Search

Sacraments

The notes of the true Kirk, according to the Scots confession (3.18) and summarized in the Book of Order (F-1.0303), are:

  • the Word of God is truly preached and heard,

  • the Sacraments are rightly administered, and

  • ecclesiastical discipline is uprightly ministered.

There's some hubris in that. It kinda sounds like the Scots back in 1560 were basically saying their church was right and all the rest wrong. Their preachers proclaimed better, their bread was baked better, their wine filled you more with the Holy Spirit, they repressed more vice and nourished more virtue. At least more so than the church of Mary Queen of Scots.

I don't think these are so much points of bragging rights or claims that "WE" are better than "THEM." I think, instead these are consequences. They help us measures ourselves as to whether we're on the right track, whether Christ or the Holy Spirit is among us. I don't think, for instance, that the quality of my preaching is the measure of the Word of God being truly proclaimed. I think when the Word of God is truly proclaimed, that it is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ who is doing the proclaiming. God uses me and my sermons in spite of me and my preaching problems. God speaks to you in the hearing of the Word and of the Word proclaimed. Maybe God also corrects my errors in the meditations of your heart.

The sacraments make this point more explicitly. A sacrament is defined, by the Second Helvetic Confession, to be God's Word, signs, and the thing signified (5.169). Bread is a sign, the body of Christ is the thing signified. Wine is the sign, the blood of Christ is the thing signified. But what happens in the moment of the sacrament during a worship service? We Presbyterians don't believe that the thing, the sign, is transformed into the thing signified. In the Reformation, other faiths, Lutherans and Catholics, would accuse us of taking the presence of Christ out of communion. Calvin, though describes that instead of Christ's body and blood being here, in our sanctuary, on our plate and in our cup, that Christ body is above, at the right hand of the Father. How then do we enjoy the presence of Christ? "Christ lifts us up to heaven with our eyes and minds to seek Christ there in the glory of his kingdom" (IV.xvii.19). The presence is real because of Christ's action lifting us up into His presence, not because of our action saying the right words or performing the right ritual to "call down" the Holy Spirit or transform the sign into the thing signified.

Many have asked me about my use of the baptismal font, and now the symbols of communion. I'm leaving them out all Sundays. Christ's presence is with us throughout our lives, but when we worship, the cup and plate are on the communion table to remind us that Christ's presence is real. The baptismal font is open and the water is is in it to remind us that we have really been cleansed of our sins, and the waters of our baptism really nourish our lives like water flowing through a vine nourishes its branches.

May you carry these blessings out from our sacraments and worship services into the world with you every day.

Pastor Chas.