What About the “Sacraments”?

By Wayne Jackson

“Do you know the actual history of ‘Seven Sacraments’? Were all of these brought about at the same time?”

The term “sacrament” derives from the Latin sacramentum, the meaning of which is “a thing set apart as holy.” The New Testament never isolates certain acts of obedience from others by designating them as “sacraments.” However, as the early church (late first century and onward) began to drift from the New Testament pattern (cf. 2 Thes. 2:1ff; 1 Tim. 4:1ff; 2 Tim. 4:1ff), certain acts began to be distinguished from others as conveying a special sort of “grace.” These practices originally had a biblically-based background, but such gradually became perverted by misguided and/or unscrupulous teachers.

By medieval times (from about A.D. 500 to 1500), the Roman Church (deeply steeped in considerable error by this time) had isolated what its “clergy” called the “sacraments.” It was not until the 16th century that they were cataloged as seven. These were: Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, the Eucharist, Sacred Orders, Holy Matrimony, and Extreme Unction.

The Augustinian cleric, Hugo of St. Victor (1096-1141) characterized the “sacraments” as “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace.” Some Protestants, while rejecting five of the so-called “sacraments,” nonetheless adorned both “baptism” and the “Lord’s supper” with the “sacramental” mantle. This paved the way for the false notion that these rites, in and of themselves, bestowed “grace”—quite apart of from a faith-motivated, personal submission to the will of God (as in the case of infant baptism).

This is not the place for an extended discussion of the history and nature of the “sacraments,” as the designation is recognized by the Roman Church. Nevertheless, the following brief comments may be helpful.

Baptism

Baptism is not a magical rite (administered by the sprinkling or pouring of water upon the candidate’s head) that bestows the grace of pardon (or the removal of “original sin”), as alleged in Roman theology.

Rather, baptism is exclusively the burial in water, and resurrection therefrom, of a penitent believer. It thus involves a person who has arrived at a responsible level of faith in God and his Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. 11:6; Jn. 8:24), and who is willing to openly confess the same in a public fashion (Rom. 10:9-10). That personal faith leads one to resolve to turn from sin in repentance, as much as is humanly possible (Lk. 13:3,5; Acts 17:31).

These preliminaries result in the sincere person seeking forgiveness from sin, on the basis of the shed blood of Jesus of Nazareth, in yielding to the sacred command to be baptized for the remission of one’s sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16).

Baptism is not an “outward” sign" of “an inward grace” received already. It is an outward act of obedience leading to pardon, and the obtaining of a clear conscience before God (1 Pet. 3:21).

Confirmation

Confirmation is a ritual that was bequeathed “sacramental” status in the twelfth century A.D. (by Peter Lombard). It is administered by a “Bishop” (or sometimes delegated to a “priest.”) In Roman circles it generally is bestowed at about the age of seven to twelve (somewhere in proximity to the child’s first communion).

In Lutheran practice, though not characterized as a “sacrament,” a similar rite is given to youngsters (in their early teens) who choose to “confirm” in their hearts the baptism their parents had performed upon them as infants. These rituals are without New Testament authority.

Penance

Penance derives from the Latin poena (“penalty”). It refers to “disciplinary procedures” imposed by the apostate Church. Penance was codified as a “sacrament” by the Counil of Trent (A.D. 1545-63; Sess. xiv, 3). It involves the “confession” of one’s sins to a priest, “absolution,” i.e., forgiveness extended by the cleric, and “satisfaction”—submission to temporal penalty (e.g., a monetary fine or assigned works) exacted in order to effect reconciliation between the offender and the Church. The practice is of human origin and is an affront to the principles of the Christian faith in several particulars.

Holy Eucharist

Holy Eucharist is the expression used in the Roman Catholic environment for what is more commonly referred to as the “Lord’s supper.” “Eucharist” derives from a Greek term which signifies “thankful,” or “to give thanks” (cf. eucharisteo, “gave thanks” – Mt. 26:27). The doctrine of the Eucharist involves the idea of transubstantiation, i.e., the notion that when the priest pronounces sacred words, “this is my body/blood,” the bread and the fruit of the vine are transformed into the literal body and blood of the Savior.

This concept became an article of faith at the Council of Trent in 1551. The “lay” member eats only the bread (wafer), but supposedly he receives both elements (flesh and blood) within the bread. This is called “communion under one kind.” During the Eucharist ceremony, Christ is “sacrificed” again for sin (hence, the “sacrifice of the mass,” and, according to the dictum handed down by the Council of Trent, this sacrifice is “identical” with type of sacrifice that Jesus suffered on the cross. These ideas are contradictory to the plain teaching of the New Testament.

“Transubstantiation” fails to appreciate the symbolic nature of the Lord’s supper (a memorial, not an actual physical presence). “Communion under one kind” specifically ignores the Savior’s instruction that “all” are to drink (see Mt. 26:27 ESV), and the theory of multiple messianic “sacrifices” stands in opposition to the explicit testimony of Scripture that Christ was offered but once (see Heb. 9:28).

Holy Orders

Holy Orders has reference to the special appointment of certain officers in the Church. In Romanism it has to do with the ordination of offices, e.g., bishops/priests, deacons, and sub-deacons. By means of special ceremonies, those being ordained receive a sacred “unction” (anointing), which transfers to them an essence of such an exalted “spiritual” nature, that such can never be forfeited. No personal sin can ever make the ordained person unfit to function in this capacity. This mysticism has no parallel in the literature of the New Testament. The hierarchy system of the Roman church was patterned after the governmental structure of pagan Rome.

Holy Matrimony

Holy Matrimony of course, refers to the institution of marriage. The Roman Catholic Church contends that marriage is a “church” institution, and since they believe that the Catholic church is the true, universal church of Christ, the Roman Church claims marital jurisdiction over all who have been “baptized” in that communion. [Note: Some months ago, Bill O’Reilly, of Fox news fame, himself a Roman Catholic, made the ludicrous claim that the Roman Catholic Church “invented” marriage. That is what might be dubbed, “spin” theology!]

Marriage between Catholics is considered a “sacrament” (Council of Trent, Sess. xxix, can. 2). Marriage between two non-Catholics is but a mere “contract.” Contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ (Mt. 5:32; 19:9), the Catholic Church permits no valid cause for divorce.

However, with influence in the right places, and especially if one has sufficient financial resources, an “annulment” (i.e., a declaration that one’s original marriage never was valid) can be effected on almost any basis, and Catholics may remarry following the annulment. Modern clergymen are as adept as were the ancient Pharisees at manipulating divine law for a desired result!

Extreme Unction

Extreme Unction in the Roman Catholic system is a part of the “last rites” administered to those who are dying. It involves the application of consecrated oil, by a properly ordained priest, to the eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, hands, and feet of the failing victim. It is alleged to be valid in granting pardon from sin. It is claimed to be grounded in Scripture (Mk. 6:13; Jas. 5:14-15), though these passages have nothing to do with preparation for death. The doctrine of was defined at the Council of Trent.

Conclusion

It should be noted in conclusion that, over the many centuries of its digressive development, the Roman Church has had a fluctuating recognition as to what constitutes a genuine “sacrament.” The number of sacraments has varied from five to twelve. It was not until the session of Trent in 1549 that the number “seven” became fixed as an article of faith.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.