Monday, January 11, 2010

Baptism and the Church

In my sermon yesterday morning, I discussed the three aspects of what it means to be baptized in the name of the Trinity: our identity as children of God (Father), our relationship with God and other people (Son), and our service to the world in God's name (Spirit). I also talked about the fact that three things we do as a church mirror and strengthen those aspects of what it means to be a baptized Christian: worship, fellowship, and outreach.

Worship is arguably the only thing that distinguishes the church from a social or service club. Social clubs are created fr and sustained by fellowship. Service clubs are created for and sustained by service. Churches are created for and sustained by worship. When we come together as the Body of Christ and sing, pray, and share the Eucharist, we are most clearly and vividly the church and we are reminded of our identity as children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, and vessels of the Spirit. Worship is the seedbed of spiritual strength and renewal. One of the most important things I do as Priest-in-Charge of St. Edward's is to plan and lead worship. Perhaps it is the most important thing, especially if preaching is included in that category.

Yet worship is closely connected with fellowship. Connecting with God and connecting with one another are two sides of the same relational coin. The Eucharist is fundamentally a communal meal and literally cannot happen alone. Even priests and bishops are not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist alone--we must have at least one other person with whom to "make Eucharist." Those personal connections are what make weekly events like coffe hour and covenant groups so critical--without them the church simply becomes a spiritual "filling station" where people wander through to get their weekly spiritual "fill up." Church is meant to be far more than that--it is a group of covenant people linked together on a spiritual journey.

If a church has both worship and fellowship it is still deficient if it lacks any sort of effort at outreach. There are different definitions for outreach. In much of the Episcopal Church, we limit outreach to social service--meeting people's basic need for food, clothing, etc... Our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Lutheran church see outreach as evangelism--meeting people's need for a saving relationship with Christ by sharing the Gospel with such people. Both are important and are, again, two sides of the same coin.

Worship, fellowship, and outreach thus form the three basic purposes of the church. At St. Edward's, we have adopted Rick Warren's five purposes of the church that closely coincide with these three. In our case, Outreach is split into Ministry and Evangelism, leaving Discipleship. I would suggest that while Christian formation as a classroom or small group activity has its place, discipleship really permeates all that we do. When we worship, we are formed as disciples. When we strengthen our relationships with one another, we are formed as disciples. When we serve others in God's name and speak of the power of God in our lives, we do so as disciples.

Worship. Fellowship. Outreach. Are you involved in all three of these? We're trying to strengthen them all at St. Edward's. Come join us!

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