What (if anything) is special about the sacraments? [Questioning faith #25]

Ted Grimsrud—May 19, 2023

Probably the places in Christianity where the “sacred” and the “mundane” intersect the most directly are the churches’ sacramental rituals, particularly the observance of communion. Views range from the Catholic notion of transubstantiation, where the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Jesus—and where the actual attainment of salvation depends on one’s participation in (and belief in) the miracle of the Eucharist, to some “low church” views wherein the communion ritual is strictly mundane and symbolic. Even more extreme is the Quaker understanding where there is no communion ritual at all.

As one whose views are decidedly low church, I have not experienced the communion ritual as being very important or meaningful. However, I have thought about it quite a bit and have found my general idealism about the importance of the way of Jesus to be something that informs my views of the sacraments (in this post I will only reflect on communion and will not address the practice of baptism).

I do feel reluctant to take up the issue of communion. It’s not so much that I have personally had negative experiences with communion—actually my experiences have mostly been positive. But I do know people who have had hard experiences: the denial of participation in the Lord’s Supper for my friend’s father back in the 1930s for owning life insurance, a trauma that still haunt her; the gay man who was refused communion when he returned to his home congregation hoping to rebuild a sense of connection; the teen-ager who was told she was too young to take communion, making her feel like a second-class Christian even though she deeply desired to follow Jesus….These exclusions have bothered me.

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Should we bother with church? [Questioning faith #24]

Ted Grimsrud—May 16, 2023

I did not grow up with churchgoing as part of my identity. My family did go to church regularly until I was eight years old, but I don’t think it was that important for us. When their Methodist congregation folded, I don’t believe my parents grieved much. Then, for nine years I rarely went to church. At the age of 17, by my own choice, I began attending a Baptist congregation. In the 50+ years since, I have always felt that going to church was my choice, and when I have had extended periods of not going, I did not feel guilty or unhappy—unlike many of my friends over the years for whom churchgoing has been part of their identity. These days, as I think about church, I have a lot of mixed feelings.

In the Bible, human beings are given salvation so that they might embody God’s will in this life. From the calling of Abraham and Sarah to the final revelation of the New Jerusalem, the Bible portrays lived salvation as community centered. Faith communities provide the context for human flourishing. However, in our fallen world faith communities also in practice have often not actually been that healthy for people. Their legacy is ambiguous. So, when I think about the Christian church, the questions come pretty quickly—especially one set of questions: The church, comforter or afflicter? The church, a place that heals or a place that hurts? The church, oppressor or liberator? The church, a blessing or a curse?

I have an answer to these questions: “Yes!” What I mean is, in my experience, the church has been both a blessing and a curse. We invest ourselves in this community, we make ourselves vulnerable to each other, we care deeply. The rewards can be great—but so too can be the disappointment and hurt.

Continue reading “Should we bother with church? [Questioning faith #24]”