October 31 marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, the day Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. Many biographies of Luther and his influence on church history have recently been written. Here is an article reviewing 25 of them.

Please click here if you missed the Introduction, Part 3, Part 4, or Part 5 of our new Ecumenical Catechism.  Part 6 explores the differences in views of the two main Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Q20. Why were you baptized as an infant?

A. That thereby I might be ingrafted into Christ, and entered in His Church, which is His mystical Body.

Baptists and several other Protestant denominations accept only believer’s baptism, since infants do not understand what is happening to them. In these denominations parents usually dedicate their children; during the dedication ceremony the parents and congregation are asked similar questions as infant baptism.

Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and other Protestant denominations practice infant baptism. When the child is older he then professes his faith similar to a Baptist youth before undergoing believer’s baptism. A concern with the Baptist practice is the status of the children: are they “vipers in diapers” or covenant children? On the other hand, a concern with baptizing babies is that they may never be challenged to profess their faith, or do it as a rite of passage with their age group in a confirmation class without really owning it for themselves.

Catholics teach baptismal regeneration, believing Baptism “removes original sin” we inherit from our first parents, Adam and Eve, due to their ‘first sinfulness’. Protestants believe we are never free of our original sin, that there is a constant struggle between the flesh (our sin nature) and the spirit (Romans 6 & 7). The Reformers’ Latin slogan sums up the Protestant view: “Simul justus et peccator”.  At the same time justified (declared righteous) and sinful.

Orthodox Christians believe the Sacrament of Baptism incorporates us into the Church, the Body of Christ, and is our introduction to the life of the Holy Trinity. Water is a natural symbol of cleansing and newness of life. Through the three-fold immersion in the waters of Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one dies to the old ways of sin and is born to a new life in Christ. Baptism is one’s public identification with Christ’s Death and victorious Resurrection.

Following the custom of the early Church, Orthodoxy encourages the baptism of infants. The Church believes that the Sacrament is bearing witness to the action of God who chooses a child to be an important member of His people. From the day of their baptism, children are expected to mature in the life of the Spirit, through their family and the Church. The Baptism of adults is practiced when there was no previous baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity.

Baptism is performed by various modes, including sprinkling, pouring and immersion. Sprinkling symbolizes purification, sometime done with blood, pouring also refers to the pouring out of drink offerings and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and immersion symbolizes burial with Christ and rising to new life. It was the mode most often practiced in the early church and thus is preferred by many. Since the Greek work baptizo means to immerse, some Christians believe it is the only valid mode although there is no direct command for this mode in Scripture.

Q21. What profit do you have by Baptism now?

A. It seals up the remission of my sins in Christ’s blood, and advances the renovation of my heart in His Spirit, which are my spiritual washing.

Whether to baptize your infant or not is an important question for parents. A biblical case can be made for both points of view. It is important for all Christians to remember their baptism, when they were joined to the family of God, whether it was as an infant, a young child, a teen or an adult.

Q22. What do you call the Lord’s Supper?

A. It is the Sacrament of my spiritual nourishment in the body and blood of Christ.

Q23. How do you eat His body and drink His blood?

A. By believing assuredly that His body was broken and His blood was shed for me.

All Christians can affirm this. Roman Catholics believe in transubstantiation, which is the physical change of the bread and wine to the body and blood of Christ. Catholics believe that there is the “Real Presence” of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist itself. Lutherans also believe in a physical change. Reformed Christians believe that Christ is really present in the sacrament, but not in a physical change. Other Protestants (those descended from the Anabaptists, for example) view it as merely a memorial. Early Christians were falsely accused of being cannibals.

In 1982 the World Council of Churches published an ecumenical statement of beliefs. Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Faith and Order Paper No. 111, 150 route de Ferney, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland. This was the work of over a hundred theologians from almost all the major church traditions: Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, Methodist, United, Disciples, Baptist, Adventist, and Pentecostal. It has a discussion of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well as a chapter on ministry.

It affirms the real presence of Christ in the sacrament. It also says that, “As the eucharist celebrates the resurrection of Christ, it is appropriate that it should take place at least every Sunday. As it is the new sacramental meal of the people of God, every Christian should be encouraged to receive communion frequently.”  This aspect of church life has been neglected, with some churches celebrating the Lord’s Supper only a few times a year. Perhaps this is a reaction to other churches’ weekly observances where it can become rote, or may be a conscious choice to spend more time preaching the Bible on most Sundays.

 

Discussion questions for sixth session:

  1. Do you find it ironic that often people are most dogmatic about the weakest point of their doctrine? Is this also true of political ideas? Does it help to understand the other point of view even if you do not agree with it?
  2. Are any of these a hill for you to die on? Is it helpful to define what baptism is not? What can you not accept personally, while still respecting others’ beliefs who differ?
  3. How about the Lord’s Supper? Do you understand all the different teachings regarding this? Are there any that you personally cannot accept?
  4. Does the “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things, charity” quote help here?
  5. Given the wide divergence of views on these two basics, it seems unlikely that there will be reunification unless there is agreement on these things, unless belief on these is left to the individual. But the church has to teach something! Is there room for “We believe this, but respect the views of others on this topic who disagree”? In other words, diversity of views on major points, but unity in the essentials.
  6. As you take prayer requests for members of your study group, remember to pray for leaders in your workplace, other churches, and government leaders of all nations. Especially pray for progress in ecumenical dialogue.

 

Hymns for sixth session (click to see the text and listen):

There is a Fountain Filled with Blood        William Cowper, 1771 / Lowell Mason, 1830

Other hymns by Cowper: “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”, The Spirit Breathes upon the Word, Jesus, Where’er Your People Meet, O for a Closer Walk with God, Sometimes a Light Surprises

 

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus                   Robert Lowry, 1876 / Lowry, 1876

Here is a recent recording on the New City Music CD.

 

Were you There?                                          Spiritual

 

For a hymn that goes with the Introduction to the Ecumenical Catechism (and questions 1-4) and the history behind the hymn, click on Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.

A second hymn with its history and a great picture of the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse can be found at This is My Father’s World.

A third hymn (He Hideth My Soul in the Cleft of the Rock) is by America’s Hymn Queen, Fanny Crosby.

Part 3 of the Ecumenical Catechism has questions 5-12Part 4 of the Ecumenical Catechism discusses the Apostle’s Creed, which is believed by Christians of all denominations. Part 5 of the Ecumenical Catechism lists the books included in the Bible and Sacraments recognized by Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians.

For biographies of the authors of the Ecumenical Catechism, click here.

Permission is granted to copy this catechism and italicized comments in its entirety for non-commercial purposes. The copyright on the original 1641 catechism has obviously long since expired. Some minor rewording of the 1959 edition cited above was done.

Sincerely,
Dale Murrish
Troy, Michigan
dale@USAMeltingpot.org
http://usameltingpot.org/author/dale/
Copyright 2005, 2017 by Dale Murrish. All rights reserved except as noted above.
Version 3.97, August, 2017

 

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