Today marks the 500th anniversary of the reformation. On October 31, 1517, a young professor of a small seminary in northern Germany walked down the street of his little town and nailed his 95 statements on the door of a recently constructed church on the far end of town – a new church built with the income gained from the sale of indulgences. Though it took some 450 years, most of these 95 statements have now been embraced by the Roman Catholic church.
I first published this article via email to our church a couple of years ago – in many ways I was nailing this to the virtual door of our church. Today, in honor of this HUGELY significant day, I am nailing it to the front door of our church – www.harvestdowntown.org.
I need to first state that this is NOT a statement against those that are sacramentalists, but more of a statement of why I’m not one. I whole-heartedly embrace sacramentalists as my brothers and sisters in Christ if they believe in Jesus as the only Way, the only Truth and the only Life; and they are willing to confess such with their lips – which most are.
What am I defining as a sacramentalist?
I define a sacramentalist as one who believes that Jesus imparted various sacraments to the church and that the grace of Jesus is imparted through these sacraments. Those that are sacramentalists include but are not limited to the Anglican, Episcopalian, Catholic, and the Eastern Orthodox churches. These all believe that grace, salvation and sanctification are displayed through the sacraments and are offered through the same.
So, is this really a big deal? I believe it is about as big of a deal as what one believes about scripture. It has far reaching implications that affect our daily lives, our interaction with God Himself, and especially the priesthood of the individual believer.
Why I’m not a sacramentalist:
I believe that each believer has the right, the privilege, and the responsibility to commune with God. I also believe that every believer in Jesus has the right, the privilege, and the responsibility to also perform the ministry of reconciliation. I believe every believer has the authority to act in the name of Christ and finds his or her best place within the Body of Christ. I do not believe that the Church is necessary for salvation, but established by Christ to perform His ministry here on earth and to worship Him in heaven. I believe that the Kingdom of God exists wherever God chooses to reveal Himself. I do not believe that the Kingdom of God is dependent upon the Church. However, I do believe that the Church is responsible for paving the way for the Kingdom of God to be revealed – much as John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ to be revealed.
I am not one for drawing lines in the sand – the wind blows and the line disappears. I do believe in knowing what we believe and why we believe in it. I also am a firm believer in the axiom, “Good theology should inform our praxeology (what we do) and our doxology (how we worship).”
At its very core, this debate hinges around the basic question of the Incarnation and how it serves, or if it serves, as an example for incarnational ministry to the Believer. Was Jesus the very Incarnation of God Himself? If so, what does that say about who we are to be as believers in Him?
The Incarnation (capital “I”) is theological word that means that God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus was born the God-Man, died the God-Man, rose from the dead as the God-Man, and sits at the right hand of the throne of God the Father as the God-Man. It is because of the Incarnation that we have a sacrifice that is complete and sufficient. It is because of the Incarnation that we have a High Priest in heaven who not only can serve as our Intermediary, but also knows our human condition because He was one of us.
The Incarnation is all about the mission of God to redeem and reconcile mankind to Himself as a remnant for His purposes. He came into our world, to engage humanity in a dialogue around the subject of redemption, reclamation, reconciliation, restoration, and resurrection. This dialogue did not end upon His ascension into heaven, but I believe it continues through His Church. The Incarnation is the foundation, reason, and model for all that the Church does as Her mission in the world.
So what does this have to do with sacramentalism?
If the believer is called to be Christ in the world, then it changes the role of what are normally called “sacraments.” For instance, if Christ suffered only once and now sits at the right hand of the throne of God the Father, then how could His sufferings continue through the Eucharist? But what if the so called Sacraments were merely representational of the sacrifice? In other words, does the oil used for the healing of the sick actually heal the sick? Or, as we believe, is it merely the act of submission to the will of God and His Word? Is the priesthood reserved for those who have met certain educational and ecclesiastical requirements, or can every believer access the throne of grace? Is every believer engaged in the mission of God – a ministry of reconciliation, or is that reserved for those who are “holy enough” to impart God’s grace? Do certain vestments make the common holy? Are there certain believers that are saints and while others are just common? If so, what does this say about the incarnation?
I believe that the very Incarnation of Christ gives me the authority and ability to live as a saint – not as a sinner who constantly has to fulfill certain sacramental rites in order to live in His grace. I believe that when Jesus sent His Spirit upon the Church it was to purify and set the Church apart for the incarnational ministry that His Incarnation demonstrated and fulfilled. We have been made holy and therefore everything we do is sacred – not merely certain events or activities, (that is secularism). This means that my very presence makes where I am holy ground – a demonstration of incarnational ministry.
So at the very core of why I’m not a sacramentalist is my belief about the Incarnation and its demonstration of why and how we fulfill the ministry of the Incarnation. I believe that I am a saint, a son of the living God, empowered by His Spirit, and carrying the very authority of Christ Himself – not because of who I am, what I’ve done, how good I’ve been, or what rituals I fulfill. I am a saint because of the Incarnation – this is my hope of glory.