There are “Sacraments” (capital “S”), and then there is “sacramental.” One without the other is like signs without things signified. And in Flannery O’Connor’s words, “If it’s only a symbol, then to hell with it!”
by populist oriented globalism against the local, even if unintentionally. Such spirituality is celebrity-oriented, conference driven and largely virtual utilizing digital podcasts, networking, blogs and social media.
O’Conner was responding to fellow writer Mary McCarthy at a dinner party where it was boldly declared the Eucharist was a mere symbol. O’Conner later explained:
The consequence is an absence of the humandivine participation in a gospel that is “presence focused” such as to be mediated and accessible in real-time. Consequently, the efficacious mystery of sacramental grace is missing the sacramental manners of local participation, the spiritual relation between the sign and things signified is severed and witness is without life on life power.
That was all the defense I was capable of at the time but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me. All the rest of life is expendable. 1 However grace centered in message or effective in enabling a reformation of grace to go viral, these And the stories she told! She wrote novels but her spiritualities tend to usurp the local, flesh on flesh, principle works were short stories, written before carnal aspects of grace that is the “body of Christ” 2 lupus took her life at 37. In each there was a search for the connection between local, particular, even The situation today again begs for O’Connor’s “then to hell with it!” There’s an echo of that in carnal manners and the efficacious mystery of sacramental grace she believed deeply infused the Carl Trueman’s ironic, What if Life Was Complex? 3 spirituality of everyday life. The situation also begs for the rediscovery of the convergence of nature and grace, sign and things Influenced by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s signified, gracious mystery and sacramental “Omega Point,” O’Connor thought there was a manners. The question is therefore raised, what sacramental convergence between the manners of exactly does it mean to do the Sacraments in a local life and the transformational mystery of grace. This was expressed in Everything That Rises Must Converge, and her reflective essays, Mystery and Manners. Then, the crisis in sacramental spirituality was prompted by a rationalist reaction against the supernatural. Today, it’s prompted ________________________________________________________________ 1
Flannery O’Connor, in a letter dated 16 December 1955. The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor. New York, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979. pg. 124. 2 Eph. 1:23 3 Posted with comments on the Mission Anabaino blog by Kevin Nelson (www.anabaino.org)
congregations in its universal catholicity in so far as each congregation shares in the apostolic design together (the church as God sees it). While no church is infallible in its conformity to the The Sacramental Mystery (Easy to do, not so easy prescribed pattern, the visible church is described to understand) in scripture as no less than “the body of Christ, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”6 Paul even goes The two Sacraments are baptism (an initiating/ converting means of grace) and the Lord’s Supper (a so far as to describe this activity as “a holy temple and a dwelling place of God.” confirming/renewing means of grace). Notwithstanding some of the intramural debates about modes and forms, the Sacraments are easy to carry out. And yet the efficacious grace that begs for the convergence of sign (outward means of grace) and thing signified (inward grace), or between Sacraments and sacramental manners, is not so easy to understand. Here is an attempt, albeit embracing the ultimate mystery itself.4
sacramental way of church and life? What is the mystery and manners of a presence (temple) oriented spirituality?
What exactly is being transacted in this localized presence of Christ?
The historic consensus is that through the local body of Christ “all saints (Christians) are united to Jesus Christ their head, by his Spirit” such as to “have fellowship with Him in his graces.” It further clarifies how this fellowship in Christ’s graces (mystery) is “being united to one another in Christians historically agree that the Bible love” such as to have “communion in each others principally teaches “the visible church, which is also gifts and graces . . . both in the inward and catholic and universal . . . is the kingdom of the outward man” (manners).7 Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”5 Notice especially the sacramental language of “communion”, “inward and outward”, “united to” Notice especially the language of “visible,” as in all and “by His Spirit!” The convergence of the flesh-on-flesh ebb and flow of gathering Sacraments and sacramental manners (fleshed out together, working together, sharing life together. It nature and efficacious grace) is starting to emerge is the church that “one-anothers” as to become —and it has to do with flesh and blood, local life local and corporate. Necessarily, the whole thing on life community wherein the outward and the requires some organization, presumably one that is inward converge! The key is Christ’s local necessity carefully designed by Christ himself as passed as related to sacramental efficacy, the more local down through the apostles to preserve both the the better!8 authenticity of His divine presence and His corresponding power. Notice also the all-important The visual and carnal that is connected to “Christ’s conclusion, “out of which there is no ordinary Spirit” appears again in Westminster’s description possibility of salvation (and do note the qualifier of the Sacraments: “ordinary” as related to a mediated vs. immediate presence of God unto salvation as ultimately There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual predicated upon divine sovereignty). relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it This organic and fleshed out local congregation comes to pass, that the names and effects of (the church as we see it) is united to other the one are attributed to the other. 9 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 4 We
should keep in mind that we are not the first generation of Christians to be reading our Bible. A survey of Christian consensus reveals an amazing continuity in interpretation within the historical mainstream. One such summary, notwithstanding its own idiosyncrasies relative others, is the 350 year old Westminster Confession of Faith (“WCF”). It broadly represents the traditions expressed by St. Augustine, Luther and Calvin, for instance, and will be utilized here. 5 WCF 25.2 6 Eph 1:23. Some have confused this passage as referencing the so called “invisible” church. Notwithstanding a misunderstanding of “invisible” (as if “unorganized” and not gathered) Paul’s use of the same language in Ephesians 4 relative to local ministry and in context of Eph 2:19ff in relation to a “temple” conception of the church proves otherwise. 7 WCF 26.1 8 John 14-17 with special attention to the “I in you and you in me” as related to all “one anothering.” 9 WCF 27.1
To be clear, the “things signified” refer to the saving benefits of partaking in the life of Christ. These graces are described in phrases like “engrafting into Christ”, “remission of sins” (Baptism)10, “spiritual nourishment and growth” and “members of the mystical body of Christ” (Lord’s Supper)11. The signs effect the things signified and vice-versa.
The Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us; to that flesh is joined the church, and there is made the total Christ, head and body. 14
Augustine’s point is that the significance of the Eucharist is more than a moral example or memorial. Nor is Christ’s human presence located in the sacramental elements themselves (he even Does this mean getting baptized makes you a scoffs at this option!).15 Instead, Augustine Christian, and participation in the Lord’s Supper believed the visible and organically socialized renews us as Christians? The consensus is “yes and particular church is mystically united to Christ and no”. The sacramental convergence of the sign and his transformative grace. Augustine continues: things signified are qualified with the equivalent of Let us rejoice and give thanks that we are “not necessarily and not necessarily immediately, made not only Christians, but Christ. Do but ordinarily” as ultimately predicated upon you understand, brothers, and apprehend divine election as received by saving faith alone the grace of God upon us? Marvel, be glad, (further defined as “assenting, receiving and we are made Christ. For if he is the head, resting).”12. we are the members: the whole man is he So it’s true. Just doing the Sacraments doesn’t and we… The fullness of Christ, then, is make one a Christian necessarily. And yet, the head and members. Head and members, mystery of grace united to the sacramental what is that? Christ and the Church.16 manners is “ordinarily” a means of converting and Echoing Augustine’s “Total Christ” idea, John renewing grace in baptism and the Lord’s Supper Calvin, in Treatise on the Lord’s Supper, explained, respectively. And yet, the power is in the convergence of Sacraments and sacramental All the benefits which we should seek in the manners! Westminster even goes so far as to Supper is annihilated if Jesus Christ be not clarify that the converting/renewing power of there given to us as the substance and Christ’s presence is NOT in, with or under the foundation of all… Thus it is with the signatory elements of the Sacraments themselves, communion, which we have in the body and but is “spiritually present.” Grace IS conferred, blood of the Lord Jesus. It is a spiritual ordinarily!13 mystery that can neither be seen by the eye In the fifth century, Augustine spoke of the sacramental convergence of mystery to fleshed out manners this way:
nor comprehended by the human understanding. 17
WCF 28.1 Lord’s Supper- cf. WCF 29.1 12 WCF 28.5-6, WCF 14.2. 13 WCF 27.3 14 St. Augustine, On the Epistle of John 1.2. 15 Homilies in John, Tractice 26, Sec. 11. ”For even we receive visible food: but the sacrament is one thing, the virtue of the sacrament another… he that dwelleth not in Christ, and in whom Christ dwelleth not, doubtless neither eateth His flesh [spiritually] nor drinketh His blood [although he may press the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ carnally and visibly with his teeth 16 St. Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John, In. Io. XXI.8). 17 John Calvin, Treatise of the Lord’s Supper, 17. 11
We must confess then, that as the internal substance of the sacrament is conjoined with the visible signs and the bread is distributed to us by hands, so the body of Christ is communicated to us in order that we may be made partakers of it.18 Did you notice “by hands?” Our mystic communion with Christ is mediated through the “one anothering” and organization of corporal hands that pertain to it? Here again, there is a spiritual relation between the sign (elements distributed within the socio-cultural context of “hands”) and “things signified” (the life of Christ) wherein mystery converges upon manners and we are “made partakers of Christ.” What else then could Paul mean when he states: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.19 The not so subtle turn from partaking of Christ as related to consuming the body of Christ is clearly referencing the visible church. However catholic and universal, it’s always local. This then is the mystery of the Sacraments wherein Calvin concludes that “the substance of the sacraments is the Lord Jesus, and the efficacy of them the graces and blessings which we have by his means.”20
Consider the power of gospel grace as an electrical circuit. An electrical circuit needs a circular pathway for the electrons to flow through it in order to work. The battery or other power source creates the voltage that makes the electrons move around the circle. But it’s only effective when the wires that go from the power source are connected to both recipient (light bulb) and power source (battery) in one continuous motion.
Hard to understand—yes, and only through the eyes of faith. Hard to do? Not by the gracious condescension of our Lord through the sacramental manners. Again in the words of John Calvin,
If Christ’s presence unto salvation (power source) is to impact us (recipients), it must necessarily flow by means of the Holy Spirit (electrons) through the Sacraments (wires) into the socio-cultural flesh and hands of the people of a particular and local church (light bulb), and then back again by the Holy Spirit (electrons) through wires (Sacraments) to Christ (power source). The whole circular system, and each of the connections (source, electrons, wires and recipient) are essential for the powerful effect—the sign in spiritual relation to the things signified, the Sacraments made effective through sacramental manners. Sacramental Manners: (Easy to Understand, Hard to do) Flannery O’Conner wrote stories in an attempt to reconstruct the “outward signs” (local manners) to the “things signified” (inward grace). If the stories of sacramental manners in the church were told, I would suggest that they could be categorized in relation to both the manners of participation in worship and the manners of localism in oneanothering: I. The Manners of Sacramental Participation In Worship: There are basically two types of Christian services: One brings people TO Christ and the gospel— known as the Revival Service (band, Bible and ________________________________________________________________________________________
By way of illustration:
John Calvin, Treatise of the Lord’s Supper, 17. Cor 10:16-17 ESV, cf. 1 Peter 1:4, John 14, 17 20 John Calvin, Treatise of the Lord’s Supper, 17. 19 1
altar call). The other empowers people to DO the gospel by a participation in the life of Christ in a way hospitable to seekers and believers both (a sacramentally- informed worship service)!21 In the former, a person is in the audience watching the dance. In the latter, the person is on the dance floor dancing. Our contention is that by the paradigm in Acts 2 and the whole of “temple spirituality,” the latter is more biblical. At the very least, two inferences are obvious: The first inference is to make sure every Christian worship service is sacramental by the weekly participation of the Lord’s Supper and baptism (when needed). The whole service then is oriented by the sacramental principle that stresses participation instead of proclamation only. To do anything less is to experience less than “Total Christ.”
individually discovered and tested before a person should partake of the confirming/renewing sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.”22 As a renewing sacrament, the Lord’s Supper is a “weekly” event by apostolic design. This is paradigmatically illustrated in the worship of Acts. The Sacraments of both Christian baptism and the Lord’s Supper are found together with sermons, prayers (sung and spoken) and “one anothering” in Acts 2:42ff. And in Acts 20:7, it is even explained that “on the first day of the week (Sunday), Christian’s gathered together “in order to break bread”, it was their intent. That the Lord’s Supper was an essential element of Christian worship is expected given the Lord’s instructions to the apostles about their post-ascension gatherings and his admonishment “do this (Eucharist) in remembrance of me” (John 6).
As a converting or The second inference concerning initiating sacrament, sacramental worship is to carefully baptism in the context follow the Biblical manner of of participation in participating in instead of just worship is given to declaring the gospel presence of those who are Christ in worship. For this to brought into the happen, we follow the logic of temple jurisdictional worship, which is also the fourpresence of Christ in movement logic of the gospel itself order to be saved. This renewed. The four-movement service is expressed in the is also expressed in the heavenly counsel of Peter for instance in Acts 2:38 and worship of Revelation 4-5. The movements are 1Peter 3:21. More than a witness or testimony, meant to empower the worshiper to participate in Christian baptism is a means of grace leading to the life of Christ in the midst of the congregation salvation! This is the sacramental mystery of and to experience (not just hear about) the baptism merely applied to the “manner” of doing it transformational experience of the gospel. The four after the principle already surveyed. movements of sacramental worship are: Those who are under the jurisdiction of Christ (even if by virtue of being under the jurisdiction of an adult who is) but not yet in possession of saving faith (assenting, receiving, resting in the gospel) are the proper recipients of Christian baptism in order to be saved! Baptized children are considered Christians outwardly, awaiting personal or inward confirmation of self-discerned faith as related to the life of Christ. This faith is
Movement of rediscovering God’s glory and rightful claim over our lives through invocation and praise
Movement of reapplying God’s grace and forgiveness through confession of sin and absolution
Movement of renewal in the mediated Word become flesh through a priestly
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 21 Even 22
Seekers who abstain from the Lord’s table as a act of conscience and searching are still “tasting”. 1 Cor. 11:28-29
Movement of recommitment to Christ’s lordship (coronation) and the final blessing of receiving our king and savior’s benediction (a covenant blessing, not to be confused with a commissioning or even doxology).
Localism Applied to the Sermon:
A “sermon” isn’t really – sacramentally speaking – a sermon unless it is live within the context of a local congregation in time and place. Only local worship transacts the mystery of “Word become flesh” wherein Christ is mediately present by the II. The Manners of Sacramental Localism in One- Holy Spirit in the flesh of the people. There is a Anothering: necessary priestliness to a sermon that transacts the God-humanward AND In Augustine’s “Total human-Godward movements of Christ Christ” spirituality, descending-ascending (Eph 4) in the heart of worship. Virtual sermons detached sacramental manners from the unique narrative that is is the mystery of experienced in the context of a specific Christ being united to congregation just aren’t sermons. It the specific sociomay be a very helpful and informative cultural flesh of local talk about Christian faith and/or one-anothering as practice, but it is not a transaction in carefully designed by the mystery of Christ in the midst of us, the apostles with or within the context of the gospel in Christ as the worship as tied to the manners of a cornerstone. For local people. The sermon is related less instance: to personalities and more to office, a “priest with no name” that directs Localism Applied To people to the transcendent presence of Worship: Christ become flesh in a sermon. The manner of doing The result? Walter Brueggemann, describes a the four movements of worship must necessarily sermon as an event wherein God’s word is be localized into the socio-cultural flesh of the mediated by the local preacher as the, people for it to be fully sacramental. While the four movements are prescribed in scripture by apostolic design, the cultural forms that flesh out “Ready, steady, surprising proposal that the real these elements are left to the discretion of the local world in which God invites us to live is not the one congregation and its leaders, though directed by made available by the rulers of this age . . . a scripture. How much of the worship is verbally voice that shatters settled reality and evokes new scripted vs. unscripted, liturgically formal vs. possibilities.”23 informal, one or another genres of music and use of instruments--these are all necessarily fleshed And for this to happen, it must be localized in a out and informed by the local socio-cultural site-specific way as to embody the vernacular and identity of a particular congregation. The criteria vocational habits, sins, idols and dreams related to of the media fitting the message is necessarily a the living flesh of the people. As the pastor listens local determination depending on local, socioto all the words, and observes all the patterns of cultural associations. What constitutes “sacred” life that are brought to him throughout the week,
sermon (see below) leading to a sounds as related to the whole range of emotions reaffirmation of faith and celebration of the that are fitting a four movement service is Lord’s Supper. inherently local!
Walter Brueggemann in his Finally comes the Poet, Daring Speech for Proclamation p.3, p. 5.
his office is transformed and expressed in the holy conversation of a sacramental sermon. Localism Applied to “One-Anothering:” 16th century reformer Martin Luther described the mystery and manners of sacramental convergence with graphic imagery:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Even as we have eaten and drunk the body and blood of Christ the Lord, we in turn permit ourselves to be Localism applied to Mission: eaten and drunk, and Edmund Clowney describes the Biblical say the same words to conception of the church this way: our neighbor, Take, eat and drink; and this by The organic concept that appears in the no means in jest, but in New Testament… is defined not by one all seriousness, earthly hierarchical center nor by many meaning to offer earthly congregational centers, but by a yourself with all your heavenly center that requires multiform life, even as Christ did with all that he had, in earthly manifestations. Earthly assemblies the sacramental words.24 do not define but manifest the nature and the center of the church.”25 The transformative power of grace is unleashed in concrete and real ways in, with, and through the A sacramental missiology as applied to growing the one-anothering manners of the people. This is done church would want to favor a multi-congregational in many ways in the life of a localized church and method of church growth over a mega-church often taken for granted. It happens when someone method or even multi-site method (many ventures to expose their own brokenness or sin and discovers acceptance and compassion, or when a meal is delivered in the presence of a church at a wake in support of the grieving. It involves the countless bits of “lay counseling” that is happening in a phone conversation or over coffee. It involves picnics and celebrations. It is intentional and spontaneous. And all together, this oneanothering becomes the very sacramental presence of Christ that is celebrated in Acts 2: _______________________________________________________________________________ 24
Through the year with Martin Luther : a selection of sermons celebrating the feasts and seasons of the Christian year. Peabody, Mass. : Hendrickson Publishers, 2007. 25 Edmund Clowney, Distinctives of the Presbyterian Polity
Conclusion: Thomas Trotter observed how, The setting of Flannery O’Connor’s stories is a world from which human beings have generally eliminated mystery (grace) only to discover the power of that reality in sudden, startling, and unexpected ways.
congregations with virtual or itinerate sermons). The multi-congregational strategy consists of many small congregations organically united to other congregations within a geographically related region so as together to be “one big church.” These united congregations share a unified financial plan (in multi-congregational expressions), a Confession of Faith (perhaps in multiple-forms), the four movements of worship (expressed in multiple cultural forms and styles), a shared government consisting of representatives from each congregation forming one citygoverning board or “session.” This “Total Christ” spirituality of mission has the advantage of expressing both local and global aspects of a church movement fleshed out in multiple vernaculars but organically connected in mutually interdependent ways.
Trotter continues, Half of her characters are hopelessly sentimental and half are obscene lunatics. Neither are aware of the presence of grace in the world.26
I fear the setting of O’Connor’s stories are too often the reality today even among those who aspire to become gospel-centered. In our noble and global pursuits we often neglect the power of local, A multi-congregational approach provides all the carnal, and therefore, mediated divine presence. practical advantages of a big church through various cooperatives while retaining a small church There are the Sacraments. And there are the sacramental manners that flesh them out into feel. The sacramental result of this “manner” of spiritual reality. Reunited, there is a relation mission is that the body of Christ is necessarily between the mystery of grace and efficacious clothed within a socio-cultural “flesh” that is power that is present in, with and through, the local brilliantly multi-form in cultural diversity, as manners of gospel grace. Calvin wrote that when related to Christ’s humanity in the midst of us. mystery is fleshed out “no extent of space Christ’s divinity is at once mono-elemental in interferes with the boundless energy of the Spirit, theological consensus and multi-cultural across social difference. To do otherwise risks one cultural which transfuses life into us from the flesh of form inadvertently oppressing the cultural form of Christ.”27 another to the demise of sacramental efficacy. While all cultures are equal, not all are the same. _____________________________________________________________________________________ There is a necessary limit to how far one culture 26 Thomas Trotter, Flannery O’Connor: Her Vision, Religion can accommodate another without reducing the Online, (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3600) local element of culture necessary to a sacramental 27 John Calvin, Corpus Reformatorum, 37: 48 manner in mission.
VISION ANABAINO Our Director of Worship went to the microphone to keys out ready to lock up, already well over an hour cheerfully but firmly plead with us, “You have to past our allotted time. leave now! Please!” We had just honored our seven high school and Following forty-five minutes of Sunday School, college graduates (presenting them each with a copy thirty minutes of fellowship and orchestra rehearsal, of J. I. Packer’s Concise Theology), been encouraged and our ninety minute worship service, our monthly by stories from our evangelism team, and had spent fellowship meal was refusing to end. We were time praying for one of our members, a “lost boy” beginning to impose upon our gracious hosts. All from Sudan who was preparing to return home to around the auditorium of the West Hartford Town see his mother and his people (a trip made possible Hall there were clusters of wonderfully diverse by the generosity of our church's people) for the people (Chinese, Chilean, Portuguese, Puerto Rican first time since fleeing for his life twenty-five years – to describe just one of our members!), laughing ago. Perhaps the town’s employee was in no rush to and talking and gesturing; the young boys were push us out, sensing and enjoying as we did the real parkouring off the walls and stage and chairs; the and true presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. hospitality team was busily gathering the silverware (a step up from our previous habit of plasticware) After several years of wandering, Christ into the large tub for transport home; plans were Community Presbyterian Church now meets in the being finalized for a single mother and her children West Hartford Town Hall for our weekly “family in our church, soon to be evicted by their slumlord reunion” of worship, discipleship, and fellowship. landlord, to be able to housesit for the Summer in Some of our hundred or so members walk to one of our member's houses. And all the while the church; but others drive from north, south, east, and town’s employee was waiting patiently, with her west; some as much as an hour. Why do we gather?
Do we gather to proclaim the gospel, or do we gather to participate in the gospel? Do we gather to meet with Christ, or do we gather to meet with each other? Or could it be that in proclaiming the gospel we are participating in it, and in participating in it we are proclaiming it? Could it be that in meeting with Christ we are finding each other, and in meeting with each other we are finding Christ? In Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gilead, an elderly and dying pastor wrestles with these sacramental realities, even as he attempts to pass them on to his young son in a series of letters: The oddness of the phrase 'believe in God' brings to my mind that first chapter of Feuerbach. . . . Feuerbach doesn't imagine the possibility of an existence beyond this one, by which I mean a reality embracing this one but exceeding it, the way, for example, this world embraces and exceeds (our cat) Soapy's understanding of it . . . . The inadequacy of her concepts would have nothing to do with the reality of the situation. That's a drastic way of putting it, and not a very precise one. I don't wish to suggest a reality that is simply an enlarged or extrapolated version of this reality. If you think of how a thing we call a stone differs from a thing we call a dream -- the degrees of unlikeness within the reality we know are very extreme, and what I wish to suggest is a much more absolute unlikeness, with which we exist, though our human circumstance creates in us a radically limited and peculiar notion of what existence is. I gave a sermon on this once, the text being, 'Your thoughts are not our thoughts.' I am not sure how well we (or I) understand these things, or even whether we can articulate them very well, but I believe that Christ Community Presbyterian Church has been embraced by a reality that far exceeds this one. I believe that in Christ the Holy Spirit is at work in, among, and through us.
I believe that in the West Hartford Town Hall each Lord’s Day we are experiencing the truth of Calvin’s words (to which Preston Graham often makes reference), that “no extent of space interferes with the boundless energy of the Spirit, which transfuses life into us from the flesh of Christ.” I believe that each Lord’s Day we are “discerning the body” (1 Cor. 11:29) just a little bit more clearly, both Christ present in His people and His people present in Christ. And I believe that He has a unique calling for Christ Community Presbyterian Church, a calling unique to our particular human circumstance, to our particular 21st century upscale New England suburban culture, to our particular neighbors and community. Even if we sometimes try the patience of our town’s gracious employees.
“I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness or abilities that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” -William Penn 1644 – 1718 Each summer, during Loving New Haven Impact Week, as one church with multiple congregations, the Christ Presbyterian Church family has the privilege of experiencing the tangible convergence of the Sacraments and sacramental, between nature
and grace, between the sign and things signified. In being united to one another in love, having community in each others gifts and graces, during this special week the visible church gathers together for Kingdom work within our congregations and between congregations and the greater New Haven community. In Matthew 22:37 – 40 we are reminded to love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself; fulfilling those commandments takes place in a variety of ways in our Christian walk, notable
among which is Christian service. Programs and activities that give us the opportunity to offer help and assistance to others help answer the call of our responsibility for bringing the Christ within us to those whom we serve.
Bible teaching, mercy projects, community workshops and ample opportunity to fellowship around stimulating events and wonderful meals.
Participating in Impact Week, as individuals and as a church community we not only receive the “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since spiritual sense of well-being derived from love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to obedience to Jesus’ call for intentional works to one another without grumbling. As each has underpin our faith, but we witness, first-hand, the received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good transforming love of Christ in those being served, stewards of God’s varied grace.” 1 Peter 4:8-10 and within ourselves as we, in turn, are served. On top of which, in greater New Haven, or wherever Mission Anabaino (“MA”), a central ministry of you are reading this, it is likely you will discover Christ Presbyterian Church New Haven (“CPC”), that setting aside a meaningful and concentrated functions as CPC’s primary body for defining and portion of at least a week once a year for individual executing church planting and empowerment and/or corporate Christ-centered service to your strategy, which means, among other things, community awakens and nourishes a spirit of building productive and collegial relationships giving, and graciously receiving, throughout the among planted churches and between church year. Take advantage of the special opportunity plants and their surrounding communities. created by Impact Week to experience the transformative power of grace that is unleashed as Loving New Haven Impact Week, a program and each socio-cultural expression of Christ’s flesh is service outreach of MA and CPC, scheduled for allowed to flourish in a way that that will both th th July 6 through 13 is positioned to be more celebrate the diversity of cultures while also vibrant than ever this year. Now in its sixth year, helping one another to discern the truths of the this popular summer volunteer initiative is centered Gospel that transcends all cultures. on serving – and being served by – our church community and the greater New Haven area at large. The week includes vibrant youth programs,
VISION ANABAINO Plato, in his dialogue Meno, famously distinguishes between someone who has a "true opinion" about a route to the city (for instance, knows the turns and direction), and someone who truly "knows" it because he has traveled the road. He has become familiar and acquainted with it. I know of the route up Mt. Everest, but my knowledge is qualitatively different (and pitiful!) compared to the explorers who have made the expedition. Several college students have recently travelled the route through Goatville worship, and met Jesus at the summit. Being in the unique position of Yale's next-door neighbor, we often have the privilege of interacting with students with a very diverse church background. Talking to them about the four movements of a covenant renewal service, the distinction between a sacramental and revival service, or sign and thing signified can often fall on deaf ears. But once they "walk the road", they are changed and even passionate about the concomitant theology. Three students in particular - all at separate occasions and all unprompted have commented on our 2nd movement of confession and absolution. Two of them mentioned, "I don't often spend time focusing on my sin and need for God." This time in our service when we are honest and real before a holy and merciful God has enabled them to appreciate the grace of the gospel in a much deeper way. We meet Jesus in His mercy as we grow in our awareness of our sin. Another woman commented on the same part of the service, but for her it spoke to the larger community being transformed into authentic people not forced to hide their sin from one another. Part of experiencing the sacramental presence of Jesus is showing forth broken people,
struggling in their sin, resting in the forgiveness of the cross. A community that hopes to appropriate that into everything we do should transform our relationships, where we are "carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies" (2 Cor. 4:10). Confessing anxieties about the future, personal sins, and doubt spoke the gospel to this student in a way that she could then participate in it with her fellow members of Christ. She now often leads us in her vulnerability and genuine desire to see God at work in her life and community. Through Goatville, our time confessing and receiving absolution has been a powerful time for many to meet Jesus. The amazing truth and grace of God's sacramental presence through the Church is that the gospel is both proclaimed and participated in. As we hear the assurance of pardon, we are meeting Jesus through confession and absolution. The truth of one theologian's words becomes a very gracious truth: The Western Christian is used to thinking of sacrament as opposed to the Word, and he links the mission with the Word and not sacrament. He is, moreover, accustomed to consider the sacrament as perhaps an essential and clearly defined part of institution or act of the Church and within the Church, but not of Church as being itself the sacrament of Christ's presence and action (A. Schmemann). I praise God for meeting and communing with Christ through Goatville with these students and many others!
Prior to moving to Danbury, CT, to plant this church, I had never practiced weekly Communion. The churches in which I grew up had strong opinions against weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, arguing that the spiritual impact in the lives of church members would be weakened by “rote observance”. A mega-church pastor stated that his church’s reason for infrequently observing the Sacrament of Lord’s Table is that “it takes too much time because our church is so large.” A friend of mine from a distant location once phoned to ask a question. A friend of his had been temporarily suspended from receiving Communion at church due to a discipline issue. He wanted to know how concerned his friend should be about this, having only observed Communion at this church on holidays. “How big a deal is this?” he asked.
the congregation was ever going to benefit from the biblical view of Sacrament – that Sacraments are signs, signifying deeper things and informing our practice – did I ever have a lot to learn! Here’s what we are learning about how the mystery of Sacrament informs our manners.
I am sorry to say that my approach to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper mirrored these attitudes. Being part of Mission Anabaino (with discussions of books such as Nevin’s The Mystical Presence) is helping me to understand the “sacramental” aspect of a Total Christ vision.
Some of our members, based on their religious experiences as children, have expressed a difficulty with weekly Communion. They associate it with what (to them) was nothing more than just a standup, sit-down, kneel, recite, and then repeat-theprocess-every-week religious-experience. They have a proper fear of just leaving Communion inside the church.
The name of our church is “Christ the Shepherd.” We chose that name deliberately, as a way of reminding ourselves of Christ’s committed care for His flock (John 10) and to remind ourselves of the priority of shepherding all of the people who God brings us (Ezekiel 34; I Peter 5). It is a bonus that our church name is a great fit in New England with its strong Roman Catholic flavor. Several people, hearing the name of our church, have remarked, “I received my first Holy Communion at Church of the Good Shepherd!” I initially thought regular observance of the Sacrament of Communion would be a great “prop” to help all of those who came from a cultural Catholic background feel more at home in our Protestant service – the same way that the name of our church provided the comfort of familiarity. If
Our Relationship with One Another. The first relationships to feel the benefits of a biblical view of the Sacrament of Communion are those within the local church members. Two faulty attitudes regarding Communion must constantly be on our leadership’s radar screen as we help the congregation.
Yes, Communion can become rote – but saying “I love you” to your wife and children can also become rote. One can take for granted perfect weather rather than basking in it. A person can sit down to a nourishing meal and instantaneously forget the words of thanks that were prayed prior to the first bite. This in no way compels us to refuse the gifts of family, sunny weather, and food! In the same way, a sinful attitude of taking Communion for granted or treating it as common says more about the recipient of the gift than it does about the One who instituted the Lord’s Supper, or about the Sacrament itself. Others associate Communion with “just-Jesus-andme” time, and they must battle the tendency to
retreat into their own world to try to conjure up some spiritual emotion within themselves. This is the equivalent of every child leaving the table and taking their food to their own bedrooms and eating in solitude, without the fellowship. All of us need the constant reminder that Jesus initiated this Sacrament at the end of a meal, while sitting around a table, everyone’s eyes open, partaking together.
Christ the Shepherd, on the other hand, has been privileged to share our worship space with Christian Community Church, a congregation of Brazilian immigrants and their Brazilian-American children. We have held joint worship services where we observe the Sacrament of Communion together. This has helped to break down cultural and social barriers. How can we Anglo Christians see our Brazilian family members as “those people” when we have spent time worshiping together, when elders from both churches have served At mealtime, families gather around the table. Communion to people from both congregations? This unifies them. They hear what their brothers When we are served spiritual food from a and sisters are doing, how the day went, what’s on common plate? the mind of that big sister and that little brother. Unity is deepened as a result of being sacramental Our churches have worked together in repairing in our approach to living. We’re learning and our building, in serving the community with growing as our manners are informed by the Vacation Bible School, and in some youth events. mystery of the Communion table. The steps that have been taken seem small, compared to what can (and by God’s grace, will) As our understanding of what it means to come to the Lord’s Table deepens, so does our fellowship, acceptance, and forgiveness. Our Relationship with Our Sister Church Danbury is 25% Latino, according to a local newspaper article published during the first week in June, 2013. The article reported a recent incident that indicates ongoing stress between some members of the Police Department and undocumented immigrants. The reader responses to the situation, disparaging immigrants and lamenting their presence in Danbury, serve to highlight a level of hostility between certain come, but they are huge, compared to what we see members of the society and those from other in our broader community, where there is no countries who sojourn here. Sacrament to glue people together, resulting in friction. We receive our spiritual nourishment There was a recent death in a car accident by an from the same spiritual table – we partake of the 18-year-old Latino Danbury resident. Someone same Christ – we therefore walk and work posting on local newspaper website responded to together as we pray for God to use us to reach the her death by saying: “Good riddance.” Others same city. wondered if she had been here illegally. Others hoped that people like her would leave Danbury Our Relationship with Other Churches in Our and “go home,” even though Danbury was this City young woman’s home. Not everyone in Danbury A sacramental understanding informs our struggles with this, to this level, but racial relationship with other churches in our city. By prejudice directed toward Latino immigrants is God’s grace, there is an organization in Danbury part of the fabric of our Danbury culture. called Jericho Partnership.
Through the relationship with Jericho Partnership, friendships have been formed between Christ the Shepherd and sister churches. On multiple occasions, I have visited these churches during their worship services and have been invited by the pastors to come and serve Communion with them to their congregations. A local independent church has invited me (and I happily agreed!) to take part in an Ordination Council for their pastors-to-be.
Gospel-proclaiming churches. We view these churches not as rivals but as family members. It is our view of Sacrament that allows us to remain unapologetically in the Reformed tradition while we minister in the name of our sovereign God in the city of Danbury with these churches who are our co-laborers, united with us in spiritually partaking of the body and blood of Christ.
If you were called by God to serve a city, and if you knew that God’s Word commands social justice (James 1:22-27; Isaiah 1:16-17), where would you begin? Because of the mystery of Sacrament, informing our manners, it has been easy for us to get involved in an organization of twenty-plus churches, supporting ministries that include homeless shelters, Bethany Christian Services (adoption), a pregnancy resource center, a middle-school for at-risk boys, mentoring programs, Young Life, and other Word and Deed ministries. A sacramental outlook helps us see that biblically, we don’t have to work for social justice by ourselves – that it would be a sin to isolate ourselves from other churches to do God’s work for the fatherless and the widow in Danbury.
Conclusion Christ the Shepherd Church continues to be formed in the likeness of Christ, informed by the sacramental pillar in our Total Christ vision for the church. We say, with Keith A. Mathison, in his book, Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper: The manner of Christ’s presence in the sacrament and the manner of our partaking of his body and blood are great mysteries. When Calvin considered it, his response was to say, “I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare.” We may at times have to echo his thoughts and say with him regarding the supper that we “rather experience than understand it.” It is our joy to experience it as it works itself out in our relationships with one another, with our sister Brazilian church, and within the auspices of Jericho Partnership. To God be the glory!
In all of these cases, it is more than just our understanding of what it means to be sacramental – indeed, it is the Sacrament itself, in all of its mystery, that fuels our manners in relation to other Christ-exalting,
The greatest mystery of the sacrament is this: union with God. Most of the New Testament says this with a preposition. In. A famous grammarian and scholar of New Testament Greek said that in the writings of Paul this little preposition “in” is transformed. It becomes a mystical promise. You in God. God in you. It is a holy preposition, simple and mysterious.
I know what the knee-jerk reaction is to that! You may say to me “I know and believe in God as my personal savior, and you seem to be saying that isn’t true.” No, it is true. Absolutely true, but it isn’t a truth that stands alone or is possessed alone. That is why we always celebrate the mystery of the sacraments as a group, gathered for worship. We realize, know, and experience God fully as a sacramental presence together. I What is often missing in this truth is met a man once who told me that he didn’t need something hidden in the English language, right in the church to know God. After all he knew God plain sight. Most of the New Testament does not personally. How many people have you met like use the word “you” the way that we do. Most of that, with that cherished belief? They get their the world doesn’t. English, or at least in the teaching on the internet, and perhaps their narrow use it has up in the North, does not tell you fellowship is on a blog somewhere. But it doesn’t whether it is you, singular, as in “hey you, down in really make any sense. Your faith isn’t just for you, front” or you, plural, as in “will you please leave it’s for y’all. We are the mystery. Together and for the room for the wedding reception.” Most of the one another. time we can discern if it’s singular or plural based on the context. It’s much, much harder to do that I sat talking recently with one of our in one of Paul’s letters. It’s rather easy in most leaders. His struggles with same sex attraction situations in the South, as y’all probably know. have left him alone late in life. Growing up in the church, and now leading, he struggles with If you read the New Testament in the constant shame and loneliness. But it struck me original language this begins to jump rather that somehow we had missed something together, alarmingly out at you. It is everywhere. What that at the root of his heart was a holy desire to does this mean for all this “in” language then? You love others and be loved. If we share a being in God and God being in you? Here the sacramental presence together, then there is a very second person plural, the y’all, becomes so vivid. beautiful and hidden truth, hiding in plain sight. Christ in y’all and y’all in Christ is the true Our desire for intimacy with others must therefore translation. That’s something missing in our be holy, and a means of grace. It reveals Christ, is modern American consciousness. A blind spot inhabited by Christ, and makes the totality of even greater than our grammar problems. We love Christ have feet and hands in the world. It gave to take the many promises and statements and me joy, and it gave him joy, to see that the core theological affirmations of the Bible and own them desires of the heart for intimacy are holy in Christ. personally, individually. And well we should, but I mean “in” in the fullest sense of all. In God not for the reason we think! We possess the Himself, in God in us, and in us with each other. I promise of Christ in us because Christ is in His want to make sure that you understand me. church, and we are in that church. Behind all same sex desire, indeed all sexual longing, is really a holy hunger for the intimacy
Somehow intimacy is another example of the failure of English. We sexualize intimacy in our culture. But that is absurd. Eternally absurd and personally ridiculous. What greater intimacy is there than God the Father with God the Son? And what is sweeter than the intimacy and shared love of a mother with her son or daughter? I would dare to say that sexual connection is not, in and of itself, true intimacy. Instead it is an illustration of intimacy – a pointer toward God and Christ that lives and overflows in the holiness of biblical marriage.
causes. Rules can only be useful after we get to the root, and don’t fix the mess of our distorted sexuality. What we are often left with, after the dust settles and our appetites are satiated, is how profoundly lonely we still are. There is no real intimacy.
that is only really known in Christ. Again “in” being “all in.” This desire is distorted by the sin and ruin of our world, and intimacy is degraded into the satisfaction of sexual urges.
If we understand our sacramental unity, something very different happens. We are now affirming something different. We are saying, “Look at this yearning in your heart and life for intimacy. Look at how elusive it has been. That desire to know others, and to be known, to love and be loved: that is holy in you.” It represents our hunger for the intimacy that God has with us, and we have with Him, and we have in one another. Christ’s total person is now being realized and offered as hope to this generation. A new vision of In our generation it is affirmed, over and the church, and its holy presence and purpose is over to all of us, that sexual activity is the sacred now in the world. This is the sacramental mystery, meeting ground for authentic intimacy with others. so often obscured by our limited cultural language. It can be tempting to try to attack this idea head on Christ “in” y’all is the hope of intimacy, and the by strictly defining proper sexual actions. You can heart’s real home. touch this or want that, but only under these conditions; you can’t want this other thing, or act on such and such desire. But that doesn’t work. People are still stuck trying to interpret, understand, and satisfy deep personal desires. Rules are really dealing with symptoms and not
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