The New Against the Old

While discussing what to do with the elements after Communion, I had someone tell me that if Jesus wanted the bread and wine to be treated with reverence He would have said so at the Last Supper. This also followed from his understanding that Jesus had done away with all aspects of the Law of Moses, making it entirely superfluous.

Though this example is probably one of the more extreme in this regard, it still falls into the modern and, sadly common, way of thinking about the sacraments. This modern school of thought examines the sacraments in the absence of, or even against, the Old Testament. It is almost as if the sacraments that Jesus institutes are so radically new and different that there is nothing the Old Testament could possibly say about them. This starts sounding a lot like dispensationalism, which sees God as having to completely switch gears in His plan for salvation every so often because the current plan simply isn’t working. In that sort of mindset, the Old Testament has nothing to offer except to describe what didn’t work.

This is a profound misunderstanding of the Old Testament and does a great disservice to it. The Old Testament is actually replete with sacramental theology and it is only because of the Old Testament that we truly understand the scope of what God is accomplishing in us through them.

It is true that the sacraments are distinct and special works of God. It is not by accident that Jesus says, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” What Jesus offers through Communion is new and different. At the same time, that new covenant cannot be understood with examining the covenant that has come before. God does do new things, but they are also things that stand in continuity with what He has done before. God spends hundreds, even thousands, of years preparing His people for the arrival of the Savior and teaching them about the work He will do. The sacraments are a part of that work. However you begin your study of the sacraments, make sure you spend time studying where they came from. God has a great deal to tell us about the sacraments before He ever makes them a part of the lives of His people.

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