Sacramentalism – What are we talking about?


If you are not familiar with the various positions on the Federal Vision let me recommend a couple of sites to you:

First, our friend Doug Wilson discusses it frequently over at Blog and Mablog. Much of Pastor Wilson’s writing is in response to charges leveled against him or a nebulous “they”, but it is well worth the read.

Second, the Federal Vision website is maintained by some folks who do not believe the Federal Vision theology is unorthodox.

Finally, Green Baggins stands in opposition.

That being said, there seems to be some discussion over the issue of what is called “Sacramentalism.” It is usually typed with a curled lip and followed by spitting on the ground, when applied to FV proponents. But, the word itself is bandied about without much definition and I would like to define here if we could.

This may not help much but here goes…

From we have the following definitions of Sacramentalism:

1. a belief in or emphasis on the importance and efficacy of the sacraments for achieving salvation and conferring grace.

2. emphasis on the importance of sacramental objects and ritual actions

3. The doctrine that observance of the sacraments is necessary for salvation and that such participation can confer grace.

4. Emphasis on the efficacy of a sacramental.


Let’s dispense with number three. I think that definition is closer to sacradotalism than whatever is meant by the opponents of the FV.

One, two and four seem to have promise. Is what we mean by Sacramentalism a belief that the sacraments are important and effectual? If that is the case then the Sacramentalist is in keeping with the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Here is what the WCF says about the sacraments (with highlights from your friendly poster):


Of the Sacraments.

I. Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and his benefits, and to confirm our interest in him: as also to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church, and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word.

II. There is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified; whence it comes to pass that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

III. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments, rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it, but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

IV. There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the gospels, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord: neither or which may be dispensed by any but a minister of the Word, lawfully ordained.

V. The sacraments of the Old Testament, in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the New.

It says of Baptism:


Of Baptism.

I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, or his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his Churchy until the end of the world.

II. The outward element to be used in the sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person.

IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized.

V. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

VI. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.

VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered to any person.

Seems to me that the WCF speaks of effect and importance quite a bit. If that is so would a sacramentalist be within the bounds of the standard?

Chew on that and comment if you will…

al sends


4 Responses to “Sacramentalism – What are we talking about?”

  1. graydo Says:

    It leaves you wondering how many in the PCA and like wave the WCF about as a totem but don’t read it all that much.

  2. Al Says:

    I am not a member of the PCA so some of this confuses me a bit…

    It does not look like the WCF is being used as a consensuses document. Instead, it has taken on the qualities of a blackjack. Thanks for stopping by graydo…

    al sends

  3. irreverend Says:

    Is a sacramentalist a Presbyterian fundamentalist?

  4. Al Says:


    If you let the WCF inform the word I think that is exactly right. Some of the FV folks are simply trying to ensure that Presbyterians don’t loose sight of that fact. IMHO

    al sends

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