One of the hardest concepts for me to grasp before entering confessional Lutheran fellowship was sacramental theology. Coming from a non sacramental background, the act of viewing the Lord’s Supper and baptism as more than symbols were not only foreign, but were too close to Rome for my liking. My most fundamental friends and family would surely think I had gone off the deep end of Christianity and fallen into the cold embrace of works righteousness. Nevertheless, after several years of careful study, I concluded that sacramental theology as understood in the confessional Lutheran tradition was in-fact scriptural. My adherence to Lutheran sacramental theology has indeed been a sticking point concerning many conversations with my non-Lutheran friends and family. While I can certainly understand this, I find it ironic that those who deny the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper by turning them into symbolic ordinances, have actually inadvertently invented sacraments of their own design.
Let me explain.
Sacraments are actions instituted by Jesus and combine a promise in God’s Word with a physical element. Therefore sacraments are simply means to receive the promises of God as directed by scripture. This gives the church a standard for how Christians are to interact with God and receive His promises. Alternatively, when the sacraments are removed from the Christian life, interaction with Jesus is greatly reduced as a result. Jesus is only where He has promised to be. We aren’t in the position to make up rules concerning when and where Jesus shows up. For the church, Jesus has promised to show up in His word, in the waters of Holy Baptism and in the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper. These aren’t mere memorials or symbols, but real receptive interaction with Jesus. Thus even when the sacraments are stripped of their purpose and efficacy, the desire to interact with Jesus and receive His promises remain. For the Christian, this desire will not subside. In response to this need, “new” sacraments are created to fill the void and insinuate tangible interaction. These “new” sacraments may not be called sacraments, but I can assure they are made to function in like manner. Since baptism and the Lord’s Supper are viewed as mere ordinances and thus not efficacious, something has to fill the void that remains. This void is filled through the worship music experience, conversational prayer, and the altar call.
These are the new sacraments.
These are where the modern church wants to find God.
This is not good news because these false “sacraments” will lead to the wrong destination. Jesus has revealed where He can be found. Any directions apart from His instruction will lead to an undesired destination. When true sacraments are scrapped the resulting “false” sacraments will always lead one back to themselves. This is a destination that all should be weary of treading.
When one is lost in the worship experience the desire is always to recreate the last experience and wonder why when it doesn’t happen?
When one attempts to turn prayer into a conversation and expects to receive directives and/or assurance whether quietly or audibly, how does one truly discern between the conscience and God or worse yet, what happens when there is nothing?
When one attempts to “do business with God” during the latest altar call, what happens when they really, really, really commit to do better this time only to fail yet again, or worse yet what happens when they realize they’ve turned repentance into a work?
The problem with these false sacraments is that not only do they fail to give the Christian what they need, which is Jesus, but ultimately leave the door open for numerous false teachings by direct revelation which infiltrate the church through the means of desired experience instead of revealed absolute truth as found in scripture. Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller once said, “Take away the temple and Judaism becomes Pharisee-ism. Take away the sacraments and Christianity becomes Evangelicalism.” This may seem harsh, but when one understands the gravity of this statement, it is sadly not a stretch.