Things Are Not What They Seem, part two

24 05 2014

Things are rarely what they seem. Step one of entering into the fullness of a genuinely Biblical and Apostolic Christian faith begins by affirming that reality encompasses a good deal more than our five senses can tell us. However, a single step does not constitute a journey.

To reclaim the fullness of the Christian faith, we will, with Hans Boersma, have to do some historical study, while making use of the disciplines of philosophy and theology. So, it’s time to get in touch with your inner theology nerd, and reclaim the treasure that is ours in Christ as His Church.

To summarize the work Boersma is doing in Heavenly Participation:

The Patristic age (roughly the 1st century to the 5th century), operating out of a Platonist-Christian world-view, saw the entire created order as having an organic, dynamic and real participation in the other-worldly, heavenly reality of the Trinity. This was supremely experienced in the Eucharist.

In the later Middle-Ages (roughly from the 12th century to the 16th century), with the rise of an Aristotelian hegemony expressed especially in a Scholastic world-view, the “natural” slowly began to be seen as something that could stand alone without participation or support from the mysterious other-world. Heaven was “up there”, and even though God was a benevolent sovereign He also resided separately “up there” in heaven, quite removed from our “natural” lives. The exception to this was the medieval belief in the literal presence of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Mass. But even this was largely the restricted province of priests and monastics, since the average lay person rarely went forward to receive the elements . Participating in the life of God was the rare experience of the “mystics”, rather than the experience of the ecclesia as a whole.

“The once-sacred cosmos, in which the world of nature had been suffused with supernatural presence, started to make room for a naturalized world, in which the sacramental, divine character of authority slowly disappeared from view.” (pg. 56 – “Exitus: The Fraying of the Tapestry”)

In the Enlightenment, and its natural child, Modernity, the unraveling begun with Scholasticism, proves to be too slow a process. The natural and the supernatural quickly became compartmentalized and hermetically sealed, so that commerce between them became a trickle and then stopped altogether. Whereas, the Middle Ages gently pulled the threads of the tapestry with two fingers, Modernity used sharp instruments to sever all the remaining threads at once. God became the “man upstairs”– but the stairs are in dire disrepair and impassable, making access to Him a forgotten dream. We have Mother Earth, but no Creator to thank for the sunset over the bay. The bread and wine (grape juice) remind us of God’s love in Christ, but cannot offer the communicant an audience with the One being remembered and worshipped. We have Christian self-help books and counseling principles to apply to our dysfunctions, but no Savior who can reach into our lives and bind up our broken hearts, or heal our diseased emotions and thoughts.

The modern efforts to “de-mystify” the Faith have been devastatingly successful in the same way a wild fire burns though a drought-plagued wood. We live now in the ashes, awaiting the hopeful sign of a sprout of leafy green to arise from the grayness of a world where the color of the supernatural is nearly forgotten. The tales of a living, loving God infusing His very life into us and our world are the fairy tales we tell to children, but which, as adults we have set aside as pure fiction. Heaven and earth are utterly separated– and surely, our society now declares, there never was a “heaven” to begin with.

But somewhere, in a dank, dark church basement, there is a beautifully woven tapestry– consisting of the threads of both heaven and earth–awaiting the light of day to be revealed to Jesus’ disciples once more. For this to happen, however, much of the “modern” church structure above the tapestry’s storeroom will need to experience a “demo” day (which is long overdue given its disuse and decay!!). Only then can beams of light make their way below. And the new structure will need to be rebuilt only after careful attention has been given to the story told on the tapestry– a story of heavenly participation here on earth. It tells the story of a God who lives not above us, but with us– or more properly, we with Him.

As Hans Boersma puts it, “I am convinced that postmodernism is simply the outcome of modernity, both of them predicated on a desacramentalized universe; and I believe that the solutions to our problems hardly lie in evangelical accommodations to contemporary cultural trends. Instead, as Protestants, we need to relearn to see the world with sacramental eyes.” (pg. 99)

Unfortunately, I see too many Evangelicals, who, in the actual work of ministry and worship, are running hard to make “customers” comfortable– to make the church look as much as possible like the rest of the culture– save with a little Gospel lingo added to be able to call it “church” and “Christian.” All the while missing the fact that the people in the culture around us are longing for the God “upstairs” to break through the ceiling and enter our lives–to eat at our tables, to recline with us on our couches, to heal our broken hearts and straighten our bent minds.

I seem to remember Jesus had a penchant for entering the homes of sinners (both tax collectors and religious leaders) and injecting heavenly realities into them. What if he’s knocking at our church doors even now, and we’re ignoring him? How long can we ignore Him before he moves on to the next closed door? The sacraments are a way (perhaps the way) to answer that knock. It’s time for Evangelicals to realize that Baptism and Communion are more than an extended sermon illustration. It’s time to realize we walk heaven’s streets even as we stride forward to the Communion table– bread and wine, body and blood, heaven on earth. Things are not what they always seem….

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