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Showing posts with label #Sacraments. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Sacraments. Show all posts

11 March 2019

Holy communion: Regularly eating and drinking Jesus.

An introduction to Christianity’s most frequent ritual.

Holy communion, or “communion” for short, refers to the Christian ritual where we repeat what Jesus did during his last Passover with his students:

Mark 14.22-25 KWL
22 As they ate, Jesus took bread; blessed, broke, and gave it to the students,
and said, “Take it. This is my body.”
23 Taking a cup, giving a blessing, Jesus gave it to the students, and all drank from it.
24 Jesus told them, “This is the blood of my relationship, poured out for many.
25 Amen! I promise you I might never drink the product of the vineyard again
—till that day I drink it new in God’s kingdom.”

Roughly we do the same thing. There’s bread, wafers, matzo, saltines, oyster crackers, or those little Chiclet-size pills of flour you can buy by the case; there’s wine, non-alcoholic wine, grape juice, grape-flavored juice (made with 10 percent juice, which I like to call “10 percent Jesus”), or grape drink; Christians ritually eat it ’cause it represents Jesus’s self-sacrificial death. And we’re to do it till he officially comes back. 1Co 11.26

Holy communion is more of a Protestant term. Orthodox and Catholic Christians call it eucharist, from the Greek εὐχαριστέω/evharistéo, “to bless” or “to give thanks,” like Jesus did when he blessed the bread and wine. Christians also call it “the Lord’s supper,” “the Lord’s table,” “the divine service,” “the breaking of bread,” and for a lot of Catholics just “the sacrament”—the one they do all the time, as opposed to the other sacraments.

But communion emphasizes the fact we’re connected to Jesus. And to one another, through our relationship with him. For a lot of Christians, that’s why we do holy communion: It’s a reminder we’re Christ’s body, 1Co 12.27 which is why we just ate a little bit of him.

Well, not literally ate him.

Well… some Christians are entirely sure we do literally eat him. ’Cause they take the bible literally, so when Jesus said, “This is my body,” they figure he’s not kidding: It is his body. He turned it into his body. He still turns it into his body; as soon as the bread gets blessed for holy communion, hocus pocus (or in the original Latin, hoc est enim corpus meum, “this is my body,”) and now it’s Jesus. All the bread’s atoms got swapped with Jesus’s atoms.

The rest of us are pretty sure Jesus was using a metaphor, although Christians vary as to how far the metaphor goes. Martin Luther figured Jesus is spiritually (maybe sorta physically too?—but it’s debatable) with the bread and wine, but of course they don’t literally change into Jesus. But for most Protestants they’re just symbols which represent Jesus.

I gotta say, though: If your church is using stale bread and cheap juice to represent Jesus, you’re doing a pathetic job of representing him. Put some effort into it, Christians! Yeesh.

10 July 2017

Getting baptized.

Then getting baptized again.

My nieces got baptized last month. Part of their church’s vacation bible school (if you’re not familiar with the phenomenon, it’s a weeklong church program meant to evangelize kids) to of course to get kids to choose Jesus. And of course after such decisions naturally comes baptism.

The girls had chosen to follow Jesus some time before. But one of the things about the Evangelical subculture—kind of a peeve of mine—is how it can sometimes takes years before new Christians finally bother to get baptized. We’re meant to do one right after the other, ’cause we’re supposed to make a solid mental connection between the two. Get saved, get baptized, ’cause baptism represents salvation. But many Evangelicals turn the sinner’s prayer into that thing we’re meant to mentally connect to salvation: “Did you ask Jesus into your heart? Okay, you’re saved.” Hence baptism becomes way less of a priority. Once you’ve confessed Christ, evangelists tell you to get plugged into a church, to read your bible, maybe attend a bible study; it’s not so often “Let’s get you baptized.” They do want you to get around to it someday, as a nice way to publicly declare your faith. But Evangelicals often figure it can wait. And the wait can turn into a long time.

For me there was a three-year gap between when I became Christian in 1975, and when I finally got baptized in 1978. Partly ’cause I had been baptized already.

See, my mom’s parents were Roman Catholic. Mom was lapsed and Dad was atheist, but the grandparents insisted I be baptized. Otherwise if I died unexpectedly, I’d go to limbo.

No, this has nothing to do with the under-the-bar dance, which is named for how limber you have to be to participate. Supposedly limbo is a state which is neither heaven nor hell; it’s on the limbus/“border,” hence the name. It’s a popular myth in Catholicism; few other Christians believe in it.

And not even all Catholics. The official teaching of Catholicism is grace: When unbaptized babies die, all things being equal, God graciously takes ’em to heaven. But limbo’s the unofficial teaching, and old-timey Catholics grew up hearing horror stories of parents who never baptized their babies, and now the kids are in limbo, if not burning in hell.

I should mention: I read Dante’s Inferno. According to him, limbo’s the first circle of hell. The nice part of hell, if any part of hell can be said to be nice. In it are all the pagans you kinda thought should go to heaven, but since they didn’t care for Jesus (or didn’t know about him; Dante was kinda unforgiving that way), they didn’t. So they spend eternity not in heaven, kinda bummed about their bad fortune. And apparently they get squalling unbaptized babies dumped on them on the regular. Maybe that’s what makes it hell.

Regardless, the grandparents wanted me baptized. So Mom shrugged and let ’em get me baptized.

This is why I’ve joked ever since that I’m Catholic. But a really lousy Catholic, ’cause I keep going to Protestant churches. Still, I’m just as Catholic as my so-called “Catholic” friends and acquaintances who never got confirmed, never go to Mass, and figure baptism means God’s gotta grant ’em heaven. Not wise to take God’s grace for granted like that, but they do.

02 May 2017

Confession: Breaking the chains of our secret sins.

Granting God’s forgiveness to those who need it.

Confess /kən'fɛs/ v. Admit or state one’s sins or failings to another (trustworthy) Christian.
2. Admit or state what one believes.
[Confession /kən'fɛs.ʃən/ n., confessor /kən'fɛs.sər/ n.]

The practice of confession—heck, the very idea of confession—is controversial to a lot of Christians. ’Cause we don’t wanna.

Partly it’s because we don’t find it all that easy to find a trustworthy Christian with whom we can talk about these things. Partly because those trustworthy Christians we do know… we’re entirely ashamed to tell them such things. We worry they’ll lecture us, condemn us, shun us, try to punish us, or we imagine some other worst-case scenario.

So we pretend the scriptures never instruct us to confess our sins to one another—

James 5.16 KWL
So confess these sins to one another:
Make requests for one another, so you can be cured.
A moral, energetic petition is very mighty.

—that it’s just a Catholic thing, and that Christians in the bible never did any such thing—

Acts 19.17-18 KWL
17 This became known by all the Judean and Grecian inhabitants of Ephesus.
Fear fell upon all of them, and Master Jesus’s name was exalted.
18 Many of the believers came to confess and tell of their deeds.

—even that it’s wrong for us to share these things with one another, because what business do we have forgiving one another for their sins, or telling them to go in peace?

John 20.22-23 KWL
22 This said, Jesus blew on them
and told them, “Take the Holy Spirit.
23 When you forgive people their sins, they’ve been forgiven.
When you take charge of people, they’ve been charged.”

But in fact when we publicly, or semi-publicly, confess our sins, God forgives us. 1Jn 1.9 When we don’t—when we try to keep these confessions only between us and God, but among fellow Christians we pretend we never sin (or we admit we do sin, but make it sound like we don’t sin much), that’s hypocrisy. Bluntly we’re liars. And since God calls us sinners, we make God out to be the liar in this situation. 1Jn 1.8

And frankly, a lot of times we confess to nobody because we really don’t care to stop sinning. If nobody knows about our sins—if the only person we tell these things to is the Holy Spirit, and we assume he’d never tell on us (biblical evidence to the contrary Ac 5.1-11), we can go right on committing ’em. Secretly. Privately. Hypocritically.

Now that we belong to Jesus, we’re supposed to quit sin. Ro 6.11-12 But if we hide our sins, disguise the chains sin still has on us, and pretend we’re living like Christians… we remain the same old slaves to sin we always were. It’s as if we never had turned to Jesus. It’s like an alcoholic who never quits drinking because he’s not going to any bloody A.A. meeting. Or the addict who pretends she went to rehab, and hopes nobody notices she’s still hooked. Same fraud; different vice.

25 April 2017

Do we perform sacraments or ordinances?

Many Protestants are weirded out by, and water down, this “sacrament” language.

Ordinance /'ɔr.dɪ.nəns, 'ɔrd.nəns/ n. Authoritative order or decree.
2. Religious ritual; particularly one ordained by Christ.
3. What Evangelical Christians call sacraments.

I refer to certain Christian rituals as sacraments. But you’re gonna find many Evangelicals really don’t like that word. To them, we don’t call these practices “sacraments.” We call them “ordinances.”

Why? Officially, lots of reasons. Unofficially it’s anti-Catholicism.

See, a lot of Evangelicals come from churches and traditions which are historically anti-Catholic. True, all the original Protestants originated from various spats with Catholicism. But these folks were raised to be particularly leery of Roman Catholic beliefs. To them, “sacrament” has a lot of bothersome theological baggage attached. So they refuse to use it.

But we gotta call our rituals something, and for some reason “ritual” is out. So what these folks have chosen to emphasize is the fact Christ Jesus ordained certain rituals among us Christians: He ordered us to do ’em, and that’s why we do ’em. The two these people single out are holy communion 1Co 11.23-26 and baptism. Mt 28.19 (Some of them also recognize Jesus mandated foot-washing, Jn 13.14-15 but not every church is willing to list it as an ordinance. Which probably merits its own article.)

You’ll also find these Christians still practice a lot of the other sacraments. They just won’t call ’em ordinances either, ’cause Jesus didn’t ordain them. Although often the apostles did.

ConfirmationConfession of faith at baptismPeter
EucharistHoly communionJesus
PenanceCounseling, confession, and intercessionJames
Anointing the sickAnointing the sickJames
Holy ordersLaying hands on people for ministryThe LORD, to Moses
MatrimonyWedding ceremonies9th-century Christians

As you notice, Evangelicals still anoint and pray for the sick. Still lay hands on people they’re sending out to do ministry. Still perform wedding ceremonies, funerals, and baby dedications. Still counsel and intercede for people. It’s just they won’t call these other things “ordinances” because they’re not the three ordinances Jesus gave us… and they’ll still try to avoid the word “ritual,” even though it’s precisely what we’re doing.

It’s all about “not doing as Catholics do,” even though we’re totally doing as Catholics do.

06 April 2017

Baptism: Get saved, get wet.

Christianity’s initial ritual.

Baptism /'bæp.tɪz.əm/ n. Religious ritual of sprinkling water on a person’s forehead, or immersing them in water, symbolizing purification, regeneration, and admission to the church.
[Baptist /'bæp.təst/ n., baptizand /'bæp.tɪ.zænd/ n., baptismal /bæp'tɪz.məl/ adj.]

Whenever the ancient Hebrews did something ritually unclean, before they went to temple they had to make themselves ritually clean. How they did that was to simply wash themselves with water and wait till sundown. After which point they could go to temple.

Since you only had to go to temple three times a year, this didn’t require a whole lot of ritual washing. That is, till the Pharisees showed up. To them, any form of worship required people to be ritually clean. So if you went to synagogue, whether daily or just for Sabbath, you needed to be ritually clean. Gotta wash.

How the Pharisees (and today’s Orthodox Jews) did so was to create a mikvéh/“collection [of water].” Basically a vat, pool, or something large enough where a person could stand upright underwater. It had to be “living water,” by which they meant running water: Something had to be dripping into it, and preferably draining from it. You walked into it, fully clothed; then walked out and waited for sundown. This, they called váptisma/“dipping, soaking,” and it’s where we get our word baptism.

If you were a new Pharisee, you’d be baptized as part of joining the synagogue. And that’s where John the baptist got the idea for his form of baptism: If you were repentant, and wanted to turn from your sins to follow God, here was baptism.

Since Jesus (though he personally had no sins to repent of) submitted to John’s baptism, and instructed his students to baptize any new students, Mt 28.19 baptism has become the rite of Christian initiation. You’ve decided to follow Jesus? Get baptized in water. Get forgiven. Receive the Holy Spirit. Ac 2.38

There’s another form of baptism, called baptism of the Holy Spirit. I discuss that elsewhere.

Like every sacrament, Christians get obsessed with doing it properly, or believing all the correct things about it. Sacraments, you recall, represent something God’s doing. Not so much us. We do the ritual, but God does the spiritual reality behind it, and that’s the relevant part. Still, you know how self-centered we humans get: “Oh, if you did it that way, it doesn’t count.” As if God’s not gonna embrace a new follower because we used a bottle of water instead of the nearest river.

28 December 2016

Three typical forms of church services.

Is church a struggle? Maybe you’re not at the church best suited to your personality.

Not all churches are alike. Obviously. But when you ask Christians what they like best about their church, they’ll emphasize a few things which they particularly like. The preaching. The music. The solemnity—or the informality. The friendliness. The kids’ program. The decor. The way they do our rituals. The amiability of the preacher. The ministries and programs. The coffee—for once it’s not Folger’s! (’Cause Folger’s is rubbish. But it’s cheap, so it’s what people serve whenever the person in charge of the coffee, doesn’t personally drink coffee.)

Practices vary from church to church. Even within the same denomination; you can have one church which focuses a whole lot on one area, and a sister church—even in the same town!—which focuses on another.

But the main focus of your church’s Sunday morning service (or Sunday or Saturday evening service; what have you) sets the tone for the sort of church you are. How do you know it’s your main focus? Simple: If you skip it, the people of your church act as though you didn’t really “have church” that week. The service wasn’t a proper service; it’s almost as if it doesn’t count. You could skip one of the other forms of worship, and it might be missed, but the main focus must be done. Must. Always.

Typically one of these three. ’Cause yes, others exist. Snake-handling churches, fr’instance.

So in a sacrament-focused church, holy communion (or Eucharist) must happen. You could skip the music, the homily, and maybe even scriptures and prayer—but probably not, ’cause scriptures and prayer are sacraments too, if not officially. But don’t you dare skip Eucharist. Otherwise it’s “not church,” ’cause the service was improperly done.

Same in a teaching-focused church. Whether it’s from a pastor in a pulpit, or from a teacher sitting in a circle with the people of the church, there had better have been a lesson, or it’s “not church.” You can skip communion; some of ’em only celebrate it once a month, or only on Easter and Christmas. Music’s optional too… which is why I find it tends to not be very good in such churches. When I was growing up, Mom had no trouble with being as much as 45 minutes late for the service, ’cause “we’ll only miss the music.” But we’d better not miss the sermon.

And the music-focused church: The people would be outraged if they didn’t get to sing. Ever been in a church service during a power failure? In teaching- or sacrament-focused churches, if the instruments require electricity, they figure, “Fine; we’ll sing a song or two a capella, then ‘get on with it’”—meaning the real part of the service, the message or the sacrament. But in a music-focused church, people won’t settle for an abbreviated songset. They’ll try their darnedest to make the musical experience as significant as the electrified experience. And blame the devil for the power failure—“Satan tried to stop us from having church!”—and pointedly make even more joyful a noise as their voices and acoustic instruments can produce. And y’know, they’ll succeed.

29 November 2016

Sacraments: Our Christian rituals. Gotta do ’em.

Though there’s more than a little debate as to what they mean.

Sacrament /'søk.rə.mənt/ n. Religious ritual which represents a spiritual reality, or represents an act of God’s grace.
2. [“the sacrament”] Holy communion.
[Sacramental /søk.rə'mɛn(t).əl/ adj., sacramentalist /søk.rə'mɛn(t).ə n.]

God does many things in our lives. Some we see. Some we don’t.

When God cures me of an illness, it’s nice and obvious: Everybody, even skeptics, can see I’m well. They’ll totally disagree about how I got well. If they don’t believe in God (or don’t believe he still does miracles) they’ll doubt God was involved in the cure. Might even doubt I was truly ill to begin with. But they otherwise agree I’m well. That part’s visible enough.

Now, when God forgives me of sin… what’s visible?

I mean I know I’m forgiven; Jesus told us we’re given most everything. Mk 3.28 I put my faith in Jesus, so I trust when he says I’m forgiven, I am. But was there anything visible? Anything we could’ve experienced? Did I hear God’s audible voice: “Behold thou art made whole: Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee”? Jn 5.14 KJV Did I experience happy feelings which I’ve come to associate with forgiveness? Was God cursing me in some way, and now he’s not? Do (as the prosperity gospel folks insist is true) I suddenly find myself flush with cash?

In fact no: Most of the time we don’t see anything. Don’t see most of the things God does “behind the scenes,” as we put it—which is inaccurate, ’cause God’s not hiding a thing. He told us what he’s up to, He 1.1 and still tells us when we bother to ask. Am 3.7 It’s just we don’t bother to ask. Or we assume it’s part of some secret evil plan he’s up to.

But God understands how we humans tick: We want experiences. We wanna have something we’ve lived through, which we can point back to and say, “That’s when God did [something profound]. There’s the date and time.” Something to jog our memory, to remind us how and when God did something for us. Like a holiday which reminds us Jesus died for our sins at around 2:30 PM, 3 April 33. Or a handy, easy-to-repeat ritual.

And that’s why God ordained such rituals for us Christians to perform. Things we can do which represent what he did, what he’s doing, what he’ll do later. We call ’em sacraments, which literally means “sacred acts.” Or (if we think “sacrament” is too Catholic a word) ordinances—’cause God did ordain ’em.

The reason God ordained sacraments is to make his grace visible. ’Cause it’s not always. Miracles are visible, obvious forms of grace. Forgiveness… well, what’s obvious is the way we respond to God forgiving us. (If we respond to him; some of us are ingrates.) Some of us think we oughta feel something when that happens, so we psyche ourselves into imagining God’s presence, into feeling stuff, even into seeing stuff. You know, contorting our brains in all sorts of unhealthy ways. Things that’ll just get in the way once real visions happen.

In comparison God keeps it simple. Get dunked in water. Eat bread and drink wine. Set up a rock pile. Wash feet. Celebrate a holiday. Make promises. Say certain words. These rituals represent the reality. Do them and remember the reality. 1Co 11.24-25 Remember God’s grace.