Anglican Sacramental Theology

Anglican Sacramental Theology (click here for audio)
March 23, 2014
Fr. Phil Eberhart



Definitions (Book of Common Prayer, Catechism: P. 857):    

Q. What are the sacraments?
A. The sacraments are [outward and visible] signs of [inward and spiritual] grace, given by Christ as [sure and certain means] by which we receive that [grace].

Q.What is grace
A.Grace is God's favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.
Q.What are the two great sacraments of the Gospel?
A.The two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church are
Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.

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I call the Sacraments MATTERS OF THE HEART 
     From the definition:   Outward/Visible  AND    Inward/Spiritual
                                        MATTER                      HEART

      Two Parts:       [The Sacramentum] +              [The RES]                                                      

And to what end?
           Baptism =             Water           +           Faith for Salvation           =         Initiation and Membership in the Body Incarnate of the Son

      Communion =           Bread/Wine     +     Grace Imputed Through Faith       =         Daily sustenance and provision of God's Grace

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So What Happens?    How do the sacraments act and work?

Three main views on Eucharistic Theology:

        Literalist (Roman Catholic - Transubstantiation = Transformed Substance)  The bread and wine actually become the real body and blood of Jesus Christ.

This is a metaphysical approach (because we all know by reason and experience that the elements remain bread and wine to our senses).  Using Aristotelian categories (substance and accidents) the theology explains that the bread and wine are transformed in substance (their internal "real" nature), while remaining bread and wine in their 'accidents' (the external appearance to the senses.)  This opens the door for such things as the "adoration" of the blessed sacrament - a practice where elements (the consecrated bread) become the object of worship.

         Memorialist (Anabaptist - Presbyterian/Puritan - Reformed)  
The communion is ONLY a memorial or a remembrance (according to Jesus instruction in the gospel's, "do this in remembrance of me.")  Nothing more is happening than an "object lesson" that was given us by Jesus to enable our memory of his sacrifice on the cross, his shed blood and broken body for us.
        Real "Spiritual" Presence (Consubstantiation - Real Presence - Sacramental Union - 'Objective reality')  There are a host of terms to designate the middle ground between the two positions above.  Each of the listed ones is a little different in its emphasis but basically they all move away from the end poles of Literalism or Memorialism.  In other words, there is a wide agreement that "something happens to the elements,so that they are "more" than just bread and wine - most deny that it is in any way a physical change, but all allow that there is a spiritual change at the blessing of the elements - that they become "holy", that is "set apart" and significant for their role and their power to give 'grace' to the faithful receiver who comes in faith to the sacrament.

As many heard it a couple weeks ago in our Instructed Eucharist:  "We don't know HOW He has done it, we only know THAT He has done it!"

The prayers of the Eucharist and Morning Prayer are important sign posts for our Anglican Theology as they instruct us about what is held to be true:

In our morning prayer office, the General Thanksgiving contains the line:
We bless you for our creation, preservation, 
and all the blessings of this life; 
but above all for your immeasurable love 
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; 
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. 

And in the Eucharistic Prayer in Rite I, the line:
And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us, and of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ's holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood.

The Sacraments are signs to be sure, but more than that.  As the Holy Spirit is invited to "bless and sanctify" the elements, there comes a power of His Presence that is available to the heart of the faithful receiver, as a "means of grace."  Thus the Real Presence, or Real "Spiritual" Presence is the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, by his Holy Spirit, mediating to us His presence and power of grace as "daily bread."

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Taking it to the streets - Seeing life sacramentally

Through the history of the church, other 'sacraments' have been named also.  

7 in total including those above, the others include, Confirmation, Penance or Confession (Reconciliation of a Penitent),  Healing Prayer with Anointing (formerly Holy Unction or Last Rites), Matrimony and Holy Orders.  Many of these "lesser" sacraments are a part of the regular ebb and flow of life and they give us a view of the sacramental nature of our life on planet earth.  A life that is created by the same God who gave us the sacramental signs of his presence and grace in our lives. 

If we take the definition of a sacrament and apply it to the realities of our life in this world, our whole position in the world is as a sacrament of the presence of Christ!  We are visible signs and bringers of His Presence and Kingdom into the world.  The Kingdom and the Body of Christ are sacramental realities.  This adds a different twist to our every day life and to our presence in any situation, especially where we have a sense that we are on a God-appointment.  What we need to be aware of is that God makes appointments for us all the time - some we just miss.

Adopting a "sacramental" view of life / a sacramental "worldview" is something that will cause us to see life with "eyes wide open" as JB Phillips urges us in his translation of Romans 12:1-2.  

"With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, 
consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from 
within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity."

Also, if we see life and God's Kingdom sacramentally, we see others in a new way.  As our brother Derek Rust reminded us last week, we are all "image bearers" - bearers of the Imago Dei, the Image of God.  Understanding life sacramentally aids us in moving to a place where each person is valued for the part of the Image that they bring - there is no sacred/secular division in life.  It is all God's!

Next week, we will look at another facet of this theology, in the consideration of the Incarnation and Incarnational Reality in our own lives, much like a Sacramental Worldview, we will see the world in a new way as we partner with God in His plan for the world.

Fr. Phil

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