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Chapter 18: Understanding Church Ceremonies
What You Didn't Learn in Bible College and Seminary
© 2005, 1996 G. Edwin Lint
PO Box 473 -- Mechanicsburg, PA 17055 -- USA
This chapter of the Church Workers Handbook is generic within the total context of the evangelical church movement and does not relate to the customs or liturgy of any particular denomination. If the contents of this chapter are in conflict with the published policies and practices of your denomination, please proceed with prayerful consideration, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction.
Each major segment of this chapter will consist of the following components:
The baptism discussed here will be adult baptism by means of total immersion.
Matt. 3:11 "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."
Cor 1:14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius,
15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. ... 17 For Christ did
not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom,
lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
The act of baptism has no power as a ceremony. It is a symbol that our sins have been washed away by the blood of Jesus, just as water washes our body clean from the activities of working and living. Paul surely recognized that baptism was only a testimony of salvation through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
The obvious origin of baptism is John the Baptist baptizing believers in the Jordan River. John went on to point out that his water baptism would be superseded by the baptism by the Holy Spirit and fire that Jesus would provide.
There is no scriptural support for either infant baptism or adult sprinkling. Since baptism is symbolic of repentance from sins that have been committed, it is meaningless for infants who have not reached the age of spiritual accountability. And, from a logical standpoint, sprinkling is equally meaningless for washing the body clean.
The ideal location for adult baptism is a built-in baptistery in the front of the sanctuary. However, a private swimming pool or natural body of body can be used as long as everything is done soberly, decently, and in an attitude of prayer.
[Ceremony Leader, speaking to the group of candidates for baptism]
Water baptism by immersion is a symbol of the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus Christ. Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Personal Savior and have you accepted his shed blood as the only means for washing away your sins?
[Leader, speaking to each individual candidate, in turn]
I now baptize you In the Name of Almighty God. in the name of Jesus Christ, His Son, and in the name of His Holy Spirit. Amen.
Many congregations observe communion once every three months. The actual frequency is not a scriptural issue. Jesus only said, "do this in remembrance of me." Like baptism, communion is a means of testifying to everyone that we have accepted the shed blood and broken body of Jesus Christ as our personal sin sacrifice. Evangelical churches do not require church membership for participation in communion. However, all congregations should remind participants of the testimony that communion represents.
- Scriptural basis
Luke 22:14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
Both the bread and the wine [grape juice] are symbolic of the fact that the body of Jesus was crushed and broken in order that we might enjoy freedom from the penalty for our sins.
- History, including other common practices
The Passover was celebrated all down through Old Testament history as the night in Egypt that the death angel of the tenth plague would pass over the households that had the blood of a lamb sprinkled on the door.
The night before Jesus died on the cross, He wanted to celebrate the Passover one last time with His disciples. From this night on, the world would remember His blood, the Lamb of God, as the means of salvation, instead of the Passover lamb of the Egyptian exodus.
Therefore, Communion represents the fact that when Jesus said, "do this in remembrance of me," He was saying this meal is the last Passover, and it is the first Communion.
The Bread and the Juice/Wine: The consistency of the bread and the wine will be discussed here briefly.
The Bread. Communion wafers that have the consistency and taste of paper are probably least appropriate and farthest from what was eaten during the First Communion. However, it is not necessary to have the women of the church concoct and bake a substance that is supposed to represent what was eaten that night either. My personal recommendation is to use a dark, whole-grain, off-the-shelf product served in small hand-broken pieces.
The Juice/Wine. The liquid served at communion is a little more problematic. Should we serve Welch's grape juice or should it be fermented wine? My personal opinion is that an inexpensive fermented wine served in standard communion glasses could hurt no one physically. However, real wine may offend some spiritually. Therefore, a store-brand grape juice may be your best choice.
- Suggested script for the ceremony
[After you have received the bread and the wine, please hold them so we may eat and drink together.]
The night before Jesus died, He wanted to celebrate the Old Testament Passover one last time with His disciples. He knew that this would be the last time the blood of lambs would be remembered as a means of salvation. From tomorrow onward to the end of time, everyone would remember His blood flowing down the cross as their means of salvation.
We remember that last Passover and that first Communion by sharing in bread and wine. Both wheat and grapes must lose their original identity and surrender to the processes of planting, grinding, crushing, and squeezing. So, as we share the bread and wine, we also surrender our personal identities to the will of God as we remember that His shed blood washed away our sins.
The night of the first communion, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me"
Shall we eat the bread together, remembering how His body was broken for us by the nails, the thorns, and the spear.
In the same way, He took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
Shall we drink together, remembering how His blood was shed for us.
Dedication of a Building
The practice of setting aside a building for the express purpose of worshipping God goes all the way back to the days when Solomon built the first temple.
2 Chronicles 2:3 Solomon sent this message to Hiram king of Tyre: "Send me cedar logs as you did for my father David when you sent him cedar to build a palace to live in. 4 Now I am about to build a temple for the Name of the LORD my God and to dedicate it to him for burning fragrant incense before him, for setting out the consecrated bread regularly, and for making burnt offerings every morning and evening and on Sabbaths and New Moons and at the appointed feasts of the LORD our God. This is a lasting ordinance for Israel.
Ezra 6:16 Then the people of Israel--the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles--celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy. 17 For the dedication of this house of God they offered a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred male lambs and, as a sin offering for all Israel, twelve male goats, one for each of the tribes of Israel.
There is also evidence that dedicating a personal dwelling for the glory of God was also practiced, as shown below:
Deut. 20:5 The officers shall say to the army: "Has anyone built a new house and not dedicated it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may dedicate it.
If a home is purchased that was previously owned by persons who do not worship the One True God, there may be a need to dedicate such a home for the purpose of purification from the residue of previous evil practices.
Heavenly Father, we pray that the shed blood of your Son completely cover this home and every one that occupies it. May the Holy Entities of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, all the Holy Angels, lay down a ring of Holy fire around this home to keep it safe from Spiritual and material harm. And may every vestige of the ungodly practices that may have taken place in earlier times be completely purged. In the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen
Of all the professional duties an evangelical pastor is called upon to perform, dedicating babies is the favorite. It's great to hold each precious bundle of potentiality and ask God to use this child in His service. Maybe this baby will be a missionary or an evangelist. Or maybe this one will be a born-again teacher or typist. No matter. Each bundle is precious to God and to the families entering into the covenant of infant dedication.
1 Samuel 1:25b [Hannah] brought the boy to Eli, 26 and she said to him, "As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. 27 I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD."
Matt. 19:13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14 Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
God isn't asking parents to do as Hannah did in the Old Testament and take a child to live in the church under the tutelage of a man of God for an entire lifetime. However, infant dedication is the reasonable and logical act of presenting a child for God's future service. With this act of dedication go the vows that the parents will do everything in their power to make it easy for the child to accept Jesus Christ as a Personal Savior.
Jesus took a keen interest in the spiritual and physical welfare of children, as shown above in the quotation from Matthew 19.
The practices of Infant Baptism and Infant Confirmation are not equal with Infant Dedication and should not be considered as interchangeable with Dedication. Infant Dedication requires the parents/guardians to promise before God to raise the child in the fear and admonition of the Lord, to bring him regularly to the house of God, and to strive to bring him early to the point of making a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as a Personal Savior.
On the other hand, both Infant Baptism and Infant Confirmation are traditional ceremonies that may require little of the parents/guardians regarding the future soul welfare of the child involved. These ceremonies are often accompanied by the scripturally unsupported notion that the future salvation of the child will be assured by infant baptism and/or confirmation.
It will be wise to schedule an infant dedication orientation meeting for all parents and other family members. Topics for such a meeting should include the differences between Dedication, Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion. The covenant portion of the ceremony should be reviewed, as well as the mechanics of moving the family members through the ceremony.
Since the pastor is the least important participant in the Ceremony of Infant Dedication, the setup should place him/her at the lowest level of the platform area and with back to the congregation. The babies with their parents/guardians should be arrayed in a semicircle across the highest level of the platform area and facing the congregation.
[To be spoken while at a lectern placed at the lowest level] "Ladies and gentlemen, the ceremony of infant dedication is a very important element of worship here at xxx Church. If this is your first time to attend a dedication service, I'd like to outline what is about to happen. There will be two separate parts of the service. First, I will ask the parents to make their vows of dedication as a group. Then, I will pray a prayer of dedication for each child in turn.
[Speaking to the parents/guardians:]
Do you covenant before God and in the presence of these witnesses to do everything in your power to raise these babies and young children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? If so, answer 'I will.' And do you covenant to bring them weekly to God's house for instruction and worship? If so, answer 'I will.' And do you covenant to strive to bring them to an early knowledge of Jesus Christ as a personal Savior? If so, answer 'I will.' And do you promise to give your child over to God's service, in whatever area He sees a need? If so, answer 'I will.' Now that you have promised in the presence of God and these witnesses to discharge your scriptural responsibilities as parents, I will dedicate each child in turn,
[To be spoken as each child is dedicated while the pastor moves across the platform and takes each child in his/her arms. If the technology is available, a picture of the child should be projected on a large screen during the dedication.]
"This is xxx xxx xxx, the son/daughter of xxx and xxx xxx, born xxx xxxth. Heavenly Father, we rejoice with xxx and xxx in the coming of this blessed child into their home. We pray that you will give these parents the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of David, and the strength of Samson, as they contend against the forces of evil that will strive to destroy his/her never-dying soul. Now, we dedicate xxx xxx xxx to You and to Your service, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen."
[Repeat this dedicatory prayer until all candidates have been individually dedicated.]
The most difficult type funeral is when the departed has never given evidence of accepting Jesus Christ as a personal Savior.
However, when the departed has been a professing Christian, the entire tenor of the service changes and it takes on a spirit of Celebration and scriptures such as those shown below may be used.
15:51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be
changed-- 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For
the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
… then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up
in victory." Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
1 Thessalonians 4:13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 16. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
Rev. 21:4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
My son's wedding in 1985 was organized the best of any wedding I have ever attended, including my own. The minister stood at a lectern, down at floor level, in front of the altar, and the wedding party was arrayed in a semicircle up on the platform. In this way, everyone had an excellent view of the bride and groom, the bride's dress, and each female and male attendant.
When the minister had something to say to the congregation, he faced forward, and when he spoke to the bride and groom, he faced the platform with his back to the congregation.
I recommend that all weddings be organized in this fashion. Of course, the minister only has the right of expressing an opinion. Decisions are made only by the bride's mother and maybe the bride.
gave marriage a prominent place in his ministry. Now only did he perform his first
miracle at a wedding, he used marriage in numerous parables.
John 2:1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." 4 "Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My time has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." 11 This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.
1 Cor. 7:3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.
There is no double that both Jesus and the Apostle Paul considered marriage to be the union between a man and a woman.
The Bible reports church membership as illustrated below in Acts 2. However, there is no command that we must join a church. You can attend any church without joining and participate in most activities, other than voting in a church election.
However, when you find a church that meets your spiritual and social needs, it makes sense to join if officially. Joining a church carries the following rights and responsibilities:
The written statements of faith and standards of behavior provide a moral compass for you and your children to follow.
Corporate worship is more satisfying when it is shared on a regular basis with persons you know.
You are eligible to vote and even to hold official elected office within the church body.
In times of material need such as sickness or an operation, your fellow worshippers are likely to bond together and provide assistance.
The Bible clearly teaches tithing: giving a tenth of the family income for the support of the church. Lev 27:30 A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.
The practice of tithing permits a relatively small congregation to pay a pastor's salary, build and maintain an attractive church plant, and support missionary work around the world.
Acts 2:46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
True Love Waits
While some persons seem to practice loose morals, others are turning to virginity and sexual abstinence. This movement includes the practice of taking a formal vow of virginity and celibacy. A ring is given to the celebrants, to be surrendered to the spouse at the eventual wedding.
The Bible has always taught against sexual intercourse before marriage. In the Elizabethan English of the King James Version, the term is Fornication. In the NIV, the term is Sexual Immorality.
Mark 7:21 For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.The certificate of the Confirmation of Covenant reads as follows:
This is to confirm that on this date, covenant-maker's name entered into covenant in the presence of family, friends, and spiritual mentors, to follow the commandments of God to remain pure in body, mind, and spirit. A ring was presented as a token of this promise to be worn until marriage.