“The sacraments are what make the church relevant”

“The sacraments are what make the church relevant” May 5, 2015

Yesterday we blogged about Rachel Held Evan’s contention that church growth techniques designed to reach Millennials–contemporary worship, attempts to make church relevant, efforts to make Christianity seem cool–do not, in fact, work.  Her suggestion instead:   “Keep worship weird.”  That is, recover the sacraments.  “The sacraments,” she says, “are what make the church relevant.”

From Rachel Held Evans, Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’ – The Washington Post:

If young people are looking for congregations that authentically practice the teachings of Jesus in an open and inclusive way, then the good news is the church already knows how to do that. The trick isn’t to make church cool; it’s to keep worship weird.

You can get a cup of coffee with your friends anywhere, but church is the only place you can get ashes smudged on your forehead as a reminder of your mortality. You can be dazzled by a light show at a concert on any given weekend, but church is the only place that fills a sanctuary with candlelight and hymns on Christmas Eve. You can snag all sorts of free swag for brand loyalty online, but church is the only place where you are named a beloved child of God with a cold plunge into the water. You can share food with the hungry at any homeless shelter, but only the church teaches that a shared meal brings us into the very presence of God.

What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.

This would seem to be good news for sacramental churches, such as confessional Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox.  And yet, we learn that Millennials don’t appreciate rigorous doctrines, “non-inclusive” stances to women, and “judgmental” moral teachings, all of which these conservative traditions could be accused of.

Ms. Evans would seem to be in the right place with her new Episcopalian church, which manages to be both sacramental and inclusive, letting its members believe and act pretty much however they want.  But the Episcopal church isn’t doing that well either today, nor is more liberal Lutheranism.  Why not, do you think, if what Ms. Evans says is true about Millennials?  Or might there be a resurgence in liberal Episcopalianism, once Millennials learn what they have to offer?

Nevertheless, there ARE Millennials discovering confessional Lutheranism, as well as these other sacramental traditions.  They are finding that you really need strong theology in order to take the sacraments seriously.  And they are finding the forgiveness of sins, which can only be fully realized once you agree that you have sins that need to be forgiven.

Can any of you Millennials out there speak to what Ms. Evans is saying?  Do you share her disdain with church growth tactics?  Do you also find a sacramental theology to be compelling?


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