WHAT ARE THE SACRAMENTS?
The sacraments are visible signs and seals appointed by God to declare the promises of the gospel more fully to us. Not only does God announce his good news to us through the audible preaching of the gospel, but he also attaches visible signs that make that announcement as well. He accommodates us through the use of ordinary water, bread, and wine, in order to touch our senses of sight, smell, and taste.The sacraments are not magic; rather, they are signs that point us to the reality they signify, namely, the finished work of Christ in his life, death, and resurrection. Yet, the sacraments are not merely object lessons; they are God’s appointed means of grace that the Holy Spirit uses to strengthen those who receive them in faith.
WHAT MAKES SOMETHING A SACRAMENT?
That is an important question that the Protestant Reformers asked in the sixteenth-century as they evaluated the medieval teaching that there were seven sacraments (i.e. baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, marriage, ordination, and final unction). We believe the reformers were correct to conclude that sacraments are only those things that:
- Christ commanded in the New Testament
- Have visible elements prescribed by Christ
- Proclaim and seal by grace the promise of the gospel
We are not free to call anything we want a sacrament or “sacramental.” God refuses to be found on our terms. Instead, he finds us on his.
HOW MANY SACRAMENTS ARE THERE?
With the Reformed confessions, we believe that there are only two sacraments instituted by Christ in the New Testament: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are commanded by Christ, not humans. Both baptism and Lord’s Supper have visible elements that appeal to our senses (baptism has water, the Lord’s Supper, bread and wine). Both baptism and Lord’s Supper proclaim the gospel visibly. Baptism signifies the washing away of sin from our soul, even as water washes away dirt from the body. The Lord’s Supper signifies the nourishment of the body and blood of Christ to our soul, even as bread and wine nourishes our bodies.
ARE THE SACRAMENTS NECESSARY FOR THE CHRISTIAN LIFE?
Absolutely, for at least three reasons: First, the sacraments are commanded by Christ. Jesus commanded his apostles to baptize and administer the Lord’s Supper.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit uses the sacraments to build our assurance. In baptism and the Lord’s Supper, God condescends to our weaknesses. Just as he gives us his word that promises, so too he gives a sign that confirms. God attends his verbal promise with a visual sign that says, "This is for YOU! As surely as you see this bread and wine and taste it with your mouth, so too was Christ’s body broken for you and his blood shed for you so that all your sins are forgiven and God declares you righteous."
Finally, the sacraments are important for the Christian life because they structure Christ’s church as a community with membership. Baptism is about initiation into Christ’s visible church. The Lord’s Supper is part of our continuing fellowship as Christ’s church. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not private, individual events, but corporate, public events for the covenant people of God.
HOW OFTEN DOES CHRIST URC CELEBRATE THE LORD’S SUPPER?
Every Sunday morning after the sermon. This is part of how God renews his covenant with us each week, and proclaims the promises of his gospel.
DOES CHRIST URC PRACTICE “INFANT BAPTISM”?
Yes, Christ URC baptizes the children of believers by virtue of their membership in the visible church and covenant people of God. We do not believe in baptismal regeneration or presume that every baptized child is elect. Rather, our children are included with us in the visible church and brought up as disciples in the Christian faith because that has always been God’s design in Scripture. As the renowned Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield put it, "The argument [of infant baptism] in a nutshell is simply this: God established his church in the days of Abraham and put children into it. They must remain there until he puts them out. He has nowhere put them out. They are still then members of his church."
Baptized children must first profess their faith before they are admitted to the Lord’s Table.