Paul is writing to a disorderly church, a church out of order.

The following outlines just a few of the sins of the Corinthian church:

It had a man sleeping with his father’s wife; there were quarrels and divisions; there was the fleshy misapplication of tongues; there was division and vain glory; they were keeping company with professing Christians who were fornicators, covetous, idolators, railers, drunkards and extortioners; they were unfaithful stewards; they were taking each other into the world’s courts; they were defiling the consciences of the weak in faith; they were not keeping their bodies under control; they were lusting, fornicating, murmuring, idolatrous and tempting Christ.   

Today’s church has wrongly misinterpreted the meaning of an ordinance. The proper meaning of the word ‘ordinance’ is to bring back order and to correct behavior, and in this case, to correct the wild excesses of the fleshy Corinthian church.

It is to be noted that Paul states ““… keep the ordinances, as I delivered (the past tense which was earlier in 1Co 11:2) them to you.”

Paul was in fact referring to instructions previously given. We note that when Paul talks to the saved, he entreats them not orders them. This is what ordinances are – they appeal to reason. Paul certainly not averse to giving orders as he directly orders them concerning ‘the collection for the saints’ (1Cor 16:1). But ordinances are not orders. They are instructions on how to bring back and set in order, the proper behaviours in the church.

Are we to suppose that the symbolic ceremonies of water baptism and the Lord’s supper would do this? Hardly!

What Paul required was a change of the heart and behaviour, a repentance, not an outward ceremony.

Indeed, some of the Thessalonian church were walking disorderly by not working and being busybodies, and Paul wanted a change of their behavior. He certainly didn’t recommend more water baptism and Lord’s supper to accomplish this.

So when people walk disorderly, as in the case of the church at Corinth, Paul could certainly order them no problem, but instead, as the Lord does in Colossians and Ephesians, he talks gently as it were, to sons in the family.

What were the earlier ordinances and instructions that had already been delivered to them in the first ten chapters? There were many! The Corinthian church needed them all as they were a church full of the flesh. Paul doesn’t use the word ‘ordinances’ for any other church.

‘Ordinances’ are the procedures and instructions necessary to keep right order in an institution.

1Co 1:10 no divisions; 1Co 1:31 glory in the Lord; 1Co 2:13 compare spiritual with spiritual; 1Co 3:8 reward for own labour;  1Co 3:13-15 take heed how you build; 1Co 3:16-17 be holy; 1Co 3:20-21 no vain glory; 1Co 4:1-2 be a faithful steward; 1Co 6:4  don’t be puffed up; 1Co 4:16  be followers of Paul;1Co 5:1 no fornication; 1Co 5:11 no eating with professing Christians who are fornicators, covetous, idolaters, railers, drunkards, extortioners;  1Co 5:12 judge those within; 1Co 6:1-8 don’t be judged in the world’s courts; 1Co 6:9-10 no inheritance; 1Co 6:18 flee fornication; 1Co 7:1-40 marriage advice; 1Co 8:13 don’t defile the conscience of the weak; 1Co 9:7 soldiers worthy to be paid; 1Co 9:19 be servant to all; 1Co 9:24 run for the prize 1Co 9:27 keep the body under; 1Co 10:6-9,10-13,14 cease lusting, idolatry, fornication, tempting Christ, murmuring; 1Co 10:23 all things edify not; 1Co 10:32 give none offence.

Keeping the symbolic, formal ceremonies of the Lord’s supper and water baptism had nothing to do with correcting out of control behavior at Corinth.

No, Paul needed ordinances for this sinful and disorderly church. Paul wanted true repentance and changes in their sinful behavior.

In fact, they were probably keeping up appearances with many Lord’s suppers and water baptisms as an outward show, but what the Lord wanted was a changed heart.

Indeed the Lord reminds us through the prophet Isaiah to Judah (Isa 1:10-13,14-15). Indeed he calls them Sodom. Stop the ceremonies! I want true repentance - a change of heart.

Harley Hitchcock

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