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Means of Grace

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." (Luke 22:19-20 NIV)

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV)

At His last meal with His disciples before the cross, Jesus called His Church to receive the bread and cup of Holy Communion in remembrance of Him. In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples (who make disciples, who make disciples...), baptizing them and teaching them to observe all He commanded. Thus Jesus gave us two special means of grace, now called Sacraments, to practice until He returns and fully establishes His Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Sacrament this way: sacrament [noun]: a Christian rite (such as baptism or the Eucharist) that is believed to have been ordained by Christ and that is held to be a means of divine grace or to be a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality. A sacrament is a rite that is ordained by Jesus Christ and is a means of divine grace to those who participate in faith.

It is interesting that Jesus did not define the mechanics of how to consecrate or serve Holy Communion or how or when to baptize. People being people, and Christian denominations being denominations, there are various viewpoints and teachings on the sacraments. The Roman Catholic Church identifies seven sacraments: Baptism, the Eucharist (Holy Communion), Confirmation, Ordination, Marriage, Confession and Anointing for the Sick). Some denominations do not recognize any sacraments, and practice communion and baptism as symbols, reminding us of what Christ has done for us through the cross and the empty tomb.

Methodists of all stripes, including our newly-formed Global Methodist Church, recognize two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. We believe these two practices were, indeed, ordained by Christ and given as means of divine grace for our lives.

Here's the crucial understanding of the sacraments for us: In the sacraments, God acts to claim and cleanse us. Baptism and Holy Communion are not about religious goose bumps. They are not meant primarily to be religious experiences that make us feel good. They are meant to be practices that activate our faith and open the door for God to act to fill our lives with His grace.

Some people have an amazing experience of joy and peace in their baptism. Others were baptized as babies and cannot remember the experience at all. Sometimes Holy Communion becomes a deep experience of peace and forgiveness. Other times, the Lord's Supper confirms what Jesus did for us without any exceptional feelings in our heart. When we are baptized and each time we receive Communion, God acts in response to our faith to cleanse and forgive us, and to claim us as His own.

For us Methodists, the timing and amount of water are not the determining factor in a valid baptism. We practice infant baptism and believers baptism for those who come to Christ and were not baptized as babies. We practice baptism by sprinkling (symbolizing cleansing), pouring (symbolizing anointing) and immersion (symbolizing dying with Christ and being raised to new life).

In infant baptism, the vows are taken for the child by the parents, the parents vow to raise the child in the Christian faith, and it is understood that the child is claimed by the church and by God as part of the covenant community until she or he comes to their own faith in Christ. The public confession of the child's faith takes place at Confirmation (rather than a second baptism). In a sense, infant baptism is the equivalent of Jewish circumcision, marking the child for the faith and claiming them for God. God's grace is given to a helpless infant, beautifully symbolizing the truth of Ephesians 2:8-9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.

In believer's baptism, the vows are taken by the believer in public confession of their faith in Christ, and they are marked as Christians - as Christ's-ones - belonging to Him and redeemed by Him. Because we believe God claims us in baptism, and He is always faithful, we believe baptism is a one-time event in a Christian's journey. Rather than rebaptize an adult who was baptized as an infant and later comes to Christ, we encourage them to make a public profession of their faith in a baptism remembrance, and in the act of confirmation and church membership.

For us Methodists, the Lord's Supper is an open invitation for anyone who is repenting of sin and turning to Christ to be filled with His Spirit, forgiven, and cleansed from sin. We do not require church membership. We do not require confessing sins to the pastor. The invitation is beautifully laid out in Charles Wesley's hymn, Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast:

1 COME, sinners, to the gospel feast, Let every soul be Jesus’ guest; Ye need not one be left behind, For God hath bidden all mankind.

2 Sent by my Lord, on you I call; The invitation is to all: Come, all the world; come, sinner, thou! All things in Christ are ready now.

3 Come, all ye souls by sin oppressed, Ye restless wanderers after rest, Ye poor, and maimed, and halt, and blind, In Christ a hearty welcome find.

4 His love is mighty to compel; His conquering love consent to feel, Yield to His love’s resistless power, And fight against your God no more.

5 This is the time; no more delay! This is the Lord’s accepted day; Come in, this moment, at His call, And live for Him who died for all.

Because we celebrate open communion, we issue the invitation and let Jesus prepare the heart to receive God's grace. We believe a person might well meet Christ and receive salvation in the act of Holy Communion. We believe grace is deep enough and broad enough to meet a child at their understanding of it, and so we allow parents to make the decision of when their child is ready to receive the Lord's Supper. Methodists mostly use unfermented wine (grape juice) for communion, in deference to those who are addicted and for whom wine would present a temptation.

The sacraments are indeed channels of divine grace. Apart from faith, baptism is just getting wet and communion is just adding a few calories to our body. But practiced in faith, they open the door of our lives wide for the Holy Spirit to redeem us and transform us. And so we practice them imperfectly and allow the Perfect One to graciously enter and change our lives. And while we do not recognize other rites as sacraments, we do recognize that God uses many other channels as means of pouring out grace in our lives, including prayers for the sick, love between spouses in marriage, engagement and response to the Word of God, kindness in relationships, and many other channels.

Christ bids us come. We come, with hearts open, to receive His grace through the sacraments, and by any other means He shares it. Thanks be to God!



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