Mission and the Sacraments?

four views

I’ve just finished reading Four Views on the Church’s Mission. It’s good, and well worth reading – in particular the chapters and interactions between Jonathan Leeman and Chris Wright. These sections alone cover a lot of the missiological terrain.

The most stimulating chapter for me though was Peter Leithart’s on ‘Sacramental Mission.’ There’s plenty in there to question or disagree with, but I found some of his comments on baptism and the Lord’s supper especially powerful, and so I’ve quoted them below:

On baptism:

“In a world addicted to autonomy, baptism declares that we belong to another . . . In a word that believes in inherent human goodness, baptism declares that we must die and be buried to live just lives. In a world of scape-goating, baptism calls the baptized to a life of continuous confession and repentance. In a world of tribalism and nationalism, baptism joins men and women from all nations into one body.”

On the Lord’s supper:

“In a world of greedy consumerism, the Supper embodies a community of goods shared in joy and thanksgiving. In a world that pursues self fulfilment, God’s table companions are conformed to the self-giving of Jesus. In a world founded on materialism, the bread of the Eucharist confirms that we do not live by bread alone. In a world that separates religion and life, the Supper demonstrates that the mundane world of eating and drinking is caught up in the life of communion with God.”

If you want to know what all that has to do with mission, Leithart contends that the church’s rituals (and worship more broadly) teach us what it means to be God’s people on God’s mission in God’s world. His closing statement is as follows:

“Here is the mission of the church, then: Set up God’s table. Invite folks to dinner. Make sure they wash up. Teach them how to eat together.”

Personally, I think there’s quite a bit more to say, but I have to admit to finding his comments on the relationship between the church’s worship and mission hugely stimulating.

Overall, the book is well worth reading for pastors trying to get their heads round some of the missiological debates, and the practical implications of what it means to be a church on mission. I suspect most readers will be closer to Leeman and Wright, than Franke and Leithart, but there are things to chew over from each contributor. If the fat books by Bosch, Wright, Goheen or Sunquist intimidate you, this would be a very good place to start.

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