Marty: Hey, Doc, we better back up. We don’t have enough road to get up to 88.
Doc. Brown: Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.
Probably due to the fact that you watched it thousands of times in the past two decades, the lines from Back to the Future are forever branded into your memory.
This 1985 classic flick depicts the story of a teenager, Marty McFly, who travels into the year 1955 with his time-leaping scientist-friend, Dr. Emmett Brown. Marty and Doc’s mission is to make sure the past manifests itself as it was meant to be. Marty must “hook up” his teenage parents-to-be, Lorraine and George, to meet and to fall in love. This is important, because it’s only with Marty’s presence in the past that “history is gonna change.”
In his work, Renewing the Center, Stanley Grenz states that Charles Van Engen, missiologist at Fuller Theological Seminary, has suggested that the four historical marks – One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic – be read not as adjectives but interpreted and manifested as adverbs: Unifying, Sanctifying, Reconciling, and Proclaiming. “Seen from this perspective,” writes Grenz, “the four creedal marks paint a picture of a church active in mission” (328).
As a student of liturgical studies, I thought: “What do certain liturgies look like in light of these four adverbial marks? Liturgies that unify, liturgies that sanctify, liturgies that reconcile, and liturgies that proclaim?” And also, “How can we capture the church’s missional identity and telos in this conversation?”
Within my own Christian tradition, we have historically had a rather low view of certain liturgical acts such as the proclaimed Word and the Eucharist. In fact, they’ve been (generally) interpreted as ‘static’ activities we do. For instance, the proclaimed Gospel is just the pastor’s interpretation of the Word we can comfortably critique from the pew. And the Bread and the Cup have been so over-memorialized that they have become banal memories existing intangibly in our heads like an idea – we just “think” about Jesus when we take of the Bread and Cup.
But what if these two liturgical elements – among many others – were interpreted as ‘dynamic’ and ‘pneumatological’ activities we participate in? Participation assumes invitation into something already in play, like the Spirit’s always already activity in and through the sacraments of Word and Eucharist.
Heralding the ‘dynamic’ character of liturgy, I believe, equips us to better answer the questions above about liturgies that unify, sanctify, reconcile, and proclaim. Why? Because if we believe that liturgical acts and liturgical things are ‘static’ (read: stagnant, dormant, lifeless), then we can’t and likely won’t see the value in those spiritually-charged uniting, sanctifying, reconciling, and proclaiming liturgies.
I think this discussion accomplishes four goals: (1) it properly cherishes the Church’s historical creedal marks with the purpose of (2) experiencing them in our present-day liturgies, while (3) reclaiming our missional existence in (4) participation with the Spirit’s cosmic-redemptive work.
Like Marty McFly, we have to – in some sense – visit our past, reclaim it, and participate in it in order to more fully appreciate our identity in the present.
I’ve told you what this discussion I believe accomplishes, but I’d like to put the proposed argument(s) to the test. In the next four articles, I will look one-by-one at each of the liturgies introduced above: unifying, sanctifying, proclaiming, and reconciling liturgies. Then in each article, I’ll also consider how unifying liturgies unify, sanctify liturgies sanctify, proclaiming liturgies proclaim, and reconciling liturgies reconcile. The first part in each article will examine a liturgy’s “nature” or “internal genius,” whereas the second part deals with its “mechanics.”