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Tuesday
Oct022012

Theological Term of the Week

sacrament
A rite or ceremony instituted by Jesus, and observed by the church as either a testament to inner grace or a means of grace. Various Protestant denominations differ on whether sacraments should be considered to be only testaments to inner grace, or also means of grace, but all agree that there are two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper; some prefer to call these rites or ceremonies ordinances

  • From scripture:
  • Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit … (Matthew 28:19 ESV)

    For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ESV).

  • From the Heidelberg Catechism:
  • Question 66. What are the sacraments?

    Answer: The sacraments are holy visible signs and seals, appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof, he may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel, viz., that he grants us freely the remission of sin, and life eternal, for the sake of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross. 

  •  From Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem:
  • [B]ecause the [Roman] Catholic Church teaches that these sacraments in themselves actually convey grace to people (without requiring faith from the persons participating in them), some Protestants (especially Baptists) have refused to refer to baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “sacraments.” They have preferred the word ordinances instead. This is thought to be an appropriate term because baptism and the Lord’s Supper were “ordained” by Christ. On the Other hand, other Protestants such as those in the Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed traditions, have been willing to use the word “sacraments” to refer to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, without thereby endorsing the Roman Catholic position.
    It does not seem that any significant point is at issue here in the question of whether to call baptism and the Lord’s Supper “ordinances” or “sacraments.” Since Protestants who use both words explain clearly what they mean by them, the argument is not really over doctrine but over the meaning of an English word. If we are willing to explain clearly what we mean, it does not seem to make any difference whether we use the word sacrament or not. 
Learn more:
  1. Theopedia: Sacraments
  2. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry: What is Sacrament?
  3. Brian Schwertley: The Sacraments
  4. Tom Nettles: Baptists and the Ordinances

Related terms:

Filed under Ecclesiology

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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