We have at least two meanings for the word “holy.” That God is holy means that God is perfect. That something is holy is that we have set that something aside for special use in the Church. We have a set of plates that we use to collect our tithes and offerings. We might say we have taken regular plates and set them aside for a special use in the Church; so the plates, in a sense, become holy. There are two events in the life of the Church that have very regular application in life. We bathe. We eat. In the Church, we baptize and we eat the Lord’s Supper. We identify these two holy acts by five characteristics.
First, Baptism and Holy Communion are holy acts. Baptism in not just a bath. Holy Communion is not just a supper. Baptism is a holy “bath,” and Holy Communion is a holy “meal.” They are events that God set aside for us to do in the Church each having a special purpose and meaning. Because they are holy acts, we call them “sacraments” from the Latin word sacra which means “holy.”
Secondly, these two holy acts are commanded by Jesus Himself. The number of sacraments has been debated throughout the history of the Church. However when we apply these five traits to the holy acts, and especially that they are specifically commanded by Jesus, we find that He did tells us to baptize (Matthew 28) and that He did tell us to eat and drink (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and 1 Corinthians 11). Jesus did also tell us to repent; but as we look at the other characteristics of the sacraments, we’ve come to the conclusion that the call to repentance is actually part of the command to live our baptism.
The third trait of a sacrament is that is uses visible elements. By nature and definition, baptism is in water. The word Jesus used when he commanded baptism actually means “to dip into” with the presumption being that the dipping is into water. We believe that the actual activity is less important than that we use water. We can immerse, but sprinkling is also fine. The elements of Holy Communion are specifically stated in each of the four places the event is described. Jesus was celebrating Passover with His disciples. He took unleavened bread from the meal and told His disciples of its true meaning. He took a cup in the meal and gave His disciples its true meaning. (The content of the cup in the Passover was wine. However, the word Jesus used is a generic term that means simply “the juice that comes from grapes”; it can refer to either grape juice or wine.*)
Fourth, the act is made holy because it always happens in conjunction or union with God’s Word. We quote God’s Word when we baptize. We quote God’s Word when we eat the Meal. The command is in God’s Word; the promises are in God’s Word.
Finally, God promises in His Word that He gives us forgiveness, faith, and eternal life through these holy acts. We call these acts a means of grace because God has promised grace through them, and in the giving of grace we get also forgiveness, faith, and eternal life. These are gifts, so we say that God gives spiritual gifts through the Sacraments. (Stay tuned: the next two articles will explore God’s Word about this promise.)
We can clearly and specifically identify two holy acts which were commanded by Jesus Himself. These acts use visible elements, are practiced always with God’s Word, and are means through which God give us His gift of grace. We confess and believe that Baptism and Holy Communion are the two Sacraments of the Church.
NOTE: Inclusion of this link is not an endorsement of LaVista Church of Christ. It is only an “easy” reference that has gathered a number of sources to explore the meaning of the word “wine” as found in the New Testament.