Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

On the Word Sacrament


Over the years, I have noticed objections from Christians regarding the use of certain words. One of those words is the word sacrament. I use the word sacrament because I believe it is the best word out of all the words available in the English language to describe certain God-events in the life of a Christian. What amazes me is that this is even a controversy at all. Arguing over what word to use entirely misses the point of the God-events being discussed. Here are a few brief thoughts on the word sacrament.

A sacrament is an event where heaven and earth meet. It is a physical activity where spiritual things are also happening that we cannot see (e.g., water baptism and remission of sins). It has been famously defined as a visible sign of an inward grace. All Christians agree there is such a thing as sacraments. What is not agreed upon is how many there are or what to call them.

“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” (1 Tim. 2:14)

Alexander Campbell in The Christian System asserted, “As the calling of Bible things by Bible names is an important item in the present reformation, we may here take the occasion to remark, that both ‘the Sacrament’ and ‘the Eucharist’ are of human origin.” Campbell’s reasoning is typically sound but in this instance, he is mistaken. Sacrament is derived from the Latin translation of Ephesians 5:32. Eucharist comes from the Greek word meaning to give thanks. It is found multiple times throughout the Bible, and early Christians called the Lord’s Supper the Eucharist because this was a meal in which to give thanks. Everett Ferguson in his book Early Christians Speak traces the use of Eucharist as a reference to the Lord’s Supper all the way back to the second century (Early Christians Speak 3rd Edition, p. 94). The use of sacrament or Eucharist is no different than our use of baptism, apostles, deacons, etc. These are words that have been transliterated rather than translated.

In most cases, the objection to words like sacrament or Eucharist is rooted in anti-Catholic sentiment. Other words are preferred because they are words not used by Catholics. Of course, this is absurd. Our reasoning should never be that we cannot do something because someone else is doing it. If this were taken to its logical conclusion, then we would also have to abandon preaching, praying, Sunday school, VBS, and many other honorable Christian practices.

I prefer the word sacrament because it is tied to the text. Others have used the English translation mystery which is fine as well. There is nothing wrong with using either of these words. It is a problem when others create laws where there are none and begin to forbid the use of legitimate words. We must heed the words of the apostle Paul and not create silly arguments over words.

One Response to “On the Word Sacrament”

  1. Amen! Oops, um, can’t use that one . . . Hallelujah! Oops, can’t use that one either . . . um, Maranatha! . . . running out of options here. 🙂

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