The doctrine that observance of the sacraments is necessary for salvation and that such participation can confer grace.[http://www.dictionary.com/]
A “sacramental” viewpint would see there being a real, spiritual effect to a physical rite or action for example, baptism or communion, required for salvation.
Anti-sacramentalists are quick (and, for that matter, right) to point out what is wrong in the view point: salvation clearly isnt attached to any sacraments according to a plain, simple reading of the bible. On the other hand, they might be missing out on some of the good that a more sacramental viewpoint can bring.
Sometimes it’s necessary to dip your paintbrush into other paint pots to get the full picture. That said, we dip our brush, not drink the paint.
Something spiritual may well be happening when we take communion. A sacramental viewpoint helps us to understand Paul when he writes in 1 Corinthians 11 about believers getting sick and/or dying. Modern, rational, conservative viewpoints find it hard to fully integrate Paul’s point here; if communion is purely symbolic why, get sick and/or die from abusing it?
Similarly baptism – is it merely an act of obedience or is there are divine element to what is occurring? We know the doctrine of “baptismal regeneration” is wrong, but does God do a work in the person being baptised? Why is there such a marked difference between those that have and those that havent?
In Roman Catholic tradition, seven sacraments are observed:
- Baptism – thought to wash away the stain of original sin
- Confirmation (which includes laying on of hands, anointing, and prayers) is said to bestow the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit on the person who has already been baptized as an infant.
- Penance grants forgiveness of post-baptism mortal sins is supposedly obtained by those who are truly sorry for their sin, make confession, and perform the duties imposed on them.
- Ordination gives a special grace is said to be given for the work and temptations involved in serving God.
- Bread and Wine when blessed during the Mass, are believed to actually become the body and blood of Christ, and that the one who partakes of them receives a measure of grace.
- Marriage through which the man and woman joined in wedlock are said to receive grace to discharge faithfully the duties of the marital state until death.
- Extreme unction (also known as last rites) offers those who appear to be near death special grace, enabling the dying soul to confide in the mercy of God and to resist the final attacks and temptations of the devil.
Protestant churches are careful to use other terms than “sacrament” to describe what they traditionally observe, but there are 2 ordinances which in an outward way communicate a profound inward invisible mystery:
- Baptism where a believer identifies publically with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus symbolically through immersion in water
- Communion where bread and wine are eaten in rememberence of the last meal Jesus shared with His disciples, symbolizing the new covenant God made with mankind, and looking forward to the bodily return of Christ