Article XXII-The Church-The Holy Sacraments

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶123 The Church–The Holy Sacraments

Water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the sacraments of the church commanded by Christ. They are means of grace through faith, tokens of our profession of Christian faith, and signs of God’s gracious ministry toward us. By them, He works within us to quicken, strengthen and confirm our faith.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 26:26-29; 28:19; Acts 22:16; Romans 4:11; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:23-26; Galatians 3:27.

The next two Articles after this one speak directly to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, so I’ll leave the discussions about those specifically for then. Right now it is important to understand our understanding of sacraments in general. First, we stand in the Protestant tradition of defining only two sacraments. This does not mean that we do not see other aspects of life as holy or sacred or even in some sense sacramental, but we only count two specific actions as sacraments.

This is because we take the classic definition that a sacrament must have two parts, a sign and a thing signified by that sign. Another way to phrase it is that a sacrament is “an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” We understand the command by Christ to baptize and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as the signs he gave to signify something greater within us.

As well, we stand firmly in the Anglican tradition (since Methodism originally came from the Church of England) in that we believe that a sacrament is an actual way in which God gives grace to us. This is what we mean by the term means of grace. They are ordinary channels, or means, by which God conveys grace to us. Specifically, we believe that there is something about the physical elements of water, bread, and wine (or juice) that God uses within the context of worship that truly acts as a medium through which God acts in our lives. It is not just a spiritual reality. The sacraments are physical objects that God uses since we are both spiritual and physical beings.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Article XXII-The Church-The Holy Sacraments

  1. Sorry, but this article also places severe and unnecessary limits on what the whole Scripture teaches. The implication that there are only two sacramental acts runs contrary to the express meaning the Christ’s many descriptions of the Last Judgement (e.g. Matt 25). That is, to say, it is plain from many such scriptures that limiting the number of sacraments to Holy Baptism and the Eucharist clearly belittles the alms giving and talents in Matt 25, the “hidden treasure” of Matt 13, the tithing of Abel and Abram in Genesis, and on and on. Indeed to limit the number of sacraments has long been identified by the Church as one of the first steps on the slippery slope toward secularism.

    Like

    • Technically, there really is only one sacrament–Jesus Christ himself. He is the only one that bridges the divide between our world and God, and in all traditions of the Church those actions that bring us closer to Christ and help us receive more of him in our lives are also called sacraments.

      Having said that, two points. First, following a commandment that has us perform an action, however moral and good and just, in which we emulate Christ’s actions is not a sacrament. If that were the case, churches would have the same sacramental understanding of footwashing as they do the eucharist (and there are some traditions that do this, but they are in the extreme minority in the Church). In the parable of the sheep and the goats the decision is based upon action towards Christ, not a reception of God’s grace.

      Second, my tradition does have an issue when it comes to marriage and ordination. We treat them as sacramental because they are seen as such in Scripture. Marriage is explicitly called mystery in Ephesians, and Paul talks about the gift being given to Timothy by the laying on of hands. The ultimate reason we do not count them as sacraments, however, is that neither marriage nor ordination are commanded by Christ to be practiced and experienced by all Christians as a way in which we receive more of God’s grace and Spirit in our lives.

      I would actually venture to say that one of the first steps toward secularism could also be construed as making more things sacramental rather than less things. Because of our human nature, when all things are sacred nothing is sacred. Look at the problem in many Protestant congregations today. They rejected the idea of holy days and holy space because they rejected what they perceived as a false distinction between sacred and secular. They wanted to affirm that all is sacred. That has now led to the current situation where everything was reduced to the least common denominator of secular rather than the highest of all being sacred. There is now no difference, in many congregations, between a fellowship hall and a sanctuary. There is no difference between Sunday morning and Friday night.

      More liturgically ancient traditions, Catholic, Orthodox, High-Church Protestant, kept the distinction by having the sacraments (no matter how many) only being administered by the ordained clergy. When there was a certain group of people set apart for specialized service to Christ and his Church, those actions are distinct from all other Christ-like actions in the world.

      Like

  2. Good post, Dr. Bruns. It might be helpful to your readers if you explained a bit more about the article’s understanding of grace. Many Protestants only think of grace in terms of God’s unmerited favor in relationship to forgiveness, etc. A few words about grace as God’s transforming power would be helpful.

    Like

    • That is a very good point. More often than not “grace” is a shorthand term for “the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.” This means that as we receive the sacraments as a means of grace, we receive more of God’s transforming presence and power in our lives. If people are uncomfortable with the idea of receiving more of God, then they can think of it as allowing God to more fully transform me from the inside out.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s