Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Entering Heaven Through Liturgy or Through Accepting Jesus Christ as Personal Lord and Savior

Anyone who has grown up in a strongly liturgical church has probably been taken aback at some point by an eager evangelical asking if they have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.  In most cases, they have accepted him, although they would never describe it as such and probably couldn't explain it in a way that would be acceptable to their interlocutor.  Learning one another's languages for faith is important for us if we ever hope to be one, as Jesus and the Father are one.  But that is a topic for another time.

A number of real differences do exist, however, and we hit upon one in our staff meeting today.  We discussed an excellent resource by Christian Schwartz called The 3 Colors of Spirituality, which looks at a variety of approaches to God taken by people from widely varied Christian churches.  Specifically, we were talking about the huge emphasis on sacramental spirituality in the Episcopal Church, compared with emphases that may be more balanced in other churches.

Once clear difference struck me between those who are grounded in liturgical and sacramental traditions that makes us talk past many of our evangelical brothers and sisters.  The emphasis on evangelical churches is to win people for Christ, which usually means having them accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior in some formal fashion.  Speaking broadly for them, when that has happened, an individual has been saved, is assured of heaven and begins the process of sanctification which can occur in a number of ways.

For high liturgical Christians, participating in liturgy is already providing access to heaven.  The most ardent of that spiritual stream understand a Divine Liturgy in heaven, as described in Isaiah 6 and Revelation, to be eternally occurring, with Jesus Christ now presiding.  When we gather to pray as a church, especially in the Eucharistic liturgy, we believe that we are taken in a mystical but real way into the heavenly throne room to join with the angels and saints in their praise.  When we sing, "Holy, Holy, Holy" on earth, we are truly harmonizing with the heavenly chorus.

Participating in worship with diverse people who range from good church people to mature disciples to seekers to unbelievers to Christmas and Easter church-goers can make it hard to think about finding a specific time and place an individual might be saved, since all of us experienced something of heaven together.  We know that we have been present to God and he has drawn us to him, so we are invited in.  Yet we also know that we are not yet spiritually ready to live in the house of the Lord all the days of our life.  We hope we are always growing in faith, drawing nearer to God and more full of the fruits of the Spirit, growing from strength to strength in this life into the next.

For that reason, the model of the church from more liturgical streams is a hospital, curing sick souls.  God and his ministers help us go from our deathbeds to sitting up to walking to a full life in the Kingdom of God.  A different model is more prevalent among evangelical churches.  For them the courtroom model is more central, where when the judge finds you innocent, you are free to go.  If you are wearing the blood of Jesus, you will be judged innocent.  Both models have their strengths, and neither is likely to be a fully accurate picture of how we are brought into the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ.

We need to understand and value the strengths of each others' traditions better, however.  We do have important individual relationships with Jesus that are crucial to our salvation.  We also can't really be saved as individuals, but only as part of the full Body of Christ where Jesus is the head.  We certainly want to go to heaven when we die, but we can also begin to experience heaven today.


  1. Another model, which I adopt, is that the church is similar to athletic practice for the big game. When we meet, the body is prepared so that it can participate more effectively in the field.

  2. That's another model that can be helpful to think about. Thanks!