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Background Considerations:

Christians all over the world relate in different ways to sacraments. In many places you can never have too many; there is a ritual every time you turn around. And people find it comforting to have it that way. Security and assurance exude from these sacraments ­ baptism, confirmation, communion, extreme unction for the dead, blessings over this and that, prayers, liturgies, etc. For other Christians, these become empty and “ritualistic,” drained of any significance because of dull repetition and hollow trappings. Why is this the case? What does culture have to do with appreciation of ritual and sacrament? Is “ritual” a good word or a bad idea? What makes it so? For whom?
Worship is practiced in a million ways around the world. What components make it a source of assurance and for whom? Why is one type of worship service comforting for some and grating for others?
In the context of worship, how are we to understand the rather limited number of sacraments most Protestants practice? What kind of history and meaning does baptism carry? What about the foot-washing service, which very few denominations encourage? What about communion?

Relevant Biblical Passages:

Mark 1:1-8 Baptism of John the Baptist as a call to repentance
John 13:1-20 Foot-washing as sign of serving and being served
Romans 6:1-11 Baptism as a metaphor for death and life
1 Corinthians 11:23-34 Communion service as invitation to participate in death of Jesus

Contributions to Study of Assurance:

In what ways is the sacrament of baptism a source of assurance and confidence? What makes it so popular (even if practiced differently) among Christians? How does the experience lead to faith?
How does assurance grow from foot-washing? Why does service to others typically translate into positive feelings about ourselves and about others? And about God? What do we miss in this service if we forget that the disciples did not wash other’s feet, but had theirs washed by the Messiah? How does assurance relate to being served by God?
What happens to our sense of salvation and assurance during the communion service, at the personal and community levels? Why makes this service so meaningful to a Christian? Yet, why do some not come?

Lessons for Life:

How do church rituals and sacraments relate with everyday life? How should they affect my attitudes about life and people around me? How is my world “re-made” by participating in these rituals? What difference do they make?

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