Marks of a True Church: Pure Administration of the Sacraments
The second of the three marks of a true church is the pure administration of the sacraments.
The two sacraments that Christ Himself instituted are baptism (Matt. 28:18–20) and the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:26–29). Because of our continuing struggle with sin, the visible Word of the sacraments supplements the audible Word of the gospel preached, for God “hath joined [the sacraments] to the word of the gospel, the better to present to our senses, both that which he signifies to us by his Word, and that which he works inwardly in our hearts” (Belgic Confession, Art. 33). As the preaching of the gospel creates faith, the sacraments confirm that faith within us (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 65), just as circumcision did for Abraham, being “a seal (confirmation) of the righteousness that he had by faith” (Rom. 4:11).
To purely administer the sacraments, a church must do so “as instituted by Christ” (Belgic Confession, Art. 29). This means, first, that it recognizes that there are only the two sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—and that it therefore rejects the five other sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church as false sacraments (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 68). Second, this means that it administers the sacraments without the unbiblical ceremonies and elements that have been added to them over the course of history, such as we find in the Roman Catholic Church.
Baptism is to be administered simply with water, in the name of the triune God, and by an ordained minister (Matt. 28:18–20). Whether one is baptized in a church building or at the beach; whether the baptism is done from a font or in a pool; whether it is performed by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion; and whether the minister sprinkles, pours, or immerses once or three times is all indifferent. The Lord’s Supper is purely administered when bread (whether leavened or unleavened) and wine are given to those who profess faith and are members of Christ’s church, whether kneeling, sitting, or standing. This is to be done with the recitation of the words of institution (as the example of Paul testifies in 1 Cor. 11:23–26), the breaking of the bread (“… he took bread… he broke it… “), and prayer over the bread and wine (“… when he had given thanks… ”).
Next week we will conclude by considering the third mark of a true church, the exercise of church discipline.
- Marks of a True Church: Introduction
- Marks of a True Church: Pure Preaching of the Gospel
- Marks of a True Church: Pure Administration of the Sacraments
- Marks of a True Church: Exercise of Church Discipline
This blog series is adapted from Welcome to a Reformed Church by Daniel Hyde.