Thursday, July 2, 2009

Discussing Sacraments...

Lately, I have been discussing the Sacraments with my Separated Brothers and Sisters in Christ. I was very surprised to find out that some Reformed theologians actually believe that the Sacraments do, in fact confer grace.

Charles Hodge says:

The first point clearly taught on this subject in the Symbols of the Reformed Church is that the sacraments are real means of grace, that is, means appointed and employed by Christ for conveying the benefits of his redemption to his people. They are not, as Romanists teach, the exclusive channels; but they are channels. A promise is made to those who rightly receive the sacraments that they shall thereby and therein be made partakers of the blessings of which the sacraments are the divinely appointed signs and seals.(Systemmatic Theology Volume 3, The Efficacy of the Sacraments, )

Of course there are obvious differences between the Catholic understanding of Sacraments and the Reformed perspective - however, I was excited to see that a Reformed theologian actually realizing that God is at work through the sacraments.

What timing this discussion was, since I was just listening to a podcast series by Fr. John Riccardo on the subject of Sacraments. I have taken one of those podcasts where he reads an excerpt from one of my favorite theologians, Peter Kreeft book titled Jesus Shock. If you can spare 7 minutes, please listen as Peter Kreeft explains in his own words, the journey of how he viewed the Sacraments as a Protestant and now how he views them as a Catholic.

Peter Kreeft: Excerpt from Jesus Shock - Journey from a Protestant to Catholic Perspective of the Sacraments.

If you click on the link it should automatically start playing. If this does not work, then right click on the link and choose Save As... From there, choose a location. After saving it, just double click it and it should open up.

Thanks and God bless...

10 comments:

born4battle said...

You wouldn't be so excited about it if you actually understood Hodge.....just a thought.

Carlus Henry said...

born4battle,

why not? What am I missing?

born4battle said...

Hodge:

"By means of grace are not meant every instrumentality which God may please to make the means of spiritual edification to his children. The phrase is intended to indicate those institutions which God has ordained to be the ordinary channels of grace, i.e., of the supernatural influences of the Holy Spirit, to the souls of men. The means of grace, according to the standards of our Church, are the word, sacraments, and prayer." - Vol III, Chapter XX

In simpler terms we can say that while the Holy Spirit moves and operates in many ways, there are those God seems to have emphasized as 'most important" for growing in our faith (sanctification), and becoming stronger in our faith.The Reformers, and others have called these 'means of grace'. A more common term might be 'spiritual disciplines'.

In and of themselves, they do not somehow "contain/possess" grace (Gods' favor), but when we read His word, and pray directly to Him, our faith is strengthed. There is also an element of 'faith building/strengthening'in a believer's Baptism and partaking of Communion.

There is a supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit (difficult to explain) in scripture reading, prayer, Baptism and Communion, which are not present in other 'activities'. In that, Protestants and Catholics agree.
Some Protestants deny the supernatural element in the sacraments and say they are merely symbols, and nothing more. That can be traced to Ziingle and the Romonstrants). They are, I think, in the minority.

Catholics would say that the Sacrements actually contain/are repositories of grace itself. there is a big difference.

Hodge again:

"The Council of Trent anathematizes, as we have seen, not only those who deny that the sacraments convey grace, but also those who deny that they convey it “ex opere operato.” The meaning of this phrase is intelligible enough if left unexplained. It has been obscured by the explanations given by Romanists themselves, as well as by the conflicting views of Protestants on the subject. To say that the sacraments contain grace; that they convey it “virtute sibi insita,” that they convey it “ex opere operato,” all amount to the same thing. The simple meaning is that such is the nature of the sacraments that, when duly administered, they produce a given effect. There is no necessity and no propriety in looking beyond them to account for the effect produced. If you place a coal of fire on a man’s hand, it produces a certain effect. That effect follows without fail. It follows from the very nature of the thing done and from the act of doing it. It makes no difference, whether we say that the coal contains heat; or, that it burns in virtue of its inherent nature; or that the effect is produced “ex opere operato.”

You have said that the sacraments themselves confer grace. Being a channel through which something passes is quite different than "conferring". The electricity in my home comes from the power generation source itself. All the bits and pieces in between are merely channels.

Concerning salvation, Catholics will say that salvation / justification "begins", when one is Baptised, making Baptism (or the desire thereof essential for salvation. The Protestant (and scriptural) view that ceremonies/sacraments do not "contain" grace, relegates the ceremony itself to a "work" performed by human hands. Thus it is adding a "work" to belief/faith and contrary to Eph 2:8-9.

The book of Galations perfectly describes Rome - the only difference is that Galations describes a return to Jewish law and Rome has 'Christianized' it. Don't take that too hard, Protestants have their own "legal systems", equally wrong.

Having said all that, I ask you to NOT refer to me as a 'separated brother'. Not only do we hold to different gospels, the very phrase is arrogant, at least in my opinion. If there is a separation between us, it is more likely a Gospel separation.

Carlus Henry said...

born4battle,

I have to say that after reading your response, I am still hold to my former position. I am still suprised. I am suprised because I thought, up until now, that the Reformed doctrine did not allow for God to use the material world in order to share His Grace. Instead of using the material world, He only uses the spiritual. This of course would be completely against the Sacramental system which is expressed by Hodge.

Of course we disagree with the nature of the Sacraments. I do believe that they objectively contain grace. I think that Peter Kreeft does a fine job of explaining how he originally thought that they did not objectively contain grace, and why he now believes that they do. I would recommend listening to his argument. It is only 7 minutes long. While I do not expect you to agree with what is claimed, I do think that you would appreciate having a better understanding of the difference of views between the Reformed Church and the Catholic Church.

You have said that the sacraments themselves confer grace. Being a channel through which something passes is quite different than "conferring". The electricity in my home comes from the power generation source itself. All the bits and pieces in between are merely channels.

What a great analogy. Instead, I would invite you to consider the idea that the electricity is coming into your house. Now if you decide to plug an electrical device into the wall, it will use that power from the power source (God). Let's say you do not plug in the electrical device, does that mean that the power / electricity does not still flow to the plug? In other words, does the electrical device produce the availability of the energy from the power source, or is it more natural to believe that the power is there and is available, and it is up to device to plug into it, and access it? In Peter Kreeft's description, he uses a similar analogy (you really should listen)

The Protestant (and scriptural) view that ceremonies/sacraments do not "contain" grace, relegates the ceremony itself to a "work" performed by human hands. Thus it is adding a "work" to belief/faith and contrary to Eph 2:8-9.


I don't understand. You consider the Sacrament of Baptism to be a way that God gives us His Grace. Then you say that rituals are just a "work" performed by human hands, therefore adding a work? I don't understand how you reconcile the two. Either it is a work, in which God is not participating, or it is a sacrament, a channel of grace from the Lord Himself.

I will get back to the term "Separated Brothers / Sisters" later. I am sorry that your feelings may have been hurt.

born4battle said...

I can see that.

born4battle said...

My feelings have not been hurt.

We might be brothers in Christ (God knows) but I an not 'separated' from the 'true' church because I am not a Roman Catholic, which what is meant by the description of non-Catholics.

Carlus Henry said...

born4battle,

We might be brothers in Christ (God knows) but I an not 'separated' from the 'true' church because I am not a Roman Catholic, which what is meant by the description of non-Catholics.

I believe that we are brothers-in-Christ. At the same time, I also believe that Separated Brothers / Sisters is the most accurate term available that denotes the state of the Body of Christ today.

Don't think that it is a Catholic vs. Protestant thing only. There are so many different Protestant sects within itself, that the term Separated Brothers and Sisters is most appropriate to describe the Protestant state of affairs as well.

We are all seeking Christ. We are all seeking the Truth. The unfortunate fact of the matter is, we all have our own understanding of that truth - even with the various Protestant sects. Baptists, Lutherans, Anglican, Episcopalian, Christian Reformed, Presbyterian, Orthodox, Pentecostals, Church of God, Church of God In Christ...the differences are wide and varied.

Separated Brothers is the most accurate description because it is factual. While we are still brothers and sisters in Christ, we are separated by our various belief systems. Once again, it is not just a Protestant vs. Catholic kind of a thing. It is the sad state of affairs in the Christian Community as a whole.

God bless...

born4battle said...

Carlus, Your heartfelt comments concerning separations/divisions in the universal catholic church are appreciated and shared. I have no doubt they are genuine and are shared by a great number of Catholics and Protestants. I am one of those.

What is the complete RC position? Are we all of the same faith, or do non-catholics share some elements of truth but in reality they are separated from Rome, the only true church.

I posted at Deb's a link to an interesting objective artucle on the matter.

Carlus Henry said...

born4battle,

Carlus, Your heartfelt comments concerning separations/divisions in the universal catholic church are appreciated and shared. I have no doubt they are genuine and are shared by a great number of Catholics and Protestants. I am one of those.

Thank you. I told you we would agree on something... ;)

What is the complete RC position? Are we all of the same faith, or do non-catholics share some elements of truth but in reality they are separated from Rome, the only true church.

I do not suppose that the complete RC Position would be much different than the complete Protestant position. It would go something like this:

"If they only knew and understood what they were missing, then of course they wouldn't be fill in the blank (Catholic / Protestant)"

God bless...

Belteshazzar Mouse said...

"To say that the sacraments contain grace; that they convey it 'virtute sibi insita,' that they convey it 'ex opere operato,' all amount to the same thing. The simple meaning is that such is the nature of the sacraments that, when duly administered, they produce a given effect. There is no necessity and no propriety in looking beyond them to account for the effect produced."

I do not see either of these Latin phrases as indicating that grace comes from anyone or anything other than God. From the context it appears that the author does not understand these phrases.

I admit that I know very little Latin, however, the translations that I found both indicate a different understanding.
"ex opere operato" or "from the work done" indicates that a person receiving grace must be properly disposed (open to grace), that the grace comes from God, conferred through the sacrament, and not from the condition of the minister of the sacrament. See Wikipedia on this one (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ex_opere_operato).

I did not find a good definition of "virtute sibi insita" (valor to them sit upon something?), however, I found this explanation (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/hodge/theology3.iii.vi.iv.html), which also states that the sacrament confers grace given by God. I noticed this was from Hodge, so I believe there is a fuller description of his ideas here. I must admit that I do not understand how either of these statements implies that the Roman Catholic view is that the grace does not come from God, in fact, I believe that they state the opposite.

I do believe that on several occasions in scripture that Jesus used physical means to perform spiritual acts. I think that is very important to any discussion of sacrament. Does anyone believe the mud alone cured the blind man? Why did Christ choose to use these physical means?