Archive for the 'Sacraments' Category

Eye and Ear

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2:42

Growing up in a free church tradition, the emphasis was always on preaching. Indeed, preaching is essential for it has been ordained by God to be the means by which are lives are transformed by the gospel (1 Cor. 1:21). But, preaching is not the only thing that God has appointed for the edifying of his church and the strengthening of the saints. Christ gifted the people of God with the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist are physical, visible signs ordained by Christ for the encouragement, uplifting  and spiritual comfort of the people of God into the presence of God. Scripture proclaims that the Holy Spirit takes material objects: water, bread, and wine, infuses them with grace, so that by the partaking of them, we are made holy. By the power of the Holy Spirit, these outward physical signs lead us into the experience of inward spiritual truths of the Christian life.

In the preaching, we receive God’s grace through the ear and in the sacraments, we are empowered by God’s grace through the eye.

Both Word and sacrament bear witness to Christ. Both promise salvation in Christ. Both quicken our faith in Christ. Both enable us to feed on Christ in our hearts. The major difference between them is that the message of the one is directed to the eye, and of the other to the ear. So the sacraments need the Word to interpret them.

The ministry of the Word and sacrament is a single ministry, the Word proclaiming, and the sacrament dramatizing, God’s promises. Yet the Word is primary, since without it the sign becomes dark in meaning, if not actually dumb.

John Stott, Authentic Christianity, ed., Timothy Dudley-Smith (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1995), 277.


“Both Convey the Same Christ”

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Word and Sacraments

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

John 6:51

The Lord’s Supper is precious: an encounter with the living Christ. Grace is poured forth, faith renewed, spirit-encouraged, healing released, and hope restored at the table of the Lord. At the table, the resurrected Christ meets the people of God as the heart of God makes known the love of God in bread and wine.

This same renewal occurs in the hearing and receiving of the Word of God. In the Word, we are drawn to Christ: faith received, hope renewed, obedience empowered, and hearts healed. The Word and sacraments work together: the sacraments portray to our eyes the written truth of God’s promises.

The sacraments are visible means through which we and Christ commune. They encourage us to be like Christ in all His holiness. The grace received through the sacraments is no different from that received through the Word. Both convey the same Christ.

Joel R. Beeke,  Feed My Sheep, ed., Don Kistler (Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 2002), 121.

Thus does God make known His secret purpose to His Church: first he declares His mercy by His Word; then He seals it and assures it by His sacraments. In the Word we have His promises: in the sacraments we see them.

John Jewell cited in Philip E. Hughes, Theology of the English Reformers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 189.

Great Receivers Love Holy Eucharist

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

The Eucharist Crushes the Barriers of My Heart

When he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you (emphasis mine). Do this in remembrance of me.”

1 Cor. 11:24

Great receivers love grace. Grace being Jesus in them to live the Christian life in joy, holiness, and power. In the Holy Eucharist, Jesus gives us sanctifying grace to strengthen us to live the Christian life. Great receivers know that Christ as grace is present in the Lord’s Supper. They hunger to partake. They know that Christ is available now by the power of the Holy Spirit in the elements of bread and wine. In his Body and Blood, Christ blesses them with physical, emotional, and spiritual renewal. Great receivers run to the Eucharist for they know that there at the altar they will meet Christ.

In the sacraments, we acknowledge in faith that whatever happens to Christ also happens to us. Baptism plunges us in to the waters of his vicarious human life, uniting us and identifying us with his humanity. The Lord’s Supper feeds us with Christ, participating in his perfect human life, death, resurrection and ascension in the bread and wine.

Leonard J. Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 51.

To choose Jesus is to allow grace to crush the barriers in my heart. Those big barriers of trust in my own abilities and self-confidence need to collapse. If my trust is in myself, I am self-centered, not Jesus-or Eucharist-centered.”

Tadeusz Dajczer, The Mystery of Faith: Meditations on the Eucharist (Orleans, MA: Paraclete Press, 2009),17.

HT: Jesus Creed

The Sacrament of Confession

Monday, March 1st, 2010

What is Sacramental Confession?

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

James 5:16

Confession is one lover going to another lover and admitting their faults in the relationship while yearning for restoration and forgiveness. Better yet, confession is the offended lover pouring upon the hurting, shamed, and guilty lover: abundant grace, mercy, and pardon. In relationship to Christ, confession is knowing and experiencing first hand the embrace of the waiting father (Luke 15:20). It is the comfort and security of being able to enjoy once again the lap of Abba Father who smothers the bewildered child with acceptance and love (Gal. 4:4-6).

Reconciliation is grace upon grace; it is forgiveness being poured out like a waterfall. It is finding our way home. It is being affectionately loved by Christ.  It is receiving affirmation, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The Eastern Orthodox Church calls sacramental confession, “the kiss of Christ.” “Kiss me again and again, for your love is sweeter than wine” says the Song of Songs (1:2). Confession is experiencing and expressing Christ’s love for us. Confession is having the opportunity to start anew.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Kiss of Christ: Reflections on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (Combermere, Ontario: Madonna House Publications, 1998), 7.

Private confession should be retained in the church, for in it consciences afflicted and crushed by the terrors of sin lay themselves bare and receive consolation, which they could not acquire in public preaching. We want to open up confession as a port and refuge for those whose consciences the devil holds enmeshed in his snares and whom he completely bewitches and torments in such a way that they cannot be free or extricate themselves and feel and see nothing else but they must perish. To such, then, an approach to confession should be opened up so that they may seek and find consolation among the ministers of the church.

Martin Luther cited in Thomas C. Oden, Classical Pastoral Care, Volume Two: Ministry through Word and Sacrament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 135.

My entire essay on the sacrament of confession entitled, “Experiencing Our Heavenly Father’s Embrace: Sacrament of Confession as Counseling” is available as a Google document.

The Eucharist: The Heart of Christian Worship

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

The Sacramental Question

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

I Corinthians 10:16

John Williamson Nevin makes a most remarkable yet true statement–our view of the Eucharist (i.e., Lord’s Supper) shapes and forms our understanding of Christ, church, theology, and church history.

In other words, a low view of the Eucharist lessens my understanding of the incarnation as Christ present in a material world. A low view of the Eucharist lessens the value of the church for we fail to see the continuous, sacramental, historic nature of the Church Catholic. A low view of the Eucharist makes theological reflection purely intellectual separate from the prayer life of the church. A low view of the Eucharist disconnects table fellowship from the communion of the saints both present and past.

On the other hand, a high view of the Eucharist recognizes that Christ is present in the Body and Blood. A high view of the Eucharist leads believers into heavenly worship joining with all saints and angels in praising God. A high view of the Eucharist joins worship, prayer, and theological reflection into one united whole. A high view of the Eucharist values the historic church by building on its strengths and learning from its weaknesses.

As St. Irenaeus wrote:

Again, moreover, how do they [heretics] say the flesh will end in corruption and not receive life, that flesh which is nourished by the Body and Blood of the Lord? Therefore let them either change their opinion or cease to assert such things. Our opinion is in conformity with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist confirms our opinion . . . Just as the bread from the earth, receiving the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but rather the Eucharist consisting of two things, the earthly and the heavenly, so our bodies, receiving the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible but have the hope of resurrection to eternal life.

Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies, Book IV

As the Eucharist forms the very heart of the whole Christian worship, so it is clear that the entire question of the church, which all are compelled to acknowledge–the great life problem of the age–centers ultimately in the sacramental question as its inmost heart and core.

Our view of the Lord’s Supper must ever condition and rule in the end our view of Christ’s person and the conception we form of the church. It must influence, at the same time, very materially, our whole system of theology, as well as all our ideas of ecclesiastical history.

John Williamson Nevin, The Mystical Presence, preface.

The Eucharist: Humility Before the Lord’s Table

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

The Lord’s Supper Reminds Us How Sinful Sin Must Be

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

1 Cor. 11:27-29

Holy Eucharist is the act of giving thanks through the partaking of the Lord’s Supper; commemorating the death of Christ by participating in Christ through the elements of bread and wine.

Right reception of the Lord’s Supper has a ‘humbling’ effect on the soul. The sight of the bread and wine as emblems of Christ’s body and blood, reminds us how sinful sin must be, if nothing less than the death of God’s own Son could make satisfaction for it, or redeem us from its guilt. Never should we be so ‘clothed with humility,’ as when we receive the Lord’s Supper.

J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion, “Going to the Table”, 152.

HT: J.C. Ryle Quotes

The Sacraments: A Promise Only God Can Make

Monday, January 18th, 2010

“If You Partake of the Bread and Wine in Evangelical Faith, then You Meet Christ.”

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

1 Cor. 10:16

The sacraments of baptism and Eucharist are signs/symbols ordained by Christ for the strengthening, encouragement, and uplifting of the people of God into the presence of God. Scripture proclaims that the Holy Spirit takes material objects; water, bread, and wine, infuses them with grace, so that by the partaking of them, we are made holy. By the power of the Holy Spirit, these outward physical signs/symbols lead us into the experience of inward spiritual truths of the Christian life. These signs/symbols do not represent something that are absent, but convey the truth they represent: forgiveness, union with Christ, covenant, etc. A sacrament actually communicates what it symbolizes. The only condition for receiving this sacramental blessing is faith in Christ and repentance toward God.

Every sacrament, by definition, contains and manifests a promise of salvation. That is what a sacrament is. The sacrament of baptism contains a promise of salvation at its inception, and the Supper contains a promise of salvation related to perseverance. What God began God will complete. These promises are apprehended with the heart, whenever someone receives them in faith.

Faith alone, sola fide, is not only alone with regard to works. We are justified by faith alone, but never by a faith that is alone. This is the issue of faith alone related to works, which is an important issue. But there is another sense in which faith is never alone. Faith is never self-originating. Faith is something that is always responsive to something outside of itself that God offers to us. And God offers salvation in two principle places—the first is in the preaching of the Word, and the second is in the presentation of the sacraments. And so baptism and the Supper cannot justify you any more than hearing a sermon can. If you hear the sermon in faith, then you meet Christ. If you partake of the bread and wine in evangelical faith, then you meet Christ.

Because a sacrament must contain a promise of salvation, it follows from this that only God can institute a sacrament . . . because He is the only one who can promise salvation. This is why there are only two sacraments—if we could promise salvation by ritual means, we could generate as many sacraments as we wanted. But we have no authority to issue promises of salvation. We must be content with the authority we were given, which is the authority to believe promises of salvation.

Doug Wilson, Blog and Mablog website, Pastor, Moscow, Idaho.