The Doctrine of the Church (part 1)

August 02, 2009     Time: 00:16:57

Today we are going to start a new topic – a new section. This is going to be on doctrine of the church, particularly we are going to look at doctrine of the sacraments or ordinances – baptism, Lord’s Supper, and so forth.

Right at the start we confront a problem of definition. What do we mean by a sacrament or an ordinance? Because Christians disagree upon how we are to understand these rites. A sacrament is a means of grace belonging to the church. By contrast, an ordinance is merely a sign which belongs to the church. The question is: are these rites (like baptism, the Lord's Supper, and so forth) sacraments? Are they means of grace that belong to the church through which God imparts grace to his people? Or are they simply signs that belong to the church of God's grace and what he has already done? Are they sacraments or ordinances? To a large extent, this is going to depend upon what you think the church is. What do you think the Christian church is? Is the church the means of salvation to mankind? Is the church itself a sort of means of grace? Is the church the means by which salvation comes to mankind? Or is the church rather simply the fellowship of those who through faith have been united together? Is the church itself a sort of primal sacrament? It administers these sacraments – but it is itself a sort of sacrament in that it is the means of grace for the salvation of mankind. Or is the church just the fellowship of those who through faith have been united together by Christ? If you think of the church as being this means of grace then you will be a sacramentalist with regard to these rights. If you think of these as merely signs and the church as merely a fellowship then you are going to view these as just ordinances. We will say more about that, but that at least serves to define the terms.

The question then is: what constitutes a sacrament or an ordinance? There are two elements that go to make up one of these sacraments or ordinances. There is the word – there will be a verbal word or pronouncement. Coupled with that there will be some kind of a visible sign, for example water, or bread and wine, or other such things. There is a visible sign conjoined with a spoken word, and together these will constitute a sacrament or an ordinance.

What about the efficacy of sacraments? What do they really do? Here Christians differ among themselves. For example, on the Roman Catholic view, the sacraments are a means of infusing grace into a person. Remember when we talked about the doctrine of justification and we saw that for the Catholic grace is not simply a declaration on God's part, but it is something that is actually infused into you. It will be through the sacraments that this grace is infused into the believer. They are literally means of grace whereby God's grace and power are mediated to you. The Lutheran view is that they are also means of grace but it is through the word which is connected with the sacrament. Lutherans, like Catholics, believe in sacraments, they believe in means of grace, but the emphasis is more on the word than the visible sign. It is the word that imparts the grace.

What about the Reformed view? This would be Presbyterians and other Reformed groups following John Calvin. Here they do not think of these rites as sacraments. Rather, these are confirmation of God's grace by a sort of visible sign. They are not means by which God's grace comes to you or is infused into you; they are simply visible signs that serve as confirmations of God's grace that has come to you.

The Baptist view, or baptistic groups, would say that these rites are confessional acts on the part of the believer.[1] They are ways in which you confess your faith publicly by taking part in these. These are confessional acts.

So you can see there is quite a diversity of viewpoints among Christians on what these sacraments or ordinances actually accomplish or do.

What about the number of the sacraments or ordinances? The Catholic Church recognizes more sacraments than do Protestant denominations. At the Council of Florence in the year 1439, the Council declared or denominated seven sacraments. These are, first of all, baptism, which of course we all understand. Second would be confirmation. Confirmation would be the rite whereby someone who has been baptized as an infant affirms that decision to follow Christ and is confirmed by his own choice in this sacrament. Confirmation serves to confirm or validate or affirm the decision that was rendered in baptism. Eucharist is another name for the Lord's Supper and would be the celebration of the bread and the wine – ingesting the body and blood of Christ. Penance is performing an act to show the genuineness of one's contrition. When you confess you have a contrite heart, you repent of your sin, you have a godly sorrow for it, but then in order to show the seriousness of that confession and the seriousness of your contrition, you might have an act of penance to perform that might be something like saying a certain number of prayers or maybe making a pilgrimage to a holy site or doing some other sort of act generally that would be arduous – it would be something that would require some commitment and difficulty in order to show visibly the contrition that you have. Marriage is also considered to be a sacrament – a means of grace. Next would be ordination. This would be taking or joining some sort of a religious order like becoming a nun or becoming a Benedictine monk or joining some sort of a religious order. Those who, say, do not marry but take vows can receive this means of grace through ordination. Finally, Extreme Unction would be administered to a person upon death. These would be the so-called Last Rites and would be the final sacrament or means of grace that a person might enjoy. The Council of Florence has, then, seven such sacraments: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, marriage, ordination, and Extreme Unction.

On the Protestant view, by contrast, these have been abbreviated to baptism and the Lord's Supper. There are some Mennonite groups or Holiness groups that will practice footwashing as a sort of ordinance, but primarily Protestants would say baptism and the Lord's Supper are the two rites that the church administers either as sacraments or as ordinances.

START DISCUSSION

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I've never heard that referred to as such. The question was what about church membership – joining the church? Some groups would emphasize that that is extremely important, and no doubt that is the case. But at least I am not familiar with any major denomination that would see that as being on the level of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: What you are saying is that the act of penance is not itself the means of grace, but that is a sort of word that has been given for the whole process of confession, and so forth, and it is – what? - the absolution of sin by the priest that would be the means of grace?[2]

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: OK. Certainly not just a ritual or formality.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Just to clarify further on that. I don't think the Catholic would say that the priest is necessary in order for you to receive confession. A person who was isolated and had no access could confess directly to God. But normally someone who is in the community of believers would go to his priest.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: As far as I know – someone can correct me if I'm wrong – I think that for the Anglican Church it is limited to these two sacraments. They would view them as sacraments but I don't think there is more than this. That is my impression. I can check on that. Does anybody know better on that? We can look into that. I didn't have anything in my notes about Anglican views on this.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Those would be devotional acts that are quite distinct from what we are talking about here.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Part of the factors here, I think, that come into this as well is the different views of church tradition in Roman Catholicism and in Protestantism. For Protestants, Scripture and Scripture alone is taken to be authoritative whereas for the Catholic Church it also recognizes church tradition as an authoritative source of teaching. So something that was ratified very late but based upon a strong tradition could appeal to that tradition, too, as being authoritative.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I think that what was said was fair in that regard. You sometimes will hear Jehovah's Witnesses or other cultic groups – or even non-Christians – say, It wasn't until 300 years later that the church voted that Jesus was divine at the Council of Nicaea. That is just a complete misrepresentation of the fact the church was unanimous from the beginning that Christ was divine but it was when this was challenged by Arians and other heretics that then it was necessary to convene an authoritative council. The mere lateness of a codification doesn't necessarily speak against the truth of what it says. I think, as Protestants at least, we will want to assess this on the basis of Scripture – what does the Scripture teach about these rites.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: We will talk about this in much more detail. I just wanted to define the terms first because I think that most of us haven't understood what in the world the difference is. For most of us, I think this idea of sacramentalism is a very strange idea – this idea of means of grace. Sometimes we will talk about them as sacraments not even understanding what we are saying. We will get into this in more detail, but we just wanted to lay out first here the general definitions.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 is in reaction to the Judaizers. Right. Yeah, that's true.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: His question is on the Catholic view if you have to be a member of the Catholic Church in order to receive the Eucharist or the means of grace, then are those who are not members of the Catholic Church therefore cut off from the means of grace? As I understand the documents of the Second Vatican Council that was held in the 60s, the Catholic Church now views Protestants quite differently than it used to. Protestants are regarded as separated brethren – they are really part of the Church but they don't recognize it. The Second Vatican Council condemns or anathematizes anybody who knows that the Catholic Church is the body of Christ, the means of salvation, and rejects it and won't join it.[3] But for someone like myself who is sort of this benighted Protestant and doesn't recognize that, I am not held guilty for not being a part of the Roman Catholic Church because I really am in a sense, but I am separated for not being in physical communion with it.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I think it is a lot stronger term than that.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: But the way the church uses the term . . .

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: My impression is that since salvation is found through the Catholic Church, someone who rejects the Catholic Church self-consciously knowing that cuts himself off from salvation.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is not quite right in the sense that you have to recognize what you are doing. You have to recognize that the Catholic Church is God's means of grace.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Then you are separated brethren if you are a believer in Christ like myself.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: OK. I think on that note we need to bring it to a close today.

END DISCUSSION

You see, at least, we've laid out here the controversy. You see the disagreement and where the lines lie. What we want to do next time is to go into the Scripture and see what, in fact, the Scripture teaches about baptism and the Lord's Supper and how we come to a proper understanding of these. We'll see you next week.[4]



[1] 5:06

[2] 10:03

[3] 15:13

[4] Total Running Time: 16:57 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)