Sacrament-Shaped Hole

By Jaime Nava

For the forgiveness of sins: that’s why we Lutherans have the Sacraments. We’re not talking man-made ordinances, either, like we’re accused of. Peter twice says that Baptism saves us (Acts 2:38, 1 Peter 3:21). Paul says that we are buried with Christ in Baptism and will also have His resurrection (Romans 6:4-7). He says that Baptism is now circumcision (you know, the thing babies didn’t choose at eight days old), not of the flesh but of the heart, not by man but by Christ Himself (Colossians 2:11-12). Confession and Absolution is also clear in the Bible. Whatever those men placed into the Pastoral Office forgive or don’t forgive has the same effect in heaven (John 20:21-23). This means you can expect to hear that you are forgiven the moment you confess your sins. We are also taught that we have koinonia in the cup we drink and bread we partake of in the Lord’s Supper. We have the forgiveness of sins, as Jesus said (Matthew 26:26-28). So let’s be clear. God gives tangible things that provide forgiveness that is felt, tasted, heard and not some floating mystical holy “maybeness” of emotion. These things give us focus. We’re not tossed around by our whims. We stand firm on these things because they begin outside of us. Despite our circumstances or how we feel, we can agree with the devil when he accuses. We’re guilty. What we also do is fart on the devil’s head and tell him we’ve felt, tasted, and heard forgiveness. The devil is impotent next to these things. No matter how good or bad things are, we have every assurance of eternal life in these God-commanded gifts.

So what if you don’t have these things? What if your church teaches that Baptism doesn’t save? What if it says that Jesus’ Words of Institution in the Lord’s Supper are symbolic (often preceded by a heavy look in Revelation about Russia, Africa, and other ways of taking apocalyptic literature literally)? What if you were the one who had to accept Jesus into your heart—if you had to come to Jesus? When a church denies the historic, apostolic teaching of the Sacraments, it is left with a Sacrament-shaped hole.

Denying God’s holy writ concerning His good gifts leads the Christian in only one direction: self. Pelagius and Arminius would be pleased. When you deny what God offers, you have to find another way to know you’re okay with God. This means looking to things that are manufactured from poor readings of the Bible because you have a Sacrament-shaped hole. This is all over the place.

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So what do congregations do when they deny God’s obvious Word? They have to fill the Sacrament-shaped hole. They take the square peg of gifts of the Spirit and cram it into what is obviously missing from their theology. The biggie is speaking in tongues. If you don’t jibber-jabber like a one-year-old learning to speak, if you don’t “Shock-uh-Bobba,” then maybe you’re not really saved. Or to get even creepier, if you don’t have the demonic looking holy laughter, maybe you don’t really have the Spirit. On a more practical level, some believe they can tell who is saved by how they live. If you’re not producing fruit for the Kingdom, and sure it was great that time Jesus saved you, but if you’re not doing this thing now, well, you’re probably backsliding. Sometimes people get kinda close. If someone asks, “How do I know I am saved?” someone else will point them to what God has made. To the things God does in the Sacraments? No. Look at all the stuff He created and just feel deep down inside how awesome God is and how much He’s gotta, just gotta, love you.

I could soapbox on and on about all the ways denominations look for assurance of salvation. For your time’s sake, I won’t. Ultimately, if someone denies God’s goods delivered by pastors in their ministry, they still have all the doubts and attacks of the devil. The rock is pulled out from under them. They are told to look inside at how they feel and how on fire they are for Jesus. They are told to look for chaotic vocal expressions to know they have the Baptism of the Spirit. People are assured that their good works reflect that they are saved. All of these ways and more are pointing the person back to themselves and away from God and His external promises. They are pointed back to a sinner for salvation. They are left confused, angry, alone, and blaming the church or themselves that heaven is unattainable, or they are left comfortable in their Pharisaical ways. Either way, they are deluded, trying to fill a Sacrament-shaped hole that can only be filled by what God actually says and delivers through His Church.

The Sacraments are the primary way that God saves and assures. Through Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, we are able to stand secure or even crumble under the pressure of all the things. Even so, God is the one who saves, especially so in the Sacraments. If anyone tries to take this away from us or others, we reject it with all the energy we have because it is denial of the tangible Jesus among sinners today. Only God can fill the Sacrament-shaped hole in us by these things. It is in them, in the Sacraments, that we know for a fact that we are saved. Anything else is the devil’s work.

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4 comments

  1. Jamie, Dr. Scott Keith spoke at our Super Bowl Outreach this year and Dr. Rosenblatt has been very kind to network with me over the years. My ‘denomination’ is Thomas Cranmer’s Church of England. Question: would you elaborate more about the relationship between the sacraments and the work of the Spirit. You could take this sentence as a beginning point if you wanted: “The Sacraments are the primary way that God saves and assures.” Is this a clear and specific question Jamie? Thanks for your time.

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    1. Hi Bil,
      Dr. Keith and Rosenbladt are both fantastic resources for assurance in the Gospel.

      Regarding the relationship between the sacraments and the work of the Spirit, I like what you started with. I’d say they are together the absolute first place to start regarding salvation and also the place to look for continuing reassurance. For example in Titus 3:4-7 Paul uses the language of washing and regeneration in connection to the Holy Spirit:

      “4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

      Not having to find peace from within is extremely freeing, isn’t it? Thanks be to God! God’s peace be with you,
      Jaime

      P.S. I grew up Anglican Catholic as a kid in Southern California. That said, all I’ve really retained from it is my Book of Common Prayer.

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  2. I really like the image of farting on Satan’s head. Hilarious.
    As a former non-denominational Christian (confirmed Lutheran in 2014), I know exactly what it’s like to be part of a denomination with a sacrament-shaped hole. I didn’t really understand what Baptism or the Sacrament of the Altar were about, and I wasn’t even aware of Absolution. Part of what led me to Lutheranism was the foolhardiness of dispensationalism in the “Left Behind” book series. It’s commonly accepted among non-denoms and many other denominations. As I read it, I began questioning my salvation for the first time. I felt that no matter what I did, I would never be one of those Christians who’d be good enough to go to Heaven at the “first Rapture” and would have to be “left behind” for my “second chance.” It wasn’t until I examined Lutheran theology that I finally understood that I am justified by grace through faith, not of my own doing; and that the theology behind “Left Behind” is utterly inaccurate. Where the sacraments were lacking in my non-denom years, I can now look back on my Baptism and know without a doubt I am sealed in the family of God. And every Sunday I look forward to tasting the sweetness of God’s forgiveness in the Eucharist and hearing Christ’s words of forgiveness in Absolution.
    https://sheepofchrist.org/

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