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Catechism Class: LD 25,Q68, How Many Sacraments?


Lord’s Day 25 Q68  How Many Sacraments

We must talk about the number of sacraments that are in the church. Question 68, How many sacraments has Christ instituted in the new covenant? The answer in the catechism is “Two: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” READ Matthew 28:19-20, and 1st Corinthians 11:23-26. Our catechism tells us that Christ has instituted two sacraments in the church, so we’re going to discover why Protestants only have two sacraments, why some evangelicals don’t have any sacraments at all, and why Roman Catholics think that there are seven sacraments.  


1. Two Sacraments. “Two: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” 

We have just two sacraments. Why just two?

Firstly, because Jesus only instituted these two ordinances, to be forever a memorial in his church. In the two passages that you read we can actually read the words of Jesus, as he he set out the only visible signs that point to him:-

  • In Matthew 28:19-20, we have what is called ‘the Great Commission.’ We are to Go! (Not to remain seated in a nice building!) We are to go everywhere, knowing that the Lord will go with us, and we are to make disciples, by TEACHING them, and we are to BAPTISE them. Jesus said so.
  • In 1st Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul recalls how Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, quoting his words. You can clearly see that baptism and communion were set in the church by Jesus himself. 

Secondly, sacraments – or indeed anything that we do in worship, must be commanded by God alone. Men cannot invent elements of worship as and when they please. When ‘worship’ is not commanded by God, it is ‘strange fire.’ Leviticus 10:1-2  So we have the biblical record, telling us that Jesus who is God, commands us to baptise, and to gather around the Lord’s Table, until he returns. The two sacraments are instituted by Christ, commanded by Christ and blessed by Christ.

Thirdly, in his commentary on the catechism, Ursinus points to the shadows of these sacraments in the Old Testament. He reminds us that Baptism is the NT replacement of circumcision in the OT, and Communion is the NT replacement of the Passover Lamb. 

2. Three Ordinances?

Maybe you go to an evangelical church where no-one mentions the word ‘sacraments.’ Instead, when the talk about Baptism and Communion, they will refer to them as ‘ordinances.’  I asked for some people who hold to the reformed Baptist Confession to explain this for me. Most consistently said that there were two reasons for this. 

  1. Baptism and Communion are ordinances because Christ ordained them.
  2. The word ‘sacrament’ word is heavily associated with Catholic ‘sacramentalism.’ 

Both of these reasons are perfectly valid, and while the terminology used in the 1689 may differ from the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Westminster Standards, the underlying theology does not. We all agree that these ordinances point us away from ourselves, to Christ, who alone can safe, and that He only instituted these two ordinances and no others.

But let’s move away from the Reformed perspective just for a moment or two, and consider two other views.  I’ve two examples.

  • Some churches have included Baptism, Communion and the Anointing of the Sick with Oil. That last ‘ordinance’ was based on James 5:14. Thankfully that church has removed the third ordinance, and now they only mention Baptism and Communion.
  • The Salvation Army have NO sacraments or ordinances, in the biblical sense. Neither baptism nor communion. They say that sacraments are not needed for saving faith. We agree, they are not an essential part of becoming a Christian, but they are COMMANDED by Jesus as part of our regular worship, and who are we to neglect a divine command?

Let’s move on though, and look at the really big issue. Are there not…

3. Seven Sacraments?

The Roman Catholic Church believes that there are seven sacraments. To Baptism and Communion they add, confirmation, holy orders, penance, extreme unction, matrimony. 

  • Confirmation is basically the ‘laying on of hands.’ Obviously this was a practice used in the bible, – Acts 13:2-4 Acts 28:8 In Catholicism, this morphs into a formal sacrament, where baptised people, usually around the age of eight or nine years, although not exclusively so, are brought before the bishop, who formally ‘confirms them in their faith.’ They may claim that it is a re-enactment of Acts 8:17  But modern confirmation is entirely different from the practice in the early church. The practice in Acts was spontaneous, reacting to circumstances, not a formal ceremony that is promoted as conveying grace.  
  • Holy Orders is the sacrament of ordination into the Catholic priesthood. Because Catholics think that ordination is a sacrament – it is inviable. Priests who had committed the most egregious sin is still a priest, and was often simply moved to a new location, where he would begin his grooming activities all over again. 
  • Penance. Catholics go to confession. We do not need to confess our sins to a priest – we approach the throne of Grace for help, we confess our sins to God, and when we do confess our sins, we know that they are already forgiven, not because we say some extra prayers, but because Christ has already paid the debt for all those sins on the cross. 
  • Extreme Unction is often referred to as “The Last Rites.” A priest will visit a person who is dying, hear their confession,  offer them the consecrated wafer, – the ‘eucharist’ if they are able to receive it, and anoint them with oil. It’s a perversion of  James 5:14 But when James instructed the early Christians to anoint the sick with oil, it was for their healing, not for their death! 
  • Marriage is a sacrament in Catholicism. In Ephesians 5, Paul describes marriage as a ‘mystery’ Ephesians 5:31-32  Catholics consider the efficacy of baptism and communion – their conveyance of grace to the recipient, they claim – to be ‘a mystery.’ So they conclude that Marriage must be a sacrament too! Since it’s a mystery!

Now, note that none of these ‘extra sacraments’ are instituted by Jesus, none are commanded by God, and none are blessed by God. Therefore we reject them completely, and with our catechist, and with the scripture, we permit no other symbols or ordinances, within our worship but baptism and communion. Anything else is strange fire, and will be rejected by God.

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