There is a shortage of contemporary sacramental
worship songs. This is one
of the challenges of using contemporary worship music in a church with a
sacramental theology. You have to
look pretty hard to find music that explicitly reflects sacramental
theology. The bulk of new worship music comes from traditions that view
baptism and the Lord’s Supper as symbolic of God’s grace rather than
means that convey His grace.
On this page I just want to put down a few thoughts
about sacramental theology for those who are at home in that tradition. I’m also providing this for those who are not coming from that
perspective and are wondering just where in the world we are coming
I believe that He does and He has. In fact He has been doing so from the beginning, from His choice
to bring a physical/spiritual universe into existence. In the creation of man from the dust of the earth, God breathed
into him and he became a living being (Genesis 2:7). Man is a dust/breath composite.
The dust is not merely a shell from the indwelling breath. Together they are one living being.
A “sacramental” being, if you will. (I’m using sacramental here in the broadest sense.) Keep in mind that the completion and fulfillment of history is resurrection. Our eternal
destiny is as a resurrection dust/breath being, not a purely “spiritual”
existence as in Greek and Eastern thought.
The fall came through an anti-sacrament. God warned man “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge
of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis
2:17).Note the wording: This tree is imbued with the knowledge of good and evil.
Death would come by eating the fruit from this tree. A spiritual curse would be conveyed through eating the physical
fruit. And so humanity
fell, and every since then the effects of the fall, original sin have
been passed from one generation of dust/breath composite living beings
to the next.
And so we would expect that there would be “sacramental” means given by
God not just in cursing, but also in blessing.
We see this in his selection of Abraham and his descendants to be
a means of blessing for all the world.
The chosen people of God are a “sacramental” people.
God intends to convey spiritual blessing to the entire universe
through this family.
Levitical Worship was sacramental.
The blessings of forgiveness and fellowship were conveyed by God
through the physical means of the sacrifices.
To be sure these blessings, as all of God’s spiritual benefits,
are apprehended by faith.
But the point remains that the grace is given through the sacramental
activity of the sacrifices.
For instance Leviticus 4:19-20 reads, “He shall remove all the fat from it
and burn it on the altar, and do with this bull just as he did with the
bull for the sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement
for them, and they will be forgiven.”
Read through Leviticus 4 and 5 and you will see this pattern
repeated again and again.
Atonement is made and forgiveness given through the sacrifices, the
aroma of which is pleasing to the Lord.
When looking at the Old Testament this way, examples abound:
The bronze serpent that Moses placed on a pole (Numbers 21:4-9).
The bread and water given to Elijah by the angel (1 Kings
19:1-9). The waters of the
Jordan that healed Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-14).
God regularly uses the physical stuff of creation as a vehicle
for his blessings and grace.
But all of these pale in comparison to the chief Sacramental
activity of all, the centerpiece of all of God’s activity, the
Incarnation. In Jesus
Christ, God has combined his very spiritual essence with the physical
stuff of humanity, the two persons as one Christ.
Jesus body didn’t merely represent or point to God’s intention
with humanity. It was God in
the flesh and what happened to Christ’s physical body effected the
salvation of the world. The
death and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ is the supreme
sacramental activity, and the source of our salvation.
So it only follows that the conveying for the fruits of that saving
event are conveyed sacramentally as well.
This is chiefly done through the Word of God, through the Gospel,
the communication of saving activity and intention of God.
Now stop and think about this.
It is very natural to consider the word and the gospel as purely
“spiritual.” But is it?
Jesus left no writings, and He does not directly convey the good
news. He has chosen to
propagate the salvation He won through humans, through their words,
through their speech, through their actions.
The only way to have the saving work of Christ come to you is
through His people: their words, their writings, their songs, their
The Bibles we read are physical objects which convey spiritual
blessings. The sermon we
hear is a physical event, sound waves from the speaker’s larynx through
the air that cause vibrations in the bones of our ears and so forth.
And so in baptism God is at work.
Note that the passages which speak of baptism don’t speak of
anything that we are doing (confessing our faith, committing our lives),
but rather speak of what God is doing or what has been done to us
(clothed, buried, washed, forgiven, saved, etc.)
Here again, God is up to His old trick of conveying spiritual
blessing through a physical means. In this case it is a means that also
provides rich symbolism to help us better understand, remember, and
treasure the gift that He is giving.
And in the Lord’s Supper we have the antidote to the forbidden
fruit in the garden. Here we
eat and drink and live.
Christ conveys His very self through the physical means of bread and
wine. Here we enter the Holy
of Holies, and in fact take the Holy of Holies within ourselves.
All of the Old Testament sacramental worship and theology is here
fulfilled in Christ and offered to us.
We can never begin to describe nor exhaust the richness of the
mystery and gift which Christ gives to us in this sacrament.
And finally then, we ourselves as Christians live in this
world as living sacraments.
We are dust/breath composites in whom the Triune God dwells, and though
whom He blesses the world.
Our lives and words convey spiritual blessing to the world around us.
So does God convey spiritual blessing through physical means?
Has he told us to expect it?
Yes, He does and yes He has.
It is our very life and it is the hope for the life of the world.
Now, what we need are more contemporary worship songs that reflect this
. . .