To begin our conversation on the sacraments, we must first work with a definition of the word. After all, it’s probably not a popular word, in that we don’t use it very often. But, in order to define the word, I want to offer a different template to understand it. What we do expresses some of who we are, or our identity. In a similar fashion, when we attempt to define theological terms, we most often begin in defining the what of the subject.
But, for this definition, I want us to use a different template to define it. More importantly, I want us to begin by understanding who the sacraments are about, then moving to what they are, and finally understanding how they impact our lives for the sake of the world. In my research to define the sacraments, I found a lot of information defining the what of the sacraments, and some information on who they are about. Even more interesting, I discovered and even less information on how this impacts our lives for the sake of the world.
Then I read something by J.B. Torrance, a Scottish Theologian, about worship, theology, and ultimately the sacraments of the Church. He says this, “It is only as we know who God is and what he has done and is doing that we can find appropriate answers to the question of how, and then see the incredible relevance of the gospel to every area of life.”
So, here’s the template we will use repeatedly: who, what, and how.
Who are the sacraments about and for Who’s purpose?
The sacraments are about Christ, and they are for His Church. So, here they are: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Over the next few posts, I’ll tell you more about them. So, for this part, the definition will be short, but it will be sufficient.
The sacraments are about Jesus Christ because they are expressions and channels of His Grace. We can’t limit our understanding of grace simply as an object; we must open our mind and heart to understand grace as subject. Who is the subject? Jesus Christ. Therefore, the sacraments always lead us to fully know Christ because the sacraments are full of His presence among us. Baptism is how Christ saves humanity from sin. The Lord’s Supper is how Christ provides us food for our journey of salvation and is a future sign of what Christ will fulfill: communion with His Church.
The sacraments are always about Christ, and they are always for the Church for the sake of the world. The sacraments begin and end with Christ, while the Church is in the middle of them. They are primarily reminders and signs of Christ’s past, present, and future actions in, through, and for His Church. Ultimately, the sacraments lead us to Jesus, and show us how He acts in and with the Church. So, you could say, the sacraments are “By Christ; For Us.” Stay tuned for part two of this series.