The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Do non-Catholics and non-Christians have Sacraments?

Margaret asks, “Are sacraments universal? Do others outside of Christianity offer them?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Note from Rabbi Krishef: Normally, I present the responses by the panelists without comment. Today’s question is an exception because of the very precise meaning of sacrament within Christianity. The Rev. Knieriemen explains it clearly and concisely (see her response), but I’ll summarize further and say that a sacrament is a ritual which signals that a person is receiving grace from God. It is more than is meant or implied by my tradition’s use of the term ‘mitzvah,’ for divinely commanded acts; and it is more than the performance of one of the commanded acts or beliefs from the traditions of Islam. It is also more than a life cycle event that symbolizes a passage from one state to another. In their responses, Fred Stella and Dr. Sabhibzada present important rituals and patterns of behavior for adherents of their faiths, but in my reading of the question, none of them are sacraments. I have included the core of their responses, abridged for space reasons.

Linda Knieriemen, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Holland, responds:

“In my tradition we name Baptism and Communion as sacraments because they were commended by Jesus himself. We speak of them visible signs of God’s invisible grace. When we are baptized and feel water on the skin it is a sign of being welcomed afresh to the grace of God. In Communion when we taste the bread and juice it is a sign of continuing nourishment and strengthening by that same grace. They are universal in that they are open to anyone who seeks God’s grace and the transforming power it brings. These sacraments make the mysterious more understandable, the divine more present.”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“Presbyterianism affirms only two Christian sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Shorter Catechism, Q. 93). Other traditions affirm as many as seven (Roman Catholicism) or even nine (Eastern Orthodoxy). Some traditions, such as the Society of Friends, dispense with sacraments altogether. So sacraments are not absolutely universal, even among those who profess the Christian faith.

“The word ‘sacrament’ simply means ‘holy thing,’ either a form of words, substance, or action, set apart from common or everyday use, and assigned a sacred meaning or purpose. In Sabbath School we learned that sacraments are ‘earthly signs with a heavenly meaning.’ ” 

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“Unitarian Universalism does not have sacraments, but we do have rites of passage that a person can experience throughout their lifetime. We celebrate with Baby Dedications (babies and toddlers), Coming of Age (teens), Marriage (adult), Membership into a Congregation, Ordination into Ministry, Celebration of Life or Memorial Service. Each rite of passage is a celebration to acknowledge a person’s journey through life. Unlike the 7 sacraments of Catholicism, we require very little preparation to achieve these celebrations.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“In Hinduism the word would be ‘samskars,’ These include a newborn’s naming ceremony, the first eating of solid food, ear piercing (before age 5), head shaving (around age 7 these days), the beginning of education, (around 14), marriage and funeral rites. 

“As you can see, all the initial ceremonies happen while a person is quite young. These rites help solidify the child in the Hindu community. We celebrate the first solid food intake as a means of foreshadowing independence.  

“The reason for ear piercing is quite mystical. Many Hindus meditate on the sacred symbol of OM, which is an aspect of God as the creative vibration of the manifested universe. By deep practice of this it is said that one may actually hear the ‘music of the spheres.’ To be clear, the piercing does not facilitate this experience, but encourages the child to begin a contemplative practice at some point.

“Shaving the head is performed to indicate a ritual cleansing, inner and outer. And when a child begins education, particularly in matters religious, a sacred thread is placed around a shoulder, indicating union with teachers, parents and the greater Hindu family.”

Dr Sahibzada, the Director of Islamic Center and Imam of the Mosque of Grand Rapids, responds:

“All life regulations in God’s words as interpreted by His messenger in detail are required rituals. Whatever humans face from birth to end of life in accordance with command of God will be taken as symbol of spiritual ritualistic reality:

“Believing in one God, all messengers of God and Muhammad as last messenger of God in chain of all prophets; reading call of prayer in ears of newly born baby; declaration of faith; modesty in dress codes; ablution; performance of prayers facing house of God; pilgrimage to Makkah; weekly congregational Friday prayer; charity; eating lawful food; fasting; struggle for righteousness and saving life from evil and malpractices until end of life; circumcision; performance of annual prayers; funeral and burial rituals; and sacrifice of an animal at child's birth.”

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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