If you’re not a Christian, or interested in the strange things that Christians disagree over, you probably won’t find this post very interesting. If this hasn’t deterred you, feel free to read on.
Recently, I’ve done some reading on the Christian “sacraments”; as a protestant, I’m thinking specifically of baptism and communion here. I grew up in an Anglican church, and so I pretty much took it for granted that the thing to do was for Christian parents to get their kids baptised as infants (usually less than one year old), and in the unlikely event that someone became a Christian later in life (well, it seemed like a rare thing while I was growing up: I probably wasn’t paying much attention), they could get baptised when they felt like it. This was the only time that adults were baptised.
Communion (also known as “the Lord’s Supper”) through church history, has been a divisive issue. Does the bread and the wine (or the grape juice, if you’re in a church that doesn’t believe in drinking alcohol) actually become the body and blood of Jesus? (This is called transubstantiation, and is mostly something that the Catholic church puts forward, although Martin Luther was also a believer in this doctrine.) Do you need to go through some kind of church ritual before you’re allowed to eat and drink? Can only ordained ministers give people communion, or can anyone do it? Do you have to take communion at all?
As a younger Christian, I thought that Christianity was all about sticking to the basics. Is Christianity really about these arguments about baptism and communion? Isn’t Christianity just about how Jesus says it’s possible to go to heaven?
Isn’t it about how God creating and ruling the world; about humans rejecting this rule (this is called sin) and deserving God’s punishment; about God sending his Son Jesus to live a perfect life as a human on earth; about Jesus dying on a cross to take the punishment that people deserve; about God raising Jesus back to life, proving Jesus’ identity as God’s Son; about Jesus returning one day to judge the world: each person will be either guilty of rejecting God, or forgiven, not on their own merit, but by accepting God’s offer of forgiveness.
Isn’t Christianity all about acknowledging to God that you have rejected him (repentance), and asking God to forgive you because of Jesus’ punishment-taking death? So you can go to heaven?
Yes to all those things. But isn’t it also about – having repented and asked for forgiveness – asking God to help you live a life that brings him the kind of respect that he deserves, and about living that life?
A number of years, at least one book, and a few bible verses later, my thinking has moved on a little. There’s simply too much evidence in the bible that points to baptism and communion as being things that Jesus commands his followers to do. No, it has nothing to do with whether you are a Christian or not; it’s not a “salvation issue”, but these are not things that can be lightly dismissed.
What format should these things take? Should you baptise babies, or only adults who understand what it means to be a Christian? (I would say both the babies of Christian parents, and adults who understand what it means to be a Christian, but that’s for a separate post.) Should you eat bread and drink wine in a formal way as a reminder of Jesus’ death, and resurrection? (I would say yes; there’s something more to what Jesus says at the last supper than merely saying to remember him every time you eat and drink: there’s a sense of setting up some kind of ritual that is to be repeated, but I still have to do some more reading on this).
Does it matter whether you baptise or eat and drink communion? I think it does. If you’re serious about following Jesus, this involves doing what Jesus instructs his followers to do. It’s not enough to look at “what’s the bare minimum I have to do to get into heaven?” – although this is an important thing to understand – you need to keep expanding your understanding, and changing your life as you learn more.