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Holy Communion


Holy Communion (con't.)

Grace and the Means of Grace

Today Holy Communion must be viewed within the larger context of United Methodist theology.  In accord with biblical and Christian teaching, we believe that we are sinners, constantly in need of divine grace.  We believe that God is gracious and loving, always making available the grace we need.  Several words describe how grace works in our lives.  Prevenient grace is that which “comes before” anything we can do to help ourselves.  Although we are bound by our sinful nature, grace gives us enough freedom of will to be able to respond to God.  In truth, all grace is prevenient – we cannot move toward God unless God has first moved toward us.  Convicting grace makes us conscious of our sinfulness and urges us to repentance.  Justifying grace forgives and puts us into right relationship with God.  Sanctifying grace enables us to grow in holiness of life.  Perfecting grace molds us into the image of Christ.  The grace of God is made available to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and works in our lives through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

While divine grace reaches us any time and in any way God chooses, God has designated certain means or channels through which grace is most surely and immediately available.  John Wesley expressed it this way: “By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men [and women], preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace” (“The Means of Grace,” II.1).  In the General Rules, Wesley listed these means of grace as, “The public worship of God.  The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded.  The Supper of the Lord.  Family and private prayer.  Searching the Scriptures.  Fasting or abstinence” (BOD, ¶ 103; page 74).  These means of grace are not to be understood as ways of earning salvation, for that is an unmerited gift.  They are, rather, ways to receive, live in, and grow in divine grace.  The Wesleyan tradition has continued to emphasize the practice of these means of grace throughout our salvation process.

The Theology of Sacraments

The Greek word used in the New Testament for sacrament is mysterion, usually translated mystery.  It indicates that through sacraments, God discloses things that are beyond human capacity to know through reason alone.  In Latin the word used is sacramentum, which means a vow or promise.  The sacraments were instituted by Christ and given to the church.  Jesus Christ is himself the ultimate manifestation of a sacrament.  In the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, God’s nature and purpose were revealed and active through a human body.  The Christian church is also sacramental – it was instituted to continue the work of Christ in redeeming the world.  Holy Baptism and Holy Communion have been chosen and designated by God as special means through which divine grace comes to us.  Holy Baptism is the sacrament that initiates us into the body of Christ.  In baptism we receive our identity and mission as Christians.  Holy Communion is the sacrament that sustains and nourishes us in our journey of salvation.  In a sacrament, God uses tangible, material things as vehicles or instruments of grace.  Sacraments are sign-acts, which include words, actions, and physical elements.  They both express and convey the gracious love of God, making God’s love both visible and effective.

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