What is a Sacrament?

Literally, the word sacrament means “holy thing.”  Presbyterians believe that a sacrament is a sign of the real presence and power of Christ in the Church—a symbol of God’s action. Through the sacraments, God seals us in redemption, renews our identity as people of God, and marks us for service. 

Just as we believe that the Word of God is revealed in the Scriptures, so too we believe that the Word of God is enacted in the sacraments.  As such, they are an integral part of worship—as integral as the proclamation of God’s Word.

How many Sacraments are there?

Presbyterians believe that there are two sacraments which are instituted by God and commended by Jesus Christ—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both sacraments provide a visible, in fact a graphic, way of presenting God's promises. Being washed in the water of Baptism, we receive new life in Christ and present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. Eating bread and drinking wine in the Lord’s Supper, we receive the sustaining presence of Christ, we remember God’s covenant promise, and pledge our obedience anew. 

Does participation in the Sacrament make us holy people?

Presbyterians do believe that the water, the bread, and the wine of the sacraments are holy things. But, as material things, there is nothing inherently holy about them. The material elements of the sacraments do not make us holy people before God.

Although we believe that we are God’s holy people, our holiness does not stem from our own merits, nor is it imbued to us through the water, bread, and wine of the sacraments. Rather, we are holy people of God because God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ. As persons who are no longer estranged from God, the holiness of God is pleased to dwell within us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And, as God’s holy people, we use the gifts of God in service to Him. So, whenever we utilize the good things of God’s creation—water, bread, wine—for His holy purposes, those things are also deemed holy.

No, it is not the sacraments which make us holy people. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit using these material elements through us which make the sacraments to be holy things.