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Q&A: Sacraments and Friendship with the World

Q&A: Sacraments and Friendship with the World

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In each issue, a forum of pastors, laity, theologians, and church leaders respond to your questions on subjects such as doctrine, theology, Christian living, and the church. Send your questions to Holiness Today, Church of the Nazarene Global Ministry Center, 17001 Prairie Star Parkway, Lenexa, KS 66220| E-mail: The editor regrets that all questions cannot be printed, acknowledged, or answered.

Q. What sacraments does the Church of the Nazarene recognize? And what is meant by "sacrament?"

Along with the whole Church in every age, the Church of the Nazarene understands a sacrament as an act through which the grace of God is conferred on the recipient. The word "sacrament" is from the Latin sacramentum, meaning a vow, a token, a pledge. As early as the fifth century, Augustine defined a sacrament as being a visible sign of an invisible reality. However, the description in the Book of Common Prayer has become the accepted definition. A sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace."

Since the Reformation, all Protestant churches recognize baptism and the Lord's Supper as the only two sacraments that have New Testament support. The Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches recognize five other sacraments: confirmation, penance, orders (i.e., ordination), marriage, and extreme unction (e.g., anointing the dying).

In Articles of Faith XII and XIII, the Church of the Nazarene defines Christian baptism as "a sacrament signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ." When Jesus gave the Great Commission to His disciples, He commanded them to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). On the Day of Pentecost, Peter commanded those who repented of their sins and believed in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord to be baptized (Acts 2:38).

Article of Faith XII explains that baptism should be administered to believers as a sign, a sacrament of their faith in Christ and their determination, by God's grace, to live a holy life. It adds that because baptism is a symbol of the covenant of grace, Christian parents may desire to have their children baptized because they sincerely intend to raise their children with Christian training, example, and teaching. Baptism may be done by sprinkling, pouring the water, or by the candidate being immersed.

The Church of the Nazarene likewise speaks of the Lord's Supper in Article of Faith XIII, often called communion, as "a New Testament sacrament declarative of His sacrificial death." The bread is a token of Christ's body broken on the Cross, and the cup is a token of His blood shed for the sins of the world (Matthew 26:26-28). In this sacrament Christians are not only remembering Christ's death and resurrection but are also looking forward to His coming again.

Herbert B. McGonigle is senior lecturer in historical theology and senior lecturer and research fellow in Wesley studies at Nazarene Theological College (NTC) in Manchester, England. He is also principal emeritus of NTC.

Q. When people in the world look at the Nazarene Church, do they think of it as a place that is a friend to them? How can we better ensure that we are learning to be friends to the world, not just friends to our fellow church attendees?

I have been a part of the Church of the Nazarene my entire life, regularly attending Sunday morning and evening services, Wednesday night activities, revivals, summer camps, and district assemblies. Church is a familiar place where I feel comfortable.

I imagine that Jesus felt comfortable in heaven. Yet He was willing to leave His world to enter ours. If I am to follow His example, I need to move out of my comfort zone and into the world outside the church.

Getting involved with the world involves more than offering help in times of need. Jesus healed the sick and discipled the Twelve, but He also attended weddings and ate dinner with "sinners." By spending most of His time outside of the walls of the synagogue, Jesus became uniquely acquainted with the joys, sorrows, and humdrum of everyday life.

Being a friend to the world means that we must get involved in activities outside of the church. When was the last time we shared a meal with a friend who does not know Christ? What activities are we regularly involved in that allow us to be plugged in to our neighborhoods? We must purposefully find ways to turn our interests into avenues of connection with others in our communities.

We also become more Christlike when we interact with the world, not as if they are outsiders, but rather seeing them as fellow humans with whom we share the same needs. People loathe feeling as though they are objects in need of ministry.

All of us, whether in the church or not, are searching for meaningful human connections. If the Spirit of Christ lives in us, then He has uniquely gifted us to reach beyond ourselves, allowing us to love others deeply. Are we offering an authentic relationship to the individuals whom we regularly encounter?

We are the Body of Christ. Christ expects His body to go out among the people who need Him. We cannot impact people for Christ if we are not close to them. We only get close to others by taking the time to relate to them. Our world will see the church as a friendly place when they discover that they do not need to enter our doors to experience the love of Christ firsthand.

Jason Gunter is a licensed psychologist at the Oklahoma Christian Counseling Center in Oklahoma City.

Holiness Today, November/December 2009 

Please note: This article was originally published in 2009. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.