And So Dies Christianity

The following post is written from an Anglican, that is, a sacramental, perspective in which the Sacraments play a central role. Much will still be applicable and true for non-sacramental churches.

In the evenings my wife and I watch the occasional British crime drama; currently it is Broadchurch. On the most recent episode there was an interesting — and insightful — give and take between the two primary characters. What follows — though it is in quotes for sake of clarity — is not a verbatim transcript of the dialogue, but it does capture the gist.

“So, you’re not a ‘church person,’ then?”

“No, not really. Oh, you know, midnight mass (on Christmas) and Easter if we remember it.”

“Easter…if you remember it?”

“Well, we’re usually doing Easter egg hunts and that sort of thing — so, yeah, if we remember it.”

“And so dies Christianity.”

The last statement is prophetic — hyperbolic, but prophetic nonetheless. When church becomes something we “do” if we remember it; when church becomes merely a place to have children baptized, weddings blessed, and funerals held; when church becomes merely a sentimental, vestigial remnant of ages past to visit a few times in the year for a few nice pageants (Christmas and Easter), then so dies Christianity, if not throughout the world then certainly in our hearts. When parishioners absent themselves from church during a pandemic and simply do not return because they have “gotten out of the habit,” then so dies Christianity. When travel, work, children’s activities or a nice, relaxing Sunday morning brunch crowd out regular worship in a local church, then so dies Christianity.

Let me say this as gently but forthrightly as I can because Scripture says it forthrightly: church — by which I mean regular attendance and participation in a local worshiping body — is not optional:

Hebrews 10:23–25 (ESV): 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

And why is church important? Why can you not simply worship at home or on the water or in the mountains or in any of a thousand places? In one sense, of course, you can indeed worship at any of those places, and it is appropriate to do so. But — this is important — you cannot worship fully in any of those places and you will weaken and perhaps — God forbid! — die spiritually if that becomes your primary means and venue of worship. So, what is lacking there?

The church is where the Word of God is read and proclaimed in the midst of the Body of Christ. Yes, you can and should read Scripture on your own. But St. Peter insists that no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation (ref 2 Peter 1:20). To avoid error and misunderstanding, we must read Scripture with the church: not only with our local parish but with the Fathers and Mothers of the faith; with the one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church spread out through space and time; with the consensus of the faithful. And reading Scripture requires much more than cognitive engagement with the text. St. Francis, so it is said, considered the Bible less a book to be read than a script to be acted. To read is to live; if one does not live Scripture, then one has not truly read Scripture. And where, but in the church, do we first take our place in the grand drama of redemption using the Scriptures as our script?

The church is where the Sacraments are duly administered. Is this important?

John 6:53–58 (ESV): 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Early Christian writers speak of two ways: the way of life and the way of death. To willing absent oneself from Holy Communion is the way of death. Yes, of course, I know that there are exigencies that preclude one from attending church to receive the Sacrament. Most of these are temporary. But, even when they are lengthy or permanent, the church makes provision to administer the Sacrament to those in need. But simply to disregard the Body and Blood of Christ, to deem it as less important than sleeping in or eating out? May it never be.

And, without arguing over the nature and number of Sacraments, confession and absolution are present in a local church or through the ministry of the local church. We need to kneel — or sit or stand — with our brothers and sisters to confess our sins against God “and our neighbors” so that we might receive absolution and the grace and consolation of his Holy Spirit.

I could go on. Church is where we are formed spiritually through prayer and worship, through learning and service. Church is where we are challenged to live like we actually believe the Sermon on the Mount. Church is where we practice forgiveness and patience. Church is where we receive a much needed infusion of hope. Church is where we fulfill an essential part of the human vocation given Adam and Eve in Eden: to be priests of creation — to gather up the praises of all creation and to present them to God along with our own praise and worship.

“So, you’re not a ‘church person,’ then?”

“No, not really. Oh, you know, midnight mass (on Christmas) and Easter if we remember it.”

“Easter…if you remember it?”

“Well, we’re usually doing Easter egg hunts and that sort of thing — so, yeah, if we remember it.”

“And so dies Christianity.”

About johnaroop

I am a husband, father, retired teacher, lover of books and music and coffee and, as of 17 May 2015, by the grace of God and the will of his Church, an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Diocese of the South. I serve as assisting priest at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN, and as Canon Theologian for the Anglican Diocese of the South.
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1 Response to And So Dies Christianity

  1. Peg Hightower says:

    Wonderful message, so blessed to be in church on Sundays and on many other occasions! Our God is the constant in our lives when so much around us is in chaos.

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