In my sacraments class this week I had to write a short pre-position paper. I figured I would share it here because the topic has been floating around the internet. Here is my paper.
Stating my presuppositions regarding the sacraments and biblical worship in a paper seems daunting. While I have had to describe it before, it was usually in conversation in an extended setting. I am a theological mutt, and this class really excites me. My time at Asbury has been filled with involvement with worship, through my 3 years as an intern in the chapel office, to the worship classes I have taken and the papers I have written in the arena for other classes. Worship seems to be the sermon that I always have to preach. But I grew up in a completely different world and to an extent, still operate in it. I am a licensed Southern Baptist minister who has spent 25 of my 29 years inside of the denomination. The 3 years before Asbury were in the Louisiana Tech Wesley, both as a student and an employee. It was during this time that I fell in love with tradition, patristic studies, and high church liturgy. So I transition between two drastically different places in life on a weekly basis, as I still serve in my denomination. Baptist thought regarding the sacraments has heightened in the last several years, but is still primarily a conversation within the academy.
In regard to Biblical Worship, I grew up steeped in revivalism, and I thought that worship was something that the church does to express individual satisfaction with God and our relationship to him. Through college I was surrounded by a neo-reformed perspective regarding the glory of God and how worship and mission related to each other, specifically the idea that when the church is worshiping well mission will be an overflow. During my early twenties I became aware of “The Great Tradition” for the first time and started exploring how worship worked inside of a liturgical setting.
I believe now that worship is an act of the church retelling the story of God’s salvific history and rehearsing the eternal actions of heaven. Worship is our response to what Christ has done for us and it is done in the power of the spirit. Worship is not about what we have experienced individually regarding God, but how as a community of faith our lives are now intertwined with the kingdom. Worship in the bible is always connected to the people of God being in right relationship with both God and the world. Our worship needs to be specifically Triune, as Torrance expressed in our class reading. Inside of the theological idea of “worship” is the participatory actions of the gathered church and the devotion and adoration of individuals directed towards God. Unlike the priests of Baal, our God does not respond and attend to us making a scene, but instead is all around us in His creation.
Sacramental identity was something that I never thought about as a child. As a child taking the Lord’s Supper, I thought that something holy and special was going on when the pastor (or my Father at times) proclaimed “This is the body of Christ broken for us”. It wasn’t until early in my college career that I learned good baptists don’t believe in any sort of presence. This was something that I disregarded, because my childhood thoughts about the act were too sacred to give up. The last 9 years have been a journey towards me and the Eucharistic idea that is more than symbolic. While I can’t exactly spell out what I think personally, I can say that I rarely disagree with Luther on the issue, and my High Church friends tell me I would make a great Anglican. I think that sacraments are the signs in which we participate as a community with God. To divorce or individualize the sacraments creates a narcissistic idea of Christianity that rarely is able to meet spiritual need. The place of sacraments is an action of grace between a divine and holy Triune God and His redeemed people.
As an artist myself, part of my sacramental journey was how my creativity is intertwined with God. I never liked the dualistic sacred/secular idea that many people placed on Christian artistic expressions in visual art, music, and theatre. I was never comfortable with how Christian paintings had to look like Jesus’ senior class picture, and how Christian music was usually cheesy and never actually contemporary. It always seemed very personal in nature and never something that really spoke to a corporate Christian identity. I spent two years with many other Christian artists that concentrated their efforts on creating a space for people to encounter God in unique and socially relevant ways. For something to draw people into God, it has to have the actions of God at its center.
What I keep coming back to when I think about worship is this; How are our actions as the church distinctively corporate, or are we just a bunch of people in the room doing our own individual worship at the same time? I hear the language of the latter often in many informal worship settings and surprisingly at some churches. During worship, we are acting as the people of God, and not the individuals of God. The sacraments are things that draw us together, that make this a shared life, and to look at them apart does a grave disservice.