The Sacraments: Are they Means of Grace or Means of Commitment?

The title of this post speaks to the very nature of the sacraments (ordinances, if you like) of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Should they be viewed as God’s means of grace or our means of commitment to God?

In other words, in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Is it about what God promises (Paedobaptist), or Is it about what the believer pledges to God (Credobaptist)?

In the Old Testament, for example, circumcision was more about what God promises as a faithful covenant keeping God than what a circumcised male could ever accomplish (Genesis 17:1-14; the same could be said about the Passover celebration (Exodus 12:12, 27).  This understanding of the sacraments as signs and seals of the covenant are then carried over into the New Testament by our Paedobaptist brothers and sisters, justifying the baptism of the infant(s) of believers/a believer and even paedocommunion in a minority of Reformed circles.

And which have compelled me to ask:

  1. Should the New Testament sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper be understood in the same way as circumcision and the Passover?
  2. Or should we argue for discontinuities precisely because the nature of the New Testament sacraments have changed?

Or should we seek a third view, which sees the sacraments as both God’s means of grace and our means of commitment?  Per the witness of Scripture, I think we should.  Consider the case the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

After having the good news of Jesus preached to him, on coming to some water, the Ethiopian Eunuch requested baptism (Acts 8:34-38).

When Philip baptized the Eunuch, it was not only God’s means of assuring grace but also the Eunuch’s means of commitment, to be a follower of Christ (Matthew 28:19-20; cf. 1 Peter 3:21).

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9 Responses to The Sacraments: Are they Means of Grace or Means of Commitment?

  1. Lon Hetrick says:

    I believe the answer is “yes.”

    However, it’s much more important to hear “This is the new covenant in my blood,” than to say, “Jesus, I come.” In the table, He is speaking his commitment to us. Therefore, the table is a feast of joy and hope in Him, not a grim reminder that we have not been committed enough.

    I hope you understand what I mean…

    Thanks as always,

    Lon

  2. Craig Benno says:

    Water baptism is the sacrament of belonging and fellowship. In many ways circumcision was the same. Only now, it signifies that all believers, no matter their race, age, gender or social class are equally allowed to come and worship in the inner sanctuary – as the curtain has been ripped away.
    Up till that time, any gentile proselyte was only allowed to stand in the outer courts of the Jewish temple.

    The sacrament of the bread and the wine, I believe is supposed to be a full meal and not just the elements that we have made them to be. While Jesus celebrated the Passover meal – he then turned the Passover meal into a new theological framework, where he says, you no longer celebrate the pass-over as being passed over by the Spirit of Death – instead you celebrate that you have not been passed over with the Spirit of Life. Eternal life. The Forgiver of life. The Sustainer of life.

    The communion meal is the continual sign of the Baptism of all believers into Christ.

    • TC Robinson says:

      Craig, some good thoughts here. I like your “The Communion meal is the continual sign of the baptism of all believers into Christ.” I think the koinonia concept of 1 Corinthians 10:16 speaks to this.

      So what would be the purpose of a full meal?

      • Craig Benno says:

        From my understanding of the Scriptures and the history we have of yhe early church,the communion meal was just that- a full on communion meal. It was a meal where slaves would eat with their masters, sitting down as equals. Not only in theory; but in real practice.

        We see the value of the communion meal at our mens group. We have a mix of guys from all nations and stations in society. We sit around the fire enjoying a meal and fellowship as equals.

        When I think of the segregation in the modern church and its practices – I can’t help but think they drink judgment on themselves when they have communion- because they are not truly practicing the true communion with the saints.

  3. Jon Hughes says:

    Craig,

    It’s a beautiful concept. One of the problems today is that you often find (certainly in London, U.K.) churches that appeal to middle class families; churches that appeal to people in the creative arts; churches that appeal to students; churches that appeal to young professionals; largely black churches; largely Hispanic churches; not to mention dying churches with an average age of seventy five!

    Often, people travel quite a way (bypassing a number of more local churches) in order to attend a place of worship that is more appealing to them. For these reasons, what you describe doesn’t happen as often as it should because of the consumer culture in which we live.

    • TC Robinson says:

      Craig,
      You have made a believer out of me. Thanks for fleshing things out. Come to think about it, it’s all over Scripture in a covenant concept.

      Jon,
      Imagine the kind of impact the church would have if we were to practice what Craig is reminding us of.

      We have lost our way.

  4. theoldadam says:

    The former (only).

    Our commitment is neither here nor there. But His to us is everything. And it is most clearly seen as pure gift in the sacraments, for those who do not deserve them.

    My Lutheran 2 cents : )

    Thanks.

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