Sometimes folks make the sacraments (the Lord's Supper and Baptism) out to be completely objective and in the process squash much of what they portray when practiced in the local church. Some make the sacraments out to be completely subjective and end up removing the foundation that they have in the Word of God pointing primarily to the truth of the gospel. G. C. Berkouwer's book Studies in Dogmatics: The Sacraments has a helpful clarifying paragraph about this. What do you think about the sacraments? What in your mind do they depict or represent? I hope to post a few more quotes and comments about the sacraments in the future.
"The efficacy of the sacraments has often been misinterpreted, either by objectivizing them, or by making them dependent upon the subject. The mystery of the sacrament can be understood, however, only if both of these concepts are rejected. For God's acting differs from the objectivity of things in this world, and faith is something other than a subjective disposition which can be investigated as to its presence or absence. That is why Calvin can write that, apart from faith, the sacrament is nothing but a certain ruin for the Church. This is no subjectivizing of the sacrament, but a reference to the mystery of the sacrament, which can be understood only in the way of belief, and which in that way displays its full power. Those who expect more from the efficacy of the sacrament do not understand that thus they do not esteem the sacrament more highly, nor do they really strive after more reality, for this striving must alienate them from the one reality that the sacraments are designed to secure: the reality of salvation."
Berkouwer, G. C. Studies in Dogmatics: The Sacraments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), 89.
What a great phrase: "Those who expect more from the efficacy of the sacrament do not understand that thus they do not esteem the sacrament more highly." If we import more into the sacrament than what Scripture would have us then we destroy the usefulness of the sacraments and as he quoted Calvin, "apart from faith, the sacrament is nothing but a certain ruin for the Church." With these "means of grace" we have to be very careful, because sentimentalism and a misunderstanding of their use and effect can supplant the sole efficacy of Christ's work on the cross to redeem sinners. It is as if we mistook a painting of the countryside to actually be the countryside. This doesn't mean that the countryside isn't real, or that the painting doesn't import an aesthetic experiential effect. It's just that the countryside is much more beautiful than the painting (for example...imagine the movement, the breeze, the smell, the sounds vs. the echo of the hall of an art gallery). How much more beautiful are the events of Christ's death and resurrection than the sacraments which depict them?