Thinking Out Loud

September 25, 2008

The Sacraments: How Sacramental is Your View of Worship?

Filed under: Christianity, Church, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:40 pm

Sacraments.  To some of my readers that’s a foreign word.  It was to me until a few years ago.  I was raised with the concept that there were two ordinances of the church, namely

  • Baptism (and always of believing adults at that)
  • Communion (a.k.a. The Lord’s Supper or Lord’s Table, but rarely referred to as Eucharist)

We grew up believing that Baptism was “the outward sign of an inward change” and that Communion was “a time of remembrance” for what Christ did for us.   (And we “took” communion; there was no language about someone’s son or daughter “making” their first communion the way a daughter might “make” the cheerleading squad, a son might “make” the basketball team, a lawyer might “make” partner, a chef might “make” chicken soup, or a husband and wife might “make” love.)

Those two events in the life and liturgy of the church are understood by others as sacraments.   This means that in participating we are somehow changed by what is enacted; and in so doing we leave the service different people than when we arrived.   (But ain’t that also the goal of every Evangelical pastor I know?) (The Wikipedia article, linked above, takes a more middle theological definition that would sit better with most Evangelicals.)

I was reminded of this today on the blog Everyday Liturgy, which picked up the distinction in a rather obscure place, a CT book review of a general market title on the sexual marketing of girls.

Take this quote from Christianity Today in an article about the sexual marketing of young girls, a topic usually viewed as being very far from discussion of the sacraments; however, the authors Todd and Sara Ream write:

Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Scripture teach us what it means to be human and how that shapes our understanding of sexuality.

Five years ago I am sure that the sentence would have read: “Scripture teaches us what it means to be human and how that shapes our understanding of sexuality.”  This is not to say that the role of Scripture should be diminished, just that the role of the sacraments must be heightened if we are to truly understand the revelation and presence of God.

So what about you?  Can the sacraments ‘teach’ or ‘instruct’ us?  Even on topics like the one mentioned?   My response — contained in a comment linked with the article — was that on a topic like this, the sacraments can do little apart from the context of scripture.

I’m not necssarily looking for a “yes” or “no” black-and-white response, either.   Let’s phrase it, How sacramental are you?  Is there any disconnect on this between your personal take on this issue and that of your church?


  1. In theory, baptism most definitely should enact a soul-changing effect. Baptisms should be events by which a believer gains the Holy Spirit, the seal of the New Covenant and the Promise bad to Abraham.
    However, Scripture indicates that only powerful evangelists had the power to transmit the spirit.
    Acts 19:2-6 is rather interesting in this discussion, as we see (perhaps) the necessity of baptism for the Holy Spirit while at the same time seeing that there is also the weaker baptism as a sign of repentance.

    My guess, though of course I cannot know, is that many churches have become dead to the Spirit, and baptism there is no longer able to imbue the Spirit. Perhaps God, seeing two thousand years of corruption due to political power and human psychology, has chosen other means to spread the Spirit.

    While baptism or receipt of the Spirit does not inform absolutely one’s eternal standing before God, one cannot be considered a true Christian (insofar as they are not a member in the New Covenant) without the Holy Spirit. If baptism is still the only way to receive the Spirit, then that suggests it should be given the highest respect as more than a sign or ordinance.

    I would point out that modern Churches often require a believe to formally agree to a dozen articles of faith before allowing him or her to be baptized. This appears starkly different from what we see in Acts.

    Comment by David Rudel — September 28, 2008 @ 1:49 am

  2. I agreed more and more with your successive paragraphs; it’s interesting to read your response backwards, to see the flow of thoughts when you consider them in reverse order. So lets do that:

    para 4: Frank Viola makes much of this point in the book Pagan Christianity. The early Christians were baptized at the time of conversion. No class to sign up for.

    para 3: Baptism should be given more respect, yes. But it’s interesting that you begin the last sentence with the conditional “if.” “If baptism is the only way…” suggests that you’re not convinced; that there might be some other way; such as a “gift” from God at salvation / conversion / repentance. The first sentence would probably elicit many comments if this were a higher traffic blog. Baptism doesn’t inform one’s eternal standing? Probably not much argument there. Many deathbed conversions didn’t have that options. Receipt of the Spirit? That would get mail. Many denominations believe we receive the Holy Spirit at the time of confession / salvation / conversion. If salvation is a declaration of Christ’s lordship, and nobody can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ without the Holy Spirit… then that’s a non negotiable.

    para 2: No argument. Some believe this is why we don’t see many healings today. A watering down of doctrine and practice, or what you call a corruption.

    para 1: This brings us back to the whole Sacraments question. Some branches of the church equated the receipt of the Spirit with Confirmation. (Which has all sorts of parallels to the baptism of adults practiced in some evangelical churches.) Some talk about a “second blessing,” a filling (or they might say “an overfilling” or “overflow”) of the Spirit in a post-conversion experience.

    Acts 19 is certainly interesting as the word ‘baptism’ is used for both John’s baptism and the subsequent filling of the Holy Spirit.

    Gives me lots to think about. Who wants to jump in next?


    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 28, 2008 @ 3:39 pm

  3. […] The Sacraments (2): How Sacramental Is Your View of Bible Teaching? Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: Church, evangelical, Protestant, sacraments, sermons, worship — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:30 pm Today I had a different thought on how those of us who grew up in non-sacramental churches can approach the topic of sacraments.   If you missed the earlier post on this, you can read it here. […]

    Pingback by The Sacraments (2): How Sacramental Is Your View of Bible Teaching? « Thinking Out Loud — October 5, 2008 @ 10:30 pm

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