The Reign of Christ. Book One. Chapter Seven: The Administration Of The Sacraments
6 min read
6 min read
Another function of the sacred ministry is the administration of the sacraments. There are two sacraments explicitly instituted and commanded for us by Christ. Moreover, the apostles so religiously used the sacrament of the imposition of hands in ordaining the ministry of the churches, as we read in Acts 13:3, the First Letter to Timothy 4:14 and 5:22, and the Second Letter, 1:6, that it appears very likely that they did this at the command of the Lord. For Paul writes about the use of this sign to Timothy as if writing of a sacrament of permanent practice. For he warns him not to impose hands on anyone hastily. But we have no express command of Christ on this in Scripture, as we do for Baptism and the Eucharist. We further read that the early churches used the sign of the laying on of hands in the reconciliation of penitents as well as in the confirmation of the baptized in the faith of Christ. This the bishops customarily did according to the example of the apostles, who by this sign conferred the Holy Spirit on the baptized (Acts 8:17) . And so those who wish the Kingdom of Christ rightly to be established once more among them must take special pains to reestablish the legitimate administration of Baptism and the Eucharist. But this entails the following procedures: First, that holy and blameless ministers administer each sacrament, and that they administer them only to those whom they know to be holy and blameless according to the Word of the Lord.
For by Baptism men must be washed from sins, regenerated and renewed for eternal life, incorporated in Christ the Lord, and clothed with him, and all of these things are reserved only to those chosen for eternal life (Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5; I Cor. 12:12-13; Gal. 3:27). Concerning the baptizing of the infants of believers, the Word of the Lord is sufficient: “I will be your God, and of your seed” (Gen. 17:7), and “Your children are holy” (I Cor. 7:14). But adults, as has been said above, ought to be catechized before they are baptized and diligently examined as to whether they believe in their hearts what they profess with their lips.
So it is also fitting that faithful ministers of Christ have evidence of true repentance for sins and a solid faith in Christ the Lord from the fruits of those to whom they offer the Eucharist. Devoutly considering this, Saint Chrysostom said and wrote: “He should lay down his life before he would give the Lord’s body to the unworthy, and suffer the shedding of his own blood rather than offer the most sacred blood of the Lord to any other than those who are worthy” (Homily 83, On Matthew).
Hence in the times of the holy fathers, deacons walking through the church carefully saw to it that no unworthy person approached the Table of the Lord, as the same Chrysostom testifies. For how would it be permissible for the ministers of salvation of God’s elect to offer these most holy mysteries of salvation to those whose faith and piety they did not know? Hence they rightly must fear that they administer to men’s judgment and condemnation what the Lord instituted for their salvation (I Cor. 11:27).
Secondly, since by these sacraments remission of sins and the holy communion of Christ are imparted, and the covenant of eternal salvation is sealed and confirmed, it is necessary that these mysteries be explained to those about to receive such sacraments in the presence of the whole church and that they be celebrated as reverently as possible. Hence the ancient churches spent an entire octave in celebrating the mysteries of Baptism. To accomplish this more effectively, they administered Baptism only at Easter and Pentecost, unless someone was in danger of death. Concerning this, there exist canons and laws even from the time before Charlemagne and his sons.
At the administration of each of these sacraments, appropriate lessons from Holy Scripture should be read and explained as reverently as possible, and then the people should be exhorted earnestly to a worthy reception of the sacraments. There ought also to be added most ardent prayers and thanksgivings to the Lord, and also pious offerings. For since by these sacraments men receive the supreme benefits of God, the forgiveness of sins and inheritance of eternal life, certainly they ought not to appear empty in the sight of God (Ex. 23:15).
Also, since the Lord instituted that usage of the Eucharist which was observed also in the early churches with great reverence, so that in him they were one bread and one body, likewise all those present at the Holy Supper should share in that one bread and cup of eternal salvation, the body and blood of the Lord commended and offered to the faithful through these sacraments (I Cor. 10:16-17). Surely this use of the Holy Eucharist ought with fervent zeal to be recalled to the churches: “Take and eat,” says the Lord, “for this is my body.” Likewise: “Take and drink of this cup all of you; this is the blood of the new covenant” (Matt. 26:26-28) . And how wTould those not commit themselves to a grave contempt of the Lord and his mysteries who refuse to take the food and drink of eternal life offered by him, when he has so lovingly and kindly invited them to partake?
Nor, certainly, are those to be listened to who dare to say that the Lord did not command the reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist, because the apostle recalls these words of the Lord about the cup: “Do this, as often as you drink it, in memory of me” (I Cor. 11:25). These wretched despisers of such a great benefit of Christ do not consider what the apostle prefaced to that entire narration: “For I received of the Lord what I also handed on to you.” (I Cor. 11:23). But the Lord handed on nothing except what would be truly salutary for us and could not be neglected without despising him. But he did not only command that when we eat his bread and drink his cup, we do so in memory of him; he also commanded us to do this very thing which he instituted and handed down in his Holy Supper. “Do this,” he says, “in memory of me.” Those commands also pertain to us, “Take and eat,” etc., and “Take and drink,” etc.
But those who have a distaste for such benefits of Christ are considering only the external things in these mysteries, nor do they recognize that Christ the Savior is in the midst of his own, offering himself to them in these sacraments as the food and drink of eternal life, i.e., for the sustenance, strengthening, and increase of faith and of an entirely new and blessed life (cf. John 6:54-56). Nothing carnal or worldly is here to be thought, for it is not a matter of food and drink for the stomach but for the spirit; but through it the body more readily obeys the spirit and is sanctified for the future resurrection.
Where, therefore, the sovereignty of Christ is truly and fully received, there also what they have described should be restored, the administration of both sacraments according to the precepts of Christ and the example of the early apostolic Church. Hence for the more reverent and salutary presentation of these sacraments to the faithful, it is clearly fitting that they should not be presented except when the whole church or the greater part of it is gathered together and irreligious and unworthy persons removed, so that all present, as they know that through communion with Christ they live and have every hope of eternal life, receive with hearts as eager as possible this communion of Christ offered to them in the Holy Supper. For those who do not seek to live and dwell in Christ the Lord nor for him to live and dwell in them (cf. John 15:4) ought not even to gaze upon these sacred mysteries but should be altogether excluded from the sacred assembly.
All these things concerning the administration of Baptism and the Eucharist have been handed down and commanded by our King and High Priest himself, the Lord Jesus Christ, and were commended everywhere to the churches through the apostles; the churches of Christ have also faithfully observed them at every time in which they have been governed by true bishops. Therefore, those who do not wholeheartedly strive that all these things be recalled to the churches and religiously observed pray in vain to the heavenly Father, “Thy Kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10).
We have spoken above about the laying on of hands for those who are consecrated to the sacred ministry of the Church; although we have no express command of the Lord, we have nevertheless the examples of the apostles (Acts 6:6; 13:3) and also a precept to Timothy (I Tim. 4:14; 5:22), so that it is entirely likely that the apostles used that sign for the ordination of ministers of the Church at the command of the Lord. On this account, this ceremony was observed in the early churches quite religiously, and in the Reformed churches it has now been devoutly recalled into Use.
Further, what the apostle said on this matter, “Do not impose hands hastily” (I Tim. 5:22), must be most diligently observed. For those to whom these mysteries of eternal salvation are to be entrusted must be tested most critically. “Let them first be tested, and thus minister”: the precept of the Holy Spirit is clear (I Tim. 3:10). And so, whether the churches choose ministers for themselves or they are sent to them by princes and bishops, before everything else they must be examined most exactingly, and this by the standard of the Holy Spirit expressed in the letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus, so that it may be plainly evident to the churches as much as anything can be evident about human beings, that they both can and want to perform the ministry for the churches of Christ, according to the mind of our chief Shepherd and the Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ.
Then, too, the example of the apostles in their institution of the sacraments is to be reverently recalled; Saint Luke reminds us in Acts 13:3 and 14:23 that they should be celebrated in the presence of the whole church and with the observance of prayer and fasting. Accordingly, appropriate Scripture lessons should be read at this ceremony and diligently explained to the people so that they may be the more aflame to pour out prayers to the Lord.