Are Sacraments Fundamental?

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by greenbaggins, Jan 29, 2015.

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  1. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

  2. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Absolutely, the sacraments are gospel issues. But after reading the article my reaction is to ask how we determine which aspects of the sacraments are fundamental aspects and which are matters of indifference.

    For example, we might decide that whether the Supper elements are passed down the pews or partakers come forward to receive them is a matter where differences in practice are allowed, but intinction and paedo-communion are not. How do we decide where each of these falls? I agree with the positions you take, but wonder how to decribe the criteria used to get there.
  3. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    Thank you for this. I did not realize until I came to the realization that infant baptism is correct and what the sacraments really meant, and why we ought to baptize babies and not give them communion.
  4. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member


    A good article. If I could offer some observations about the idea of "fundamentals".

    I suppose, in one sense, many things are "Gospel" issues as it it the Gospel, in its broadest sense that includes our union with Christ and all evangelical graces that flow from that. Those that limit the idea of "Gospel" to justification will probably not appreciate the issue quite so much.

    I think I might suggest that intinction may be better approached from the issue of Liberty of Conscience and the RPW. Certainly the Gospel comes into play because, as the Father's redeemed children, we would want to obey His command in worship (RPW). Arguing for the historicity of a practice or its pragmatic value are more Anglican than Presbyterian approaches to the question. What disturbs me (and i know disturbs you) is that there is a double problem when we ask both whether God has commanded the Lord's Super in a certain way and then combine that question with the issue of the conscience of the recipient. I, like you, would not be able to participate in the Lord's Supper in a Church that practices intinction. All of the arguments about how this was practiced in the past or whether it might be a better way to express the "common cup" motif of Scripture don't fly. I believe the Lord institued Bread for eating and Wine for drinking. Sacramentally, each sacremantally unite the believer to a distinct spiritual reality and are intended to raise our physical senses toward that end.

    If I am a worshiper at a Church that practices intinction not only am I convinced they are disobeying the command of the Lord but they are now requiring me, the worshiper, to choose between the visible communion of the Saints and disobeying my Lord. They are not only violating the Law of God in the practice of intinction but breaking the Law of God in binding my conscience to practice the Lord's Supper with them in a way God has left my conscience free. Either that or they're perfectly content with the fact that worshipers will abstain for conscience sake and sinning in not caring that I do not receive the spiritual food that Christ has instituted as spiritual food for the nourishment of my soul.

    This then becomes a Gospel issue because the Gospel would constrain us to love the Brethren and to see the Sacrament as its instituted toward the spiritual nourishment of the Saints. That is, Christ ordained it for our mutual sanctification. They either present or strip away a meal that Christ has intended for our sanctification. In so doing, they are contemning a Gospel ordinance.

    What disturbed me about the intinction proceedings is how the concern was mostly dismissed out of hand. Most had what amounted to a "live and let live" attitude on the issue. My point in expanding upon it was not to correct your presentation but to unpack the "fundamentals" at stake. If a man denies, altogether, the RPW and Liberty of Conscience then we would consider them to be a denial of the fundamentals. Insofar as these issues interact with the Sacraments it does not seem that many took the time to consider the consequences of the issue. I dare say that the charge of Pharisaism on the floor of GA reflects an attitude by some that appealing to the Law of God is somehow legalistic and that the understanding of "liberty" by many is understood to mean that ministers are free to do whatever their consciences are clear to practice and not whether both they and those they minister are not permitted to be bound by differing standards other than the Law of God itself.
  5. yeutter

    yeutter Puritan Board Senior

    Credo communion is clearly taught in the Bible and Lane tells us 17 places in the PCA constitution. The answer to the question are the sacraments fundamental better would seem to be answered more clearly in affirmative; by the Belgic and Heidelberg then by the Westminster Standards.
  6. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    I was once talking with a friend of mine from Dublin, who attends Union Theological College in Belfast, about the idea that baptism was a secondary issue. He said that this topic had been discussed among some of his fellow clerical students, and one of them had commented that baptism was a secondary issue and all that mattered was that we were all friends with Jesus. To which my friend replied, "So, baptism is a secondary issue? Ahh, right, so why did Jesus put it in the Great Commission?" He is right. A gospel devoid of the sacraments does not do full justice to the gospel advocated by biblical Christianity.
  7. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    It's interesting that some would abstain if the only option was intinction. When I have been in this situation, I have chosen to partake even though I think the church is wrong to practice intinction. Maybe I should reevaluate. The church in question actually allows one to drink from the cup instead of dipping the bread in the cup. I have never availed myself of that option because no one else does. I wonder if those who would abstain from intinction could ask if they might drink from the cup instead?
  8. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    Scott, in the past I have seen intinction done while I was physically present twice. Once at PCA GA and once at a Presbytery meeting. Both times I abstained because it is not the Lord's Supper that He instituted. When He instituted it, even when Paul showed what of that institution was binding upon us in 1 Cor. it says He took the bread, then after supper He took the cup. There is a reason for this. Our Standards say that we should diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions. The elements obviously are bread/wine and actions are linked closely with the reality. As Lane refers to in his intinction piece to conflate/mix the bread and wine disturbs the actual reality to be shown in the sacrament. The sign is basically done away with. The sign being that of Christ death for His people at the cross, His body given, blood shed. To mix the elements together is to show forth life, the body and blood together. To separate them to show forth death, for when the body and blood are separate there is death, there is sacrifice. To mix the two is to show forth not the gospel, not the truths contained in the Gospel; thus it is taking away the real sacramental actions that are instituted by Christ, thus it is no sacrament at all. So one should always abstain from it, for the Lord does not command it. I encourage you to read Lane's article on it. [I would add that in intinction one does not actively drink of the cup either, though one could attempt to argue that they do.]

    Finally, as to your question Scott, the sacrament is one in which we are to commune with Christ and His people, but in doing something different in worship (sacramental actions) compared to everyone else is not communing with one another. It is showing division. And here is the reason of the great reformation doctrine of liberty of conscience. By doing intinction, it is binding the conscience to partake in that way, but the Lord alone is lord of the conscience. Intinction breaks liberty of conscience and forces (attempts) the believer to partake in a way contrary to God's word and necessarily causes division in the body of Christ. The opposite of what it is supposed to be doing (communing, or creating unity in Christ).
  9. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I fully agree that Baptism is a gospel issue. There's been an interesting discussion that broke out from Lane's article on how the PCA Book of Church Order distinguishes a teaching that strikes and our fundamental system of doctrine. A teaching can be out of accord with our system of doctrine EITHER because it is hostile to the the system OR because it strikes at the vitals of religion. I think that too many Christians don't really have a system of doctrine with which to make that kind of distinction but it's an important one.

    I don't think, for instance, that anti-paedobaptism strikes at the vitals of religion. I think Baptists are Christians and they preach the Gospel and men are saved by their labor in the Word.

    That said, I think anti-paedobaptism is hostile to a system that is inextricably linked to the Gospel itself. It's not as if you can tease out baptism from the Gospel and pretend that, no matter what you think about baptism, it won't affect the way you believe the Gospel in its broadest sense.

    Does Matt 28:18-20 mean, by disciple, that a person made a profession and they are baptized and taught or does it indicate that the means by which one makes disciples is by baptizing and teaching? How one understands that question has profound implications for how one obeys the Gospel.
  10. mgkortus

    mgkortus Puritan Board Freshman

    An insightful question. From my perspective, intinction deviates from the outline given by Christ himself (Mark 14:22-25) and reiterated by the apostle Paul in I Cor. 11:23-26. Both passages speak of the bread and wine as separate, Paul even speaks of taking the cup after the supper.

    Matters such as passing out cups verses coming up to the front were left out of these texts by the guidance of the Spirit. To me, it comes down to what the texts that record the institution of the Lord's Supper specify. If no details are given, it becomes a matter of carefully applied wisdom.
  11. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, Andrew. I am fully convinced that intinction is not the proper sacramental action. I'm just on the fence if such an acknowledgment requires me to abstain. I read Lane's article some time ago, but I don't remember if it got to the heart of my dilemma.

    I see several categories for various communion practices:

    The first category is those things that are indifferent but perhaps wise. I would put using red wine in this category. Scripture doesn't say what color to use so it is indifferent, but most agree that red wine seems to capture the idea of blood better than white. You have to choose some sort of wine, so why not choose red if it is available?

    The second category is the floor of what constitutes proper administration of the sacrament. This would include using the proper elements (bread and wine), the proper actions (eating and drinking), the proper administrator (a minister of word and sacrament), proper recipients (communing members in good standing), etc.

    The third category is perhaps controversial, but it seems to me that there are those things that constitute a breach in proper administration but would not require one to abstain. I see open communion or distribution (but not administration) by laypeople to be among these.

    Finally, the fourth category includes those violations that are so egregious that it would require one to abstain. I remember one church we visited they just mentioned that there was bread and wine at various tables throughout and you were free to take what you want and the kids could come up to the mosh pit while the band plays some songs. It certainly doesn't have to be this bad, though. Administration unaccompanied by preaching the word would be enough.

    Here's my dilemma: if I understand intinction to fall into category four then I would abstain from the Lord's Supper at about half the churches I have ever visited. This is because these churches have substituted grape juice for the proper element, wine. It is hard for me see why the proper sacramental action is so much more important than the proper sacramental element that we must abstain if the action is not right, but we don't have to if the element is faulty.
  12. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    I think this approach is better, but I wonder if it isn't begging the question. The conscience in question must be correctly formed by the word of God. If someone's conscience didn't allow him to eat with Gentiles, he should be corrected by the Scriptures so as not to be divisive. I worry that by focusing on the conscience we make it about us and our closely held beliefs and inadvertently minimize obedience to the word.
  13. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member


    My point about Liberty of Conscience was in reference to this in the WCF:
    It is not "question begging" at all. The issue of the RPW and Liberty of Conscience are mutually reinforcing. On the one hand, the Church is not free to worship the Lord in any way that God has not commanded and, on the other, they are prohibited from requiring worship on the basis that they are the Church and that the worshiper simply has to "get over' the issue.

    It's not enough, in other words, for the minister to have said "this is the way I see things". If he really believes that intinction is proper then he will have to discipline the member who refuses to participate. Why? Because the worshiper is sinning in refusing to practice communion with the congregation and would have to be shown that intinction is what the Lord has commanded hin His Word. The conscience of the worshiper would need to be properly trained to understand that intinction is what the Lord commanded in the Scripture and that he is sinning by refusing to participate.

    In fact, this issue of Liberty of Conscience is salient to granting an exception to ministers who believe in paedocommunion but consent to not practice or teach it. Why? Because, if they believe that paedocommuion is commanded in Scripture, then they believe that the command to not practice or teach it is the "commandment of man". To grant the exception is, in essence, to permit the TE who accepts this limitation to deny the principle of Liberty of Conscience that our WCF confesses.
  14. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    The WCF qualifies liberty of conscience as leaving the conscience free from "any thing contrary to his Word or beside it." I don't see it as being concerned for a naked liberty of conscience. My concern is that appealing to liberty of conscience is ultimately the same as appealing to the RPW, but appealing to the RPW alone doesn't carry with it the interpersonal freight of liberty of conscience.

    I think we are agreed that the worshiper sometimes needs to "get over" certain hangups (like eating with Gentiles). We shouldn't leave the poorly formed conscience where it is. I don't see the intinction advocate as needing to say Scripture requires intinction--only that it is acceptable and its detractors need to get over it. Just as the grape juice advocate needs to argue that grape juice is acceptable, not that it is what Christ commanded.

    Is your point that you can't have a church where some officers see intinction as within acceptable bounds and others see it as something that must be abstained from? Sort of like paedobaptism and credobaptism can't coexist--one of the two views has to be disciplined.

    If a member abstains from communion because his conscience requires wine and not grape juice, should he be disciplined, or should the church change its practice? It is not enough to ignore the situation, and I'm not sure how recognizing that the sacraments are fundamental resolves the issue.
  15. whirlingmerc

    whirlingmerc Puritan Board Sophomore

    Depends what you mean by fundamental....

    The book of Romans concerns the most important aspects of the gospels but doesn't claim to be exhaustive and touches on baptism and not on communion
    but the book of Corinthians which is more extensive on Christian living does

    Also might have a different answer if you asked fundamental to 'sharing the gospel' or 'living the gospel'..
  16. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Where did I argue for a "naked" liberty of conscience? I argued for liberty of conscience and naturally assumed that my use of the term would be understood to be according to WCF 20. If there was any doubt as to what I meant by the phrase, I responded to your "question begging" charge by quoting the very portion I had in mind when I originally responded in this thread. The point, once again, is that both are mutually reinforcing. Once can neither ignore the RPW on the grounds that one is not free to worship in any way not prescribed by the Word nor can any Church bind a man's conscience to something where the Word has left it free. If one reason is not enough for a minister to think twice before innovating in worship then perhaps a second reason might give him pause. One reason is God-ward (not wanting to offend God) while the other is toward our fellow brothers (not wanting to command a thing not in the Word of God).

    I'm not permitted, as a Church officer, to simply say: "This is what the Church decided and so we are going to worship this way" to someone in the congregation. I only have authority, with that individual, insofar as what I'm requiring of them is according to the Word. Years ago, R.C. Sproul, Jr was disciplined by his denomination because he was bringing Church members under discipline for forsaking vows. Turns out the issue was that his Church was practicing paedocommunion, which violated Liberty of Consicence so he had no right to discipline a member for a situation he created.

    I must reiterate because liberty of conscience is often used improperly, that this is not a "get out of jail free" card. A Church has authority to discipline men for certain actions or beliefs that they propagate. A Church can rightly discipline a man for adultery even if the man's conscience is not bothered by it. His conscience is not inviolate in all circumstances but only when the Church attempts to require him to submit to something that the Scriptures have not commanded.

    Thus, it would be inappropriate for a minister in the PCA to discipline a man for a refusal to participate in communion where intinction is practiced. A Church that practices intinction ought to think twice about the situation they are creating by their innovation. That was my point. The elders may be perfectly fine with it (they ought not be) but the mere fact that so many worshipers in our denomination believe this to be a violation of the RPW ought to cause them to think about the person who comes to their Church who believes this. Is it of no consequence that such a man would not commune with them though he desires to and has to choose between the command to communion and the command not to disobey in the worship of God? Are they prepared to face up to the problem they will have if a member of their congregation refuses communion and they try to discipline him for this issue? Do they have more than a preference here and can they not only defend from the Scriptures but demonstrate that this man is required to practice communion by intinction?

    I don't know what you mean by recognizing that the sacraments are fundamental as to resolution. I think I've distinguished what I mean by "fundamental" in the sense that some things don't strike at the vitals of religion but merely at a system of doctrine. I don't think Baptists destroy the Sacrament altogether when they have a memorialist view but they impoverish the Sacrament. I don't think intinction completely destroys the Sacrament but abuses "take and eat" and "take and drink" and severely impoverishes the Sacrament and sins against the Lord. I see grape juice vs. wine as a different category. Sacraments are intended to raise our physical senses to something spiritual and the sacramental actions are given toward that end. It's one thing to substitute wine for another form of the "fruit of the vine" and quite another do do away with drinking and eating.
  17. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I find James Bannerman's distinction informative and helpful for recognising first and second class fundamentals. There are things for which the church is instituted and there are things which are instituted for the church. Proclamation of the truth would fall into the first category whilst sacraments and discipline would fall into the second.
  18. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    Where can one find Bannerman's distinction?
  19. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    If preaching is in the first category it must be necessary for the sacraments to be in the first as well, since the sacraments are a preaching of the word to different senses. The sacraments are not just outward but go to the proclamation of the word to our minds/hearts and thus are a means of grace.

    Sacraments by definition must be in the first category if preaching is too.
  20. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I'd like to see how he unpacks this as well. I think I know what he's driving at and I'm trying to work through in my own mind. I don't think that the "vitals of religion" or "system of doctrine" is the only way to sort through the issue as to how vital a thing is and I'd be curious about the conclusions he draws from it.
  21. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    See the chapter on 'Notes of the Church' in The Church of Christ, volume 1, pp. 57ff. It is best to read the whole section if possible, but to get a sense of what is taught consider these pertinent statements:

  22. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    This again doesn't make sense to me. He says in the latter quote I gave that 'ordinances...have been established for the object of promoting the well-being and edification of the Church' But in the first quote which he said was paramount to the Church itself He puts one ordinance of the proclamation of the word (which also I still don't see as to be separated on this topic from the Preaching of the Word).

    Now in what I am stating in my confusion, I am not saying the Sacraments are greater than the preaching of the Word but that they are a form of proclaiming the Truth of the Gospel. They are a means of grace. Central to the Church is the means of grace and of course the Gospel. How can the Sacraments not be paramount to the Church itself by its very nature?

    Do the Sacraments not proclaim the truth/the Gospel? Do they not declare the truth? So I am struggling here to get how the Sacraments are part of the latter category he makes up, if we take his categories as valid.
  23. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Paul says that he was sent to preach, not baptise. This means the minister's calling is primarily to preach, secondarily to administer sacraments.

    The church of Corinth was a true church even though it abused the Lord's supper. Its judgment only extended to temporal affliction, and that for the purpose that the Lord's people should not be condemned with the world.

    A person is saved by believing in Christ as preached in the Word. Sacraments only confirm and strengthen faith. Hence the preached Word is primary whereas sacraments are secondary. If a person dies without partaking of the sacraments but believes in Christ he shall still be saved; but if he dies partaking of the sacraments and has no faith he shall be damned.
  24. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    The Sacraments strengthen faith; they do not create faith (contra Lutheran doctrine). See WLC 162 (cf. WCF14.1).

    The Word--preached, or personal (i.e., the Son himself and the work of His Spirit)--is the means of creating faith, see WCF 14:1. The Word teaches; the Sacraments illustrate, they enhance the teaching. It's the Spirit (alone) who gives life, to all ages. His use of the different appointed means reflect the nature of those means.

    The Sacraments are visible Word, but in the nature of the case they call for explanation. We deny they have self-explanatory force. Some relation to the verbal Word is absolutely necessary. And not merely the words of institution, as important as those are.
  25. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Thanks Matthew and Bruce! Very concise and cogent.
  26. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    Okay, thanks guys.

    So, back to the original question, are the sacraments fundamental to the system of doctrine (Lane asked are the sacraments fundamentals, and his blog post clarifies that more asking are they fundamentals to the system of doctrine found in the Westminster Standards)?
  27. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    Sorry, I didn't mean to say that you were arguing for a naked liberty of conscience. I was referring to the misuse and not your use. We are agreed on our positions, I just question the tactic of bringing up liberty of conscience at all since it seems to be coextensive with the RPW. I'll drop out of the thread since I don't appear to be making a helpful contribution.
  28. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    The theology of sacraments (and a few other doctrines such as predestination) can be necessary to a system of doctrine without being necessary to salvation. I was not claiming that sacraments are necessary for salvation, else the thief on the cross could not be in paradise. But I deny that the latter statement necessitates relegating the sacraments to "secondary" status as doctrines. Else, as has been pointed out, why would baptism be in the Great Commission? And, as Andrew has pointed out, they are essential to what the church does. They are both marks of the true church, when done rightly, as well as one of the means of grace.

    The reason I wrote the post is that very many people in the PCA are making precisely this mistake: because sacraments are not necessary for salvation, therefore they are secondary level doctrines, and we can tolerate a seemingly endless variety of views on them. That is the historical situation in which I write. I am NOT writing against the backdrop of people claiming too much for the sacraments.
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