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For many Christians, sacraments are really important. Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and others often emphasize how precious their sacraments are, and sometimes criticize other church traditions for not being “sacramental” enough. There is a lot of disagreement on what a sacrament is though: Catholic teaching states that there are seven sacraments, whereas most Protestants argue that there are two – baptism and communion – and eastern Orthodoxs usually claim that there are countless! The Catholic council of Trent states that both the Protestant and eastern Orthodox views are unacceptable, condemning anyone who says that there are “more, or less, than seven” sacraments.
This is just ridiculous. Jesus and the apostles never talked about “sacraments”. Yes, they baptized, broke the bread, annointed the sick and so on, but they never grouped these activities in one category of “sacraments”. Nothing in the Scriptures indicates that communion and baptism had any other role or importance than other things Jesus commanded His disciples to do, like helping the poor, pray and share the Gospel.
“Sacrament” is really a creative Latin translation of the Greek term mysterion, a word that does appear in the Scriptures never referring to church activities but to the Gospel (e.g. Col 4:3, 1 Tim 3:16). The one responsible for the translation was Tunisian church father Tertullian (155-240 AD), who often was creative with his translations (“sacrament” didn’t really mean mystery but rather referred to an oath), and he used it when describing baptism because he thought that baptism was a mystery.
So far so good. However, another African church father, Augustine, took some more freedoms with the word around 200 years later, using it as a category to include not just baptism but also communion, the Nicene creed and the Lord’s prayer. He was also the first arguing that a sacrament is a visible sign of invisible grace, which of course is true for those things but not exclusive to them – Bibles, sermons and a hug can also be visible signs of invisible grace. (more…)
In the essay I study how three church leaders view miracles: Surprise Sithole, charismatic apostolic leader in southern Africa, K.G. Hammar, archbishop emeritus of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, and pope Francis. I’ve already presented to you the miracles of Surprise Sithole and pope Francis’ view on miracles on this blog. The viewpoint of K.G. Hammar, however, is radically different – he doesn’t believe that miracles in the traditional, supernatural sense exists. I have tried to identify what arguments each church leader uses to defend their viewpoint, and then I analyze whether these arguments are reasonable and sound.
Surprise Sithole is a strong believer in miracles, basing this on his miraculous experiences and a literal reading of the Bible. K.G. Hammar does not believe that miracles happen, based on science, his metaphorical Bible reading and non-supernaturalist experiences. Pope Francis believes, like Sithole, in miracles both as Biblical and contemporary events, and like Hammar, he believes that science confirms his view. He interprets the Bible both literally and metaphorically, and his experience and church tradition confirm his supernaturalist belief.
How rude of me, I’ve let you reading my blog for 18 months without ever introducing myself! Here’s a short presentation of how and why I received my passion to combine charismatic theology with activism for peace and justice, based on an article I’m currently writing for Pax Pneuma, the journal for Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice.
Although being raised in a Swedish Lutheran family, religion never meant very much to me until April 2006, when I was radically born again at a mass in the giant Uppsala Cathedral. I started to pray and read the Bible, and I was fascinated by how the liturgy of my church – that previously was nothing but a bunch of pointless, boring rituals for me – had ancient roots filled with holy meaning.
But I also started to spot differences between church and Scripture. I was surprised that Jesus commanded His disciples to heal the sick and raise the dead (Mt 10:8) – something I had thought were things only Jesus Himself did to prove that He was the Son of God – and I was even more surprised to realize that I was a disciple (Mt 28:19)! “Disciples” was a term that I had thought only referred to the twelve men closest to Jesus, not people today. Now I realized that I was actually supposed to do the things Jesus commanded the apostles to do (Mt 28:20a).
Yet, people weren’t prophesying or casting out demons very much in my Lutheran church, so I started to attend some charismatic and Pentecostal churches. As I grew deeper into the charismatic movement, I saw some differences between church and Scripture here as well though, specifically when it came to peace and justice.