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The Problem with “Sacraments”

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For many Christians, sacraments are really important. Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and others often emphasize how precious their sacraments are, and sometimes criticize other church traditions for not being “sacramental” enough. There is a lot of disagreement on what a sacrament is though: Catholic teaching states that there are seven sacraments, whereas most Protestants argue that there are two – baptism and communion – and eastern Orthodoxs usually claim that there are countless! The Catholic council of Trent states that both the Protestant and eastern Orthodox views are unacceptable, condemning anyone who says that there are “more, or less, than seven” sacraments.

This is just ridiculous. Jesus and the apostles never talked about “sacraments”. Yes, they baptized, broke the bread, annointed the sick and so on, but they never grouped these activities in one category of “sacraments”. Nothing in the Scriptures indicates that communion and baptism had any other role or importance than other things Jesus commanded His disciples to do, like helping the poor, pray and share the Gospel.

“Sacrament” is really a creative Latin translation of the Greek term mysterion, a word that does appear in the Scriptures never referring to church activities but to the Gospel (e.g. Col 4:3, 1 Tim 3:16). The one responsible for the translation was Tunisian church father Tertullian (155-240 AD), who often was creative with his translations (“sacrament” didn’t really mean mystery but rather referred to an oath), and he used it when describing baptism because he thought that baptism was a mystery.

So far so good. However, another African church father, Augustine, took some more freedoms with the word around 200 years later, using it as a category to include not just baptism but also communion, the Nicene creed and the Lord’s prayer. He was also the first arguing that a sacrament is a visible sign of invisible grace, which of course is true for those things but not exclusive to them – Bibles, sermons and a hug can also be visible signs of invisible grace.

700 years later, in the twelth century, theologian Peter Lombard in Paris decided that there are seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, communion, penance, annointing the sick, marriage and ordinance. The Catholic church recognized it as its doctrine some 300 years later and, as we saw, condemned Protestants and Orthodoxs who didn’t agree as anathema.

Now, the Protestant definition isn’t much better, because the caegory of “sacraments” is still unbiblical even if one narrows it down to two things. I’m not saying that baptism and communion are unbiblical, but placing them in a seperate, sacred ategory apart from other things Jesus commanded us to do, is.

The Augsburg Confession, which dictates Lutheran doctrine, states: “The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.” Since street evangelism, helping the poor or healing aren’t viewed as sacraments, these things are suddenly optional or even unnecessary, because what defines a Lutheran church is whether the priest preaches correctly and arranges baptisms and communion. To first pick a few Biblical commands, call them “sacraments”, and then argue that it is they, not necessarily other things that Jesus told us to do, that defines the church is a bad way of following Jesus.

Let me use an analogy. Say that a theologian called Bob, who lives 1100 years after Jesus, suddenly states “There are four holy clonky-clonks that the church should do: prayer, fasting, helping strangers and drinking wine. Then, 400 years later, a guy called Max comes and say “No! There are two clonky-clonks: fasting and prayer!” Then they violently argue against each other, condeming each other to hell, and neither care very much about other things that the Bible says are important, like baptism and communion, because clonky-clonks is suddenly what the church really is about.

God bless sacramental churches, but their focus has quite often made them very bad at things like evangelism or Spiritual gifts. It’s time to get rid of the confusing and dividing term “sacraments”, and instead focus on everything Jesus said that we should do.

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48 Comments

  1. ricklamascus says:

    Within Christianity, there are two camps.

    One camp wants to keep Christianity strong, unchanged, traditional, and in line with the original intents and purposes. This camp does not want to raise all kinds of questions, challenges, and create doubt–rebelling against God. Sacraments are symbols that are reminders to keep Christians subservient to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    The other camp is constantly looking for an easier way. They refuse to accept traditions. They only accept their own approach. They pull out all the bricks from the Christian wall that makes them uncomfortable. They want to get to heaven….not by following Jesus….but by following their own ideas of what is right. They twist Scripture and the most tortured interpretations of what a Bible verse means. They attack Christianity more than the Christian haters….and do more damage. They cannot tolerate a real Christian who simply accepts the Bible and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They ridicule the real Christians for following the Bible.

    Please notice that the real Christians point to the Bible for the true answers and do not resort to name calling. Ridicule and name calling is the first and only strike by the the second camp, because they do not have Scripture as their source. They only have their opinions. Proverbs 18:2…”A fool does not seek knowledge but is quick to offer his own opinion.”

    • Hello Rick!

      So if a good Christian just follows tradition without questioning it, that begs the question… which tradition? Is Jesus a Catholic and a Quaker at the same time? Which “sacraments” do you refer to? Peter Lombard’s, Martin Luther’s or your own?

      Maybe your “do not question anything”-approach originates in a revelation about your previous belief about “sacraments” being completely made up by some medieval theologian? 🙂

      Blessings!

  2. ricklamascus says:

    Also, real, traditional Christians do not create turmoil within the Church…always looking for a new, “better” way. The “better” way is always a softer, more comfortable, less disciplined way. The real, traditional Christians can worship and serve the Lord for decades or an entire lifetime without creating turmoil through constant change and forcing others to accept the changes. Real, traditional Christians are focused on serving God and not focused on forcing other church members to switch to a more secular way of “getting by” and “getting credit” by doing the minimum. The new “better” ways are usually intended to please those who do not even go to church or are of a non-Christian religion. This camp wants to turn church into a social club with as little worship of God as possible.

    • ricklamascus says:

      The sacraments of Catholics, Lutherans, etc. are not evil. They all have Biblical support. They all were created for the betterment of Christianity. Have some been abused at different times in Church history? YES. Sacraments are offensive to liberals who want to squeeze Christianity like a ball of clay, shaping it into whatever makes them happy. Trying to take as many Christians with them as possible….down to their own destruction. Is there something wrong with accepting the Bible and accepting things that keep us on track?
      One more time….the sacraments are not evil.

      • Hello again Rick!

        No one’s saying that sacraments are evil, what I’m saying is that people make up lists of sacraments, not God. As you should know, Catholics and Lutherans have different lists: Catholics say that there are seven sacraments and Lutherans say that there are two (or three, depending on how they view penance). Both lists are unbiblical because the Bible never uses the word “sacrament” nor tell us what is a sacrament and not.

        That’s why I think that the term should be scrapped so that we instead focus on ALL the stuff that Jesus said that we should do: baptize converts, celebrating communion, evangelizing on the streets, helping the poor, fasting and praying, etc.

        Blessings!

        • ricklamascus says:

          Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These two sacraments are not Biblical?
          We are directed by Matt 28:29 to baptize in the name of the Father, Son,
          and Holy Spirit. In I Corinthians 11, Jesus does the Last Supper, giving us the word used today in Communion in every Christian church. As a Lutheran, I am very comfortable with those two sacraments being connected to the Bible.

          • Hello again Rick! Have you even read the blog post? I’m not saying that baptism and communion aren’t biblical – grouping them in a category of “sacraments” is. Haven’t you noticed that the Bible never talks about sacraments? The reason we view the Lord’s supper as a sacrament but not evangelism or helping the poor is because some theologians didn’t view the latter as very important even though Jesus commanded us to do it.

          • ricklamascus says:

            The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a Christian sacrament as a rite that was ordained by Jesus Christ. Well….Jesus was baptized and Jesus did conduct the Last Supper. Jesus directed Christians to baptize and Jesus said the Last Supper should be repeated “in remembrance of me.”
            This is why Martin Luther claimed these two acts were worthy of being practiced….no matter under what name—sacrament or something else.
            To object to these two is to argue with Jesus….telling Him that He is wrong.

        • ricklamascus says:

          Christianity began with groups…..congregations. Christianity has survived for over 2000 years due to church organizations. Churches have traditions and practices….designed to create stability. Churches are VERY good for Christianity. I see no reason to pick at Christianity. I see good reason to warn against the enemies of Christianity.

    • ricklamascus says:

      Lutherans are only concerned about Lutheran sacraments. Catholics are only concerned about Catholic sacraments. I do not have to explain everybody’s acceptance of sacraments within each religion. Members in the pews see the sacraments as useful in their concentration at certain times during the worship service. No harm done.

  3. I do disagree just a bit. Having come from an Anglican tradition and later attending a Mennonite Brethren church, the disregard for the sacraments was very strong, though talked about quite a lot. We had Communion four times a year, yet every Sunday we were reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice; Communion being mentioned as a way to remember this sacrifice.

    The commemoration of the Last Supper does not lead to “evangelism”. Greed, racism, homophobia, ageism, and misogny lead to evangelism. Of course I am using the scary version of the word. Millenials are turning to the Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches due to the lack of scripture and increase in disco music.

    Yes, there is no need for all the showy-showness in the sacraments, but it is physical commemoration of the committment to Jesus and God, whether through baptism, marriage, funerals, and Communion that matters.

    • ricklamascus says:

      Traditions keep us all on track throughout the generations….it links grandparents and grandchildren. I do not see any flaws in communion and baptism….anywhere, anytime. Both were instituted by Jesus, himself. We would be debating Jesus by finding fault with communion and baptism. Why is this an issue? The real issue is islam…the enemy of Christianity.
      I am still waiting to hear any real criticism of islam on this website. Just
      nitpicking at Christianity, especially organized, established church bodies.
      Especially, the conservative ones….the ones who try to follow the Bible.

      • I think you may have stopped at the wrong station. I find some if the mist intolerant people to be Christians.

        Now, let’s get back to the subject at hand.

        • ricklamascus says:

          Tolerance. Tolerant of what? What would be some examples of Christian intolerance that you are referring to?

          • I think you may have to stop by any Evangelical church or social media sites that preach against non-Christians, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, immigrants, oh, just about everything.

          • ricklamascus says:

            1. Are you a Christian? Yes____ No _____

            2. Have you been through a Bible Study course as an adult? Yes__ No__

            3.Here is your confusion:
            A. what the Bible says
            B. an opinion–what somebody thinks is in the Bible

            God spoke clearly through Moses in Leviticus that homosexuality is
            wrong. As the direct, chosen representative of Jesus Christ, the Apostle
            Paul stated clearly in Romans 1:18- the end that homosexuality is dead wrong—we are not to participate in it nor support it in any way.

            You are debating God/Jesus….telling both that YOUR opinion is as
            good as what They have commanded.

            In ignorance, Christians commit the grave error of saying, “I think….,”
            instead of saying, “Jesus said….” or “Paul said…..”, and then quoting exactly what they said. That leaves room for argument, because it is one opinion vs another opinion.

            Who cares what I think? Who cares what any Christian THINKS? It
            does not matter. What matters is what Jesus said, Paul said, John said,
            etc. It is our duty as Christians to accept it and not argue and find loopholes and excuses.

            God/Jesus says homosexual activity is wrong and it will send the participant to Hell. There is no room for debate. It is not OK for
            Christians to have different opinions on this topic. Either you accept the
            Bible or you pick and choose.

            It is not Christian at all to twist Bible passages to suit your opinion or
            to just ignore the Bible when it goes against your own opinion. Christianity is all about submitting to Jesus, not arguing with Jesus.

            The LGBT is automatically setting itself against Jesus…by its very existence. No real Christian can accept homosexual activity….because
            it is anti-Christian. Not because of the Christian’s personal opinion.

            Christians are not opposed to immigrants. Christians and non-Christians are opposed to ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION because it disrupts the law and order of the host nation and is a huge financial drain. You know that already but you don’t care. You are focused on how the illegal immigrants can be used for political gain.

          • I expected an answer like that. We are talking about the sacraments and you bring up your hatred againstbcertain religions and people. I will not come back with bible verses that counter your “opinion”.

            Let us get back on track. You are done with this or troll elsewhere. Hatred does not belong here.

          • ricklamascus says:

            Just as I thought. You are not a Christian or you would say so. You are not aware of what is in the Bible nor that a real Christian is led by the Bible only….and not opinion. Real Christians do not search for loopholes to make Christianity and the Bible fit their own opinions.
            Proverbs 18:2 “A fool does not seek knowledge, but is very quick to offer
            his opinion.” What that means in Christianity is…..”A fool does not read the Bible and accept it, but relies on his own opinion of what Christianity should be.”

            I am a Missouri Synod Lutheran, a Bible scholar who teaches adult Bible Study….a two-year course through the OT and NT. I am a Christian and I accept the Bible as the Word of God. I do not search for ways to soften the message or search for new interpretations to correct “mistakes” of Jesus and then lead others astray….away from the Bible. See how easy it is to
            identify oneself….if one is a real Christian?

            The discussion on sacraments should be dead. Evidently, you are opposed to communion and baptism which makes no Christian sense, at all.
            Both of those are the foundation of Christian worship.

            Your arguments are based on what you think and not on the Bible. I have yet to hear you refer to any Bible reference for you position. So far, what
            you are doing is very dangerous. You have led yourself astray and are now
            attempting to lead others astray. I have heard that is not pleasing to Jesus.

          • ricklamascus says:

            I shall conclude that you are not a Christian at all due to your dishonest answer. You have turned the discussion upside down….pretending that I have only given opinion….I have not. I have used the Bible against YOUR secular opinion. I gave you Leviticus and Romans 1 as my source and you have ignored it and now pretend that it never happened. The first clue of the false Christian is that they will not use the Bible to support their opinion.
            And if they do, they deliberately misinterpret the Bible to their own benefit.

          • ricklamascus says:

            You will not come back with Bible verses because you do not have any Bible verses to support your position. A real Christian welcomes the opportunity to demonstrate Bible support !! What is your Christian background?

          • ricklamascus says:

            I did not bring up hatred against LGBT. I simply quoted what God said in
            Leviticus and what Paul said in Romans 1. How does that qualify as hatred? That is the official Christian position…not my opinion or anybody’s opinion. If you are offended by Leviticus and Romans, then you are not a
            Christian, but are led by your own opinions of how it should be.

          • ricklamascus says:

            You took the sacraments discussion to another area when you accused Christians of being intolerant of LGBT, demonstrating your lack of Bible knowledge and lack of dependence on the Bible for guidance. At that point I suspected you might not be a Christian, because that is not the way a Christian debates.

          • You brought up lack of discussions about Muslims started it prior to my mention of intolerant Christian. We are done here.

          • ricklamascus says:

            A Christian would welcome any opportunity to have discussion. You were challenged and you cannot support your opinions with the Bible, or you would have already done that. I knew something was up when you accused Christians of being intolerant. Real Christians know that is wrong.

          • No, that is not true. Please, stop this hatred. This is an example of intolerance.

          • ricklamascus says:

            It is not hatred. I am asking you to support what you say and not just express an opinion….Proverbs 18:2

          • Some of what you accused me of was hate. Read to post from my blog I just put up.

          • ricklamascus says:

            What phrases or words used would be examples of the hatred?

          • First and only – calling me a Non-Christian. How dare you?

          • ricklamascus says:

            What was the entire sentence? Your reluctance to ID your Christian background was suspicious. It took a long time to draw you out. I was speaking about non-Christians in general. i was trying to find out where you stood. I was not hearing any Bible connection, just opinions. That is the usual signature of a non-Christian. This discussion is getting pretty good.

          • I stared at the very beginning of my comment what my Christian background is, there was no hiding, noillusions. In fact you commented on my post in the first place. Not every Christian quotes Scripture to prove their devoutness.

          • ricklamascus says:

            Scripture has to be the source of any Christian position. Otherwise, it is just an opinion and not the Word of God. Christians cannot spread their own opinion…they must spread the Word of God.

          • I am not dissgreeing with you. How we learn and read the Scripture is our own.

          • I just posted something from my blog you find interesting.

          • I am an Anglican. I will not use the bible as a way to start or end an argument. You do realise the bible has been translated, interpreted, and reanalysed so many times. The Christian church is about tradition and reform all in one; it had been since telhe beginning – Peter and Paul argued over whether Christians should keep Jewish food traditions; most have not. Tge book of Leviticus itself is seen by some Jewish and Chrsitians scholars to be a law book for Jewish teachers alone, but not necessarily the people as a whole. The Book of Romans was a commentary on social mores at the time. A developing Christian needs to understand historical backgrounds to the letters of the bible in order to get an understanding of what is written. Commentary, such as this blog, is just one example of how we as Christians can learn from what we read.

            You have every right to disagree, as do I, but do not say someone is not a true Christian because their interpretation does not match yours. Though so called you a troll (which some of post borderline as), I have not insulated you personally. I do not judge you by your biblical background, and you should not do the same to me.

            Take time to read works by N.T. Wright, Benjamin L. Corey (featured on the site MennoNerds), John Gower, and many various writers of all faiths and backgrounds.

          • ricklamascus says:

            The message of the Bible is the same as ever. We cannot walk away from it and follow other writings. The message of the Gospels has not changed any….it is the same story. We must quote the Bible….there is power in the Word. The Book of John tells us that Jesus IS the Word….the Word became flesh. All Christian debate must cling to the Bible.

            And it must be seen as the only way to salvation. Why? Jesus said so. John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” No Christian can deny that quote. All Christian positions must be Bible-based…or it is not Christian….it is just a secular opinion. I do not care what somebody “thinks” is right. I want to know what Jesus said, or Paul said, or John said, etc.

          • I have read those words. Wanting to know what Jesus said us part of the journey, just don’t expect your friend to have the same idea.

          • ricklamascus says:

            When we read the Bible, we should all get the same message. Unless….
            someone is looking for a loophole.

          • Please, take a break.

          • ricklamascus says:

            I think I finally see the problem. I accept the Bible. I see it as the Word of God. I do not find fault with it or try to “improve” it to suit what I think it should be. Seems like you may not have that philosophy….that the Bible should not be seen as the only source for the Christian position.

          • Where is the moderator when you need one. Really? A growing Christian needs the bible – 109% – but also needs conversation, commentary, and an open mind to accept interpretations. Learning about God and Jesud does not just come from you.

          • ricklamascus says:

            When I read the Bible, I do not doubt the message. I, too, like to discuss the setting and other questions. But I have no question about the message. I avoid my opinion. I stopped saying, “I think….” many years ago. I only say, “Jesus said….., Paul said…, ” etc.

          • You are fine to do that, and you have my full support. Though donot in any, way, shape or form tell others to do the same. Doubt and questioning is allowed; this brings forth growth and a new way to look at something not seen before.

    • Keith says:

      The millenial prefers the Catholic Church not just because of his Catholic upbringing but because I firmly believe that worship should involve sacraments. Without Holy Communion, I’m going to church to hear some guy lecture to me for an hour. If that’s the alternative, I can put on the TV and listen to some TV preacher lecture from his megachurch. Why bother attending any service at all?

      My millenial wife, who never went to church (despite being baptized Greek Orthodox), is now a staunch practising Byzantine Catholic (and not on my insistence at all). Why? She finds purpose in attending Mass.

      What a lot of people don’t get is that millenials are turning back to traditional cultures everywhere. Not just in the religious sphere. See the popularity of Steampunk (which includes celebration of Victorian era civility), the decline of nightclubs in Western Europe, and increasing youth sobriety in the UK. The return to more traditional churches away from bible thumping megachurches is just part of this trend. What’s old is new again. And the really old is now the really hip. It’s a search for authenticity with millenials. The Catholic Church has a 2000 year old history. The Assemblies of God is younger than me. Which do you think will win?

      And what’s this business about disco music? We didn’t have a hymn that was less than 200 years old at our wedding.

  4. […] Think for yourself: why isn’t helping the poor described as a sacrament? It’s not because Jesus isn’t telling us to help the poor, because He is. It’s not because helping the poor isn’t a visible sign of invisible grace, as the classical sacramental definition goes, because it is. Let’s face it, the only reason why communion is included in a category that historical churches have found very important whereas helping the poor, evangelism and the Lord’s prayer has been excluded from said category, is completely arbitrary and bizarre. There’s no valid reason whatsoever to do that. I’ve written more about this here. […]

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The author

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Check out my YouTube channel!

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