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Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by Psalm 95, Aug 26, 2009.
Can anyone explain Baptist Sacramentalism. Seems like the British talks about it.
Hello Psalm 95,
I've studied this topic some during the last year. It is not a monolithic movement by any means, but I can give a brief sketch that accounts for the position of most theologians that identify themselves with it.
Baptist sacramentalists believe that baptism, the Lord's Supper, and other things such as the Holy Scriptures are means of grace or media that transmit the grace of God to bodily creatures. This entails an understanding of spirit and matter that does not place a wedge in between them. It also entails an understanding of grace that is broad, encompassing more than just saving grace that comes through faith in the gospel. It also entails an understanding of the efficacy of the sacraments to come from God's promises to meet people in the sacraments when they are performed as expressions of their faith in God's promises.
Despite these claims, some Baptists paint sacramentalism as too catholic, unbiblical, akin to baptismal regeneration, and unbaptist among other things. Advocates have responded to these charges, however, in ways that seem reasonable to me.
You are right that this view is more pronounced across the Atlantic in Great Britain, but there are more and more North American Baptists who identify with it nowdays. I would include myself among them.
I hope this helps,
Grace was extended to me as a means to salvation through faith and not the taking of the Lord's Supper, Baptism, etc. To view the Lord's Supper sacrimentally is to make more of it than is there.
Well...I'll be meditating on that well put reflection and expression the rest of the day in regards to how it also it applies to my understandings. Well said!
Thank you for the explanation. Now when I got your explanation I realise that this also is discused in Sweden. Is there anything I could read to be more informed on this topic.
Hello Again Psalm 95,
There are many books out there on the subject if you're interested. I recommend four volumes that stand out in my opinion. Here they are in no certain order:
Anthony Cross, Baptism and the Baptists
Stanley Fowler, More Than a Symbol
Anthony Cross and Philip E. Thompson, eds. Baptist Sacramentalism
Anthony Cross and Philip E. Thompson, eds. Baptist Sacramentalism 2
Paternoster press has published all of these, the latter three are in their series on Baptist History and Thought.
Thanks for advice
I tend to agree. But, I also not that some respected european baptist theologians seems to favor a sacramental view. I really want to understand why.
I also note that Swedens strong lutheran heritage seems to slip in among baptists. When the baptist faith came to sweden, some pastors where trained in America, but some where trained in lutheran seminaries in Sweden, and it seems that some of them kept some of the lutheran theology. Also new believers sometimes seems to take some theology from former life in the lutheran state church.
So to understand my fellows in the pew, it could be good to try to understand baptist sacramentalism, what is reasonable and what is clearly against the Bible.
It is clearly wrong to think that baptism is salvic. But could it be argued that something happens in baptism? I know people that think that something happens.
The teachings of Rome on the Lords Supper are clearly in error. But what about the Lutheran and Calvinist views? At least Calvins understanding of the Lords Supper is at least at some level reasonable.
What I want is to learn is what is within christian orthodoxy, even if it is not within the Baptist theology.
This statement above, "It also entails an understanding of grace that is broad, encompassing more than just saving grace that comes through faith in the gospel" precludes an understanding of the sacraments that makes any of them, including baptism and the Lord's Supper salvific. That is not the understanding of any Baptist sacramentalist I've read. I suppose I could have been clearer by saying "saving grace that only comes through faith in the gospel." The broadening is that one can speak of grace in contexts other than coming to salvation, while many Baptists operate with a restricted view of grace that is just linked with coming to salvation.
I started to come to the position after reading Scripture and realizing that that it teaches there are more to the sacraments than I had been taught growing up. I came to find that Baptists had been following this trajectory for decades and historical Baptists from centuries ago also shared this view. Of course, there are Baptists who have and do reject it too.
There are some helpful articles in the Baptist Sacramentalism volume on the Lord's Supper, Michael Bird has an essay on it in Baptist Sacramentalism 2. I would also recommend John Colwell's Promise and Presence that gives a rather fair construal of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed views of the Lord's Supper with a keen eye to Scripture, especially passages that Baptists often overlook such as 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.
Again, I hope you have a good study with this.
To view the sacramental aspect of baptism, Lord's supper, preaching the Word, etc. one must also understand a couple of things.
1. Not all grace is 'salvation' grace. There is such a thing as "strengthening" grace. I belive these aspects of worship strengthen God's people in their faith, and that is purely of the grace of God.
2. God's grace is sovereign, but it works through means. i.e. it comes to us through God-ordained methods and 'channels'.
Here is where so many Arminians do not understand the Reformed view of sovereign and electing grace. Calvinism teaches that the same God who sovereignly elects / and saves His elect, has also ordained the means by which it will take place. The preaching of the Word being specifically applied to the heart of a hearer.
We do not deny the means, when we believe the sovereignty.
So it is in the walk of faith. God does not just "strengthen us" independently of our obedience to Him. We must read (and hear) the word, obey Him in baptism, regularly partake (obedience again) of the Lord's Supper, etc. As we do these things more and more grace is imparted to us in a strengthening of our faith in Christ.
Calvin's and Luther's views on Communion were very, very different. Calvin was aligned with the position that Ulrich Zwingli took in his disagreement with Luther. It was this controversy that brought about a split in the Reformation.
So we obtain more grace the more we are obedient? How does this gibe with Romans 5:20 and grace abounding more where sin is prevalent.
It seems to me that I am much more in need of God's grace when I, as a believer, sin.
I worry when we equate receiving grace with our works. And doesn't reading the word strengthen our faith and not give us more grace (Romans 10:17)?
Let's bracket talk of sacraments, works, etc. for a moment and let me ask what you think God is doing when his people are faithfully baptized, partake of the Lord's Supper, hear the Word preached, etc.?
If your answer is strengthening faith, then does that strengthening come from God, and if so, then would not any media God promises/ordains to use to strengthen faith be his gift to us or grace?
In light of this and what I wrote above about the view, calling the sacraments our "works" misses the point.
If your answer is not the strengthening of faith, then just let me know what you think God is doing in these acts he has ordained his people to do. In other words, why has he ordained these acts?
The gospel has two aspects to it.
1. There are promises to be believed (faith).
2. There are commands to be obeyed. (obedience)
For example: Acts 5:32. God gives the Holy Spirit to them that obey Him.
It is not a case of faith or obedience, but a faith seen by its obedience. Both are needed. Where too many in Baptist churches have gone wrong in their contemporary approach to the Gospel of Grace, is they have ignored that God also requires obedience from His people as well.
In their abhorrence of a gospel of works, too many have mistaken 'obedience' for 'works' and thrown out an integral part of the gospel.
This obedience is so important that Jesus says it is the sign by which we are known whether we love Him or not.
"He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." (John 14:21).
That means that when you "don't sin" (see 1 John about that concept), you don't need God's grace? The problem is we are never without a total need of the grace of God. Thus we need "strengthening grace" in order to walk with and witness for the Lord.
I am certainly not disputing the importance of obedience. What I am disputing is that grace comes thru obedience, which you still didn't answer.
Again, I understand we all need grace. That is not in dispute. And that God's grace in forgiveness teaches us that we ought not to sin. That is also not in dispute. You are absolutely correct that we need strengthening grace. That is also not in dispute.
I am saying that grace doesn't come by obedience. It comes to provide God's power so that we can obey.
In the Lord's Supper, I see that he is looking to have fellowship with us. That is why Jesus said "I have really desired to eat this with you." In the other areas, I would call it simple obedience, which again is an issue of fellowship with God
One of the problems I see in how you address this is that the impression to me is that by listening to the Word preached, by joining together with other believers, I receive God's grace. They are certainly God's gift to us. But your wording seems to say that they are imparters of his grace. It sounds very much like Catholic theology, especially when you use words such as sacrament.
The miracles of Jesus were often sacramental in nature, i.e., He used material things as a vehicle for imparting His grace. For example:
Feeding the 5,000. Rather than creating food out of thin air, He took a boy's loaves and fish and multiplied them.
Turning water into wine. Jesus could have simply caused the wine to appear in the washing jars, but instead He used water as the vehicle of His miracle.
Healing the deaf mute. Jesus put His fingers in the mute's ears and spit on his tongue, although He could have merely commanded the man to hear and speak.
Healing the blind man at Bethsaida. Jesus spit on the man's eyes.
Healing the man born blind. Here Jesus spit on the ground and then applied the mud to the man's eyes.
Demons into a herd of swine. Jesus might have simply cast out the demons to drift into oblivion, but instead he sent them into the herd of swine as a visible sign of His miracle.
Many other times, Jesus would lay hands on the person He was healing whereas He could have merely spoken, or even thought, the healing to take place.
I've been lurking.
I've noticed that several of us are operating with differing views of what a sacrament is. Some have adopted the Catholic view that sacraments are "means of grace." But, some don't want to call it salvific grace, but other kinds of grace.
One poster described baptism and the Lord's Supper as designed to strengthen our faith.
Whatever. When one describes them as sacraments, they are implying "do this and you'll get grace." I thought we Baptists were solidly united in the view that God's grace is unilaterally and sovereignly given, despite our lack of merit.
I believe the ordinances are significant, but we ought not to assign more significance, particularly some mystical aspect, than is warranted.
Do really have to retrace the traditional Baptist views of the ordinances? Is there really a need to explain why we call them ordinances and not sacraments?
Tom, I'm tracking with what you're saying. God's grace if freely given and God's grace is received by faith, and by faith alone. We don't do anything, or eat anything, or drink anything, or manipulate any object to "get grace".