Reformation; Sacraments; Babies and Bathwater
Subsequent to the ecclesiastical upheavals of the 15/16th centuries, many Christians who are sick today are turning to highly-dangerous spiritual practices.
The Reformation was a pivotal moment in the history of the Christian church. The split with what is now called the Roman Catholic Church was occasioned by the Reformers' efforts to bring the church back in line with Scripture. However in that process some very important Truth was lost.
A very significant part of the change introduced at that time of Luther, Calvin and Knox was the reduction in the number of ‘Sacraments’ – to use one definition: an outward sign of an inward grace – from seven down to two.
From seven to two
Both then and now the Roman Catholic Church held and do hold to seven Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick
It was the Reformer’s view at the time, and they were certainly right, that the sacraments were being wrongly taught and practised in the Catholic Church. The response to these problems was to reduce the number of Sacraments down to two – those which Jesus ordained. And within those two – baptism and communion – to counter the (transubstantiation) teaching that the communion elements become, in a real sense, the body and blood of Christ.
But only two?
Regarding baptism and communion the Reformers were certainly correct in stating that these were the only sacraments that Jesus taught. But to say that these are the only sacraments that have a biblical mandate is most certainly wrong. The definition of a ‘Sacrament’ (not a word which appears in the Bible) could be argued over. But to expand on the one given above it, a sacrament (sign) is a visible, tangible, physical act which embodies and illustrates an invisible spiritual truth and dynamic.
In this context the letter of James gives us:
“Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
James 5:14 - 16
Some vital truths abandoned
But in countering the abuses of their time (which persist through to the present day) the Reformers effectively threw out babies with the bathwater.
The real and tragic consequences of this is that Christians in the reformed tradition are, if conventional medicine cannot provide a cure, turning to (often) unproven and unregulated alternative remedies; many of which are based on and employ dangerous (non-Christian) spiritualities. (This is not to say that conventional medicine has all the answers, but rather that the ‘alternatives’ are a minefield into which no one should venture without careful thought and investigation).
Let’s pray that it won’t need another earthquake of Reformation proportions for the reformed Christian church to re-discover and re-introduce the sacraments of (on request) praying for and anointing sick; and for believers, in a context of close and trusting fellowship, confessing their sins to one another, so that they will be restored by the Lord in a manner which is in keeping with His sovereign will and the promises of his immutable word
1. The Christian Medical Fellowship has written articles and published a book 'Alternative Medicine: Helpful or Harmful' on the subject.
2. The most common arguments against the practices of Scripture in terms of healing make reference to the abuses that occur, including the raising of false expectations and the unbiblical and unscrupulous antics of some Christian 'faith healers'. However the response to abuse should be 'right use' and not disuse.
Other objections base themselves on 'Cessationism' - the theological notion that (some of) the powers of God relating to restoration and healing died out with the first apostles.