Sacramental Activity?

The distinction between the faith, piety and practice of confessionally Reformed Christianity and the faithfulness, pietism and practicality of much of Evangelicalism becomes apparent in the contrast of response to initiative. The difference between Word and Sacrament vs. advice and excitement is that one produces gratitude in response to the Law and Gospel, while the other incites, through psychological manipulation and suggestion; an introspection and insecurity that in turn is used to justify the pursuit of a pietism that produces a rationalistic gnosticism nourished by a lack of confidence in the life and work of Christ and an overemphasis of the ability of the individual. Sin becomes confused with the affectations and accouterments of the sinner and creation is divided into the “sacred” and the “secular”. By this conflation of substance into the sin which utilizes it, an inverse conclusion is arrived at; for if one thing can be sinful than why can’t sanctification be caused by the possession and use of Christian “culture” and “merchandise”?

The reinvention and reintroduction of iconoclasm into much of mainstream Protestantism is the result of a loss of confidence in the traditional method of preaching and by a view which transforms the sacraments into empty sepulchers of memory. The verbal method of transmission that is preaching is no longer viewed as sufficient to reach the masses. Baptism has become a mere act of obedience and communion a memorial, remembering nothing but a name. Nothing is communicated, nothing is received other than the reminisce of a deed. So what inevitably occurs is that other, cultural and non-ordained practices are elevated to the level of sacrament and thought to communicate that necessary spiritual food to our souls. The most notable example is contemporary Christian music, but this envisioning of “stuff” that sanctifies by communicating grace is extended into the civil realm.

Thus, what we do has become sacramental in much of Evangelicalism; in the counter culture of societal sanctification or the sacramental application of Christendom, vocation has become a sacrament, rather than a common element of creation. It is thought that we must now resort to the contextualization of the Church and the Gospel into the new media, maintaining relevance in the new world. And so the recidivism of the verbal to the pictorial is of inevitable necessity in the new paradigm in order to advance the kingdom of God. Spiritual utilitarianism, the new iconoclasm, the new industry of indulgences fueling the false expectation that a parochial culture will produce a life of sanctity, mortification of the flesh, and ultimately the notion that we can express and present the life and work of Jesus Christ with nary a word from our mouths; personal piety over corporate, covenantal participation, one finds that the objectivity of the covenant to be too rankling to man who would pull God down to him.

This is a form of Christianity that has more in common with the pioneer spirit and rugged individualism of early America than the historic Christian Church; the me first and God second religion, looking to God for reward and safety rather than mercy and grace. Furthermore, in this commingling of cult and culture, this confusion of the two kingdoms, some within the Church begin to see themselves as a political body empowered and compelled to take action by virtue of their status and possession of moral and ethical “superiority” in the culture to transform it. Yet, lacking authority, but proclaiming superiority of ethics and culture, they inevitably generate the the notion that they are fundamentalist, extremist, intolerant of all but their own kind and seeking to bring all people under the sway of their ideologies.

My position is that this, if practiced on a large scale this cannot but help to cause a reaction of oppression, discrimination, and fear. Thus the identity of the Church, when not in political ascendency will be that of the oppressed, but a persecution  caused by a paradigm of manifest destiny rather than simply the preaching of the Gospel. And to begin to associate the people of God, or the Church, with the political and socially oppressed is to incorporate, implicitly, the notion of revolution as a viable act in the furtherance of the Gospel and the liberation of God’s people in order to extend the reach of the Kingdom of Heaven. What makes this even more odd is that this notion of being on the outside looking in is developed by the American Church in a situation of affluence and in the absence of real political and social oppression in comparison to the global, in/visible church; this is not the liberation theology of Latin America, where there is real oppression. Therefore, any oppression that does occur is the consequence of an attitude of ascendancy and arrogance, not on account of a confession of Christ as Lord as primary but the way in which they use the Word of God as a manifesto for all life.

To do this is to believe that the Church’s place in this present evil age is one of social and cultural domination and enforced cultural homogeny rather than contribution without permanence; that we contribute to society, on the terms that Caesar has set without seeking to become Caesar. The Church must be content to dwell in the tents of pilgrimage rather than the behind walls built to last.

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