Regarding the Mass: H.C. Lord's Day 30

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 30

Q 80. How does the Lord’s Supper differ from the Roman Catholic Mass? 
A 80. The Lord’s Supper declares to us that all our sins are completely forgiven through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which he himself accomplished on the cross once for all.  It also declares to us that the Holy Spirit grafts us into Christ, who with his true body is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father where he wants us to worship him.

But the Mass teaches that the living and the dead do not have their sins forgiven through the suffering of Christ unless Christ is still offered for them daily by the priests. It also teaches that Christ is bodily present under the form of bread and wine where Christ is therefore to be worshiped. Thus the Mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and a condemnable idolatry.

Q 81. Who should come to the Lord’s table? 
A 81. Those who are displeased with themselves because of their sins, but who nevertheless trust that their sins are pardoned and that their remaining weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ, and who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and to lead a better life.

Hypocrites and those who are unrepentant, however, eat and drink judgment on themselves.

Q 82. Should those be admitted to the Lord’s Supper who show by what they profess and how they live that they are unbelieving and ungodly? 
A 82. No, that would dishonor God’s covenant and bring down God’s wrath upon the entire congregation. Therefore, according to the instruction of Christ and his apostles, the Christian church is duty-bound to exclude such people, by the official use of the keys of the kingdom, until they reform their lives.

On the whole, the Heidelberg Catechism does a good job of teaching and explaining the Christian faith, particularly a reformed understanding of it.  Unlike some documents and movements of that time (16th century A.D.), there is little in the way of condemnation of other modes of belief or what we would consider denominations.  In that day, there was considerable contempt and condemnation that was going around between the Reformed Protestants, the Lutheran Protestants, the Anabaptists, and the Catholic church.  None really had good things to say about the other.  Yet, in the midst of this, the Heidelberg Catechism offered nothing more than a teaching tool for why the Reformers believed what they did, largely staying away from pointed remarks against other Christians.

…That is… until now…

Lord’s Day 30 addresses specifically the Catholic practice of the Mass, something that has been the worship structure of the Roman Catholic church since its modern inception sometime in the early part of the last millennium.

Different than the worship structure of Protestant churches in general, the focal point of the Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, whereas Protestant churches see the focal point in the opening of God’s Word.  While there may be a short homily in a Catholic Mass, the main emphasis of worship is placed on the ritual celebration of communion.

While this is not necessarily a wrong emphasis, and many would argue the importance of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the danger (and reasoning for the Heidelberger’s speaking out on this point) comes largely from the reasoning of this emphasis.  As we talked about last week, the Roman Catholic church believes in the transubstantiation of the elements, the bread and the wine.  This means that bread (wafers) and cup (wine) are physically transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ.  So when they are taking communion, those attending the Catholic Mass are literally feasting on the body and blood of Christ.

There are a number of dangers here:

First, the Catholic theology suggests that the Mass and the celebration of the Eucharist participate in the “ongoing sacrifice” of Jesus on the cross.  By participating in it, we are taking part in this sacrifice that is drawn forward from the original moment to now.  Catholics do not believe that the Mass is a “re-sacrifice,” but the wording comes close to that.  1 Peter 3:18 says that “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”  Apart from the general verb tense that is used here, which is very clearly the past tense, it also points to the same language as is used in Hebrews 10, that Christ died once for all.  His sacrifice is not repeated nor is it ongoing, it happened and, as Jesus said, “It is finished.”  We don’t want to continue this work through the Eucharist or any other acts.  By thinking that we do, we add an element of “works righteousness” into the mix which, essentially, nullifies or minimizes Christ’s work on the cross.

Second, if the emphasis of worship is on the celebration of communion, and on the literal feasting on Christ’s body and blood, there may be an inadvertent teaching that this act is in itself a saving act.  There is nothing salvific about the sacraments; receiving them does not save us.  They are visible signs of God’s grace and through our participation in them we are proclaiming the Gospel of God’s love in Jesus Christ.  Again, this can cause us to stray into a false belief in “works righteousness” or a belief that we are saved by the “work worked.”  That means that, through our participation in the sacrament and the receiving of Jesus literal body and blood, we too are saved despite where our hearts may be.  Clearly, this flies in the face of Scripture’s revelation of justification by faith.

Finally, there is a danger that comes in thinking that Christ’s literal body and blood are present in the celebration of the Eucharist.  If they were, it would be right that we would worship the elements as they appear, being that their presence would mean the incarnated presence of God’s Son, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, among us.  If this were the case, it would be right to worship them.  However, this literal reading of Scripture does not necessarily make sense as Jesus said he was many different physical things and we take none of them literal.  He is not a literal gate, a literal shepherd, or even a literal well of living water inside of us.  Instead, these are analogies of the impact of Jesus’ life, ministry, and presence in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  If then, we wrongly worship the bread and the wine as Jesus’ literal body and blood when they are not, we are committing a horrible idolatry at one of the most significant moments in worship.

I think it is important to note that, even here in the Heidelberg Catechism, and in our discussion today, we are asking important questions so that we can better understand the nature of our beliefs and worship.  This discussion is not meant to be a condemnation of our brothers and sisters in Christ, but rather a clarification of why those who are “reformed” believe the way that they do.  Scripture is very clear that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” and that the only one who is in the position to judge us is Christ, He who went to the cross to die for our sins.  Let us remember that as we consider our hearts and that of others when we participate in the sacraments.  God the Father invites us to His table to commune with Him, despite our sinful selves, because we have been washed in the bloood of Jesus.  Let us, therefore, endevor to understand in the best possible way, the event we are participating in, and revel in the glorious mystery and beautiful grace that is present there as we encounter God anew at His Table.



Different than the Mass? H.C. Question 80

How does the Lord’s Supper differ from the Roman Catholic Mass? 

John 19:30 – When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Hebrews 7:27 – Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.

Hebrews 9:12 – He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.

Hebrews 9:25-26 – Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Hebrews 10:10-18 – And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

1 Corinthians 6:17 – But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17 – Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

Acts 7:55-56 – But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

Hebrews 1:3 – The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Hebrews 8:1 – Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,

Matthew 6:20-21 – But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

John 4:21-24 – “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Philippians 3:20 – But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

Colossians 3:1-3 – Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.



"This is My Body" H.C. Lord's Day 29

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 29

Q 78. Do the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ? 
A 78. No. Just as the water of baptism is not changed into Christ’s blood and does not itself wash away sins but is simply a divine sign and assurance of these things, so too the holy bread of the Lord’s Supper does not become the actual body of Christ, even though it is called the body of Christ in keeping with the nature and language of sacraments.

Q 79. Why then does Christ call the bread his body and the cup his blood, or the new covenant in his blood, and Paul use the words, a participation in Christ’s body and blood? 
A 79. Christ has good reason for these words. He wants to teach us that just as bread and wine nourish the temporal life, so too his crucified body and poured-out blood are the true food and drink of our souls for eternal life.

But more important, he wants to assure us, by this visible sign and pledge, that we, through the Holy Spirit’s work, share in his true body and blood as surely as our mouths receive these holy signs in his remembrance, and that all of his suffering and obedience are as definitely ours as if we personally had suffered and made satisfaction for our sins.

Justification by Jesus Christ through faith is the cornerstone of the Christian religion.  There is nothing more distinctly Christian than this doctrine.  During the Reformation, there was one thing that was debated almost as much as this doctrine and that was the theology of the Lord’s Supper.

One of the main points of argument came from the attempt at interpreting what was meant when Jesus broke the bread and poured the cup saying “this is my body” and “this is my blood.”

The Catholic view at this time is a doctrine known as transubstantiation and held that, in the moment of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the physical bread and wine were transformed literally into Jesus actually body and blood.  They believed that the actual loaf was Jesus’ actual body.

This, for the Reformers, was nothing more than “hocus pocus,” a belief that was intended to draw people to church for the purpose of communion.  More than this, however, comes the notion that this didn’t follow with the revelation of Scripture or Jesus’ self-revelation either.  Jesus also said that He was “the Good Shepherd” and that He was “the Gate.”  Neither statement was meant to be factually accurate in that Jesus tended sheep or swung on hinges, but was in fact, a metaphor for the who Jesus was and what His ministry was about.

To this doctrine, the Reformers had several thoughts:

Consubstantiation: Jesus physical Body and Blood were present alongside the physical bread and wine.

Memorial Meal: The Lord’s Supper was meant to be a time of remembrance of the sacrifice that Jesus made.

Spiritual Presence: That Jesus is really present during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, that He indeed communes with us through the Holy Spirit, as we also remember Him.  In this, we feast on Christ through faith and the experience of participating in the sacrament.

Why does this really matter, though?  Each way of understanding it was trying to get at one thing: what does it mean when Scripture says that we are “participating” in the Body and Blood of Christ?  How does that work and what purpose does that serve?

There are so many meanings and so much symbolism that is associated with the celebration of the sacraments.  The Lord’s Supper is a memorial meal as well as a proclamation of the Gospel.  It is a way in which we are spiritually nourished through a physical action.

Yet one thing that is uniquely important about celebrating Communion is that fact that it is a time in which we are invited to commune with God at His table.  We are participating in exactly what we are: the Body of Christ.  It is a reminder of who we are and of whose we are.  It is a reminder that we are not in this alone, neither as individuals nor as a church.  It is a confirmation of our identity as a child of God and as a part of His body through God’s grace, shown in Jesus one sacrifice, and accepted by faith in Him.



Real Participation: H.C. Question 79

Why then does Christ call the bread his body and the cup his blood, or the new covenant in his blood, and Paul use the words, a participation in Christ’s body and blood? 

John 6:51, 55 – I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17 – Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

1 Corinthians 11:26 – For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Romans 6:5-11 – For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.



Real or not? H.C. Question 78

Do the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ? 

Ephesians 5:26 – to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,

Titus 3:5 – he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,

Matthew 26:26-29 – While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

1 Corinthians 10:1-4, 16-17 – For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

1 Corinthians 11:26-28 – For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.

Genesis 17:10-11 – This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.

Exodus 12:11, 13 – This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.



The Holy Supper: H.C. Lord's Day 28

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 28

Q 75. How does the holy supper remind and assure you that you share in Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross and in all his benefits? 
A 75. In this way: Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat this broken bread and to drink this cup in remembrance of him. With this command come these promises:

First, as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup shared with me, so surely his body was offered and broken for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross.

Second, as surely as I receive from the hand of the one who serves, and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, given me as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood, so surely he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood.

Q. What does it mean to eat the crucified body of Christ and to drink his poured-out blood? 
A. It means to accept with a believing heart the entire suffering and death of Christ and thereby to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

But it means more. Through the Holy Spirit, who lives both in Christ and in us, we are united more and more to Christ’s blessed body. And so, although he is in heaven and we are on earth, we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. And we forever live on and are governed by one Spirit, as the members of our body are by one soul.

Q 77. Where does Christ promise to nourish and refresh believers with his body and blood as surely as they eat this broken bread and drink this cup? 
A 77. In the institution of the Lord’s Supper:

“The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is [broken]* for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

This promise is repeated by Paul in these words:

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

In the discourse that is the sacraments, we now take a turn in the Catechism to look at Communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist.  This celebration is done in response and remembrance of the Last Supper that Jesus ate with His disciples.

Sadly, in many churches today, this celebration has become more of a monotonous tradition that we “do because we have to.”  Whether it’s because of the approach of the congregation or the lack of engagement from the pastor, these celebrations have become empty rituals with very little meaning.

Truly, this is a sad thing.

The Lord’s Supper is packed full of meaning; it is literally our opportunity to taste and touch the Gospel and to be filled with God’s grace.  St. Augustine said of the sacraments, they are “visible signs of invisible grace.”  Again, this is multi-sensory worship at it’s finest, engaging the senses that are used during the traditional sermon.

We can (and do) talk about the Gospel a lot.  In fact, the Gospel is (or should be) at the center of all that we do, informing every decision and every activity.  Every message should touch on it in some way.  We were sinners, separated from God, and we had no hope.  God stepped in by sending His Son to pay for those sins so that we would no longer be separated from Him.  Faith in Jesus Christ grants of justification (forgiveness).

At the Table, when we take communion, we are reminded of this.  No matter what we’ve done, from the stealing of a pencil to capital murder, we remember that Christ died for our sins and we receive forgiveness when we believe in Him.  Did you fight with your spouse today?  Then you need to come to the Table.  Were you lazy at your job today?  Then you need to come to the Table.

Did you fight with your spouse today?  Then you need to come to the Table.  Were you lazy at your job today?  Then you need to come to the Table.

Were you lazy at your job today?  Then you need to come to the Table.

Have you looked questionably at another person, whether in judgment or lust?  Then you need to come to the Table.

It’s not that the sacraments themselves save us.  In fact, the act of taking communion or getting baptized does not ensure salvation.  Rather, they remind us that we are saved, we are forgiven, our sins our washed away because of Jesus Christ and we receive that through faith.

Maybe the way your church does communion is boring… or you just don’t like it…

Maybe your pastor doesn’t explain it well or just reads the same old stuff each time…

…if either of those are so, that is sad…

…but it is no excuse for ignoring the deep meaing and the reality of grace and forgiveness that we live in which is symbolized in the taking of the bread and the drinking of the cup!

We are forgiven!  We are united with Christ!  We are called to newness of life!

Take, eat, remember and believe!  Be what you see and receive what you are!



Refreshments: H.C. Question 77

Where does Christ promise to nourish and refresh believers with his body and blood as surely as they eat this broken bread and drink this cup?

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 – For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17 – Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.



Eat and Drink: H.C. Question 76 (part 1)

What does it mean to eat the crucified body of Christ and to drink his poured-out blood? 

John 6:35, 40, 50-58 – Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

1 Corinthians 12:13 – For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Acts 1:9-11 – After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

1 Corinthians 11:26 – For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Colossians 3:1 – Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.



Remembrance: H.C. Question 75

How does the holy supper remind and assure you that you share in Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross and in all his benefits?

Matthew 26:26-28 – While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark 14:22-24 – While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.

Luke 22:19-20 – And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

1 Corinthians 11:23-25 – For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”



The Holy Sacraments: H.C. Lord's Day 25

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 25

Q 65. It is through faith alone that we share in Christ and all his benefits: where then does that faith come from?
A 65. The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.

Q 66. What are sacraments?
A 66. Sacraments are visible, holy signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and seal that promise.

And this is God’s gospel promise: to grant us forgiveness of sins and eternal life by grace because of Christ’s one sacrifice accomplished on the cross.

Q 67. Are both the word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?
A 67. Yes! In the gospel, the Holy Spirit teaches us and by the holy sacraments confirms that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.

Q 68. How many sacraments did Christ institute in the New Testament?
A 68. Two: holy baptism and the holy supper.

It is probably safe to say that if there is something that most people in the church don’t think much about on a regular basis, it would be the sacraments.  In my opinion, this is often due to either a lack of appropriate understanding or a misunderstanding of the purpose, meaning, and nature of the sacraments.  Far too often, when we celebrate them, a liturgy is read from a book in a rather monotone voice and then we do something… something we do the same every time without thinking about it.  Then we continue on like it never happened.  It’s a sad sort of traditional thing that seems to be overlooked…

Apart from the doctrine of justification by God’s grace in Jesus Christ through faith alone, the Reformers (those writing, teaching, and standing against much of the abuse of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century) wrote more about the sacraments than any other topic.  They are, as many would say, very important to the life of Christ followers.  But why?  What purpose do they play?

First, it is important to point out that the sacraments themselves do not save.  We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ only, and while partaking in the sacraments can be a sign of that faith, their physical actions have no saving element to them.  The Reformed Church, in which I am ordained, practices Infant Baptism, yet baptizing an infant does not ensure that child’s salvation.  This act is sign and symbol that salvation is available to that child and that, in a special way, that child is called and a part of the community of faith; but it is only through faith that we are saved and infants are completely incapable of having a saving faith (far as we know).

The second thing that is important for us to remember about sacramental celebrations or rememberances are that they are signs and seals of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Unlike the Roman Catholic Church of the 16th Century, which taught that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) was a reenactment of Jesus’ death, we believe that this is a symbol of the promise that is confirmed in Jesus’ once for all death on the cross for the sins of the entire world.

Related to that is the reality of what takes place in the sacraments.  As signs and seals of the promises of God the sacraments do not create faith, they confirm it, making us understand the Gospel promises more clearly through the work and revelation of the Holy Spirit and confirming to us our salvation.  I often say, when speaking of the Lord’s Supper, that we are nourished spiritually through the sacrament in a similar way to the fact that the physical food nourishes our body.

The sacraments are called “visible signs of invisible grace.”  It is another way that God works to reveal Himself, His love, and His grace to us.  For those who are visual learners, these sacraments can speak volumes!  In fact, the sacraments take sensory worship to a whole new level, providing for us the ability to see, smell, taste, and touch the promises of God made physical in the elements of the sacraments in the same way that we hear these promises proclaimed through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.