Seven Sacraments and the Westminster Confession of FaithJun 10th, 2011 | By Taylor Marshall | Category: Blog Posts
In Chapter XXVII of the Westminster Confession, we read the following:
IV. There are only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained.
This statement contradicts the Catholic Faith in two ways:
First, there are not two sacraments “ordained by Christ” but seven sacraments and this can be proved by the Sacred Scriptures alone.
Secondly, it is ancient tradition that the sacrament of baptism can be dispensed by laymen (in the case of the danger of death) and not solely by “a minister of the Word lawfully ordained.”
Let’s look at the first error. Did Christ ordain two or seven sacraments? It is a clear fact that Christ instituted seven sacraments of the New Covenant. This has been confirmed again and again in Councils, both Eastern and Western.
As we learn from St Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews, the New Covenant is based on the oath of God. In Hebrew, to swear an oath is, literally, “to seven oneself or bind onself by seven things.” Look up שָׁבַע in your Hebrew lexicon for details. So then, we should expect that the New and Everlasting Covenant should be sevenfold and ratified by seven covenantal indicators: the sacraments.
This is why Sacred Scripture details the institution of exactly seven sacraments:
1. Baptism – Mt 28:19
2. Confirmation – John 16:7, John 7:39, Luke 3:22, Acts 8:14-17; Heb 6:2
3. Eucharist – Mt 26:26-29, Jn 6
4. Penance – John 20:21-23
5. Extreme Unction – Mk 6:13, James 5:14-15
6. Holy Orders – Mt 26:26-29, Acts 6:3-6; 1 Tim. 3:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-9; 1 Tim. 4:14-16; 1 Tim. 5:17-19-22
7. Matrimony – Jn, 2, Mt 19:10-11; Eph 5:31-32
This is the true faith of the Apostles, Fathers, and Doctors of the Holy Catholic Church. Plus, it is plain that more sacraments than two are needed. If baptism washes away sins, then how are post-baptismal sins absolved? Obviously, this requires the sacrament of Penance (which, by the way, St Augustine taught). Moreover, if salvation depends on the persevering to the hour of death (and not “once saved always saved” or something similar), then there needs to be a sacrament appointed for that last hour – Extreme Unction. Moreover, if matrimony is to be governed by the Church and not the State (a terrible heresy of Luther which has led to the state recognized “gay marriage” debate), then matrimony must be a sacrament. So on and so forth. The Protestant claim of “two sacraments” fails biblically and practically.
Second, is it the case that baptism can only be administered by “a minister of the Word lawfully ordained” as the WCF claims? No, the Catholic Church has always held that baptism can be administered by anyone.
Sacramental baptism is the means by which Christ regenerates the soul, washes away original sin, and incorporates a person into His mystical Body. It infallibly confers grace. Christ said that unless a person be baptized, he cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven (cf. Jn 3:3-5). And since God “wills all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4), it was fitting that this sacrament might be administered by anyone and with an element that is universally available – water. Whereever there are humans, there is water. The universal desire for humanity’s salvation can be discerned by God’s generosity in this regard.
Since baptism is necessary for salvation, Pope Gelasius I (pope from AD 492 till 496) decreed that the baptisms of laymen and laywomen were valid and accepted by Christians everywhere. Sacred Tradition even records that the Ethiopian Eunuch, baptized by St Philip in Acts 8, brought back the saving sacrament of baptism to Ethiopia.
In conclusion, the sacramental theology of the WCF fails to appreciate what Christians had believed long before the 17th century – namely that Christ’s sacramental economy is more generous and full than Protestants claim and that the call to baptism is more generous and gracious than the WCF stipulates.