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.


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.

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.

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.


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.


Filed under Everything

9 responses to “The Sacraments: a means of grace?

  1. Pingback: Twitted by Evangeltweet

  2. cronos08

    Ok so sorry for taking so long to respond after your texts. I have been wanting to continue this dialog as you said on here also.

    First off i will start off with a question. Please explain again why you hold to sacramental theology rather than ornamental in better detail?

    I don’t hold to this theology simply because i don’t believe there to be anything mystical that takes place in communion or baptism. As you said earlier that baptism is different. How so? Something does take place but different? I don’t think so at all.

    Communion was never meant to be a means of grace but rather in rememberance as Jesus said.

    you said that there is something mystical that takes place when you take communion every week? Well then i would ask you what’s the difference in every week or every two weeks or every month? Something mystical or spiritual would take place in those as well. BUT IT DOESN’T.

    The reason something “mystical” takes place is because it’s in your head. You’re remembering what Jesus did every week. It’s happening more so therefore your mindset is more on Jesus.

    Spiritually the only thing about communion is the remembrance factor.

    There is nothing mystical about communion.


    Also i would like to open up a dialog about your view on what takes place at baptism that you were saying in one of your text messages bro at a later time

    Hope all is well with the family. God bless bro

    • thekeynote00

      I will respond to this by fist asking a question.

      As Protestants we say “scripture alone,” and confess the meaning of the Bible is clear without the use of tradtion to anyone who studies it (using a grammatical/historical approach). Yet does almost everyone who believes this differ in interpretation?

      Without tradition the interpretation of scripture becomes a free-for-all of interpretation, debate, and divisions. Who has the final authority, Scripture? How can it if we are all using to prove our opposing views.

      The succession of Apostolic teaching must be our filter for doctrine and theology.
      No matter how we feel about a certain subject, we must look back to the purest doctrine handed down to us from the apostles to their disciples and so forth.

      So the reason I stand by this view is both because I see in Scripture, and because it is the teaching of the apostles handed down through church history. As I displayed in this post and the previous one, it wasn’t until the radical reformers like Zwingli and Calvin that this doctrine was abandoned.

      1 Cor 11:24 & 27-29
      “This is my body which is for you…”
      “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

      Communion is spiritual not only because we remember, but because Christ is present in the elements we take, and the promise of his word is made effectual.

      Apostolic teaching:
      Cyril of Jerusalem
      “[Jesus Christ], by his own free will, once changed water into wine at Cana in Galilee. So why should we not believe that he can change wine into blood?….
      We should therefore have full assurance that we are sharing in the body and blood of Christ.”

      John of Damascus
      “and now you ask how the bread becomes the body of Christ, and the wine and the water become the blood of Christ. I shall tell you. The Holy Spirit comes upon them, and achieves things which surpass every-word and thought… let it be enough for you to understand that this takes place by the Holy Spirit, just as the Lord took flesh, in and through himself, of the Holy Theotokos and by the Holy Spirit.”

      Paschasius Radbertus
      “No one who believes the divine words of Truth declaring, “For my flesh is truly food, and my blood is truly drink” (John 6:55-56) can doubt that the body and blood are truly created by the consecration of the Mystery.”

      Why is it crazy to believe something mysterious and spiritual happens at communion. We believe that God took on human flesh, we believe the holy Spirit inhabits the lives of believers, we believe God works miracles… yet we believe communion is merely a remembrance???

      Why does our belief in the divine and mysterious end in this present age? If Christ lived today would we try to explain away his divinity?

      Just because we cant explain it, or because it makes us uncomfortable, does not mean its not real… it does not mean Christ is not really present in the elements we partake. We eat his flesh and blood. And remember it was for this belief that the early church was labeled cannibals.

      About baptism… I would say it is on the same level. Not that Christ is present, but that the promises of God word are made effectual in the life of the believer when he/she is baptized. It is more than an outward sign. It is the introduction into the Body of Christ. Is is necessary for salvation? No, there are exceptions, but it is more than a physical act. The Holy Spirit enacts something spiritual in the life of the believer in the act of Baptism.

      I can right in more detail about baptism in the future if you would like.

  3. cronos08

    Ok i’ll write on baptism first… If something happens spiritually speaking then baptism has to happen… It is required because at that point the believer hasn’t received the fullness of God. So as you were saying the promises of God’s word are made effectual in the life of the believer when they are baptized… That means they MUST be baptized. There is no well they don’t have to. If something spiritual takes place at this point then baptism is required not something that SHOULD happen but that must…

    Communion… Ok really i think we can agree to disagree on this matter simply because until i could do it every week and experience something different i will hold to this.

    It doesn’t make me uncomfortable to believe that we could be drinking christ’s blood, and eating his body… But i don’t see the benefit… Has anyone died right after taking communion in the past 100 years??? I’m pretty sure there has been plenty of people that being religious and not knowing Christ and have taken communion. So if it is the same as it was back in the early church and the same rules still apply why don’t the same rules still apply today? answer that question… Is the answer they don’t… well know, the same rules apply. the answer is to much belief in the mystical. Everything was believed to be spiritual and mystical back then. That’s why there were so many different Gods. Dare i say it wrong belief. and why would God want us to be cannibalistic????

    Scripture wise I would interpret that differently… And would also disagree with the early church fathers as you have put them up there.

    Are belief in the divine and mysterious doesn’t end in this age… Honestly it’s gotten worse… People are looking for the mystical and the divine… that’s why so many are buddhist and hindu’s… They do things like this ALL the time… demonic or not… I’m going to go meditate… lol jk jk

  4. cronos08

    Don’t get me wrong i think there is a benefit in taking communion… I just don’t think it is so mysterious and mystical as you would think… and i would have to reword what i mean… I think something spiritual does take place in communion… But not in a mysterious or mystical way… Like i have said it happens because of the remembrance factor.

    • thekeynote00

      “Why” never seems to be an appropriate question when it concerns God.

      One of the greatest pitfalls of western culture has been rationalism; the idea that through reason man can come to know and understand all things.

      Rationalism has useful applications in areas of law, critical thinking and science. However, concerning the mysteries of God it does considerable damage. It reduces the beautiful mysteries of the universe to simple equations, shallow dogmas, and characterizations. Rationalism elevates the ability of man, with the presupposition that the created can reason that which the uncreated has not revealed. Paul said the Cross was “foolishness” to the Greek (rational minded).

      Therefore, my answers to your many “why’s” will be limited to the revelation available to the church.

      Why does one participates in Communion?
      1. Christ command his follow to observe this rite.
      2. It makes effectual the promise of his word regarding life, salvation, forgiveness and sanctification. or judgment, sickness, and death to the spirit and body.

      I would also fundamentally disagree with you about the spiritual state of people. Since the enlightenment and particularly with the rise of modernism that the western world has been rapidly moving away from “spiritualism.” 4 spiritual laws, fundamentalism, creationism, liberalism, social gospel, and textual criticism. These are all examples of the rise of rationalism, of reason, and man seeking to solve the problems of man primary by human and scientific means. It is only recently as we culture transitions and excepts postmodernism that “spiritualism” has increased. In that your right, people are longing for what religion has shut them off to.

      How can you reject the witness of the Church handed down through the ages, and like the radical reformers say that your interpretation is grater than those taught by the Apostles? This is both acting in arrogance and ignorance on the behalf of the Protestant. Arrogance to assume that they have a greater interpretation then the tradition passed down through the church throughout the ages. Ignorance to assume that they alone can interpret all the things of God from Scripture, as if it sits alone in history and is complete in and of its self concerning all things. Traditional is the bases in which we interpret Scripture. If this were not so then we would all go the way of heretics, or Oregin who read the Scriptures allegorically. Scripture cannot possible interpret itself. If this were so then Protestant would reject doctrines like the Trinity, or Chalcedonium Christology.

      • cronos08

        This is what i was trying to talk to you about earlier when i texted you… As we have talked about this, as i have argued against what you are saying. As i read that other guys blog post… I have been convicted… I realize that and now agree with you… I actually really really REALLY FOR REAL don’t want to agree with you… But i cannot bring myself to disagree with the scriptures that i hold high, the early church fathers, and the holy spirit that convinces me as much as might try to disagree… sadly… I cannot…

      • cronos08

        so much for debate huh… lol I feel like a failure now but oh well. Such is God and life

    • thekeynote00

      Now concerning baptism… Set aside all previous conclusions and read the following passages fresh.

      Acts 2:38
      “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

      John 3:5
      “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

      Romans 6:3-4
      “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

      Mark 16:16
      “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”


      The question is not whether God can save without baptism, or outside those who are baptized, for God can have mercy upon those he has mercy upon. The issue is what is the pattern salvation he left and instructed the Church to follow?

      One cannot be so little minded as to think that God can only operate within the elements of bread and water. However, these are the elements he instructed us to uses, and he chooses to operate within.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s