In other words, Newbigin’s point: “the church is a sign, a servant and a foretaste of the kingdom of God..” It hit me today like a brick — he is saying that the Church is a sacrament of the kingdom. And I’m really not sure whether it is possible to recover a fully missional framework apart from wrestling with the implications of this.

The connection I made today, and the thread that brought me to this conclusion, is that we need a rich Trinitarian theology of creation in order to recover some of the foundations of missio Dei. We need, in particular, to recover a biblical theology of place. As Evangelicals (using the term broadly), we lack a rich theology of creation, because our theological roots have been cut by Modernity. Anglicans, on the other hand, retain a rich Trinitarian theology of creation in part because they were not impacted by the fundamentalist movement, and in part because they retained a rich sacramental theology. (The Lutherans may be catching up, if Van Gelder is any indication).

Those thick and rich roots have in turn allowed them to retain a vision for parish and for place. We Evangelicals, with our eyes set increasingly on a kingdom that was not of this world, retained the language of Incarnation and a Christological center, at the expense of a rich Trinitarian rooting. We became “heavenly minded” and Gnostic, without the ability to see the distortions that push toward Christomonism. That result was inevitable when we shrunk the gospel to a personal exchange.

In other words we chose one end of the tension and hung on tight, while giving verbal assent to the need to hold the tension. Maybe it wasn’t even possible to live in that tension without a framework to hold us there. The synthesis that expressed the tension was largely lost to Evangelicals, with an epistemology more rooted in the Enlightenment than in Scripture.

But what if — what if the Anglicans were “right” (as much as anyone can be right in a theological description, always working with the limits of language and metaphor) that the Church is a sacrament. Right that the geography of the Eucharist says more about the meaning of creation and redemption that most Evangelicals have affirmed? What are the missional implications of gathering around the table: partaking of the bread and the wine there in your neighbourhood? What are the implications for participatio Christi? The eschatological reality is that we are all there: gathered around every Eucharistic table is the church, past and present, gathered in the life and death of Jesus.

And somehow we have to find a resolution between God’s care for the universals and for the particulars, between immanence and transcendence. The Incarnation is God’s answer; at the table we recapitulate the answer, and we become the Body of Christ. To identify Christ too closely with the creation is idolatry and Pantheism. To move God away from the world is Docetism, and then Deism. God made flesh! As the Anglicans love to point out, only Christianity is so radical in its approach to the material world.

“The real presence in the Eucharist is a fact, but it is not unique. The Word of God is everywhere present and active… The bread and wine have a symbolic meaning before they are consecrated — they are the gift of God rendered serviceable by the labour of man, and this is what we ‘offer’ at the ‘offertory.’ It is this that the Lord takes to make the special vehicle of his universal presence. No words can exaggerate the reverence due to this divinely appointed means of grace; but it is easy to confine our reverence here when we ought to extend it.” Wm. Temple

yes, extend it outward to every nook and cranny: all the world is made Holy because God was enfleshed in Jesus of Nazareth. The physicality of the use of bread and wine is an affirmation of the material: that we cannot go around matter, but must go THROUGH it.
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IF much of what we need to be on about these days is culture, and if the point of engaging culture is to transform it for the kingdom, then Robert Bellah’s article arguing that Protestants are handicapped in this regard because they lack a sacramental imagination, might be a good place to begin. Check it out HERE.

1 Comment on sign, servant and foretaste – at the table

  1. […] statement: Newbigin, a good Anglican, is telling us with these three words that the church is a sacrament of the kingdom. That’s a theologically loaded term, and it would be helpful to look at it, […]