Monday, June 20, 2011

Sacraments: the Line between Life and Legalism

The line between life and legalism is truly thin; so thin, that the sacraments (baptism and Eucharist) have definitions that alienate people. At heart, sacraments are a sign of God’s grace. In practice, sacraments tend to be the forts of battle. Why are the works of God’s overflowing grace – acts of sanctification, by way of, repentance – battle grounds bathed in the blood of controversy? Perhaps, it is because these external gifts, intended to connect us to the divine, have been diluted by false aspirations towards an internal righteousness.

In praxis, goals of personal piety, meant to climb the ladder of holiness, alienate us from the divine work of the sacraments. This fortress of holiness comes in many forms: some churches possess such elitist views that only they administer the true sacrament and if one is not, "one of them," the sacrament is closed off to “the outsider.” Other churches shroud the sacraments in guilt – maintaining that one’s mindset or heart condition can deny one’s ability to receive the sacraments – causing believers to dwell in a foxhole of fear.   

In order to tow the line and avoid legalism, many believers have given way to vague, ambiguous, empty, relativistic, and apathetic expressions of the sacraments. Thus, sacraments become symbolic – they become symbolic of everything they are meant to forgive – and silence the divine declaration of absolution.

In response, “a sacrament does not rely on the condition of the minister or the recipient; it is the work of Christ” (Kellogg, Intimate Doctrine, “Sacraments (part one)”). Sacraments are works of Christ – of God alone – and declare our absolution: they forgive our sin, they pardon us from trying to climb the ladder of holiness, they release us from the fortresses of fear and holiness, and they proclaim God’s infinite mercy given – without merit – to our world. Sacraments are a gift of life, given to us by God, in Christ. May we receive the gift of life, given through the sacraments, and cease the murdering acts of this life through the malice of pietistic and relativistic legalism.


  1. I agree, but I also take issue with the sacraments being "dumbed down." If the sacraments are to declare absolution and give life they ought to be kept sacred, at least moreso than they often seem to be. We often lose the sacred when the sacraments are performed without reverence for what they are actually doing. This is why I take issue with Eucharist/Communion being performed with gatorade and granola bars. I think this is where (and why) churches take the dive into legalism and exclusion in regards to sacraments, they are attempting to keep something sacred sacred. Maybe the issue is a lack of tact.

  2. I honestly think sacraments should be taken serious as means of grace and piece of tradition... like you might take care of a gift from a deceased father or mother. I find the gatorade and cracker thing to be really obnoxious and gimmicky... I also believe that if that's all you have for some extreme reason, then God's work is done either way.

    Forgiveness is a big deal and if the sacraments are done in a narrative liturgy, the ethos gets pretty heavy and at the same time, very hopeful and beautiful.

    Look at you Tim, talkin 'bout sacraments sheit.

  3. It is pretty funny that, less than two years ago, I held a view of sacramental living (and generally didn't observe the traditional sacraments of Protestantism); yet, when I did, I'd be the guy using Sobe and cheese crackers as I kicked off my Johannine class at one point (though I did use the words of, I wasn't totally lame). Now, I gravitate more and more towards Luther's view of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. I agree with both of you, obviously; sacraments have to be taken seriously and they are sacred works of God.