Differences in the Meaning of the Sacraments in Christian Churches

Christian churches have differing beliefs about communion and other sacraments.
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Some Christian churches do not believe in sacraments. The Quakers, also known as The Society of Friends, do not celebrate communion or baptism, the most commonly recognized Christian sacraments, or any others, because of their belief that all of life is sacred or sacramental and is to be lived in the presence of Christ. The Baptists celebrate communion and baptism, but they consider them ordinances and not sacraments, because they believe these actions do not bestow salvation and are strictly symbols. Most Christians, however, do celebrate sacraments as a way of receiving God's grace.

1 Communion

Communion, Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper and the Eucharist are some of the names given to the sacrament in which bread and wine are given to commemorate the last meal Jesus ate with his disciples before he was crucified. In the Roman Catholic Church, communion is the most important sacrament. "The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life," according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Catholics believe in transubstantiation, the doctrine that teaches when the priest consecrates the bread and wine, they become the true body and blood of Jesus. In the Methodist Church, communion is believed to symbolize the body and blood of Jesus, helping believers to "be Christ’s body in the world today, redeemed by Christ’s blood," according to the United Methodist Church's website. Many Protestant churches hold similar beliefs about communion, that it is a symbolic union with Christ.

2 Receiving Communion as a Visitor

In some churches, only members can receive communion, and they are not to receive communion when visiting other churches. Catholic teachings state only Catholics who have not committed a mortal sin since their last confession and are otherwise in good standing with the church can receive communion. They are not to take communion in other churches. Likewise, some conservative Lutheran churches, such as the Missouri Synod, teach only members of their church can receive communion unless the visitors first talk with the pastor. Members are not to take communion in other types of churches. Some churches, such as the Methodist, have "open Communion," given to all who come to the altar.

3 Baptism

Beliefs about baptism vary greatly from one denomination to the next. Some Christians, such as the Baptists, believe baptism demonstrates that the person being baptized chooses "death to the old life of sin and resurrection to a new life," according to Providence Baptist Ministries. The pastor immerses the person being baptized under the water and lifts them out, which is how the Bible describes John the Baptist's baptism of Jesus. Only people old enough to choose to be baptized are eligible. Other churches, such as Lutheran and Catholic, sprinkle infants with water. They believe baptism brings a person into the Christian faith.

4 Other Sacraments

Most Christian churches celebrate communion and baptism, but a few practice other sacraments. Confirmation, a ceremony in which a young church member commits to uphold and practice the church's teachings, is considered a sacrament in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches. These churches also believe in the sacrament of reconciliation, or confession of sin; ordination, in which church leaders are consecrated; last rites or anointing of the sick, where a special blessing it bestowed on people who are extremely sick or dying; and marriage, also called holy matrimony.

Janet Clark has written professionally since 2001. She writes about education, careers, culture, parenting, gardening and social justice issues. Clark graduated from Buena Vista University with a degree in education. She has written two novels, "Blind Faith" and "Under the Influence." Clark has received several awards from the Iowa Press Women for her work.