The Difference Between Magic And Ministry

There is no more magic. There are no more priests, no more sacrifices.

When our ministers are ordained, they are set apart for a sacred work. They are installed into their office. Authority to speak as ministers comes with the office. They have authority to administer the two sacraments that Christ instituted: holy baptism (the sign and seal of initiation into the covenant community) and holy communion (the sign and seal of the new covenant in Christ’s blood). The minister’s words are not magic.


As a child I was fascinated by “magicians” such as Harry Blackstone Jr. For a few dollars one could order a kit or study library books and learn to do “magic.” Of course, it was not magic at all. It was merely sleight of hand. The “magician” is an illusionist. He creates the illusion that one thing is happening when something else is really going on.

Apart from demonic power there are no real magicians in the world. It is true that Pharaoh had court magicians who, according to holy Scripture, were able to replicate some of what the Lord did through Moses and Aaron. E.g., after the Aaron threw down his staff and it turned into a serpent, Scripture Records:

Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and the sorcerers, and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts. For each one threw down his staff and they turned into serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs (Ex 7:11–12; NASB).

After the Lord struck Egypt with gnats (or lice; Ex 8:17) Pharaoh’s magicians tried and failed to reproduce the third plague.

Nevertheless, idolaters that we are by nature, we are often tempted to turn God’s free favor in Christ into a form of magic that we can control. This happened in the history of the medieval church. The Roman communion admits that our Lord only instituted two sacraments (holy baptism and holy communion) but insists that she has authority to create and impose new sacraments. Thus, the medieval church elaborated on the sacraments instituted by Christ by adding five new, false sacraments: 1) confirmation (chrismation), 2) penance, 3) marriage (holy matrimony), 4) anointing of the sick (extreme unction), 5) holy orders.

Last week I was explaining to my medieval theology class how the medieval sacramental system arose and why. As I was explaining the difference between the medieval (and Roman) view of ordination and the Reformed view it struck me again that the medieval and Roman view is essentially a magical view of ordination. The Catechism of the Roman church describes “holy orders” as a “sacrament of apostolic ministry…whereby a degree of power is imparted” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v., “Holy Orders”) The Roman Catechism (§ 1538) says ordination “confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a “sacred power” (Lumen Gentium, 10). According to Rome, the “sacrament of Holy Orders communicates a ‘;sacred power’ which is none other than that of Christ” (§ 1551). Every priest is said by Rome to receive a “spiritual gift” in ordination (§ 1565).

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