Friday, November 30, 2012

The Church: Rites and Rituals

Fourth Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
The Church: Rites and Rituals
For the week of Dec. 1, 2012
The Church: Rites and Rituals
            Our Sabbath School lesson for this week about rites and rituals stirs memories from my early experience and the decision I made to follow Jesus in baptism.
            What about you? Do you remember the day you were baptized? What events led up to your decision to give your life to Jesus? 
            If you're the one teaching the lesson this week, it might prove rewarding to invite people to take a minute or two to share their testimony of coming to Christ. Through the vicissitudes of life, it sometimes happens that we forget our first love, Jesus. That is why often bringing to mind the precious experiences of God's leading in the past serves to build our faith while living in uncertain times. 
            I was blessed to be raised in a Seventh-day Adventist home. When the great evangelist Fordyce Detamore gave a series of meetings shortly after we moved to town, my parents took my younger brothers and I to the meetings. We wanted to win a free Bible, and since this was the inducement offered for those who didn't miss a night, we went every night! Elder Detamore's preaching was Spirit-filled and convincing. As I beheld the pictures of large beasts coming out of the sea, I was awed by the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. One night, Elder Detamore invited all who desired to give their hearts to Jesus in baptism to come forward. Needing no second invitation, I rose from my seat and made my way to the front row of the auditorium. After completing a series of Bible lessons at school, I was one of several who was baptized a few weeks later on December 6, 1969. I had just turned nine years old.        
            Subsequently, I was allowed -- for the first time ever -- to partake of the communion bread and grape juice and participate in the foot washing service. The reverence and simplicity with which these services were conducted formed a deep impression on my youthful mind. My introduction to these ordinances which Jesus Himself enjoined on His followers until He returns proved a great blessing over the years, as I witnessed the family of God--old, young, rich, poor, and of varied ethnicity--coming together and serving one another in remembrance of Him.
            I feel a bit nostalgic for those days. Over the past few decades, our beloved Seventh-day Adventist church has also experienced the vicissitudes of life. 
            Now, the press for baptisms seems largely targeted at populations where the gospel message is welcomed -- in countries other than our own. 
            The Lord's supper and foot washing service, while intended to reaffirm our commitment to Christ, has in some instances become simply another church ritual -- to be avoided if possible -- and conducted only infrequently in some churches.
            More than one hundred years ago the Lord sent a message to our church -- first through the prophetic ministry of Sister Ellen White -- and later through two young men who proclaimed the Good News with power. Had the generation of that day embraced this message (Jesus), we would have been in heaven "ere this." We are still here. 
            From the beginning of time God has been wooing His earthly children. Rituals that once embodied a precious faith and experience have grown stale and cold. While it is certain that Satan has come up with counterfeits to the true (the Eucharist and baptism by sprinkling, for example), doing the service even as God asked us to can still be only a form without Jesus in our hearts.
            Brother A.T. Jones wrote: 
            "For a person to be baptized in His name, signifies much more than merely to have the phrase recited over him and then to be buried in the water. To be baptized in the name of the Lord, really signifies that just as the person is buried, overwhelmed, and lost sight of, in the water, so also is he buried, overwhelmed, and lost sight of, in the name, the character, the nature, of the Lord. It signifies that that person's old, original nature and character are no more to be seen in the world; but in their stead the nature and character of the Lord. It signifies that he is no more to be manifest in the world; but that God, instead of himself, is to be manifest in him in the world. 

            "This is what baptism 'in His name' signifies, both in the Greek words and in the doctrine of the Scripture. But how shall the people be baptized in His name, if they do not know His name! And how shall they know His name, if they are not instructed in His name, and to make manifest His name to the people? O, let the preaching be all "in His name" indeed, that the people may be truly baptized "in His name," that the promise may now be fulfilled, "My people shall know My name"! 
A. T. JONES. {October 24, 1895 ATJ, PTUK 678} 
            What  we -- and the world -- need now is Jesus. Not a watered-down,  feel-good religion that accommodates the sensuality and cultural -isms  of our day; we need the daily infilling of the Spirit of God. 
            "The Christian truth of the real presence of Christ converts the soul of the believer: the papal dogma pretends to convert the bread and wine. The Christian truth of the real presence of Christ believed, makes man subject to God in everything: the papal dogma makes God subject to man in everything. The preaching of the Christian truth of the real presence of Christ in the believer, is the revelation of the mystery of God: the preaching of the papal dogma of the real presence is the proclamation of the mystery of iniquity. A. T. JONES. {July 19, 1894 ATJ, PTUK 450.6}
            The Apostle John says, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works" Revelation 2:1.
            Writer W. A. Ogden wrote the words to this inspiring hymn found on page 258 of the SDA Hymnal: 
            Baptize us anew With power from on high,
            With love, O refresh us! Dear Savior, draw nigh.
            We humbly beseech Thee, Lord Jesus, we pray,
            With love and the Spirit baptize us today.
            Unworthy we cry, Unholy, unclean,
            O wash us and cleanse us From sin's guilty stain.
            O heavenly Dove, Descend from on high!
            We plead Thy rich blessing; In mercy draw nigh.
            O list the glad voice! From heaven it came;
            Thou art My beloved, Well pleas-ed I am.
-Pattie Guthrie