Two sacraments were established by Jesus himself and were practiced through the centuries. These are:

1. Baptism

2, Lord's Supper.

(To these two are added five others by several churches:

3. Confirmation

4. Penance

5. Orders

6. Matrimony

7. Extreme Unctions.

These are not instituted by Jesus. )

Both are transient symbols and therefore are less likely to degenerate into idols. However in the long tradition it has to a very great extent been given magical powers and elements involved were given idol status. Surprisingly this is so in a wide spectrum of denominations from Roman Catholic to Pentecostals.

The word sacrament does not occur in the bible anywhere. It originated from the Latin word "sacramentum". Sacramentum was a sum of money given by the contesting parties in a litigation wagering their claim. One who won the litigation got his money back and the loser lost it. The money forfeited was supposed to go to the temple. How does this apply in the Christian Sacraments? The implication here is that Church in giving the sacrament to the person is making a wager, whereby the Church claims this person to itself. The other party here is the world and its ways. How it turns out to be is determined by the court of law. In providing the baptism, in giving the bread and wine in Lord's Supper, in taking the person through the process of confirmation, penance, accepting them into various orders of the church and marrying them in the presence of the Christian Assembly and even in giving them the last rite of extreme unction,; Church is laying its claim on the person. But whether it is realized in actuality or not is determined by the life and ultimate judgement God himself. This I believe is the true explanation of the sacraments.

The alternate derivation is from military usage where sacramentum is a sacred pledge of loyalty and obedience. The original word therefore is certainly of pagan origin. Because of this many evangelical theologians objects to the usage of the word sacrament to denote the institutions of the Church. In its modern usage it simply means an symbol instituted by Christ.

The sacrament has three essential parts.

1. The Outward visible sign. This sign is only an image or symbol of something else.

Gen. 9:12 And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come:

Gen. 9:13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

Gen. 17:11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.

All sacraments are symbolic. They are symbol of a spiritual reality in the spiritual realm translated into the material world.


2. The inward spiritual grace signified and sealed by the sacrament.

Rom. 4:11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.

Sacraments therefore derive their meaning and purpose from its spiritual reality.

3. The sacramental union between the physical and the spiritual.

Separated from the spiritual reality, the image ceases to have any meaning. However when the spiritual reality is realized the Sacraments are a means of Grace. There are three possible stands on this.

a. The reality and the symbol become identical. Sacraments are a means of receiving grace. Baptism is the means of regeneration and Eucharist is the means of absolution as it is the sacrifice of Jesus repeated for the specific period of sin of the person who comes to the table. When the priest takes up the bread and the wine and bless them a physical change in the elements takes place and they become in reality the flesh and blood of Jesus. This is the mystical explanation of the sacrament. There is magic in the institutional words. In the history of the church this was challenged and tested and several priests even went to the extent of forging the results. This is the stand of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

b. The reality and the symbol are parallel in two different planes. Local realization of the sign and the signified actually occur for the believer. Though in reality the bread and wine does not become flesh and blood, to the believer it becomes flesh and blood. It is as though he has taken the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. There is no magic in the words, there is no power in the blessing process. But in the spirit it becomes flesh and blood of Jesus to those who partake of it in faith. For others it is just useless piece of bread and draught of wine. However to those who partake of it with guilt it becomes a means of judgement by the same process. They are declarations of something more profound which the believer has been experiencing. It can bring nourishment and growth in Christian life if done with faith. But if undertaken with guilt it can react psychologically to the detriment of the one who partakes of it. This is simply the reaction of the changes in the image dimension into the spiritual dimension. In this sense it is a means of Grace. This is the evangelical stand point

c. The sacraments are symbols and therefore it can have no positive or negative effect on the partaker in any way. This is a rationalistic stand which denies the existence of a spiritual realm and interaction between spiritual and material realms.

For a rationalist however the spiritual realm does not exist. It is only the psychological realm continued and misunderstood. In that case there is no spiritual meaning for the sacrament except as a myth in the mind. Myths on the other hand do have an effect on the mind only through delusion. It may be acceptable to a rationalist and material scientist who does not want to accept the reality of the existence of God and dimensions other than what is perceptible through senses. But this is not an alternative for a believer, though many pentecostals tend to this argument.

So we see that a sacrament finally is a sacrament. If you do not bet on it and make no claim, you don't have anything to gain or loose. There is no judgement in favor of you or against you. However if you are claiming something in the sacrament, depending on your rights and reality of your position in this matter you either gain much or loose much. St. James liturgy therefore puts this argument as follows in the final prayer after the communion have been received: "Lord, the flesh and blood which we have now received, may it not turn out to be for our guilt and punishment, instead may it me for for our salvation and for our eternal life in Jesus Christ."

It is this that Paul states in .

1Cor. 11:26-30. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.


Man is living in a multidimensional world, even though we are only aware of the four dimensions of space and time. It has always been the contention of Christianity that we do exist simultaneously with the material world in a spiritual world also. This coexistence of man in both material and spiritual dimensions give the added meaning to the sacraments. The apparent physical acts has not only its consequences in the material world, but also in the spiritual world following the rules of cause -effect relationship. This concept is actually emphasized in the Holy Communion liturgies of St. James and others. In the bread and wine the actual presence of Jesus is proclaimed and as the priest carries the elements he is actually holding the flesh and blood in his hands in the spirit. The believer receives the flesh and blood in spirit which gives him life. This life is real and is realizable in projection in the material world.

When the church worship they are worshipping along with a host of unseen beings in different planes. This is also clearly elucidated in all forms of liturgies. These facts which were well known to our parents are now being rediscovered. Unless this multidimensional world view is reestablished and understood the sacraments will remain as a mystery.