By John Bowen
What holds everything together? For many of us, the Christian faith is made up of fragments. Over here is the story of David and Goliath. Over there is the story of the feeding of the five thousand. And let’s not even mention Adam and Eve. Then there is that assortment of weird ideas that makes up the creed. The list could go on indefinitely. All these strange, unrelated ideas.
And now we are expected to add these some new words that nobody seems able to define—“mission” and “discipleship” and even “evangelism.” Just more free-floating bits in the alphabet soup we call our faith.
A fragmentary faith like that, quite frankly, is weak, like a spider’s web made of individual unconnected strands. In order to catch the spider’s dinner, those strands need to be connected up into a pattern that is resilient—and, as it happens, beautiful!
Here’s one way to connect the fragments of the faith. See what you think.
Beginning with the Gospel
What is the Gospel? It is the good news that our Creator loves us enough to want to mend all that is broken, forgive all that is sinful, and liberate all who are oppressed. And as Christians understand it, that love is in some mysterious way focused in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus whom we call Christ. The coming of Jesus is therefore good news, or Gospel, for the world. That’s where Christianity begins.
The Gospel connects to Discipleship
C.S. Lewis said that God “seems to do nothing of Himself which he can possibly delegate to His creatures.” When Jesus came, one of the first things he did was to gather around him a community of disciples who would learn the ways of the Gospel, who would live and teach the way of God in the way that he did. They are in a sense his apprentices—part of whose work is to help others become apprentices too.
Discipleship connects to Evangelism
Yes, yes, I know. We all love to hate evangelism. And yet, and yet, there would be no church without evangelism. Someone told someone the Good News, and they told someone who told someone—until yet another someone (a parent, a friend, a Sunday School teacher, a priest?) told us the Good News of Jesus, and encouraged us to follow him. And here we are. We were evangelized—Good News-ed—and it stuck!
Discipleship and Evangelism connect to the Church
There is a famous book, Models of the Church by Avery Dulles, which discusses five ways of thinking about the church—Church as Institution, Mystical Communion, Sacrament, Herald, and Servant. Here is another way—that the church is the gathering of disciples of Jesus—people who have had the Good News explained to them, have said yes, and have embraced it as their own. It is the trade school in which Jesus by the Spirit continues to teach his apprentices how to live out his way in today’s world.
Church connects to Mission
“Mission” is not a word Jesus ever used. But it’s not a bad way to describe his work. After all, we use the word today when we talk about a rescue mission or a fact-finding mission or a reconnaissance mission. Jesus’ mission is closest in nature to a rescue mission. God sends Jesus to bring “salvation”—healing, restoration, wholeness—to a world that desperately needs those things. That’s his mission. So what is he likely to want to teach to a school of his followers? Mission. How to share in his work. It’s a useful shorthand for a big thing.
Mission connects to the Sacraments
Think of it this way: baptism is how we register in the school of Jesus. You may ask how a child can understand that. They can’t, of course. But the commitment of parents and godparents is to bring up that child, not neutrally (as if such a thing were possible) but learning the love of God and the way of Jesus. Does that exhaust all there is to be said about baptism? No, of course not. But baptism is a multifaceted diamond, and this is certainly one of those facets.
The same can be said of Eucharist. Here, after all, we identify with the first disciples, who also received from the hand of Jesus bread and wine, his body and blood. Here the life and love of Jesus in us are renewed. Here we identify anew with this Jesus who came to live out the mission of God to renew all things. No wonder that at the end of the service we say, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Of course. That’s why we are here.
Augustine called the sacraments “visible words,” elements which communicate the Good News of Jesus to us in non-verbal form. We can actually think of the sacraments as sacraments of the Gospel. Which brings us back to where we started.
All of these things are therefore connected strands of the spider’s web which is Christian faith. Even David and Goliath have their place, and the feeding of the five thousand, and Adam and Eve. And the creeds? They simply remind us of some of the key intersections of the spider’s web which hold it all together.
So yes, everything is connected to everything else. But in a world created and held together moment by moment by a loving Creator, how could it be otherwise?