To be Christian is to recognize that God took upon himself human flesh. God does not despise the physical but rather enters into it and restores it to its original beauty or should we say goodness. God does not despise material things, in fact, when God created the world he called it good (In Genesis 1:31 God not only calls it good, he calls it very good). This very fact separates Christianity from a number of other religions that despise the physical world and often say that human beings are spirits trapped in bodies. We are not spirits trapped in bodies, we are human beings created to exist with bodies and spirits tightly integrated together.
So often Christians ignore the gift of creation as a means to experience the grace of God. Our physical bodies, like our spirits, strive to encounter God holistically and completely. God became flesh to redeem us because human beings are “fleshy” creatures whose bodies encounter the divine just as their spirits do. That’s why people have always included material things in their worship of the divine. While many religions distort this practice and create rituals that look like magic, Christians use creation in worship in a purely appropriate way. The use of water in baptism, bread and wine in communion, oil for anointing, are all ways to use the physical to enhance the encounter with the divine.
The convergence movement embraces the sacramental/incarnational experience of worship like the Christians of old. One thing that was lost in the reformation was the idea that the sacred liturgical and sacramental engagement of worship was not appropriate. It led to an extreme view of worship in which it became highly rational with the reading and teaching of the word and little use of sacramental means for encountering God’s grace. Certainly one can understand why they grew suspicious of the use of sacraments in worship, the Roman church had taken things to an extreme. Baptism, Eucharist, Anointing, etc. all became ways of manipulating God’s grace not encounters with it. However, the use of a sacramental and liturgical encounter with God is something early Christians have always done. Paul talks about communion in his letters to his Christian communities (Read 1st Corinthians, you’ll find a number of things Paul says about it), Jesus not only initiates communion but is found using created things in other ways to convey his grace to others. He lays hands on people (Matthew 9:18; Mark 5:23; 6:5; 7:32; 8:22–25; Luke 13:13), he himself is anointed with oil (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, and John 12:1-8), and we even see when he cures the blind man he uses his spit and mud in the process (John 9:6, Mark 8:22-25). Early Christians and Jesus himself were sacramental in the way they ministered and worshiped with and to one another.
Sacraments are simply outward signs that convey the experience of an inner grace. They are a physical way to deepen the experience of an inner spiritual reality. Because we are physical creatures we need physical elements to our encounter with God. Even the bibles we read are sacramental. Ink, paper, and other material makes the bible a physical creation that when read in faith leads to a spiritual encounter with God. Water, oil, bread, wine, and numerous other things can do the same. As a convergent Christian I want the whole experience of God, not just the evangelical and charismatic, but the sacramental incarnational as well. It is my hope that by these three posts I have made you are interested in the same. God has so much to offer us, why limit the encounter with him to just one of these three streams!