Summary: Removing the prejudice and misunderstanding between denominations regarding sacraments -- those physical things through which we receive a spiritual grace
BIGOTRY BUSTERS -- THE HOLY THINGS (SACRAMENTS)
BY IAN GRANT SPONG
Is there graceless bigotry and petty prejudice between Christian churches? Sadly, yes. Our churches sometimes do not teach people to think for themselves. We teach only our narrow theories rather than the multitude of counsel from the whole Church.
•Church can be boring if people are robbed of the joy of discovery, the delight of thinking and spiritual discussion.
•Christians lack unity – which is found in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3), not mindless doctrinal uniformity.
•Churches can lack grace – people who think differently are not treated with kindness and love.
•Churches can generate fear of creative thinking.
•Christians can be biased, intolerant and arrogant instead of humble about doctrine (Phil 2:3).
Where are the teachers who in humility of mind esteem others better than they esteem themselves? Augustine the African bishop taught this way. Let us try to examine the pros and cons of various points of view in humility and fairness.
Let us freely discuss the pros and cons of our various points of view with grace and love. However, let us never call each other anathema, or damned as some have historically over rather petty disagreements. That is God’s judgment. Most normal churches actually agree on the essentials of our faith.
Most Christians could agree with the simple early church definition of a sacrament: "any ritual observance or sacred thing" (Westminster Dictionary of Theology). Most Christians would also agree that the functions below are sacred, though perhaps not all sacraments.
•Confirmation, laying on of hands (Confirmation, Chrismation)
•Communion, Lord’s Supper (Eucharist)
•Reconciliation (Penance, Confession)
•Anointing the Sick (Extreme Unction)
•Ordination (Holy Orders)
Almost all Christians agree that the above rites are for the church today. Until Peter Lombard (1100’s) stated there were seven sacraments, opinions as to how many there were varied greatly. Martin Luther (1500’s) changed the number from seven to three then to two. Most Protestants follow his lead. Eastern Orthodox Christians call the Sacraments Mysteries – how God gives grace through physical rituals is a mystery.
Roman and Eastern Christians require three things for something to be called a Sacrament:
•a visible sign
•an invisible grace
Protestants require direct institution by Christ. Roman Catholics believe the five lesser rites were indirectly authorized by Jesus. Christians of all persuasions have always recognized the primary importance of Baptism and the Eucharist (the blessing of the bread and wine).
Baptists and Greek Orthodox will point to the Greek word baptizo (prounced: bahp-TEED-zo) which means literally "immerse." However, some miss the point that it is not always used literally in Greek, and can also mean to wash (Mark 7:4; Luke 11:38).
Some will point to Jesus coming "up out of the water," after his baptism to prove that he was immersed, but the Greek in Matthew 3:16 means Jesus literally came "up away from" the water. Of course, He probably was immersed because history seems to tell us that dunking was the usual method, but without more Bible details we cannot judge those who think a symbolic washing is enough. After all, those "baptized unto Moses" went through the Red sea "dryshod," yet it was still called a baptism.
My personal preference is immersion, but I cannot judge or condemn those who sprinkle or pour. The Bible gives me no reason to judge them, and I believe that the Holy Spirit resides in millions who were never immersed at their baptism.
Some may judge our Baptist friends for being inconsistent, by taking baptism literally, but not the wine, substituting grape juice. However, all churches have such human inconsistencies. To be sure, an overwhelming majority of theologians agree Jesus used wine at his Last Supper. However, I do not believe that the Apostle Paul would condemn those who, for conscience sake substitute grape juice (Rom 14).
Some churches use unleavened bread, while others criticize this as Old Testament and use leavened. Is this division biblically supported or is it too a non-essential?
We could assume from the Old Testament Passover instructions that Jesus used unleavened bread at the Last Supper. However, subsequent New Testament instructions to the churches mention only bread, without a qualifying adjective, making any such arguments fruitless.
INFANT OR ADULT BAPTISM
Some churches only baptize adults, saying an infant cannot believe (Acts 2:38). Is there support for infant baptism?
Acts 2:38-39 "...for you and your children." Whether or not children were in those households is not mentioned, nor is when any such children would be baptized. This is an argument from silence.
However, whole households were baptized on several occasions (1 Cor 1:16; Acts 11:13-14; 16:15, 31, 33). With an increase in numbers in our case study, we could safely assume therefore that perhaps some of those households contained children. The Bible also nowhere mentions a later baptism of a Christian child as an adult. But wait! There is also evidence that is not from silence: