Outreach and Sacraments

I almost missed this brief entry, but I’m glad I didn’t. It is gold.

What do outreach and the sacraments have to do with one another? In a word: guilt–“us” with two much and “them” with none.

In my opinion part of the none-guilt problem is that the entire Protestant world has developed a centuries-long tradition of “saving” Roman Catholics–saving hypothetical Luther’s suffering terrors of conscience.

If we could build time machines and go back a few centuries to Medieval Europe we might make great Evangelists.

But since God is dragging us, kicking and screaming, into the twenty-first, it might be good to stop addressing people who aren’t alive anymore and actually aim our message at the people who are here with us.

It also may be we are free to acknowledge that, for whatever reason, guilt does not resonate for non-Christians of our culture and time and generation, and that’s okay. We do not need to go to guilt to get to Christ – that is not the only formula or plot line available. To say another way, we do not need to force non-Christians to feel something they do not now feel in order to fix something they never thought they had a problem with until we came along (especially if that is not the route we ourselves followed). Sometimes all we need to do is invite people to come and see, and then watch the story God writes as He moves to set things right.

As to the guilt problem, how can one’s heart not burn within when reading this?:

For Christians, it may be we do not need to believe the Gospel harder, we need affirmed to us that the story of our connection with the Gospel is valid (it is) — and therefore the Good News is for us, too. And our story may have been through relationships and “come and see” experiences, or never knowing a day we did not know Jesus, or something else. (Though I won’t delve into it, I find echoes of the need for one’s story to be validated in Galatians, where Paul affirms the Gentile “come to Jesus”/ “remember how you first came to know God” story and refuses to let the Jewish Christians impose another story on them and try to fit their story in a different mold).


4 thoughts on “Outreach and Sacraments

  1. Aaron

    To chime in with another slightly-connected thought…

    Most Christians are told to “bring a friend to church”. Why? So he can feel guilt when he realizes that he’s missing out on the Church and has missed out for years? The non-Christian of our day feels no guilt when he comes to church. That is, if he ever does come to church. (I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say “If you’re here today and you’re wondering what this is all about…” That always strikes me as funny: “If you’re here” ) They don’t feel they’re missing out on anything, just a crumb of bread and thimbleful of wine. Uninspired ears hear the word “feast” and cannot understand.

    But there is another set of people in the congregation who often feel that they’re missing out. Of course, I;m thinking of children. They have inspired ears and hearts circumcised in the rite of baptism. Their opened ears hear the word “feast” and believe. And we should feel guilty. Who’s missing out? Our own children.

  2. Paul

    Aaron writes: “They don’t feel they’re missing out on anything, just a crumb of bread and thimbleful of wine.”

    I won’t pretend that an exception establishes a new rule, but: The catalyst for my youngish pastor’s adulthood conversion was the feeling of being shut out of Communion. It sobered him up. He knew that the things he was passing by weren’t for him, and he knew that he was choosing to keep it that way.

  3. Jim

    Well, maybe. But what about this possibility: People don’t feel guilty because they have hard hearts?

    I mean, you don’t need someone to give you rest unless you feel your are weary and heavy-laden.

    I’m open to the “alternative-story” argument, but it seems to me it needs to rest on something other than “people aren’t responding to the traditional message.” That may be a necessary indicator of a need for another story, but I don’t think, but itself, that it’s a sufficient indicator.

  4. Ben G.

    It’s worth considering that there is a difference between having feelings of guilt and knowing oneself to BE guilty.

    The hard-hearted, unregenerate person might perfectly well display the former. The feelings of guilt might not have a real point of reference, sure – but they could. The question is, how does he come to know that he IS guilty? Simply feeling guilt doesn’t mean anything – you can do away with guilt-feelings easily enough, given a talented enough therapist.

    I think it’s pretty clear that one doesn’t have to start with guilt-feelings in order to be drawn to Christ. At some point, we all have to deal with the fact of our guilt – the Lord makes that impossible to avoid, but what did Jesus actually say? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, “Come to me, but only if you’re weary and heavy-laden.”

    The thing is, it’s not really an “alternative story” to suggest that not everybody starts off by languishing under the burden of the Law. The only story is that of Jesus Christ – there are a whole lot of characters who come into it. I think all that’s been proposed by Miller, Yanosy, and others is a willingness to accept that not every character comes into the story in the same way.

    Every character will have to realize his or her guilt at some point, but not every one is drawn to Christ in the first place because of it. Some will come to Him because of their guilt but not knowing that that’s what has drawn them. Some will come for other reasons entirely and then be faced later with the need for right standing before God before they can have what they came for. I think the need for different ways to present the message isn’t driven by people’s lack of response to it – it’s driven by the realization that people aren’t hearing enough of it.


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