Sacraments in the Community of Christ
Stephen M. Veazey
The sacraments express the continuing presence of Christ through the
church. They help us establish and continually renew our relationship with God.
Through them we establish or reaffirm our covenant with God in response to God’s
grace. The sacraments of the church are: baptism, confirmation of membership,
the Lord’s Supper (Communion), marriage, blessing of children, administration
to the sick, ordination to priesthood, and the evangelist’s blessing.—Faith and
Beginning October 2006, and continuing for the next
eight months, the Faith and Beliefs section of the Herald will
explore the sacraments of the church. Readers will be invited to delve more
deeply into the nature of the sacraments as vital ministries of the church for
personal and community spiritual growth.
Clarifying our understanding of the sacraments is an
essential aspect of articulating the church’s identity, message, and mission.
While there may be evident variety in the church arising from different
worldviews, theological perspectives, worship styles, and life experiences, the
sacraments provide a common foundation to church life throughout the world.
Participating in these sacred acts informs our identity and binds us together
as a community of faith.
That being said, it is important not to stop at that point. The church is
called at this time is to go beyond a rehearsal of our commonly held beliefs
about the sacraments to explore additional possibilities they hold for enriching
our spiritual lives. While the sacraments are familiar, even routine, to many
church members, recent revelation invites us to open our hearts and minds to yet
unrealized blessings that await us:
Look especially to the sacraments
to enrich the spiritual life of the body. Seek for greater understanding of my
purposes in these sacred rites and prepare to receive a renewed confirmation of
the presence of my Spirit in your experiences of worship.—Doctrine and Covenants
For most human beings, the spiritual dimensions of God’s universe are
difficult to grasp because of the immediacy of the physical world. Even in our
more discerning moments, we tend to “see through a glass darkly” when it comes
to spiritual matters. We are simply not accustomed to maintaining the inner
disposition that allows us to sense the Spirit as the foundational reality of
all that is. It is at this juncture of need and possibility in our lives that
the sacraments can play an increasingly vital role.
In the book The Sacraments: Symbol, Meaning, and
Discipleship, published by Herald House (Bolton and Gardner, eds., 2005), we
are given this definition of the sacraments:
Sacraments are means by which the church receives God’s
grace. They are tangible expressions of God’s presence in the world. They are
means whereby humans can catch some glimpse of the reality of God, who is ever
near, yet not fully known. In the sacraments, believers meet God in specific,
In his book The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a
Life of Faith (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003, 57) , Marcus Borg adds this
A sacrament is a finite, physical, visible mediator of the
sacred, and means whereby the sacred becomes present to us. A sacrament is a
vehicle or vessel of the sacred...a sacrament is an “outward and visible
sign” that functions as “a means of grace.”
Borg goes on to suggest that Christian practices such as the
sacraments draw us to “thin places,” where the boundary between the physical
and spiritual dimensions of God’s creation is “soft, porous, and permeable” (p.
156). Through the sacraments, we are positioned to perceive God’s Spirit in ways
that are not typically known. We become, if only for a time, more attentive and
open. The sacraments open windows and doorways into life as God intends it to
In a sacrament, life is for a single moment the way it is
supposed to be in all moments.—Robert McAfee Brown in John Killinger’s
Christ in the Seasons of Ministry, p. 74
As I look back over my life, I can testify that the
sacraments have served this purpose well. They have been a means for opening my
life and relationships to new dimensions of divine grace, strength, and
guidance. They have also been a source of needed stability—of keeping my life
anchored in the covenants I have made with God that define who I am and who I am
Recently I developed a spiritual practice through which I
meditate on the story of my life as told by the sacraments. Childhood and adult
blessings, baptism, confirmation, ordination, ministry through the laying on of
hands, marriage, and regular encounters with God’s love through the Lord’s
Supper have all kept me in closer alignment with God’s purposes than I would
have realized otherwise.
As I continue to explore the meaning of the sacraments, I am
also drawn to focus on God’s invitation to broaden our understanding of the
nature and purposes of these “sacred rites.” Apparently there are untapped
possibilities for ministry through the sacraments that await our willingness to
respond to the guidance of God’s Spirit.
You have already been told to look to the sacraments to
enrich the spiritual life of the body. It is not the form of the sacrament
that dispenses grace, but it is the divine presence that gives life. Be
respectful of tradition and sensitive to one another, but do not be unduly
bound by interpretations and procedures that no longer fit the needs of a
worldwide church. In such matters, direction will come from those called to
lead.—D. and C. 162:1d
A primary point of this revelation is that we should strive
to keep first things first in our sacramental practices. The effectiveness of
the sacraments is not found in simply going through prescribed steps, but in
truly opening our hearts and minds to God’s grace, which is made evident in
these special ministries.
We are also challenged to remain open to new dimensions of
the sacraments that may emerge as we listen to the perspectives of the
worldwide church. This openness, however, does not provide latitude for changes
in our sacramental practices according to individual or congregational desires.
The sacraments belong to the whole church, and any expanded understanding of
them must come through established means for consideration of such matters.
We can see evidence in our recent history of how our
capacity to provide ministry is enlarged when we perceive new possibilities
regarding the sacraments even as we remain grounded in foundational principles.
The church’s decision to embrace a more inclusive practice of the sacrament of
the Lord’s Supper is one example. Another example is the broadening of the
concept of the evangelist’s blessing to provide more opportunities and settings
for people and groups to share in this inspiring ministry.
As the church strives to minister more effectively to the
pain and needs in human lives, and as we continue to receive the insights of
various cultures of the world, we will continue to be faced with questions that
push us to explore the form, function, and potential of the sacraments. This
necessity is not a threat to the importance of the sacraments in the life of the
church. Rather, it is an emphasis on the central place of the sacraments in
church life coupled with a desire to make sure we are not hindering the
blessings God is seeking to provide because of any time bound or culturally
We hope that the series of articles on the sacraments in the
months to follow will provide both reassurance regarding the vital role of the
sacraments in the church and stimulation to search for deeper understanding of
God’s purposes in these redemptive ministries.
—Stephen M. Veazey
Community of Christ