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Handout #12 11/30/14
A. The sacraments are at the heart of the Roman Catholic (RC) and Eastern Orthodox (EO) churches. It is not possible to understand these churches without them.
1. This itself is a significant matter of disagreement. For Reformation Christians, the important thing is not the administration of the sacraments but the preaching of the gospel, as was reflected in Paul’s words in 1Cor.1:17 “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel.”
B. The priesthood is also an essential part of this paradigm, because the priests are the ones performing the sacraments.
1. The NT nowhere institutes or expects NT priests, apart from the high priesthood of Jesus.
2. There are priests and elders in the OT, but the NT speaks of priests only to talk about how their functions have been fulfilled in Christ and how Christ is now our high priest.
3. Churches are clearly ruled by elders (sometimes referred to as overseers/bishops) in the NT.
C. Though some have different names and different emphases, both RC and EO agree there are seven sacraments and on what they are.
1. We believe in two sacraments, of course: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
D. The number of sacraments is far from the only difference we have with the RC/EO. Even the sacraments we agree on we disagree on.
1. RC/EO: a sacrament is not just a sign but a cause of grace
2. EX OPERE OPERATO = the Sacraments operate by their own inherent power.
3. “The sacraments of the New Covenant contain the grace which they signify.” (Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma)
4. “Sacraments are effective objectively, whether or not their efficacy is felt subjectively.” (Geisler & MacKenzie)
5. “Sacraments confer grace immediately, without the mediation of fiducial faith.”
6. “The Sacraments...not only point externally to salvation, they contain and bestow the salvation they signify.” (Arndt & Jordan, A Catholic Catechism for Adults)
7. “The Roman Catechism (II, I, 8) defines a Sacrament as ‘a thing perceptible to the senses, which on the grounds of Divine institution possesses the power both of effecting and signifying sanctity and righteousness’ = sanctifying grace).” (Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma)
8. There is one modifier: the sacraments confer grace on anyone who does not place any obstacle in the way. In other words, they only work with the cooperation of human free will.
E. The RC church is so insistent on their view of the sacraments that they condemn anyone who disagrees.
1. The Council of Trent proclaimed that “If anyone shall say that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord...let him be anathema.”
2. Anathema is also pronounced on those who don’t believe the sacraments do not confer what the RC church says they confer.
A. RC/EO believe in baptismal regeneration, that baptism produces regeneration.
1. And one verse they point to us 1Peter 3:21 “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
B. The problem with baptismal regeneration: Protestant objections
1. We agree that baptism is connected to salvation. Baptism pictures salvation. And baptism is our answer to the question, “Do you commit yourself to follow Christ?” and as such baptism, if it is sincere, in one sense saves us.
2. If baptism only regenerates those who don’t resist it, then it’s not at all what we mean by regeneration, and what we think the Bible means by regeneration. For us, regeneration is the thing that removes your resistance.
a. It is not baptism that causes you to be born again (regenerated). In fact, in John 3:6-8 Jesus says that it is the Spirit who causes a person to be born again and it doesn’t happen by human will or action.
3. Here’s the fuller version of 1Peter 3:18–22 “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”
a. It’s talking about the example of Noah and his family being saved through the flood. And it’s saying that similarly we are saved through water in baptism.
b. The story of the flood gives us a glimpse into what baptism is all about. Baptism pictures being saved from God's wrath. But it’s not talking about the mechanism by which people receive a new heart in Christ.
c. There are dozens of verses which say that salvation comes by faith. One verse that says baptism saves should not be allowed to silence them.
III. Lord’s Supper
A. RC/EO believe in transubstantiation.
1. They believe a miracle takes place in the Mass whereby the bread is transformed into the body of Christ and the wine into His blood. It still looks like bread and wine but actually is Christ’s body and blood.
2. “What we believe is not the same as what we see, but we believe one thing and see another.” – Chrysostom
3. This is why in the miracle of the mass, at the point where the elements are changed into the body and blood of Christ by the priest, the congregation falls on their knees. They are worshiping Christ in the flesh, who has supposedly just appeared before them in the bread and wine.
4. Why do they believe in transubstantiation? Because Jesus says, “This is My body and My blood.”
a. Sometimes John 6:55 is also cited in defense of this: “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
5. Another aspect of transubstantiation is the resacrifice of Christ, the notion that Christ is resacrificed each time the Mass is celebrated.
a. Since the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into the body and blood of Christ, when they are broken and lifted up, they believe that Christ is being resacrificed.
b. This, in spite of what the book of Hebrews says over and over: that Christ was sacrificed once for all (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 9:22–28; 10:10–14)
c. In addition to all these verses, Hebrews contrasts the work of Christ with the OT sacrifices which had to be repeated over and over again.
B. The problem with transubstantiation: Protestant objections
1. It is contrary to the human nature of Christ. If Jesus is present in the flesh in the Lord’s supper, then it means His body must be present in many places all around the world simultaneously.
a. Of course, He is omnipresent in His divinity, but not in a bodily sense.
b. His body is like ours will be, and it is in one place at a time.
c. This is not only consistent with the nature of bodily existence, but there is nothing in the Bible, nothing in the Lord’s post-resurrection appearances which even hints otherwise.
2. This isn’t what Jesus meant when He said, “This is My body, this is My blood.”
a. When Jesus originally said “This is My body, this is My blood,” He wasn’t literally referring to His body because He was still right there in His body as He said it, and His blood was still in His veins.
b. So what did He mean? The same kind of thing as when He said, “I am the door” and “I am the living water” and “I am the Good Shepherd” and “I am the light of the world” and “I am the true vine,” and when John said, “He is the lamb of God,” and when Peter said, “He is the cornerstone.”
(1) “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 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.” (Jn 6:48-51)
3. As for John 6:55, some have take it as if it says: “For this food is truly my flesh, and this drink is truly my blood.” But that’s not what it says! In fact, it says the opposite, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” In other words, the food you have in your fridge is not TRUE food. That is the kind of food that perishes, but the TRUE food, the food which the Son of Man gives to us, endures to eternal life. (John 6:27)
4. Then there is the case of OT sacraments, a point that applies not only to transubstantiation but the whole way RC/EO view the sacraments.
a. The OT had sacraments as well: circumcision, sacrifices, etc.
b. When they were originally given, the language sounded like these things had the power to bring about real spiritual/eternal change.
(1) E.g. Lev.4:20-35 where it says that by the atoning sacrifice of animals the people “would be forgiven.” and Leviticus 16:20–22, where it says that a “goat will bear all their [the people’s] iniquities on itself.”
c. But in the NT we see that in reality, these things did not have any real spiritual power.
(1) E.g. Hebrews 10:4 “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
d. So, the same kind of language is used in OT, e.g. the sacrifices and circumcision, but we’re told in the NT that it really didn’t do what it said it did (except on a ceremonial, “official” level). It was a picture. It was pointing to a greater reality: Christ. The OT sacraments were mere “regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation” (Hebrews 9:10), “a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:17)
e. OT sacraments were merely symbolic, not efficacious. They didn’t have power in themselves, except in an earthly, ceremonial sense.
f. Even in the OT itself, it’s made clear that the OT sacraments are only ceremonial and not spiritual. E.g. you have much said about outward circumcision versus circumcision of the heart (Lev.26:41; Deut.10:16; 30:6; Jer.4:4; 9:25-26; Acts 7:51; Romans 2:25-29).
g. It seems to be that the RC/EO view of the mass or baptismal regeneration misses these important distinctions.
IV. The problem with sacramentalism: Protestant objections
A. If this isn’t belief in magic and superstition, it seems to be very close.
1. Magic and superstition are outlooks on life where it is believed that the material has control over the spiritual realm, that it is possible to manipulate the spiritual realm into doing what you want (or not doing what you don't want) by physical, material means (incantations, sayings, secret words, mixtures, potions, etc.)
2. I’m not saying that God cannot imbue a thing with power. He’s done it in the past, e.g.
a. The urim & thummim — but this was in OT when God was allowing people to live under the impression that there really was power in things.
3. Some point to a few stories re: Jesus and the apostles:
a. Handkerchiefs — Acts 19:12 so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.
b. Shadows – Acts 5:15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets, and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.
c. Cloaks — Mark 5:27 after hearing about Jesus, came up in the crowd behind [Him,] and touched His cloak. Mark 6:56 And wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and entreating Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured.
4. The purpose of the miracles was to validate and verify the fact that these men were apostles (God's sent ones). Miracles, by definition, were extraordinary demonstrations of God's power to attract attention to the fact that this man must be a channel of God's power. Thus, in this very extraordinary way, God brings healing to many, even beyond the direct purview of the apostle, and yet does it in a way that makes clear where the source and channel of the power is (God's chosen ambassador).
5. Lest there be any confusion here between God's power and "magic," the story of Paul’s handkerchiefs is followed by an episode where men try to use this power in a magical way. The consequences are less than encouraging to these poor souls: In Acts 19:13-17 some Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus to cast out some evil spirits, saying, "I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches." And the evil spirit answered and said to them, "I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" And the demon-possessed man leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
a. There is no magic to the name of Jesus or to the names of the apostles. God does not listen merely to words but to hearts. And even hearts do not control Him.
b. There also seems to be significance that these things took place in Ephesus, which was a headquarters of sorcery and magic - Acts 19:17-20. It was as if God was speaking to the people in their own terms, outdoing (v.11-12) and overpowering (v.13-16) the powers that they feared.
6. Perhaps there is a reason that articles of Paul’s clothing were the instruments God chose to use to bring healing, just as it was Christ’s clothing that God used earlier with the woman who suffered with bleeding (Matt. 9:20ff.) and others (Matt. 14:36). For the clothing represents in Scripture the status and office of the man. Therefore, perhaps the clothing represents more than just Paul as an individual person but rather Paul in his apostolic role.
B. The RC/EO seem to have bought into the old idea that things contain spiritual power.
1. Objects, ceremonies, people, sayings invested with divine power
i. Holy water
2. This, I believe, is contradicted by passages like Colossians 2:20–23 “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
3. Outward things are not the issue. Jesus made this clear in Matthew 15:10–20: “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” ...Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
4. What was the OT ceremonial law all about? What was its purpose? Why was it given? Heb. 10:1 says that it was a shadow that pointed ahead to the coming of Christ. NT sacraments are the same except that they point back to Christ. They do not have power in themselves.