According New Advent, the online Catholic encyclopedia, “sacraments” are “outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification”. Since the Reformation, many protestants have verbally denied that participated in certain activities actually imparts grace on the one performing the activity.
However, while sacramentalism is often verbally denied, I believe that is still practiced by most Protestants, including evangelicals. In fact, I think that modern Christianity – as it is practiced by most believers – is steeped in sacramentalism.
For example, many believers attend church meetings – “worship services” – because they believe they are supposed to attend as a Christian and because they believe they get something from it. However, few have considered the purpose of attending these meetings as described and prescribed in Scripture. Thus, they are attending a meeting – “worship service” – for a sacramental reason, not to carry out another purpose.
Instead, Scripture teaches that believers should meet together for a specific purpose: building up one another, exhorting one another to grow in maturity in Christ, encouraging one another toward love and good works. In fact, simply attending a church meeting does not impart grace on a believer. God does not keep attendance. (See “But I have perfect attendance“)
The same argument could be made toward various activities that happen during the church meeting (“worship service”), such as singing songs, giving money, bowing our heads, closing our eyes, listening to teaching, etc.
Similarly, why do believers read Scripture or attend Bible studies? If they read or listen simply to say that they’ve done it, then this is a sacramental view of Scripture. They are reading or listening because they think they get something from God (grace?) because they performed a certain activity. Those who approach Scripture in this manner – sacramentally – may find that they read through the Bible each year, but they will rarely find that their life has been transformed.
Paul tells the Corinthians that there is nothing special about carrying out certain activities. The Corinthians were eating and drinking and calling it the “Lord’s Supper”, but Paul told them that they were not actually partaking of the “Lord’s Supper”. Why? Because they forgot the purpose of eating together. (1 Cor. 11:20-21)
As followers of Jesus Christ, we must always evaluate our activities, but we must also evaluate our purpose in doing those activities. If we are simply doing something for the sake of doing it – because we think its required or because we think we should or because we’ve always done it or because we think that we receive some reward for doing it – then we are practicing sacramental Christianity.