What Does “Means of Grace” Mean?
Sacraments are “a series of church rites or clerical actions regarded as having special spiritual qualities, such as the ability to convey the grace of God.” The word derives from the Latin sacramentum, which connotes “something which is consecrated” (McGrath, Reformation Thought, 169). Most Protestant denominations recognize only two sacraments (sometimes called “ordinances”): baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Roman Catholic Church holds that there are seven: baptism, Lord’s Supper, confirmation, reconciliation (or penance), anointing of the sick, marriage, and holy orders. Protestants argue that only baptism (Matthew. 28:18-20) and the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29) are valid sacraments because they were directly established by Christ himself, while Catholics believe that Christ instituted the other five in an implicit manner.
Why Is This Important to Me?
Though Protestants do not believe the sacraments are a necessary means of gaining or keeping salvation, as the Roman Catholic Church argues, they are a “means of grace” in the sense that we receive profound spiritual benefits from the practices. For one, we demonstrate our faithfulness to the Lord by practicing the sacraments because he commanded us to and we should always obey our Lord. Second, the sacraments are intertwined with involvement in a local church. At baptism, we are publicly and officially initiated into the body of Christ. When partaking of the Lord’s Supper in a service, we enjoy Christ’s presence with us and remember his atoning work on the cross until he returns. Finally, participating in baptism and the Lord’s Supper symbolizes our mystical union with Christ as individual believers and as Christ’s corporate body (Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 6:17; Ephesians 5:29-30; Colossians 2:11-12).
What Is the Daily Application?
Baptism is not something that we should practice daily, as baptism should only occur once in our lives. Under normal circumstances, there is nothing wrong with a body of believers partaking of the Lord’s Supper as frequently as possible. Many churches observe the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. However, in this time of uncertainty over the coronavirus and most church gatherings not taking place because of trying to adhere to medical guidelines about social distancing in order to curb the spread of the virus. How can we practice these sacraments, which, by their nature, are communal practices? In the short term, we cannot, and we pray fervently that the virus will be eventually eradicated. Meanwhile, we can meditate upon the profound mystery of our union with Christ. We can continue to share the gospel and timely words of encouragement through various social media platforms and good old-fashioned phone calls. And then someday hopefully soon, we will be able to join together as the Lord’s body and carry out the joyful participation of those means of grace yet again.
McGrath, Alister E. Reformation Thought: An Introduction. 3rd edition. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2009
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