With a few exceptions, every denomination observes special ceremonies and times of worship designated as “sacraments” or “ordinances.” Roman Catholics celebrate seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Holy Communion, Matrimony, Ordination and Extreme Unction (or Healing). In most Protestant churches, the number is reduced to two sacraments: Baptism and Holy Communion (also termed the “Lord’s Supper” or the “Eucharist”), while the other five are considered to be states of life or acts of faith, but technically not “sacraments.” Some prefer not to use the term “sacrament” at all, and some would add ceremonial foot-washing as being sacramental.
While there are differences of interpretation, there is wholesale agreement about what constitutes a “sacrament:” Jesus himself commanded the observance, and ordained the use of some earthly material as a symbol of spiritual reality.
We can readily identify these three conditions in the seven or eight practices outlined above. Baptism, for example, was clearly commanded by Jesus in such New Testament passages as Matthew 28:19-20; and the baptismal waters symbolize a cleansing of the soul through the death and resurrection of Christ (see Romans 6:1-12). Likewise, Jesus himself established the Eucharist or Holy Communion as recorded in the Gospels (see Matthew 26:26-29 and parallels; also First Corinthians 11:23-26), in which bread and wine point to the Body and Blood of Christ offered for our salvation.
Is Matrimony a sacrament? While marriage is not “commanded” as a universal requirement, Jesus does refer to God’s creative intention for the wedding of a couple (see the discussion in Matthew 19:1-12 as one such teaching); and the wedding ring is proclaimed as an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” St. Paul certainly uses sacramental language in teaching about the way marriage should symbolize the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:21-33).
Without looking in detail at each of the seven, or two, or three “sacraments,” consider the idea of a “sacramental life-style.” What would it mean for me to live in obedience to God’s direction in such a thorough-going manner that every material, this-worldly aspect of my life pointed to spiritual realities? What would our activities and relationships be like if they were expressions of God’s love and grace?
Here are just a few examples: (1) What if I were to regard my finances as “outward and visible signs” of “inward and spiritual graces?” (2) How careful would I be when driving my car if I somehow understood my driving habits and my attitude toward other drivers to be sacred? (3) How might my use of the property I own be elevated if I understood ownership in terms of stewardship rather than exploitation? (4) Think how the sacramental life-style could eliminate abuse and domestic violence, making one’s home a haven of rest and a place of peace!
Sacramental life-style is living in tune with God’s creative purpose for us and our world and seeing every part of the material world as a revelation of God’s loving provision. This life-style is also living out the call of Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord. Each of us individually would live on a higher plane! For that matter, think how planet earth might be transformed, if her citizens could see themselves as players in the “theater of God’s glory.”
This was John Calvin’s vision: the whole of creation as the theater of God’s glory—the same vision that inspired Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s glowing description: “Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush aflame with God!”
Campbell is the pastor at Fredericktown and Salem United Methodist Churches