Taking a fresh look at what Scripture actually says about the Sacraments


The Sacraments and the Bible

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How can The Salvation Army justify non-adherence to
the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist
when it seems clear that the vast majority of other
denominations regard them as being
an intrinsic part of the Christian faith?

 Can such a position be defended using the Bible alone?

 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."

 Luke 22v19

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
baptising them in the name of
the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Matthew  28 v19
The Sacraments and the Bible

The official review by Commissioner John Swinfen as published in Salvationist magazine, United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland Territory, July 29th 2007.

 

'A good, simple, Salvationist, sacramental roadmap.'

 

IN this contribution to the ongoing sacraments debate, Phil Layton has taken a look at the issues from the standpoint of specific biblical texts. He chooses to concentrate on particular Scripture passages rather than the overall tenor of the life and teaching of Jesus, and – despite inevitable challenges of translation, redaction and emphasis – gives this approach good value.

Deliberately separating out ‘traditions, schools of thought, teachings, customs, culture and practices’, his handling of Scripture is scholarly, direct, healthy and constructive, comparing Scripture with Scripture in its context, and looking for the essential meaning behind specific incidents and teachings in balance with the text as a whole.

He aims at a concise approach to the subject and achieves this in a well-used 51 pages. Without clutter, he brings the reader to the issues free of mindsets and special pleading, to look objectively at essential Scripture. His style and organisation are helpful, engaging the reader.

He strongly affirms baptism. Making it clear that the essential meaning of baptism is strengthened by detaching it from water, he finally defines it as a confession of faith. There is, of course, more to say about the spiritual immersion that the concept of baptism symbolises, and he would no doubt go into this in a larger book.

On the Eucharist, without denying our fellow Christians a ‘means of grace’ which they find helpful, he gives a restatement of the essential way God channels his grace and mediates his love and sacrifice in Jesus to daily life and the real human condition.

While not specifically demonstrating the Incarnation as the overarching sacrament – linking the spiritual and the physical – he gives a good, simple roadmap for the Salvationist’s journey to a true understanding of sacrament, not as ceremony but as interaction with God in Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

Phil handles the Last Supper authentically in terms of the Passover meal for the Jew, allowing the reader to extend this thought into Jesus’ teaching about salvation in the sense that the full replaces the partial; the universal and individual replaces the national; Calvary and the Resurrection replace the Exodus. I offer my own paraphrase of Luke 22:19: ‘Whenever you meet to celebrate and participate in God’s salvation, don’t think of crossing the Red Sea without thinking of and communing with me’.

We return to a great central truth. The all-embracing essential sacrament is the Incarnation: God present in our total environment in Jesus, communing with us through a vast number of media by the Holy Spirit; confirming and implementing the divine character, values and spirit in power and love to every truly receptive human mind and heart.

Phil Layton gives us a very useful manual which sets out the basic issues simply across the spectrum of Christian thought and practice; a little book to join the treasury of the Army’s little books, classically modelled on John Coutts’s This We Believe series.



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