I am currently working my way through Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction, by Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger. It is a look by evangelical scholars into the issue of the church having far more meaning than we have given it, as evangelicals, in the few decades.
The most recent chapter on “The Church as a Sacramental Community” is kicking my tail. While I am reaching these same conclusions in my own life, theology and ministry, it doesn’t make it comfortable.
Without a lot of detail offered in this post, the authors relate the church to Israel. We have demonstrated “rites” that we need to undergo as a community. Not just individually. As community. (It’s already kicking some of your tails, I would suppose.) The need for those passage is necessary to tell our story, just as Israel used the feasts to tell their story. Our rites are baptism and the eucharist. They represent our entering the life of Christ. It is a life of suffering. We enter in and await the coming of the Lord, and during that waiting is our time in the equivalent of Egypt-Babylon-Rome. But this is the incredible importance of baptism and the eucharist. In the eucharist we are to understand that Christ is with us in this suffering. We are not alone. No other god does this.
When we practice liturgy together, we rehearse the story. It is an important story. If we fail to understand the power of the story, we continue on with our individualistic religion. We will be divided as the Church in America. We will still be under the control of principalities and powers that want us divided and in our spiritualized ghettos.
This book is important. We need our spiritual tails kicked on this issue. We have allowed the political winds and the market-driven winds of our culture divide us up. We are carved into “liberal” and “conservative” Christian camps. We argue over what divides and fail to come together over what truly unites. And as long as we do that, the principalities and powers of our culture are just fine. They are happy.
There is much more to say on this subject. I will be posting my letters to my “liberal” friends and my “conservative” friends in future posts because I don’t want any one post getting too long.
One story, though. The city where I pastor enjoys a great fellowship of pastors. We meet once a month for lunch during the school year. A few years ago we struggled to meet because we had discussion come up that basically led us to discuss what divides us as denominations. No one wanted that conversation. Even me.
Finally, one very wise pastor came up with some things that we could do as churches that would unite us in Christ. What could we do together in the name of Jesus. It was a brilliant stroke. We met as friends. We committed our resources to common causes.
We also disagree. I remember a very tough conversation with a very good friend over a theological issue we would not agree on. But our commitment was to remain friends. Our friendship is only more solid. We come together in Christ.
We also disagree on politics. A lot. But it is not our focal point of conversation. And as a result, we have a deep abiding friendship because of Christ dwelling with us.
Let us come out of the ghettos forced on us by political power. Let’s “dry out” from our binge drinking at the political power table. Being able to speak at a party convention or say a prayer for a party convention or giving a national address on behalf of a political party is intoxicating. And we need to get sober. It’ll cost. But in it, we may just find Christ.