Church and Sacraments

Today in theology we talked about the sacraments, and in a follow on from my blog last week I thought I’d jot down a few reflections. The main thing to remember though is that a two hour class is nowhere near enough time to adequately consider all the issues involved, maybe next year after Chris does a full semester on ‘Church, Ministry and Sacraments’ he will have more thorough reflections but for now here are some thoughts.

The first thing to note is that we are protestants, so I’m talking specifically about the two sacraments of baptism and communion here.

Next, after looking at the Bible, it confirmed to me that the sacraments matter. We don’t just do them because they seem like a fun idea or because dunking someone in a pool is a cool way to really demonstrate that we want them to surrender themselves to a life of being drowned out by Christian community. We believe in a true, physical story of redemption history, God made us and the physical world, God became a physical human, we will be renewed physically in the resurrection. Therefore the sacraments are a physical part of what it means to be a Christian. I liked the analogy of a marriage: you can tell someone you love them all you like and serve them in ways that demonstrate your love for them, but sometimes you just need the physical touch of a hug or kiss to share in relationship. In the same way God gives us the sacraments as a physical part of our relationship with Him.

Thirdly, baptism is part of the initiation into Christ’s body. From the Anglican articles:

they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church

Just like circumcision acted as a initiation into the old covenant, so baptism is part of the initiation into the new covenant community.

I haven’t yet worked out what I believe about believer’s vs infant baptism after having a bit of a discussion on it in class today I think I’ve got more questions than answers, but it does seem to me that baptism is more than just a declaration of faith, rather it is in some way a physical demonstration of bringing someone into the body of Christ.  I think it must be more important than we often give it credit for (although salvation is of course by grace alone and I don’t want to deny that).

Fourthly communion has past, present and future aspects to it. It is a way of remembering what Christ has done for us on the cross, it grounds us as Christians in our faith in the here and now and it is a way of proclaiming God’s kingdom until He comes again. Here I think communion is more important than we often give it credit for, it begs the question of whether celebrating communion once a month or twice a year is enough. If the Lord’s Supper is a way of enjoying the grace given to us by God then surely we should do it more often. Or in Wesley’s words:

“All who desire an increase of the grace of God are to wait for it in partaking of the Lord’s Supper…” (John Wesley The means of grace 1746)

Fifthly, it also seems to me that communion is a great way of communicating the gospel to non-believers, while it is only for Christians seeing the gift of God in salvation through the sacrificial gift of Jesus for all who believe surely is the perfect demonstration of the gospel. I also kind of think, if it was good enough for Jesus then it probably should be good enough for us!

Anyway, there are some of my thoughts… what are yours?

About Gillian

  • Paul

    Nicely written Gill.

    I used to think that only adult believers should be baptised, but if NT baptism was modelled on Jewish baptismal rites (which included infant baptism), then it’s a fair bet that the early Christians also baptised their kids.

    First century cultural assumptions would have supported this, with evangelism focusing on families not just individuals. (Google: corporate personality). In certain parts of the world today, if the village chief becomes a Christian, the whole village also takes on Christianity.

    So should we baptise children in the individualistic West? I guess it depends on whether the supporting culture is strong enough to make it meaningful.

    It may not be sufficient to say “If it’s what they did in NT times we should do it today”. After all, Jewish and early Christian baptism was also textile-free (!), supported it seems by a shared cultural notion of sacral nudity. The earliest portrayals of Christ at his baptism show him naked. The early church fathers justified the practice by referring to Adam and Eve and also, I think, to David.

    The meaning of any practice can only be viewed within its cultural context. Change the culture and the meaning becomes fragmented/inappropriate.