I’m going to go into a pretty deep subject here, and it is always good to define terms and look to scripture before discussion. The main themes in this article are sacramentalism, faith, and grace.
What is sacramentalism? First, an attempt at a neutral, secular, definition: Dictionary.com gives these two definitions for “sacramentalism:” 1) a belief in or emphasis on the importance and efficacy of the sacraments for achieving salvation and conferring grace. 2) emphasis on the importance of sacramental objects and ritual actions. Sacramentalism, in church terms, is usually defined also by example. Those denominations that practice and believe in sacramentalism have various sacraments that are used within their churches. Examples include baptism, communion, marriage, confession/penance, confirmation, ordination, last rites, foot washing, etc… etc… Sacramentalism, as defined in the earliest tradition is indeed a vehicle for grace; a “special” way of receiving the grace of God through action.
Faith. I won’t spend too much time here on faith, as I’ve defined it previously in another article here: What is Faith? The important points that pertain to this current conversation is that it is by grace we are saved through faith. Faith is trusting with great confidence, not just a head belief, but an actual trusting with confidence. Of course, when Christians talk about faith, we mean faith in God.
Grace. I’ve also defined and discussed grace in a previous article here: What is Grace? Grace is unmerited or unearned favor. Again grace is God’s to bestow. God’s grace is a marvelous thing, and we should desire it in our lives, in fact, God’s grace is necessary for salvation, and for forgiveness. It should be no wonder that the topics of sacramentalism, grace, and faith are so important in Christendom, and rightfully so.
The main area of debate surrounds the idea of the sacraments as vehicles of God’s grace. Do the “sacraments” literally convey God’s grace to us in a special, or mysterious way that is unattainable any other way? Do the sacraments contribute to our salvation? What does scripture reveal to us about these things? (I’m not debating whether these actions are good or bad; obviously the ones called for in scripture serve their purpose and are a good thing.)
Well, there are no references to “sacraments” or sacramentalism in scripture. I mean that in the sense that those words never appear there. Now, of course baptism is mentioned, and taking the bread and wine, foot washing, marriage, etc… However, go to a search engine and do a search on “grace.” Grace is not seen in connection with these acts. When these acts are described, grace isn’t connected to them. Grace and faith, on the other hand are clearly connected by the writers of scripture and these are both rooted in and spring from Christ. Bear with me:
John 1:16-17 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
Acts 20:32 And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.
Romans 1:3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; 4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: 5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: 6 Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: 7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Romans 5:20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:
Romans 11:6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Ephesians 6:24 Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.
Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
What’s my point? There are certain denominations, such as the Roman catholic church, the United Methodist church, and others, that still, in the face of scriptures on grace, insist that grace is tied into the sacraments, instead of being unmerited favor from God. Notice that, in the case of salvation, that we are saved by grace through faith, not a sacrament. That instantly defeats any notion put forth that we must be baptized in water in order to be saved. Also, note that the common benediction when you look up grace scripture, like in Ephesians 6:24 Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. There’s no jumping through hoops, no need of an intercessor or mediator between you and God; we’ve already got one: Jesus Christ.
In Christ, grace is ours and we already have direct access to the throne of grace. When Christ died for us the veil in the temple was rent from top to bottom giving us direct access to God. God gives us grace, and it is connected with faith in Christ. All these churches peddling the idea that sacraments convey grace, or are used as a vehicle for grace, are muddying the waters with something not to be found in scripture. What leaps to mind, as my brother pointed out, is the quote by Kirk in one of the Star Trek movies; “What does God need with a Starship?” God does not need a vehicle to convey Grace; God Himself is that vehicle. For those in Christ, a huge victory was won when we could go directly to the throne of grace with no need of any vehicle, and salvation is by grace through faith.
Notice too, that one of the early apostasies was that one of the vehicles of grace is sinning. Romans 5:20 listed above speaks to that. Should we sin in order to get more of God’s grace; of course not! How many times do we also need to be told that grace doesn’t come through works? Grace, remember, is unmerited favor. Those that believe in the sacraments are actually advocating grace comes through action, instead of faith, which is completely contradicted by scripture. Now, am I saying that we should not take communion or be baptized? Not at all. If you want to call these “symbols” of faith, I’m all for it. The term “ordinances” is often used to show that particular churches do NOT see these actions as sacramental, but rather acts that show forth the faith that is already there. In the case of communion, it is clear in scripture that we are doing the act in remembrance and are showing forth Christ by performing the act.
In the near future I hope to write more articles touching upon these things, and bringing some of this to light that believers sitting in different denominational pews may not realize their denominations are pushing and preaching. These things also are connected with church “hierarchy” which, if defined by things like “ordination,” can split the body of Christ into those supposedly gifted in some way above and beyond the rest of us when it comes to administering the “sacraments.” It also has implications for the oft repeated phrase; Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship. The idea of “sacraments” makes Christianity into religion once more, and constrains our relationship with God, which is a no-no. More to come…