Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Word As Sacrament

The highschool my older sons went to was attached to a Baptist church.  I recall being there in the quiet after hours one time – after a play rehearsal or a program, perhaps - noticing how the sanctuary was set up.  There was a table with a large open Bible in the front.  A spotlight from the ceiling was focused on it; no other lights.  I wondered what a visitor from Mars would think about this particular religion. It’s not the first time I have mentioned bibliolatry, the worship of the book, as an evangelical problem. I am certainly not the first.

It occurred to me this weekend that evangelicals have a similar view of Bible reading that Roman Catholics have of sacraments – that good things happen to you from the mere act. Ironically, that is what evangelicals often criticise first about the liturgical churches, especially the RCC – that they recite the same things without understanding them and think they receive grace from the Eucharist whether they are working hard at worship or not.  Evangelical, and especially fundamentalist focus on daily devotional reading can at times be no more than an insistence that eyes hit the page. Our heart isn’t always in daily disciplines, but we carry on anyway, trusting in God’s grace through the hard parts. Well, okay, but that’s sorta like centuries of mothers with small children barely making it through Mass, isn’t it?  Just show up.

Note that not only does Jesus not do this – one could argue that The Word doesn’t need the word – but neither do John the Baptist, the Apostles, Paul, or any other NT figure. Or OT figure, come to think of it.  I think the confusion of the word with The Word was fed by the general, more secular admiration or even worship, or books themselves.  Where they were rarest were the very times and places that word-for-word literalist Bible was most common. The American frontier comes to mind.

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.


james said...

Heb 4:12 comes to mind supporting the reading of the word as sacrament (good observation), since it reads as though the word has agency, presumably by the power of God.

And see Mass of the Catechumens.

And we're called on to persevere, which presumably includes working on the spiritual disciplines through the dry times when you don't feel the point.

But yes, there's a lot of ritual and rote in evangelical churches too. Some of it is benign; some (walk the aisle and your life will be changed) less so.

Dubbahdee said...

You seem to have a presupposition that both the Catholic view of sacrament and the evangelical view of Bible reading are both wrong. I would say that they are both right.

Not, however, in the sense that they are magical. We don't invoke God through them, command him to appear to us like a jinn from a lamp. Instead, it is through the word and at the table that we encounter him. You (inadvertently I think) used the phrase "trusting God's grace" and in that you hit upon the nub of the matter.

This is the reason for the Lutheran/Anglican structure of the service of the word and the service of the table in a liturgy. The two are complementary, providing two loci where we meet Jesus. There is a purpose too for the crossover of metaphor where Jesus is the Bread of life, and the Living Word.

In order for one to accept this of course, one must allow for mystery. In particular, in the eucharist, one must at some level hold a sense of the "real presence" of Christ in the elements. Not transubstantiation, but real presence. Christ is present to us in a mysterious way in the bread and in the wine and in the word too. If you don't want to go there, then all you have is kind of deconstruction you are heading for here.

It all hinges on whether you can see that there is a thin place where symbol and reality overlap.

Dubbahdee said...
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Dubbahdee said...
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Dubbahdee said...

don't know why it posted 3 times when I only pressed the button once. please edit the gratuitous posts.

Sam L. said...

Dub, "What I say three times is true",
quoting Heinlein, from "The Number Of The Beast", IIRC.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I believe commenters can erase their own with the trash can at the bottom. But just in case, I pulled yours.

james said...

From The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll. The phrase may be older, but I don't know.

"Just the place for a Snark!" the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

"Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Heinlein finding an appropriate use for a poem by Carroll seems entirely fitting.

RonF said...

Jesus cited Scripture often in his teachings. So one would figure that reading them was something he valued.

engleberg said...

As idolatry goes, mildly dramatic lighting does not strike me as a stench in the nostrils of the Infinite. Show it to me in the Word of God! is, after all, a good defense against superstition.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Jesus is the Word of God. The scriptures are, when read by a believer in humility under the influence of the Holy Spirit, God's word - small w - to us.

The confusion comes from the several meanings of word, which have become muddled in English (and the Germanic languages in general, if not others).

I am familiar with the more common use among evangelicals of "word," and there is certainly something about scripture as a sort of speech of God - proceeding from His mouth, in one description - that elevates it above chit-chat. or even intentional, formal speech. I sent my sons to essentially Baptist schools and some went to Christian colleges where this usage was continued.

But it's just not accurate. The Bible does not make the claim for itself.

Dubbahdee said...

I rather think that was precisely what the Apostle John was aiming for in his introduction. The use of logos was quite intentional. High Wordplay indeed.

Logos/Word. We take the Germanic and use it like the Greek. The concept wears different clothes.

Yeah. It's in there.

Dubbahdee said...

BTW - it occurs to me that your own phrasing -- "The Bible does not make that claim for itself" -- is guilty of precisely what you are protesting. Anthropomorphism or personification and all that.

You would be more true to your own argument to say "The Apostles never made that claim."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Luther's phrase was that the scriptures are the manger which bear the Living Word. Logos has many shared meanings, and I just don't see anywhere in scripture that God suggests writings, even inspired writings, are to be worshiped.

As to anthropomorphiising, I'm not seeing it. I think I would use similar phrasing about an owner's manual when discussing whether it claimed to be a mechanic, a set of directions, or authoritative.

Dubbahdee said...

I went back to read the original post, fearing that my thoughts had gotten too far away.

I think there is a sticky point where you conflate worship and sacrament. That may be where I'm talking past you and not with you.

I think I'll pull this over to Necat Draco and ruminate. Give me a few days and feel free to meet me there.