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Radical Grace And the missing Sacraments
by Tom Brown

            The prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, visited one of his sick, elderly members. She lived in a one room shack, made mostly of card board. As Spurgeon walked into the room, the frigid air kept the old woman in bed covered with a blanket up to her neck. She was ill because of malnutrition.

            As Spurgeon glanced around the room, he noticed a document framed on the wall. He asked the woman about it, and she told him it was an appreciation letter from the English noble woman she had worked for nearly half a century. The aged woman could not read, so Spurgeon asked if he could take the letter to a lawyer whose name was on the document to have him assess the letter, because Spurgeon felt it was more than an appreciation letter.

            When he took it to the lawyer, he told him that he had been looking for this document. It was part of the last will and testament of Madam So and So. She had bequeath to the woman a beautiful house and monthly allowance. You see, the sickly, poverty struck woman could have been living in luxury if she had known what the document was. Well, through the help of Spurgeon, she moved out and started to live the life the former employer had provided for her.

            The moral of the story is: although the woman was wealthy, it took someone to help her receive the wealth that was hers. What Spurgeon did for the woman is similar to the Christian doctrine of Sacraments.

Sacraments are not for Catholics Only

            The word sacraments sounds very religious and very catholic to most people. But it is a Christian doctrine, not simply a catholic one, that should be embraced by all Christians.

            The Catholic Church has seven sacraments. The Anglican Church has trimmed it to two, maybe three or more, depending on which Anglican you talk to. But I agree with the Orthodox Church that there is an unlimited number of sacraments. God has many ways to administer grace to us that we cannot count them.

            A sacrament is a visible means of receiving God's grace. Peter mentions what could only be understood as sacraments in his first letter, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms" (1 Peter 4:10). Grace is administered into in our lives, not just in one form, but "various forms." These "various forms" are sacraments. The word "form" is clearly an outward form that grace must be "administered" through.          

            The word "administered" is the same word we use for administration office. A company could have money for employees or products for the customers, but they will not get it, except through the administration office. God set up the church to administer, like an office, God's grace to the people. This is what Charles Spurgeon did for the woman. He brought the grace of Madam So and So into the life of the woman.

            Grace and Sacraments go together like Peas and Carrots. Or to use a more apt illustration, Sacraments are to Grace what indoor plumbing is to the water tower. The life-giving water inside the tower must be brought through the indoor plumbing in order for the people to enjoy the water. The same is true of Grace. God provided Sacraments in order to bring grace in your life.

Controversy

            I have been preaching grace for 31 years. I am a firm believer in the finish work of the cross. God has provided everything we need "for life and godliness" (2 Pet 1:3). Forgiveness, health, financial provision, holiness, peace and joy, and everything you need to live an abundant life, as well as a godly life, is provided at the cross. The cross contains all the grace you need.

            Only recently has the grace message been under fire. The reason is because some of the newer, less experience ministers have unfortunately neglected the need for sacraments. They often say, since everything is provided, there is nothing for us to do. Just receive it. But how do we receive it? Sacraments is the way to bring the grace to us, so we can receive it. Yet some radical grace teachers have actually taught against the sacraments. That is like preaching against indoor plumbing.

            For example, when I was learning about grace and faith, I heard a few people say, "The moment I discovered what was mine in Christ, I stopped praying for it." Now, think for a moment how unbiblical the statement is. What is prayer? It is a sacramenta means to receive what Christ provided for you. It is not "legalism" or "repudiating the finish work of the cross" to pray for what is already yours. It is statements like these that has brought needless controversy to the message of grace. Let us look most closely at the confusion of the radical grace message as it is being taught by some.

Radical Grace Message 

            The radical grace message has skyrocketed in the church. Some believe this is the new great move of the Holy Spirit and others believe it is Satan's ploy to lug God's people into sin.

            As I understand it, the radical grace message teaches that all our sins are forgiven, past, present and future, thus there is no need to confess sins in order to be forgiven. The radical grace message affirms that preaching God's love and His acceptance of us is the only key to changing one's behavior. So, as a result, the radical grace message often views teaching on morality and behavior as preaching legalism. Legalism and grace do not mix, therefore, only gracenot morality and behaviorshould be preached, says the radical grace message.

            Let me say this: grace is truly amazing. We are saved by grace alone. We are holy and being made holy by grace alone. We are healed by grace. We are blessed by grace. We receive the gifts of the Spirit by grace. So the issue isn't whether a minister believes in grace or not, because no true gospel minister denies grace; the only issue is how people tap into grace. In other words, I feel the missing ingredient in the debate is not grace itself, but the means of receiving God's grace: the Sacraments.

Sacrament of Preaching

            The number one sacrament is preaching the Word. God has chosen through the "foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor 1:21). God uses the form of human beings, uses earthly language, a physical tongue to speak forth God's Word, and God uses those words to put faith in the heart of the listeners. The grace of faith is given. This is the main sacrament.

            At this point, no one disagrees with the importance of preaching. But I want everyone to understand that preaching is a "means" and "form" for people to tap into grace. To talk about how great God's grace is, but leave out the sacraments, is like talking about how great the nuclear plant is, but you don't fit your house with the wires and switches to tap into the electricity. You do not benefit from the power plant, though you may brag how great it is. The same is true of grace. We can believe in God's great love for us is, and how He showed His love to us through the sacrifice of Christ and that all the benefits of Calvary are now available to us, yet if people do not know how to tap into the grace, then they will still be without grace.  

            It is bewildering to me that so much grace could be preached, yet little is explained on how to tap into grace. If anyone should preach on the sacraments, it should be the radical grace preachers, because they believe so much in grace. You would think they would want the people to receive the grace. Yet, the divisiveness really stems from these same grace teachers that view the sacraments as legalism.

Teaching Christian Behavior is not Legalism 

            Let me explain for instance by taking the sacrament of preaching and show how some see the sacrament as legalistic. Paul wrote to pastor Timothy some ministerial advice, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work...Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction." (2 Tim 3:16-17 and 2 Tim 4:2).

            The minister of God must use "All Scripture" and must do five things when he preaches: 1. teach, 2. rebuke, 3 correct, 4 train, and 5 encourage.

            Imagine for a moment that Timothy preaches an hour-long message. In it, he spent 40 minutes teaching, 10 minutes encouraging, 7 minutes correcting and 3 minutes rebuking. Here is the question: what part of the message was legalism and what part was grace? As I understand the radical grace message, some would think that 50 minutes was the grace message, but the part of correcting and especially rebuking was legalism. Yet, the truth is, all of it was a message of grace. Because God says, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline" (Rev 3:19). A father disciplines his children, even though it is unpleasant, he does it for the good of the children so that children could be better people. A father's grace cannot only be seen in the gifts he gifts his children or the provision of taking care of his children or the kind words he expresses to his children, but it is also seen in the correction and rebuke toward his children. Of course it is seen in his forgiveness toward his children. All is grace!

            Unfortunately, some have difficulty associating rebukes in a sermon as grace, but they can be a manifestation of grace. Teaching on Christian behavior is not legalism. It is God's care for us to live up to the calling we have received. The Apostle of Grace, Paul, taught both God's love and behavior: "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received" (Eph 4:1). While the first 3 chapters of Ephesians deals with God's great grace in our lives, the rest of the book of Ephesians deals with Christian behavior, including what is acceptable and not acceptable. Yet some radical grace teachers view teaching on behavior as sub-par to the true grace message. But it is part of grace teaching. True grace teaching includes both our position in Christ and our behavior in Christ.

Anointing with Oil

            Here is another example. When someone is sick, the Bible provides the remedy. It says:

"Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (James 5:14-16).

            Anointing the sick with oil and the laying on of hands are both sacraments. They are God's means to impart His grace of health and forgiveness to the sickly person. Some, though, would suggest to bypass this biblical approach and simply recognize that you are already healed and forgiven; thus, to them it is legalism to call for the elders to pray for something that you already have.

            Tommy was a faithful member of the church I was part of before I became a pastor. He was suffering an illness, yet he stood and confessed the Word of God. Then during a Sunday service, the pastor's wife gave out a word of knowledge. She said, "God wants to heal someone of a particular illness." She described what Tommy was going through and asked the person with that specific illness to come forward for prayer. First, Tommy thought to himself, I should not go forward for prayer because I have already, by faith, received my healing. If I go forward then I would be repudiating my faith. After the pastor's wife insistence, he humbled himself and went forward. He instantly received his healing. He almost allowed his misunderstanding of the finish work of the cross to keep him from receiving healing.

            Tommy's former understanding is similar to many people. They hear about the finish work of the cross and then assume, they must sit there and just receive it. Yet God was pouring out His grace through one of the gifts of the Spirit. This is the meaning of a sacrament. God used the pastor's wife to speak a word of knowledge, coupled with the gift of healing, she was able to "administer God's grace" to Tommy in the form of health.

            Why tell people who are in need of health and restoration, that they should not call the elders, or confess their sins, because of the theory that they would be repudiating grace? That is like telling someone, don't turn on the switch to get light, because you already have light in the house. While it may be true they have the potential of light, they do not get the light without turning on the switch. Calling the elders and being anointed is turning on the switch.

            It is not legalism and human effort to be anointed with oil, anymore than the light switch is responsible for creating the electricity. The electricity is created outside the house at the nuclear plant. So God's grace was created at Calvary's Cross, but the benefits of the cross does you no good unless you turn on the switch.

            God actually uses the physical oil, the human vessels called elders, and prayers uttered from their human lips to bring healing to the sick. God also uses the confessions of the repentant to restore and make him whole. The light switch is not symbolic anymore than the anointing with oil is symbolic.  It is the "means" to tap into the power.

Holy Communion

            Rudy, one of my newest members, told me, "Bishop, have you heard that some ministers have stopped doing Holy Communion because they say it is simply a religious act, and they want reality, not religion?"  This is a great tragedy. Ministers should know that taking communion is a means of receiving God's grace.

            God uses the physical bread, real juice/wine and with the words and confession of the congregation to bring the benefits of the cross to people. People receive forgiveness and health by taking communion.  But when people have a flippant attitude toward communion, and they do not recognize the body of Christ within the sacrament of communion, then what Paul says can happen to them, "For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 11:29-30). Judgment belongs to the world, not to the saints, but if the saint fails to understand that within the bread and wine, there is the body of the Lord, then grace for forgiveness and health may not come to them. God uses communion, then, to impart His grace to His children.

            Nancy came to church one Sunday even though she was sick. As she came forward to receive communion, she felt the power of God come all over her as she ate the bread. Instantly, the symptoms left her body. She was so overjoyed, she begged me to allow her to share her experience with the church. I did. It was a great testimony to the power of Holy Communion.  (Click here for a fuller treatment on Holy Communion)

Baptism

            Jesus was blunt, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16). It is hard to imagine that any minister would neglect baptizing people. Baptism is a sacrament; it is the visible means to obtaining salvation.

            God uses the physical water, the public confession of the Lordship of the candidate and the minister's words, "I baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The minister's action of putting the person in and out of the water brings salvation to the baptized. This is not faith plus works. This is simply a biblical action of faith. It is a real means of imparting grace. (Click here for Bishop Brown's teaching on Water Baptism)

Confession of Sins

            We all make mistakes. Radical grace people do, too. God has a remedy. He has the sacrament of confession. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). What is God's answer when we sin and fail God after our salvation. It's simple. Confess your sins to God.

            There is nothing more controversial with the radical grace message than the view that confession of sin is not necessary for forgiveness. While some radical grace preachers say it is okay to confess their sins, others say it is not. Those who say it is a good practice to confess sins, will often mitigate their approach by saying that God does not really forgive you when you confess, because, in their view, God has already forgiven you. They may encourage forgiveness for your own peace of mind, but they do not believe you should confess your sins in order to be forgiven. In other words, confession, in their view, does not really bring God's grace of forgiveness; it is not a sacrament.

            But the Bible tells us differently. It explains why we should confess our sins. We confess our sins so God "will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." He does not symbolically forgive, He actually forgives. Confession does not simply give you peace of mind, it actually brings God's forgiveness to you.

            Someone might say, "What if I fail to confess every sin I ever committed, will I not be forgiven?" First of all, no one has ever fully confessed every sin, because we are not aware of every sin we have committed. The above passage says that if we confess the sins we know of then God will not only forgiven those sins but "purify us from all unrighteousness." Halleluiah! Not just the unrighteousness of our confessed sins, but "all unrighteousness." The important thing is that we maintain a humble heart and daily confess our sins.

            I am most concerned that the radical grace message is encouraging people to neglect this sacrament of confession of sins. As a result people are abandoning confessing their sins; they are unwittingly giving room for the devil to bring destruction through their unforgiven sins. Satan has access in your life only through sin, but once it is forgiven, he can legally do nothing. The teaching that we do not need to confess our sins is very dangerous indeed. It can give room for the devil. (Click here to read Bishop Brown's teaching on Confessing sins.)  

Disunity

            Another concern I have is the disunity that I see taking place concerning the radical grace message. Grace is supposed to impart unity, not division. It's ironic that God's grace could become so divisive. A pastor told me, "I have lost half of my members because they accused me of not preaching the radical grace message." It's sad to see the message of grace bringing division in the church. Even with my concern, there is great good that can come through preaching God's great grace.

            The part of the grace message that is very helpful to people is the biblical message of God's love and acceptance of us. "To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved" (Eph 1:6, KJV).  For someone who lacks self esteem, feels condemned, this message is exactly what they need to hear. It transforms them, including their behavior.

            But to conclude that every believer needs to hear only this message would be wrong in the same way that we need to eat only one food group. We need all the vitamins and minerals that come from various food. If someone lacked iron in their diet, then they would feel weak and anemic, but once they got the needed iron they would feel invigorated. This is how God has used the message of grace to spiritually invigorate a believer's dead routine. But to say that everyone lacks iron in their diet and suggest that iron is the only mineral people need would be ridiculous. The same is true of teaching God's love and acceptance.

The Forms of Grace

            The grace message is needed, but it is not the only thing that "All Scripture" teaches.  As I said earlier, I consider myself a grace preacher. As a grace preacher, I would fail the people who listen to me by not telling them the means and forms of God's grace. So I preach and practice the sacraments; by doing so I preach the way into grace. I do not see my preaching and practices as preaching and practicing the law. Sacraments are the way to administer God's grace. I see sacraments as a missing piece of the puzzle.

            In this controversy, please don't take sides against people.

            It is not helpful to pit brother against brother when it comes to their views on grace, law, and morality. Some ask me, "Are you on Joseph Prince's side or Michael Brown's side." The answer: I am on both their sides.

            "So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours" (1 Cor 3:21-22). My inheritance includes every minister of the gospel. There is something they can give me, and I am not going to shut out any true minister from my life.

            I do not like the lines being drawn. Are you for him or her? We need to quit judging each other.

            I make my appeal to all ministers: preach grace and practice the sacraments. Do not lie and say sacraments are legalistic. They are not. Sacraments do not create grace, they only transmit it. While sacraments seem like an old doctrine, it is the answer to the growing misunderstandings of the grace message.  

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