Christ gave us many sacraments before he left the earth. A sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace." This means that something done on a small scale by humans affects the spiritual unseen world in a profound manner.
The funny thing is that because Christianity is a religion that has so many varied cultures, we often find it difficult as a whole to decide what exactly is a sacrament. Are there two -- as medieval Episcopalians used to believe? Or are there seven -- as modern-day Episcopalians and Roman Catholics believe? Or are there a whole lot more.
Again, the answer depends on your denomination and on how much power you believer our Lord Jesus gave us. Some of the major sacraments are:
Marriage: a vow between two people which joins their eternal souls together while they live on earth
The laying on of hands for ordination: God''s spirit sets a person apart and ordains them as a pastor, priest, missionary, writer, teacher or some particular work.
The laying on of hands for healing: The simple act of laying hands on someone and using oil brings healing.
Baptism: the simple act of being sprinkled with water or going under water brings a person into God''s kingdom, causes them to die to the powers of this world, and identifies them with Christ.
Confirmation: the visible act of confessing Jesus as your Lord and savior makes Him acknowledge you in heaven as His own.
Confession: the simply act of telling one''s sin to God, His representative, another human being, or one''s self is able to affect the universe and restore a believer to God.
Communion: the simple eating of bread and wine in memory of Jesus brings spiritual, emotional and physical healing and joins the believer to all other believers dead or alive.
But there are other lesser known sacraments: the sacrament of forgiveness, for instance, frees both the sinner and the victim of anger and retribution. Most of these sacraments have ceremonies connected with them. But some of them don''t.
And then there are other ceremonies that touch upon the sacramental. These sacraments vary depending on the Christian denomination, the circumstances, the faith or the age of the person involved. Some denominations may consider them pretty weird or even non-Christian.
For instance regarding the sacrament of marriage, many Episcopalian churches have divorce ceremonies because they believe that people become connected and are somehow bonded with each other through the act of sex. It''s a part of a sacramental understanding of the importance of the sexual act.
The signing of a contract is a fairly new institution, only about 3000 or so years. The Bible was created before, during, and after this signing of the contract. In some cultures, there is a bill of divorcement. But Jesus said, "if a man divorces a woman, he forces her to commit adultery. And he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery." In Jesus'' phrase, even AFTER the divorce, there is adultery.
The divorce ceremony -- Done generally in the Episcopalian church after arrangement with minister
Some episcopalian churches have a divorce ceremony in which people who have been divorced can come together in a ceremony with friends and family to acknowledge and bless their past and their memories. The ceremony also allows the spirits of those formerly married to separate. According to the Bible, marriage joins the souls of the married people together. The spiritual logic behind this ceremony is that man really cannot unjoin what God has joined together, only God can unjoin them. That said, God is invited to uncleave the souls of the divorcing partners. I''ve never been to such a ceremony, thank God, having been blessed with a good husband. But from what I''ve heard from people who have undergone this ceremony, healing comes in a deep way and enables its participants to let go of sexual attachment, hate and grief. Because their souls are finally freed from the person they had set their hopes on, they can finally move on and forgive.
The Rachel Project
This is a ceremony held by the Catholic church for miscarried and aborted children. The ceremony involves several sections including naming the lost children and giving them over to God''s care. This ceremony is part healing ceremony, part eucharist communion, part burial service. It is healing in that the effects of miscarriage are often unseen, for instance the woman who lost children might develop a fear of bad things happening or of things never coming to fruition Or of creativity being blighted. The children born after miscarriages are also sometimes affected on a spiritual level. This ceremony enables all people involved to move on because everything and everyone has been placed in God''s hand as opposed to remembering that one lost a baby somewhere who was flushed down the toilet or thrown out in the garbage behind an abortion center.
Day of the Dead – also known as the feast of All Saints.
This religious holiday is generally held in Catholic countries in Latin America. But many Catholics worldwide also find meaning in this ceremony. Like the Rachel Project ceremonies, it is also a festival that celebrates life in the midst of death and is a ceremony of closure. In the Latin American ceremony, the worshipers light candles and tell the dead that they are no longer with the living, that they are loved but that they must move on towards the path God has chosen for them. From what I''ve seen of this ceremony, it is most touching and meaningful for those people whose relatives died violently –as happens a lot in Latin American wars– or for when whole communities are decimated. Modern society is still attempting to work on this issue of closure. Witness the many flowered crosses that now dot roadsides, indicating the death of teenagers in accidents. But
this old ceremony seems to have it all. The dead are told to move on instead of holding on to regrets of their unlived life and so are the living.
House blessings – Done in various forms by various churches whenever a Christian moves into a new house.
This is both a ceremony for blessings on a new life and a protective ceremony for new housebuyers. Every house has it''s history. That history implies a dedication. Whether we know it
or not, our house is dedicated to what we do most often in it. Some people can enter a house, for instance and after one night of sleeping in it, will realize that the people who formerly occupied the house were sexual deviants or worshipers of demons or sickly. Sometimes, something demonic seems to be lingering and hanging about the house. Through, the intercession of other Christians the house can be dedicated, healed, exorcised or spiritually cleansed. (And again, the incidentals depend on one's denomination. Some churches swear by holy water or incense, some require priests or pastors, or baptized believers) Whatever the practice, the evil spirits are sent away.
Blessing of the animals – Generally held on St Francis Day
This is a ceremony that upholds God''s commandment that humans take care of their animals. It is a ceremony of praise and worship to God the creator. There is nothing funnier than processing through one''s church on St Francis Day with one''s pet cat, snake, dog, bird or whatever. I am a firm believer that a blessed animal is healthier and happier than an unblessed animal.
I''m sure there are tons of strange Christian ceremonies all over the world which have their place. Some are more pagan than Christian, some are a mixture of both. Although, the Bible doesn''t specifically tell us that all believers should get rid of old ceremonies, the Believer should be wary.
Some pagan ceremonies can be easily transformed into Christian ceremonies. Some of these pagan ceremonies often foreshadowed Christianity, and showed that God was preparing these pagan peoples to receive the gospel. Some ceremonies were not created by God or the apostles but are quite valid. Purim, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Easter, were not God-created festivals but God certainly approves of them. And they are like many of the great sacraments (an outward and visible sign of an inward spiritual grace) that Christ gave us. In their own way, they affirm that God''s spirit affects the world and that God is in everything.
Decisions to be made: Traditions, sacraments, ceremonies, rituals, and habits: which to keep, which to toss?
Bible passage: The council at Jerusalem fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts.
The Bible and Christianity are full of traditions and ceremonies. Some Christian ceremonies, such as weddings, are similar to ceremonies in religions in the rest of the world. Other ceremonies and traditions, such as “crossing one’s self” and making the sign of the cross across one’s chest, are peculiar to Christianity Some rituals are only seen in certain
denominations. These include crossing one’s self and making the sign of the cross. Many religious habits are required by Scripture. But some religious habits are performed because the
act is important to individual Christians. Many are based in cultural or ethnic tradition. Many Christians, for instance, have a family Bible Reading at bedtime. Others would never think of going to bed without saying a bedtime prayer or praise time. My husband and I sing praises an hour every night and make intercessions for those on our prayer list. In this respect, Christianity is a religion which allows great freedom in the way one approaches God.
Let’s start with a few definitions:
Sacraments: When I was studying for my first communion --I am a charismatic episcopalian, by the way if you ever wondered--, I was told that a sacrament is an external sign of an inward and spiritual grace. This means that the Church and God’s Holy Spirit work together to create a spiritual change within the person. And this spiritual change within the people involved is given lovingly and graciously by God. In the meantime, we know that something is taking place because of something that the person, pastor, or church member is doing on the outside.
There have been wild disagreements about what exactly is a “sacrament.” The Lutherans and the early Anglicans believe that a sacrament was “Jesus instituted.” By this, they meant that
those traditions which Jesus began were sacraments and nothing else. Wars, hangings and burnings raged all through Europe over the doctrine of Baptism and Holy Communion. During the Reformation in England, the Protestant (Anglican) church accepted only two sacraments.
Many Protestants died rather than accept the Catholic Church’s decree that there were seven sacraments. These seven are now accepted by the modern Anglican (Episcopalian) church. Every denomination has its own ideas on what is sacramental. The Christian religion is sacramental --seeing God in many acts and things— and this has added to the mix.
Since it is not my wish to focus on any one religion but on Christianity as a whole, I will describe as many sacramental acts as I can without too much comment. The important thing to
remember is (A) these sacraments usually have some Biblical verse to back them up and ( the power of a sacrament depends on the faith of the participants.
Some sacraments are only reserved for the clergy. This is one of the more contentious area of discussions on sacraments. The word “clergy” means preachers, priests, nuns, bishops,deacons, and others who have taken Religious Orders of some denomination. Opposing this word is the word “laity” which means the average regular Christian. This is where the dispute often begins. The Bible acknowledges that there are these distinctions: laity and clergy. But the distinction is not quite as clear-cut as many denominations have made it. For instance, in the Bible, all believers are made “ministers.” All Believers receive a “calling” and a “spiritual gift” to share with his Christian brothers and sisters and the world. The Bible also does not create a hierarchy of believers. To the Bible writers, clergy are no better than missionaries or the little old lady down the street. They are not in a permanent superior status, forever closer to God than everyone else. In fact, throughout the Bible, clergy are notorious for being far from God. God is always sending some shepherd-prophet to get the priests and nation in line. But many make sacraments only a matter of clergy.
The Biblical view is that most sacraments are for everyone. The simplest universal sacrament is prayer. When we pray, we believe that this act of praying has accomplished something in ourselves and in the world. One specific prayer sacrament is the prayer of grace over our food. When we pray and ask God’s blessing on our food, we believe that this external act of praying has made the food safe for us to eat.
Other sacraments are for us at different stages of our lives. The sacrament of marriage means that when two people marry, through the act of the church, the minister, the marriage
partners and the Holy Spirit, these two people become one person. This means that they are now joined in a special way that would never have happened if they had not married. And if they divorce, this connection between them still exists. This kind of spiritual bonding can only happen in a religious ceremony because in the religious ceremony, the participants ask God to make them one. But St Paul also talks about the sexual bond that is created when two people have sexual intercourse, marriage or not. This could lead to all kinds of unintended bonds and attachments.
Other sacraments that are “rites of passages” or dependent on some stage in our lives include, Baptism, Confirmation, The Prayer for the Sick, The Prayer for those near death, Extreme Unction, commonly called the Last Rites. Baptism is the spiritual inward grace of renewal. A baby or adult is sprinkled with water, or dipped or plunged into water. This symbolic dying --being put inside the water-- and being raised to life --coming back out of the water-- means that the baptized person is now dead to this earthly life and born again into a spiritual life because of Jesus Christ. The issue of infant baptism is a touchy one with many Christians.
Some denominations believe that only adults can be baptized. Those who do not believe in infant baptism say that the Bible doesn’t show any instance of children being baptized. Those who
believe in infant baptism point out that the Bible records Baptism as an act of repentance of sinners. It doesn’t show what external ceremony was performed for children of those already in the church. In addition, early church records show that children were baptized at birth, based on Paul’s
injunction that children of those made holy are already holy. Paul didn’t say how long this holiness would last, however.
The Sacrament of baptism also serves different functions in the Christian community. The Eastern church believes that the work of Jesus destroyed original sin. Therefore, for them, original sin doesn’t apply to a child of a saved person and therefore since the child is not a part of the fallen world, the baptism is equivalent to a circumcision It brings the child into the family of God and forbids the evil one from touching the child. The Roman Catholic church, because of its belief that Original Sin is ever active requires a speedy baptism for a newborn child. Many a religious Roman Catholic grand-parent have nagged a new mother to get her child baptized as quickly as possible. Many a priest has rushed to the hospital to baptize a dying newborn and to give the newborn the Last Rites. Many a supposedly dying newborn has suddenly been healed by the sacrament of baptism. Many a dying person have been raised to new life again when given the Last Rites.
Other sacraments include the Laying on of hands. Once again, there are varying interpretations. Some denominations see the laying on of hands as something done once and for all by the bishop at confirmation. (Confirmation is the sacrament of Commitment and Publicly affirming that one belongs to God) In other denominations, Baptism is more like confirmation.
Some denominations believe that the Laying on of Hands can be done at any time by a priest. Some denominations believe that all believers can lay hands on each other, as an act of praying and healing. Some denominations practice the rite of layingon of hands as a means of transferring a spiritual gift upon a person they feel God has called for a special purpose. Writers, missionaries, singers are often prayed over and blessed with a laying on of hands. And some denominations do not practice the laying on of hands at all.
Many Bible verses deal with the importance of ceremonies, traditions and rituals. These Bible sections include Paul’s letters, the book of the Acts of the Holy Spirit, (commonly called the Acts of the Apostles) and the Letter to the Hebrews. Many Bible verses concern themselves with the abuse of empty rituals, and the cruelty and stupidity of those who trust in empty rituals.
In approaching a sacrament, the thing to remember is Paul’s verse: let each man be fully convinced in is own heart.
Some traditions are man-made.
Some man-made traditions include:” the three bells rung during the episcopalian communion, bowing and crossing one’s self when one enters a church are all traditions.
Some traditions are forbidden in the Bible and were the cause of many deaths during the Reformation. The Protestants argued that Jesus told his followers us not to use the word Father
as a name for any of their spiritual teachers. Yet modern Episcopalians, a protestant denomination, often allow their congregation to call the priest “father.” The episcopalian tradition of ringing the bells during certain parts of the service rose out of a genuine need. The bells were used in earlier centuries to signal significant moments of the service to the illiterate congregation.
Some traditions arise out of spiritual respect for God. Genuflecting (or bowing before the altar when one enters a churcn) shows a respect for God and His church. Traditions are helpful in that they remind believers of their faith. But
spiritual trouble arises when these traditions over-shadow the real spiritual truth and become ends in and of themselves. People have gotten lost inside their traditions and left God far behind. They often become enamored of sentimentality, obsessively perform religious habits and/or fall into self-worship of their religious persnickettiness. This was the problem with the Pharisees of old. The Bible tells us to worship God in our spirit. But often our spirits remain untouched while we glory in our traditions.
1. Read Paul’s letter to the Colossians to see what Paul says about rules and regulations.
2. If you have not read the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, please read it.
3. Do a search in your concordance for the word “tradition.”
4. Compare Jeremiah chapter 31:33, Isaiah 58, Isaiah 66, the book of Malachi, Mark 2:23-26,
John chapter 16.
5. Go to the library and find a book on religious traditions.
Read more articles by Carole McDonnell or search for articles on the same topic or others.