During the Reformation, few doctrines were as controversial as those of the sacraments. While the Roman church taught seven sacraments (baptism, confirmation, penance, the Mass, ordination vows, marriage, and the anointing of the sick), the reformers affirmed only two as having the scriptural mandate to be considered sacraments: Baptism and the Eucharist. As Basel Reformer Johannes Oecolampadius (1482-1531) teaches, these sacraments are essential to the life of the church since, superseding the practices of Israel, they point to Christ and memorialize the redemption he secured for fallen humanity.
The Church’s Sacraments Point to Redemption
It is certain that the blood of bulls and goats does not wash away sin, but rather they are a reminder of sins. For in the sacrifices they testified that because of their sin they merited death and the shedding of blood, and that they could not be released from these without the shedding of blood.We do not memorialize so much sin as the redemption from sin achieved by Christ our Lord. But as long as those who were about to sacrifice poured out the blood, they indicated that they were sinners and needed a true sacrifice. Now someone may ask, “So, do our sacraments, which are also a reminder, have nothing better to offer than the ceremonies of the ancients?” Paul replies here that the ceremonies of the old law held an accusation of sin, and not pure thanksgiving, as we have in the Eucharist. The reason is that, at that time, Christ had not yet suffered or made satisfaction for sins. Our ceremonies are as much superior to those of old as it is greater to testify that you have been freed from sins than to confess that you are still a sinner, in need of purification and awaiting salvation. For as often as we gather together and consume the bread of the Lord and drink his blood, we announce and proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes, and we give thanks that we have now been redeemed from slavery to sin, with which they accused themselves by their own sacrifices. We do not memorialize so much sin as the redemption from sin achieved by Christ our Lord.