A minister-friend shared a brilliant observation with me. I see the insightfulness of that observation prove itself over and over again. I see it when two schools of thought collide among Reformed Christian brethren. To paraphrase and refine what he said to me:
Ministers who have a high view of the sacraments see the life of the church at worship as ordinary and effectual means of grace. Such a manner of life is the central indicator of our Christian identity and society. Preachers who have a low view of the sacraments resort to combative rhetoric and cultural warfare. These become their chief indicators of Christian identity.
We must seek and find our common citizenship in the Kingdom at the Lord’s Font and the Lord’s Table. If we don’t, we’ll seek it from ideological loyalty tests to a personality cult.
Some Christians treat fellowship of the Spirit embodied in worship and daily community life as trivial. Such is a peripheral concern in light of the supposed great need of this dark hour. And that great need is confronting false worldviews. Making sociopolitical alliances becomes the most vital need.
This is not about setting aside the importance of good doctrine. This idea is a doctrine in its own right. This is about recognizing two different trajectories in making manifest the Kingdom in this world. One looks to the public ministry of the Word and the Sacraments. To prayers and psalms and thanksgiving as salvation in the midst of sacred sociology. The other promotes an attitude of perpetual polemical posturing. It defends a curated official worldview as the tribal mark of Christian faithfulness. And it’s often accompanied by the implicit norms of a niche microculture.
The former promotes the Peace of the Christian Faith. The latter promotes the War of the Christian Worldview. The one trusts in the rituals and rhythms of rightly ordered public worship. These call to the nations and reveal the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. The other trusts in the rant and rhetoric of rigorously asserted performative standards. These shame and goad men and women into compliance and call down vengeful holy fire from heaven upon the earth.
The one says,
The Gospel, the one Faith, and the one holy catholic and apostolic Church are as broad as our common participation in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Christ’s shed blood is thicker than the claims of amniotic water. Indeed, baptismal water is thicker than the claims of familial blood. The bread we eat and the wine we drink make us one Body in Christ, because we consume the same spiritual food and imbibe the same spiritual drink.
The other says,
Agreement about whose baptism we affirm and who can commune at the Table with us isn’t that important to the Christian public life. What matters is rallying around public policies to make our stance known. Our unity is found in our opposition to sociopolitical evils.
Sacramental saints have a meaningful ecclesiology. They have corporate worship practices that retrain and reform desires. They build habits around a common love and vision of the Good Life of the Heavenly Kingdom.
Worldview warriors have ethics and norms that modify behavior. They impart acceptable patterns of speech and action. These signal membership in the worldview tribe.
As for me, I’ll stick with the classical marks of the church:
- Word rightly proclaimed
- Sacraments rightly administered
- Body rightly nurtured and disciplined
That is how the Church is to be known and recognized by the nations in the world.