Dale Appleby

...resources for Christian ministry

Weekly Reflections

Introducing the Anglican Church: 4. The Sacraments 22Jun14

Introducing the Anglican Church: 4. The Sacraments

We are looking at some of the key teachings of the Anglican Church as found in the 39 Articles, one of the foundation documents of the Anglican Church of Australia. This is a simple modern English version (the original 16th and 17th century version is in the Prayer Book).

25. About the Sacraments

Sacraments ordained by Christ are not only badges or signs that a person claims to be a Christian. They are also reliable witnesses of God’s good will towards us, and signs which bring his grace to us. God works invisibly in us through the sacrament not only to bring life to our faith, but also to strengthen our faith in him.

There are two sacraments Christ our Lord has commanded in the gospel: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The five which are commonly called sacraments are not to be counted as sacraments of the gospel. These are confirmation, penance, ordination, marriage, and extreme unction [anointing with oil at the time of death]. Some of these have developed because people have corrupted the teaching of the apostles. Some are just states of life allowed in the scriptures. They are not like the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper because they do not have any visible sign or ceremony appointed by God.

The sacraments were not given by Christ to be stared at or to be carried about. They were given so that we should use them. They only have a good effect for those who receive them in a worthy manner. Those who receive them in an unworthy way are buying judgment for themselves, as Paul said.

The term sacrament means something that represents something else. John Chrysostom said it was seeing one thing and believing another. Augustine said one thing is seen and another is understood. The Anglican Catechism says it is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”. In the Middle Ages many ceremonies were thought of as sacraments. Gradually only seven were considered as sacraments and these became the official sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in 1547. The Article says there are only two sacraments of the gospel, ie sacraments ordained by Christ.

Only these two have a sign or ceremony ordained by God. The Article distinguishes the sacrament from the grace which the sacrament points to. The sacrament is the sign but it is not the same as the thing which the sign points to. The sacrament or sign is like a promise.

But the two sacraments of Christ are not only a sign. They are signs that bring with them the grace of God. They are signs of God’s good will toward us. Sacraments do not bring the grace that is promised automatically. The grace is not contained in the sign. The sign or sacrament has to be received in the right way, that is, by faith.

The Article says that God works invisibly in us. This does not mean that the sacrament works invisibly. God does an invisible or spiritual work through the sacrament, because the sacrament brings a promise from God. The sign represents and reminds us of the promises of the gospel. It is like a visible word from God. When we recognize and believe what the sacrament is describing, our faith is strengthened. In the sacrament God brings his promises to us in a visible form and we receive the promises by faith.

The Article rejects the practice of worshiping or venerating the sacraments, especially the Holy Communion.

The Article also rejects the idea that the sacraments contain grace, that is, that grace can be received just because we receive the outward sign. The Anglican church says the sacrament must be received in a worthy manner, that is by faith. (See later Articles on Baptism and the Lord's Supper).


You are here: Home Weekly Reflections Introducing the Anglican Church: 4. The Sacraments 22Jun14