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  #1  
Old Jan 25, '13, 4:34 pm
PatriciusRex PatriciusRex is offline
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Default Protestants' Understanding of Sacraments

This is not intended to be a debating thread, so any one coming in to pick fights is abusing my intent. My purpose here is to try to construct some informative statements on the various forms of belief among various Protestant groups as they compare and contrast with the beliefs of Catholics. Specifically I want to better understand the Protestant notions of the sacraments, particularly why they usually affirm only two, when I believe there’s just as much warrant for Reconciliation/Confession as Baptism and the Eucharist.

I’ve drawn up this summary of what I think is the picture and welcome any correction. I focus first on what a Sacrament is, then discuss the two commonly held sacraments, then finally pose some questions about Confession. You’ll see I make a distinction between the two main thrusts of “classical Protestantism,” that is, Lutheran and Reformed theology, as well as a third category that sort of lumps a lot of groups together. I realize this may be an oversimplification, but for the issue at hand it seems they generally are more alike than different. If you’re a member of one of these communities and believe that your particular church’s thought is different than what I describe, please explain.

Again, my purpose is purely investigative, not argumentative. This is to establish what denomination X believes, not why X is right while Y and Z are wrong.

***

What is a “sacrament”?

The Catholic Church teaches a sacrament is an act which both symbolizes and realizes an outpouring of Divine grace. The act is not merely representative of that grace being imparted but is itself the means by which the grace is conveyed. To be valid, a sacrament must meet some basic requirements both in the form in which it is done, and the intent for which it is done. The Catholic Church recognizes seven sacraments. Catholic sacraments, with the exception of baptism and marriage, must be administered by an ordained clergyman, generally a priest, though Holy Orders requires a bishop.

Lutheran churches teach essentially the same as the Catholic, though identify only two sacraments. In keeping with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, Lutherans believe all Christians are capable of administering either the sacraments, but recognizing an earthly need for order, authority, and accountability, in practice reserve the administration to ordained clergy.

Reformed churches teach that the sacrament is an act which symbolizes the outpouring of Divine grace which has already been promised from before the foundation of the world and is being continuously delivered to the Christian participant at every moment of his or her existence. Nevertheless, they are not merely symbolic but, *when and only when the participant is already marked with Divine grace through Election*, they are also means of “spiritual feeding” for the participant, but in a subjective, spiritual way, rather than an objective, real way as affirmed by Catholics and Lutherans. Reformed Christians recognize two sacraments. The theology regarding the administration of sacraments is the same as the Lutheran, though sometimes ruling elders in the congregation will administer the sacraments in tandem or independently of the ordained pastor (teaching elder).

Churches in the Baptist, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, and Evangelical (ABEP) traditions vary widely on this matter as on all others, but in general affirm only two sacraments. They do not believe them to be necessarily a “means of grace” in either a Lutheran or Reformed understanding, but rather merely external signs of grace already given independently of the ritual, either through predestinarian election or as a result of the Christian’s acceptance of Christ as Lord. Some congregations do believe the performance of the sacrament serves a distinct spiritual function for the believing participant, while others merely see them as social-theological phenomena meant to educate and better connect the congregation as a church community. Due to these positions, many Protestants in this grouping dislike even the term “sacrament” instead preferring less mystically charged terminology like “ordinances.” Most would adhere to the same position regarding administration as the Lutherans and Reformed.
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Old Jan 25, '13, 4:35 pm
PatriciusRex PatriciusRex is offline
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Default Re: Protestants' Understanding of Sacraments

Baptism:

The Catholic Church believes baptism to be the moment at which a new Christian is washed clean of the stain and condemnation of original sin, and begins his or her new life in the Grace of Christ. Because God alone is the actor in Baptism and the washing it imparts is irresistible, it is not necessary for the recipient to be able to understand what is occurring. Catholics recognize Baptism as valid when water (or in extremis, even saliva is permitted) is applied in some deliberate manner to the recipient and the action is performed in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Because it is an act of God alone and can never be undone by Man, even in grievous sin, baptism is performed only once.

Lutherans believe nearly identically to Catholics, though with the possible caveat that a Lutheran might say Original Sin remains, not being finally expunged until the Resurrection.

Reformed churches see Baptism not as the moment of regeneration but rather a “sign and seal” of the New Covenant which promised regeneration and in fact has already completed regeneration on the Elect individual. Since the baptismal act is merely an affirmation of faith in the election, regeneration, and salvation of the person being baptized, and is performed as much for the benefit of the parents and congregation as for the subject, it is not necessary for the baptized person to comprehend the action. Reformed Christians likewise recognize Baptism as valid only when it is performed with a Trinitarian formula, and perform baptism only once in the lifetime of a Christian.

ABEP churches believe baptism to be primarily symbolic of the Christian’s rebirth in Christ and death to sin. Because they believe it only represents, rather than effects, the regeneration and washing of the new Christian , they believe it is only proper to perform the ritual when the Christian is of age and ability to consciously declare his or her faith. [Note: To me, this belief and practice seem to necessitate an Arminian/Free Will position with regard to justification, any Reformed Baptists out there to explain how adult baptism doesn’t conflict with Covenant theology discussed in the Reformed section above?] With regard to method, this can vary greatly between congregations, but these churches overwhelmingly practice baptism by immersion, to the explicit exclusion of all other forms. Some churches in this grouping do not acknowledge the necessity of baptism, leaving it to the discretion of the individual whether or not they wish to participate in this ritual. Some, such as the Salvation Army, even actively discourage observance of the ritual. When it is performed, however, they likewise insist on a Trinitarian formula. Due to the largely symbolic and social understanding of baptism, some churches allow the ritual to be repeated multiple times over the course of a person’s life to represent a “rededication” of the Christian’s commitment to Christ or being received back into the Church after a period of falling away.

In general Protestants acknowledge baptism as one of two “dominical” sacraments, that is, sacraments established by Christ through example and command.
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Old Jan 25, '13, 4:36 pm
PatriciusRex PatriciusRex is offline
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Default Re: Protestants' Understanding of Sacraments

Eucharist:

The Catholic Church believes that in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist the grace and mercy of the one sacrifice of Christ on Calvary transcends space and time and is made immediately present to the Christian whenever and wherever they attend a liturgy celebrated by a validly ordained priest or bishop. Thus it is not “another sacrifice” but the same one at whose conclusion Christ uttered, “it is finished.” When a Catholic Christian attends Mass, they are standing in the presence of the Passion and Cross of Christ as surely as Mary and John the Apostle did in the Gospel account, because Catholics believe the bread and wine used in the sacrament become the Body and Blood of Christ in a real, physical, and objective manner. Because the consecrated elements cease to be bread and wine, and are thus the true physical manifestation of Christ, the elements not consumed in the Eucharistic feast are reserved in a special place of honor, the tabernacle, and thus any Catholic church building is not merely a prayer space but houses the real presence of God, just as the Shekinah resided in the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple. This is denoted by the lit sanctuary lamp (the red candle holder usually found somewhere in a Catholic sanctuary). Because Catholics hold the consecrated Body and Blood in such high reverence, they will not allow any except those who share their beliefs to receive Communion. Even Catholics who have not recently confessed and have serious sin on their conscience are counseled against receiving communion until confessing and receiving absolution. Note well, however, that not only Catholics are admitted, as members of the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches are recognized as sharing the same beliefs and are thus welcome to receive Catholic communion. Likewise the clergy of those Churches are recognized as possessing valid ordinations in Apostolic Succession, so any bread and wine consecrated by them are held to become the same Body and Blood of Christ. Catholics include a communion service in every weekly Mass, and while weekly reception is not required, and historically was not common, it has become the norm in recent decades.

Lutherans hold very similar beliefs to the Catholics on the nature of the Eucharist, but fall short of the total “transubstantiation” position, preferring a more mystical doctrine they refer to as “Sacramental Union” which states that after consecration the Body and Blood of Christ are truly and physically present but “in, with, and under” the bread and wine. They decline to say the elements remain bread and wine, however, and for this reason also reject the term “consubstantiation.” Both trans- and consubstantiation they feel are inadequate and inaccurate, because they both seek to do the impossible: rationalize and quantify Divine mystery. Lutherans believe any Christian is capable of consecrating and administering the Holy Eucharist, but for purposes of earthly order in the Church reserve the role for properly ordained clergy. Because they believe that Christ is present in a real and objective manner in the Eucharist, they likewise bar any who do not share their beliefs from receiving communion. (Question: What do Lutherans do with remaining elements after communion? Are they stored in a tabernacle? Or does the consecration and sacramental union only exist in the context of the communion liturgy?) Lutherans include a communion service with every weekly liturgy, but not everyone in the congregation necessarily receives the sacrament each week.

Reformed Christians believe the bread and wine used in communion remain, physically, bread and wine throughout the service and afterwards. Remaining bread was traditionally used by the minister for his household needs, though in modern times specialized biscuits are employed. Nevertheless, the Reformed believe that when a believer accepts the bread and wine, a true outpouring of grace is given to the recipient, provided they are among the Elect. While the eating and drinking and the outpouring of grace are correlated, they are not bound together in the same manner as the Catholic transubstantiation or the Lutheran Sacramental Union. Thus the Presence of Christ in the sacrament for the Reformed is a subjective, spiritual one, but the bread and wine are also not merely symbols. Reformed Christians generally prefer that recipients share beliefs with them, but the extent of conformity required varies from congregation to congregation. Some would require full subscription to Reformed confessions while others would admit any baptized and professing Christian. The sacrament can be administered by any Christian (and properly speaking is never “consecrated”) but like the Lutherans, for purposes of earthly order in the church the role is generally reserved to the ordained pastor or ruling elders of the congregation. Frequency of communion varies. John Calvin himself preferred weekly observance, but most congregations offer communion once a month.
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Old Jan 25, '13, 4:36 pm
PatriciusRex PatriciusRex is offline
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Default Re: Protestants' Understanding of Sacraments

ABEP Christians run a wide gamut of views on the Eucharist though never “higher” than the Reformed perspective discussed above. At the “lower” end would be pure memorialists, who see the Communion ritual as simply a social and devotional act to unite the congregation and merely remember the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Some extreme positions omit the performance of Communion in any form. Like baptism, these traditions generally reserve the officiating at a communion service for the pastor but can also be found to allow members of the congregation to administer the bread and wine as well. Because of the strong influence of the temperance movement among these churches, many do not offer wine but rather grape juice. Because of the low views of the Eucharist, these churches are far less guarded about who may be admitted to the communion table, and generally practice “open communion” allowing anyone to participate who wants to do so, even if the person is unbaptized, though some Anabaptist and Baptist congregations can be more discriminating. Communion often occurs very infrequently in these churches, sometimes as little as four times a year.

In general, Protestants recognize the Eucharist as the second of the “dominical” sacraments, being clearly instituted and commanded by Christ in the Gospels. For this reason, even those who don’t attach much significance to it continue to perform it and deem it important to be regularly (though often infrequently) observed.

Reconciliation (Confession):

Catholics believe the sacrament of reconciliation flows from the power of “binding and loosing” granted to the Apostles and their ministerial successors, the ordained clergy, as well as Jesus’s instructions that “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.” In the sacrament the repentant sinner confesses his sins to the priest or bishop, who, as God’s minister, in turn pronounces absolution, which declares that the confessed sins are forgiven by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. In order to be valid, the Church requires that the person confessing be truly repentant, and thus states that while one may deceive the priest or bishop, one cannot deceive God and the sins will be retained if true contrition is lacking. At the conclusion of the rite, the absolved sinner is given some form of penance, generally some prayers to say. These are not “repayment” or “expiation” for the sin properly speaking, but merely intended to help the sinner pray to reflect on their past sins and avoid temptations in the future. Any baptized Christian past the age of reason is eligible to receive the sacrament.

Lutherans recognize the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation but do not count it as a sacrament. Most Lutheran liturgies begin with a general absolution administered to the congregation, though on request most pastors will still hear private confessions. (What follows is my theory, any Lutherans please confirm or correct me!) The reason it is not held to be a proper “sacrament” despite the importance Lutherans attach to it is because Lutherans believe that God has already forgiven any sins, confessed or not, in his Church through his gift of grace. Thus the Lutheran absolution does not actively impart grace like the Catholic one, which actively forgives confessed sins, but rather simply declares the reality of grace that was already imparted. To restate, while Catholic absolution itself removes the burden of sin from a repentant Christian, Lutheran absolution simply reminds the penitent Christian that the burden has already been removed.

Reformed Christians do not practice confession in any form. This stems from their belief in the irresistibility of grace and the perseverance of the elect. They don’t believe any form of absolution is necessary because the Gospel itself declares that for the Elect, all sins are forgiven.

ABEP Christians do not practice confession in any form. Their views are akin to the Reformed view, though the Free Will/Arminian types among them would say that the moment of personal conversion, when a person is “born again” could be understood as sort of a lifelong guarantee of absolution.

In general, Protestants do not admit Confession as a sacrament. (To be honest, this confuses me, as I see strong scriptural warrant and Christ’s command for it, using the “binding and loosing” of Matthew 18:18, the “whose sins...” of John 20:23, and the “confess your sins to one another...” of James 5:16. Perhaps it’s just an unfortunate result of the 16th century Reformers distancing themselves from it since it could easily be misunderstood by people to imply a works-based salvation? Or the fact that they all believed that sins of Christians were forgiven already, whether confessed publicly or not, simply made any formal rite of forgiveness irrelevant? Any suggestions?)
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Old Jan 25, '13, 4:54 pm
JonNC JonNC is offline
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Default Re: Protestants' Understanding of Sacraments

Quote:
=PatriciusRex;10284433]

Lutheran churches teach essentially the same as the Catholic, though identify only two sacraments. In keeping with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, Lutherans believe all Christians are capable of administering either the sacraments, but recognizing an earthly need for order, authority, and accountability, in practice reserve the administration to ordained clergy.
Some of us willingly recognize Confession/Holy Absolution as a sacrament in and of itself, instead of an extension of Baptism. It must also be said that Lutheranism has a rather narrow definition of a sacrament - instituted by Christ, with a promise grace, joined to a physical element - but the numbering of sacraments is not something dogmatic for us.
As to anyone administering the sacraments, other than Baptism in extenuating circumstances, I would never sit long enough in a pew to even hear someone unordained go through the liturgy, much less speak the verba, and I can't imagine any well-catechized Lutheran doing so. The confessions are clear that no one should preach or administer the sacraments unless regularly called.

Jon
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“This also is certain, that no one should rely on his own wisdom in the interpretation of the Scripture, not even in the clear passages, for it is clearly written in 2 Peter 1:20: ‘The Scripture is not a matter of private interpretation.’
"The best reader of the Scripture, according to Hilary, is one who does not bring the understanding of what is said to the Scripture but who carries it away from the Scripture. "
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  #6  
Old Jan 25, '13, 5:02 pm
PatriciusRex PatriciusRex is offline
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Default Re: Protestants' Understanding of Sacraments

Jon,

While I'd likely agree with you on the test of patience that might ensue, doesn't Lutheranism provide that while it's not ideal, any Christian *could* administer sacraments?

Though of course, you can and should make distinctions between ability and aptitude. But if 1) there is in fact a universal priesthood of all believers into which Catholic style notions of clergy and laity don't enter, and 2) all matters of ecclesiastical organization are iure humano and exist to serve the particular needs of the church, then it seems there's no reason (other than a desire to guarantee correct teaching and maintain decorum in liturgies, of course) why any Christian couldn't.

Again, it's completely understandable why this isn't the case, but it seems not allowing for the possibility would necessitate an elevated view of the clergy that denies the priesthood of all believers as I understand Protestants to assert it.
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Old Jan 25, '13, 5:16 pm
JonNC JonNC is offline
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Default Re: Protestants' Understanding of Sacraments

Quote:
=PatriciusRex;10284540]Jon,

While I'd likely agree with you on the test of patience that might ensue, doesn't Lutheranism provide that while it's not ideal, any Christian *could* administer sacraments?
I've heard rumors of that, which I can't confirm, that some in the WELS hold to that, but I do not consider that sound confessional Lutheranism.

Quote:
Though of course, you can and should make distinctions between ability and aptitude. But if 1) there is in fact a universal priesthood of all believers into which Catholic style notions of clergy and laity don't enter, and
I wouldn't subscribe to this. The priesthood of all believers does not exclude an ordained ministerial priesthood.

Quote:
2) all matters of ecclesiastical organization are iure humano and exist to serve the particular needs of the church, then it seems there's no reason (other than a desire to guarantee correct teaching and maintain decorum in liturgies, of course) why any Christian couldn't.
The confessions in this way were speaking to orders, deacon, presbyter, bishop, etc., not the necessity of an ordained priesthood.

Quote:
Again, it's completely understandable why this isn't the case, but it seems not allowing for the possibility would necessitate an elevated view of the clergy that denies the priesthood of all believers as I understand Protestants to assert it.
Not that I was ever taught. Of course, then again, my dad was a Lutheran pastor.

Jon
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“This also is certain, that no one should rely on his own wisdom in the interpretation of the Scripture, not even in the clear passages, for it is clearly written in 2 Peter 1:20: ‘The Scripture is not a matter of private interpretation.’
"The best reader of the Scripture, according to Hilary, is one who does not bring the understanding of what is said to the Scripture but who carries it away from the Scripture. "
Chemnitz
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  #8  
Old Jan 25, '13, 5:22 pm
gcnuss gcnuss is offline
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Default Re: Protestants' Understanding of Sacraments

What Jon said.
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Old Jan 25, '13, 5:23 pm
JonNC JonNC is offline
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Default Re: Protestants' Understanding of Sacraments

Pat,
Just some additional info. this from the Christian Cyclopedia:
Quote:
The office of the ministry is a divine institution. Scripture distinguishes between the office of the ministry and the royal priesthood*. All Christians are priests (1 Ptr 2:9; Rv 1:6), but only some hold the office of the ministry. The Bible speaks of the latter in various terms (e.g., overseers, ministers, pastors, teachers, deacons, elders), indicating the scope of the office (Acts 20:28; 1 Co 4:1; 12:29; Eph 4:11–12; 1 Ti 3:1–2, 8–13; Tts 1:5).
http://cyclopedia.lcms.org/display.a...ISTERIALOFFICE

Hope that sheds some light.

Jon
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“This also is certain, that no one should rely on his own wisdom in the interpretation of the Scripture, not even in the clear passages, for it is clearly written in 2 Peter 1:20: ‘The Scripture is not a matter of private interpretation.’
"The best reader of the Scripture, according to Hilary, is one who does not bring the understanding of what is said to the Scripture but who carries it away from the Scripture. "
Chemnitz
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Old Jan 25, '13, 5:24 pm
JonNC JonNC is offline
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Default Re: Protestants' Understanding of Sacraments

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Originally Posted by gcnuss View Post
What Jon said.
Thanks, Pastor. You're, obviously, more of an expert than me.

Jon
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“This also is certain, that no one should rely on his own wisdom in the interpretation of the Scripture, not even in the clear passages, for it is clearly written in 2 Peter 1:20: ‘The Scripture is not a matter of private interpretation.’
"The best reader of the Scripture, according to Hilary, is one who does not bring the understanding of what is said to the Scripture but who carries it away from the Scripture. "
Chemnitz
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Old Jan 25, '13, 5:25 pm
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Isaiah45_9 Isaiah45_9 is offline
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Default Re: Protestants' Understanding of Sacraments

Quote:
Originally Posted by JonNC View Post
Pat,
Just some additional info. this from the Christian Cyclopedia:


http://cyclopedia.lcms.org/display.a...ISTERIALOFFICE

Hope that sheds some light.

Jon
Cyclopedia?

Do you have to read it with only one eye?

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Old Jan 25, '13, 5:29 pm
PatriciusRex PatriciusRex is offline
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Default Re: Protestants' Understanding of Sacraments

Well that's pretty interesting. Another instance of people taking Luther's ideas and running into places he wouldn't have dreamed with it? (I'm increasingly convinced even sola scriptura falls into this category)

Since you're in a privileged place as a "PK" what was done with the remaining elements from communion? Were they reserved? Otherwise disposed of?
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Old Jan 25, '13, 5:32 pm
Gaelic Bard Gaelic Bard is offline
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Default Re: Protestants' Understanding of Sacraments

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Originally Posted by PatriciusRex View Post
Well that's pretty interesting. Another instance of people taking Luther's ideas and running into places he wouldn't have dreamed with it? (I'm increasingly convinced even sola scriptura falls into this category)

Since you're in a privileged place as a "PK" what was done with the remaining elements from communion? Were they reserved? Otherwise disposed of?
Some of the older, more traditional Lutheran churches had a pipe that ran into the earth to pour the consecrated wine into (did not go into a city sewer system).
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Old Jan 25, '13, 5:34 pm
PatriciusRex PatriciusRex is offline
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Originally Posted by Gaelic Bard View Post
Some of the older, more traditional Lutheran churches had a pipe that ran into the earth to pour the consecrated wine into (did not go into a city sewer system).
That's called a sacrarium and Catholic Churches have it as well.
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Old Jan 25, '13, 5:36 pm
Gaelic Bard Gaelic Bard is offline
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Default Re: Protestants' Understanding of Sacraments

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Originally Posted by PatriciusRex View Post
That's called a sacrarium and Catholic Churches have it as well.
At my sister's church, which is a smaller WELS congregation, I believe the pastor and the elders consume any left over.
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