Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Sacraments: a means of grace?

I wanted to return to this subject and give it some more space. For many Evangelicals this topic seems as strange and as pagan as incense, candles, and Jesus still displayed on our crosses.

The question is, are the sacraments a means of grace or merely symbolic of grace already imparted directly to man.

There are two general conclusions to this answer within Christianity.

Sacramental

Represented by Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian variations.


The sacraments are a holy sign and seal of the covenant of grace.

Sign: the sacrament represents something other than itself. It teaches about some truth symbolically.

Seal: the sacrament certifies by the authority f God that a person receiving it the quality signified. Only when rightly administered by the conditions demanded in God’s word does the sacrament truly certify and authenticate the promise or quality signified.

-Westminster Confession of Faith

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed God’s divine grace was made available and effective in human lives through a variety of means or “channels.” While God is free to work in many ways, the Church has been given the privilege and responsibility of being the Body of Christ that carries forth His redeeming purpose in the world.

Sacraments are effective means of God’s presence mediated through the created world.

Wesley affirmed the Anglican teaching that, “A sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace, and means whereby we receive the same.”

The ritual action of a sacrament does not merely point to Gods presence in the world, but also participates in it and becomes a vehicle for conveying that reality.

God’s presence in the sacraments is real, but must be accepted by human faith if it is to transform human lives.

The sacraments do not convey grace magically or irrevocably, but they are powerful channels through which God has chosen to make grace available to us.

Wesley saw baptism as the initiatory sacrament by which we enter into a convent with God and admitted as members of the Church.

archives.umc.org/interior.asp?ptid=4&mid=992

wesleyumcsd.org/articles/1/pages/3/

Of the Means of Grace

(St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.)

[Adopted 1932]

21. Although God is present and operates everywhere throughout all creation and the whole earth is therefore full of the temporal bounties and blessings of God, Col. 1:17; Acts 17:28; 14:17, still we hold with Scripture that God offers and communicates to men the spiritual blessings purchased by Christ, namely, the forgiveness of sins and the treasures and gifts connected therewith, only through the external means of grace ordained by Him. These means of grace are the Word of the Gospel, in every form in which it is brought to man, and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and of the Lord’s Supper. The Word of the gospel promises and applies the grace of God, works faith and thus regenerates man, and gives the Holy Ghost, Acts 20:24; Rom. 10:17; 1 Pet. 1:23; Gal. 3:2. Baptism, too, is applied for the remission of sins and is therefore a washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, Acts 2:38; 22:16; Titus 3:5. Likewise the object of the Lord’s Supper, that is, of the ministration of the body and blood of Christ, is none other than the communication and sealing of the forgiveness of sins, as the words declare: “Given for you,” and: “Shed for you for the remission of sins,” Luke 22:19, 20; Matt. 26:28, and “This cup is the New Testament in My blood,” 1 Cor. 11:23; Jer. 31:31-34 (“New Covenant”).

22. Since it is only through the external means ordained by Him that God has promised to communicate the grace and salvation purchased by Christ, the Christian Church must not remain at home with the means of grace entrusted to it, but go into the whole world with the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments, Matt. 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15, 16. For the same reason also the churches at home should never forget that there is no other way of winning souls for the Church and keeping them with it than the faithful and diligent use of the divinely ordained means of grace. Whatever activities do not either directly apply the Word of God or subserve such application we condemn as “new methods,” unchurchly activities, which do not build, but harm the Church.

23. We reject as a dangerous error the doctrine, which disrupted the Church of the Reformation, that the grace and the Spirit of God are communicated not through the external means ordained by Him, but by an immediate operation of grace. This erroneous doctrine bases the forgiveness of sins, or justification, upon a fictitious “infused grace,” that is, upon a quality of man, and thus again establishes the work-doctrine of the papists.

Purpose of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is essentially an application of the Gospel, with all its spiritual blessings, in a sacred act. It offers, conveys, and seals to the communicant forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation; strengthens faith; promotes sanctification through strengthening of faith; increases love toward God and the neighbor; affords patience in tribulation; confirms hope of eternal life; and deepens union with Christ and His mystical body, the ch. (1 Co 10:17). It also serves a confessional purpose (Acts 2:42; 1 Co 10:20–21; 11:26). All these blessings are mediated through the Gospel-promise in the Sacrament (“Given and shed for you for the remission of sins”) and are apprehended by faith in the divine promise. The words “This do in remembrance of Me” do not mean merely that the communicant is to remember the absent Christ, who atoned for his sins; they invite the communicant to accept the forgiveness offered in the Sacrament (“Do this in remembrance of Me” means: remember Christ’s blessings and accept them by faith; cf. Ap XXIV 72). The Lord’s Supper differs from the preaching of the Gospel, which is addressed to all hearers, believers and unbelievers, and from Absolution,* which is individually addressed to believers, to the believers as a penitent group, in that the Sacrament offers forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation individually to each communicant under pledge of Christ’s body and blood, received with the bread and wine.

http://www.lcms.org/ca/www/cyclopedia/02/display.asp?t1=g&word=GRACE.MEANSOF

Luther contrasted prayer with the sacraments. He stated that the Word and the Sacraments is something God “does to us.” While prayer on the other hand is something the believer does toward God.

Ornamental:

Represented by Baptist, Anabaptist, and Arminians

Zwingli, regarded as the founder of this view, rejected the instruments (sacraments as a means of grace) and entirely refused to accept any other means of grace other than direct unmediated communion with God.

In fact he believed the elements of water bread and wine to be created barriers between God and man. He believed the sacraments were a confession, not a confirmation of faith. Because of his views he preferred to call them ordinances, not sacraments.

This was a radical break from the long doctrine of the church on this issue.

7. Calvinism* and the means of grace. Calvinism rejects the means of grace as unnecessary; it holds that the Holy Spirit requires no escort or vehicle by which to enter human hearts. The Ref. doctrine of predestination* excludes the idea of means which impart the Spirit and His gifts to men, the Holy Spirit working effectively only on the elect. Acc. to Ref. teaching, the office of the Word is to point out the way of life without imparting that of which it conveys the idea. Ref. theol. regards Word and Sacraments as necessary because of divine institution. They are symbols of what the Holy Spirit does within as He works immediately (i. e. without means) and irresistibly. “Enthusiast” doctrine of the Anabaptists* and of the many sects since their day regarding the “inner light,” gen. identified with the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and the “2d conversion,” has its root in this specifically Ref. doctrine of the immediate working of the Holy Spirit. See also Enthusiasm.

http://www.lcms.org/ca/www/cyclopedia/02/display.asp?t1=g&word=GRACE.MEANSOF

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A Protestant Debate: Luther & Zwingli

As the Protestant Reformation grew it quickly splintered creating many different subdivisions and groups.  Martin Luther was one of the key figures of the Protestant Reformation. Most would even attribute its origins to his 95 Thesis of protest against the Catholic Church. However, Luther never intended to divide or create his own branch of Christendom. Luther only intended to reform the abuses he witnessed with in the church. Luther even criticized others who he labeled revolutionaries, and radicals; people who were making unnecessary revisions to church policies and dogma.

It seemed that what he began as reform quickly unraveled into revolution. Today the protestant branch of Christianity is still divided among the issues that arose during his lifetime.

One of these debates that polarizes Christianity began between Luther and another man, Ulrich Zwingli (a contemporary of Luther’s and fellow reformer). The two parted way over the issue Christ presence in communion (a.k.a. Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist).

Luther in defense of classical Christina tradition defended the real presence of Christ in Communion. Zwingli, on the other hand, argued for the symbolic remembrance of Christ at communion. For Luther the Sacraments Christ instituted (namely Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) were a means of grace, a means for the believer to receive by faith the promises of God. Zwingli rejected this Scriptural interpretation. Instead he adopted an ornamental view of the sacraments. The sacraments were not a means of grace but an act of obedience and love expressed by the believer. God’s grace did not come through the elements; they were merely symbols of God’s unseen direct activity with believers.

*Other examples of signs/means of grace may include the word of God, profession/confession, conformation, penance, orders, and matrimony. The two listed above are the common sacraments instituted by Christ.

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A Protestant Debate: Calvin & Arminius

It may be hard to determine whether one’s worldview shapes ones faith, or if ones faith shapes one’s worldview. The spiritualist might hope that faith is the force that develops ones worldview, leading and guiding the adherent to view the world through the lens their faith tradition. The secularist, on the other hand, hopes that it is tolerant worldview that will guide and interpret ones faith, fearing man’s long history of religious violence.

To this question I have no answer. It is but the springboard for the topic I wish to discuss.

Within the Protestant branch of Christendom there is a debate. It is a debate everyone is engaged in. It is both a public and personal struggle. It is a campaign that attracts the attention of the academic, the pulpit, and the coffeehouse thinker.  It is both pragmatic, and dogmatic.

It forms around several simple questions about God.

“Did I chose God or did he choose me?”

“Can I resist God if he chooses me?”

“Once I receive God’s salvation can I loose it?”

Now matter where you go, you will find Protestants engaged in this debate. Many have chosen a side and raised their flag. Many others are still wading through the murky waters dogging shots that the two polarized sides are taking at each other.

Many don’t realize but this is a unique debate to the protestant branch of the Christendom. The reason why it has such a polarizing effect of denominations and Church’s is because this debate represents a rift tracing back almost to the beginning of the protestant reformation.

A key figure that rose to prominence after the wake of the Protestant Reformation was a Pastor named John Calvin. John Calvin was a gifted preacher and theologian, who detailed his theological views in a work called Calvin’s Institutes. This became theological framework many adopted and taught. One of these students was Joseph Arminius. Arminius in a strange turn of events abandoned the views of Calvin, and began teaching an opposing theological view. The pupils of both men would eventually label each other heretics and part ways.

Calvin’s influence can be traced through the Presbyterian, Reform, and some Baptist traditions. Arminius influence can be traced most predominantly through the Methodist, Holiness, Pentecostal, and Charismatic traditions.

Many Protestants assume that this issue consumes all of Christendom, however it does not. Lutheranism, a protestant denomination that solidified early into the Protestant Reformation, accepts what they like to label the balance of the truth represented in the Scripture.

Below is an outline of the issues that divided Calvin and Arminius, and how Luther balances the harmony of Scriptural witness.

T: “total depravity”

Calvinism: Man after the Fall has no ability to cooperate with God’s grace in conversion

Arminianism: Man after the Fall can cooperate with God’s grace in conversion

Lutheranism: Agrees with Calvinism on total depravity

Relevant Bible passages: Romans 3:9-20; Gal. 3:22

U: “unconditional election”

Calvinism: Before the world was created, God unconditionally elected some (the elect) for salvation and the others (reprobates) for damnation.

Arminianism: Before the world was created, God foresaw those who would choose Him of their own free will and elected them to salvation

Lutheranism: Before the world was created, God unconditionally elected some (the elect) for salvation but did not reprobate (chose for damnation) any.

Relevant Bible passages: Romans 9:11-13; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Mat. 25:34, 41.

L: “limited atonement”

Calvinism: Jesus only died for the elect, objectively atoning for their sin, but he did not die for the sins of the reprobates.

Arminianism: Christ died to give all the possibility to be saved.

Lutheranism: Christ’s death objectively atoned for all the sin of the world; by believing we receive this objective atonement and its benefits.

Relevant Bible passages: John 1:29; 1 John 2:2; 2 Cor. 5:14-15, 19.

I: “irresistible grace”

Calvinism: In all of God’s outward actions (preaching, baptism, etc.) there is an outward call which all receive, yet there is also a secret effectual calling which God gives to the elect alone. This effectual calling alone saves and is irresistable.

Arminianism: God gives in His outward actions the same grace to all; this grace can be resisted by all.

Lutheranism: The question is not answerable; for the elect, grace will irresistably triumph, yet those who reject Christ have rejected that Grace; yet the grace is the same.

Relevant Bible passages: Eph. 2:1-10; Acts 13:48; James 1:13-15

P: “perseverance of the saints” (sort of like “once saved, always saved.”)

Calvinism: Salvation cannot be lost. Those who have truly put their faith in Christ may temporarily lose the evidence of their faith and even live for a time in grave and unrepentant sin, without losing their salvation.

Arminianism: Salvation can be lost through unrepentant sin and unbelief.

Lutheranism: Salvation can be lost through mortal sin and unbelief, but this legal warning does not cancel the Gospel promise of election

Relevant Bible passages: 1 Cor. 10:12. 2 Peter 2:1, 20-22.
*Comparisons taken from Three Hierarchies.

For many people, what they believe is more of a reflection the conflict between worldview and faith, then theology.


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