Don’t Make This Mistake When Talking to Protestants About the Sacraments

By pintswaquinas February 14, 2023

You may know that Catholics and Protestants don’t share the same view on the sacraments. Not only do we not agree with our non-Catholic friends on what a sacrament is, we also don’t have the same number.

The Catholic Church teaches that there are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. Many Protestants recognize only two: Baptism and the Eucharist (also called Communion or the Lord’s Supper).

Catholics sometimes mistakenly think that all Protestants have the same beliefs about the sacraments. But this is not the case. Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, and others have their own doctrines.

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Protestant Beliefs on Baptism
One difference between Protestants on baptism stems from how they view the sacrament in relation to the Old Covenant. Many Reformed Presbyterians see baptism as a sign and a seal of God’s covenant. It harkens to circumcision in the Old Covenant. Circumcision is the seal of the righteousness that Abraham had by faith.

Calvinists emphasize the continuity between the Old and New Covenants through the continuity between circumcision and baptism. Some of them even practice infant baptism like Catholics. They believe that since the circumcision of infants brought them into the Old Covenant, the baptism of infants should bring them into the New. That being said, they do not share all of the Catholic Church’s beliefs about infant baptism.

On the other hand, many Reformed Baptists emphasize the discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants. The New Covenant is a different kind of relationship between God and His people. Therefore, even though male infants were circumcised under the Old Law, many Baptists reject infant baptism under the New Law.

What many Reformed Baptists and Reformed Presbyterians hold in common is that Baptism does regenerate the elect, but not at the time of the administration of the sacrament. Instead, regeneration occurs when they have faith.

Protestant Beliefs on Communion
Many Protestants believe that Communion is purely a symbol. Receiving Communion is a gesture to call to mind Jesus’ Last Supper and Passion. You receive the “bread” and “wine” (often crackers and grape juice), remember Jesus and that’s it. This view has roots in the Protestant leader Ulrich Zwingli, who famously debated Martin Luther about the nature of the Eucharist.

This is also probably the view that comes to most Catholics’ minds when they think about Protestant beliefs about Communion. But some Protestants have slightly different views. Martin Luther believed that Christ was in the Eucharist (so it’s not just a pure symbol), but he rejected the Catholic view that the bread and wine changed into the body and blood of Christ.

These are just a few of the different Protestant beliefs about the sacraments, but they should remind you to be careful when talking about this topic. Don’t assume that all Protestants believe the same thing about the Eucharist and Baptism. Ask first.

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