Counting Sacraments

Jordan at The Hackney Hub has written a provocative piece asserting that the notion of seven sacraments is not Anglican. The Hackney Hub is a great blog, exploring many of the same themes of classical Anglicanism that you’ll find here, albeit from a more Reformed perspective. Jordan’s post argues that the Catechism and the Articles point to only two Sacraments and that the language of seven sacraments does not come into vogue among Anglicans until after the rise of the Anglo-Catholic movement in the nineteenth century. While there is a good bit of historical truth to this, I find the whole notion of counting sacraments to be theologically unsatisfying, regardless of whether or not the number we arrive at is two or seven or something entirely different.

Defining the Sacraments

For all of our emphasis on it and wrangling over it, the word Sacrament is not a biblical word. It comes from the Latin, Sacramentum, which was used in the west to translate the Greek mysterion, which was used by the Fathers to describe a variety of actions in the Church. It means something hallowed or set apart, originally referring to the oaths sworn by military officers. In the Christian context, the word sacrament has always been a way of marking the otherness certain actions. The sacraments set us apart from the world, even as they set ordinary items like water, bread, and wine, apart from their usual context.

Over the centuries, the word sacrament has become more and more carefully defined. The Baltimore Catechism, which was used to catechize Roman Catholic children from the late nineteenth century up through the sixties, says that “An outward or visible sign, the institution of that sign by Christ, and the giving of grace through the use of that sign, are always necessary for the existence of a Sacrament, and if any of the three be wanting there can be no Sacrament.” This is not terribly different from the Anglican definition, found in the Catechism, that a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given to us by Christ as a sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” Martin Luther put it more eloquently in his Large Catechism, saying that “the Sacraments and all external things which God ordains and institutes should not be regarded according to the coarse, external mask, as we regard the shell of a nut, but as the Word of God is included therein.” For Luther, it is the uniting of God’s Word with the physical elements that give them power. When the priest speaks the name of God into the water at Baptism, for instance, it binds that powerful name to the one being baptized.

Embracing the Mysteries

All of this is helpful and interesting, to a certain degree. Nonetheless, it misses a certain element of the biblical truth which is captured in the word mysterion or mystery. To this day, the Orthodox Churches refer to the sacraments as the divine mysteries, and we could learn something from that in the west. Mysterion comes from the Greek word to initiate. A divine mystery is less about the setting apart of ordinary things and more about the initiation of God to claim His world and make it holy. Mystery is not easily defined. It contains a secret, something that cannot be comprehended through simple logic. The actions of God are inherently mysterious.

The prime example of the use of the word Mystery in this way in Scripture is found in Ephesians 5:32, at the end of Paul’s description of the union of husband and wife and the way in which marriage is an icon of Christ and the Church. “This mystery is a profound one,” says Paul about marriage, “and I am saying it refers to Christ and the Church.” The mystery of marriage is rooted for Paul in the much greater mystery of the Church. Christ is the one who initiates mysteries, and the Church is His method of doing so. The Church herself is the chief mystery, the chief sacrament. She is the only route to grace and wholeness for the world because it is only when we are united with her that we come to be united with Christ.

Who’s Counting?

If we follow the western model, the need to enumerate sacraments becomes crucial. Sacraments have a certain recipe, a certain form. If they have to be given directly by Christ in the Gospels for the salvation of souls, than perhaps it makes sense to say that there are properly only two sacraments, Baptism and the Eucharist, since every other sacramental action flows back to these two. It would seem to be logical to privilege these two in our teaching as they are generally necessary for all people by the explicit command of our Lord.

Nonetheless, to say that there are only two mysteries would be a profound mistake. The entire action of God in the world through Christ is pregnant with mystery, leading to our final reconciliation with God and our transformation. Christ has initiated any number of means to fill our world with His presence, reclaiming it from the scandal of sin and the tyranny of death. These actions of Christ have their root in the ultimate mystery, the Church herself. Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, Confirmation, Confession and Absolution, and Unction would certainly qualify as divine mysteries, as would many other things, such as the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday or the blessing of homes. These things are not separate rites in which we are taken out of the world and set apart. Rather, they are part of the whole action being taken by Christ through His Church to reclaim the world.

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61 Responses to Counting Sacraments

  1. MichaelA says:

    The church fathers had a number of perspectives on the sacraments. Some of them taught that there were as many sacraments as there were ways that God dealt directly and tangibly with his people, or as many sacraments as there are words.

    I believe it was the medieval theologian Peter Lombard who first taught that there were seven and only seven sacraments (12th century). This was taken up by the Council of Florence in the 15th century.

    As I read the Anglican Articles of Religion, they do not limit the number of sacraments, nor do they deny that such things as marriage or confession can be sacraments; but rather they make the point that only two sacraments were directly ordained by Christ for his church: Baptism and Holy Communion.

  2. Joshua says:

    I think the classical Anglican view is similar to the historic Lutheran view.

    What Is a Sacrament?
    What is a sacrament? If we try to answer that question from the Scriptures, we
    have a problem. For the word “sacrament” is simply not found in the Bible.
    The word “sacrament” was used by the ancient church to describe the most important “holy acts” in the life of a Christian. It was used to describe some special action
    performed in order to nourish the Christian life for its growth to the glory of God.
    How Many Sacraments?
    Just as Christian denominations today disagree on the number of sacraments, so it
    was among Christians in the church over a thousand years ago.
    Some listed only a few sacraments. Others listed over thirty. Finally, the great
    twelfth century theology Peter Lombard tried to convince everybody that there were seven sacraments – no more and no less. Many Christians still agree with him.
    Lutherans have always taught that the numbering of the sacraments is unimportant. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession states: “We do not think it makes much
    difference if, for purposes of teaching, the enumeration varies, provided what is handed
    down in Scripture is preserved” (XIII, 2).
    What then is important? It is important to preserve these rites and ceremonies
    which Scripture tells us Christ instituted, and which proclaim and seal God’s mercy and
    grace in the lives of men.
    There are many religious ceremonies and practices described in the Bible (prayer,
    the washing of feet, fasting, etc.), but not all of them proclaim and seal God’s mercy and
    The Church’s “Holy Acts”
    The church has the right to create ceremonies, rites, and customs, to teach, guide,
    and train its members. But is it really wise to call such rites and ceremonies “sacraments” right along with those acts instituted by Christ? Doesn’t such a general use of the
    word tend to place all “holy acts” on the same level?
    The Lutheran Church teaches that we should carefully distinguish between those
    acts instituted by Christ to actually communicate and seal God’s promises, and those acts
    created by the church to teach and remind people of God’s will.

    • Joshua says:

      The Church of the Augsburg Confession recognizes three rites which deserve the
      name “sacrament” because Christ himself gave them to the church to save men. These
      three are: Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution (Apology, XIII, 4).
      Two other rites, ordination and matrimony, could be called sacraments with certain qualifications (Apology, XIII, 12, 14). Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the pastoral
      ministry, and God the Father established marriage; and both estates are involved with the forgiveness of sins and the general communicating of God’s saving grace. Yet, the ceremonies of ordination and matrimony were not instituted directly by Christ, and neither of them directly brings God’s forgiveness. Once again, it is not a sin to call those other things “sacraments,” but Lutherans stress that it is unwise because it might weaken our special appreciation of those most precious gifts given directly by Christ to the church in order for the church to live.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        I appreciate the willingness of some Lutherans to call Absolution a sacrament of the Gospel. I’ve never quite understood why we do not count it as such, given that Christ explicitly institutes it and commands His apostles to carry it out.

      • Joshua says:

        I agree but I think we do a better job than many modern Lutherans who would only subscribe to baptism and holy communion as being sacraments. The reason is because we understand that baptism and holy communion are the most important but we also understand the sacramental nature of Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction. Although the Lutherans historically have a similar view, today most would not subscribe to this. A small number of high church Lutherans might be the exception. 99 percent of Lutherans would know nothing of the official Lutheran view, which I find is more inline with article 25.

        I like the way you point out the Orthodox view. When I talk to Roman Catholics about it they almost always start in on the seven sacraments and I have to remind them that the Orthodox are not exactly in agreement with them.

      • Whit says:

        I would say that confession and absolution, while very much a practice endorsed by the Bible, is not a sacrament because there is no material sign connected with it. The same is true of the “sacraments” of Marriage and Holy Orders. Furthermore, these rites, while Biblical, are not instituted by Christ, but in other parts of the Bible. Marriage is grounded in the Torah, in the creation story, while Holy Orders and Reconciliation, and for that matter Unction, are all grounded in the practice of the Apostles as shown by the Epistles.

      • I think the Orthodox mean sacramentals. RC’s also hold there are many sacramentals in addition to sacraments.

      • Marriage was instituted by Christ as a sacrament or covenant if you read scripture. It is also not possible to have the Eucharist, without Holy Orders, if you share the Catholic view on this issue.

      • MichaelA says:

        “Marriage was instituted by Christ as a sacrament or covenant if you read scripture.” Many Christians read scripture as teaching differently, i.e. that Christ taught that marriage was instituted by God, prior to the fall:

        “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
        “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” [Matt 19:3-6]

        I appreciate that others have a different view. In either view, marriage may be a sacrament.

      • The Bible starts with the marriage of Adam and Eve and ends with the marriage of Christ and the church. If Jesus harkens back ‘to the beginning”, then this would make marriage the primordial sacrament.

      • MichaelA says:

        Only if you define a “sacrament” as something in which those not part of the church may participate. .

      • Those who are not part of the church cannot be part of it’s sacramental life, but this does not change the objective nature of the sacraments themselves.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Marriage is also the only rite that Scripture actually calls a sacrament.

      • MichaelA says:

        Hi Fr J, are you referring to Ephesians 5:32? For some reason the Douai-Rheims version translated the Greek word “mysterion” as “sacrament” in that passage (but nowhere else). All other versions that I can think of (including the RC New Jerusalem Bible) translate it as “mystery”, which makes sense since mysterion has a much wider meaning than sacramentum.

      • In the East, the sacraments are called the sacred mysteries. A sacrament is a visible sign of invisible grace, a sign that points to a bigger spiritual reality.

        All the sacraments in some way point to the eternal son of God.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Yes, but it is translated as “sacramentum” in the Latin, which is how we get the word Sacrament in the first place. Strictly speaking, the Bible never uses the word, which makes me wonder why we would spend so much time arguing over whether one rite or another falls into the category.

      • Fr. Jonathan,

        In the East, they are called sacred mysteries, in the West sacraments. In the Old Testament God makes a covenant with certain people who swear oaths to keep them.

        In the new covenant, God himself becomes human and swears the oath.

  3. Article XXV
    Of the Sacraments.
    Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which He doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in Him.
    There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord.
    Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction, are not to be counted for sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures, but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.
    The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as St. Paul saith.

    Just thought it may be helpful to offer for reading Article 25.

    To my way of thinking, giving a limited definition to “sacraments” is a way of keeping them holy. In the same sense that if we say everyone in our lives is “special,” than no one is REALLY special…if all actions by God are equally mysterious than none of them really are. I think the issue here is really the definition of “sacrament”–and in the Western mind (and heart…), the word over the last 1,000 years has come to mean something different than the etymology of the Greek “mysterion.”

    I have found the sacramental theology, described here–and popular in Anglican circles–very helpful, but I do think that it helps to know the MOST mysterious, MOST set apart actions of God as Baptism and Holy Communion….lest we equate them with say, the blessing of the animals.

    I think the Articles are wise in setting apart “sacraments of the Gospel;” we would be wise too, to recognize those two Sacraments over and above all other sacraments in our sacramental world. .

    • Joshua says:

      I agree with you Ralph. We have actually had Christians try and say that they affirm the real presence because God is omnipresent anyway. I think this goes along with what you said about if everyone is special than no one is special. It totally destroys the real presence. Thanks

      • One of Martin Luther’s arguments for the Real Presence was that “the right hand of the Father is everywhere.” As I understand it, he thought that all the properties of God-the-Son pre-incarnate, including omnipresence, were poured into the man Jesus upon His conception. My mind starts to break pondering such things. I prefer the view Luther had earlier– that Jesus is really present, but we don’t know how. Mysterion is a good word.

    • braish says:

      “being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles”

      This language troubles me from the Articles. How is following the 12 saintly Apostles leading to corruption? What is wrong with the other five sacraments, especially when penance and annointing are referenced in the New Testament?


      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Hi braish,

        That language about “corrupt following of the apostles” isn’t meant to cast aspersion on the apostles but on the way in which the sixteenth century Church had come to misunderstand or misapply the apostles’ teaching. The article is silent about what kind of corruption might exist in any of these five rites, but my guess would be that they had in mind some of the ways in which sacramental confession and confirmation were being practiced. Nevertheless, the article is definitely NOT suggesting that these five sacramental rites are corrupt or bad in and of themselves. All five are upheld and practiced still today in Anglican churches.

  4. BC says:

    Fr. Jonathan, many thanks for this. I think an argument can be made that Anglicanism’s ‘numbering of the sacraments’ – “two only, as generally necessary for salvation” – reflects patristic insights. It takes the Augustinian emphasis on Baptism and Eucharist as the means of life (e.g. Augustine on the water and blood flowing from Christ’s pierced side, respectively representing Baptism and Eucharist). It also, however, recognises the patristic pattern of affirming the sacramentality of other rites. The Book of Homilies exemplifies this when talking about Orders. Because Orders “lacks the promise of remission of sin … neither it, nor any other sacrament else, be such sacraments as baptism and communion are”. That phrase “nor any other sacrament else” is, to say the least, interesting! This, the Homily goes on to say, is the “understanding of the word, the ancient writers have given this name … not meaning thereby to repute them [i.e. other rites] as sacraments, in the same signification that the two forenamed sacraments are”. The Homily concludes by emphasising that the reformed Church of England retained Order, Matrimony, Confirmation, and the Visitation of the Sick (which also, of course, included Confession and Absolution), “yet no man out to take these for sacraments, in such signification and meaning as the sacrament of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are”. Considering that the Homilies are the most Reformed of the Anglican formularies, there is much here to affirm the sacramentality of these rites – “part of the whole action being taken by Christ through His Church to reclaim the world”.

  5. Father Thorpus says:

    Richard Hooker, Ecclesiastical Laws, Book V, chapter 50, section 2.

    “As oft as we mention a Sacrament properly understood (for in the writings of the ancient Fathers all articles which are peculiar to the Christian faith, all duties of religion containing that which sense or natural reason cannot of itself discern, are most commonly named Sacraments,) our restraint of the word to some few principal divine ceremonies importeth in every such ceremony two things, the substance of the ceremony itself which is visible, and besides that somewhat else more secret in reference whereunto we conceive that ceremony to be a Sacrament. For we all admire and honor the holy Sacraments, not respecting so much the service which we do unto God in receiving them, as the dignity of that sacred and secret gift which we thereby receive from God. Seeing that Sacraments therefore consist altogether in relation to some such gift or grace supernatural as only God can bestow, how should any but the Church administer those ceremonies as Sacraments which are not thought to be Sacraments by any but by the Church?”

    Thus Hooker also makes the “mysterion” connection and notes the ambiguity among the Fathers, remarking that the restriction of the word among Anglicans has less to do with reasoning about the nature of the Sacramental essence and more to do with a collective historical discernment through the Western church and the Reformation, a discernment of that “somewhat else more secret” that makes a Sacrament what it is. That determinative “somewhat” is not the external part that we do but the transcendent part we receive from God by faith. This discernment is in the hands of God’s Holy Church and properly remains there. He might accuse the Orthodox of not exercising or not recognizing the proper exercise of this charism of discerning the Sacraments.

    So as I read it, it is best for Anglicans to say there are only two Sacraments, inasmuch as this is the historic discernment of our Church; and next-best and also true would be to say that there are innumerable Sacraments with two primary ones that have been discerned by the Church; but it’s not at all Anglican to say there are seven of the first order, or that the Great Two don’t have priority over the innumerable.

    As an historical note, I think it’s only classically Anglican to say there are seven to the extent that the doctrines of the medieval English Catholic church are themselves classically Anglican; and of course it was this at which the Oxford Movement aimed and which brought back that teaching into popular usage.

    I get skittish when anyone wants to open up the number of Sacraments, or puts forward the (legitimate) idea that they are innumerable, simply because I’ve seen people try to exercise the Church’s charism of sacramental discernment as a personal fiat, and that gets ugly fast. My liturgics prof. in Seminary said her coffee cup was a Sacrament. I know a well-respected Episcopal priest who thinks his cat is a Sacrament. These are not wide-eyed students encountering Sacramental theology for first time: these are Seminary-trained and post-graduate “experts” who have gone astray. It was precisely because of nonsense like this even among those who should know better that the Church began to specify the form, matter, intent, and number of the Sacraments: not because we wanted to imprison God’s grace in arbitrary rule-making, but because of the discernment, following St. Paul, that there are pitfalls and dangers in the valley of Sacramental Theology. Unguided, one may go off the deep end. The Romanists among us should be arguing that the discernment of the number seven does not mean that this is an absolute count, but rather those seven are the safe ones, the ones the Church everywhere is absolutely sure about and can offer with every confidence.

    • MichaelA says:

      Thanks Father T, I found that very helpful

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      I believe I was in that liturgy class with you, Fr. Thorpus. What a strange idea. Your point is well taken, although I think that what I was trying to say was not that the number is innumerable and therefore everything is a sacrament, but that the number is innumerable and therefore the Church may call more than seven things sacraments. The key words there being “the Church” and not any individual.

  6. kiwianglo says:

    It does us well to explore the dictionary definition of the word ‘sacrament’ :
    “(In the Christian Church) a religious ceremony or ritual regarded as imparting divine grace, such as baptism, the Eucharist, and (in the Catholic and many Orthodox Churches) penance and the anointing of the sick” – from Concise Oxford English Dictionary –

    Often in church circles, a couple is considered to be joint Ministers of the Sacrament of Marriage.

    I guess God can determine for God’s-self what are the means of imparting divine grace – what we need to do is be ready for it when it is given.

  7. Stephen Stephen says:

    Boil it all down and the Sacraments are ‘Sacred Moments’.
    Outward signs of an inward Grace.
    They are designed to gather us in, strengthen us, nurture us, protect us, forgive us.
    All come from a loving Father who uses simple elements that we are all familiar with to confirm the Covenant He has made with us through His Son, Jesus.

  8. Cadog says:

    Welcome back Stephen. If you or others — Anglican and non-Anglican alike — have not done so, I encourage you to read and view other of Fr. Jonathan’s informative posts on Anglicanism. They are extremely informative, at least I have found them to be, as a layperson; and he, along with several other regular visitors, are well qualified to contribute these commentaries. Many of the points raised in the prior and (I think) record-breaking thread have been addressed by Fr. Jonathan, especially relating to the “conciliar” foundation, and in turn the “three-legged stool” of scripture, reason, and tradition, upon which Anglican Christian belief is based. This is a great place to learn.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Thank you for the vote of confidence, Cadog. I don’t know that I always succeed, but I try my best to share my own excitement and enthusiasm for the gifts that our tradition has to offer.

  9. If you live in an incarnational world, then the whole world is a sacrament, but the most important ones as found in scripture were made sacraments of the church.

    Seven is a symbol of perfection in biblical numerology, and the fact that there are seven sacraments may symbolize the perfection of God’s grace offered to mankind collectively through the work of Christ on the cross.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Very true. The Incarnation has changed not just one man but all of creation, for in Him all of creation is redeemed. Makes me want to re-read Saint Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation” which I think is one of the simplest, most beautiful volumes of theology ever written.

  10. Good thoughts, as usual, Fr. Jonathan. I especially agree with you regarding the danger of willfully limiting the extent of God’s sacramental activity to two definitive mediums. For me this all goes back to the “scholasticization” of the sacraments at the High Middle Ages. When we started spending more time dissecting the philosophical mechanics of Christ’s presence, having isolated them from their original liturgical context, than we did in their joyful celebration with thanksgiving, we were already headed in the wrong direction. The sacraments only make sense when they’re in their proper habitat of the Church’s liturgy, which is to say, the place where the people of God and the creation in which they dwell join together in praise of God. Once they were kidnapped from that context and became objects of independent analysis that could be quantifiably numbered, we were ripe for vain superstition. Rather than being the icons through which we were able to perceive all of reality in its ultimate coherence in Christ while at the same time being brought into that coherence, the sacraments increasingly were understood as being wholly unlike the rest of creation. On the contrary, there is a true sense in which there really isn’t such a thing as a “sacrament” that is opposed to and distinguished from a “non-sacrament”. All things in creation are at once signs and things signified and are therefore “sacraments”; baptism and the eucharist are merely the ultimate and ordained windows through which we are given the view of what reality is really like — an enchanted cosmos that is yearning for the culmination of its union and participation with the fellowship of the Trinity that is the animation of all things — while at once being united through them with the source of the reality we perceive in them.

  11. Stephen Stephen says:

    Oftentimes when speaking to some of my ‘non-Sacramental’ Christian friends, it doesn’t take long before one of them will comment that they perceive me as stuck in ‘religion’ and not a ‘personal relationship’ with Christ.
    Try as I might, I can’t seem to get them to understand that the Sacraments are not about religion; but about that relationship with Christ they are talking about. A deeply personal and loving relationship with our Lord.

    I have tried to explain to them that Catholics have been going forward ‘to receive Christ’ for more than a thousand years before Baptists began to implore people in an Altar call.
    I’ve even asked them “Why do you call it an Altar Call when you have no Altar”?, and they look at me like I’m talking Chinese.
    Yes, we can have spiritual experiences, but we live in a physical world. It is God and Jesus who go the extra mile (as They always have) to reach out to us in tangible, physical ways that we can
    understand. At least in part.
    It’s always been an amazing thing to me how our Heavenly Father makes it so that we can encounter Him and His Son through simple things such as water, bread, wine and through that personal encounter of hearing ‘you are forgiven’.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      I hear you, Stephen. I find it terribly frustrating when “religion” is used as a word to indicate something negative. Religion is neutral. It is a way of understanding ultimate reality and ordering one’s life accordingly. And I don’t recall the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” ever showing up in Scripture. Nonetheless, if one wants a personal relationship with Jesus, the Sacraments are the best option available.

    • Cadog says:

      Actually, as a former Baptist, what you are saying makes tons of sense. Which is why I am now Anglican. This took a long time. The sacraments and sacramental theology was one of they last things that moved me to investigate Anglicanism … my experience in evangelical Protestant churches — not just Baptist — led me to deeper inquiry as to WHY we as Christians do the things we do, and believe the things we believe. (side comment: the Baptists are still by and large really wonderful and faithful brothers and sisters, who have done much in service to our Lord).

      I sort of stumbled my way into a conciliar understanding of these big “why” questions — through my own study and observance for along time, but then also through the solidly orthodox (little “o”) Episcopal church we found, as well as the Conciliar Anglican.

      As a small example, I fellowshiped for a couple years with some dear and fervent and VERY Christ-like Brethren — a peacemaking denomination that states they are not a “creedal” people. So I looked into the creeds … and found that the Councils did more than just establish the Canon of scripture. This, plus a dose of N.T. Wright and a really crazy and un-biblical approach to communion in the Methodist church we later attended was all that I needed to find my way into Anglicanism (a trip to the UK and some other things along the way helped).

      I am going on too long — but will close to say that the Eucharist — as a sacrament, not just an “ordinance” as Baptists call it — has become so dear to me. The body and blood of our Lord — his very Presence — is an amazing gift and sign of his grace — in a form I can understand, while it remains a mystery — as you say, the simple things of water, bread and wine.

      • MichaelA says:

        Hi Cadog, a minor nit-pick – no ecumenical council “established the canon of scripture”, although a couple of regional councils (e.g. Carthage and Hippo) set out the common understanding to refute heretical attacks.

        But good point on the sacraments. And very glad to have you in Anglicanism!

      • Cadog says:

        If the Canon was not confirmed by the councils … who confirmed it and why therefore should we accept it?

      • MichaelA says:

        Cadog, its an important point, but I don’t want to drag the thread off-topic, particularly because it is a very important issue that Fr Jonathan has raised here. Suffice to say that although none of the ecumenical councils defined the canon of scripture, they clearly had confidence in scripture, therefore so can we.

        It was sad to read of your experience with Methodism. I don’t doubt that it is typical today, but for most of their history the methodists had a very strong reverence for Holy Communion.

      • Cadog says:

        And I did not mean a sweeping dismissal of Methodists .. in fact this is a great local church in many ways, draws lots of people and is true to Scripture … but in an effort to be “relevant”, they subordinated the Lord’s Supper to a poorly-attended mid-week service IN PLACE OF Sunday … and set it up at two self-service stations, without even words of institution. Just a little more than I could stomach … but they are fine people.

      • We United Methodists do not do this anymore–the subordination of the Eucharist in a mid-week service–nor do we tolerate “self-service” stations. Ever since we as Methodists have been in the process of recovering our Wesleyan and Anglican heritage, we have stopped (for the most part) those unfortunate practices. Our statement in our 2004 General Conference has reintroduced many things Anglicans hold dear, which includes the doctrine of Christ’s Real Presence:

        “The divine presence is a living reality and can be experienced by participants; it is not a remembrance of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion only. … United Methodists, along with other Christian traditions, have tried to provide
        clear and faithful interpretations of Christ’s presence in the Holy Meal. Our
        tradition asserts the real, personal, living presence of Jesus Christ. For United
        Methodists, the Lord’s Supper is anchored in the life of the historical Jesus of
        Nazareth, but is not primarily a remembrance or memorial. We do not embrace
        the medieval doctrine of transubstantiation, though we do believe that the
        elements are essential tangible means through which God works. We understand
        the divine presence in temporal and relational terms. In the Holy Meal of the
        church, the past, present, and future of the living Christ come together by the
        power of the Holy Spirit so that we may receive and embody Jesus Christ as
        God’s saving gift for the whole world.” (“This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion” 2004)

        That being said, it is sad that your time in the Methodist Church was marred by a then misunderstanding of our own heritage. Many of my fellow Methodists do tend to read Baptist literature instead of Wesley. As a Methodist pastor, I apologize on behalf of those Methodists who misrepresented Methodism.

      • MichaelA says:

        Hi Hope JDG, that’s great to hear. Lets all pray for each other as we strive to be true to the Lord’s teaching in all ways. :o)

      • Yes, lets!

        Almighty and everlasting God, who alone workest great marvels; Send down upon our Bishops, and Curates, and all Congregations committed to their charge, the healthful Spirit of thy grace; and that they may truly please thee, pour upon them the continual dew of thy blessing; and that it may please thee to rule and govern thy holy Church universal in the right way; that it may please thee to illuminate all Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of thy Word; and that both by their preaching and living they may set it forth, and show it accordingly; Grant this, O Lord, for the honour of our Advocate and Mediator, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      • Cadog says:

        JDG – What a thoughtful response; your post and the prayer you offer in your accompanying post are most encouraging. In many ways, the Methodist church actually helped me a great deal, in that its episcopal form was another step along the path which led me to Anglicanism. I am very grateful for the witness and friendship of my Methodist friends (the UM church is by far the largest representation of Christ’s church in the area where I live).

        Peace and blessings.

  12. Stephen Stephen says:

    BTW, I don’t know how my name was doubled when I signed up.
    If there is a method by which I could change that to just Stephen, I’d like to.

  13. FatherThorpus says:

    “I’ve even asked them “Why do you call it an Altar Call when you have no Altar”?, and they look at me like I’m talking Chinese.”

    HA! Well said, Stephen!

    • MichaelA says:

      Unfortunately many modern baptists and methodists have no idea about their origins, in particular the deep sacramentalism of their forebears.

      • I am one of those Methodists who are aware–AND EMBRACE WARMLY–the deep evangelical sacramentalism of Wesleyan Methodism. But yes, the unfortunate thing is that many of my fellow Methodists are unaware of our sacramentalist heritage, due in part to their preference for reading Baptist literature over Protestant (Anglican, Calvinist, Lutheran and Wesleyan sources).

    • Stephen says:

      Thank you Fr. T.

      I’ve also asked my Baptist and Fundamentalist friends :
      “Do you believe that anything actually happens when you participate in your version of Communion”?
      Usually, I get a reply like : “What do you mean by (anything actually happens)?”

      Then I follow up with : “Well, when you receive Communion, are you spiritually renewed, strengthened, blessed?”
      More often than not, they will say something like : “No, we do it because the Lord said to do it, but it’s just a memorial.”

      I reply : “Well, my definition of an ‘empty ritual’ is doing something which produces nothing. Hey! That’s what you accuse Catholics of doing when we receive Communion, isn’t it ?”

      Another puzzled look and another case of me talking Chinese, I guess.

      • MichaelA says:

        Good response!

      • I do not want to beat the dead horse on Sola Scriptura again, but I think some of you might be interested in this. St. Francis De Sales wrote the reformers a letter when they were fighting each other over doctrine and the sacraments.

      • MichaelA says:

        Ironically, Fr De Sales gives an excellent example of how to argue in an unedifying manner about sacraments! He ends up looking no less argumentative than those he castigates.

        I feel most kinship with those past theologians who recognised the truth set out by Fr. Jonathan above, that neither scripture nor the early church fathers adopted any dogmatic assertion about a set number of sacraments.

      • The concept of a sacrament was insufficiently developed in the ancient Church, and there was dispute about which Christian rituals and practices should be called sacraments. Sometimes the term was used by the Fathers to embrace practices we would deem sacramentals today. Sometimes its use was wider still, so that anything which could have a religious symbolism was called a sacrament.

        Why this multiplicity of definitions? Because agreement hadn’t been reached on what the word sacraments should mean. As a result, many things were called sacraments in the early Church which subsequently were not identified as such.

        But, once it’s been established by the church, the matter is settled.

      • MichaelA says:

        “But, once it’s been established by the church, the matter is settled.” (refering to the number of sacraments)

        According to Roman Catholics, yes, and they are entitled to their opinion. The Anglican view is far more nuanced (even allowing for the different streams within Anglicanism). The same is true of other traditions, such as the Eastern Orthodox.

      • Yes, but the Catholic church has over 23 rites. Eastern Catholics do have different theological distinctions than the West, so I would have to disagree with you here.

        Perhaps you are confusing the distinction between sacraments and sacramentals.

      • MichaelA says:

        Sorry I don’t know what this has t odo with counting sacraments. I was simply alluding to the fact that Eastern Orthodox do not limit the number of sacraments to seven, and neither do Anglicans.

      • Eastern Orthodox do hold that there are seven traditional sacraments.

      • MichaelA says:

        What I wrote was that the “Eastern Orthodox do not limit the number of sacraments to seven”, which is correct. This is different to the RC teaching that there are seven, and only seven, sacraments.

      • There are traditional seven sacraments, but the entire world is a sacrament. Perhaps this article might help you understand.

      • They did not have dogmatic assertions about a number, but they clearly cited which ones were important.

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