Two thoughts on the sacraments

The Rutherford House Edinburgh Dogmatics conference this week, which is always a highlight. Amongst many good things, I came away with two passing comments which might yet between them change the way I think about the sacraments.

The first was from Bruce McCormack. Bruce simply pointed out in passing in a paper that there is no obvious NT linkage between baptism and Eucharist – they are not described using the same word, or spoken of together, or… There is thus no good reason for us to assume that we can deal with them under a common head, ‘sacramentology’ – it might turn out to work, but we should not assume a priori that it is the best way forward.

The second was from Henri Blocher, who suggested the key question to be asked of baptism and the Supper is ‘what do [they] give us that we cannot obtain otherwise?’ This seems to me a great question, which takes us helpfully to the heart of the issue, and maintains a useful experimental and soteriological focus.


  1. kim fabricius
    Aug 29, 2009

    On Bruce McCormack’s interesting point, what about the sacramental suggestiveness of the linkage of “baptism” and “cup” in Mark 10:38, singular though it may be?

    • Steve H
      Aug 29, 2009

      Hi Kim.
      As I say, it was a point made entirely in passing by Bruce, and no-one offered him this text to comment on. If I were to try to defend his point, I would suggest that ‘baptism’ and ‘cup’ here refer alike to martyrdom – they refer to martyrdom in terms which recall baptismal and eucharistic imagery, but is that enough to make a theological link between baptism and eucharist, beyond the obvious ‘both are a part of our appropriation of the gospel story’?

  2. Jon
    Aug 29, 2009

    I find it utterly frustrating that the Reformed Evangelical background which I grew up in is so quick to deny anything other than a symbolism to the sacraments and yet they will vehemently NOT let anyone take them wrongly because that is very bad!

  3. Marty Foord
    Aug 31, 2009

    Dear Stephen,

    Yes, the 2 sacraments (for Israel) are mentioned together in 1 Cor. 10:1ff, where Israel are said to have been baptised, and to have drunk from the same spiritual cup as the Corinthians. This is a very important passage for the sacraments, which too many people have not examined.



    • Steve H
      Aug 31, 2009

      Hi Marty. Interesting – I find that more convincing. I’m not sure, however, that it convincingly establishes that there is a thing called a sacrament, of which baptism and Eucharist are two (perhaps the only two) examples – the passage seems rather too allusive for that.
      Thanks for stopping by,

  4. Mark Henderson
    Sep 1, 2009

    That thought is not unique to Bruce McCormack; the German-Australian Lutheran theologian Hermann Sasse (a contributor to Kittel’s TDNT) said/wrote the same thing on a number of occasions and argued that Protestants should not develop a sacramentology but rather treat Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as separate loci in dogmatics – and Sasse was very much a theologian of the Lord’s Supper (his 1959 book “This Is My Body” remains a classic on the issues debated at the Marburg Colloquy from a Lutheran perspective). To the extent that we don’t follow such advice, I think our theology becomes less than Evangelical.

    • Steve H
      Sep 1, 2009

      Thanks for that Mark – interesting.

  5. Mark Henderson
    Sep 1, 2009

    You’re welcome, Steve.
    I’m sure you can access some of Sasse’s writings where you are, if interested.
    I’m an Australian Lutheran pastor, hence my interest in Sasse (he emigrated here after the war).

    Btw, I like your blog title, being an old Eliot fan myself.
    I came across it looking for blogs on the recent Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference.

  6. john k
    Sep 2, 2009

    Did Prof. Blocher’s question tacitly posit the legtimacy of sacramentology, in that he asked one question involving two ordinances? It is difficult to tell, since the plural reference “[they]” is one you supplied. He did not ask, “What does A give?” and, “What does B give?”

    • Steve H
      Sep 2, 2009

      Welcome John. Henri spoke after Bruce, and spotted the issue; he acknowledged explicitly that he was going to assume that there was a generic term ‘sacrament,’ without defending the assumption particularly.

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