Bread, Wine, and WordIt is a curious phenomenon that someone whose upbringing consisted of a weird concoction of Fundamentalism, Independent Baptist worship and theology, non-denominational church happy-go-luckiness, and (lately) American Baptist polity should be writing a column like this. With that kind of tradition in my blood, body, and soul, it would be completely understandable if I were rather opposed to the idea of the necessity of sacraments as a whole. Fundamentalists abhor “Catholic works”, Baptists typically shun anything to do with artistic liturgy or historic sacrament (other than the ubiquitous genre of “Christian Music”), and non-denominational churches (at least the one I grew up in and am most familiar with) generally have either no opinion one way or the other on the value of sacraments, or they practice sacraments in their worship without having any clue what it is they are doing. True, some may accuse even Catholics of this. But the fact is that at least our Catholic and Orthodox brethren can claim the precedent of tradition, which is a ridiculous concept to the idea of non- or inter-denominationalism.

I myself held each of these opinions at some point or other in my brief life so far. Who knows where I’ll end up on it at the end of it. As a child and young adult, I went from not knowing anything about sacraments to being indoctrinated to the value, necessity even, of just one (Baptism). During college, I came to the conclusion that since Jesus didn’t baptize anyone and the whole thing seemed to me to be downplayed in the New Testament once John the Baptizer was executed, I rejected that one tenet of Fundamentalism and Baptist churches, cutting myself off from fellowship with both groups. (Whether I’ve gained or lost from this self-imposed excommunication remains to be seen.) I flirted with the idea of Salvationists being the most “true” toward the New Testament attitude towards the sacraments (Baptism and the Eucharist in particular).

It is safe to say now, however, that this entire state of affairs was due to a total misconception of what “sacrament” means. “Sacrament” obviously has the word “sacred” at its root. A sacrament is a sacred act. Few will dispute this. The problem comes in on whether it is the act itself that is sacred or whether the act makes the participant sacred. In both, however, the question is the same: what’s the point? What makes the act of Baptism sacred, or celebrating the Lord’s Supper holy? Or a marriage holy? Or Laying on of Hands? What is it about a sacramental life that makes us holy and sacred before God?

It’s probably at least as likely that we’ve got it all wrong, which makes these questions moot. Protestants and Catholics have been arguing over these questions and on which question to ask since the 16th century and even earlier. So it’s probably ridiculous for someone 500 years after the Reformation to even suggest that both the questions and the answers are either wrong or misguided. Yet, I am undaunted. After rejecting Baptism, never comprehending the Eucharist, understanding marriage as nothing more than a state-supported act that improved my tax bracket, and for forth, and being completely blinded to the remaining sacraments of traditional Catholicism, I began attending a Midwestern Methodist church that practiced what I still feel was the most reverent, yet simple, sacramental liturgy of any Protestant church I had ever been a part of up to that point. While the Lord’s Supper was celebrated only four times a year and during Holy Week, and while the pastor took an almost irreverent attitude towards Baptism, it was my experience with liturgical worship that began the transforming process of my mind. If I had not moved from the area, I’d still be worshipping with the church. However, it became expedient to relocate, and with relocation came another denomination. I began attending a Lutheran church, which really opened my eyes to the value and beauty of a worship completely structured around the Eucharist and the Word.

Sacrament and Word. Are these not two of the rocks on which the historic church was built? Should not all Christians at least see the value of the historic sacraments? We Protestants have got the Word part all figured out. (Tongue seriously in cheek here…) What would it mean to live a sacramental life, to live in a sacramental world?