The Sacraments of Postmodernity
By Rev. Crystal Schmalz
A sacrament is often defined as an act which dispenses the grace of God. Throughout history, there have been several important sacraments of the church: baptism, communion, marriage, anointing of the sick, ordination, etc. Different denominations have named certain acts as sacraments, and have set aside leadership to perform these tasks.
In a postmodern world, where there are increasing changes in culture, belief systems, and values: What are the sacraments of postmodernity?
The postmodern generation roughly started in the 1980’s. Structures of the modern era started to change and a new sort of organic no absolutes theory began to override culture and society (in some parts of the world). Rules and legalism no longer were held in high regard and followed merely for the sake of tradition. People began to question and seek Story. Story and narrative are highly prized in postmodernity, because the individual is the focus. This shift in culture to some extent agrees with a Biblical worldview, but in other ways falls short.
How is grace dispensed in the postmodern world? This is the question we need to face as leaders and as the church.
For postmodernists, grace comes in many forms.
First, the individual experience is the foci of truth. For many, truth is based on your own personal experience. Doctrine is created based on experience. For Pentecostals, this actually works to our advantage, because we value the personal experience of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The growing edge is that individual experience at some point needs to be set within a community. Without community, we are scared, alone, lonely, and afraid. We need the story of us. We need the Biblical story to ground our personal experience. The Bible is a book which only has power in the individual life when it becomes a part of the personal narrative. A Bible sitting on a dusty shelf makes no impact. The Bible becomes true, authoritative, and powerful when the stories within connect with the life of the believer and individual. When we see ourselves in the Bible, then the Bible becomes truth for us. In this regard, absolutes are accepted because they are grounded not in unexplained tradition and religion, but they are grounded in true lived experience.
Secondly, postmodernists are looking for a hero. If you look at our media culture, you will see the longing and desire for a hero. Action movies are filled with incredible stories of people who fall short and need a savior. We are all looking for a savior. Where will we find our savior? For some, the savior will be work, will be family, will be the accumulation of wealth, or will be regulated church tradition void and empty of true passion and heart. For me, I have found my hero in Jesus Christ. This is based on personal experience, and faith: belief not necessarily based on logic and deductive reason. I choose to believe in my superhero Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, postmodernists are looking for authenticity. We don’t want unrealistic expectations and dogmatic doctrines. We want real people who suffer, get angry, feel hurt, celebrate life, aren’t perfect, and don’t want pretend religion or spirituality. Give me a leader who is striving to be more like Jesus, but falls short several times, and I’ll follow. Give me a leader who thinks they have it all together, are prideful, arrogant, and unreliable and I will not be a part of that movement and direction.
Lastly (for now, not all inclusive list), postmodernists are looking for a cause. Recycle, value diversity, relook at equality, re-envision and re-create a better world! For the church, this is the challenge. How do we step outside of the walls, and our preconceived notions of church? How do we become the church instead of go to church? Instead of changing the world, we have to change ourselves first. Individual change can impact the community if it is true and committed. For me, the cause is Jesus Christ. The church must be Christocentric in belief and practice. Our belief must coincide with practice. If we say one thing, but do another, we will never attract postmodern culture.
I guess the point is that God’s grace is still being dispensed in postmodern culture, but the mediums have changed a bit. The theology of old still stands strong, but now it must become more than a page in a book, it has to become a part of lived life and experience. People are watching instead of reading, and with sight comes new accountability. Maybe the next question is: How do we take the truth of yesterday and transmit it into the life of someone today?
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