The Church is changing. People are leaving their denominations, but finding themselves still in need of support for their FAITH. From my new book I discuss changes in attitudes in light of current practices. For those that understand Paul and his writings, the hook is “Justification by Faith.” It is not the creeds, the procedures, the policies, but a foundation in faith, a faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. From my book, an excerpt from the chapter headed, “Many Roads, Same Destination,” I offer the following. More is available at the website www.TomBalderston.com.
Many Roads, Same Destination
For the Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go.[i]
- God is who he says he is.
- God can do what He says He can do.
- I am who God says I am.
- I can do all things through Christ.
- God’s word is alive and active in me.[ii]
There are practices in many churches that can make it difficult for a visitor to feel included. The practices can involve the vestments worn by the clergy, the rituals taking place (liturgy) and sacraments (rites) that may be observed. Also, what the visitor wears can be a problem. Must I always wear my Sunday best? Can I be in shorts? What is expected of the visitor? In some churches, such practices of dress are customary to the public worship performed and required, or a tradition, of the religion. They can be quite formal, as is the case with the Catholic Mass. The priests wear distinguishing garb; they are clearly the leaders, the people who will mount the pulpits. In other religions, distinctive vestments are also used, some always, some occasionally, and some not at all. However, when I state “not at all,” I refer to dress. But any worship service, regardless of its possible formal or casual nature, has a program, a liturgy, for that service. The program outlines the events that are to take place in the course of the one-hour or one-and-one-half-hour period established.
Church liturgies can be beautiful, profound, and engrossing but also confusing, exclusive, and intimidating. In the simplest form, a written program is provided the church attender telling when certain activities will occur, such as singing a specific hymn, reading Scripture, announcements, the sermon, and the benediction. The programs and the liturgy are the same. If not taught in Catholic methods or ideals, or Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, or other religious doctrinal ways, a church liturgy can make a new parishioner uncomfortable and feel out of the loop. And indeed they may be, especially when one needs to stand or sit, follow the crowd, or know responses to certain statements by the priest, minister, or preacher. In many churches, the responses are taught when teenagers attend catechism—classes teaching them the philosophy of their church and specific religion and the associated rituals. A liturgy may be a rote method for believing, being part of a church body. One religion may challenge another on its liturgy. And there are those churches viewed as non-liturgical. Events observed in the course of a worship service may be referred to as liturgical. What is the correct way to honor God?
A Common Goal
The Bible alone suggests sacraments (by interpretation) and provides guidelines or the means by which you can on your own meet and speak with God. You may have grown up in a given church or religion and just love the ceremony, the ritual, the liturgy. There is nothing wrong with that. In my own experience, the service was viewed as a solemn experience where, exercised in the house of God, showed respect and love. Also, there was a historical link, a reflection back to historical practices of the particular faith/religion. There are many forms of worship, from total silence, solemn chanting, traditional worship with old hymns, the reading of the gospel, the Collect, repeating the Nicene Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer, to more liberal worship with drama, hip-hop songs of praise, and being able to provide responses to questions by the clergy, with and without notes, but the end result is the same. We all worship God, and for Christians, Jesus too. The paths taken may vary, but at the end we all see faith, believing in God, as the final goal.
Jesus freed us all to believe and be guided independently by Scripture. Whether in suits, jeans, shorts, sandals, sneakers, Crocs, T-shirts, ties, or golf shirts, we can all receive a message. Same for our leaders; they too can dress the same and as comfortably as their audience. Must the leader be in papal dress? No. I must admit, I like to be clean, well-groomed, and neat, maybe not in a suit and tie, but sometimes. It is my own way of honoring the Lord. It makes me feel good. But is that necessary to have faith, to be receptive to the Lord of God, to hear the message of the day, to pray?
In many ways, religions of the world have made political fodder out of the birth of Jesus. They have created their own laws, their own how-to books of believing. They’ve instructed their clergy what to wear, what to say, how to worship, and how to celebrate, according to their interpretation of the Bible. But whether it is wine or water, bread or crackers, leavened or unleavened, a symbolic or real experience when partaking in the Eucharist, an essential sacrament, honoring Jesus, the end result is the same. You honor God. You are reminded of Jesus, his short time on earth and his impact, his message. You are reminded of the sacrifice, a body, an individual who died for the people, who shed his blood for the people and came back to life. Wow! And that sacrifice was made to forgive each and every one of us of sins, transgressions, acts against God.
As defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a sacrament is “a Christian rite [as baptism or the Eucharist] that is believed to have been ordained by Christ and that is held to be a means of divine grace or to be a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality.”[iii]
The root of the word is from Latin, sacramentum, meaning to “make sacred.”
There exist different interpretations by men, laymen, and students of the Bible, Bible scholars even, of what the Bible may say and tell us to do in the act of worshiping and respecting God. But they all agree on believing in Jesus Christ, his life, his death, and his resurrection. They all agree as to the Ten Commandments. They all agree the Word is God breathed.
The Catholic Church details for its congregants and clergy seven sacraments: the Eucharist, baptism, anointing, penance, confirmation, marriage, and holy orders—sacraments of service. Other, mostly Protestant, denominations only affirm baptism and the Eucharist as sacraments.
A question that often arises among religions is, Are the sacraments symbols or more than that? Are they a means by which God communicates with the faithful? Are they a means for the faithful to praise God and give thanks? One thing they do is communicate, and they are a form of prayer. They are memorials, remembrances. Some religions regard the sacraments as ordinances, having been ordained by Christ to be permanently observed by the church, and these are principally the two: Eucharist (Holy Communion) and baptism. They still perform marriage ceremonies, anoint the sick, and ordain their clergy, but not necessarily as sacraments. It goes to one’s interpretation of the Bible .
Are the sacraments, liturgies, or vestments essential? The key is faith. The gift you are given is knowing and honoring God. The doors to believing are open to everyone. The path to believing is before you. The doors should never be closed, the path covered over, even slightly, by the practices of religions. The Bible is the door to the path that opens when you begin reading.
As one matures in his faith, sacraments, rituals, dress, the ceremonies become more relevant reminders, possibly a more solemn and respectful way to engage in his faith. Others may prefer a freeform way to do the same, to engage in their belief. The essential elements are faith, love, and believing and accepting that the Bible is “God breathed”[iv] and your guide to further understanding and clarity.
All roads, should you choose and willingly believe, have the same end point, the light at the end—God. Some say the road is narrow, descriptive of the difficulty and need to apply oneself diligently to the effort to stay focused. It is not easy to be a believer; a sincere and dedicated effort is needed, but whatever the road, no matter how difficult, the result is worth it. The rewards are more significant than any of us can possibly imagine, a reward just to pass the driver’s test, get behind the wheel, start the engine, and get on the road and stay on the road. Do not stray. Your final destination can be and will be the house of the Lord.
Clarification and Faith
If the happiness of a creature lies in self-surrender, no one can make that surrender but himself (though many can help him to make it), and he may refuse.[v]
Given all of the aforementioned, you may be confused or need further clarification. If you need a guide or a support group, there are many choices available. Find the one with which you are most comfortable. But all you need is the Word, and that is found in the Bible. The end result should be the same for all.
A companion in faith is good. It can be your spouse (as it is mine, even though we do not always agree), a close friend, or a relative. My wife is a believer in the truest sense. Her answer to many questions is simply, “Believe; have faith.” Yes, I agree with her, and I believe; but I need to explore, find affirmation, greater substance, feel the ground under my feet, research, read, find out what atheists think, what evolutionists think, listen to the Apologists, read about discoveries of locations referred to in the Bible, question statements in the Bible, and find answers. Am I a doubter? Well, after all, my name is Thomas. But no, I want to be able to help others, those who are not believers, understand, feel a greater presence of the reality of the Lord. I guess I want that for me too.
My wife has her Bible studies and reads a great deal. She finds comfort and support for her views, reinforcement in words by others sharing her faith. Everyone engaged in loving the Lord needs to continue to read and understand, question and review, ask and have questions answered, and grow with Christ. But they also must lead a life that makes others see in them a difference, a peacefulness, an aura that emanates from the body of those who believe. There is a countenance to those who believe, and they may not be preachers or clergy or wear their faith on a sleeve or make their belief that obvious; but there is in their presence a unique element, a special quality, an openness and receptiveness, an accepting nature that distinguishes them. They are not easily provoked or readily condemning; they are less judgmental and more open minded. They are not critics but find the good. They are not argumentative but prepared to defend their positions. They are examples to others. That’s my wife.
Someone to share your feelings, express your concerns, explore the Bible, rely upon, to pray with, and to trust may be necessary in keeping you on your path, your quest to enhance, build upon, and develop your faith.
Open your heart, and you will hear God speak to you. Wake up to the glory of knowing God.
[i] The Bible, NIV. Joshua 1:9.
[ii] Believing God , 5 Statement Pledge of Faith, Beth Moore. 2204. Broadmon & Holman publishers, Nashville, TN. Page 30.
[iv] The Holy Bible, NIV, 2 Timothy 3:16. “All Scripture is God breathed and it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be equipped for every good work.”
[v] The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis. 1940, restored 1996. pub. HarperSanFrancisco. Harper Collins, New York, NY. Page 120