Is Baptism a Sacrament or an Ordinance?

Kregel Academic has just released their newest book in the “40 Questions” series, 40 Questions about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This has been a very nice series and I’ve enjoyed them all. Our post today comes from the first question. The author, John Hammett, is from the Baptist tradition but his answers are offered with sensitivity to various traditions. Consider his answer to this question.

“Today opposition to the term sacrament is still present among many Baptists, but is weakening some. Stanley Grenz wants to retain ‘the primacy of the designation ‘ordinance,’ but thinks we may also draw significance from the original meaning of sacramentum. But regardless of the term used, a significant difference remains in terms of what different groups see as happening in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Leonard Vander Zee calls this the ‘great divide’ in interpretations of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, ‘On the one side are those for whom the sacramental signs merely point to Christ and invite our faith in him but do not involve any action on God’s part. On the other side, God uses the signs to point us to Christ and bind us to him.’ Another way of putting this divide uses the different terms: ‘the ‘ordinances,’ as they are often called, are means of expressing faith to God, and on the other side, sacraments are a means of receiving grace from God.’

The terms ‘ordinance’ or ‘sacrament,’ in themselves, are both fairly broad and flexible words, capable of carrying a variety of meanings. They are theologically important only insofar as they are indicators of different understandings of what is happening in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Those different understandings have produced divergent views of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, both within Protestantism, and between Protestants as a whole and Catholics. Exploring those different understandings will be involved in answering many of the questions in this book; here at the outset we simply want to acknowledge that for some the term ordinance or sacrament carries a particular understanding of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That is not the case for the author of this book. I will use both terms to refer to baptism and the Lord’s Supper because I think both have something valuable to contribute to our understanding. But the reader should understand that I desire to use them in as neutral a sense as possible, without prejudging the question of human versus divine activity in baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” (pp. 22-23)

40 Questions about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is a paperback with 352 pages and sells for $21.99.

John S. Hammett (Ph.D. in theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; D.Min., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is John L. Dagg Senior Professor of Systematic Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written several articles for journals and magazines and is author of Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, co-editor of Those Who Must Give an Account, and contributor to Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement: 3 Views. He was a pastor and missionary before becoming a professor.

40 Questions

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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