I had this question in the back of my mind since the spring of 2008. Can a person really be a Christian if they do not practice the sacraments? This journey started when I was writing a paper on the ministry of Catherine Booth, one of the founders of the Salvation Army. During my research, I discovered that The Salvation Army does not observe the sacraments. This led me to this question: “Can the church ignore the sacraments?” I’ll be the first one to admit, that I don’t have all the answers. But I do like the question and here are some of my thoughts.
Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said,” Take this and share it among yourselves. 18 For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.”
19 He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.”
20 After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.
If it was important enough for Jesus to tell us to do it, how can some Christians think it is not important for them to do it for their spiritual lives? Jesus also commanded us to baptize.
16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.
And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.. (Matthew 28:16-20)
Again it was important enough for Christ to tell us to baptize people. When I have the chance, I have asked my professors who are teachers of theology in the Wesleyan church this question about the sacraments. The last time I was at FLAME, we discussed the Sacraments. We looked at why our church traditionally has only celebrated communion once a quarter. It was for practical reasons, not for spiritual. In the Wesleyan Church, only ordained or licensed pastors can serve communion. The church could only participate in communion when there was one officiating the service. Our denomination consisted of churches with “circuit-riding” preachers – like many of the American churches in the 1800’s. Preachers would travel to churches that were part of their circuit. It would take a preacher several weeks or a month or two before they would return to a church, so the requirement was that a church should participate in communion at least once a quarter when the pastor was officiating the service. I During the modern post-war era, almost all Wesleyan Churches are not part of a circuit – meaning that the pastor preaches and leads worship each week. During our last General Conference, a memorial passed that recommended that churches consider having communion monthly. So, why don’t we take communion more often? I have heard at least two answers on a regular basis. 1.) We don’t take it more often, because it will lose its significance. 2.) We don’t take communion more often because we don’t want to look “catholic.” I know of several denominations – Roman Catholic, Anglican, Disciples of Christ, Church of Christ at least and a few others that take communion every Sunday. Communion is something Jesus told us that we must do. We are told as often as we observe it to do it in remembrance of Him. Not observing communion just because we think we might look like another church is not a good reason for avoiding communion.
The second reason also deserves to be look at as well. I can understand the point of view that by having communion, it might lose the significance or might lose its specialness. I read a book recently that put it this way. Our bodies need sustenance. Just because we always eat doesn’t mean that eating loses its significance. Our bodies still need sustenance on a regular basis. Another thing to consider is that we worship God each week through singing, prayer, reading the scriptures, and listening to the Word of God being preached and taught, and we don’t relegate these things to a once a quarter status to keep them special. In fact, if the church that you or I attended stopped preaching every week or stopped singing every week, we would think something was wrong with our church. Yet, when we only observe communion once a quarter, we think that’s the way it is suppose to be. I would like to challenge pastors to think about that.
The sacraments are a Means of Grace — that is they are a special channel in which God works in our lives. We believe that by observing the sacraments – our lives can be changed. The sacraments give us a way of touching the past and help us bridge us to the future in heaven. We should value the sacraments for what they are and the part they play in the life of a Christian.