Exercise: Students discuss with one another this question: In what ways in the life of a church is God truly (meaning genuinely, empirically, significantly, tangibly, really) available and accessible to people? Where do people have real connections with God?
I. Sacraments: Practices Instituted by Christ, Used By God, Basic to Church
God is available to us through various means:
Jesus; wonders, scripture/structures, saints/relics/icons, liturgy/gifts, 'thin places', and sacraments.
Augustine: Sacraments are outward signs (Calvin: instruments/seals) of inward grace.
Sacraments narrate and continue "salvation-history" (cf. Deut 26:1-11).
Sacraments show salvation's shape to be visible, physical, social, and ecclesial:
Sacramental abuse is aggravated by missionary success and declining lay participation in the Middle Ages.
Reformation programs for full reform are resisted, conflictual, and polarizing.
Catholics come to privilege sacrament as a category, Protestants Word.
The twentieth century sees renewals in a number of church traditions.
These practices signify. An unresolved Reformation-era debate (see below):
II. Baptism: Sign of Initiation
Jesus transforms John's baptism for remission of sins:
Our baptisms participate in Jesus' baptism (Acts 2, after Luke 3; Mark 10:38).
We are accepted by the Father, buried/raised with Christ, and empowered by the Spirit (Acts 2:38, Gal 3:23-4:7, Matt 28:20).
So baptism begins Christian life, in the Church (Rom 6:1-11, 1 Pet 3:18-21, cf. 'Step One').
Does baptism (or any sacrament) accomplish what it signifies?
Catholics/Orthodox: It is God's chosen means of saving grace.
Lutherans: It is a powerful 'visible Word' of God.
Calvinists: It is an effective spiritual sign of the new covenant.
Zwinglians: It is an ordinance, a mere symbol of God's work elsewhere.
baptists: It actualizes discipleship.
Wesleyans: It invites people into Jesus' story.
Is it magic? No (Acts 8:18-24), but God may (so Pentecostals) or has promised to (so sacramentalists) work through it.
Issue: Why do (or don't) Christians baptize infants?
Catholics: God uses it to allow children into God's community.
Lutherans: It proclaims God's justification (and children have faith).
Calvinists: It's the circumcision of the new covenant.
baptists ('radicals'): Baptism belongs with believers' repentance.
III. Communion: Life Together Jesus transforms the Passover (1 Cor 5:7, Luke 22:15, John 6).
Communion celebrates the past:
We participate in the exodus (Ex 12:1-36, Rahab's scarlet thread [Joshua 2:17-21], Luke 9:31, John 6).
We participate in the Last Supper (1 Cor 11:23).
We proclaim the good news of Jesus' death for us (1 Cor 11:26).
Communion anticipates the future:
It's a foretaste of the wedding banquet (Mark 14:25, Luke 22:16, Rev 19:7).
It builds up the eschatological Church (John 6, 1 Cor 12:12-13).
Communion members the present-day Church:
The Holy Spirit comes (epiclesis).
Worship climaxes (Acts 2:42, 1 Cor 11:20).
The saints enjoy fellowship (1 Cor 10:16-18, 12:12-13).
Participants find discernment and accountability (Luke 22:21-34, 1 Cor 11:23-32).
It symbolizes Christ (1 Cor 11:29-30, John 6:53-56).
Issue: Is Christ present, absent, or both?
Eastern Orthodox: Christ (and thus his whole Church body) is mysteriously present in the elements.
Catholics: The elements become Christ's body (transubstantiation).
Lutherans: Christ is "in, with, under" the elements ('consubstantiation').
Calvinists: Christ is present through the Holy Spirit.
Zwinglians: Christ is absent; communion is simply a memorial.
Radicals: Christ is in the food shared (1 Cor 10:16-18).
Wesleyans: An 'open table' invites converts.
Excommunication becomes church discipline's dire warning (cf. 'Step Three').
IV. Sacraments' Surpassing Significance
Word and sacraments seem to be versatile and adapt to the Church's changing contexts and needs,
yet they have also become means of misunderstanding, distortion, and division.
They were, and are, priorities for Jesus.
They confer, and/or reflect, the Church's unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity,
as well as disciples' graced identity and relational personhood.
They mediate and/or represent the Apostolic Paradigm: "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit" (2 Cor 13:14).
As summaries of the gospel, they center our Christian lives in that of the Triune God.