Why two sacraments and only two? That question needs answering over against the errors of Romanism with its seven sacraments and also over against the tendency of some Protestant groups to exalt such things as foot-washing and other rites to a place in the church where they are in effect sacraments of the church.
First, how do we know that something is a sacrament? The answer is that it must be a symbolic ritual commanded by Christ Himself and confirmed by the command or practice of the Apostles. This rules out foot-washing which, though done by Christ, is neither commanded by Him (He only says: “do as I have done to you”), nor confirmed either by the command or example of the Apostles (cf. Volume IV, Number 17). This we refer to as the “institution” of the sacraments.
Now it is clear that the other five sacraments of Rome do not meet these criteria. Confirmation, penance and orders are not symbolic of anything, and such practices as last rites (extreme unction) and orders are not commanded either by Christ or the Apostles. Nor is marriage, though symbolic, required by Christ or the Apostles.
All that, however, does not answer the question, why two sacraments, and more particularly, why these two - Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That question must be answer that we may the more profitably make use of the sacraments.
The reason why there are two and only two sacraments in found in the sacraments themselves. Together they symbolise the whole of our Christian life. Baptism symbolises our entering into God’s covenant and salvation and the way that we enter. The Lord’s Supper symbolises our life within that covenant as we enjoy and live out the salvation He has freely given us. There is no need or place, therefore, for other sacraments, for there is nothing else to symbolise.
The wonderful thing about the sacraments, though, is that in picturing these different aspects of our Christian life, they give a united testimony to Christ. Together they say that it is all of Him, through, Him, by Him and in Him - that without Him we are nothing and have nothing.
Together they say what Peter says in Acts 4:12: “Neither is their salvation in any other; for there is none other name given under heaven among men, whereby we must be saved.” Their testimony is that of Paul in Ephesians 1:3, that we have “every spiritual blessing” in Christ.
Not only that, but they speak of the fact that His death and His blood are central. Baptism says that it is by His blood that we enter in. The Lord’s Supper adds that His blood that it is by His blood and sacrifice that we live and move and have our being, our strength and nourishment when once we have entered. His sacrifice is everything to us.
What wonderful gifts God has given us in the sacraments. Let us not then use them carelessly or faithlessly.
- Volume: 6
- Issue: 23
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
Address13823 Clear Lake Rd.
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