This past fall I co-taught a course on Protestantism. Of course in the midst of preparations I had to re-study the sacramental debates of the early reformers. At the risk of oversimplification the positions ranged from an elaborate theosophical argument for real presence to an equally intricate spirit guided memorial understanding.

We as Brethren have tended toward, if not staked our claim with, the memorial camp. This can be confirmed in the 20th century work of Vernard Eller, titled In Place of Sacraments. Though a bit polemical at times, the sum of Eller’s critique follows the Reformation critiques of the economics of salvation (Luther and the Indulgences) and crude physicalism (Zwingli and memorialism).

To be sure, I do have some sympathy with these critiques. Yet, in an equal measure, I balk at the wholesale rejection of the idea of sacraments because of a nearly 400 year old controversy.

Let me explain. At the heart of sacramental thinking is the conviction that God is active in the material world. The prime expression of that action is in the Incarnation, in Jesus the Christ. When we dismiss the sacramentality of the Eucharist, along with the other sacraments, we effectively limit God’s actions to the past. We have no means to remind ourselves that God is indeed working here and now. In effect we are forced to expect extraordinary miracles rather than a seemingly mundane moment of worship.

Its even more important given our HIGHLY incarnational view of our work as the Church. When we see our times of worship as so one dimensional (earth centered, aimed at God) rather than just as incarnational as our service (where the Divine and the human co-operate within a hurting world), what foundation do we have? Put another way, we lack the spiritual grounding for ethical activities.

How do you understand the relationship of Incarnation and Service?