St Mary's Castle Street

We preach Christ crucified

Articles 25-31

Section 4, which deals with the doctrine of the Sacraments.

XXV – Of the Sacraments

The previous Article dealt with the language to be used to ‘minister the Sacraments’ as well as to conduct the other parts of our worship. The Articles now turn to consider the Sacraments themselves. We begin with a definition of them, which is very helpful. They are both ‘badges or tokens’, and ‘certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace’.

The purpose of a badge is to mark the bearer out as belonging to a defined group. So a soldier wears a regimental badge on his cap, which defines the regiment to which he belongs. Christians are marked out by the sacraments as belonging to Christ, for no pagan partakes of Holy Communion or holy Baptism. These mark us out as Christians.

However, the Article is plain that they do more than act as mere badges. Just as circumcision was to the Israelites the seal of justification by faith (Rom. 4:11) so baptism is to Christians. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. As a justified individual he was commanded to circumcise his children, who were inheritors of the covenant and promise. Baptism has the same role for us, as the sign which shows that we are in the line of promise. Of course, not everyone who is in the line becomes an inheritor, like Esau. The Lord’s Supper is for believers, and is the special privilege of those who are children of God by faith.

The article goes on to name but two Sacraments, denying the name to the five added by the medieval Church, and still held to be sacraments by the Church of Rome. The reason why they cannot be considered sacraments is that they differ from Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in certain crucial ways.

First, they were not ordained by Christ, as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were. Only that for which we have scriptural warrant may be given the title, and so the place, of a sacrament.

Second, true sacraments are analogies. That is, in the outward acts and symbols there is a representation of spiritual truth. So in baptism the use of water signifies the washing away of sins, and in the Lord’s Supper the breaking of bread and pouring out of wine signifies the Lord’s death. Similarly, our eating and drinking signifies our dependence on the grace of God in Jesus Christ to feed us with spiritual food, so that we are in Christ  and he in us. There is a real conveying of grace in true sacraments, so that those who receive rightly (by faith) are given real and genuine spiritual help. However, in marriage, confirmation, ordination, penance and the last rites there is no conveying of grace intended, so how can these be sacraments. Further, there is no outward act that is analogous to an inner work of the Spirit. Only Baptism and the Lord’s Supper qualify as sacraments.

The final part of the Article prepares the way for three further ones, XXVII, XXVIII, and XXIX.

XXVI — Of the Unworthiness of Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments

Although the Church is a congregation of faithful men, not all who are members of the visible Church are faithful. This is true for both laity and clergy. This Article deals with the effect of unfaithful, or even wicked, clergy, in administering the sacraments.

If the sacraments are indeed means of grace, as are prayer and the reading and preaching of the Scriptures, is grace somehow limited by unworthy clergy? A bad surgeon will kill his patient; does a bad clergymen do damage to his charges? In that he is an unfaithful expounder of Scripture, yes, because he teaches the very errors he affirms. In that he can be used of God to teach truth, no, despite his own wickedness. In that he is an administrator of the sacraments, no, because the grace of God in them is not conveyed, imparted or in any way passed on through the person of the officiating minister, but is a direct benefit of faith on the part of the one who receives worthily. Indeed, we can say that grace is magnified, because it is not tainted or sullied by the unworthiness of one or other minister, but, being divine grace, is unaffected by such unworthy teachers. 

The Sacraments are administered in the name of Christ, not in the name of the clergyman, or in that of any denomination, or under any other name. The officiating minister did not die for the sins of those taking the bread and wine, nor is his death of benefit to that infant or child who has been brought to baptism. The minister is duly authorised by the Church to administer, but it is the work of the Holy Spirit to apply the benefits of Christ’s death to whomsoever God has chosen and elected in love.

Lest any should think that the Church of England is careless about the state of its clergy, the Article concludes with a section on the necessity of discipline. ‘A bishop should be blameless’, 1 Tim. 3:2, and so should all who minister the Word and Sacraments. Open sin is a shame for any Christian; how much more so for those who are in positions of authority? Over the centuries the Church has named adultery, slander, drunkenness and murder as sins or crimes for which a man must be deprived, or driven out, of his office. Adultery and slander destroy the unity of the Church. Drunkenness is the root of so many other vices and immoral actions. ‘No murder hath eternal life abiding in him’, 1 John 3:15. The clergy have a duty to set a high example of godliness, faithful-ness and piety to the Church. Since the potential harm from their failing is so great, they must expect to be treated more strictly in this life, that others do not suffer in the life to come.

XXVII — Of Baptism

Having dealt with the Sacraments in general, we now come to two that expound them specifically. The first is on Baptism. This is correct, since we come to Baptism before we come to the Lord’s Table.

The Article states what Baptism is, and begins by mentioning again that it is ‘a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened.’ So Baptism marks out members of Christ (those who have been christened) from non-members. In the same way, circumcision marked out the Jews from all other nations — not that some other nations did not circumcise, but that none did so as the seal of the righteousness which is by faith, or in obedience to the covenant and promise.

In baptism we receive ‘a sign of regeneration or the new birth’, so that all who are baptised are made members of the body of Christ. Baptism is for the remission of sins, as we affirm in the Creed. We do not receive regeneration or the new birth in baptism, as if there mere act conveys salvation; we receive the sign of this. For baptism is practiced in obedience to Christ’s command, with prayer to God that he would do for the baptised child what Scripture teaches us to believe he will do, and in the firm faith that our God is faithful, doing all he has promised to do. Thus in baptism we look for the operation of the Spirit, by the grace of God, through the love and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, to work in us what is impossible for us to have by nature.

The final part of the Article affirms the practice of Infant baptism, which is so unpopular today, even among Evangelical Anglicans. Yet, since we see Baptism as the Christian fulfilment of circumcision, and since Jewish boys were suitable recipients of the covenant sign, we ask, why should the children of professing Christians be denied the same privileges? We retain the practice of the ancient Church as being most consistent with the Bible.

XXIII – Of the Lord’s Supper

The Reformers insisted on the title ‘The Lord’s Supper’, which the Church of Rome hated, because it is scriptural (1 Cor. 11:20).

We are told that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a dual sign; first, of ‘the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another’. That love is seen in our coming together to eat the Lord’s Supper. When we eat with other people it is because we love them, and are glad to share together with them, both in food and in fellowship. The same must be true of the Lord’s Supper; we do not come as individuals, but as local congregations, and we show our love one for another by eating and drinking together.

The more significant sign is ‘of our Redemption by Christ’s death’, so much so, the Article continues, that to all who receive the elements worthily (that is, with true faith) partake of Christ’s body and blood.

That in eating the bread and wine we are partaking of the body and blood of Christ is clear, for we have the plain words of Scripture, 1 Cor 10:16. ‘The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?’ The word ‘communion’ (in Greek, koinonia) can be defined as ‘close association involving mutual interest and sharing’, and can be translated as ‘fellowship, association, close relationship, communion’.

That this is what was intended is also clear, for our Lord said, ‘This is my body’, and ‘This is my blood’, Matt 26:26, 28.

The second paragraph of the Article condemns the error of transubstantiation. This is the Roman view, imposed upon the Church of Rome at the Council of Trent, though the common and enforced belief long before Trent, that the priest transforms the substance of the bread and wine so that they become the very body and blood of Christ. To those who argue that they still look and taste like bread and wine, Rome replies that while the substance has changed, the accidents have not. This refuge in Greek philosophical terms and ideas is part and parcel of Rome’s adherence to errors.

There are two fundamental problems with this doctrine. The first is that it requires the priest to call Christ down from heaven each time he celebrates mass, which is in clear contradiction to Scripture. Christ cannot be put to death afresh, for to do so would be to make a mockery of his words ‘It is finished’. The second problem is that if Christ is really and bodily present in the elements, how is the Lord’s Supper a sign? It has become the thing signified, so looses the nature of a sign. If baptism actually washes away sins, how is it a sign of the mystical washing away of sins, of which the Prayer Book speaks? Either a sign is a sign or it is the thing itself. Transubstantiation removes the nature of a sign from the Lord’s Supper.

We can add that it also leads, as the Article says, to many superstitions. If the bread and wine have become the body and blood of Christ then the priest has great power, for he can perform the greatest miracle ever. It follows that he whose authority the priest exercises must also have great power. Since that is the Pope, we see how such a wicked idea leads directly into the grand and blasphemous claims of the Bishop of Rome.

The third paragraph asserts that the body and blood of Christ are received ‘only after an heavenly and spiritual manner’. Given that the doctrine of the Real Presence (transubstantiation) has just been denied, this must be true. Given that our Lord has declared that the bread and wine are indeed his body and blood, it follows that we must believe them to be so. That is, we receive them as such by faith, for we know that they are bread and wine, yet are given to us that we might receive Christ’s body and blood. ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’, Heb 11:1. We receive Christ’s body and blood by faith.

If any should ask, Why do we need to receive Christ’s body and blood? I answer, read John 6:47-58.

Finally the Article condemns the adoration offered to the bread and wine in unreformed churches. It is offered by those who think the bread and wine have changed into the body and blood, or that because they are symbols of Christ’s body and blood that they are themselves worthy of honour. Yet when Moses held aloft the brazen serpent, it was not that the people might worship it, but that they might look to God’s salvation, for the serpent on the pole represented Christ on the cross. So we look to the elements for what they represent, not to worship them as if they were the thing itself.

XXIX — Of the Wicked which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord’s Supper

This Article deals with a possible objection to the teaching that the bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Christ. Some may ask, if this doctrine is true, surely all who partake of the Lord’s Supper receive the body and blood of Christ? In short, No, because we receive him in the service by faith. The wicked, who have no faith, eat only bread and drink only wine, and receive no spiritual benefit. We who have faith receive bread and wine, and partake of Christ by faith.

Indeed, not only do unbelievers not benefit from the Lord’s Supper, but they actually heap damnation to themselves, as St Paul says, 1 Cor 11:27, 29. It is not as if the bread and wine have somehow poisoned them but not the faithful, but that they have received unworthily, so place themselves under judgment. For to eat and drink without faith is to deny Christ and his atoning death, to deny our need of grace, forgiveness, and mercy, and to deny that God has supplied all in Christ. In short, we confirm our unbelief, and so confirm our suitability to receive the condemnation of sinners, if we receive unworthily. Let us rather, as St Paul exhorts us, so examine ourselves that we be not judged of the Lord.

XXX — Of both kinds

That the Church of Rome should have seen fit to deny the cup to the laity, and even to any clergy present who did not consecrate the elements, is a mark of how far that sect has fallen from the truth. For the plain words of our Lord are, ‘Drink ye all of this’, to men who never consecrated a drop of wine but who were all given the cup from which to drink. That they set themselves up above our Saviour Christ is a mark of their wicked arrogance and blasphemy, and a sure sign of their being of that synagogue of Satan.

In denying the cup to the laity the Church of Rome in effect declares either their unworthiness to receive the benefits of Christ’s death, or their lack of need. Both views are contrary to Scripture, all being equally guilty, and all need God’s saving grace.

XXXI — Of the one Oblation of Christ finished on the Cross
The final Article dealing with the Lord’s Supper reiterates the once-for-all nature of our Lord’s atoning death, and so condemns the very foundation of the Mass, that the priest offers Christ afresh each time he consecrates bread and wine. For if Christ has paid the price of sin in dying on the cross, why should he need to die daily? It is we are who are to take up our crosses daily and to follow him. That his death is the once-for-all sacrifice we claim is taught in Scripture. Hebrews 1:3 reads that Jesus, ‘…when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high’. If the work is not complete, how can God rest, Gen 2:2? We look for no other sacrifice, no other Priest, no other Saviour, than the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. We look back to what was done once, and forward to what is to come.