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E05: Intro To Sacraments in the Presbyterian Tradition

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Introduction

Welcome to Ask the Pastor with Pastor Charissa! This is Episode 5: Intro to the Sacraments in the Presbyterian Tradition. I’m your host, Charissa Howe.
PC(USA) background/ reformed tradition.
https://www.pcusa.org/

What does “sacrament” mean?

The common definition of a sacrament accepted by the Reformed and Roman Churches is that of an outward and visible sign, ordained by Christ, setting forth and pledging an inward and spiritual blessing.

While the Catholic church includes confirmation, confession, marriage, and ordination, among others, as sacraments, most mainline protestant denominations that observe sacraments include only baptism and communion. That is because these are the only two we see Jesus establish in the Gospels. Some denominations and most non-denominational churches do not have any sacraments and see communion and baptism as only remembrances or public declarations in which the people are the primary participants and actors.
As Presbyterians, we see the sacraments as important because they are covenantal acts. They signify our covenant with God through Jesus Christ and seal our receipt of grace.

Baptism FAQ

Will my baby go to hell if it dies before it’s baptised?

No.
Just.
No.
If you have a sick baby and you want to have that baby baptised, go for it. But know that if the baby is not baptised in time, that child’s salvation is not at stake. Baptism is a sign and seal of God’s grace, but it is not in and of itself the means to salvation.
Jesus is our means to salvation. Jesus died for the forgiveness of all sins and the redemption and wholeness of all people. Some people choose to live into that grace, to receive salvation by following Christ - sometimes even people who haven’t been baptised yet, while others choose to live outside of that grace - sometimes even people who have been baptised.
I affirm that a child too young to know how to live into or outside of that grace will not go to hell. I don’t think there is some magical “age of responsibility” where suddenly a child is “responsible for their sin”, but I do believe that God meets each person where they are and doesn’t expect more from a person than they are actually able to give. This applies in cases of people with cognitive disabilities, as well as children.
That is good news, dear ones.

If I was baptised in another denomination, do I have to be baptised again to join this church?

NO!
Baptism is a once and for all thing. It doesn’t matter if you were a baby or a senior citizen when you were baptised. As long as you were baptised in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are baptised. The PC(USA) recognizes all such baptisms as valid.
Baptism is God’s work, not ours. It’s a powerful moment of God moving in our lives. We’re not the ones doing the work in baptism or communion. God doesn’t need us to do these things, we need God to meet us in them. Therefore, even if you didn’t know what was happening, you do not need to be “re-baptised” when you change churches or as a renewal of some sort. What God does stays done.
Sometimes, we have services of re-affirmation or remembrance of our baptismal vows, but these are different than a baptism or a “rebaptism”. These are a time to remember that we are people set aside by God and acted on by God. But we’re no more baptised after those services than we were before.

Communion FAQ

Is this ACTUALLY Jesus’ body and blood?

If you ask someone from some denominations - catholic or orthodox - they will say yes.
If you ask a Presbyterian, we will say no. While Christ is really and truly present in the elements and in the act of communion, the bread and cup do not physically change into something new and different.

What is the “right kind” of Communion?

There are different forms of communion in different traditions. Some churches dip little pieces of bread into one big cup - intinction. Others pass out small pieces of bread - often shortbread in Presbyterian Churches because of the Scottish heritage - and tiny cups of wine or juice. Some have a loaf you tear bread from and one big cup to drink from.
None of these is “right.” It just depends on your community and their style and personality.
As a pastor, I prefer intinction.
Just as with the debate about frequency, there is a great deal of variance in regards to who should be allowed to participate in the sacrament of Communion and how necessary it is. First and foremost: Communion is not salvific – you aren’t saved by it. The work of salvation has already been done. There is no amount of “stuff” we can do in this life to save ourselves from the mess we are. That said, there is something holy and fortifying in Communion and in that moment we are truly brought closer to God. This is an important part of the Christian life. We are called to participate in the life of the church – including sacraments – in order to grow closer to God and to one another. We aren’t meant to be Christians from the sideline not bothering to grow. If you happen to miss Communion because you were sick, your salvation isn’t in jeopardy. God’s not keep attendance records. But you do miss something important – something edifying.

Grape Juice or Wine?

I can go either way on this.
Jesus didn’t have Welch’s.
Prohibition. Yeah. That happened.
Today, I like to have grape juice in case we have someone struggling with addiction in our congregation.

How Often should we celebrate communion?

There are many different opinions on how often we should celebrate communion in our churches. I tend to think we should celebrate it as often as possible. At my church, we celebrate on the first Sunday of every month, as well as on holy days such as Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Pentecost. At the time of the Reformation (that’s when the protestant church came to be after Marth Luther started speaking out against certain Catholic Church practices), the Roman Catholic churches were celebrating Communion quite rarely. Sometimes, the only celebrated it once or twice a year. John Calvin – founder of Presbtyerianism - thought the church should be celebrating Communion every single Sunday. It’s ironic that things have no flip flopped to where Catholic churches generally celebrate Communion every week and many Protestants are even hesitant to celebrate as frequently as once a month because they don’t want to risk “being too Catholic.” I believe that we should embrace our Reformation roots and the idea of celebration and fellowship centered on God’s grace and we should celebrate Communion as often as possible.

Who is allowed to take communion?

Just as with the debate about frequency, there is a great deal of variance in regards to who should be allowed to participate in the sacrament of Communion and how necessary it is. First and foremost: Communion is not salvific – you aren’t saved by it. The work of salvation has already been done. There is no amount of “stuff” we can do in this life to save ourselves from the mess we are. That said, there is something holy and fortifying in Communion and in that moment we are truly brought closer to God. This is an important part of the Christian life. We are called to participate in the life of the church – including sacraments – in order to grow closer to God and to one another. We aren’t meant to be Christians from the sideline not bothering to grow. If you happen to miss Communion because you were sick, your salvation isn’t in jeopardy. God’s not keep attendance records. But you do miss something important – something edifying.
Some churches allow anyone to take communion. Some only allow members of their church or denomination take communion. In our tradition, we allow any baptized believer of any tradition to participate in communion with us. As long as a person is baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, they are welcomed warmly into the fellowship of Communion with us. And there’s no paperwork or proof of baptism required because while we have theological reasons for requiring baptism before Communion, we also remember that nobody’s going to get struck by heavenly lightening if they “do it wrong.”
This does open up the question of children participating in Communion. Again, this depends on the tradition, and even on the individual church a bit. Every church I’ve been to in the Presbyterian tradition has taken the stance that if a child is old enough to articulate at some level what’s going on at Communion, they are old enough to participate. For some kids, this might be as young as 3 or 4. My kids were all in the ballpark of 3 when they were old enough to “get it.” Obviously, they can’t write a theological statement on the meaning of Communion at that age, but they can certainly say something as basic as “We remember Jesus’ Last Supper and spend time with God.” At my church, children are not just welcomed, but are encouraged to participate in Communion.

Closing

If you’re not sure where your church falls on some of these issues, I encourage you to talk to your pastor about it. Most pastors love when their congregation members come to them with questions like this. It means that you’re listening and paying attention and that you’re engaged in the life of the church. I personally find answering questions like this to be one of my very favorite parts of being a pastor. I love the conversations that unfold from these questions.
If you’re in the area and don’t have a church home, come join us! We meet every Sunday at 9:30 am at 73 Hiland Ave, Emsworth, PA 15202 and at 11:30 at 801 BEaver STreet, Sewickley PA 15143. If you’re self-conscious about showing up and feeling like the conspicuous new person, don’t worry: we don’t ever call out new people or visitors from the pulpit or anything embarrassing like that. You’ll probably get a few friendly people saying hi and introducing themselves, but that’s the worst of it. I promise that EVERYONE is welcome in our church. We won’t turn you away because of what you’re wearing, where you live, how much you can afford to put in the offering place, who you’re with, etc. Come as you are to worship.
To connect, comment, submit questions or prayer requests, check out www.charissaclarkhowe.com for more info and show notes, facebook, instagram, and twitter: pastorcharissah. Until next time, may God bless you deeply.
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