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?

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