Evangelicals have an uneasy relationship with the sacraments. Having tossed five of the Catholic’s seven, the Protestant church has doubled-down on the value and importance of baptism and the Lord’s supper. My own fellowship, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, refers to these two sacraments as “Ordinances.”
Vander Zee’s book is an attempt to take sacramental theology seriously and to renew evangelical interest in these two Biblically-based traditions. His approach is firmly rooted in the theology of John Calvin whom he quotes liberally throughout the book.
The sacraments physical signs graciously given to us by God whereby the believer is united to Christ through the Holy Spirit. Baptism is that once-in-a-lifetime moment where the believer is brought into the Christian community. The Lord’s Supper is a regular time where the physical signs of bread and wine bring us to God through faith.
Although this is a valuable book for the evangelical church at large, it’s more directly applicable to Reformed congregations. This is clear in the chapter on infant baptism which Vander Zee supports and encourages despite no scriptural basis for the practice. Here’s the line that made me shake my head in disbelief:
The primary objection to the baptism of infants, beside the lack of clear biblical evidence, is the fact that in infant baptism one of the most important aspects of New Testament baptism is missing: confession and the profession of faith in Jesus Christ. (122)
I found it hard to believe that in the midst of such a biblically reasoned book, “lack of clear biblical evidence” is relegated to a sub-clause! Despite my disagreements with his theology, I was encouraged by his call for “respect and tolerance” (133) between traditions. (I would go further, however. If we’re going to be biblical, “love” is called for, not mere “respect and tolerance”.)
Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is a thoughtful book on the importance of the sacraments (or ordinances!) whereby believers are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit in faith.
—Leonard J. Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Recovering the Sacraments for Evangelical Worship (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004).