I long for a church that is not uncomfortable with mystery or with the sacraments. The evangelical understanding I’ve been taught on the Eucharist is anemic, and the standard baptism explanation of “an outward symbol of an inward faith” misses the spiritual act, which still has an element of mystery in it.
So quoth I several weeks ago now in this post, which I recommend reading if you haven’t yet. (The post has also been republished at emergingchurch.info.) This was point number seven of nine, and I am continuing to elaborate on them one by one and one after another after another and another and yet yet another as I continue to reflect upon their meaning.
Scot McKnight talks about the sacraments in this post at JesusCreed, and I would agree with him that the sacraments can be viewed as being at different points on a continuum. The issue for me is that the evangelicalism of my background (or is it the charismaticism?) leaves the sacraments (however many there are viewed to be) over at the one end of the spectrum where there’s nothing to them but ineffectual ritual. ISTM we’re missing something by sluffing them off to the side that way.
Mystery has to do with making peace with the idea that we don’t have to know and be able to explain everything. The drive to understand the intricacies of spiritual truth, for example, tends to lead toward demythologizing or despiritualizing things. We can have a tendency to approach a deeply spiritual subject and attempt to wrestle it within the bounds of our own understanding… but by its very nature it won’t fit, and we end up trimming. I would rather have the whole thing and get comfortable with the mystery, with the not knowing, but resting in God that I don’t need to understand. Contemplation of mysteries leads to wonder.
This means I don’t need to understand how the sacraments effect change or invite God to act in some way… it’s enough to be open to it and to believe that it is. When I receive the bread and wine of Communion, if I have an anticipation and expectation that in receiving it, God will be revealed to me in some deeper way and I will encounter him in the exchange, then I am more likely to receive. On the other hand, if it’s little more to me than a nice light snack, I should expect to miss out on anything more than than. Baptism is the same, of course. I’m not saying that we need to accept that baptism effects regeneration, but in the same way, we need to view it as more than just a dip in the tank.
I really don’t know why we have to claim to have everything all figured out. Maybe it’s an effect of modernism, but who knows? Make peace with the mystery. I’m not making this up, and it’s not simple mysticism… the Bible really does talk about mystery in this same context.