Sacraments in Worship
“And they devoted themselves … to the breaking of bread.”- Acts 2:42
Acts 2:42 provides our most important look at the earliest practices of the Apostolic church. We have seen that when the first Christians came together for worship, they were committed to “the apostles’ teaching.” This would have encompassed both the Apostles’ teaching of the old covenant Scriptures and any new revelation given by Christ that would eventually be set in writing. Thus we see how important the teaching and preaching of God’s Word were for Apostolic worship. Acts 2:42 also reveals that the earliest Christians devoted themselves to “the prayers.” Undoubtedly this would have included prayers from the book of Psalms, for the first believers were from a Jewish background, and probably the Lord’s Prayer and prayers patterned after it, for that is how Jesus taught the Apostles to pray (Matt. 6:9–13).
In addition to teaching and prayer, we see in Acts 2:42 that the Apostles also administered the sacraments during worship. They were devoted “to the breaking of the bread.” There would be little reason for Luke to tell us that the believers ate ordinary meals together, so the specific mention of bread is almost certainly a reference to the Lord’s Supper. Given what we know of early Christian worship, it is likely that the Lord’s Supper was enjoyed as part of a larger fellowship meal. In any case, 1 Corinthians 11:17–34 makes it plain that the Lord’s Supper was a part of the worship of the church during the Apostolic era.
That the sacraments would be ordained for public worship makes sense given what Scripture says about them. The command to baptize, for example, is given alongside the command that we teach all nations to observe all that Christ has instructed us (Matt. 28:18–20). The teaching and preaching of Christ’s commandments occurs in public worship, so ordinarily, baptism should as well. From both the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:26–29) and Paul’s description of its practice in 1 Corinthians 11, we see that partaking of the bread and wine was never a private act but rather something done publicly with other disciples.
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper complement other aspects of worship. They are visible depictions of gospel truths proclaimed as the Word of God is taught that reinforce the preached message and are explained by it. In the sacraments, we also meet with Christ, and meeting with the triune God is one of the purposes of worship.
In today’s church, some Christians believe that the sacraments can be a private affair, that it is right to take the Lord’s Supper in the privacy of one’s home apart from public worship. Scripture shows us otherwise. The sacraments are public ordinances and we participate in them rightly in the context of public worship. Let us encourage our leaders to place a high value on the public administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Passages for Further Study