Rector's Reflections - 17 April

Rector’s Reflections 

Wednesday 16th April 2024

21st Century Church: Mission, Evangelism, Discipleship

Over the last couple days, I have written about two reasons why some people would be unhappy with the idea that the focus of the contemporary Church should be solely on Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship. There is a third reason, and I wish to share some thoughts on this in today’s reflections.

This third reason focuses on the idea of being incorporated into the body of Christ through participation in the sacraments of the Church.  This idea traces its roots all the way back to St. Paul and St. John, and indeed to the life and teaching of Jesus Himself. 

According to this line of thinking, the sacramental journey begins with Baptism, through which we are incorporated into the body of Christ. We might also receive the sacrament of Confirmation –  I say “might” because there is a difference of opinion about the significance of Confirmation in church life.  But Baptism is only the beginning of our incorporation into Christ. Every Sunday, or more frequently, we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and this sacrament helps us to grow closer to Christ. We might also receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation  - the reassurance of forgiveness of our sins which is pronounced by a priest following an act of confession. We might also receive the Sacrament of Healing, and  finally we might receive what is popularly known as the “Last Rites” – a special anointing when we are near to death.

According to this way of looking at things, the focus of Church life should therefore be on the administration of the Sacraments, because it is through the Sacraments that we receive the eternal life which is God’s gift to us in His Son Jesus.  The two key sacraments are Baptism (with or without Confirmation) and the Eucharist, and so the Church should focus on these.  This has been the consistent understanding of the Church since earliest times, and it is the understanding of the Church which is at the heart of the Catholic tradition –  not just the Roman Catholic tradition, but also the Catholic tradition as it is found within the Orthodox churches and also within the Church of England.

To focus on the sacramental life is not to ignore the value or importance of Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship.  But it is to make the point that the starting point in Church life is our relationship with Jesus Christ. Being a Christian is about letting the life of the Risen Lord Jesus work in us and through us.  Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship is only one of the ways in which the in-dwelling life of Jesus expresses itself in the life of the Church.  Our sharing in the life of the Risen Lord Jesus, especially through the sacraments of the Church, is what comes first.  Let’s put first things first.


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