Signs and Seals: Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 25

Lord's Supper 1

Our church is reciting the appropriate section of the Heidelberg Catechism each Sunday. Tomorrow is Lord’s Day 25, which focuses on the sacraments. Here are the questions with their answers.

Q: 65. Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, whence does this faith proceed?
A: From the Holy Spirit, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.
Q: 66. What are the sacraments?
A: The sacraments are holy visible signs and seals, appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof, he may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel, that is, that he grants us freely the remission of sin, and life eternal, for the sake of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross.
Q: 67. Are both word and sacraments, then, ordained and appointed for this end, that they may direct our faith to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, as the only ground of our salvation?
A: Yes, indeed: for the Holy Spirit teaches us in the gospel, and assures us by the sacraments, that the whole of our salvation depends upon that one sacrifice of Christ which he offered for us on the cross.
Q: 68. How many sacraments has Christ instituted in the new covenant, or testament?

A: Two: namely, holy baptism, and the holy supper.

What are some things we can learn from these four questions? Kevin DeYoung in his book The Good News We Almost Forgot gives us four points. 

First, we are not saved by the sacraments, but by faith alone…The sacraments are means of grace only insofar as we receive by faith the gospel truths promised in the elements. 

This is important because at Christ Church we love to baptize and we love to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. In an environment like this it is easy to assume that the sacraments will work some magic to save us. They do not. Christ saves. The sacraments confirm.

Second, the Reformers agreed, against the Roman Catholic Church, that the number of sacraments instituted by Christ was only two: baptism and the Lord’s supper.

The Roman Catholics hold to seven sacraments: Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, marriage, penance, confirmation, holy orders (Priesthood), and last rites. The Reformers rejected all of these except baptism and the Lord’s Supper. You can consult any standard Protestant systematic theology to see why.

Third, the Reformers agreed that the sacraments could in no way add to or repeat Christ’s one sacrifice upon the cross.

This was directed at the Roman Catholic idea of the Mass, which in various ways describes each Mass as a sort re-sacrifice of Christ. There is a lot of discussion of what this exactly means. Here is the Roman Catholic Catechism’s description of the Mass. Notice especially sections 1362-1368.

Fourth, the sacraments are signs and seals…The sacraments do not create faith; rather they confirm it, make us understand the gospel promises more clearly and assure of us of our salvation…They are holy signs symbolizing  the spiritual realities of the gospel, and seals reminding us of God’s sure promises.

DeYoung closes with this:

We often forget amidst the calls for sensory worship and appeals to visual learning styles that God has  already given us His own self-appointed means of using our senses in worship. He’s given us the sacraments that we might see, smell, taste, and touch the same promises of the gospel we hear proclaimed in the preaching of the Word.

Our culture is a visual culture. We are told this time after time. We need to use all our senses in worship. The Lord has given us two ways to do this, two ways that show us over and over again our Lord and His grace. That is one reason we celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week at Christ Church.