Thursday, November 30, 2006

Here a Sacerdotalist, There a Sacerdotalist... Everywhere a Sacerdotalist

We have seen that evangelical and Reformed believers offer very different answers to the question "How does one 'get religion'?" The next question we will ask to determine the nature of the relationship between these two branches of Protestantism is, "What does the Christian faith look like once it is acquired?"

Again, not surprisingly, the answers differ. While the evangelical may dismiss "sacramental faith" (whether in its Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, or Roman Catholic versions) as too institutional, "churchy," or sacerdotal, the fact is that his faith relies on sacraments a-plenty, just not necessarily the ones Jesus came up with.

For example, practices such as daily quiet times, altar calls, listening to Contemporary Christian Music, and attending "afterglows" are all considered important - yea vital - to growing in the Lord. In fact, even pastors themselves have become sacraments in some megachurch contexts. After all, the authority of the pastor's message often rests upon his witty personality, godly life, and dynamic speaking style (you know, the things that Paul deliberately did not employ, much to the disappointment of his Corinthian audience).

In stark contrast to this stands the faith as understood by confessional Reformed theology. To those of this persuasion, the Christian life follows a regular, Sabbatical pattern that centers upon the corporate worship of God by his gathered people on the first day of the week. Like their evangelical brothers and sisters they too place great emphasis upon sacraments, but only upon those instituted by the Lord himself. Baptism, then, initiates us into the household of faith, and that faith is nurtured and strengthened by means of the bread and cup of Communion.

I would even venture to suggest that the nature of confessional Reformed Christian living, particularly its dependance upon the ordinary ministry of the local church, when contrasted with the high-octane, subjective quest for spiritual experience so characteristic of evangelical pietism, is such that the former respresents what Luther called a "theology of the cross," while the latter betrays a "theology of glory."

Are dangers reserved solely for one or the other? Are these systems necessarily opposed? If so, does this mean that Reformed believers have no place for subjective piety?