Sacramental Living

Banner Image for Article Sacramental Living

I didn’t grow up going to church. Apart from Easter and Christmas, my family rarely stepped foot in the hallways of our local church. However, on these few occasions when we did attend, I remember always being a bit confused about two elements of the worship service. 

The first thing that confused me was something they called “baptism.” Every week it seemed they would take someone who wanted to be a member of the church, have them wear their “Sunday best” and then dunk them under water. To the best of my understanding, this was a rite-of-passage.

The second thing that left me baffled was what they called “The Lord’s Supper.” They would pass big plates around with crackers and grape juice for everyone; and as a growing boy, I was always up for a snack. However, the crackers were typically stale, the juice was often sour, and the lady behind me looked at me cross if I took an extra handful. What was the big deal?

I had no clue what all of this was.

MORE THAN A SNACK

While embarrassing to admit, my confusion remained until I went off to college. During my studies, a generous chaplain gave me an explanation of these rituals (which come to find out are called “sacraments”). His words have stuck with me over the years like a used dryer sheet. He shared, “the sacraments are an outward sign of an inward grace.” As he unpacked this idea, I learned that these rituals are intentionally done by Christians across the world to help remember the sacrifice of Jesus so they can more fully experience His love. The sacraments have stood through the ages due to their efficacy.

Armed with this new clarity, I was open to experiencing all that the sacraments had to offer me in my Christian life. I had hopes that they would help me remember His sacrifice and experience His love as they had for so many others.

NON-SACRAMENTAL?

A few months after graduating from college, I enlisted in The Salvation Army. To my surprise, the sacraments which I had hoped to use within my Christian walk were not something the Army used in their worship.

Bummer.

But why would these timeless rituals of the Church be restricted from Salvation Army worship gatherings? Why would these elements of worship, which had been fruitful for generations, not be harnessed by my church?
In my eagerness to understand, I wasted little time in discussing the topic with my corps officers. Their guidance centered around two ideas.

First, William Booth and others were concerned with some of the rampant misuse of the sacraments within the church of his day. Due to poor teaching and leadership, some had come to see these rituals as a way to be saved rather than a way to worship the Savior. This confusion was widespread and was the most significant reason for excluding the traditional sacraments. However, even though the ritual sacraments were left out of Salvation Army worship, Salvationists would be far from non-sacramental. Salvationists live sacramentally.

When hearing this idea for the first time, I felt as if I returned to the confused state I had as a young boy watching those nicely dressed people get dunked under water. What on earth does this mean? And how does this actually happen?

I would find that the answers to these questions change everything about daily Christian living.

AN INWARD GRACE

The second half of my chaplain’s description included that the sacraments are an “outward sign of an inward grace.” Understanding this inward grace is where we must begin.

Salvationists believe in two types of “inward grace.” The first being the grace that saves and the second being the grace that sanctifies. While most in the Christian world believe in and propagate the first grace, the second grace is one far fewer emphasized.

Let’s jump into understanding what this second grace is all about. When by God’s grace a Christian entirely yields to God’s presence and receives a new Spirit-filled life, the ordinary is swallowed up by the extraordinary. Sanctification, or the second “inward grace,” is filling! This is the moment where sacramental living begins! According to The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, sanctification is “the crisis and process by which the Christian’s life and character become Christlike, through the work of the Holy Spirit” (page 348).

After being sanctified, things begin to change. With the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit within, the believer begins to think, speak, and act differently. Even the inner desires begin to change with the Holy Spirit’s presence. It’s in noticing and enjoying these changes that we can remember Jesus’ sacrifice while intimately experiencing His love.

FULLNESS OF LIFE

While others may not recognize our struggles and weaknesses, rarely do we fool ourselves. Each of us are plagued with a variety of challenges that we can’t seem to overcome. But, imagine the experience of having the Holy Spirit do in you what you could never accomplish yourself. For the sanctified believer, these moments are a regular experience. Where their minds were doubt-filled and anxiety-ridden, peace now exists that they know is not their own. Where gossip and slander once poured from their tongue, the gentle and loving words of another now come in their place. Where life once centered around one’s self, the self-less, other-centered nature of Jesus is now on display. We experience the joy of sacramental living in noticing and enjoying these changes.

As we taste the fullness of this new life, we understand from whence it has come. In our every intimate moment with the Holy Spirit, as He gently deals with our weaknesses and sin, when our loving Father transforms our worst parts, we remember His love for us. The freedom, joy, life, and peace of which we get to feast are only possible because of Jesus’ love and sacrifice.

So, like the man or woman sitting in a pew on Sunday morning with the cracker and juice, ready to connect deeply with the reality of God’s love and sacrifice, a Salvationist sees their every sanctified behavior as an opportunity to do the same.

Each and every sign of this grace serves as proof to your heart that Jesus’ sacrifice has reunited you with God and that His extraordinary presence is near to you in the ordinary moments of your life.

SACRAMENTAL LIVING
Where Do I Start?

One of the great Salvationists, Commissioner Samuel Logan Brengle, shared the following five steps to take hold of grace in your life. Take these urgings seriously and find the fullness of living sacramentally today!

  1. See your need. Recognize that you need to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
  2. Confess your need. Don’t settle with just recognizing your deficiency; cry out with confidence that there is something better.
  3. Believe it is for you! The promised filling isn’t just for saints or spiritual prodigies. Tell God that you believe it is a blessing prepared for you!
  4. Believe it is for you now! Make haste with your prayers! Believe wholeheartedly that God isn’t waiting for your “golden years” to bestow this blessing!
  5. Come to Jesus and wait! Set a stake in the ground and wait with full confidence until the heavenly fire comes and consumes your heart. Don’t worry about not recognizing when it occurs. You won’t miss it!

“The Army is non-sacramental in terms of formal observance of the sacraments. It is, however, committed to sacramental living. At the heart of that understanding is its commitment to claiming the full possibilities of grace resulting in holiness of heart and life… The holy heart is a heart of pure love for God and neighbor. Sacramental living for the Salvationist embraces the experience of new life and cleaning grace symbolized by the Mercy Seat, the heart cleansing work of the indwelling Spirit of God, and the life of love poured out in service to others in the name and spirit of Christ.”

— General Paul & Commissioner Kay Rader, To Seize This Day of Salvation (2015)

Captain Stephen Mayes, Christian Education Director, Eastern Territorial Headquarters