The Belgic Confession on Sacraments

I must confess that I think about the sacraments a lot, especially their true nature:

Article 33: The Sacraments

We believe that our good God, mindful of our crudeness and weakness, has ordained sacraments for us to seal his promises in us, to pledge his good will and grace toward us, and also to nourish and sustain our faith.

He has added these to the Word of the gospel to represent better to our external senses both what he enables us to understand by his Word and what he does inwardly in our hearts, confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us.

For they are visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible, by means of which God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. So they are not empty and hollow signs to fool and deceive us, for their truth is Jesus Christ, without whom they would be nothing.

Moreover, we are satisfied with the number of sacraments that Christ our Master has ordained for us. There are only two: the sacrament of baptism and the Holy Supper of Jesus Christ.

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6 Responses to The Belgic Confession on Sacraments

  1. Simon says:

    I have come to believe that statements like these by Protestants on the sacraments are too abstract. Furthermore, by reducing the sacraments to just two, they have weakened much of the social fabric of Christian community – eliminating Holy Matrimony as a sacrament immediately comes to mind.

    There is, of course, a historical question. I do find it compelling that the real presence in the Eucharist is believed by all traditional communions whether Roman Catholic or not. So the Assyrian Church of the East, who split from the Church following the third ecumenical council, believes in the real presence. So I can’t follow the Protestant narrative here, that it was a Roman Catholic perversion. Communions who have been separated from Rome for around 1600 years (!!) do not differ much in their theology and practise of the Eucharist. Protestants really need to think hard about whether their approach to the sacraments is warranted from Scripture or a by-product of medieval scholasticism.

    • TC says:

      Simon, Simon, behold, your own tradition demanded to have you, that it might sift you like wheat… 😉

      There are several false assumptions in your comment: (1) Protestants are hardly monolitic in their views of the sacraments. Consider the fiery disputes between Luther and Zwingli and their heirs. (2) Protestants, the Reformers, at least interacted with the Fathers in formulating their views on the sacraments. To even suggest their approach owing to “medieval scholasticism” is to be ignorant of what they were saying and wrestling with. (3) Calvin comes along, aware of the disputes between Lutherans and the Zwinglians, sough a middle ground, albeit biblical, to engender peace. But he failed, I think. (4) That your tradition’s view is the only view that Scripture warrants is simply assuming too much. But perhaps you are bound to such.

      • Simon says:

        TC, Yes there are diverging assumptions we are using. I readily admit this. I’m also not denying that the Reformers were trying to make sense of the sacraments in light of Scripture. The fact is that the Reformers were scholastics – much of Western theology (RC and Protestant) was at that time. We all look at Scripture through some lens.

        What I am saying is what makes sense to me. There is a whole world of Christianity out there. The Eucharist and the sacraments in general haven’t been a source of dispute in the Church until the Reformation. When I see this kind of consistency throughout Christendom, i asked myself why the Reformers diverged from the universal practise of not only the Latin Church, but the Eastern Orthodox communions, Oriental Orthodox, the Church of the East and much of Anglican tradition. The Reformation started with the question of justification. Why did the Reformers feel that the sacraments also needed revising? The fact is that the real presence offended Western scholastic and materialistic philosophy that the Reformers were all schooled in. That is why even in medieval RC theology there is a tendency to somehow prove that the Eucharist is really the body of Christ via philosophical arguments like “accidents” and so on. The Reformers inherited this scholastic approach. But the fundamental question is why did they diverge from standard practise? One reason could be that the RC explanation of the real presence (accidents etc) was massively problematic. Another reason is that they were simply ignorant of what was happening in other parts of Christendom (as I was before). They simply did not know what was happening in Greece, in Russia, in Syria, in Ethiopia, in Armenia etc. All these Churches are not in Communion with Rome, yet have essentially the same view of the sacraments. What does Scripture say? “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” Rome may have been wrong about some things. But when the Reformation took the Church away from the universal practise and belief, then they should stand corrected. Protestants (whichever divergent view each hold to) stand alone in their interpretation of the sacraments. There is not two or three witnesses to their view of the sacraments. They are defiant and alone and stand apart from the universal practise and belief of the sacraments – shunning a sacramental worldview for a materialistic on. This is evident in the break down and secularisation of Western society – most of which is made up of Protestant countries (England, the US, Australia, Northern Europe, NZ, Canada).

  2. TC says:

    This is NOT the case. The Fathers had their differences regarding nature, function, and how many sacraments there were.

    As the Reformers saw it, everything needed to be revisited and revised if possible, in view of Scripture, with interaction with the Fathers.

    It was not that simple as looking through some lens. It was more complex than that.

  3. Simon says:

    TC, a truly sacramental worldview sees the entire creation as sacramental. This was the view of the Fathers, particularly the Greek Fathers. You also see this in Scripture – passages in Isaiah, where the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea, in Romans and so on. Although, it is apparent that the Church settled on 7 sacraments, the point really isn’t about how many sacraments are mediated through the Church. The point is that the sacramental worldview seems to have been dismantled in the Reformation. God’s willingness to work through creation as a vessel of his grace was questioned and in some cases ridiculed. This eventually led to the current situation we find ourselves in in the West. God has been kicked out of creation and into heaven only. This represents the almost complete demise of a sacramental worldview – God working in and through creation. Although technically, Protestants (including the Reformers) would uphold this notion. It appears, at least to me and others like Brad Gregory, that the Reformation started an unintended path towards secularism. And the weakening of the sacraments was instrumental in this.

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