The Sacramental Ontology Of The Church

The Sacramental Ontology Of The Church

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The Sacramental Ontology of the Church Toward a Renewal Ecclesiology

Melissa Davis | orcid: 0000-0003-2193-2635 Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA


This article seeks to construct a renewalist ecclesiology foundations on the idea that the church is an ontological reality with the epistemological purpose of traditioning its members. To accomplish this, I construct, in conversation with Simon Chan and Simon Oliver, a sacramental ontology of the invisible church from the Garden of Eden via the incarnation. Then, interacting with the work of Chan and James K.A. Smith, I explore the role of the visible church to tradition its members. Finally, I offer a framework for an ecclesial traditioning praxis. This praxis is founded in prayer, shaped by the narrative of Scripture, and utilizes both the weekly service and ongoing discipleship training.


ecclesiology – ontology – creation – traditioning – sacramental

1 Introduction

What is the church? What does it mean to be the church? Simon Chan argues, “[The] church is God’s end in creation, [so] its basic identity can be expressed onlyin ontological rather than functional terms.”1He argues that functional (or instrumental) approaches to the church see it in terms of human action. He asserts that this perspective is lacking because it reduces the church to a fel-

1 Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community (Downers Grove, IL:

ivpAcademic, 2006), 21. Emphasis added.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2021 | doi:10.1163/15700747-bja10014




lowship of individuals tasked by God to create ministry programs to meet the needs of individuals.2In this perspective, the church exists to carry out its func- tion. However, the scriptural witness demonstrates that Jesus united the church into his body (Matt 16:18) through the Spirit’s empowerment (Acts 2:4). Further, Chan notes that the primary work of the Spirit is in the church. He says, “To be baptized into Christ is to be incorporated into a Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered entity.”3Thus, the functions of the church flow out of its being-in-the-world, or ontology.

To demonstrate the church’s ontological reality, Chan utilizes the biblical images of the people of God, body of Christ, and temple of the Holy Spirit. Chan’s approach to the nature of the church is valuable because it emphasizes the continuity between the church’s identity and its practice. It also grounds local congregations into something larger than their specific ministry context. The church’s identity, its being-in-the-world, does not change over time and place the way its practices do. The nature of the church is defined by Scripture. A local church’s practice is contextually informed.

However, Chan’s position needs clarification. While the invisible church should be understood and expressed in ontological terms, what is the visible church? While it participates in the ontological reality of the invisible church, is its purpose not to accomplish God’s mission in creation? Indeed, the visible church has an epistemological focus; it teaches believers how to know God and live in the reality of the kingdom of God. Chan calls this traditioning. Further, since Chan notes that the church has a “logical priority over creation” as it was “chosen in Christ before the creation of the world,”4why does he skip the onto- logical roots of the church in the creation narrative?

This article argues for a renewal ecclesiology that builds a sacramental ontol- ogy of the invisible church from the garden and suggests an epistemological praxis to tradition its members for that ontological identity.To accomplish this, I will begin by examining the ontological implications for the church utilizing the work of Simon Chan and Simon Oliver. Second, I will explore the role of tradition in formation by interacting with Chan and James K.A. Smith. Finally, I will offer a framework for a traditioning praxis. This article locates itself in the ecumenical stream of Renewalist thought.

2 Simon Chan, Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition (Eugene, OR: Wipf &

Stock, 2011), 98.

3 Chan, Liturgical Theology, 99.

4 Chan, Liturgical Theology, 23.

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2 Toward a Sacramental Ontology of the Church: A Participatory


Genesis 1–2 describes God’s ex nihilo creative acts. Simon Oliver notes that this says something significant about God, something that differentiates the Judeo-Christian narrative from other philosophies. As God is sovereign and self-sufficient, he did notneedto create. This is contrary to emanantist philoso- phies that construe creation as emanating from a need in God’s nature. Nor does God create with pre-existent material, as the gods do in several ancient Near Eastern (ane) cosmogonies and Aristotelian philosophy.5Rather, God, in his elective grace, chose to create.

God creates a good world because goodness flows from God. Oliver draws from Anselm’s concept of divine simplicity here. Divine simplicity means that God’s goodness, holiness, and love are because God is. They are not charac- ter traits God develops or learns, nor can they be lost. God is good because he is. In contrast, all created beings have a composed existence that consists of their essential nature and attributes acquired over time through participating in the life of the divine. Therefore, while God exists because he is, the cre- ated order exists by participation in his life, and the material world is good because it participates in God’s goodness.6Some Christians are uneasy with the platonic roots of participation. However, the inherent goodness of the mate- rial world in Christian participation represents a substantial deviation from the Platonic and Neoplatonic participation. Christian participation is also dia- metrically opposed to the Western scientific worldview, which separates the material from the spiritual world in the belief that the spiritual world has little or no impact on the material world.

One of the challenges in participatory ontologies is differentiating between God and his creation. If one is not careful, the material world can collapse into divine determinism, or God becomes the enabler of human free will. How is this settled? First, immanent and transcendent worlds need to be differenti- ated. God is not a “better” version of humankind (such that humans are lesser gods, or God is a superhuman), nor is he of the same kind (whereas humans, dogs, and trees are all different kinds of created entities, God is uncreated). God is wholly other. As such, he is the primary cause, and his creatures can only cause secondary action. Oliver helpfully uses the illustration of a football team to explain. A wealthy individual purchases a football team, hires a coach, and

5 Simon Oliver,Creation: A Guide for the Perplexed, Bloomsbury Guides for the Perplexed (Lon-

don: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017), 36–39.

6 Oliver,Creation, 43–47.

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empowers the coach with the necessary resources to build a team. The coach hires athletes and trains them. At the end of the season, the team wins the championship. Who ultimately caused the win? The owner, coach, and play- ers can all be understood as contributing to the win. The players are the win’s immediate cause, the coach equipped them for the win, but without the team owner, there is no team and no win. Similarly, God is the primary cause of all action in the universe. As the primary cause of creation, it is “in Him [that] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28a), yet we must also “choose this day whom [we] shall serve” (Josh 24:15). So while God enables us to participate in his life, we must do so intentionally.

The weakness of Oliver’s description of participation is the absence of the Holy Spirit. To remedy this, we cast God the Father as the team owner and “primary cause.” In order to make his team successful, he sends not one but two coaches. The first is Christ, who “hires” the initial team, shows the players how to play, and ensures the championship win through his own action. Both the Father and Son send the Spirit to continue to train and equip the team. In this participatory ontology, it is the Holy Spirit who mediates between God the Father and Son and the world, empowering the church’s life.

Oliver notes that in creation, God sets his creatures on a path toward an ulti- mate goal or telos as defined by their nature—humans are to be humans and dogs to be dogs. For something to be its most true self, it must strive “after its own particular good … by … imitating God, who is the universal Good.” Crea- turely perfection, then, occurs in a process in which creatures partake in the life of God. For humans, this happens as the individual and the church encounter and yield themselves to the work of the Holy Spirit. However, we should not attempt to exceed our finitude.7 God made humans “real, potent, and free,” which gives them the ability to share in his life or not. When we fail to par- ticipate in God’s goodness, goodness is absent. Oliver notes that the biblical narrative construes the absence of God’s goodness as evil and suffering as “alien intrusions” to the created order.8

Indeed, creation sets the stage for a sacramental ontology of the church. God’s purpose for a covenantal relationship with his people began at the begin- ning of creation in time.

7 Oliver,Creation, 80–83. 8 Oliver,Creation, 84–88.

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3 Ontological Implications for the Church from the Garden of Eden

In this section I shall review several ontological implications for the church from the Garden of Eden:imago dei, the fall, epistemology, and sacramentality. One must start withimago Dei.

3.1 Implication #1: The Church Is a Community of Priests in theImago


To understand the magnitude of God creating humanity in his image, we must place it in its historical context. In the ane, the “image of god” pointed to a statue or other relic that held the “real” presence of the god who ruled that terri- tory. The only humans who were the “image of god” were kings or high priests.9 In Genesis, it is not a piece of stone or a powerful individual who signifies God’s presence, but all of humanity. It is through the life and reign of God’s human vice-regents that the whole world is to know God’s presence. In Genesis 2, God declares that Adam is “not good” alone and creates another of his own kind.The image of God has always been a communal endeavor. In Israel, faithfulness to the covenant was corporate. Likewise, Chan notes that when Paul speaks of the church as the temple of the Holy Spirit or as Christ’s body, his focus is primarily the corporate church, with the individual as a participating member. Further, he states that at Pentecost, as the Spirit fills the whole church, each person is filled with the Spirit to incorporate them into the body.10 If we reflect on the biblical witness regarding the corporate nature of God’s people since creation, we see the truth of Chan’s assertion that individualism is “Protestantism’s great- est sin.”11

In the ane world, a god’s temple was where he or she rested. The biblical narrative witnesses to God’s rest and unique presence in the Garden of Eden.12



11 12

G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, New Studies in Biblical Theology 17 (Downers Grove, IL:ivpAcademic, 2004), 82. Simon Chan, Pentecostal Ecclesiology: An Essay on the Development of Doctrine, Journal of Pentecostal Theology Supplement Series 38 (Blandford Forum: Deo Publishing, 2011), 77. Chan, Pentecostal Ecclesiology, 78.

Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, 1st ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 251. See also Jon D. Levenson, “The Temple and the World,”The Journal of Religion64, no. 3 (1984): 283–284; Gordon J. Wenham, “Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story,” in Proceedings of the Ninth World Congress of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem, August 4–12, 1985 (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1986), 19–20. Jon Douglas Levenson, Creation and the Persis- tence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence, Princeton Paperbacks (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 87–99. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission,

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Further, Scripture points to Eden as the first temple in the adornments of the Holy of Holies reminiscent of the garden,13 Ezekiel’s reference to Eden as the garden of God (Ezek 28:23; 31:8), and Revelation’s vision of an eternal garden- city where God resides face-to-face among his people.14This means that if the garden was a temple, then Adam and Eve were its first priests. This is affirmed by the language used to describe their God-given tasks. G.K. Beale notes that where “work (ʿabad) and keep (shamar)” occur together elsewhere, they refer either to Israel’s serving God and keeping his word, or to priests who “keep” the “service” of the tabernacle.15 This suggests that God created humanity to be a community of priests. Worship is written into the dna code of humanity, meaning it is not something to do, so much as who people are. To participate in the life of God is to worship. So, Chan correctly asserts that the church is a “worshiping community,” and this worship “distinguishes the church as the church.”16However, for many, worship is primarily a practice rather than a way of being-in-the-world.

To summarize, the imago Dei is tied to the ontological reality that God cre- ated humanity as a community of priests.The focus is on the corporate identity of the body. This ontological description is further refined through Scripture in the life of Israel as the people of God and the church as the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. While God does something significant at Pen- tecost through the unleashing of the Holy Spirit, it could be argued that it is not so much new as, rather, an intensification and fulfillment of a covenantal relationship, prefigured but now fulfilled in Christ.

3.2 Implication #2: The Fall Narrates the Apostasy of the Priestly


The second implication rests in the story of the fall. If humanity is created as a community of priests, then the story of the fall is not simply about the rebellion of two individuals causing the downfall of all but, instead, about the apostasy of the priestly community. The Genesis mandate was for the priestly commu- nity to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28). If they had remained faithful, the community of priests would have numeri- cally expanded, subduing the earth through their worshipful work. However,

13 14 15 16

29–122. John H. Walton,The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2–3 and the Human Ori- gins Debate(Downers Grove, IL:ivpAcademic, 2015).

Cf. 1Kgs 6:17; 2Chr 3:10; Heb 9:3–5.

Waltke and Yu, An Old Testament Theology, 256.

Beale,The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 81.

Chan, Liturgical Theology, 41.

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due to their apostasy, the fallen priests filled the world with rival kingdoms. Bruce Waltke argues that the fall demonstrates that “humanity at its best, when tested, rebels even in the perfect environment … this failure, right at the start, implicitly anticipates a different sort of covenant relationship, one that does not depend on human faithfulness, but entirelyon the grace of God throughthe second Adam.”17 Instead of participating fully in the life of God, which would have brought them to human perfection, humanity attempted to exceed its finitude through its own power. This brought death. As God is sovereign and omniscient, this was no surprise, so he created, with the intent to send Christ and redeem humanity. Chan asserts that “creation exists to realize the church”18 and that church is “a divine-humanity, chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world.”19By looking back to the garden, Chan’s argument is strengthened by recognizing the creation of humanity as a community of priest-kings. Though this community became apostate through the fall, through Christ and the Holy Spirit it is now reconstituted in the church as the priesthood of all believers.

3.3 Implication #3: The Church Is a Traditioning Body

The fall has epistemological implications for church ontology. Just as the priestly kings were to learnto beby walking in the garden-temple with God, the priesthood of all believers is to learn to be through participation in the temple of the Holy Spirit. Cyprian of Carthage famously said, “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.”20 Similarly, Calvin describes the visible church as the “mother of believers.” A mother gives birth, nourishes, guides, and guards her children, as does the church. He states that “our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives … away from her … one cannot hope for any forgive- ness of sins or any salvation.”21 Calvin concludes that it is disastrous to leave the church. Chan also argues that “we are entirely dependent” on the mother church. Contrary to the individualist tendencies of the Western church, it is not solely a community of individuals whose spiritual needs are catered to. “Rather, to be a Christian is to be incorporated into the church by baptism

17 18 19 20


Waltke and Yu, An Old Testament Theology, 255.

Chan, Liturgical Theology, 23.

Chan, Liturgical Theology, 26.

Cyprian of Carthage, “On the Unity of the Church,” inFathersof theThirdCentury:Hippoly- tus, Cyprian, Novatian, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, The Ante-Nicene Fathers 5 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 423.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. and trans. John T. McNeill and Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 1016.

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and nourished with the spiritual food of the body and blood of Christ and the Eucharist.”22To become a Christian is to stop participating in the world and to start participating in Christ. It is to learn to be according to the rhythm of the kingdom of God. This requires community. Following Pentecost, it is the Spirit who sanctifies individuals and unites them to the body of Christ. The natural result of participation in the body is the satisfaction of spiritual needs. There- fore, the church’s ontological identity creates an epistemological community that “traditions” its members for participation in the life of God.

3.4 Implication #4: The Realization of a Sacramental World

Finally, an ontology of the church that stems from the garden has sacramen- tal implications. Until the late Middle Ages people saw the world as a “mys- tery,” meaning that behind the physical world were realities that could not be observed through the five senses. When early Christian writers spoke of the “mysterious quality of the created order,” they meant that the world was a sacrament—it both pointed to and participated in God’s provision. Today, peo- ple say that the natural world points to its Creator, but if all it does is point, it is simply a sign or symbol. A sacrament, however, participates in the reality to which it points. Hans Boersma notes that

a sacramental ontology insists that not only does the created world point to God as its source and “point of reference” but that it also subsists or participates in God. A participatory or sacramental ontology will look at passages such as Acts 17:28 (“For in him we live and move and have our being …”) and conclude that our being participates in the being of God … because creation is a sharing in the being of God, our connection with God is a participatory or real connection, not just external or nominal.23

The language of sacraments makes many Protestants uncomfortable due to past abuses of the sacraments. However, the original intent of the notion of sacrament communicates something significant about the world and our lives in it. Sacramental ontology directly challenges the physical-spiritual dualism that plagues Western cultures. It also redeems the physical world as a place of goodness, against traditional pagan dualisms, because it participates in God.

If all of life participates in the life of God, a participatory ontology expects an experience of the Holy Spirit not only during a worship service but also in the

22 23

Chan, Liturgical Theology, 26.

Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), 21–24.

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day-to-day lives of members of the priesthood. Miracles, healing, speaking in tongues, and the other “mysterious” work of the Spirit is not the breaking into the natural world, but phenomena of the created world. As the temple is no longer physical but rests in the hearts of the members of the body of Christ, the Spirit is uniquely present with believers in all aspects of their lives. However, due to a person’s prior apostate nature, he or she needs to learn the rhythms of the new temple through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The worship service “traditions” members of the body through rhythm and ritual in the sacramental participation in the life of God.

Pentecostal spirituality believes that believers today participate in the bib- lical drama of God’s work. Stephen Land notes that practices such as singing, preaching, witnessing, testifying, altar calls, prayer meetings, the gifts and fruit of the Spirit, the sacraments of baptism, eucharist, and foot-washing all work together to prepare the body for new birth, sanctification, and a life of mis- sion.24Amos Yong similarly calls for an understanding of sacramentality based on the Spirit’s manifestations in the world.25 These practices shape both the beliefs and affections of the individual and, thereby, the body.

A sacramental ontology of the church also sees mission as inherent in the life of the church. To participate in the life of God is to participate in his mis- sion. Lesslie Newbigin argues that “[m]ission is concerned with the completion of all that God has begun to do in the creation of the world and of humankind. It is total and universal.”26 Further, just as the church is not primarily a ser- vice provider for individuals to grow in their faith, “mission is not essentially an action by which the church puts forth its own power and wisdom to conquer the world around it; it is rather, an action of God putting forth the Spirit to bring the universal work for Christ for the salvation of the world nearer to its com- pletion.”27 Similarly, Chan argues that the church is built only when mission is an act of worship. Mission becomes sacramental when “the church presents people as unblemished sacrifices before God.”28 Mission flows naturally from the being of the church. To participate in the life of God is to participate in his mission of redeeming the world.




27 28

Steven J. Land, Pentecostal Spirituality: A Passion for the Kingdom, Journal of Pentecostal Theology 1 (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 75.

Amos Yong,The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and The Possibility of Global Theology(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 160.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, rev. ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 56.

Newbigin,The Open Secret, 60.

Chan, Liturgical Theology, 46.

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3.5 Summary

The church is the people of God, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the priesthood of all believers. Before the foundation of the world, he chose to create humanity to be “holy and blameless before him in love” (Eph 1:4). By creating a “real, potent, and free” humanity, he gave us the choice to be in that relationship or not. The story of the garden demonstrates that we par- ticipate in that relationship only through his gracious empowerment. And so, from the garden, there are two groups of people, the people of God and the people of the world. The people of God are marked by their life-changing faith in the Father. The Father sent his Son to model a human life that participates fully in the life of God. By his life, death, and resurrection, Christ removed the barrier of sin that has separated humans from full participation in the life of God since the garden. He gave his eucharistic body on which to feast, a sacra- mental moment that reminds us that as we participate in his life, we are his ecclesial body. Chris Green argues that the eucharist is a “participatory enact- ment of the story of Jesus.” In its celebration, believersre-enactthe Last supper andpre-enactthe eschatological marriage feast. This reminds believers that “all of life is meant to be lived in theimitatio Christi.”29

The church is united across generations, cultures, genders, and abilities as the one body of Christ. As the body, Christians are joined to our head by the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is God’s gift to the church. It is the Spirit that unites us to each other and to God’s eschatological kingdom. His temple has moved from the garden to the physical temple and now to the hearts of the people of God with a view toward the garden-city. As the church partici- pates in the body of Christ, the Spirit lavishes us with his fruit (Gal 5:22) and gifts,30equipping us for life in the kingdom of God, both now and in eternity.To enter the church is to renounce citizenship in the kingdom of the world for the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.31 It is to be a new creation, which both reminds us of our previous unblemished state and points to the reality that is to come in eternity. By so doing, we carry the reality of God’s life into the world, extending the bounds of his kingdom, as we follow the direction of Spirit in our lives.

If the church is a sacramental being-in-the-world that mediates God’s grace, how does the local church help their members grow to become who they are called to be as the members of the Body?


30 31

Chris E.W. Green,Toward a Pentecostal Theology of the Lord’s Supper: Foretasting the King- dom(Cleveland, TN:cptPress, 2012), 248.

Cf. Rom 12:6–8; 1Cor 12:8–30; Eph 4:11; 1Pet 4:11.

Cf. Rev 11:15, the Hallelujah Chorus.

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4 The Role of Tradition in Formation

Tradition is the vehicle through which the Spirit shapes the church to partic- ipate in the life of God.32 Following Hauerwas, Chan points out that inten- tional tradition is the source of real change. Humans are habitual creatures who are formed by both intentional and unthinking habits. When practicing clearly defined, coherently crafted traditions based on a “developed system of thought,” humans are better able to face new challenges as they have the resources to change or stand firm as the situation requires. On the flip side, Chan states that “unthinking and subconscious” traditions are often held with “blind tenacity” for “fear of losing them.”33The church needs clearly articulated, intentional traditions that teach its members to “be” the church. This is not to



In recent times pentecostal and renewalist theologians have addressed the formative power of tradition. Most recently, Frestadius’s monograph examines the role of tradition utilizing Alasdair MacIntyre’s work on tradition. Simo Frestadius, Pentecostal Rationality: Epistemology and Theological Hermeneutics in the Foursquare Tradition (London: T & T Clark, 2020). The role of tradition in formation has been a prominent theme in several of Chan’s recent writings. Simon Chan, Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011); Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community (Downers Grove, IL: ivp Academic, 2006); Simon Chan, “The Holy Spirit as the Fulfillment of the Liturgy,”Liturgy30, no. 1 (2015),​ 0458063X.2014.952595. Simon Chan, “The Mutual Challenges of Pentecostal-Charismatic and Liturgical Worship,” in Pentecostal Theology and Ecumenical Theology (Leiden: Brill, 2019), 261–282. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies series focuses on the formative power of liturgy both in the church and in culture. James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Cultural Liturgies (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009); James K.A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, Cultural Liturgies (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013); James K.A. Smith, Awaiting the King: Reform- ing Public Theology, Cultural Liturgies (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017). Packiam argues that worship is formative, missional, and an encounter of the Holy Spirit. Using this paradigm he utlizes empirical research to examine how hope is expressed and embod- ied in sung music and worship practice. He then draws formational implications. Glenn Packiam,Worship and the World to Come: Exploring Christian Hope in Contemporary Wor- ship, Dynamics of Christian Worship (Downers Grove, IL: ivp Academic, 2020). Augus- tine and Green focus on the formational power of liturgy. Daniela C. Augustine, “Liturgy, Theosis, and the Renewal of the World,” in Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Worship, ed. Lee Roy Martin (Cleveland, TN: cpt Press, 2016), 165–186; Chris E.W. Green, “Saving Liturgy: (Re)imagining Pentecostal Liturgical Theology and Practice,” in Scripting Pente- cost: A Study of Pentecostals, Worship and Liturgy, ed. Mark J. Cartledge and A.J. Swoboda, Explorations in Practical, Pastoral and Empirical Theology (London: Routledge, 2017). Chris Green, “Sacraments: Rites in the Spirit for the Presence of Christ,” inThe Routledge Handbook of Pentecostal Theology, ed. Wolfgang Vondey (London: Routledge, 2020), 311– 320.

Chan, Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition, 17.

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suggest that there is no room for spontaneity or freedom of the Spirit in the church. Rather, it recognizes that spiritual formation thrives in intentionality.

JamesK.A.Smith’sworkinhisCulturalLiturgiesprojectishelpfulhere.Smith says that the Western understanding of the human is largely “I think therefore I am.” Many church traditions have followed this thinking and used a cogni- tive approach to evangelism by crafting sermons, arguments, and defenses of the faith. The hope was that if people “think right,” they will know how to live right.34 In contrast to the person-as-thinker approach, Smith advocates for a concept of the person-as-lover. He notes that as humans we orient our lives around the things we love. We have trivial loves (pizza), significant loves (spouses), and ultimate loves. Our ultimate loves define our identity, shape how we see and think the world and our being-in-the-world. In short, “our love is what we worship.”35This truth is why Christ said, “just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Smith says that humans are “inten- tional creatures” whose being-in-the-world is defined by a love that points to a vision of the ultimate good life. While humans are intentional, this being-in- the-world is mostly shaped by unconscious or non-cognitive habits. Our habits, in turn, are formed through “affective, bodily means—practices, routines, and rituals that grab our hearts through our imaginations.”36This means that as we form church traditions, they cannot speak only to the head, with “knowledge that puffs up” (1Cor 8:1); rather, the traditions must also affectively train us to love as God does.

Smith notes that habits are either thick or thin. Thin habits, such as brush- ing teeth, are mundane routines. Thick practices, such as daily prayer and Bible reading, significantly shape our identity as they make us who we are and shape who we become. However, Smith notes that the line between the two is fuzzy, as thin practices are often tied to identity formation. For instance, in marriage, the “thin” practice of eating together stems from a “thick” practice of relationship. Identities are shaped by thick habits, because they are “telos-laden,” focused on


35 36

James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Cul- tural Liturgies 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 64. Cf. Clark Pinnock: There is a new model of church rising that is not focused on the Protestant approach of a prepared lecture or the “sacerdotal liturgy” of the Catholic tradition. Pinnock rightly identifies the prominent mark of the church as an experience of the Spirit, which, however, he defines purely through the pentecostal-charismatic style. Clark Pinnock, “Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit: The Promise of Pentecostal Ecclesiology,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 14, no. 2 (2006): 157.

Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 51.

Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 62–63.

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our ultimate love. Habits, whether thick or thin, are material, embodied rou- tines in which we continually engage.37

Smith terms our thickest habits as liturgies. “Liturgies are rituals of ultimate concern: rituals that are formative for identity, that inculcate particular visions of the good life, and do so in a way that means to trump other ritual forma- tions … [they are] pedagogies of ultimate desire.”38Liturgies are not just in the church. For every vision of the “ultimate good” there are liturgies that shape people’s hearts and minds in that direction. Christian worship liturgies are counter-liturgies to those created by the “apostate priests” in the world. Instead of focusing on the self, Christian liturgies are “decentering … calling us out of ourselves and into the very life of God.”39The task of church liturgies, then, is to shape the body of Christ through affective processes that inspire the heart so that it learns the patterns of the kingdom as its ultimatetelosand renews the mind in Christ Jesus.40

There is also a danger in pragmatically choosing a tradition for its expected formative value. Commenting on the process of spiritual formation, McGarry notes that works of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle all show the possibility for individuals to structure their lives around certain habits and thereby develop character traits by force of will. Likewise, studies in cognitive neuroscience have found that a person is able to redirect neurons in their brain through mindfulness, attention, and repetition.41 The church should not ignore these studies, but it highlights the necessity of asking the right questions in the devel- opment of traditioning. McGarry says that instead of asking, “Where is the Spirit in this process of character formation?” the better question is, “How is this human work in virtue part of the divine work of the Spirit?”42 Likewise, churches need to ask, “How is this service or ministry participating in the work of the Spirit?” The focus is not where the Spirit is meeting us in what we are doing, but where we are participating in whatthe Spirit is doing.

So how does a church build a worshipful, traditioning liturgy? First, tradi- tioning is communal and flows from the communal gift of the Spirit. Individu- alsparticipateinliturgicaldevelopmentandexecutionasmembersof thebody.

37 38 39

40 41


Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 62–63.

Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 86–87.

James K.A. Smith,Imagining the Kingdom: HowWorshipWorks, Cultural Liturgies 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 149.

Cf. Rom 12:1–2.

Joseph McGarry, “Formed by the Spirit: A Third Article Theology of Christian Spiritual- ity,” inThird ArticleTheology: A PneumatologicalDogmatics, ed. Myk Habets (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 286.

McGarry, “Formed by the Spirit,” 288.

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Faith is no longer a solo sport but a practice of the body of Christ. Second, tra- ditioning is directed by ecclesial and theological leadership. If the ontological church stretches back to the garden, then historical church traditions should be mined to understand and create fresh worship practices. Church theologians need to speak from and for the local church. Pastors, elders, and deacons need to prayerfully seek the leading of the Spirit for their current time and space.43 Finally, while church leadership “advances” the tradition, it is the community that truly carries it.44As members of the body step into the traditioning of the church, they are formed to participate in the life of God. They renounce their citizenship of the world to take up citizenship in heaven.

5 An Ecclesial Traditioning Praxis

As God created the church to participate in his life through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, an ecclesial traditioning praxis must start with prayer. In the ancient church, public prayer referred to the entire worship experience. From the beginning to the end, the service offered every aspect of the liturgy through prayer. Webber notes that these are not individual prayers littered through the service, but a “praying of God’s story of the world and an offer- ing of God’s story of the world to God as an act of thanksgiving.”45This attitude needs to be reclaimed by the local church, and not just for the service. Church life includes a wide variety of ministries, including the service, children and student ministries, small groups, classes, women’s and men’s ministries, and outreach ministries. As the church participates in the life of God, it needs to be praying into and through each of these ministries. Rather than acting as a service provider, the local church needs to prayerfully consider how to best “tra- dition” its members through its various ministries.

5.1 A Narrative Service

The Sunday service should be the key formational practice in the local church because it enables the body to trace their history from today’s church back to the apostles, Christ, Israel, and the garden. By so doing, we locate ourselves todayin God’ssalvationhistoryand anticipatethe fullnessof ourredemptionin eternity. In surveying the field of current worship styles, Robert Webber notes

43 44 45

Chan, Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition, 18.

Chan, Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition, 19.

Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008), 149.

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that “traditional worship often feels dead, intellectual, and dry, whereas con- temporary worship seems loud, oriented toward the self, and not very uplift- ing.”46 These problems are not ultimately about style but, rather, about the content and focus of the service. The worship service should give the body a chance to look back and remember God’s story, find their place in it, and look forwardwithanticipationtoitsfulfillmentintheeschaton.Theearliestdescrip- tion of Christian worship the church has is from Justin Martyr. It tells us that public worship 1) took place on the “eighth day” or resurrection Sunday; 2) was characterized by reading and proclaiming Scripture; 3) a means by which the priest “instructs, and exhorts to the imitation” of the Word, demonstrating that worship is ultimately something “done in me”; 4) congregational prayer; 5) the celebration of the eucharist; 6) a sending of the elements of the eucharist to those not present; and, 7) an offering for those in need.47 Today the service should still be crafted in such a way as to invite the body of Christ to partic- ipate in Christ’s life and story.

Worship is much more than sung music. Chan calls worship the communal practice of theology.48 Similarly, Webber declares that worship is the demon- stration of what we believe.49So in crafting a worship practice, ecclesial leaders must be certain to look to Scripture for their theology before attending to cul- ture to make it relevant. If the music, messages, and prayers are focused on the individual, on “my” wants, it will result in a narcissistically and consumeris- tically oriented faith. If the practice focuses on a distant and irrelevant God, we create a faith tradition with little ability to transform the individual. In a renewal traditioning praxis, we need to craft services that point and draw peo- ple to the kingdom of God through an encounter of the Holy Spirit.

The practices of churches in the renewal tradition are varied, so there is no set pattern. However, here is a “story arc” that could help in crafting the service:

The Gathering. The first part of the service recognizes that people are com- ing into the church from the world. They are invited into the presence of God. In gathering from the world, we recognize that people may have sin that they need to confess or reconciliation to which they need to attend. Music selections focus on expressing who God is and what he has done and is doing.

TheWord. If we are to enter the story of the kingdom of God, we must hear it read aloud. In the High Church tradition, multiple Scripture passages are read, and members stand for the reading of the Gospel to mark its importance. Like-

46 47 48 49

Webber, Ancient-Future Worship, 89.

As summarized in Webber, Ancient-Future Worship, 93. Chan, Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition, 36. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship, 104.

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wise, Free Church traditions need to reclaim the practice of reading Scripture within the service.We need to reclaim the concept of hearing and imitating the Word of God, recognizing it for its formational power. As such, sermons should be primarily focused on opening the Scriptures for the congregation.

The Eucharist. In the ancient church, the eucharist was the center of God’s presence in the service. The memorialist approach to the eucharist has cheap- ened this practice to the point where many do not fully understand why it is practiced, outside of “because Jesus said so.” Paul writes that the cup is a koinonia(“participation, fellowship”) in Christ’s blood, and the cup is akoinonia in his body. It is through the partaking in Christ’s body that we are united in the body of Christ (1Cor 10:16–17). If conversion and baptism are the transfer of our citizenship from the world to the life of God, then the eucharist is the weekly admission that we are unable to participate in that life without the body and blood of Christ. Green argues that the meal is

a “visible word” (verba visibilia) that brings the gospel of Christ’s victory forcefully to bear on the minds and hearts of the participants, awakening in the participants the (re)new(ed) conviction that Jesus is the cosmic kyrios, head of the church, and archetype of the new creation, stirring up in them a (re)new(ed) desire and determination to conform their lives to the reality the gospel reveals.50

For Christians, partaking of the body of Christ in the eucharist is not simply a memorial event; it is a statement of holy dependence and allegiance to the sovereign Lord of the universe.

The Sending. Just as the church is gathered in from the world, at the end of the service it is sent out to the world. For it is through the church that the world comes to know the life of Jesus Christ. D.T. Niles wrote:

We often say that the answer to the problems of our world is Jesus Christ. Can I say with reverence that the answer to the problems of our world is not Jesus Christ? The answer to the problems of the world is the answer that Jesus Christ provided, which is the Church Jesus Christ has set in the world, a community bound to him, sharing his life and his mission, and enduedwith thepowerof the Holy Spirit.This community… isthe answer that Jesus has provided for the evils of this world.51

50 51

Green,Toward a Pentecostal Theology of the Lord’s Supper, 256.

As quoted in Chan, Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition, 97.

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The heart of the church is the participation in the life and mission of God. The worship of the church transforms lives. As it transforms lives, it transforms neighborhoods, cities, states, countries, and the world. As the body is sent from worship to the world, believers need to know they go in the power and anoint- ing of the Spirit to extend the boundaries of God’s kingdom. Just as our first parents were commissioned to fill the earth, so too are we today. The end of the worship service is not an end of an experience; it is a sending of the people of God into participation of themissio Dei in the world.

5.2 Initiation and Discipleship Traditioning

For the church to be the church, it needs more than just Sunday services.To par- ticipate actively in the church’s formative practices, people need to understand what they are doing. In the ancient church, this was accomplished through the catechumenate and mystagogy. The catechumenate was the process of initia- tion for new believers. This process was designed to help new believers wean themselves from the world so they could fully engage with their new life in the community of God.52Conversion was not seen simply as a change of heart or cognitive assent to new ideas; it was a change of citizenship from the king- dom of the world to that of God.53 This process culminated in baptism and the eucharistic celebration. In baptism, the catechumen would renounce Satan before reciting the creed as a statement of identity and being baptized.54 Fur- ther, the patristic writers indicated that in baptism, the new believers received the Spirit during the rite.55 So while baptism did not provide salvation, it was understood as a work of the Spirit. After baptism new members of the body went through mystagogy. In mystagogy, believers were instructed in the “mys- teries” of the faith so they could be active participants in the rhythms of the church.

Many churches in the renewal tradition have intentional evangelism and missional strategies. These need to be complemented by an intentional ini- tiation and discipleship practice to tradition its members into the body of Christ. This can happen through classes, seminars, small groups, mentoring, or retreats. Whatever method a church uses, the strategy should be bathed in prayer and create an experience that engages both belief and affective practice.

Waterloo Mennonite Brethren Church (wmb) in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada is an exampleof a churchthat has initiated a traditioningpraxis.Churchleader-

52 53 54 55

Chan, Liturgical Theology, 101. Chan, Liturgical Theology, 106. Chan, Liturgical Theology, 118. Yong,The Spirit Poured out on All Flesh, 157.

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ship, including staff, elders, and key congregation members, began by discern- ing a list of fifteen characteristics they expect from a disciple of Jesus to have after tenyearsatwmb.56These characteristicsaregrouped under the categories of an individual’s relationship with God, the church, and the world. They then created a resource guide to describe each of these characteristics, link them to Scripture, and further resources to help the community to grow in that charac- teristic.wmbhas also developed a series of “Disciple Maker Courses” designed to help the church body go deeper into each practice.57 The Ten-Year Disci- ple focus also drives the content of the Sunday sermon, with sermon handouts highlighting the characteristics with which the sermon connects.58

6 Conclusion

This article has argued that renewal ecclesiology of the church begins with who the church is, its being-in-the-world. This is a sacramental ontological view of the church that can and should start at creation. By doing so it creates a firm foundation for a Christian concept of participation, by establishing the good- ness and the existence of the material world in God. Just as the story of the fall features the protoevangelium, which promises the coming of an offspring of Eve who will destroy the serpent, the story of creation could be said to hold theprotoecclesia, the foundational ontology of the church as the people of God, body of Christ, temple of the Holy Spirit, and priesthood of all believers. This is a community marked by deep sacramental participation in the life of God.

The ontological foundation opens the door for a sacramental view of the life of the church. This perspective sees the Holy Spirit’s work as central to the church. It pushes the local church to intentionally develop services and min- istries that focus on helping the body become who God created it to be. Instead of churches being a group of individuals focused on a common goal, the church is a fellowship of members, deeply connected in and through the Holy Spirit. Worship is the defining mark of the church, and from that flows mission, the participation of the church in themissio Dei.




Waterloo Mennonite Brethren Church, “Discipleship atwmb,”Waterloo Mennonite Breth- ren Church,, accessed August 13, 2019.

Waterloo Mennonite Brethren Church, “Disciple Maker Courses,” Waterloo Mennonite Brethren Church,, accessed August 13, 2019. Waterloo Mennonite Brethren Church, “Timeless Lessons from the Old Testament: Hana- niah, Mishael, Azariah Sermon Notes,” Waterloo Mennonite Brethren Church, https://cdn​‑0113‑4914‑b561‑c9376af37e9d /document.pdf, accessed August 13, 2019.

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