What if we’re getting the whole sacred/secular problem backward? The faith and work movement is concerned that Christians have divided a sacred church from a secular world, cutting off the world from the mission of God – and cutting off most of our own lives from the path of discipleship in the process. But what if the problem isn’t so much a “divide” between the two worlds as a massive importation of worldly pragmatism into the church, smothering the church’s own sacredness?
What if the real reason we don’t see sacredness in God’s world is that we don’t even know what sacredness looks like – because we don’t see enough of it in the church?
In this provocative and paradigm-shifting talk, Chris Armstrong challenges us to rethink what the church is before we roll up our sleeves to change the world. To bring the holy love of God into a lost and broken creation, we must make the transition from “Jesus is coming – look busy!” to “Jesus is coming – be the church.”
We’re recommending this talk for more areas of curricular integration than any previous talk in our EWP video library. Systematics? This talk cuts through to the core issues of ecclesiology. Ethics, formation, missiology? All these practical fields need a firm grounding in the invisible reality of the sacredness of God’s people. Homiletics and liturgy classes can also use this talk to convey essential insights about the experience of corporate worship.
“To find the sacred when we’re in the world,” Armstrong proposes, “we must first find it in the church.” Armstrong draws on key scriptural images and the work of Alexander Schmemann – as well as the namesake of Schmemann’s seminary, Prince Vladimir of Kiev – to clarify what is at stake.
The church is God’s people, Christ’s body and the Spirit’s temple. These realities are ultimately grounded in the invisible, brought about supernaturally by the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the church’s job to make these invisible realities visible in the way it lives. When we do this, the church becomes what Augustine said a sacrament is: an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.
This isn’t about “smells and bells” or whether you use “sacrament language” in your tradition, Armstrong notes. That’s really not the point. If our job is to make the invisible reality of God’s work visible, we cannot do that outside the church if we do not experience it inside the church.
Whatever our worship style or ecclesiological language, does our Sunday worship strike visitors the same way the pagan Slavic ambassadors were struck when they first walked into a Greek church – and fell to their knees because they couldn’t tell whether they were still on earth or in heaven? They wrote home to Vladimir of Kiev that they had no words to describe the worship other than to say that “there, God dwells among men.”
This profound talk pairs productively with a number of more missiologically-focused talks in our library. Assigning students this talk on the sacredness of the church and also a talk on the church’s mission in the world will surface both harmonies and tensions to catalyze a fuller awareness of the church’s identity and mission.
Consider how Charlie Self connects the attributes of the kingdom of God – joy, peace and justice – upward to the attributes of God himself, as well as outward to the needs of the world.
Or how Tom Nelson calls us to fruitfulness in our daily lives, but also challenges us to rethink what counts as fruitfulness in light of God’s uniquely relational nature and work.
Or how the sacredness of the church as the visible manifestation of God’s invisible work equips it with the same hospitality, imagination and hope that Vincent Bacote describes as ways of participating faithfully in a pluralistic world.
And of course you might even pair Chris Armstrong’s talk on our sacredness as God’s people with Chris Armstrong’s talk on our vocations in the world!
Jesus is coming. Be the church.