What are the sacraments? Do I need to complete them to be a complete Christian?

What are the sacraments? Do I need to complete them to be a complete Christian?

The 7 sacraments are 7 ceremonial steps in the Catholic faith.  It is erroneously believed that sacraments can help a person to be saved or are the means by which someone “receives grace”, that is, the sacraments are the means by which someone receives salvation from sin.  In the Catholic system, salvation begins at baptism by which God makes the sinner righteous. Throughout his life, God helps the believer to maintain and increase this righteousness by his good works.  

The fundamental flaw in the thinking behind the sacraments is that they “help” in salvation.  The problem isn’t that Catholic traditions are harmful – water, bread, vows, classes, prayer – the problem is that Catholic preaching says that faith, plus some quantity of works, usually including the sacraments, will save a person. The discussion on the validity of the sacraments can stop right here.  No ritual or work will bring salvation.  Nor are sacraments the channel of salvation.

Faith and Works

The great debate between Catholics and Protestants since the days of the reformation centers on the role of good works. Is faith sufficient for salvation? or should it also be accompanied by personal good works - such as prayer, charity, baptism and obedience to the commandments?

Both Catholics and Protestants agree that true faith is always accompanied by good works. Protestants would generally teach that “the faith that hasn’t changed you has not saved you.” Catholics would say that “good works preserve and increase your personal righteousness for your final justification.”  Catholic teaching is quick to say “you really don't need to have all the Sacraments to gain salvation, but they will help lead you on the right path to salvation.”
Consider the following three phrases:


1. Good works are not necessary at all.
2. Good works are necessary to increase merit.
3. Good works always accompany true faith.


The Biblical teaching on works is #3.  Good works always accompany saving faith.  However, Catholic teaching agrees with statement #2.  Good works are necessary to increase one’s merit or righteousness.  Following the sacraments is the Catholic’s good works that he believes will help his case before God.

Good Works in the Bible

Here are some relevant verses from the Bible relating to good works and salvation.

1)    Faith alone in the Savior can save you.  Faith in him is not only necessary, it is sufficient.

John 3:36  He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
Romans 4:5  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

John 1:11-13  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  (12)  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  (13)  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 14:6  Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.


2)    Works do not save.  There is one Work which saves, that is the work of Christ on the cross which “is finished” (John 19:30).

Ephesians 2:8-9  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  (9)  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Galatians 2:16  yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
 
Galatians 3:11  Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith."

Romans 3:28  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Titus 3:5  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,


3)    All work done by the believer is a result of salvation.  Works are the fruit of salvation, not the root of salvation.

Ephesians 2:10  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Titus 3:5-8  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  (6)  whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  (7)  so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  (8)  The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.


The apostle Paul affirms that we are saved is "not by works of righteousness." Yet, he does not conclude that since we're not saved by works, we can ignore them. Just the opposite is true.  Paul tells the believers "to be careful to devote themselves to good works."

The Sacraments in detail

1.    Baptism is the initiation of a person into the Catholic Community.  Infants in Catholic families are often baptized, but one may be baptized later in life as an imitation to the Catholic faith

No instance of infant baptism is found in the Bible making this practice particularly misleading.  Secondly, baptism doesn’t save from sins at any age.   It creates false hope for salvation for the parents and the children alike believing that the act of baptism saves the person from their sins.  

Baptism as taught in the Bible is a practice for people who are already believers – that is, they are already saved.  It is a step of public confession that all believers should take to say “through Christ, I am dead to this world now.  I became Christ’s the moment I received him.” For a full explanation on baptism read the online book Baptism – What says the scripture?

2. Confirmation is the step of being fully initiated into the Catholic Church.  Usually sometime in adolescence the young person confirms his faith by studying church doctrine and making a confession of affirmation of the truth being taught.

If confirming one’s faith means to examine the foundation on which the faith rests, then one should look to the scriptures to see what they say about salvation.  Confirming something such as one’s faith can only be done if there already exists a saving faith in Christ.  If you can recall a time when you received what Christ died for sinful people and you remember that you trusted in Him for your salvation, then the following scriptures will indeed confirm your faith in him.  A believer will find rest and comfort in these verses, knowing that they speak of a secure salvation.

Romans 5:6-8  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  (7)  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--  (8)  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 Corinthians 15:1-4  Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  (2)  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain.  (3)  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  (4)  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,


2.    Communion is the taking of the Eucharist – the cup and the wafer.  The Catholic Church assigns saving power to participating in this ceremony saying that the Eucharist is the way that one receives Christ based on verses in John 6.  

“So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  (54)  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:53-54).



The Lord gave the commandment to break bread and drink the cup as a symbol of his death near the end of each of the gospels just before his death on the cross.  The words in John 6 do not refer to the practice of remembering Christ through the symbols of the Lord’s Supper for the following reasons:

1)    The word “drinking his blood and eating his flesh” refer to receiving Christ whole heartedly, without hesitation or reserve as to his person and work.  
2)    There is no saving merit in eating bread or drinking wine. If Jesus was referring to communion, then the passage would teach that anyone partaking of communion would receive eternal life.
3)    The teaching of the communion had not been instituted yet when Christ was speaking.

4. Reconciliation is the act of confessing one’s sins fully, in kind and in number.  Following confession the participant may do penance and make amends for his sin.  Forgiveness is then granted.  

There are a number of Biblical difficulties in obtaining salvation through this practice.  First, there is no such thing as a priestly mediator on earth between God and men except for the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).  Secondly, confessing sins is a practice for those who are already saved (1 John 1:7-9), not to obtain salvation.  Third, acts of penance do not atone for one’s sins.  Only the work of Christ brings atonement.

5. Marriage, of course, is the act of saying vows to one another before God.  According to the Bible, marriage is honorable, but nowhere does the Bible indicate that marriage brings us special grace or salvation.  Marriage “in the church” is no more valid that a ceremony performed in a hotel, a park or a courthouse.

6. Holy Orders is the process of taking the vow of becoming a priest or teacher.  The idea of creating a special class of priests is a doctrinal error since the scriptures teach that all believers are priests and have access to God.  Although studying or dedicating one’s life to teaching the scriptures is a noble aspiration, it is not the way to obtain grace from God.

7. Anointing of the Sick, Extreme Unction, is part of the “last rights” for a sick or dying person.  The sacrament is administered by a priest, who uses olive oil or another pure plant oil to bless (anoint) the patient on forehead and hands while reciting certain prayers. The anointing is believed to forgive the patient's sins and strengthen his or her soul to face the spiritual and physical challenges of the condition.  

This last act of forgiveness granted by the priest supposedly ensures that the dying person will enter heaven.  As mentioned before, salvation comes to an individual when he/she places his faith in Christ’s work on the cross. The Bible recommends that a person trust Christ without any delay (2 Corinthians 6:2).  Additionally, no priest or any person, apart from Christ, can grant forgiveness (Mark 2:9-11).

Conclusion

The seven sacraments are a series of good works that are believed to help in one’s salvation.  The Bible clearly states that good works do not save, nor do they add to one’s salvation.  Salvation is granted to the sinner the moment he recognizes his sinful, helpless state and rests his hopes on what Christ did for him at the cross.  Sacraments may be good activities, but they provide false security to those who do them.

Shad Sluiter