Hello Jill, Will you be so kind as to explain the study of Sacramental theology? I’ve noticed many millennials leaving the church disgruntled by the large organization model, and the inauthenticity of those in the church. Yet, I see many of them still loving Jesus and meeting in small community groups, sometimes in coffee houses and sometimes in bars. They seem to have a deep respect for parts of the sacraments, especially the communion Eurcharist. Do you see this trend, and can you help me understand it in light of your studies and personal knowledge?
What a beautiful question. Thanks for asking. Sacramental Theology is the systematic study of the sacraments and the liturgical celebration of these rites throughout the history of the church and biblical insights of theologians. For my own part, my sacramental studies were narrowed to the Eucharist/Lord Supper, focusing most intensely on the sacramental theology of John Calvin. One of my concerns was with how a recovery of a robust sacramental theology and sense of the Spirit’s role in the eucharist might shape the church by incorporating the body and the senses in the life of faith. Jesus is not only asking us for mental ascent or verbal confession that he is Lord; he is asking us to inhabit and participate in the life of faith, to be united in the redemptive history of Christ, to receive and accept the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in our very hands. I wanted to ask particularly how the Spirit through Christ in the Lord’s Supper was offering the church a recurring, physical, creative reminder that the Father is calling us to love Him with everything in us–souls, minds, strengths, hearts, senses, and bodies.
The trend you mention is one I noticed in my own undergrad days and I agree with you that it seems to be gaining some new (and maybe slightly different) steam among millennials. There are various voices weighing in on that particular conversation from a few perspectives-whether looking at the signs of a present theological restlessness as potential correctives to harms taken on in the reformation or in the church’s embrace of certain priorities of the enlightenment or examining millennial values and desires (authenticity, having a sense of an encounter, etc). Scholars have had much to say, and I imagine the conversation/debate will only deepen. I am attaching one article here that you might find interesting. I thought this article made some accurate points, at least in my own experience and those I’ve known who are moving further into higher liturgical traditions, but it’s certainly not exhaustive and leaves room for much to discuss.Another book I've found insightful about the trend is Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church. The book by Lester Ruth is a revised version of an earlier work of the late Robert Webber, two scholars largely concerned with spiritual trends, pendulum swings, moves of the Spirit, and the Christ who endures in the midst. What I first liked about this book is that it broke the notion that my journey toward a deeper experience of the sacraments was unique. I grew up in evangelical church where communion was strictly memorialist and somewhat of an afterthought. Largely, I remember feeling a sense of disconnect and even despair when celebrating communion-here was this physical, earthly sign with which I was desperately trying to bring to mind a distant theological event. I remember taking communion with much dis-ease, feeling like I had to muster a certain sense of guilt or need in order to bridge the gap between all it symbolized and my own faith and life. This dis-ease with the Supper came with me into seminary where I was exposed to deeper engagement with scripture and the sacramental shape of God's movement toward creation, describing himself first as a Gardener--tending to his creation, breathing himself into it. Later the Scriptures speak of the kingdom as a feast, heaven as a banquet, the master preparing a table, the wedding feast of the lamb. All of this is to say, I believe the Lord's Supper has opened my eyes to Christ, and opened me to God in scripture, in a way that I was never quite able to reach on my own, ever conjuring a sense of longing as a means to remembering a distant, even if salvific, event.
One of the more hopeful possibilities of the conversation itself, whether spurred on by restless millennial voices or high profile conversions, is that it perhaps shows signs of the Spirit’s renewal in the life and faith of the church, a greater openness to spiritual discussion, and the Spirit moving in ways that might be leading us to greater church unity, even in our theological differences. Of course, I think it’s also helpful to remind people, like I was reminded myself when I first read Webber’s book, that worship is not aboutindividual preferences and ultimately we might not grow too comfortable criticizing the ancient Church, which Jesus loves dearly and which will outlast all of our trends. Worship is a gift enabled by the Spirit through the living Son by the Father who longs to make himself known. It is a celebration that invites us to participate in and be changed by the divine communion.
Thanks for asking this question!