It is easy to imagine that sanctification is the result of an immediate action by God upon the soul. By “immediate” I mean that the Spirit is thought to act without using means. In the history of the church more than a few people have thought this. In the early church Christians began withdrawing from the world, first by themselves and then in communities to try to become holy. What they found is that they took the world with them. Other Christians have sought access to and information from God without means—we usually describe that as mysticism.
The Reformed confessions would have us think differently, however. The Heidelberg Catechism does not begin explaining sanctification in detail until after it has completed its doctrine of the sacraments and the ministry of the Word. From its beginning, the Westminster Confession casts the Christian life as one that involves “the due use of ordinary means” (1.7). Shorter Catechism 88 closely ties our salvation, including our sanctification, to the “outward and ordinary means” by which Christ communicates to us the benefits of salvation.
Yet, just as the church has struggled with mysticism, it has just as surely been tempted to turn the Word and sacraments into magic and priestcraft. We call that temptation, “sacerdotalism” after the Latin word for priest. Of course Christ alone is our high priest and on earth we have ministers of Word and sacrament, not priests.
Mike Horton, Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, and I sat down recently to discuss the relations between the means of grace and sanctification.
Here is the episode.
Here are the episodes for Season Five: New Life in the Shadow of Death.
Check out the WSC media app.