Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Evangelised or Sacramentalised?

An interesting and, I think, penetrating reflection on contemporary Eastern Orthodox life by American Orthodox theologian, Bradley Nassif...

"...contemporary Orthodoxy possesses the gospel in a formal way but we are not translating it in a relevant, life-changing way. The clarity of the gospel is not intentionally made central to our liturgical services and everyday lives. Formally, in its liturgy, sacraments, iconography, hymnography, spirituality, and theological literature, the Orthodox Church is extremely Christ-centered; in practice, however, it is not. Just because the gospel is formally in the life of the Church does not mean that Orthodox parishioners have understood and appropriated its message! Our bishops and priests need to make the gospel crystal clear and absolutely central in our parishes.

This is not to say sermons are not preached. They are, and are often eloquent. But very often what priests preach are not the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and His call to total commitment and what that means to everyday life and liturgy. Our leaders wrongly assume everybody knows about that subject. Instead of Christ-centered messages, we hear sermons dealing with moral values, social issues, financial giving, the environment, or the need for more Church attendance -all inseparably related to the gospel, but not to be confused with the Good News itself. In effect, the authentic gospel is replaced with a social gospel or a liturgical gospel (as if simply "going to Church" is all that is needed). I often wonder, "Are our people really evangelized, or are they simply sacramentalized?"

Comment: This brings to mind something Dr Sasse said, "the sacrament without the Word leads to idolatry". I can't recall where he wrote this, or if it was one of his aphorisms someone repeated in my seminary days. This is not to suggest it applies only to Orthodoxy either; formalism is surely a danger for each of the sacramental churches. While Lutheran doctrine correctly preserves the objective nature of the sacraments, is there a danger that we do not equally preach faith as necessary for a beneficial reception of them?

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