Why All the Confusion over the Sacraments?

The Bible states that God has given believers everything needed to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:3).  Amen – and praise God for that.

But let me ask a question: has God given the church everything she needs for faithful ministry?

And when it comes to faithful ministry, how vitally important are church sacraments/ordinances like baptism and the Eucharist (a.k.a. Lord’s Supper or Communion)?  

If you answer, “The ordinances are essential,” then I have another question for you:

“If the ordinances are so essential, why is there such divergence among ‘Bible-believing’ churches in their understanding of the number, meaning, significance, scope, and practice of the ordinances?” (Don’t you see?  By my word choice of ‘ordinance’ over ‘sacrament’, I am illustrating the problem.  The church is not of one mind concerning what to even collectively name these practices.)

From my perspective, this is a conundrum that seemingly challenges the notion of the clarity of Scripture.  In other words, if the sacraments are so vital for the spirituality of the church, why is there not sufficient clarity on them to unify the church in practice?

How do you explain (or accept) the divergence?

The following are some of the suggested reasons for the divergence:

  • The sacraments are not that important.  Taking firm positions on them should be avoided.
  • There is disagreement over their nature because of sin.  Sin clouds the understanding.
  • The Bible is not sufficient for determining God’s will for the church.  You need church tradition to guide you in wisdom on these matters.
  • There is divergence of opinion on the sacraments because people disagree over the interpretive rules that must be applied.  Get the rules right, and all will be well.
  • Not all aspects of a given sacrament are essential to its practice.  There can certainly be disagreement over secondary matters while still holding the core truths in common.

So, I confess that I feel the tension between holding to the following two principles simultaneously:

  1. The importance that Jesus seems to place on baptism and the Eucharist.
  2. The lack of clear Scriptural guidance on how to properly administer them.

Does the diversity in the church on the sacraments bother you?  Is there a sufficient biblical authority to govern baptism and the Lord’s Supper?


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