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Theology > Church > Ordinances of the Church > Sacraments or Ordinances or Memorials


Basic to the question of the observances of the Church is the question of terminology. What are they to be called; what words should be used to describe them and denote them?

Three answers have been given, with each answer implying a specific interpretation regarding the acts of the Church, as well as providing some justification for their observance. The following words are used: Sacrament; Ordinance; and Memorial. Each of these will be briefly considered:


Sacrament (Lat., sacramentum), was originally associated with an oath or obligation, and later with the idea of devotion, or something sacred, a consecration, or a mystery; a sacrament, therefore, is a sacred or holy thing; it is understood to be an act, by which God conveys grace; the sacrament is both a visible sign and an inward grace that is conferred by the doing of the act; in fact, the sacrament is the cause of grace for many professing believers.

The sacramental view developed gradually over time; Cyprian (c. AD 200-258) connected original sin and baptism, with the latter removing the former; this point was affirmed by Augustine; subsequent sins committed by believers were forgiven by confession and penance; this was part of the justification for infant baptism, which was made official by the Council of Carthage in AD 417.

The Eastern Orthodox view prefers the word “mysteries” to the word “sacraments”; and the Eastern Church, in one sense, views all of life, especially the life of the Church, as sacramental.

The Roman Church affirms that the sacraments contain the grace which they signify and that they confer that grace to those who perform the act of the sacrament; the Church also affirms that the grace is conveyed from the act itself (ex opera operato, “out of the operation it operates” or “from the work worked”); that is, the sacraments bestow the salvation they signify; in the Roman view baptism removes the guilt of original sin and the various sacraments are instrumental in removing subsequent and continual sin.

According to the Council of Trent (1545-1563) the sacraments are seven: Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Matrimony; all were affirmed to have been instituted by Jesus Christ and are necessary for salvation; any person who denies this is anathema.

The Eastern Church also has seven sacraments but uses different terminology: Baptism; Eucharist; Confirmation; Penance; Ordination; Matrimony; and Extreme Unction; but the number seven is not as set as in the Roman Church.

Question: Are the sacraments, whatever the number, the means by which God gives grace, more grace, to the participant of the sacrament, assuming that it is administered by the proper authority? Or, is all of life sacramental?

Response: All of life is sacramental; no special saving grace is associated with the doing of these acts; no relationship between original sin and baptism.


Ordinance – the word speaks of a command, a rule, or something established by an authoritative means; the believers who accept this word believe that the observances they keep were ordained by Christ; the Church practices them because they were commanded by Him.

An ordinance indicates that the act has been ordained by the Lord for the believer or for the assembly of believers; while there is Scripture mandating both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, there is no Scripture to justify ascribing ordinance to the other five acts practiced by the Roman Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Ordinance is a word used by Protestants in order to associate the observances with Christ and the obligation He place on the Church; also the word is used in order to remove the idea of grace being associated with the observances; the ordinance are kept not in order to obtain grace but because of His instruction to do so.


Memorial – the word is related to preserving the memory of something or someone; acts may be practiced in order to remember a person, place, or deed; something is done in memory or honor of the person and His work.

Regarding the observance of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said to do it in “in remembrance of Me” (I Cor. 11:24-25); so, there is Biblical justification for using this word to speak of this observance and the other observance of the Church practiced by Protestants, meaning baptism.

In the observance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper the participant is remembering Christ and what He did, even while the believer is affirming his identification with Christ in baptism and in the meal; the believer is remembering Christ and honoring Christ.

Consideration of these three words indicates that the word “sacrament” is the least desirable and, in fact, should not be used because of erroneous associations conveyed, namely, that grace is associated with the doing of these acts.

There is no Scriptural justification for any of these acts being sacramental, that is, none of these acts conveys grace any more than any other act performed by the believer; there is no grace that is secured by the doing of them. In one sense all of life is sacramental, but no soteriological or special grace is conveyed by these seven observances.

The ordinances are not necessary for salvation; no human act conditions or contributes to salvation; salvation from beginning to end is the doing of Christ and provided by God’s grace.

While these ordinances do not effect salvation, they do testify to the fact that the believer has been saved by the body and blood of Christ, and that the believer has been identified with Him.

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