Every now and again, some kind of passion wells up in me, and out comes a stream of thoughts about what is important to me, and where I think some people have gone wrong. So I want to share it with you. A lot of this I have put in reflections before, but I don’t think I have gathered them together as a kind of manifesto before. So here goes. It is like my own version of Luther’s 95 theses, or Marx’s theses on Feuerbach. These are Paul’s Theses on The Church.
First: The core of the relationship with God for Christians is in the Sacraments but in order to be ‘relevant’ many churches have down played the Christian sacraments for music based or ‘word’ based worship.
Placing sacraments at the heart of our relationship to God does two things. First it describes what kind of a relationship we have. Our connection to the Divine is not one of simple obedience where ‘God says and we must do.’ Nor is it only a matter of the practices that we must follow to be a devotee of a particular approach to the Divine. But a sacrament unites belief and action in a complete unity called the Liturgy. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are offered the possibility, by Gods own promise, as well as by virtue of the kind of thing that we are doing, of being connected in our whole being with the life of God.
The proper category for Christian life is not obedience, either to the word, or to the action, but in stead, the proper category for Christian life is participation.
I would love it is places like Hillsong thought hard about how they could recover this core of Christian doctrine, and yet still use their music to connect with younger people.
If this is not possible, if a deep sacramentality has to be given away because the world has moved away from ‘sacramentality’ and the Church has to down play sacramentality in order to be ‘relevant’ then I would rather be a sacramental shrinking church, than a full ‘non-sacramental’ church.
At some level, I do not think that the world has given sacraments away, because to have sacraments is part of our human nature. It’s just that the sacraments that the world has, are not explained to them as sacraments. I feel like doing a St. Paul in Athens. “Men and women of Australia, I perceive that in footy, and in family ritual, and in work life, you are as a people very sacramental,(let me tell you how) but I would like to describe to you the one true sacrament, that makes sense of every other sacrament.
I think that rather than drop sacraments in order to be ‘relevant’ to the world, we need to explain to the world just how sacramental it is in order that it can see the connection between the sacramentality of life, and the sacraments of the Church.
The Church does not offer ‘a message’ in a ‘package’ but instead offers a liturgy that can connect us to God. The Eucharist is the intense and symbolic form of the life we live in a more extensive and less symbolic form each day of the week. We are offered the opportunity to die-to be entombed-and to rise to new life (in Christ) by the power of God’s promise, and the sacramental action, if we give ourselves to it. For the sake of that, I am prepared to be irrelevant, or to try to explain this sacramental life to everyone else, believer or not.
Second: Any ‘holding the line’ about sacramentality must be accompanied by a recovery of a credible witness to the life we live. In short, a rediscovery of what it means to be a martyr (witness).
There is no point in going on about sacraments, if our lives do not demonstrate in some way that speaks clearly to the world what this sacramental life looks like, or means. My Anglo Catholic friends have held on to the sacraments, yes, but they have descended into ‘liturgicalism’. You know the joke? “What is the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist?” “Sometimes, you can negotiate with a terrorist!” Anglo Catholic commitment to sacramental worship has not gone hand in hand with its original commitment to the poor, as was the case in London, when it began.
The success of early Christianity was in part due to the ways in which, in public, Christians showed what it meant to participate in the life of Christ.
The desert Fathers went out into the desert to do battle with evil. They sat on posts as signs of their disdain for the ‘things of this world’. This characterised the Celtic Christians, and the Christians of the 19th Century who gave us the welfare state. Now all of those tings are sort of ‘built into’ our sense of the normal. We need to think about what are the new forms of climbing up posts which will communicate what it means to be a Christian today. Then sacramentality will have power, in the sense of being capable of bearing witness to something other than red wine and niceness.
Third: No renewal of the Church can occur without a recovery knowledge and practice of how to initiate people into the life of Christ.
The main go is not a matter of ‘attendance’. The devil ‘attends’ Church every Sunday. Attendance is the beginning, the sine qua non of Christian life. What needs to happen is that the Church needs to say “Everyone needs to be initiated into this way of life.’ This means that members of congregations who have simply ‘attended’ need to be initiated. It is only in the process of initiation that the practices which will become an effective witness can be developed. Second, those who are attracted by our witness need to be initiated into the life of Christ. It is no longer enough to ask people to ‘come’.
There is of course much more to be said, but for me these three things are the core from which I do not want to be distracted. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.