The Sacraments

Webster's dictionary defines a sacrament as "A formal Christian rite, as baptism or matrimony, esp. one thought to be instituted by Jesus." The New Century Dictionary (last century) defines sacrament as an oath, a solemn engagement, mystery. Derived from the Latin sacrare, it is to make sacred - something regarded as possessing a sacred character or a mysterious significance; also a sign, token or symbol. The sacraments then, are the rites of the Christian Church, a means of grace. The Latin word sacramentum, from sacer, sacred, meant originally a solemn oath or vow, and when applied to the Lord's Supper, made this the time to renew our vows and binding obligations to serve and follow Jesus. The word signified, in classical Latin, the oath which a soldier took to be faithful to his commander.

The sacraments are central to Christianity, the chief of many bridges that Christianity has sought to throw between this world and the other world, the imperfect and the perfect, the real and ideal. If you hold strongly that salvation is inward and emotional, then outward acts such as the sacraments become superfluous - or worse, a possible refuge for hypocrites. God expects his true children to act according to patterns laid down by Jesus (i.e. good works). Excesses could logically make the organized church quite unnecessary; and could lead to the freedom of the believer outside the church; the second extreme could lead to the complete control of daily life by an all-powerful clergy.

The seven sacraments in the Roman Church are Baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, ordination and matrimony. Baptism and the Eucharist have remained in most Protestant groups. The sacrament of penance is generally attacked and rejected. The West limited these to seven, but in the East every religious act had a sacramental quality.

The Greek text of Ephesians 5:32 translates that marriage is "a great mystery (mysterion)" while the Latin Bible translates the verse as "a great sacrament." The sacramental mystery in this sense implies to initiate into the rite. The historical problem was as to what constituted a sacrament and not questioned until the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Saint Augustine thought there were about 30 sacraments including the Lord's Prayer and the Creed, naming marriage as a sacrament of supreme importance. Tetullian also considered marriage as enjoying the "protection of the Divine grace." St Hugh of Victor in the twelfth century taught that it was a sacrament, Peter Lombard fixed the number at 7 in the fifteenth century, including marriage and it became doctrine from the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century. Baptism: cleansed of the taint of original sin and initiated into the Christian fellowship.. confirmation: reasserted his membership in the church and gave him the additional grace to cope with the problems of adulthood.. holy orders: if he chose the calling of the ministry, he was spiritually transformed into a priest and married to the church”.. extreme unction: which prepared his soul for its journey into the next world.. penance: receive forgiveness from the damning consequences of mortal sin by repenting his past transgressions.. Eucharist: receiving the body of Christ into his own body.. Thus the church through its seven sacraments, brought God's grace to all Christians, great and humble, at every critical juncture of their lives. St. Thomas Aquinas thought that marriage was not a sacrament in the strict sense but did finally accept the seven sacraments that Lombard had listed. The Orthodox church has no problem with the sacramental quality of marriage, settling the issue hundreds of years earlier.

The sacramental system which only assumed final form in the high middle ages, was a source of comfort and reassurance; it brought hope of salvation. It made communion with God not merely the elusive goal of a few mystics but the periodic experience of all believers. And, of course, it made the church as the essential intermediary between God and man. The church did not agree to Lombard's seven until the Council of Florence in 1439. Luther, with one stroke reduced the sacraments from 7 to 2. Protestants confine the number to two, baptism and the Lord's supper, since these alone were instituted by Jesus and commanded to be observed. Protestants consider them as signs and seals of a living faith, while the Roman Church regards them as the absolutely necessary channels of all divine grace. Hugh of St. Victor enumerated as many as 30. Tolstoy rejected all of them. The elimination of the sacrament of penance is serious because it involves the forgiveness of sins. Taking the sacramental quality out of marriage led to fornication and the break-up of the family.

Is marriage to be held holy and a sacred rite or not? When the sacrament of marriage was done away with by the Protestants, it was upon the authority of the sola scriptura doctrine. Luther found the "sacramental character of matrimony without foundation in Scripture" and the "invention of men in the Church." Communion and baptism were retained as sacraments because they were instituted by Jesus and since marriage was not mentioned as instituted as such in the Bible, the sacramental quality of marriage was put away. Calvin considered matrimony as instituted by God but also denied it as a sacrament.

Jesus' body is divided. Especially divided are the hairs on His head that countless theologians and contentious Bible scholars have split over arguments that should never had been brought up. Here is the question at hand concerning the marriage sacrament, that of God's grace being conferred in the covenant relationship between man and woman. If this is all a sacrament consisted of, we could limit our discussion but if it also includes sacred rites, mysteries and signs of Christianity, we could list dozens of valid sacraments. Men in the church did not institute the sacraments, God has through His Holy Spirit. In the early church, sacraments had a variety of meanings, to limit our definitions of any doctrinal question to minuscule exclusivistic interpretations will only lead to more disunity and strife. To force sacraments to fit into the narrow confinements of sola scriptura is to say that Jesus does not actively deal with His people since the Bible was completed and He does not have the power to establish doctrine through His own body now, the church.

Insisting on particular words is divisive if it is unnecessary. Still, the causes of divisiveness must be exposed and denounced. It is in the nitpicking that legalistic churches have put up as roadblocks so that the unsaved will see the hypocrisy, lack of love and unholy confusion. Restricting the number of sacraments is just such a roadblock that sola scriptura has insisted upon. Who gave these people the right to set these laws and limit God's grace anyway? Many of these same churches teach that you cannot fall from grace but I see God's word telling me that if you are justified by the law that you are fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4). More and more legalistic requirements to limit the number into heaven, exalting themselves as the true guides and making others just as blind as they are. As to the Catholic Church's teaching on the marriage sacrament, it is God that bestows the grace, the priest only gives his blessing to the union.

There is a certain holiness inherent in marriage. It is considered to be instituted by God in the garden of Eden when two people became one flesh. Saint Augustine taught sacraments to be a visible signs of an invisible grace. This divine presence must exist for marriage to be equated with the mystery of Christ and His church for we are the divine sacrament of our union with Him; it arises from the love necessary between the bride and the bridegroom. The Roman church quotes the anathema clause on anyone denying that grace is not conferred in the marriage union. This is division. Listn in the United States, half of the marriages end up in divorce.

In Indian dharma, marriage is viewed as a sacrament, not just a contract, it is a life-long commitment of one wife and one husband. Should the Hindus put Protestant Christians to shame? They have. To deny the sacramental quality of marriage just because it is not expressly dealt with as such in scripture is to quench the spirit and deny the grace from God that is needed for us to overcome in these last days. Adultry, covetousness, pornography, licentiousness, blatant sexual situations in prime time television, movies and advertising are all conspiring to entice us from the grace of God that leads to holiness. It is especially damaging to our children.

Tillich - The decrease in sacramental thinking and feeling is appalling.. Christ is interpreted as a religious personality and not as the basic sacramental reality, the "New Being." The Protestant protest has rightly destroyed the magical elements in Catholic sacramentalism but has wrongly brought to the verge of disappearance the sacramental foundation of Christianity.

We should draw the line between the spiritual and the magical use of the sacramental element and encompass the world of mystery and grace. To the Christian, the Sacraments are not mere rites, ceremonies, or ordinances, they are the very channels of Life; by them and through them the Christian comes into contact with the very source of Life. Ignorance of sacramental life has made many Christian groups conservative, legalistic and prone to religiosity rather than a living faith.
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