Wild CardCalvin believed sacraments are God’s gracious gifts given by Jesus Christ to the church to establish and nurture faith. A sacrament must have been instituted by Jesus and open and available to all. God uses sacraments to convey the grace of God to us. In the sacraments we see the gospel of Jesus Christ right before our eyes.
The elements of the sacraments are signs of God’s love, grace and desire to bring us into a deeper relationship with Him. When we participate in the sacraments, we are saying to all: We belong to Christ. As we participate in the sacraments, we receive through these actions the power and authority of God in our lives. When we believe in the gospel, the benefits of the gospel are sealed within our hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit. Our faith is nourished and strengthened by receiving the benefits of Christ.
Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize and extend baptism to others. The sign of this sacrament is water. Believers are brought into and incorporated into the church as the community of faith. Jesus commanded his followers to eat and drink together in a commemorative meal for his sacrificial death. The sign of this sacrament is the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. The community celebrates the Lord’s Supper, through which faith is nourished and sustained.
Calvin maintains that sacraments are important auxiliaries to the Word. “Therefore, let it be regarded as a settle principle that the sacraments have the same office as the Word of God: to offer and set forth Christ to us, and in him the treasures of heavenly grace.” (4.14.17) They are visual reminders of the central messages God is concerned to communicate to humans. They are a media, in addition to the preached and written Word, through which God communicates God’s self to us. Calvin calls them instruments that “seal” on our consciences the promises spoken to us in God’s Word, a kind of “visible Word.”
Calvin strongly rejects the Roman Catholic view that God’s actual presence could be found in the material of life. “For the distinction signifies not only that the figure and the truth are contained in the sacrament, but that they are not so linked that they cannot be separated; and that even in the union itself the matter must always be distinguished from the sign, that we many not transfer to the one what belongs to the other.” (4.14.15) He feels that this thought is unbiblical and akin to idolatry. Calvin maintains that the sign should not be confused with what it signifies. Not a simple reminder, but a sign that conveys the reality to which it points. Imagine God powerfully relating the two, making the signified thing available through, not in, the sign.
The Roman Catholic Church has traditionally recognized seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, marriage, ordination (holy orders), reconciliation (penance), Eucharist, and last rites (extreme unction). Based on Calvin’s definition of a sacrament, having been instituted by Jesus and open and available to all, he questions the validity of the “other five ceremonies.” In 4.19.3, Calvin states, “I indeed admit that they are sometimes quite free in their use of the work ‘sacrament’; but what do they mean by it? They mean all ceremonies and outward rites, and all exercises of piety.”
My question is did we Protestants drop the ball? Are there more sacraments that we should be celebrating?