Catechism

8 The sacraments

Sacraments are fundamental acts of God's grace. They are holy acts that are performed upon a human being in order to allow him to attain salvation, be adopted into the fellowship of life with God, and be preserved in it. Receiving the three sacraments opens up the possibility for being united with the Lord at the return of Christ.

Salvation in the sacraments is founded upon the incarnation, sacrificial death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as the sending and activity of the Holy Spirit.

The term "sacrament" is not recorded in the New Testament. The word mysterion which is rendered in some Old Latin Bible translations with the term sacramentum is originally unrelated to the acts that later came to be designated as "sacraments". In antiquity, the term mysterion referred to a secret matter only accessible to the initiated.

According to the Roman understanding, "sacrament" signified, among other things, "pledge of allegiance", "consecration", or "pledge". In the course of the second and third centuries AD, the terms mysterion and sacramentum came to be used in reference to ritual acts. Thus, for example, Tertullian (ca. AD 160-220) associated the baptismal vow and the creedalbeit not the act of baptism itselfwith a military oath formulation. The church leader Augustine (AD 354-430) made the most significant contribution to our understanding of the sacraments in later antiquity: a sacrament comes into being through the union of a visible element with a spoken word that refers to the reality behind it.

A sacrament legitimately comes into being through four interrelated variables:

  • sign (signum/materia), that is the rite or the visible element,

  • content (res/forma), that is the presence of salvation,

  • dispenser (the mediator of the sacrament),

  • faith (on the part of the recipient), so that the sacrament is received for salvation.

The validity of the sacraments is not dependent on their interpretation or the understanding a person has of them, but rather only on the four aforementioned variables. The sign (signum) and content (res) are linked together through the word (verbum) of institution or consecration spoken by the dispenser.

Since this is not a magical or automatic event, as it were, the faith of the person receiving the sacrament is a prerequisite for the sacrament to unfold to its full salvific effect. However, even unbelief does not invalidate the sacrament, because that which God has done cannot be undone by the unbelieving recipient.

The proper administration of the sacraments is incumbent upon the Apostles. They have been commissioned by Christ to make the sacraments accessible in proper fashion. Although not all sacraments need to be dispensed by the Apostles or those commissioned by them, sacraments nevertheless exist in an apostolic relationship.

There are three sacraments (1 John 5: 6-8): Holy Baptism, Holy Sealing, and Holy Communion. They have been instituted by Jesus Christ. [1]

Through Holy Baptism with water, a human being enters into his first close relationship with Godhe becomes a Christian, and through his faith and profession to Christ belongs to the church (see 8.1). Through Holy Sealing, God grants the baptised the gift of the Holy Spirit. Both sacraments together comprise the rebirth out of water and the Spirit. Through this rebirth, a human being becomes a child of God and is called to be numbered among the firstlings at the return of Christ (see 8.3). Holy Communion preserves a human being in the intimate fellowship of life with Jesus Christ. To this end, this sacrament must be received repeatedly in faith (see 8.2).

The sacraments are also dispensed upon children (Matthew 19: 14).

SUMMARY Back to top

Sacraments are fundamental acts of God's grace. (8)

Salvation in the sacraments is founded upon the incarnation, sacrificial death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as in the sending and activity of the Holy Spirit. The proper dispensation of the sacraments is the responsibility of the Apostles sent by Christ. (8)

A sacrament comes into being through the union of a visible element with a word that refers to a reality behind this word. (8)

A sacrament comes into being through four interrelated variables: sign, content, dispenser, and faith. (8)

Faith is the prerequisite for a sacrament to unfold to its full salvific effect. (8)

Jesus Christ instituted three sacraments: Holy Baptism with water, Holy Sealing, and Holy Communion. (8)

[1] cf. Matthew 28: 19-20; John 3: 5; Luke 22: 19-20; John 6: 53-58; 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26; concerning the distinction between Holy Baptism with water and Holy Sealing, see Acts 8: 14-17; 19: 1-6.

8.1 Holy Baptism with water Back to top

Holy Baptism with water is the first and fundamental act of grace of the triune God bestowed on a human being who believes in Jesus Christ. Through it, original sin is washed away and the believer is led out of his position of remoteness from God. Nevertheless, his inclination to sin (concupiscence) remains.

Through Holy Baptism with water, the baptised shares in the merit Jesus Christ acquired for mankind through His sacrificial death. Thereby a human being is led into his first close relationship with Godhe becomes a Christian. Thereby he is also incorporated into the church, that is into the fellowship of those who believe in Jesus Christ and profess Him as their Lord.

Accordingly the Sixth Article of Faith states: "I believe that the Holy Baptism with water is the first step to a renewal of a human being in the Holy Spirit, and that the person baptised is adopted into the fellowship of those who believe in Jesus Christ and profess Him as their Lord."

8.1.1 Definition of the term Back to top

The term "baptism" is a translation of the Greek word baptizein = "to immerse". In early Christian times, baptisms were primarily performed by immersion in water.

8.1.2 The biblical basis for Holy Baptism with water Back to top

The ritual washings referenced in various passages of the Mosaic Law can be regarded as precursors to baptism with water. They led to a ritual cleansing of persons who, due to their physical conditions, were considered unclean. However, these washings did not have a covenantal character.

8.1.2.1 Old Testament references to Holy Baptism with water Back to top

As with the other sacraments, references to Holy Baptism with water can be found in the Old Testament.

The deliverance of Noah and his family in the ark is regarded in 1 Peter 3: 20-21 as an "antitype of baptism" and a reference to future salvation. In Christian tradition, the Israelites' passage through the Red Seatheir deliverance from Egyptian captivityis also understood as a reference to the deliverance that occurs through baptism with water.

The Mosaic Law strictly distinguishes between "clean" and "unclean". Water is one of the means used to bring about ritual purity. Persons who were unclean in a religious sense had to subject to a bath of purification (Leviticus 13-15).

Ezekiel 16: 9 mentions a washing with water and an anointing with oil, through which Jerusalem was received into a covenant of salvation. This can also be understood as a reference to Holy Baptism with water and Holy Sealing.

Likewise, the situation of the Aramaic commander Naaman can be related to baptism: at the instruction of the prophet Elisha, the leper washed himself by dipping his body seven times into the Jordan, and the disease abated (2 Kings 5: 1-14). This can be understood as a symbol for the washing away of original sin through baptism.

8.1.2.2 Holy Baptism with water in the New Testament Back to top

In the New Testament "baptism" is often understood as having two parts, namely baptism with water and baptism with the Spirit (Acts 8: 14 et seq.; 10: 47; 19: 1-6; Titus 3: 5). Holy Baptism with water and Holy Baptism with the Spirit are therefore interdependent.

Jesus Christ submitted to the baptism of John the Baptist in order to demonstrate how righteousness before God can be attained (Matthew 3: 15). So it was that the baptism of repentance, as practised by John, led to Holy Baptism with water. The Son of God abased Himself and put Himself on the same level as the sinner (Philippians 2: 7). Thereby Jesus Christ set an example for mankind mired in sin.

At the same time, Jesus' true identity as the Son of God was clearly revealed at His baptism. The triune GodFather, Son, and Holy Spiritwas present. The mystery of the Trinity began to reveal itself. The fact that Jesus is the Son of God was proclaimed (Matthew 3: 17; Mark 1: 10-11).

Jesus Christ also described His sacrificial death as "baptism". The sacrifice on the cross and Holy Baptism with water are thereby linked to one another (Luke 12: 50).

The great commission issued by the Risen One makes it clear that baptisingin the form of baptism with water and the Spiritis one of the tasks assigned to the Apostles: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28: 19). Baptism therefore emanates from the triune God. It is not a work of man, but an act of God's salvation upon a human being.

After the Pentecost sermon, the Apostles called on those who had come to believe: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2: 38). In this manner, those who believed were incorporated into the congregation (Acts 2: 41).

8.1.3 The necessity of Holy Baptism with water for salvation Back to top

Holy Baptism with water is indispensable for partaking in salvation. It is the first step on the way to complete redemption. Hence, Holy Baptism with water opens the way to eternal fellowship with the triune God.

8.1.3.1 Holy Baptism with water as an act of God Back to top

Holy Baptism with water is not a figurative or symbolic action, but rather a real act of God's loving care. Through this act, the relationship between a human being and God is fundamentally changed. The effect of Holy Baptism with water acts upon a person's entire being.

SUMMARY Back to top

Holy Baptism with water is the first and fundamental sacramental act of grace of the triune God upon a human being who believes in Jesus Christ. (8.1)

Through Holy Baptism with water the baptised enters into his first close relationship with Godhe becomes a Christian and is thereby incorporated into the church. (8.1)

In the New Testament "baptism" is often understood as a two-part baptism with water and the Holy Spirit. Holy Baptism with water and Holy Baptism with the Spirit are therefore interdependent. (8.1.2.2)

Jesus Christ submitted to the baptism of John the Baptist in order to demonstrate how righteousness before God can be attained. (8.1.2.2)

The great commission issued by the Risen One makes it clear that baptisingin the form of baptism with water and the Spiritis one of the tasks assigned to the Apostles. Baptism is an act of God's salvation upon a human being. (8.1.2.2)

Holy Baptism with water is necessary for salvation. (8.1.3)

It is not a figurative or symbolic act, but is indeed an act of God's loving care that fundamentally changes the relationship between a human being and God. (8.1.3.1)

8.1.3.2 The washing away of original sin Back to top

"Original sin" [2] refers to man's state of separation from God, in other words, the remoteness from God that has come into being through the fall into sin. Through disobedience, mankind has lost the permanent and direct fellowship with the Creator.

Since the fall into sin a fundamental state of sinfulness and remoteness from God has weighed upon every human being (Genesis 3: 23-24; Psalm 51: 5; Romans 5: 18-19). This means that, from the very beginningbefore any deed or thoughtevery human being is a sinner, even if no individual sin has yet been committed. Through baptism, original sin is washed away. The image of washing brings to expression that God lifts the state of permanent separation and remoteness from Him: He grants human beings their first close relationship with Him as well as the opportunity to have fellowship with Him. Even after baptism, the human inclination to sin remains as a further consequence of the fall into sin.

SUMMARY Back to top

"Original sin" refers to man's state of separation from God, in other words the remoteness from God that has come into being through the fall into sin. Since the fall into sin, a fundamental state of sinfulness and remoteness from God has weighed upon all human beings. (8.1.3.2)

Through baptism with water original sin is washed away and the believer is led out of the state of remoteness from God. His inclination to sin (concupiscence) remains. (8.1.3.2)

[2] The doctrine of original sin was first formulated by Augustine based on biblical testimony. Original sin has its source in the primal sin of Adam and Eve. The biblical basis for the doctrine of original sin is Psalm 51: 5 and Romans 5: 12.

8.1.4 The proper dispensation of Holy Baptism with water Back to top

The elements of the three sacraments have been prescribed by God. The two essential elements of Holy Baptism with water are the water and the Trinitarian formula: "I baptise you in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." When performed in this fashion, Holy Baptism can unfold in its effect upon the believer.

The water, the outward sign of inner purification, requires consecration to lift it up out of the domain of the profane and into that of the holy. It is therefore consecrated in the name of the triune God prior to the act of baptism. The baptising minister then uses the consecrated water to make the sign of the cross three times on the forehead of the person being baptised, andunder laying on of handsbaptises him in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The sign of the cross symbolises salvation in Christ and the redemption He effected through His sacrificial death. Making the sign of the cross three times on the forehead of the person being baptised is a reference to the triune God.

8.1.5 Prerequisites for receiving Holy Baptism with water Back to top

Anyone can receive Holy Baptism with water. In the New Apostolic Church it is administered by an Apostle or priestly minister to both children and adults. The prerequisite is the believer's profession of faith in Jesus Christ and His gospel.

When children are baptised, the parents, or persons responsible for the religious upbringing of the children, must profess their faith in Jesus Christ and vow to raise the baptised child in accordance with the gospel. The practice of baptising children is based upon the insight that the blessings of God should be made available to them. They too require the grace of the Lord, and the kingdom of God is open to them (Mark 10: 14).

SUMMARY Back to top

The two essential elements of Holy Baptism with water are the water and the word in the Trinitarian formula. The water is consecrated in the name of the triune God. Thereafter the baptising minister uses the consecrated water to make the sign of the cross three times on the forehead of the person being baptised, and baptises in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (8.1.4)

Any human being can receive Holy Baptism with water. The prerequisite is profession of faith in Jesus Christ and His gospel. (8.1.5)

When children are baptised, those who bear responsibility for their religious upbringing must profess their own faith in Jesus Christ and vow to raise the baptised child in accordance with the gospel. (8.1.5)

8.1.6 The effects of Holy Baptism with water Back to top

Through Holy Baptism with water, a person who believes in Jesus Christ and professes Him is incorporated into the church of Christ and thereby has fellowship with Jesus Christ. Holy Baptism with water performed in the name of the Trinity is a binding element among Christians.

Holy Baptism with watersimilar to circumcision in the old covenantis a mark of the covenant. Through it, a human being is adopted into the new covenant and can then receive further marks of the covenant: access to Holy Sealing is open to those who are baptised. Those baptised in the New Apostolic Church are entitled to partake regularly in Holy Communion.

The baptised shares in the death of Jesus Christ and in His new life. Seen in a spiritual sense, he partakes in the experience of Jesus Christ. Just as Christ died on the cross for the sins of mankind, so the baptised is to be "dead indeed to sin" by renouncing it. Baptism incorporates the believer into Christ's activity of redemption such that Christ's death on Golgotha also becomes the "death" of the baptised: this signifies the end of life in the condition of remoteness from God and the beginning of life in Christ. Baptism imparts powers to wage the battle against sin (Romans 6: 3-8; Colossians 2: 12-13).

Baptism is "putting on Christ". With it, the first step on the path to renewal of the inner man has been taken: "For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3: 27). This image constitutes the basis for abandoning one's old way of life and "putting on" the virtues of Christ. It describes that which comes to expression in the term "repentance", namely the act of turning away from one's old nature and turning to the Lord. This means that one must earnestly endeavour to lead one's life in accordance with God's will. The baptised person vows to conduct and organise his life under the regency of Christ.

8.1.7 Faith and Holy Baptism with water Back to top

Like all other sacraments, Holy Baptism with water is dispensed on the basis of faith. Sacrament and faith belong together: "He who believes and is baptised will be saved" (Mark 16: 16). A person's faith is both a prerequisite for receiving the sacrament as well as his response to this act of God.

The unbelief into which a baptised person may fall cannot undo the validity of Holy Baptism with water. A validly dispensed Holy Baptism with water is not repeated.

8.1.8 Holy Baptism with water and Holy Sealing Back to top

Although Holy Baptism with water and Holy Sealing are interdependent, they are two distinct sacraments. The book of Acts relates that Holy Baptism with water and baptism with Holy Spirit were administered in two separate acts (Acts 2: 38-39; 8: 12-17, 10: 44-48; 19: 5-6).

The rebirth out of water and the Spirit occurs when a person receives both sacraments, namely Holy Baptism with water and Holy Sealing (John 3: 5).

8.1.9 Holy Baptism with water and following Christ Back to top

During Holy Baptism with water, the believer vows to earnestly endeavour to avoid sin and to lead a life of following Christ. The kind of following to which the baptised are called consists of aligning themselves to the life and nature of Jesus, in accordance with His words: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16: 24).

8.1.10 Holy Baptism with water and the Apostle ministry Back to top

In Matthew 28: 18-20, the Risen One gives His Apostles the commission to baptise. The administration of the sacraments is inseparably linked to the Apostle ministry. While Holy Sealingaccording to the testimony of the Scriptureswas only dispensed by Apostles, there are several biblical references indicating that Holy Baptism with water was not exclusively performed by Apostles (Acts 8: 38). Priestly ministers in the New Apostolic Church also have the authority to baptise with water.

However the Holy Baptism with water administered by the Apostles and ministers ordained by them is not the only valid one: since it has been entrusted to the church as a whole, properly performed baptisms in other churches are also valid (see 6.4.4).

SUMMARY Back to top

Holy Baptism performed in the name of the Trinity is a binding element among Christians. (8.1.6)

Baptism is a covenantal mark, whereby a human being is accepted into the new covenant. It is the first step on the path to renewal of the inner being. The baptised individual shares in the death of Jesus Christ as well as in His new life. (8.1.6)

A properly dispensed Holy Baptism is not repeated. (8.1.7)

Holy Baptism with water and Holy Sealing are two interdependent yet distinct sacraments. The rebirth out of water and the Spirit occurs by receiving both of them. (8.1.8)

The Risen One issued the commission to baptise to His Apostles. In the New Apostolic Church, Apostles have the authority to baptise and can also issue this authority to the priestly ministries. (8.1.10)

Since Holy Baptism with water has been entrusted to the church as a whole, properly performed baptisms in other churches are also valid. (8.1.10)

8.2 Holy Communion Back to top

The Seventh Article of the New Apostolic Creed states: "I believe that Holy Communion was instituted by the Lord Himself in memory of the once brought, fully valid sacrifice, and bitter suffering and death of Christ. The worthy partaking of Holy Communion establishes our fellowship with Jesus Christ, our Lord. It is celebrated with unleavened bread and wine; both must be consecrated and dispensed by a minister authorised by an Apostle."

Of the three sacraments, Holy Communion is the one which is repeatedly made available and dispensed to a human being. The content and significance of Holy Communion cannot be fully grasped in rational or doctrinal terms. It is closely associated with the mystery of the person of Jesus Christ.

In Holy Communion, the reality of God and His devotion to mankind can be directly experienced. Holy Communion is the central event of the divine service. It also takes on a significant position in the consciousness and life of the faithful.

8.2.1 Designations for the sacrament Back to top

There are various designations for the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, which emphasise different aspects of the sacrament:

8.2.2 Old Testament references to Holy Communion Back to top

The Old Testament not only makes frequent references to the Son of God, His suffering, and His sacrifice, but also relates many events that have a certain affiliation with Holy Communion. In retrospect, they can be understood as references to the sacrament established by Jesus Christ. From them it is clear just how closely the old and the new covenants are interrelated.

Genesis 14: 18-20 describes Abram's encounter with the royal Priest Melchizedek. Melchizedekwhom the epistle to the Hebrews interprets as a reference to Jesus Christblessed Abram and also brought him bread and wine (verse 18). "Bread and wine" are reminiscent of the elements of Holy Communion. This relationship becomes even clearer in Hebrews 5: 10, where Jesus Christ is called a "High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek".

Another important Old Testament reference to Holy Communion can be seen in the feeding of the Israelites with manna as they wandered in the wilderness (Exodus 16: 4-36). Manna is described as "bread from heaven" (verse 4). According to John 6: 35, Jesus Christ called Himself "the bread of life". This manna held the promise of something greater, as it were, namely a food which would not only strengthen the body, but also one's entire being, and serve for salvation.

8.2.3 Jesus' miracles of feeding and Holy Communion Back to top

The gospels attest that Jesus Christ ate and drank with sinners. In contrast to the Pharisees and scribes, He had table fellowship with those who, in accordance with the Mosaic Law, were considered unclean and who were therefore excluded from association with the righteous (Mark 2: 13-17).

Not only did Jesus eat with others, the gospels also relate that He provided food for them. His miracles of feedingfor example, the feeding of the five thousand (John 6: 1-15), the feeding of the four thousand (Matthew 15: 32-38), but also the miracle of transforming water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2: 1-11)–are all signs of the kingdom of God which has drawn near to mankind in Jesus Christ. Beyond the satisfaction of physical hunger, these earthly meals are also a reference to salvation in Christ. This becomes clear in the words of the Lord when He linked the feeding of the five thousand with the statement: "I am the bread of life" (John 6: 26-51).

8.2.4 The Passover meal Back to top

At the Lord's command, the Israelites celebrated their first Passover on the night before their exodus from Egypt. Lambs without blemish were killed and prepared. With the lamb, the Israelites ate unleavened bread. The blood of the lamb, which was painted on the doorposts, was the sign that would spare the Israelites from the tenth plague to come upon Egypt, namely the death of the firstborn (Exodus 12).

God commanded that the Passover should be celebrated every year in commemoration of the liberation from Egypt.

The similarities between the Passover meal and Holy Communion are quite apparent: both are meals of commemoration in which bread is an indispensable component. The cup of wine which is drunk at the end of the Passover meal symbolises the joy resulting from the Israelites' deliverance from Egyptian captivity. The blood of the Passover lamb effected deliverance for the firstborn of the Israelites. This is a reference to Jesus Christ as the "Lamb of God" who was sacrificed: "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1: 29; cf. 1 Peter 1: 19).

The Passover meal is a commemoration of the Israelites' deliverance from Egyptian captivity. Holy Communion refers to deliverance in a much broader sense