Recently, in a conversation I was having with Alan Cross, I was describing The Ontological Church from Eugene Peterson’s newest book, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ. Alan made a comment that it seemed Peterson was saying the church was itself a sacrament. I had not considered that thought, but was intrigued. It spurred some research whereby I wanted to discover what a sacrament was and discover if the church could be such a sacrament.
Sacramental theology is not something I am familiar with, so the first part of my research centered on the definition of the term sacrament. I want to approach the meaning of the term from three perspectives: Roman Catholic theology, a baptist perspective from Clark Pinnock, and a short view by Len Sweet.
The Sacraments of the Catholic Church are, the Church teaches, “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.” 
Though not every individual has to receive every sacrament, the Church affirms that, for believers as a whole, the sacraments are necessary for salvation, as the modes of grace divinely instituted by Christ Himself. Through each of them Christ bestows that sacrament’s particular grace, such as incorporation into Christ and the Church, forgiveness of sins, or consecration for a particular service.
The Church teaches that the effect of a sacrament comes ex opere operato, by the very fact of being administered, regardless of the personal holiness of the minister administering it. However, a recipient’s own lack of proper disposition to receive the grace conveyed can block the effectiveness of the sacrament in that person. The sacraments presuppose faith and through their words and ritual elements, nourish, strengthen and give expression to faith. 
The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists the sacraments as follows: “The whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments. There are seven sacraments in the Church: Baptism, Confirmation or Chrismation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.” 
According to Catholic Online:
They are the signs of Christ’s work; the effectiveness of Christ’s continuing work in his Church cannot be dependent on man’s inadequacy. A sacrament, administered properly in the way established by Christ and with the proper intention, gives the grace it signifies. It is effective not by reason of the power of intercession of priestly prayer nor on account of the worthiness of the recipient, but solely by the power of Christ. The power of Christ lives in the sacraments. The effect of the sacrament is independent of the sinfulness or unworthiness of the minister. The Church has never tolerated any subjective qualification of the objective effectiveness of the sacraments ex opere operato. This would ultimately be to conceive the way of salvation as being man’s way to God and not God’s way to man.
The Church Thus Teaches: There are seven sacraments. They were instituted by Christ and given to the Church to administer. They are necessary for salvation. The sacraments are the vehicles of grace which they convey. They are validly administered by the carrying out of the sign with the proper intention. Not all are equally qualified to administer all the sacraments. The validity of the sacrament is independent of the worthiness of the minister. Three sacraments imprint an indelible character.
Clark Pinnock is Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at McMaster Divinity College. Pinnock grew up from a Baptist perspective, even teaching at a SBC seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, in the 1960’s. In the book, Baptist Sacramentalism: Studies in Baptist History and Thought, Pinnock pens the opening chapter and discusses Baptists and the sacraments. Many believe that Baptists have not been sacramental, but Pinnock says that from its earliest history in the 17th century, there have always been Baptists who viewed baptism sacramentally. Pinnock notes that Zwingli separated grace from the sacraments. For Zwingli, the practices are a public testimony but have no effect upon the recipients. In doing this, he warned against confusing matter and spirit. However, Pinnock states, by making this distinction, Zwingli “introduced dualism into the understanding of the ordinances.” 
In general, however, Baptists have rejected sacramentalism. What has enabled Baptists to reject sacramental efficacy in terms of the mechanical operations of various rights is their understanding of sacraments from the human side as expressions of faith which meet God who graciously comes to us by His Spirit. 
In his chapter, Pinnock shares idea of sacraments from a variety of perspectives:
1. Media that transmit the grace of God to bodily creatures
2. Anything that can indicate the sacred
3. The physical side of being spiritual
4. Whichever and whatever transmit the grace of God to us
5. Sacred signs, made up of words and actions, employing material symbols through which God bestow life on us by the Spirit.
In other words, a sacrament can be anything that reveals the invisible to us, so long as it is conveyed by the Spirit. The the symbol itself is not the means of grace, but a way to experience God through the symbol.
In his book, Learn to Dance with SoulSalsa: 17 Surprising Steps for Godly Living in the 21st Century, Len Sweet has a short discussion on sacraments. Sweet says:
There are sacraments and there are “sacramentals” (a phrase coined by Medieval theologian Peter Lombard). In sacraments, sanctifying grace is conveyed “ex opere operato”, by the act itself. Sacramentals are rites that reveal the “signs of the Trinity” (Augustine) which are everywhere in creation when viewed through the eyes of faith. Sacramentals communicate grace. Sacraments convey grace. 
For Sweet, sacraments, or the sacramentals, are the means by which we experience grace. As a result, we can experience the grace of God through the Spirit in suffering, failure, or in fellowship. Grace does not come through the act itself, but in experiencing the Spirit by means of the sacrament.
In the next post I will discuss reasons for Baptists to recover or reject the sacraments.
 Baptist Sacramentalism, 4.
 SoulSalsa, 17-18