What is the difference between ordinances and sacraments?Question: "What is the difference between ordinances and sacraments?"
Answer: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and a few of the Protestant denominations use the term "sacrament" to refer to "a sign/rite which results in God's grace being conveyed to the individual." Typically, there are seven sacraments in these denominations. They are baptism, confirmation, holy communion, confession, marriage, holy orders, and the anointing of the sick. According to the Catholic Church: “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.” The Bible, in contrast, tells us that grace is not given through outward symbols and no ritual is “necessary for salvation.” Grace is free. "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7, NKJV).
Protestants and Evangelicals see ordinances as symbolic reenactments of the gospel message that Christ lived, died, was raised from the dead, ascended to heaven, and will someday return. Rather than requirements for salvation, ordinances are visual aids to help us better understand and appreciate what Jesus Christ accomplished for us in His redemptive work. Ordinances are determined by three factors: they were instituted by Christ, they were taught by the apostles, and they were practiced by the early church. Since baptism and communion are the only rites which qualify under these three factors, there can be only two ordinances, neither of which are requirements for salvation.
Ordinances are generally understood to be those things Jesus told us to observe with other Christians. Regarding baptism, Matthew 28:18-20 says, "Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” As for communion, also called the Lord’s Supper, Luke 22:19 says, “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’” Most churches observe these two practices, but may not necessarily refer to them as ordinances.
Recommended Resources: The Gospel According to Rome: Comparing Catholic Tradition and The Word of God by James McCarthy
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Questions about the Church
What is the difference between ordinances and sacraments?