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.