Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sign and Seal

In Romans 4:11, circumcision is called a sign and seal of Abraham's faith.  This can be applied to the other ordinances of God, including the present ones.  A sign is a proclamation, like the banner before the army.  A seal shows ownership, like the seal once used on letters.  Therefore the sacraments confess and proclaim to the world that we belong to God.  But there are questions connected with them which have greatly vexed and divided the Christian church for centuries.

What are the criteria that make the ordinances valid?  The criterion given in the context of Romans 4:11 is faith.  This is in accord with the fact that salvation is by faith (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; John 3:16) and that baptism is seen as preceded by faith or repentance (Acts 16:31-33; 2:38; 22:16).  This does not, in and of itself, resolve the question of infant baptism, as circumcision clearly was performed on infants, presumably based on the faith of the parents.  But Scripture makes it clear that the validity of the circumcision depends on the person who is circumcised appropriating it himself (Romans 2:25-29; 9:6-13; Jeremiah 4:4). I would instead reject infant baptism because it is never taught in the New Testament. Also, to apply everything about circumcision to baptism is like saying we should only have communion of the 14th of Nisan because of its connection to the Passover.  But the idea that the validity of the ordinances depends on the person officiating is never found in Scripture.   Now the sacraments are an act of worship, so it makes sense that they should be done with those of correct Biblical faith (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) and in conjunction with proper instruction by leadership (Hebrews 13:17). But the issue is the faith of the recipient.  What is clear is that  God is not pleased with simply going through the motions (Malachi 1:10-11; Isaiah 66:3; 58:3-12).

Also, what do the sacraments do to you or for you? Answers to this can range from their creating and sustaining faith to their being merely symbols. This relates to in what sense Christ is present in the Lord's Supper.  If Christ is physically present in the Eucharist, it makes more sense to see it as actually accomplishing something when we partake.  But Scripture does not even deal with these issues. One has to suspect that if it were important what theory we held regarding this, Scripture would make it clear.  I am therefore forced to conclude that those who participate in faith receive the benefit of the ordinance. (1 Corinthians 11:28,29 is speaking of turning the ordinance into a drunken feast, which is disrespectful whatever you understand the sacrament to be.)  Nor are we urged to argue over what "is" means (it can mean different things in different contexts; see Revelation 17:18).  Now my purpose here is not to advocate a particular theory but to suggest we put aside theory and celebrate the greatness of what Christ has done for us.


  1. Remembering the death, burial and resurrection (the Lord's table) of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and being water baptized are the only 2 sacraments I see in scripture that we are told to keep until His return. And as you said, we should put aside theory and celebrate the greatness of what Christ has done for us. Amen!


  2. Sometimes I think we can over complicate things that were meant to be simple.