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:: Saturday, June 14, 2003 ::

Sacrament or Salvation?: The False Dichotomy

Mark Byron writes the following stupefying statement in his edifier du jour for 6/14:

"Modern-day churches have their rituals of belonging; baptism, dedications, confirmations and memberships. However, while those things are meaningful ceremonies, it is your relationship with God that ultimately matters. Being in the right church or having been baptized isn't what saves you, it is knowledge of Jesus as your Lord and Savior that does, and no human ceremony can duplicate that."

There are so many things wrong with this, I almost don't know where to begin. The work involved fleshing out proper and patristic definitions of words like "save," "rituals," "knowledge," and "ceremony" is a Ph.D.-sized undertaking in and of itself!

Simply put, Baptism and Chrismation are "meaningful ceremonies" precisely because they enable and empower one to have a full relationship with God in his Church! In other words, they are an *organic* part of salvation. Why? Because salvation is not a judicial declaration, but an ongoing, dynamic relationship where we become more and more unified with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Matthew Gallatin writes about the sacraments in his book "Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells." He says (italics his):

"From the greatest to the smallest, the thing that all of these worship practices have in common is that they are actions. They are not ideas, or beliefs, or doctrines, or concepts. They are the keys to an experiential relationship with Christ in His Holy Church."

Why do we consider them keys to this relationship? Well, the fact is the sacraments of the Church are God-ordained practices and not "human ceremonies." Thus to say they don't really matter is to dismiss that which God has created for us to be unified with Him. The sacramental life of the Church is the primary means by which we truly learn to love and experience God in fullness of truth.

Sadly, western Christians tend to only have two types of ecclesial experiences in regards to the sacraments. They see the sacraments as simply the icing on the cake of a private "personal relationship with God" (at best) or impediments to this relationship (at worst). As I've said before, false dichotomies are the bane of western Christian theology.

Here are the two main distortions of the sacramental life so abundant in western Christendom:

1) Rote, legalistic, and hypocritical "rules" or "obligations"

2) Sentimental, narcissistic, and ultimately subjective "memories"

No wonder they want to dichotomize between the physical side of the Christian life (which organically includes church and sacrament) and an ethereal, private, and subjective "personal relationship with God." If these were the only two options of how to physically incarnate what it means to be church, I wonder what I would do.
Actually, I know what I would do....I would stop being a Christian.

:: Karl :: 12:50:00 PM [Link] ::

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