Posts Tagged ‘sacramental’

ancient-faith

A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future

PROLOGUE

In every age the Holy Spirit calls the Church to examine its faithfulness to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, authoritatively recorded in Scripture and handed down through the Church. Thus, while we affirm the global strength and vitality of worldwide Evangelicalism in our day, we believe the North American expression of Evangelicalism needs to be especially sensitive to the new external and internal challenges facing God’s people.

These external challenges include the current cultural milieu and the resurgence of religious and political ideologies. The internal challenges include Evangelical accommodation to civil religion, rationalism, privatism and pragmatism. In light of these challenges, we call Evangelicals to strengthen their witness through a recovery of the faith articulated by the consensus of the ancient Church and its guardians in the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, the Protestant Reformation and the Evangelical awakenings. Ancient Christians faced a world of paganism, Gnosticism and political domination. In the face of heresy and persecution, they understood history through Israel’s story, culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of God’s Kingdom.

Today, as in the ancient era, the Church is confronted by a host of master narratives that contradict and compete with the gospel. The pressing question is: who gets to narrate the world? The Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future challenges Evangelical Christians to restore the priority of the divinely inspired biblical story of God’s acts in history. The narrative of God’s Kingdom holds eternal implications for the mission of the Church, its theological reflection, its public ministries of worship and spirituality and its life in the world. By engaging these themes, we believe the Church will be strengthened to address the issues of our day.

1. ON THE PRIMACY OF THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVE

We call for a return to the priority of the divinely authorized canonical story of the Triune God. This story-Creation, Incarnation, and Re-creation-was effected by Christ’s recapitulation of human history and summarized by the early Church in its Rules of Faith. The gospel-formed content of these Rules served as the key to the interpretation of Scripture and its critique of contemporary culture, and thus shaped the church’s pastoral ministry. Today, we call Evangelicals to turn away from modern theological methods that reduce the gospel to mere propositions, and from contemporary pastoral ministries so compatible with culture that they camouflage God’s story or empty it of its cosmic and redemptive meaning. In a world of competing stories, we call Evangelicals to recover the truth of God’s word as the story of the world, and to make it the centerpiece of Evangelical life.

2. ON THE CHURCH, THE CONTINUATION OF GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call Evangelicals to take seriously the visible character of the Church. We call for a commitment to its mission in the world in fidelity to God’s mission (Missio Dei), and for an exploration of the ecumenical implications this has for the unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of the Church. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from an individualism that makes the Church a mere addendum to God’s redemptive plan. Individualistic evangelicalism has contributed to the current problems of churchless Christianity, redefinitions of the Church according to business models, separatist ecclesiologies and judgmental attitudes toward the Church. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to recover their place in the community of the Church catholic.

3. ON THE CHURCH’S THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION ON GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call for the Church’s reflection to remain anchored in the Scriptures in continuity with the theological interpretation learned from the early Fathers. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from methods that separate theological reflection from the common traditions of the Church. These modern methods compartmentalize God’s story by analyzing its separate parts, while ignoring God’s entire redemptive work as recapitulated in Christ. Anti-historical attitudes also disregard the common biblical and theological legacy of the ancient Church. Such disregard ignores the hermeneutical value of the Church’s ecumenical creeds. This reduces God’s story of the world to one of many competing theologies and impairs the unified witness of the Church to God’s plan for the history of the world. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to unity in “the tradition that has been believed everywhere, always and by all,” as well as to humility and charity in their various Protestant traditions.

4. ON THE CHURCH’S WORSHIP AS TELLING AND ENACTING GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call for public worship that sings, preaches and enacts God’s story. We call for a renewed consideration of how God ministers to us in baptism, Eucharist, confession, the laying on of hands, marriage, healing and through the charisma of the Spirit, for these actions shape our lives and signify the meaning of the world. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from forms of worship that focus on God as a mere object of the intellect or that assert the self as the source of worship. Such worship has resulted in lecture-oriented, music-driven, performance-centered and program-controlled models that do not adequately proclaim God’s cosmic redemption. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to recover the historic substance of worship of Word and Table and to attend to the Christian year, which marks time according to God’s saving acts.

5. ON SPIRITUAL FORMATION IN THE CHURCH AS EMBODIMENT OF GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call for a catechetical spiritual formation of the people of God that is based firmly on a Trinitarian biblical narrative. We are concerned when spirituality is separated from the story of God and baptism into the life of Christ and his Body. Spirituality, made independent from God’s story, is often characterized by legalism, mere intellectual knowledge, an overly therapeutic culture, New Age Gnosticism, a dualistic rejection of this world and a narcissistic preoccupation with one’s own experience. These false spiritualities are inadequate for the challenges we face in today’s world. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to return to a historic spirituality like that taught and practiced in the ancient catechumenate.

6. ON THE CHURCH’S EMBODIED LIFE IN THE WORLD

We call for a cruciform holiness and commitment to God’s mission in the world. This embodied holiness affirms life, biblical morality and appropriate self-denial. It calls us to be faithful stewards of the created order and bold prophets to our contemporary culture. Thus, we call Evangelicals to intensify their prophetic voice against forms of indifference to God’s gift of life, economic and political injustice, ecological insensitivity and the failure to champion the poor and marginalized. Too often we have failed to stand prophetically against the culture’s captivity to racism, consumerism, political correctness, civil religion, sexism, ethical relativism, violence and the culture of death. These failures have muted the voice of Christ to the world through his Church and detract from God’s story of the world, which the Church is collectively to embody. Therefore, we call the Church to recover its counter-cultural mission to the world.

EPILOGUE

In sum, we call Evangelicals to recover the conviction that God’s story shapes the mission of the Church to bear witness to God’s Kingdom and to inform the spiritual foundations of civilization. We set forth this Call as an ongoing, open-ended conversation. We are aware that we have our blind spots and weaknesses. Therefore, we encourage Evangelicals to engage this Call within educational centers, denominations and local churches through publications and conferences.

We pray that we can move with intention to proclaim a loving, transcendent, triune God who has become involved in our history. In line with Scripture, creed and tradition, it is our deepest desire to embody God’s purposes in the mission of the Church through our theological reflection, our worship, our spirituality and our life in the world, all the while proclaiming that Jesus is Lord over all creation.

This Call is issued in the spirit of sic et non; therefore those who affix their names to this Call need not agree with all its content. Rather, its consensus is that these are issues to be discussed in the tradition of semper reformanda as the church faces the new challenges of our time. Over a period of seven months, more than 300 persons have participated via e-mail to write the Call. These men and women represent a broad diversity of ethnicity and denominational affiliation. The four theologians who most consistently interacted with the development of the Call have been named as Theological Editors. The Board of Reference was given the special assignment of overall approval.

Just before his death in 2007, Robert E. Webber (inset picture) spent a good portion of his time working collaboratively with over 300 theologians and other leaders to craft A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future. The Call continues some themes and expands upon the Chicago Call” of 1977, and sets forth a vision for an Ancient-Future faith in a postmodern world. That Webber helped to craft such a call is not unusual, for he spent the whole of his professional life calling the church to continual reform and, most especially, encouraging leaders and laity alike to drink from the refreshing well of ancient truth. That the Call came, as it did, at a time of great change in the world and in the church, and that it also came just before his passing, gives it a kind of weight that makes it especially compelling to examine.

Lent2

Lent

How should I prepare myself for Pascha?

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”  2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)

What is Lent?

Lent is a season of forty weekdays and six Sundays for the church to journey with Christ to Holy Week and Pascha. It is an opportunity for of self-examination, repentance, purgation, and spiritual renewal.

Why may we struggle with Lent?

  1. Thanksgiving and Christmas are so ensconced in secular American culture that a period of preparation during Advent makes sense to us. Most Christians are attracted to this season as a way to rise above the materialism and commercialization of Christmas.
  2. Pascha is so foreign to secular American culture that a period of preparation during Lent just seems weird, threatening, out of place.

I. Lent seems like a dark, foreboding ritualism to some Christians – candles, ashes, fasting, prayer, works, and pilgrimage. Haven’t we been saved from empty, meaningless religion?

  1. Perhaps we struggle with Lent in the same way we struggle with the Psalms of lament, which make up two-thirds of the Psalter. Grieving over our lives (i.e. Lenten repentance and Psalms of lamentation) is foreign from our American way of living and our spiritual experience. We often subconsciously screen out what is dark, awkward, and uncomfortable.
  2. We need a season to prepare for Pascha. Most people think of Pascha as a weekend event, and the main preparation is the purchase of new clothes and a carefully planned Pascha egg hunt. However, Pascha is a forty-day season of feasting and celebration in response to the resurrection and new creation. If we prepare for a wedding, an anniversary, a birthday, a graduation, a vacation, an athletic competition, or any other special occasion in our lives, how much more do we need to prepare for Pascha? The forty days of Lent gets us ready for the forty days of Pascha.

The journey to Paschal joy

  1. Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Pascha, “the Feast of feasts.”
  2. Pascha celebrates the death of Death, the annihilation of Hell, the beginning of new and everlasting life.
  3. Pascha celebrates Christ’s resurrection as something that happened to him, is happening, and will happen to us.
  4. God has granted us the gift of new life. The resurrection alters our attitude toward everything, including death. In his death, Christ changed the nature of death from the inside out, transforming the tragedy of tragedies into ultimate victory. “O death, where is thy sting?” God made us partakers of Christ’s resurrection.
  5. We live as if Christ never came, never died, never rose again from the dead, is not the Lord of the world, and will not come again to judge the living and the dead.
  6. This is the real sin, the sin of all sins, the bottomless sadness, and tragedy of our Christian life.
  7. We may acknowledge and confess our various sins, yet we fail to refer our life to that new life which Christ revealed and gave to us. We continually lose and betray the “new life” we received as a gift from God.
  8. We are weak. We forget, we get busy; we become immersed in our daily preoccupations. We focus our material possessions – on what we have or what we do not have. We focus on our experiences – on where we are or where we want to go. We think only of ourselves. We live as if Christ did not rise from the dead, as if that unique event in human history has no meaning for us, as if we will not also rise from the dead. We fail to live constantly by “faith, hope, and love.” We fail to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
  9. Through our failure and sin, our life becomes “old” again – petty, dark, meaningless – a meaningless journey to a meaningless end.

II. Lent is a journey of repentance and return to Pascha.

  1. Lent helps us recover the vision and taste of that new Pascha life which we so easily lose and betray.
  2. The aim of Lent is precisely the remembrance of Christ, a longing for a relationship with God that has been lost. Lent offers the time and place for lamentation of our alienation and the recovery of relationship with God.
  3. The mood of Lent is “bright sadness.” The darkness of Lent allows the flame of the Holy Spirit to burn within our hearts until we are led to the mysterious and radiant brilliance of the resurrection.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday

  1. The Service (Book of Common Prayer, 264-269)
  2. Prayer and invitation to repentance, both now and over the season of Lent
  3. Imposition of ashes
  4. Psalm 51: the prayer of the penitent
  5. Litany of penitence: a template for self-examination and confession during Lent
  6. The peace and Eucharist: Christ saves us from narcissistic self-absorption knowing that Good Friday means forgiveness and Pascha means joy.
  1. Why ashes?
  2. A sign of our Adamic identity, is that we are “of the earth”

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

  1. A sign of our finitude, brokenness, and mortality

“Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)

“Abraham said, ‘I am nothing but dust and ashes.’” (Genesis 18)

  1. A sign of mourning and lamentation, often because of our or another’s rebellion and alienation from God

“But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up…When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head.” (2 Samuel 15:32-34)

“On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting, and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads.” (Nehemiah 9:1)

“Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6)

“When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly… In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.” (Esther 4:1-3)

  1. In the third century, the church began the custom of burning the branches used on Palm Sunday, saving the ashes for the following year, and marking notorious and penitent sinners, such as robbers and murderers, with these ashes. Out of sympathy and solidarity, family and friends of these “marked” persons began using the ashes also, which is consistent with the gospel message that all of us are in need of God’s grace and in need of repentance and restoration.
  2. A Christian vision of the world
  3. Dualism – The radical separation between matter and spirit, profane and sacred, earthly and heavenly.
  4. Sacramentalism – The whole creation is of a piece; physical elements signify deep spiritual realities (i.e. water, bread, and wine; also oil, candles, ashes, palm branches, laying on hands, rings, etc.). We do damage to ourselves, to Jesus, and to the Bible when we try to separate the physical and spiritual, the human and divine, the earthy and the heavenly.

Repent

“Repent, and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15)

  1. Repent: change, turn your life around, move in another direction.
  2. The first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses was, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite (Repent ye!), willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”

III. Repentance is the beginning and continuation of a truly Christian life. Repentance, especially focused during Lent, is a long and sustained spiritual effort.

  1. Lent reminds us (in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer #88) that two things are involved in genuine repentance: “the dying of the old self and the coming to life of the new.” New life with Christ involves a daily surrendering of the old life.
  2. “It is not easy, indeed, to reject a petty ideal of life made up of daily cares, of search for material goods, security, and pleasure, for an ideal of life in which nothing short of perfection is the goal: ‘be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ This world through all its ‘media’ says: be happy, take it easy, and follow the broad way. Christ in the Gospel says: choose the narrow way, fight and suffer, for this is the road to the only genuine happiness. In addition, unless the Church helps, how can we make that awful choice, how can we repent and return to the glorious promise given us each year at Pascha? This is where Great Lent comes in. This is the help extended to us by the Church, the school of repentance, which alone will make it possible to receive Pascha not as a mere permission to eat, to drink, and to relax, but indeed as the end of the ‘old’ in us, as our entrance into the ‘new.’” (Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha)

Turn from sin toward Jesus via remembering your baptism

“Live in your baptism.” (Martin Luther)

  1. Listen to the Father’s voice in baptism: “You are my child whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3)
  2. Review the baptismal vows and prayers before God (Book of Common Prayer, 302-307)

IV. Remember the practice of baptism in the early church

  1. The baptized turned their backs on the west (the symbolic direction of the evil one and sin), saying, “I renounce the devil and all his works,” and spitting in the face of Satan as a sign of ending that relationship.
  2. The main purpose of Lent was to prepare the catechumen (the newly converted Christian) for baptism, which was performed during the Pascha liturgy. Even though we are baptized, what we constantly lose and betray is precisely that which we received at baptism. Therefore, Lent and Pascha is our return every year to our own baptism, our identity in Christ, our death in him, our life in him. Pascha is the rediscovery and the recovery by us of what we were made through our own baptismal death and resurrection.

Turn from sin toward Jesus

  1. Remember that life with God is a loving, engaging, and demanding relationship. Sanctification (becoming increasingly righteous like God) is a subtle and gradual process rather than dramatic and instant moment.
  2. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the three primary acts of Jewish piety: fasting, – prayer, and almsgiving. He did not reject these practices, but sought to correct and deepen them. Jesus promoted an embodied, lived out piety in order to establish, maintain, repair, and transform our relationship with God, neighbor, and self. Be sure to meditate on Matthew 6:1-18 before Lent.

Fasting: turning away from self

  1. A commemoration of the wilderness experiences of Israel and Jesus and a spiritual reminder that “People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
  2. A reminder that your body is holy and belongs to God – made by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and filled by the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

V. We are a psychosomatic unity. Our souls affect our bodies; our bodies affect our souls (i.e. kneeling, folding, or lifting hands, bowing head, etc.).

  1. To what are we saying “no”?
  2. Food – Saying no to my hunger that is often disproportionate to my hunger for God; saying no to what I enjoy in order to enjoy God more; anticipating the Eucharist (i.e. single day fast, multi-day fast, or extended fast – sweets, meat, caffeine, alcohol, etc.).
  3. Time – Saying no to my busyness, distraction, and noise in order to have extended solitude and silence or time to listen to God through is Word or his people (i.e. limit your extracurricular

Activities and commitments, take a true Sabbath).

  1. Money – Saying no to my greed, my urge to acquire, accumulate, hoard, compare (i.e. no advertising, no new purchases for myself, pursue extravagant generosity).
  2. Words – Saying no to my pride, envy, jealousy, anger, dishonesty, my insecure ego that needs more power, attention, pity, gratitude, approval (i.e. not defending myself, not dominating conversation or talking about myself, not gossiping or slandering, using my tongue, my lips, my words to encourage and affirm).
  3. Sex – Saying no to lust, my unfulfilled desires for pleasure (i.e. look people in the eyes, recognize their personhood and dignity as the image of God, delight in their beauty, mourn for their brokenness).
  4. Are these things inherently evil? Does God not want us to enjoy food, time, money, words, and sex? God made all these things good. In addition, we often enjoy them in sacred and redemptive ways. However, we also have a tendency to forget that these are gifts from God. We may become overly comfortable or bored with them. We may become ungrateful. We may distort and pervert them to self-serving ends. We may use them to advantage ourselves and disadvantage others. We may use them for evil. So one way to sanctify or redeem them as God’s good gifts is to go without them for a time to recalibrate our relationship with God and our relationship with these material goods.
  5. The all-day fasts during Lent are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We do not fast on Sundays, the day of resurrection and Eucharist.

VI. When you fast you are vulnerable. Do not plan to turn away from self if you do not also have a plan in place to turn toward God (prayer) and toward your neighbor (almsgiving).

Prayer: turning toward God

“Evening, morning, and noon I cry out to the Lord” (Psalm 55:17).

  1. The prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian (306-373)
  2. “O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. Nevertheless, give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
  3. Pray it in the morning, afternoon, and evening. In the morning, meditate on the four powers from which you seek to be delivered – sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. In the afternoon, meditate on the four virtues you desire to experience in your daily life – chastity, humility, patience, and love. In the evening, review the events of the day, confessing where you failed, giving thanks where you have succeeded, and praising Jesus Christ for his righteousness and grace.
  4. “Faith… is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off’, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with your beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of your digestion. Consequently, one must train the habit of faith. The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change. The next step is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, the sum of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. Moreover, in fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?” (C.S. Lewis, The Business of Heaven)

Almsgiving: turning toward our neighbors

  1. Combine God-focused prayer and neighbor-focused almsgiving by praying for your apartment complex or your street or the block where you work.
  2. Serve via Project Peace.

VII. Brainstorm simple acts of compassion toward known and unknown neighbors.

  1. Save money during Lent to give to the Pascha diaconal offering, which goes to meet financial and other tangible needs within and beyond the community.

Personal reflection and group discussion

  1. Have you ever practiced Lent? If so, what was your experience? If not, what do you hope to gain from the Lenten journey?
  2. How would you apply the Lenten themes to your life and spiritual journey in the coming season?

What do you need to put off and what do you need to put on?

VIII. Fasting – Could we each commit to giving up something we enjoy on a daily or regular basis in order to deepen our desire for God? What? Could we all commit to fasting the entire day on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday? How about fasting from lunch on Wednesdays during Lent?

  1. Prayer – Could we each commit to at least morning or evening prayer each day during Lent?

Could we spend 15 extra minutes on Sundays praying for the life and mission of the church?

  1. Almsgiving – Could we give up a luxury item during the week (i.e. lunch on Wednesdays) and give the money to a friend in need or the diaconal fund or a social service provider? Could we donate a portion of our weekend to do extra volunteering?

Adapted from Lent at Christ Church, edited by Rev. Gary DeSha