By Chad Ragsdale, Prairieland Christian Church minister
[APRIL 16, 2005] HARTSBURG -- Recently, we had a quite spirited discussion in our adult Sunday school class about the issue of baptism -- its purpose, its importance, its relevance. We looked at Scripture. We expressed opinions. We referenced different family and church traditions.
As the teacher, I had a blast. This was mostly because of the spirit of the discussion. When Christian brothers and sisters get together to study or just to fellowship, there ought to always be a spirit of humility, mutual respect and community. This is something that I have always appreciated about Prairieland, and it was no different on this particular Sunday.
But I feel like I should make some further comments about baptism and also about the practice of the Lord's Supper. I never know what to call these two practices. Are they sacraments? Are they ordinances? I don't really like either of those terms. Each of those words comes with too much theological baggage. I prefer to call them "things that Christians do that no one else does and everyone else looks at as a little weird." I know. It's not concise, and you won't find a definition like this in any theology textbook, but I think it's a good definition nevertheless.
Think about it. Imagine you are a totally unchurched person who shows up at Prairieland one Sunday. We sing songs. That isn't necessarily weird (although you won't find organ and piano music in many other venues). We pray. A lot of people pray. We greet each other. Still not weird. We take an offering. Not strange at all to an unchurched person. Why wouldn't the church ask for an offering? You have to turn on the lights, don't you? We listen to a guy in a tie give a prepared speech. Pretty normal.
But then all of a sudden two trays are passed. One has tiny pieces of bad-tasting bread. The other has tiny plastic cups of juice (at least this is the tradition in our church). And the Christians reverently and seriously eat this supposed "meal." Then at the end of the service two people go into a big bathtub and one of the people dunks the other person in the water and everybody thinks this is the greatest thing ever. Weird.
And that is one of the things that I truly love about communion and baptism. I love the fact that they are simple (there is after all nothing elaborate about water, bread and juice), but yet they are also unique and filled with mystery.
Space simply doesn't permit an in-depth study of these "things that Christians do that no one else does and everyone else looks at as a little weird." So for now let me just make one point about these two practices: I think that we all need milestones in our faith. The unique celebrations of communion and baptism provide these milestones.
When you are driving anywhere that is unfamiliar, a recognizable milestone or landmark is not only helpful; it is essential to keep from becoming lost. I think that it's safe to say that life sometimes (perhaps often) seems very unfamiliar. On our journey through life we often find ourselves in new territory, faced with new trials, challenged by new temptations. Sometimes we lose our way. Sometimes we get disoriented. We need a landmark to call us back to the "ancient ways" (Jeremiah 6:16). Baptism and communion provide us with such landmarks (and aren't the best landmarks noted for their strangeness anyway?).
In baptism, we celebrate and affirm the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. We also declare publicly his lordship of our lives. And no matter where our lives may take us, we can look back on that baptism and recall the relationship with Christ that was started on that day.
In communion, we also celebrate and affirm the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. In our church, we come together in the Lord's Supper every week "to declare the Lord's death until he comes" (I Cor. 11:26). Week after week, we are provided with a milestone -- a landmark calling us back to our Lord.
I thank God for the wonderful weirdness of baptism and communion. They are never burdensome. They are never an embarrassment to be explained away. They are instead wonderful milestones always calling me back to my Savior.
[Chad Ragsdale, minister, Prairieland Christian Church]
Prairieland Christian Church activities
[APRIL 16, 2005] HARTSBURG -- Special activities at Prairieland Christian Church:
News and notes
Upcoming sermon series: "Forward in Faithfulness!" On April 10 a new sermon series from the book of Hebrews begins. Hebrews is a book about perseverance and faithfulness and the superiority of Christ among all other things. As we continue to move closer to a time of transition in our church, I believe that Hebrews has much for us to hear.
Youth -- Kyle's Korner
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