In the latest episode of the Mere Fidelity podcast, Alistair Roberts brought up a helpful point that is worth sharing here. In the podcast, Alistair and the other interlocutors spoke about the bourgeoning popularity of liturgy in the Evangelical world. The conversation spanned from discussions over conversion to Rome and the East to the the seeming popular-level embrace of liturgy that is being seen throughout Evangelicalism. While much of the discussion was helpful, I found Alistair Roberts remarks toward the end of the discussion very informative.
Roberts noted how the role of the liturgy in the Christian life goes well beyond a merely intellectual level. Too often, Roberts claims, Evangelicals approach various aspects of the liturgy from a truncated perspective. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are approached from a very scientific perspective. We ask questions like “What is happening to a person when they are baptised?” or “What is happening to the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper?”
While these questions are not entirely fruitless, they often divorce the elements of the liturgy from their proper context within the church and the wider canon of scripture. Roberts points out that it is much easier to get a hold on baptism and the Lord’s Supper when we understand them in their connection to washing rites and the role of bread and wine throughout the Bible (and not simply in the letters of Paul). Moreover, Roberts points out that the liturgical institutes of baptism and the Lord’s Supper serve as type of compass that points Christians to their place in God’s story.
It is this point that I find so illuminating. Rather, than zooming waaay in to try and find out what is happening to the water, the bread, and the wine, perhaps a better approach to the liturgy is to zoom out. What is it about the Christian liturgy that connects us to God’s story? If we read the liturgy in this light then things become much clearer. God’s word provides us with a rich tapestry in which God is telling a grand story. Appropriately encountered, the Christian liturgy should be telling us the same story.
Food for thought.
Michael lives with his wife (Caroline) and dog (Beau) in Athens, GA where he teaches history and economics to high schoolers. Michael enjoys reading, watching soccer, drinking bourbon, and taking walks with his wife and dog.