How Many Sacraments Are There?

by | Dec 27, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

Christians engage in various practices that help them live according to their faith. One of those practices is the sacrament. Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and a few Protestant denominations use the term sacrament to refer to a rite through which God’s grace is conveyed to an individual. So, how many sacraments are there?

Well, that depends on which church denomination a person belongs to. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have seven sacraments, while a majority of Protestant Churches accept only two. Not all Christians recognize the sacraments. Many evangelical churches prefer the word ordinance instead.

All Christians do not have the same number of sacraments because different church denominations have different meanings for the word sacrament and its purpose.

Definition of Sacrament

The word sacrament is derived from the Latin Sacramentum, which means mysterious  (something hidden) in Greek.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a sacrament as “a Christian rite (such as baptism or the Eucharist) that is believed to have been ordained by Christ, and that is held to be a means of divine grace or to be a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality” 

Besides, rituals mean different things to different churches. The sacrament is often considered a means of God’s grace. As worshipers perform a certain religious rite, they receive a divine blessing for salvation or sanctification. Furthermore, a sacrament involves a physical action. For example, when we share in communion, the bread and drink are prayed over and consumed. With baptism, water is involved.

The doctrine is common to the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which accept seven sacraments. While they agree on the number, the church rites that constitute the seven sacraments differ. Scholars believe sacraments are signs/presence of grace, and by receiving the sacrament, a believer identifies themselves with the Christian community. Figuring out how many sacraments there are requires us to figure out which rites are sacraments and to which church.

Roman Catholic Sacraments

According to the Roman Catholic Church, “The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church.” The Roman Catholic Church also teaches that the sacraments are necessary for salvation. In addition, God’s grace is offered regardless of the worthiness of the person giving or receiving the sacrament.

The seven sacraments of Roman Catholicism are:

  • Baptism
  • Eucharist
  • Confirmation
  • Reconciliation
  • Anointing of the sick
  • Marriage
  • Holy Orders

These seven sacraments are further grouped into three categories: Sacraments of healing, Christian initiation, and service.

  • Sacraments of Christian initiation: Baptism, Eucharist, and confirmation.
  • Sacraments of healing: Reconciliation and anointing the sick.
  • Sacraments of service: Matrimony/Marriage and Holy Orders.

The Latin word sacramentum means “a sign of the sacred.” So, the sacraments are ceremonies or rites that point to what is sacred and significant for Catholics. The sacraments are also deeply rooted in the teachings and actions of Christ. For example, His work with the Apostles, healing of the sick, parables, and the symbolic act of giving His body and blood. The sacraments are also rooted in the tradition of the Catholic Church.

The Orthodox Church Sacraments

The seven sacraments of the Orthodox Church are:

  • Baptism
  • Communion
  • Chrismation
  • Penance
  • Anointing of the sick
  • Marriage
  • Holy Orders

The Orthodox Church recognizes the seven Sacraments because they are experiences that involve the church (hence the community) and are closely related to the Eucharist. The Orthodox Church also believes that The Holy Spirit works through the Sacraments to reveal and make believers receptive to God. So, by participating in the Sacraments, Christians grow closer to God and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

While the Orthodox Church accepts all seven sacraments, the Holy Eucharist (the Divine Liturgy) is the central and most important worship experience. The Eucharist is also called the “Sacrament of Sacraments” and shows the Church’s celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ.

The sacraments also use elements used in everyday life such as water, oil, bread, and wine, to show that matter can serve as a medium for the Spirit. This practice emphasizes the Orthodox Christian faith: God became flesh through Jesus Christ.

Protestant Church Sacraments

For Protestants, there are two sacraments:

  • Baptism
  • Communion

Protestants believe the other sacraments practiced by Catholics and Orthodox Christians are unscriptural. By defining Christ as the active subject of the sacrament, Protestants reject any view that interprets the sacraments in the sense of a righteousness of works. With the two sacraments, the intent is repentance of sins and devotion to God.

Some Protestants like the Southern Baptists, reject sacraments altogether and speak of ordinances of the church instead. For Anglicans, the term sacrament is not fixed. Some Anglicans accept two sacraments of the Protestants, while others accept the Roman Catholic list.

Protestant Sacraments in the Bible

Baptism and communion are mentioned in scripture. Baptism is mentioned in several places including when John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment, heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (Matthew 3:16-17).

Scripture also shares how Jesus participated in communion. During the Last Supper, Jesus sat with the disciples and gave a profound message:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-29).

The drink and bread are symbols that shouldn’t be worshiped. They are also not the way to salvation as implied in the seven sacraments accepted by the Catholic Church.

Conclusion

The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have seven sacraments, while Protestants accept two. The different numbers accepted have come about because different church denominations have different meanings and purposes of sacraments. For Catholics, the sacrament is a way to salvation, and other church denominations consider the sacrament as a way for a Christian to be sanctified. 

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About: Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.
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Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.

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