29 August 2006

Sacramental vs. missional?

Scot McKnight has a very thought-provoking post this morning which, among other things, highlights a difference he has with the sacramental traditions within the Body of Christ (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, etc.):

I have one big beef with all of the major, high church liturgical traditions. That is, they tend to make “church” about going to church on Sunday morning in order to let the “magic” (as one of my Roman Catholic friends calls it) happen. That is, because they are sacramental (and I’m not), they tend to see the major thing the church does is provide mass, communion, whatever you want to call it. This is a mistake — and my sacramental friends will disagree with me. I see the functional model at work in such churches to be “attractional.” People come to church, not solely, but primarily for the communion service.

I believe “church” is about gathering in fellowship and worship and instruction but the focus of church is about being empowered to a missional life in the community — in evangelism and service. This has been the emphasis of the evangelical movement for a long, long time and that is where my heart is.

The test for a church, in my judgment, is its zeal for what the followers of Jesus are supposed to be doing: evangelizing, worshiping, praying, learning theology, serving, being compassionate, etc.. In other words, are its ministries holistic? Do they believe in the whole gospel? Do they practice the whole gospel?

Wow. Here’s one of Scot's sacramental friends not necessarily disagreeing with him. To be perfectly honest, I’d never thought this issue through clearly before, but practically and generally speaking, I can’t say he's wrong. I don’t think “sacramental” and “missional” are opposed in principle, and I can think of plenty of examples of Christian communities that are both - from missional movements within Roman Catholicism to “emerging” churches rooted in sacramental traditions (like Seattle’s Church of the Apostles and my own Common Table) to churches with thoroughly low-church evangelical roots that have placed a renewed emphasis on the sacraments (like Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis). But in practice, I think you’re right about the attractional emphasis of established sacramental traditions. Is it really harder for (say) ECUSA folks to grasp the missional mindset than for (say) PCUSA folks, due to this issue? And even in the "both/and" communities I know, can the sacramental focus in some way be a hindrance to missional transformation?

I still feel pretty certain that it's possible for a community to be both joyously sacramental and passionately missional - but I suspect that such a community needs to be constantly vigilant that they don't slip into a wholly attractional "if we keep dispensin' the magic, they will come" mode. Could this happen within a generation, in a community that walked a tough path of missional transformation just a few years before? It seems plausible to me.

Much to think about. Thanks, Scot!


spankey said...

My only "beef" with Scot is his use of "church" in varying contexts. Church can mean the action of liturgy. Church can mean a buidling. Church can mean the Body of Christ. And in his post he seem to use at least 1 and 3 interchangably. As a (sometimes non-) liturgical sacramentalist I'd challenge that the "church" he speaks of in paragraph 1 is the action of liturgy and the "church" he hopes for in paragraphs 2 and 3 is the Body of Christ.

To confuse these definitions creates exactly what he talks about. To allow for all 3 definitions of church creates room for a missional, sacramental church to exist. And I'm spending 3 years in seminary banking on the fact that such a "church" is possible.

Steve Hayes said...

I think your friend Scot has entirely misunderstood the sacramental, and couldn't have got it more wrong.

Perhaps that's because of Western culture being a consumer society, and so the world is divided into "consumers" and "providers", and the providers providing things for consumers to consume. "Consumers" and "providers" are roles people play, and they change them from time to time. At times we are providers, and at other times consumers.

So Scot gives the picture of the Church as a "service provider", providing "services" which consumers "go to church" to "consume".

What seems to be missing altogether from his conception is the idea of the church as the Body of Christ".

Recommended reading for Scot (and anyone who thinks like him): The world as sacrament by Alexander Schmemann (also published under the title For the life of the world

Anonymous said...

sacramental, my first choise
I too feel that it's possible for a community to be both joyously sacramental and passionately missional.