Belgic Confession, Article 33: The Sacraments Appealing to Our Senses
by Rev. Martyn McGeown, Missionary-Pastor laboring in Limerick, Ireland
Psalm 34:8: “O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.”
Some have complained that Reformed Christianity is so centered on the Word of God, on hearing the preaching, that we neglect the other senses of the believer. This, of course, is not true. The Lord knows that we are creatures who see, taste, touch and smell. In the Old Testament the worship was sensual, that is, it appealed to the senses. The New Testament is less so. The primary organ is the ear.
However, God has not neglected our other senses. This does not mean that we need to invent sensual ways to worship God. We will not, for example, be using images as books to the laity; we do not need overhead projectors or power point presentations to enhance our worship. We will not add drama, sketches and skits, or puppet shows to teach (or entertain) our congregations; nor do we need elaborately decorated sanctuaries or sweet-smelling incense to improve our experience of salvation.
But the Lord has given us “visual aids.” They are called the sacraments. And since God has ordained them, we know that they are truly “visual aids,” that is things which we can see (“visual”) which truly do help (“aids”) us to understand spiritual realities. God has promised to help our infirmities through these things, not through things we might invent to titillate our senses. God has not promised to strengthen faith through images, dramas or liturgical dances. In fact, God is offended at human innovations in His worship.
Consider what beautiful aids God has given us. In baptism we see water being applied to a little baby or to an adult convert. This teaches us that, just as water washes away the filth of the body, so the blood and Spirit of Christ wash away the filth of sin. In the Lord’s Supper we see the loaf of bread being broken, and we see the red wine being poured out. And we are immediately reminded of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross which is our very salvation. And then we take the bread, we handle it, we smell it and we taste it; and we taste, smell and swallow the wine. These very simple actions teach us a profound truth: just as by eating and drinking bread and wine we are nourished physically, so by eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus Christ by faith we are nourished spiritually unto eternal life.
Let us use these visual aids—and no other—in the church of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Martyn McGeown (Larisa)
Pastorates: Missionary-pastor in Limerick, Ireland for the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland - 2010; Providence PRC (Hudsonville, MI), Sept. 2021Website: www.prca.org/current/news/churches/usa-canada/providence-prc-hudsonville-mi
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