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How do Christians understand the functions of sacraments?

To understand how Christians develop their understanding of the functions of Sacraments, this essay will first look at the definition for Sacraments, different Christians’ understanding of what they comprise, and then progress to examine how Christians throughout history understand their significance with regards to Christ.

Augustine explained that “Signs are called sacramentswhen they have reference to divine things”[1], which Kelly expanded by stating that the Churchs sacraments are those external rites, more precisely signs, which Christians believe convey, by Christs appointment, an unseen sanctifying grace[2]. Augustine stressed that The sacrament itselfis one thing, and the power (virtus) of the sacrament another.[3] Their numbers has been reckoned differently at different times, partly due to the vagueness which still attached to the term sacramentum. In 1562, the Anglican Articles of Religion define 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.[4]

To Schanz, (the early apostolic church saw) the gospel actualised, and demanded a faith response from hearers in the sacrament[5]. From scriptures, we can find evidence of baptism as the rite of initiation into the early Christian community and forgiveness of sins from Acts 2:38, 8:12-13, 10:47-48, 16:15,31-33 following Jesus command for his disciples to do so in the Great Commission (Mt 28:19). Equally, we can see that following Jesus institution (Mk 14:12-25, cf Mt 26:17-30, Lk 22:7-23, 1Co 11:23-25), the Lords Supper were also shared in the early churches, as one can see from Act 2:42, 1Co 11:17-22, though the generalised concept of sacrament was not yet fully developed then.

In the 12th century, Western theology narrowed the meaning by regarding institution by Christ as an essential characteristic [6]. Today, most Christians agreed sacraments to comprise of Baptism and Holy Communion, which is also known as Eucharist or Mass. Roman Catholics and some high Anglicans also consider Confirmation, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders and Matrimony as sacraments. This essay will mainly look at the sacrament of Baptism and the Holy Communion as examples of how different Christians throughout history understand the functions of sacraments.

The gospels stressed that unlike the baptism of John for repentance of sins (Lk 3:3), the baptism Jesus instituted is a baptism with the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11, cf Mk 1:9-11, Lk 3:16, Jn 1:33), the same Holy Spirit promised by Jesus before he went on the Cross (Jn 14:15-27) , Baptism is not a simple washing away of sin, but a melting down and remoulding; thus Chrysostom emphasizes the genuine re-creation involved- the cross, the death and resurrection- is more than symbolic[7], reflecting what Peter wrote, this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also- not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience towards God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1Pe 3:21). From Jn 3:1-15, the theology behind Jesus baptism is expounded as a symbolising a new birth as a precondition to entering the kingdom of God. As Neville Clark explained, only at this point [at the cross when one of the soldiers pierced Jesus side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water (Jn 19:34)] does Christian baptism become possible. The death of Christ marks the institution of the sacrament[8] As the apostle Paul wrote, Christians were baptised into his death (Ro 6:3) and our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin (Ro 6:6). However, throughout the ages, Christians do no merely see baptism as signifying uniting with Christ in death, but also, as Paul wrote again in order that just as Christ was raised from dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live as new life (Ro 6:4, cf Ro 8:11). Throughout history, Christians of all background see baptism as a rite of commitment to Christ and initiation into the Christian body and community. In expounding 1Pe3:21, Peter Davids explained the salvific aspect of baptism arises from the pledge of oneself to God as a response to questions formally asked at baptism.[9] However, scriptural evidence suggests that very early Christians response to accept baptism in response to hearing the gospel were quite immediate, as one can see from the account of the Pentecost (Ac 2:41). The most striking account is when Pauls jailers then immediately he and all his family were baptised (Ac 16:33), but the same immediate response to get baptised were repeated in Ac 8:12-13, 8:37, 10:47-48, 16:13-15, 16:8). As the church developed, candidates for baptism were expected to go through a period of teaching or catechism prior to receiving baptism.

As this essay have introduced earlier, like baptism, there were scriptural evidence that the Lords Supper were shared right from the early churches. Although most Christians could generally agree that at the Eucharist a sharing community is celebrated, in accordance with Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread (1Co 10:17), Roman Catholics and reformists have different understanding of this Sacrament. The official Roman Catholics Eucharistic doctrine stem from transubstantiation, which was fixed as a dogma at the Lateran Council of 1215, as the body and blood of Christ are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine, the bread being transubstantiated into the body and the wine into the blood by divine power.[10] and was formally defined at the Council of Trent in 1551, as where the change of the substance of the bread and wine into the substance of the body and blood of Christ, leaving the accidents (i.e. the appearances of the bread and wine) intact, so that the faithful do not literally touch Christ’s body. The elevation and adoration of the host were practised in the Latin Church as early as the twelfth century[11]

On the other hand, most Protestants do not believe that a change in substance takes place. According to the Anglican Communions Thirty-nine articles of Religion, Transubstantiation…in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions….The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried[12] As Richard Bewes, the former evangelical Anglican Rector of All Souls Langham Place, London put it These outward emblems should never be confused with what they symbolise– the body and blood of Jesus Christ. To Bewes, these symbolise taking advantage of his sacrificial death for us.[13]. Way back in the 11th Century, Peter the Venerable from the Roman Catholic Monastery of Cluny, France “(renounced) the doctrine of transubstantiation on the round that Christ gave up his body on the night of the betrayal once for all[14]. Similarly, when Chrysostom faced the paradox that there is one Christ who died once for all, and yet countless and repeated celebrations of the Eucharist (where he once held that the Eucharistic bread and wine actually constitute the body and blood of Christ slain on the altarChrysostom (resorted to explain that at the Eucharist we celebrate a memorial of a sacrifice[15] Duns declared that the doctrine of transubstantiation cannot be proved with certainty from the Scriptures[16],

During the reformation, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin agree, negatively, in opposition to the dogma of transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the mass, and the withdrawal of the cup from the laity; positively, in these essential points: the divine institution and perpetuity of the Lords Supper, the spiritual presence of Christ.[17]

Lutherans believe that Jesus body and blood co-existed with the bread and wine by the power of the Word of God as believers assurance of forgiveness of sins. Zwinglian however, believe that only Christs spirit is present, whilst Calvins view is somewhere in between Luther and Zwingly regarding the corporal presence.

The differences in Roman Catholics and Protestants understandings of salvation account for their different understanding on the Eucharist. To Catholics, “the doctrine of the eucharist in the universal Church, ‘outside of which there is no possibility of salvation.'”[18]. In the Catholic system justification (dikaivwsi”) is a gradual process conditioned by faith and good works; in the Protestant system it is a single act of God, followed by sanctification. It is based upon the merits of Christ, conditioned by faith, and manifested by good works.[19]

To Roman Catholics, the Church (is) the sacrament of salvation for the world (appearing) in all the important textsLumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 1 and 48)Decree on the Churchs Missionary ActivityConstitution on the Sacred Liturgy..[20] and that Sacraments actually cause something to happen. This efficacy must be tied in with the continuation of Christs ministry in his community of faith, the Church[21] Regarding this efficacy, during the Donatist Controversy in 2nd century AD, Donatists developed Ex opere operantis, in that Priests who have apostatised cannot validly celebrate their sacraments, whilst Augustine held the view of Ex opere operanto, that those priests can on the basis that the validity depends on grace of Christ. Right up to 1947s Pius XII encyclical, the Roman Catholics still held the view of ex opere operato whilst stressing Mediator Dei (Christs presence in the sacraments) once more.

Although ex opere operato is reflected in Anglicans Article XXVI of Religion, efficacy of sacraments are not generally thought about amongst protestants today. Instead, it is justification by faith that matters to most protestants.

By the aid of Staupitz and the old monk, but especially by the continued study of Pauls Epistles, (Luther) was gradually brought to the conviction that the sinner is justified by faith alone, without works of lawFor faith in Luthers system is far more than a mere assent of the mind to the authority of the church: it is a hearty trust and full surrender of the whole man to Christ; it lives and moves in Christ as its element, and is constantly obeying his will and following his example.[22] Similar, for Anglicans, Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine[23] This, however, has been condemned by the Council of Trent, by Roman Catholics.

Most protestant denominations have similar rites or practices to what the Roman Catholics count as sacraments. For instance, most protestant pastors would go through an ordination ceremony, and marriages are celebrated and can be held in most protestant churches, whilst most Protestants believe in the importance of confessions in prayers. Whilst, for the Anglicans, 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.[24]

The stress for most Protestants, unlike the Roman Catholics, who have developed an understanding that all (seven) sacraments are linked with the Church as the sacrament of salvation for the world, is that access to God can be directly obtained through Christ (without the church), by faith alone. Whilst most Christians agree on Baptism as the rite of initiation, and that Christs death & resurrection are remembered and His return are reminded of at the Holy Communion, most Protestants today deny Christs corporal presence in any form.


Book of Common Prayer 1662, John Baskerville, 1762

Bgueric, Philippe, et al How to Understand the Sacraments, SCM Press, 1991

Bewes, Richard The Top 100 Questions, Christian Focus Publications Ltd,


John Bowker The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions.

Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Assessed at Birkbeck College. 10 March 2008


Browning, W R F A Dictionary of the Bible, Oxford University Press, 1997.

Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Assessed at Birkbeck College. 10 March 2008


Clark, Neville An Approach to the Theology of the Sacraments,

SCM Press, 1958

Davids, Peter H The First Epistle of PETER, Eerdmans, 1990

Kelly, J N D Early Christian Doctrines, 5th Edition, A & C Black, 1977

E. A. Livingstone The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.

Oxford University Press, 2006.

Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.

Accessed at Birkbeck College 29 February 2008


Schaff, Philip History of the Christian Church, Volume VI: The Middle

Ages. A.D. 1294-1517, Grand Rapids, 1882

Schaff, Philip History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern

Christianity. The German Reformation, Grand Rapids, 1882

Schanz, Paul Introduction to the Sacraments, New York: Pueblo

Publishing Co, 1983

Young, Frances M. From Nicaea to Chalcedon, SCM Press, 1988

[1] J N D Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 5th Edition, A & C Black, 1977, p423

[2] J N D Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 5th Edition, A & C Black, 1977, p193

[3] J N D Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 5th Edition, A & C Black, 1977, p422

[4] Article XXV of Religion, Book of Common Prayer 1662, John Baskerville, 1762

[5] Paul Schanz, Introduction to the Sacraments, New York: Pueblo Publishing Co, 1983, p42

[6] “sacrament” The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Ed. E. A. Livingstone. Oxford University Press, 2006. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Birkbeck College. 29 February 2008 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.htmlsubview=Main&entry=t95.e5068>

[7] Frances M. Young, From Nicaea to Chalcedon, SCM Press, 1988, P153

[8] Neville Clark, An Approach to the Theology of the Sacraments, SCM Press, 1958, p28

[9] Peter H Davids, The First Epistle of PETER, Eerdmans, 1990, p145

[10] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume VI: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1294-1517, Grand Rapids, 1882, p481

[11] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume VI: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1294-1517, Grand Rapids, 1882, p487

[12] Article XXXVII of Religion, Book of Common Prayer 1662, John Baskerville, 1762

[13] Richard Bewes, The Top 100 Questions, Christian Focus Publications Ltd, 2002, p86-87

[14] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume VI: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1294-1517, Grand Rapids, p324

[15] Frances M. Young, From Nicaea to Chalcedon, SCM Press, 1988, P153-154

[16] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume VI: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1294-1517, Grand Rapids, 1882, p464

[17] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation, Grand Rapids, 1882

[18] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume VI: The Middle Ages. A.D1294-1517, Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2002, p118

[19] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation, Grand Rapids, 1882, p86

[20] Philippe Bgueric, Claude Duchesneau (eds), How to Understand the Sacraments, SCM Press, 1991, p96

[21] Paul Schanz, Introduction to the Sacraments, New York: Pueblo Publishing Co, 1983, P52

[22] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation, Grand Rapids, 1882, p85

[23] Article XI of Religion, Book of Common Prayer 1662, John Baskerville, 1762

[24] Article XXV of Religion, Book of Common Prayer 1662, John Baskerville, 1762

Reflecting on a small fire at work

I have been working at the IT department of an investment bank for about three years.? At approximately 3pm on 25th February 2008, the an evacuation warning is sounded at the office’s tannoy system, asking us to await further instructions.? Within two minutes, an announcement is heard on the tannoy instructing that my floor will undergo evacuation.

As the bank’s evacuation marshal volunteer, I put on my fluorescent vest on hearing the message and proceed to evacuate staff on my floor together with other marshals.? Actually, I knew it must be some sort of real fire (as evacuation marshals are usually told of evacuation drills in advance).? Within a few minutes, I heard about a fire escape being blocked.? This had happened before when certain fire escapes become bottle-necked, and I simply followed established procedures to direct staff to other fire escapes.? However, within a few minutes, although my nose is blocked, I could smell a strange smell and immediately I could hear a hastily spoken voice “This is a full building evacuation”.? My immediate response is “O dear!”, as I remember how the fire protection system has been boasted during our evacuation training and that evacuating the whole building is very rare indeed.? Perhaps we all knew it was a real fire, all of us evacuation marshals took extra precaution to ensure all staff on our floor are safely evacuated.

During the evacuation, I see different group of staff wandering out into one escape and back from another ones (some of the escapes were in fact filled with heavy smoke).? On the other hand, I also saw a trader support staff who refused to finish his phone call and leave despite being warned that it was a real fire.

In about two hours’ time, we were allowed back in the office, though local management allowed us home early as the floor is still filled with fume.

  • From this small fire, I have the following reflections:
    I remembered a few weeks ago, my church fellowship watched the movie Flood, which had been show on the BBC before.? At that time, I thought that when it come to the end of the ages, I would proclaim the good news of salvation through Jesus.? Though this is merely a small fire that was put out in 40 inutes with no casualties, but when I saw that a fellow Christian is also an evacuation marshal, I merely concentrated on the evacuation at hand, and sadly, neither thought about God nor prayed.
  • I remembered a few weeks back, I heard a lunch time talk from a CEO of our bank, preaching on And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel?s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:34-36)

Related Links:
The movie Flood (2007)- mentioned above
The talk by one of my company’s CEO mentioned above
A related talk: How good is good enough for God? buy adipex
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How do you account for the conversion of Paul? Is the heart of his teaching to be found in this experience?

This essay would look at the background of Paul prior to his conversion and his conversion experience. By examining Paul’s epistles and the book of Acts, this essay seek to identify the impact his conversion has to his teaching, including changes to his view on Jesus, the Law with regards to food, circumcision, gentiles and salvation.

An essay on the Kingdom of God

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

Read this essay I wrote, entitled Give an outline of the teaching of Jesus on the kingdom of God Is there one essential idea in this teaching?