Our Doctrine of the Sacraments Signifies More Than We Think

It is often said that teaching on the sacraments is not clearly spelled out in the Bible. Therefore since it is unclear, we should not get too worked up about differences. However, I wonder if there is more to this question than meets the eye. Pierre-Charles Marcel, in his The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism, writes:

The celebrated dogmatician H. Bavinck has well remarked that the doctrine of the sacraments has always been the shibboleth, the touchstone, of every dogmatic system. It is there that the principles from which one sets off in the Church and theology, in questions of faith and life, find there practical and concrete issue. The doctrines of the affinities of God and the world, of creation and regeneration, of Christ’s divine and human natures, of the modes of action of the Holy Spirit, of sin and of grace, of spirit and of matter, are all more or less present and implicit in the doctrine of the sacraments. The diverse roads of theology converge, whether one wishes it or not, sooner or later, consciously or unconsciously, in the highway of the sacraments. It is necessary to take this into account. (p.17)

I have felt for some time now that in any debate on baptism, for example, there is limited value in discussing the mode and the recipients by reference to NT texts without first going over some other, perhaps more basic ground. For example, if someone says to me, “Just read the New Testament!” when discussing the recipients of baptism, that says to me that there may be a difference between us in our doctrine of Scripture. It will also hint at the perceived relationship between the epochs of biblical history and the God-given covenants. And so it could go on.

So, rather than the sacraments being unimportant details, they point to more deeper questions which cannot be considered unimportant.

Our Doctrine of the Sacraments Signifies More Than We Think

6 thoughts on “Our Doctrine of the Sacraments Signifies More Than We Think

  1. Johnhttp://john.pettigrew.org.uk/blog/ says:

    Indeed – and this is one reason why Anglicans, for example, have traditionally not had a “statement of faith” or whatever. Instead, the Anglican position is “Look at what we do and you will see what we believe.” (Not, of course, that this is the only way, but one of the things I quite like about anglicanism 🙂

    pax et bonum

  2. Anonymous says:

    Though the Anglicans official statement of doctrine is the 39 Articles.
    Unlikely you’d be able to see that this is the case by looking at the Anglican Church and its Archbishop of Canterbury…

  3. Stephen says:

    Help me out here – your comment seems like a non sequitur to my post.

    Like anonymous, I thought the CoE had the 39 Articles. However the CoE is now such smorgasborg that one could pretty well choose any ‘tradition’ you like and make a case for it being the ‘real tradition’.

    Just in case there is any doubt, I would not be in favour of ditching statements or confessions of faith, and is not a conclusion you may draw from my post!

  4. Johnhttp://john.pettigrew.org.uk/blog/ says:

    Sorry if I came across as controversial there. I didn’t mean to!

    The 39 articles were written long after the CofE started, and were political in intention AIUI. Certainly, they are not binding on members of the CofE, although I think clergy are supposed to accept them as normative.

    I was just interested in the link – you were pointing out that our theology isn’t abstract but is the basis for our practice, and I thought it interesting that the CofE’s official position is that its worship and sacraments are the place to look if we want to know its theology. So, it’s not an issue of a particular tradition but of a particular practice that may be understood in various ways.

    I wasn’t meaning to imply that you were against statements of faith (perish the thought!). But your logic does imply that our faith ought to be visible in our practices.

    pax et bonum

  5. Stephen says:

    OK. I see where you are coming from. I didn’t take you as being controversial. I just did not understand!

    Yes, I agree – what one does displays one’s theology. That’s true corporately and personally. (If I may digress, there is a distinction to be made between what is demonstrative of doctrine and what should be determinative. You seem to like the CoE because it thinks of what is demonstrative as that which is determinative. Am I understanding you?)

    The point I was trying to get to was a bit deeper than that, and specific to the doctrine of the sacraments. This doctrine seems to rest to some degree on what one believes about other things, due to the apparent incompleteness of the Bible’s teaching on the matter. This is natural and necessary to a degree when one is trying to fit together the pieces systematically, but it seems more so with the sacraments.

  6. John says:

    It’s not (AIUI) that the CofE confuses the demonstrative and the determinative. Rather, the CofE has no determined theology. That is, the CofE is a group defined not by a common theology but by a common practice.

    This is part and parcel of the different view of Church taken by the CofE compared with many free churches – that “Church” isn’t an “opt-in” society formed by those who accede to a set of belief statements, but is rather a worshipping community drawn from the local area. Thus, to find what the CofE “believes”, one can only look to the liturgy because that is the thing draws the church together.

    Getting a bit off topic now, though, so I’ll stop! It’s interesting, though – I started going to the CofE purely because it was our local church but I’ve many important insights there, despite my staunch free-church upbringing 🙂

    pax et bonum

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