Sacred Actions Among The Contemporary Churches

Source: The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber, General Editor

Christians have always had diverse opinions on the sacred actions that take place in worship. Sacramental churches-Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and some mainline Protestant churches-regard the Lord's Supper, baptism, and sometimes other actions as special signs that bestow grace on those who receive them. Other Protestant groups believe that the sacraments by themselves confer no special power and do not necessarily indicate the presence of God. They tend to refer to sacred actions as...

Adventist Churches

With roots in the radical Reformation, Adventists have not placed great emphasis on sacraments. Nevertheless, they traditionally have regarded Communion, baptism, and sometimes marriage as sacred acts. Footwashing, ordination, and anointing the sick are also practiced, though with less frequency.

American Baptist Churches In The Usa

American Baptists have stressed the autonomy of local churches to determine the emphasis given to sacred actions. The radical Reformers, particularly Zwingli, have greatly influenced the development of American Baptist thought; hence Communion and baptism have tended to be simple services that have been secondary to preaching. Nevertheless, American Baptists are reexamining their practices in light of recent worship reforms in other churches.

Anglican/episcopal Churches

The Book of Common Prayer has traditionally defined the sacramental life of Anglicans and Episcopalians. In addition to the Eucharist and baptism, Anglicans recognize five lesser sacraments. Recently, some congregations have opted for more variety in their liturgical practices.

Baptists (evangelical Denominations And Independent Baptist Churches)

Baptists recognize the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism is an act of public declaration, and those making this profession are immersed in a lake, river, or baptismal tank. The Lord's Supper is observed ten to fifteen times a year. Congregations exercise some latitude in their observance of these ordinances.

Baptist General Conference

Like most Baptists, the Baptist General Conference (BGC) recognizes the ordinance of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Other sacred actions, though not commanded of believers, are practiced in many churches.

Brethren (plymouth) Assemblies

Plymouth Brethren limit the sacraments to those actions commanded in Scripture by Christ. Some differences in baptism practices exist between Open Brethren and Exclusive Brethren, while all Brethren practice Communion weekly in a service known as the Breaking of the Bread. Some congregations have introduced minor changes in recent years, but Brethren remain essentially nonsacramental.

Christian Churches And Churches Of Christ

Christian churches consciously seek to imitate the worship practices of the New Testament church, and this thinking has shaped their practice of baptism and the Lord's Supper. In recent times, churches have introduced innovations to add new meaning to traditional Communion and baptism services.

Christian Church (disciples Of Christ)

Of the churches that originated in the Restoration Movement, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been most open to change in worship practices. For the most part, Disciples continue to practice baptism by immersion and weekly Communion.

The Christian And Missionary Alliance Churches

Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) churches practice believer baptism and regular (usually monthly) Communion. Many congregations combine Communion with services for healing and cleansing from sin.

Christian Reformed Church

Following its Calvinist heritage, the Christian Reformed Church regards the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper as "holy signs and seals" by which God confirms the saving promises of the gospel. Such sacraments depend on the faithful proclamation of the Word. In recent years, the fairly uniform liturgical observance of these sacraments has been eroded by the influx of ethnic groups who have contributed many of their own traditions.

Church Of God, Cleveland, Tennessee

The Church of God, Cleveland, places foremost emphasis on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and does not regard the ordinances as special signs of God's presence. Three ordinances-baptism, the Lord's Supper, and footwashing-are practiced, but other actions such as dedication, ordination, and installation are observed by many congregations.

Churches Of Christ (noninstrumental)

Like other Restorationist churches, the Churches of Christ observe weekly Communion and baptism of believers. Many churches within this tradition are devoting more time to worship during the Lord's Supper, especially through singing.

Eastern Orthodox Churches

Worship in the Eastern Orthodox tradition has always been visibly sacramental. In this ancient tradition, the sacrament is the means by which God, through physical means, comes to his church. Baptism, chrismation, Eucharist, Holy Orders, anointing (unction), and marriage are among the sacraments celebrated by the church.

Evangelical Covenant Church

The Evangelical Covenant Church believes that God created sacraments and rituals to communicate with and express truths to the church. It allows considerable latitude in its observance of baptism: both infant and adult baptism are left to the discretion of its members. Communion is observed monthly and during key events in the Christian year.

Evangelical Free Church Of America

Traditionally, free churches have taken a stand of silence on the nature and practice of baptism and the Lord's Supper so as to avoid dividing believers. This position has resulted in a melting pot of customs and practices among member churches.

Evangelical Lutheran Church In America

Lutheranism is sometimes seen as a paradoxical union of Catholic substance and Protestant principle. Thus, while Lutheranism has accorded an important role to the "visible words" of the sacraments and also to the postures, gestures, and symbolic actions of liturgical worship, it has also raised the concern that the set things have been a principal source of superstition among Christians. The ELCA has devoted significant attention recently to worship and the sacraments.

Independent Fundamentalist And Evangelical Churches

A decided shift has occurred in the worship of many independent fundamentalist and evangelical churches. The trend toward informal, folksy gatherings is being replaced with an emphasis on deeper encounters with the living God. Hence baptism and the Lord's Supper are taking on greater meaning in many churches.

Lutheran Church–missouri Synod

During the last fifty years, the Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod has devoted greater attention to the sacraments, particularly Communion. Lutherans have also recovered the Divine Service to express their practice and theology of worship.

Mennonite Churches

The Mennonite Church is heir to a radical Reformation understanding of the Lord's Supper and baptism as ordinances, not sacraments. Mennonites, however, approach these ordinances with serious reverence because of their communal significance. Two dominant styles characterize the Mennonite approach to worship and these ordinances-charismatic and free form. The charismatic style emphasizes freedom of expression by worshipers and leaders. The free-form style emphasizes the use of a prototype of worship adapted for each week's service.

Messianic Synagogue

The Messianic synagogue enacts many of the sacred rituals of Judaism, but the meaning of these rituals is enriched by the knowledge and the belief that Yeshua b. Yosef or Jesus is the promised Messiah. This means that the traditional rituals of Judaism such as the shabbat, the seder, the kiddush prayer, the bar- and bat-mitzvah, and other rituals are sacraments that "set apart" or sanctify time and express messianic faith-in order words, the Christian faith in Jesus.

The National Baptist Convention Of America, Incorporated

Although the early history of Baptist's worship reflects an emphasis upon a public preaching service, National Baptists have recently moved from this narrow concept to a broader understanding of the worship experience. Members have expressed a deep longing to worship God rather than merely to hear the pastor preach. This broader understanding centers around the National Baptist's belief that God is truly present in their corporate worship.

Presbyterian Church (usa)

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is heir to a formal worship style based on Calvin's worship reforms and a more free worship style based on seventeenth century Puritans. This mixed heritage has allowed the Presbyterian Church (USA) in its 1989 Directory for Worship to recover many ancient sacred acts while allowing for expressions from ethnic sources. The Presbyterian Church (USA) view these sacred acts or sacraments as demonstrating to the worshiper that all time, all space, and all matter are potential vehicles of God's grace. The entire worship service is filled with praise for God and with the presence of Christ.

Progressive National Baptist Convention, Incorporated

Progressive National Baptists believe that the feeling of the spiritual presence of God in their corporate worship is assisted by intensive prayer and singing. God's presence is also felt in the ordinances of the Lord's Supper and baptism, which along with the recitation of the church covenant empower the laity to serve God.

Reformed Church In America

The Reformed Church in America understands the Lord's Supper and baptism as special means of grace, as visible signs and seals of God's promises in the Word of God. Although Reformed worship used to following a Zwinglian form and emphasize the preached Word, since the 1950s the Reformed Church has officially followed the Reformed liturgical heritage of John Calvin. This change has introduced a more ordered worship format and a renewed emphasis on the liturgy of the Lord's Supper. These changes, however, have been implemented in Reformed churches erratically.

The Reformed Episcopal Church

The Reformed Episcopal Church identifies the Lord's Supper and baptism as sacraments, as means of grace. However, the church denies the efficacy of a sacrament unless the recipient accepts the sacrament in faith. They also understand the sacraments as God's covenantal acts in the midst of God's holy community, the church. This view encourages frequent observance of the Lord's Supper.

Roman Catholic Churches

The Roman church continues to celebrate seven sacraments. However, the Second Vatican Council has implemented changes aimed at making the texts and symbolism of the sacraments more intelligible so that lay members can become more involved. To this end, the role of the faith of the assembly and the role of Scripture in sacramental worship has been emphasized. Although these changes have revitalized some members of the church, the Roman church has witnessed a decline in the number participating in the sacraments.

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army does not observe the traditional Protestant sacraments. This practice is based upon a sacramental theology that rejects the idea that God's gracious actions can be limited by certain means of grace (such as baptism and the Lord's Supper). Instead, all of life can be a sacrament if Christ's presence is acknowledged and celebrated.

Southern Baptist Convention Churches

Southern Baptists inherit a radical Reformation perspective on the Lord's Supper and baptism that understands these sacred actions as ordinances and memorials. However a worship renewal movement among Southern Baptists has emphasized the presence of Christ in the faith of the recipient of the ordinance. Thus, ordinances are to be understood as vividly enacted symbols in worship that become powerful invitations for the worshiper to enter the saving sphere of God's gracious activity in the world. In the following article, the author describes the worship renewal in his local church.

United Methodist Church

Methodists' views of the sacraments have traveled through three distinct phases. At the beginning of the Wesleyan movement in the nineteenth century, Wesley emphasizes a strong divinely experiential sense of the sacraments as means of grace. From the late eighteenth century to the 1960s, the Enlightenment understanding of the sacraments as marginal and mostly memorial dominated Methodism. However, beginning in the 1960s, United Methodists have experienced a sacramental renewal. The emphasis in the sacraments has shifted from a human undertaking to a divine covenant by God to make believers share in Christ's royal priesthood.

The Wesleyan Church

Wesleyans have in the past typically emphasized the pulpit over the sacraments. Although Wesleyan theology identifies these sacraments as a means of grace and accept many different forms or modes of these sacraments as legitimate, many members have tended to view them more as an opportunity for personal testimony. However, recent worship renewal has drawn the church to more of a balance between the preaching of the Word and the administering of the sacraments.

Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has retained a fairly uniform observance of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Preparation for sacramental actions is strongly emphasized, particularly in instructing young people for confirmation. Many practices that can be traced to the movement's Pietistic origins can still be found in contemporary Lutheran worship.

An Alternative Approach To The Sacraments Among Free Churches

The following article is an example of a church in the free-church tradition that experienced a renewed focus on worship and the sacraments. This renewal centered around Communion. This church understands Communion as an occasion in which God mysterious uses the ordinary things of life-the bread and wine-to meet the worshiper. With this understanding and the premise that the worshiper should be actively involved in worship, this church began to transform Communion from a somber occasion to a celebration of Christ's victory over death.

An Alternative Approach To The Sacraments Among Pentecostal And Charismatic Churches

Although Pentecostals typically worship in a free style, they are by nature sacramentalists. They usually view sacramental actions as channels of divine power; however, they refuse to precisely define sacraments. Recently, some Pentecostal churches have adopted liturgies for use in their services and moved to a higher view of the sacraments.

Alternative Views Of The Sacraments In Seekers’ Service/believers’ Worship

Willow Creek and other seeker-driven churches purposely avoid any liturgy or other sacred actions to demonstrate the simplicity of the gospel and to draw in nonbelievers. Like other Protestant churches, Willow Creek views baptism and Communion as ordinances. At the services dedicated to these ordinances, the church emphasizes commitment to God, the church, and to each other.