I have no use for dual natures of things. I have no knowledge of how God is present in the elements at communion or baptism, nor should I know. That is part of the Divine Mystery. What I do know is that the church marks time for its people while reminding them of the Gospel. Baptism is a symbol of being loved even though we are powerless to do anything to earn this love. Communion is the joy and celebration of gathered friends and family with recognition that the table will change and people will die and yet we hope to one day share the table again with them. There could be more sacraments similar to the Catholic sacramental model, but I affirm the Protestant argument for two sacraments. I do, however, see the need for the church to observe other “markers” of an individual’s passage through a community and life. Events like confirmation (passage into young adulthood), blessing of vocation (an “ordination” if you will), marriage, blessing of the sick, and funeral rites should all be observed and marked for the good of the individual and the community. All things we do in remembrance of the Triune God.
Good News for Today
The early church’s radical inclusivity broke with the social conventions and traditional spirituality of its era but struck a responsive chord within the souls of people who had been marginalized and minimized by the in crowd. The vision and words of Christ are always attractive: Come unto me all ye who are tired and heavy laden; Come to me all who feel burned out on religion, and I will give you rest in the unforced rhythms of grace.
That means that our words have to look like Jesus: a mother nursing her babes, a father holding the hand of his loved ones and whispering real encouragement, a servant who steps down so that there is room for another to step up. Like Christ, the church should not be judge and jury, gatekeeper or the morals police but rather the incarnated Christ of its age, for without him there is only the stink of arrogance in the room.
Every church has to face challenges and deal with them with clarity and conviction. We know that we will never get it totally right all the time because we are only human. But we cannot pretend that the church’s actions do not cripple us sometimes and violate our best intentions as disciples. And unless we are practicing and proclaiming a Word that lifts the burdens of others with our music, our worship, our liturgy, our organization, and the way we share information as well as in acts of living compassion, then we are living under the judgment of Christ as exposed in scripture.
With this doctrine of the church, the church can do away with its competitive nature and live in celebration of diversity. The church can do away with the fear of change and live in the assurance of God’s grace through Christ as sustained to us by the Holy Spirit. This view honors the vision of Christ that the community brings good news to the economically and spiritually poor, sets captives free, and proclaims the Jubilee that is grace (Luke 4:18-21). This view honors the past traditions and spiritual practices, but does not hold one above the other. Each denomination adds a part to the full understanding of the Gospel. Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, and the other reformers are honored and their spirit of reform is followed, as the church cannot rest upon their answers but adapt their model to time and context.
Most of all the church should be about articulation and interpretation of grace. It is the proclaimer and not the source of grace. The church is a gift from God to the world, but it is not the conduit from which grace comes. What history has taught us about this view is that the church gets power hungry and corrupts the Gospel through dividing people in its definitions, doctrines, and creeds. As Justo L. Gonzalez wrote, “And because we believe, we commit ourselves: to believe for those who do not believe, to love for those who do not love, to dream for those who do not dream, until the day when hope becomes a reality. ” The church can no longer afford to divide people—it must bring them together. The church must honor that many colors and ideas are needed to paint a single landscape. The church will then have many generations with many income levels. The church will affirm diversity and cultivate a “Generous Orthodoxy” that includes all races, sexual preferences, and abilities. It will know its history and have a communal memory and vision not just a pastoral or consistory’s view. It will be a place of divine guidance.