V. ORDINANCES OF THE CHURCH
What are Ordinances? Orders that are an annoyance? Orders? Religious
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary mentions, "1 a: an authoritative
decree or direction: ORDER b: a law set forth by a governmental authority;
specif: a municipal regulation 2: something ordained or decreed by fate
or a deity 3: a prescribed usage, practice, or ceremony....." (By permission.
From Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary copyright 1991 by Merriam-Webster
Inc., publisher of the Merriam-Webster (registered) Dictionaries.)
We won't take time to look at the term in scripture because as near
as I can tell the term is not used in conjunction with any of the ordinances
that we accept, nor any that are suggested. The idea of the term is similar
to the accepted definition today. An item which is legally required to
fulfill your position as a citizen or member of an organization.
Some might suggest the word "sacrament" as a synonym. This is not acceptable
in that the term sacrament usually conveys the thought that grace is being
transmitted to the person involved in the ordinance. This comes to us from
the Roman Catholic Church were baptism, communion, marriage, etc. are all
sacraments and they all confer grace upon the participant.
An ordinance never has grace linked to it in the idea of the Protestant
Church. Grace is not offered, extended, nor received. The person at the
same time should never be involved in an ordinance if they think that grace
is involved for they do not understand the ordinance properly.
Ordinance is something that is prescribed as a part of the normal local
church life. The universal Church is to be a part of those ordinances,
yet the universal Church cannot participate in fully in the ordinances.
Most feel there were two ordinances provided to the Church and they
are baptism and the Lord's table.
Samuel Fisk in the article "IS FOOT WASHING FOR TODAY? in the Baptist
Bulletin Oct. 76, (Regular Baptist Press, Shaumburg, IL) lists some items
we might consider as we think about Church ordinances.
1. He mentions that an ordinance must be a command of Christ.
2. Mr. Fisk mentioned that the ordinance must be directly related to
truth in the gospel and closely related to the believer's salvation.
3. An ordinance must be something that was given for the Church universal,
not just individual believers.
4. An ordinances should also be something that was practiced by the
New Testament church.
5. An ordinance should be something that was for not only the early
church, but was something that was meant for the ongoing, growing Church.
These seem good, but may have been arrived at by looking at the two
accepted ordinances and determining what an ordinance is based on what
is observed in the two.
There are other suggested ordinances that we might take a look at before
we move on to baptism and the Lord's table.
Fasting is considered an ordinance by some Plymouth brethren and a few
We will not take time to look at references, but let us list some of
the things that we know about fasting.
1. Some suggest it is used as a reminder to pray for a specific item.
The hunger will remind you.
2. Others feel that the time usually spent eating should be given to
3. It is usually linked to prayer in the Scripture. However, the term
can be used simply of "no food." (Mk 8:3)
4. The disciples and the followers of John fasted.
5. It gives proof of the sincerity of the individual that is praying.
6. Fasting is used heavily in the Old Testament in relation to remorse
or contrition. It seems to be used that way in Acts 9:9 when Saul was waiting
for the Gospel after the road to Damascus. Otherwise, the New Testament
does not necessarily have that connotation.
7. Christ fasted for forty days and nights.
8. Fasting is not an item that is commanded nor is it one that is prescribed
for the Church. The indications are, however that fasting is not wrong
and indeed it is for the Church age if an individual would desire to become
involved in it. (Acts 13:1ff mentions the Church leaders fasted before
they sent Saul and Barnabus out; Acts 14:23 mentions that Paul fasted after
he had ordained elders in the Churches; Acts 27:33 seems to be the context
of not being able to eat rather than a religious fasting - Paul is speaking
to the sailors of the ship that had been shipwrecked; I Co. 7:5 indicates
that fasting is for this age, in that he mentions married couples involved
in fasting and praying; II Cor. 6:5 tells us that it was one of Paul's
practices, though some may indicate that this was referring to Acts 27:33
and the shipwreck.)
From my vast acquired knowledge and experience, I will mention a few
1. There are missionaries that fast once a week, and it is a time of
prayer for special needs.
2. I know of no pastor that fasts, yet I might add I don't know that
many missionaries that do. I will also add, that fasting is not the type
of thing that a person advertizes. It may very well be something they desire
to be special between themselves and their Lord.
3. Fasting, by those that I have talked to, never leaves a person hungry
as such. They might notice their stomach is feeling differently, but it
is not hunger. Usually people mention they never miss the meal, but tremendously
enjoy the fellowship with the Lord.
I would encourage you to consider fasting as something special, usually
for a certain item of concern in prayer. I might illustrate by telling
of what one day of fasting resulted in for one couple. A missionary couple
was placed before a large Church as an item for prayer and fasting. The
congregation gave their lunch time over to prayer, and committed themselves
to pray as the Lord brought the item before them.
The next day the missionary was able to schedule a meeting with a man
that he had been trying to meet with for two years. The couple was informed
they had been given a large sum of money to be divided monthly over a number
of months. The couple was informed that their Church had decided to meet
concerning supporting them.
Fasting may not always produce such nice results, but you may be assured
any special time given to the Lord will be a blessing.
Revival is linked to fasting at times in history. Jonathan Edwards for
example fasted three days before he preached his great sermon "Sinners
in the Hands of an Angry God," which moved many people to repentance and
Though I do not see that fasting is an ordinance, it is plain that it
is for today as the believer is led. It is an item which has not gained
wide usage in most circles to my knowledge, though it probably should.
John 13:4-17 is the text to consider.
"He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel,
and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began
to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe [them] with the towel wherewith
he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him,
Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I
do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto
him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee
not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my
feet only, but also [my] hands and [my] head. Jesus saith to him, He that
is washed needeth not save to wash [his] feet, but is clean every whit:
and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore
said he, Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feet, and had
taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye
what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for
[so] I am. If I then, [your] Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye
also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example,
that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you,
The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater
than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."
Why do we not practice this act of foot washing?
If we accept the thoughts of Mr. Fisk, then we see that the foot washing
is outside the qualifications set forth. In verse 7 the Lord told them
they didn't understand what He was doing. If this was to be an ordinance
it would seem that the disciples would have explained the item more fully
at a later date if it were to be an ordinance or even common practice among
the apostles. None of the Scripture writers mention the explanation of
Some suggest I Tim. 5:10 as a possible foot washing text. It however
seems to be related to good works and if this is the case then many other
New Testament "good works" would become ordinances, especially those listed
in the passages immediate context. (See the underlined phrases.)
10 "Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children,
if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she
have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good
Christ was not instituting an ordinance when He washed the apostles
feet, but rather he was setting an example and showing them that humility
was needed in their future thinking.
In short this means that Christ led the perfectly humble life and in
his coming He had lowered Himself. The idea of washing the feet instead
of the whole body depicts the thought of cleansing of sin not the whole
process of salvation again.
The Timothy text, by the way mentions that a widow washed the feet of
the "saints" a general term. The foot washers normally practice the rite
in separated groups - men with men and women with women. If they were going
to use it as a proof text, they would have to have the women wash everyone's
The statement of the Lord, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with
me." in John 13 may prove to be a problem, in that if foot washing is to
be done and we don't do it then we are lost to hell. That would place a
higher importance upon foot washing than any ordinance. There is no "work"
that we can refrain from that will cost us our salvation. This would indicate
that this is indeed, not an ordinance. There is no indication in all of
the New Testament that the foot washing was to be carried on in the future.
In my own reading, I have not found any indication that any major group
of history practiced it as an ordinance. Indeed, the early Church did not
seem to practice it. So, might we say that foot washing is not an ordinance?
May we say that foot washing is not to be done in any form in our day?
No, for there is nothing wrong with it if the person wants to use it as
a sign of humility and service, yet it seems that the time and effort might
be better spent in the actual serving to the good of someone. We do not
really need to wash feet in our society as they did in the Lord's era.
"After bowing, greeting, and kissing, the eastern guest is offered water
for washing his feet. Wearing of sandals would naturally necessitate foot
washing, but it is often done when shoes have been worn. a servant will
assist the guest by pouring the water upon his feet over a copper basin,
rubbing the feet with his hands, and wiping them with a napkin." (Taken
from: "MANNERS AND CUSTOMS OF BIBLE LANDS"; Wright, Fred H.; Copyright
1953, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission.)
There may be some societies in the world that it might well be appropriate,
but not as an ordinance.
There is no reason to involve ones self in foot washing, because the
Lord had in mind the idea of serving one another.
The serving can be done in many ways other than washing a persons feet.
There are some that might view the anointing of oil as an ordinance
also however there is no evidence for such an idea.