Monday, June 21, 2010
Rain Man Goes to Church
That’s when the woman realizes that something is not right.
What Raymond Babbitt said was perfectly right. But of course, it missed the point entirely. All he understood was the physical elements of the kiss. He didn’t know what a kiss was for.
That is way many Christians interpret the sacraments. They know they are supposed to be done for some reason, but for the life of them it really seems pointless to plunge a person beneath the water or drink wine and eat bread in church. A good Bible study seems so much more important.
Radical Protestantism has tended to become ever more suspicious of sacramental life. Many American Protestants go to church for years now without ever receiving baptism or communion. They may live their entire lives without ever experiencing the laying of hands.
This would have astounded earlier believers, from the first century AD until a hundred years or so ago.
Despite the Lord’s clear instruction, and despite the obvious practice of the apostles and earliest believers, most Evangelicals do not view sacramental life as having much value. Communion, if received at all, is often a “tack-on’ at the end of a worship service. Worshippers open the plastic flip-top-communion-fast-food thing, remove the bread stuff inside and pop it into their mouths. They then swallow the thimble full of reconstituted grape stuff. As the people eat and drink the wretched stuff, the preacher hardly knows what to say. He may read a scripture. Someone may sing a song about ultimate love and sacrifice. Then the worshippers go home, slightly embarrassed about the meaningless mumbo-jumbo they have just experienced.
Many believers have not even experienced as much of a “communion service,” as that – if such a practice can actually be labeled “communion.”
My point is not to mock any church that still does retain some element of sacramental life, but to point out that our faith has become so disembodied that wine, bread, oil and other material elements of worship have come to appear, -- well, weird to us.
So, it is worth asking: “why do we need to use oil, incense, water, wine and other material elements in worship if God’s work in us is strictly a spiritual thing?
The biblical answer will be jarring for modern ears.
God’s work is not just spiritual.
We live, after all, in a material world.
We are material creatures.
God intends to redeem the material world. He intends to bring matter bring back under His authority.
God indeed is invisible and intangible. We, however, are not. God made us to be material creatures. Materiality is our appointed realm. Furthermore, that will always be the case. For “we believe in the resurrection of the body.”
Because this is the way God made us, spiritual things come wrapped in material packages. That is why we need oil on our heads or need to plunge beneath the waters of baptism. That is why we need to taste the bread and the wine.