For any collective body, rituals embody its memories and fulfill certain conditions. For instance, there is no society whose rituals are open to outsiders. Likewise for the Church, rituals have specific purposes: to serve as a unifying experience for all who identify as Christians; to differentiate between insiders and outsiders; and to remind us of our binding commitment to God.
The Methodist Church is an evangelical liturgical Church that originated from the liturgical Church of England. We practise a full array of worship and celebration rituals, such as Sunday (Lord’s Day) worship, Holy Communion, baptism, confirmation, weddings, funerals, as well as morning and evening prayers. The words used in rituals provide context, to remind participants of the circumstances surrounding the original event. Thus, rituals have a prescribed process and content, which we term “liturgy”.
Holy Communion is a rich commemorative sacrament that distinguishes between those who belong to the Body of Christ and those who do not. This ritual can be traced back to Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples, an event with a deep significance that provides a narrative that is our salvation story. As Jesus observed the Passover with His disciples, He enjoined them to remember the significance of His breaking the bread and sharing the cup, the two elements pointing to His sacrifice in the redeeming economy. Holy Communion is how the Church remembers that our Lord Jesus’ blood sealed a relationship with the apostles (and all disciples following them).
Any attempt to arbitrarily change any part of a ritual is an infringement or distortion since the original significance could be obscured or misinterpreted over time. For example, some churches have streamlined their practice of Holy Communion to handing each congregant a package containing a wafer and a cup upon entering the church. When directed, everyone opens their own package, eats the wafer and drinks from the cup. There are even some who insist that the cup and wafer have medical efficacy, allowing the sick to buy additional sets of the Holy Communion elements to take home for daily consumption! This is a serious corruption of the Holy Communion ritual.
Let us consider baptism. This ritual recalls the gospel Jesus preached – to believe in Him, repent and be baptised. Baptism is thus a formal sign of commitment to become Christ’s disciple (Matt 28:19). He/she who was outside of Christ is baptised into Christ, and is united with Him (Rom 6:1-5). Unlike those who have not been baptised, disciples have a duty to live in imitation of Christ (Rom 12).
I pray that our Methodist clergy will hold fast to what was entrusted to them at their ordination—to answer “God’s call to the upbuilding of the Church through the Ministry of Word, Sacrament and Order.”
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2016. He served as President of the Chinese Annual Conference for two quadrennial from 2008 to 2016.
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