Seven Sacraments and the Westminster Confession of Faith

Jun 10th, 2011 | By | 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.

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  1. Great post Taylor. All the explainations from the Reformed for what these verses mean just are not adequate, and come across as “explaining away” what is explicit in the text: The sacrament of Penance.
    John 20:21-23

    So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

  2. Taylor –

    I might also point readers to a previous discussion related to this topic “The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration“.

  3. Woah Taylor,
    That comment about the oath and the seven sacraments just totally blew me away. Awesome post!

  4. Regarding the sacrament of Holy Orders, I ask the prayers of the CtC community as I will be ordained to the priesthood tomorrow at 10am.

    Blessings to you all and thank you for your hard work on this project.

    Deacon Bryan

  5. Deacon Bryan.

    Will be praying for you tomorrow!

  6. Deacon (soon to be Presbyter) Bryan,

    You will be in my prayers tomorrow morning. Thank you so much for giving your life to Christ in the ordained priesthood. Please say a prayer for me, and the other blokes here, from time to time.

    Andrew

  7. “to seven oneself or bind onself by seven things.”

    Yes, like Elisheba, אֱלִישֶׁבַע God (is) Seven…never put that together with the sacramental 7, thanks. I may have to work that into my Catechism class discussion of John the Baptist .

  8. I’m afraid this article proves very little despite it’s claims.

    First, there are not two sacraments “ordained by Christ” but seven sacraments and this can be proved by the Sacred Scriptures alone

    Really? Let’s look at your “evidence”.

    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

    Sorry, just throwing a bunch of verses on the wall to see what sticks doesn’t work. I looked at your verses and there are a lot of problems here. Most of them are very vague and could be interpreted in non-sacramental ways. In fact in reading most of them, my first thought was “Huh? How the heck did he get that from this verse?!”

    Take your verses about marriage for example. All you have her are some verses talking about marriage. There’s nothing in there that would lead one to believe that marriage is a sacrament. Absolutely nothing about conferring grace and all that. Same with holy orders. These verses describe the selection of the first deacons, or lay out the requirements for church leaders. It says nothing about these being sacraments. In extreme unction, you quote a verse that describes people being healed. How does a descriptive verse become a justification for a sacrament? I could quote a verse showing Jesus disciples walking or fishing – does that make walking or fishing sacraments? :) Many of your proof texts are just like this – I’m not sure how you get a normative principle from a verse that is merely descriptive.

    To me all you’ve done is interpreted these through your Catholic lens, reading into them what you want to see. Show me your exegesis of these verses if you are going to offer them as “proof”. All in all, your verses “prove” nothing unless you can show the connection.

    A few further comments:

    If baptism washes away sins, then how are post-baptismal sins absolved? Obviously, this requires the sacrament of Penance . . . 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

    I know this is a radical idea, but how about I just pray to God and ask his forgiveness? You know, since you are trying to use scripture, I believe it says somewhere, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.

    All in all, as a Protestant, I don’t find any of this close to being persuasive.

  9. Steve G.

    Thanks for the comments. I have very little time this weekend but wanted to quickly address the most obvious example of Holy Orders ‘conferring grace and all that.’

    You said, “There’s nothing in there that would lead one to believe that marriage is a sacrament. Absolutely nothing about conferring grace and all that. Same with holy orders.”

    All of the sacraments confer grace and this can be shown from scripture but the most obvious example is Holy Orders in a passage Taylor cited.

    1 Tim 4:14 – Paul to Timothy says, “Neglect not the grace that is in thee, which was given thee by prophesy, with imposition of the hands of the priesthood.”

  10. Hi Steve G.

    This is not meant to be “nasty” to anyone, but it’s meant as a statement of facts.

    “All in all, as a protestant I don’t find any of this close to being persuasive.”

    Of course you don’t, you’re a protestant so why would you. But the Catholic Church does and has for about 2000 years. Therefore not only do you have to compete against the Bible in denying the seven sacraments but about 2000 years of history as well. Until the Reformation period in the Church in the fifteen hundreds everyone believed there were 7 sacraments.

    Yes you can pray to God directly and ask forgiveness for your sins and you will receive Gods Grace but that is not the normal channel that God has set up for receiving His grace. God established His Church for the purpose of teaching His truth, forgiving sins and sanctifying the souls of the members of His body. It is normally done through the administration of the sacraments. Is God limited to this? No, of course not but The Church that he built, died and resurrected for is the normal channel and dispenser of His grace.

    Peace to you
    NHU.

  11. Steve,

    I think one item from above might be a very good example. John 20:23, whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them; whose sins you retain, they are retained. The gospel attributes those words to Jesus. Your response: How about I just pray to God and ask His forgiveness? Jesus tells you one thing, and you decide to do it another way. It would appear that Jesus has been ignored. Were His words insufficient to be a guide to you?

    It gets a bit deeper. Jesus was establishing functions for the Church He was founding, and the forgiveness or retention of sins was one of those functions. He was giving His own authority to His apostles in this area. They in turn passed this authority and function on.

    Twenty centuries later, I make use of the confessional, and receive the absolution offered by Christ Jesus through His priest, who uses the authority given him by the bishop, a successor to the apostles, inside the Church Jesus founded.

    Cordially,

    dt

  12. Steve G,

    To follow up on what Sean Patrick wrote, let’s just do a quick run down on Holy Orders:

    1) Does it confer grace? Yes!
    2) It is an outward sign? Yes!
    3) Did Jesus Christ tell the Apostles to do this? Yes! (BTW, tradition places the institution of Holy Orders to the Last Supper)

    So in every way, Holy Orders proves to be a sacrament of the New Covenant. Yet, the Protestants deny it. This is just one example demonstrating that Protestantism is not the religion of Sacred Scripture. To be a “Bible Christian” is to be a “Catholic Christian.”

    Also, I admit that I am reading these passages through a certain lens – the Catholic lens which is 2,000 years old. You also need to admit that you are reading these passages through a certain lens – the Protestant lens which is 500 years old.

    ad Jesum per Mariam,
    Taylor

  13. “I know this is a radical idea, but how about I just pray to God and ask his forgiveness?”

    In answer to your question I say “because the scripture and Tradition tells you not to do it that way.” And I would say “because it is not up to you to come up with the way you aproach God for forgivness.”

    And are you being sarcastic when you say “radical” as if it obviously werent radical? But it is radical. historically and scriptirally. The vast majority of Christians did not think in those terms till the reformation. They thought in terms of the deposit of faith handed down from the apostles, which prescribed sacramental confesion, just as the scripture does. It is you who have either missed or ignored the clear teaching of the scripture on this point. I noticed you did not comment on one of the the “proof texts” (as if one is needed) for the Sacrament of Penance.

    So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

    Could you honestly read that verse and say “There’s nothing in John 20:21-23 that would lead one to believe that confession is a sacrament…” ? Really? Nothing?
    Give us Catholics the benefit of the doubt at least and say “it appears to be sacramental confession, yes, but here is why it isn’t…” But to say there is nothing that would lead us to believe so is just obviously false.
    And then of course there is the apostolic Tradition, which you seem to want to discount out of hand in favor of us all abiding by the unscriptural doctrine of sola Scriptura to show our doctrines. But that is not how it works. I just read a passage in St. Ignatius that sounded to me like he was speaking about marriage in a sacramental way. I have not seen any commentary on it so I could be wrong, but if I am right, there is a bishop in 107AD referring to marriage as a sacrament to be administered by the Church. At the least he sounded far more Catholic in his understanding of marriage, and it was pleasant reading for me. But it is reasonable to think St. Ignatius knows how best to interpret the scripture, so your not “seeing” marriage as a sacrament is neither here nor there. The point is whether the Church “sees” it in scripture, and she has been seeing it there for 2000 years. I will admit that from a sola Scriptura viewpoint some sacraments are harder to see in scripture than others, and harder to show to the satisfaction of a sola Scripturist, and exterme unction is certainly not “spelled out” in scripture like it would be in a systematic theology texbook. But the scripture is not meant to be a sys. theo. textbook! It is the Church’s book, to be interpreted in and by the Church. If I don’t see what the Church sees in it, it is I who need to change my interpretation, not the Church. That is exactly why I became Catholic last Dec. 19.
    I would be very interested to hear from you if you really think there is nothing that would lead anyone to believe John 20 is saying what Catholics think it is saying.

    Peace to you bro,

    -David Meyer

  14. If I don’t see what the Church sees in it, it is I who need to change my interpretation, not the Church.

    That sounds very much like something I said shortly before I began investigating the Church: if I believe X about doctrine A, and the Church (however defined) teaches Y about it, then I must be mistaken and not the other way around.

    The only alternative to that is ecclesial deism.

  15. John 3 5 Jesus answered Amen amen I say to thee unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.I used the Douay Rheims here because the translation brings out the full meaning of the text by clarifying born again of water and the Holy Ghost.The phrase that I am looking for here is born again. Some may say that God was merely talking about the amniotic fluid from birth and then being infused at a later time in life with the Holy Spirit.

  16. Dear Christina Carabini,

    Our blessed Lord was not referring to amniotic fluid. Any Jew would recognize the water/Spirit combination because it goes back to the opening of Genesis: “and the Spirit of God moved over the waters. ” (Genesis 1:2, D-R)

    This is the creation motif that is re-echoed by the Prophet Isaiah and especially by Ezekiel:

    “For I will pour out waters upon the thirsty ground, and streams upon the dry land: I will pour out my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thy stock. ” (Isaiah 44:3, D-R)

    and

    “And I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness, and I will cleanse you from all your idols. And I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh. ” (Ezekiel 36:25–26, D-R)

    So from a Jewish point of view, Christ is teasing out this prophetic motif with Nicodemas, who should have known better and was duly scolded by our Lord.

    ad Jesum pe Mariam,
    Taylor

  17. Your article was interesting, but not accurate. First, the Hebrew word שָׁבַע which is translated as “swear” does not come from the same Hebrew word for seven. I know that this has been speculated by many commentators, however, there is not one incident in the Hebrew OT where swearing was associated with the number seven. The one place that has often been cited is Gen 21:23ff where in Beersheba Abraham and Abimelech made a covenant with each othe by an oath sealed by Abraham giving Abimelech seven ewe lambs, but the two terms of “swearing” and “seven” are independent of each other. What is more likely (although also in the realm of speculation) is that the Hebrew root שָׁבַע for “swear” is often in the niphal (a reflexive action) which perhaps indicates the root shares a common ancestor as the Arabic root “sbe” which means “to tear up” and “to curse.” But it seems rather crazy, and lacking real integrity, to build a whole argument or theology on something so speculative as a questionable etymology.

    Secondly, none of your proof texts point to these being instituted as a sacrament, except for the proofs for Baptism and the Eucharist. In fact, all the proofs you listed are very vaguely related to the subject. You would have to read into the text your presupposition to come to the conclusion that these were Christ’s institutions of a sacrament.

    Then you state, “[I]t 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.” I do not see how that is obvious. Since you are seeking to refute the WCF, it is good to see that the WCF states, “Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him,” then one doesn’t need another sacrament but only look in faith to the promise given in the first. What is the promise of God in baptism? That all who trust in Christ and are united to Him by faith will be saved from the wrath of God, their sins will be cleansed. All that is taught in the WLC 167. “How is our Baptism to be improved by us? The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.” This can also be applied to your concept of Extreme Unction.

    As for matrimony being a sacrament of the Church, and not an institution of the State, then what do you make of all pagan and non-Christian marriages? Are they legitimate or not, and if so, on what basis? Rom. 13 clearly says that God instituted the State for the purpose of persevering that which is for the common good among men. Marriage is certainly for the common good, whether Christian or non-Christian. It is really hard for me to see how marriage is instituted by God to be governed only by the Church on that basis.

    Your statement concerning baptism is also a loaded cannon! Is baptism really the means by which Christ regenerates the soul, or does it signify regeneration? I am sure the Scriptures teach the latter, not the former (e.g.1 Peter 3:20-21). How can a physical thing like water wash away a spiritual thing like sin? And if it infallibly confers grace, how is it possible that some (like Simon Magus—Acts 8) can be baptized but be in the “gall of bitterness”?

    Well, much could be said on all this, but to stay with the subject, I am not sure how you can say that since God wills that everyone be saved, therefore anyone can baptize in extreme cases. Your blog doesn’t prove that. First, we have an incident of a person who was saved and brought into Paradise without the benefit of baptism, the thief on the cross. There is an indication that baptism is not necessary for salvation, and even in extreme cases one may have a promise of entering in without the sacrament administered to him. All that was required was that the man had a saving faith in Christ’s ability to save. Secondly, since sacraments are a “visible preaching of the Gospel” to paraphrase St. Augustine, it should only be performed by those who are officially approved through thorough examination of his orthodoxy, understanding and maturity in the faith, and thus duly ordained by the Church to the ministry. Certainly, under extreme conditions when congregations were left without pastors due to persecution, the ministry of the word and sacrament might have to fall into the hands of laymen, but that is an unusual and extraordinary case. But even in such cases, the WCF might be pointed to, “neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that does administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.”

    At the end of the day, you have failed to prove that Christ instituted 7 sacraments and that the RC sacramental economy is more generous and gracious than the WCF. The WCF does not need 7 sacraments since it graciously and generously calls men to look in faith to Christ who is revealed in the 2 sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It graciously and generously teaches that salvation is not tied to sacraments necessarily, or to any other rite, but to faith in Christ alone. It generously and graciously teaches us that we can have an assurance of salvation based not on my deeds but on the faithfulness of Christ. That is not presumption, it is faith in the promise of a God who cannot lie.

  18. Michael Babcock –

    I’m certain that Taylor and/or other regular contributers of CtC will be around to welcome you to the site and discuss your comment with you (or link you to other articles that already have discussed these issues you present) but I wanted to a clarification or two towards one paragraph.

    As for matrimony being a sacrament of the Church, and not an institution of the State, then what do you make of all pagan and non-Christian marriages? Are they legitimate or not, and if so, on what basis? Rom. 13 clearly says that God instituted the State for the purpose of persevering that which is for the common good among men. Marriage is certainly for the common good, whether Christian or non-Christian. It is really hard for me to see how marriage is instituted by God to be governed only by the Church on that basis.

    First, marriage is not an institution of the state. It is an institution of nature. As you say with your assessment of Rom. 13, the State is to protect these natural rights and institutions. Thus, all “natural” bonds are good and legitimate but not sacramental.

    However, by virtue of baptism and the model Jesus gave us for marriage (eph. 5), marriage has been elevated beyond a natural institution and made into a “supernatural” institution in that it reflects the love between Christ and his Church and makes it even more visible sign with God’s Grace.

    Marriage is considered “The Primordial Sacrament,” in that it always pointed towards Trinitarian love, but was elevated to an participation in Trinitarian love by Christ.

  19. Pastor Babcock,

    Your response was as confunsing as it was informative… at least for me, anyway.

    I am no expert in the Hebrew of the OT, but, ISTM that this whole swear/seven thing is a bit more widely accepted than you seem indicate here. You seem to make it sound as though a couple of guys once discussed it on a coffee break…

    You spend a great deal of time defending (in a p-r-e-t-t-y reverential fashion) this or that statement in the WCF… yet… the most I read these things, the more that I am convinced the the faith presented there as the Christian one, is not the faith of the Early Church. Your dismissal of baptismal regeneration tells me just about all I need to know about your thoughts on the early Church’s ability to read the Scriptures, get the faith in any meaningful (even salvific?) was, etc…

    BTW, your tradition seems to cause you to read into the text a few presuppositions of your own, no?

    You wrote:
    “Your statement concerning baptism is also a loaded cannon! Is baptism really the means by which Christ regenerates the soul, or does it signify regeneration? I am sure the Scriptures teach the latter, not the former (e.g.1 Peter 3:20-21). ”

    All this does is highlight how differently we read the Bible, mate. This either or stuff seems altogether alien to me. Is Christ a man or is Christ God? You are actually trying to use the text you cited as a proof against baptismal regeneration? I honestly don’t see it.

    You ask:
    “How can a physical thing like water wash away a spiritual thing like sin?”

    How can a physical thing like the physical death of Christ… the shedding of His physical blood wash away a spiritual thing like sin? Or perhaps you mean to say that the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity died spiritually? And the Incarnation (so important to the faith of the Fathers)?? That Jesus was born… and lived… as a man…??? The historic Christian faith is a lot of things, but none of this stuff that you think we should abandon our faith to believe, mate.

    You ask:
    “And if it infallibly confers grace, how is it possible that some (like Simon Magus—Acts 8) can be baptized but be in the ‘gall of bitterness?’”

    How well do you know Catholic (you say RC a lot, but this only makes us think that your not fully aware of what our communion actually is) theology, mate? This is not a difficult question to answer from a Cathlolic perspective… maybe you can explain to me why you think it’s so difficult for us to attempt an answer to?

    By the by… NO ONE here thinks God can lie, mate… I don’t know what possess folks from your camp to say such things… we don’t agree on what God was trying to convey in the first place… I’ll give you that, but that is NOT us amitting that we think He lies and you think He doesn’t… that’s disingenuous at best… at worst… it’s to score points with whatever Reformed folks might be looking on.

    All that being said… I pray for the unity that Christ Himself prayer for (Jn. 17).

    IC XC
    <

  20. Christopher,

    Thank you for your response. I don’t have time to say much, but a few comments on it,

    If you go back and read my comment, I actually said, “I know that this has been speculated by many commentators…” so I am not sure why you would say “You seem to make it sound as though a couple of guys once discussed it on a coffee break…” Nevertheless, the concept presented in the article is not accepted by every Hebrew scholar, and even those that do admit there is no real biblical basis behind it. It is more a matter of speculative etymology rather than biblical exegesis. Therefore, I emphasize that the concept should be regarded only as speculative and it is folly to base one’s argument on mere speculation.

    You write, “Your dismissal of baptismal regeneration tells me just about all I need to know about your thoughts on the early Church’s ability to read the Scriptures, get the faith in any meaningful (even salvific?) was…” I don’t see how my brief statements really can tell you ALL you need to know about my thoughts on the Fathers’ ability to exegete Scriptures. In fact, what I wrote cannot tell you very much at all on how I understand the Fathers.

    “This either or stuff seems altogether alien to me. Is Christ a man or is Christ God?”
    I’ll only respond to that by saying, non sequitur.

    “You are actually trying to use the text you cited as a proof against baptismal regeneration? I honestly don’t see it.”

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear about the reference. I assumed a familiarity of the Reformed and Catholic debate on this issue of baptismal regeneration, which often turns to this verse. But since you don’t seem to be in tune with that, while Peter says that baptism “saves us,” he clarifies what he means by that by then saying, “not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.” Peter is teaching that there is no mechanical power in the sacrament and that the means of salvation is not in the mere performance of an external rite (the washing away of the filth of the flesh), but that there is a sacramental union between the sign of the sacrament what the thing signified. Or to say it in another way, Peter shows that the outward sign itself is not enough. Two things are to be considered when we talk of sacraments: the sign and the thing it signifies, and these two things ought not to be separated. In baptism the sign is water, the thing is the blood of Christ and the mortifying of the flesh. Baptism so signifies or symbolizes the cleansing from sin that Peter can say that baptism washes away guilt, but that this cleansing doesn’t come through just an external reception of the sacrament but only as one really and effectually receives it in faith – for as Heb. 11:6 says, “without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” In short, without faith in the thing signified by the sacrament, there is no cleansing away of sin. Baptismal regeneration fixes so much on the outward sign that it doesn’t regard the blood as the true cleansing agent. Baptismal regeneration transfers the secret power of the Spirit to regenerate (Jn. 3:8) to the visible sign of water.

    You ask, “How can a physical thing like the physical death of Christ… the shedding of His physical blood wash away a spiritual thing like sin? Or perhaps you mean to say that the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity died spiritually? And the Incarnation (so important to the faith of the Fathers)?? That Jesus was born… and lived… as a man…??? The historic Christian faith is a lot of things, but none of this stuff that you think we should abandon our faith to believe, mate.”

    Your patronizing tone aside, I firmly hold to the Incarnation as important and absolutely necessary for salvation. Jesus had to be fully man in order to represent mankind and to take upon Himself the penalty of sin. And no, the God-Man did not die spiritually. The scriptural talk of His shed blood is a metonym for His atoning death. It is because Jesus suffered the full penalty of the Law of God for sin by shedding His blood and dying, that the sin is forgiven, the guilt is washed away. There was no magical property in the physical blood itself, and owning a vial of that blood would not do anything to anyone, but cleansing occurs when a person turns in faith to all that blood represents. The shedding of blood and the washing of sin is a graphic picture of what took place as the Lord died on the cross. Paul talks of this in another way, using another picture, but saying the same thing in Col. 2: 13-14: “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

    You ask, “How well do you know Catholic (you say RC a lot, but this only makes us think that your not fully aware of what our communion actually is) theology, mate? This is not a difficult question to answer from a Cathlolic perspective… maybe you can explain to me why you think it’s so difficult for us to attempt an answer to?”

    I know full well what your communion actually is, but I also know that Roman Catholic is not a pejorative term. And my designation of “RC” simply differentiates you from Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism, which are both within the bounds of the “catholic church,” right? And I know enough of Roman theology to know how you might answer it, but I haven’t been convinced of it. Maybe you would want to illuminate me.

    And you end, “By the by… NO ONE here thinks God can lie, mate… I don’t know what possess folks from your camp to say such things… we don’t agree on what God was trying to convey in the first place… I’ll give you that, but that is NOT us amitting that we think He lies and you think He doesn’t… that’s disingenuous at best… at worst… it’s to score points with whatever Reformed folks might be looking on.”

    Woa! I didn’t say that anyone on this whole post thinks God lies, nor did I imply it. If you were offended by my comment, it is because you read way too much into what I said. But to reiterate, all I said is that the WCF teaches us to believe in the promises of a God who cannot lie. The statement itself suggests that you yourself also would believe in a God who cannot lie. That is a very comforting thing to hear. After all, because of the weakness of our flesh and indwelling sin, we all tend to doubt God and we all tend to doubt His promises as being true for me personally. The phrase comes from the Scriptures themselves as Paul emphasizes salvation in Christ (Titus 1:2) and simply reminds us, you and me and anyone who believes in the Triune God, that He doesn’t lie and if He promised one thing, He will certainly do it. He doesn’t speak out of both sides of His mouth.

  21. Zeeehjee,

    Thank you very much for your clarifying comments. When you state, “First, marriage is not an institution of the state. It is an institution of nature.” I think I was responding to the categories of the original article which asked, “if matrimony is to be governed by the Church and not the State…” I think you are right to say that marriage is an institution of nature, inasmuch as God instituted it in the Garden before there was a State! And certainly the NT does point to marriage as a beautiful picture of Christ’s union with the Church, which is why God hates divorce so much. But does that make it a sacrament?

    I suppose my question revolves around just how do the extra 5 sacraments actually signify and seal to the believer God’s covenant of grace? Clearly baptism and the Lord’s Supper signify how God sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross to accomplish our salvation, and thus they are visible sermons of the Gospel. The other 5 don’t point to that. They may speak of other benefits obtained by Christ’s death and resurrection (the empowering of the Spirit in confirmation, the continuing declaration of forgiveness of sin in penance and extreme unction, union with Christ in marriage, Christ’s offices as Prophet, Priest, and King in holy orders), but how do they directly declare the Gospel message to us?

    Moreover, there is only one covenant of grace both in the OT and NT, as Scott Hahn has been showing (through his one time adherence to the WCF and more particularly through his instruction under Meredith G. Kline). Since there is but one covenant through various administrations, then we would expect NT sacraments to have correspondences with OT sacraments. Certainly the Jews had various rites, ceremonies, and feast days, but really in the OT there were three things that really separated the Jews from the Gentiles: circumcision, Passover, and the Sabbath. Paul correlated circumcision with baptism in Col. 2:12ff. Christ instituted Communion on the Sabbath. And Heb. 3 relates how Christ fulfills the Sabbath rest, which in Ps. 95 is tied to the promised land (i.e., heaven). Where are the other 5 sacraments instituted in the OT?

  22. Christopher,

    You said, “This is not a difficult question to answer from a Cathlolic perspective… maybe you can explain to me why you think it’s so difficult for us to attempt an answer to?”

    Reading over my previous response to you, I see I was distracted and forgot to put in another comment concerning your question. What I was intending by my original post was this: Since Taylor had accused the WCF of being less gracious and generous than the Catholic position, I was wondering if saving grace could be imparted to a person through a sacrament, but that person can afterward fall into the “gall of bitterness” and lose that grace, as the Catholic position teaches, how is that more generous and gracious than what the WCF which teaches, “They, whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved”?

    Do you see that my question is not so much about whether one can lose their salvation once received or not, but about how the WCF is less gracious and generous than the Catholic position of 7 sacraments?

  23. Michael Babcock:

    It generously and graciously teaches us that we can have an assurance of salvation based not on my deeds but on the faithfulness of Christ. That is not presumption, it is faith in the promise of a God who cannot lie.

    Then, when you meet the Lord and all you had done was simply presumed you were saved; are you certain the Lord won’t simply say unto you:

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mt. 7:21–23)

    and

    “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” (Matthew 25:31)

    Yes — God does NOT lie. And it does not do us any good if we pay attention only to select portions of the Gospel and not carefully attend to Our Lord’s teachings in their entirety.

  24. Quaestio (re:#23),:

    I trust that Michael will answer for himself. However, as a Calvinistic Protestant of many years who returned to the Catholic Church last year, I can say that as a Calvinist, I did not believe that “justification by faith alone” did away with the absolute need for good works in the Christian life.

    The traditional Reformed understanding is that, while good works do not play a role in our *justification* before God (that justification having come from faith alone, in Christ’s saving work alone, on our behalf), if we truly *have* been justified by God, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, then our salvation will manifest itself in good works. If the works are not forthcoming, at least to some degree, then the Reformed answer would likely be that perhaps we were never truly justified and that we had never truly trusted in Christ.

    I know now that this is not the Bible’s teaching, but for years, this is what I believed as a Protestant. It helps greatly, in my understanding of the Bible, to be back in Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church which wrote and assembled the New Testament in the first place!

  25. Michael –

    It is late, but I have a few minutes before I retire so here are some quick thoughts. There is some nuance here, so I will invite my fellow Catholics to chime in and correct me if I answer incorrectly. It is not my intention to give my opinion. Rather, it is my intention to articulate to truth of what the Catholic Church teaches to be true.

    I think you are right to say that marriage is an institution of nature, inasmuch as God instituted it in the Garden before there was a State! And certainly the NT does point to marriage as a beautiful picture of Christ’s union with the Church, which is why God hates divorce so much. But does that make it a sacrament?

    A sacrament, as we think of seven sacraments in Western Catholicism, is an outward sign of something that is happening inwardly within us. If marriage simply were a ‘picture of Christ’s union with the Church,” it would not be a Sacrament although it could have a sacramental character. What makes marriage between baptized Christians a sacrament is that it literally draws us in to God’s own life. Husbands participate in the very life of Christ through the love they show to their wife. Together with his wife, he becomes a co-creator with God.

    Clearly baptism and the Lord’s Supper signify how God sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross to accomplish our salvation, and thus they are visible sermons of the Gospel. The other 5 don’t point to that.

    I disagree. Marriage, lived in the way that God intended it to be lived by baptized Christians, is precisely a visible sermon of the Gospel (I like the way you said that, by the way). In John 15, Jesus says, “This is my commandment: Love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Marriage makes this great command of laying down one’s life visible to the world. A holy, married couple is an icon of this type of sacrificial, life giving love. Their love does declare the Gospel message to us.

    Where are the other 5 sacraments instituted in the OT?

    I might not be understanding the question, because it seems way too obvious to me. In fact, you mentioned it above in your comment. Marriage was instituted in the Garden of Eden. And again, it is this natural bond that is elevated by Christ to the dignity of sacrament. Grace builds on the natural marriage God gave us. It no longer merely points to his love, as some natural marriages do. It actually participates in His love.

    Have you by any chance looked over some of John Paul II’s thoughts on marriage?

    As for the other sacraments, I will have to let another contributor speak to those.

    Blessings to you, Michael.

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