Okay, I know there are some people who think that I am out of my crazy skull talking about baptism and communion as things that actually shape a person’s worldview as if they play a central role in a Christian’s life. Are they really that important? The short answer to that is “yes”. Here is the longer answer, and I will frame it by asking two questions: what place do the sacraments (or ordinances in non-Reformed theology) have in the Christian life? and, why do we even need them since we have the preaching of the Word?
We get something in the sacraments that we don’t get by sermons alone. The sheer physical presence of the elements of water, bread, and wine engages the whole person in sight, touch, and smell and not just through an engagement with the mind through the ears. The sacraments present the good news of Jesus to us, along with the Word, more clearly. Perhaps all of us have had the experience of receiving an e-mail with an attachment we cannot open. We may gain a certain amount of knowledge and understanding from the e-mail itself, but without the attachment the communication is insufficient and lacking. Holy communion and baptism are the attachments opened to us revealing the presence of Jesus among his people and showing us the incredible union we have with God through Christ’s redemptive events.
The big deal here is that we need more than just talk in communication of the gospel. Just as lovers need more than just the words “I love you” (sermon), they need an embrace, a kiss, some action that reveals and seals the words as real. This is the role of the sacraments in the life of faith, that they assure us, in a material way, of the great love shown to us in Christ (VanderZee, Christ, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, pp.191-2). They lift us to heaven where Jesus is seated at the right hand of God and help us to know the reality of grace. The Belgic Confession says this of what we are speaking:
“We believe that our good God, mindful of our crudeness and weakness, had ordained sacraments for us to seal his promises in us, to pledge his good will and grace toward us, and also to nourish and sustain our faith. He has added these to the Word of the gospel to represent better to our external senses both what he enables us to understand by his Word and what he does inwardly in our hearts, confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us.”
It is a misguided belief that the only things believers need is a lively sermon and some good praise choruses for their worship experience. Two thousand years of church history testifies to the importance of the sacraments in the life of Christians. We push them to the periphery at our own peril. They are meant to seal the message of union with Christ to us with greater certainty. When they are practiced with the attention they deserve, along with the preaching of the Word, it provides a solid foundation from which to construct a decidedly Christian world and life view of human need and divine redemption. So, how do you view your life and the world around us?