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The Sacraments of the Christian Church

Introduction

The term 'sacrament' is derived from the Latin 'sacramentum', which is the Vulgate translation of the Greek 'musterion.' In the New Testament 'musterion' does not mean 'mystery' but a "truth revealed."[1] Such a spiritual truth can only be perceived by believers when it is made known to them by divine revelation.

However, the word 'sacrament' as used in theology is not found in Scripture. The early church used it for various doctrines and ordinances. The Catechism of the Church of England defines it as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace."[2] Berkhof gives a more comprehensive definition: "A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ, in which by sensible signs the grace of God in Christ, and the benefits of the covenant of grace, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers, and these, in turn, give expression to their faith and allegiance to God."[3]

Thus defined, the sacraments consist of an outward or visible sign, the inward grace signified and sealed by the sign, and the relation between the sign and the grace. According to the Reformed view, this relation is spiritual so that where the sacrament is received in faith the grace of God accompanies it. Thus the sacraments are not essential to salvation, but because they have been ordained by Christ, they are essential to obedience. Christ has instituted only two sacraments: baptism in water[4] and the Lord's Supper[5] as signs of the beginning and continuance of spiritual life.

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Baptism in water

The Greek word for baptism, 'baptisma,' is derived from the verb 'bapto,' 'to dip,' and means "the processes of immersion, submersion and emergance."[6] Scriptural baptism is therefore by immersion. The pouring or sprinkling of water on the baptisand's head became normative for two reasons: 1) an overvaluation of the importance of water baptism, which came to be considered essential to salvation, so that it had to be administered to the dying; 2) the pouring of water has been allowed since the second century in the case of insufficient water. It thus became standard practice because of the convenience of the method.

Christ instituted the sacrament of baptism after He had finished His mediatorial work and "all authority in heaven and on earth"[7] had been given to Him: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."[8] Because Christ possessed "all authority," Christian baptism is obligatory for all believers. In order to "make disciples" of people, they had to be brought to repentance and to the acknowledgement of Jesus as the promised Saviour. When they accepted Christ by faith, they were to be baptized in the name of the triune God, as a sign and seal of the fact that they had entered into a new relationship with God. Afterwards they had to be taught the blessings and the commandments of the new covenant.

Baptism symbolically represents the following:

1) Purification or regeneration. Rebirth is referred to as a "washing,"[9] and baptism as the washing away of sins.[10] As water purifies the body, so the blood of Christ purifies the soul, and baptism is a sign that this has been done.

2) Unity with Christ. To be "baptized into Christ Jesus" means to be "baptized into His death." "Our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with." The old self was then "buried with Him through baptism,"[11] so that we "no longer live but Christ lives in (us)."[12]

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3) Salvation. Through the cross, "the world has been crucified to (us) and (we) to the world,"[13] so that we are saved out of Satan's world-system [14] which is "passing away,"[15} in order to enter into God's. Just as the old self was symbolically drowned in the baptismal waters,so the old world is drowned, and the believer emerges from the water in Christ and belonging to His new world.

4) Testimony. Through baptism we testify that we have been crucified and buried with Christ, so that everything in us which is not of God has come to an end. We also testify that we have been raised with Christ [16] so that He, "the hope of glory," now lives in us [17] and produces His fruit in us. [18]

The Lord's Supper

The Lord's Supper [19] is referred to by three other terms in Scripture: the table of the Lord, [20] the breaking of bread [21] and the communion. [22] It was instituted by Jesus on the night He was betrayed, as accounted by Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul. While eating the Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus gave a new significance to both the bread that was eaten with the lamb and the third cup, "the cup of blessing." The bread was substituted for the paschal lamb, because the all-sufficient sacrifice of the real Lamb of God rendered all further shedding of blood unnecessary. The cup of blessing symbolized the blood of Christ shed on the cross.

When Jesus instituted this Supper, He broke the bread, gave it to His disciples to eat, and said, "This is My body given for you".[23] The breaking of the bread symbolized the breaking of His body for the redemption of mankind, and the eating of it symbolized a spiritual appropriation of the body of Christ by faith. After supper He offered them the cup and said, "This is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."[24] These words point out that the blood of the old covenant [25] was only a type of the reality of the new covenant. The use of both the bread and wine enabled Christ to give a vivid representation of the idea that flesh and blood were separated, and that the sacrament both nourishes and quickens the soul.

Jesus' added words, "Do this in remembrance of me"[26] are amplified by Paul's "whenever you eat ... and drink ... you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." [27] The memorial aspect of the Supper thus applies to Christ's sacrificial work rather than to His person. However, Jesus had also said, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life ..."[28] so that by partaking of the Lord's Supper we symbolically appropriate the benefits secured by the sacrificial death of Christ. Isaiah mentions some of these benefits: "He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows ... He was pierced for our transgressions ... The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed."[29]

When Jesus instituted this sacrament, He gave the elements to His disciples, and therefore it is only meant for believers. However, even believers can partake of this Supper only after they have examined and judged themselves.[30] "For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many ... are weak and sick ..."[31] No self- righteous person may therefore partake of the Supper but only repentant sinners.

The grace received by faith is that of an ever closer fellowship with Christ, of spiritual nourishment and of an ever increasing assurance of salvation.

Conclusion

When these two sacraments instituted by the Lord Jesus are administered according to scriptural principles, they recall us continually to the great ground of our salvation, namely Christ in His death and resurrection. They remind us of the obligation we have to walk worthily of the calling with which we are called.

References:

1. Vine, p.779

2. Hammond, p.168

3. Berkhof, p.617

4. Matthew 28:19

5. Matthew 26: 26-29

6. Vine, p.98

7. Matthew 28:18

8. Matthew 28:19-20

9. Titus 3:5

10. Acts 22:16

11. Romans 6:3-6

12. Galations 2:20

13. Galations 6:14

14. 1 John 5:19

15. 1 Corinthians 7:31

16. Colossians 3:1

17. Colossians 1:27; Galatians 2:20

18. John 15:5

19. 1 Corinthians 11:20

20. 1 Corinthians 10:21

21. Acts 2:42

22. 1 Corinthians 10:16

23. Luke 22:19

24. Matthew 26:28

25. Exodus 24:8

26. Luke 22:18

27. 1 Corinthians 11:26

28. John 6:54

29. Isaiah 53: 4-5

30. 1 Corinthians 11:28,31

31. 1 Corinthians 11:29-30

31. 1 Corinthians 10:16

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1941.

2. Douglas, J.D. (ed) New Bible Dictionary, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1962.

3. Hammond, T.C. In Understanding be Men, Inter-Varsity press, 1968

4. Pearlman, M. Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible, Roodepoort, R.S.A.: Gospel Publishing House, 1981.

5. Vine, W.E. Expository Dictionary of NT Words, Massachusetts, U.S.A.: Hendrickson Publishers, ?

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Posted in: Bible by on July 12, 2010 @ 12:17 am

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