Institutionalizing "Grace"

Alright, I'm talking straight out of my keghole right now, but I have to vomit some of the packed crap in my brain... this is going to be long. I'm going to commit some form of heresy in thinking all this out loud, so forgive me ahead of time, and if you must, don't read this message: Church history is very firm in its conversations about means of grace. Only the Catholic church would still define marriage as officially a means of grace, but for the sake of my need to use language similar to it, I am going to call marriage a means of grace. I mean it differently than Catholic or Church historians might (though not every), so don't quote me on it... In the church there are understood symbols that are termed means of grace. Reformed Protestants say preaching, baptism, and communion are the only means of grace. Catholics say there are eight: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, confession, ordination, marriage, death rites and teaching/ preaching(?). What they basically mean is that these are external symbols to which the grace of God spiritually clings and through which the Holy Spirit works internal actions. In the church, these actions are considered independent, meaning they need no system of interpretation to work this action out in the recipient EXCEPT the Holy Spirit (thus, they are for practicing believers). One of the huge issues in our post-modern/ post-religious/ post-everything world (is that ever fully true?) is that people are disgusted with symbolic forms whose system for interpretation has been lost, leaving only hollow actions that contain none of the original intent. It's like between the title and the text, something got lost and all people have to read of old traditions is empty book jackets. Now, there is momentum for a Congressional debate about ammending the Constitution in order to once and for all define marriage's role in the United States. (Here's where heresy comes in...) In the church, the entire service is set up to "institutionalize grace". There has always been a tendency to organize and systematize in a way that is imbued with meaning so that the system acts as a context for types of symbols to be interpretted which will encourage and instruct in righteous directions. When that ceases to be the reality - as it has for many contemporary people reacting against traditional forms of the local church and seeking out local churches with systems more conducive to the kind of form from which they interpret meaning - it is the responsibility of the local churches to either 1) accept this plea for new systems and find ways to imbue old meanings into new forms, or 2) lay down the law for old systems and recall/ reinstate/ remember old meanings in a way that draws the community closer together around the meaning locked up in the old forms... Now, we see this all the time in contemporary church movements. The order of church worship, the method of confirmation or ordination, the style and place of preaching, etc... But what I am wondering is, how far do our options extend? These examples only seem to reorganize the system, not the symbol itself. The elements remain the same. But can you totally get rid of sacraments or preaching in favor of other "means of grace" and somehow communicate the same grace? (I don't know what that would be)... I'm wondering that because it will confirm within the church that there are pillars, normative rituals, independent symbols that even a declining system around them cannot possibly remove... for which only the Holy Spirit is necessary... in whose attack, the only option is to recall/ reinstate/ remember them... Following that, how far does the church (God's ideal community) serve as an analogy for community in general? For instance, does it extend to there being "means of grace" upon which even secular communities are built? Is there such a thing as truly secular in the first place? How would you identify those things that are said to be independent? In a community where the meaning of marriage is gone because the system in which the "symbol" is acted out has so dramatically changed, is it the role of the community built on the foundation and the meaning of such a symbol to accept the change and seek new ways to imbue similar meanings, or is it the role of the community to lay down the law and recall/ reinstate/ remember old meanings in a way that draws community closer together around locked up old forms? How would you do that? How do you lay down the law? How do you recall/ reinstate/ remember old meanings locked up in old forms? The debate for Christians, seems to hinge on marriage being a pillar, a normative symbol in a system that can flourish all it wants, so long as it flourishes on these pillars... I'm wondering, 1) Is this an analogy that is noteworthy of more consideration? 2) Is marriage really a pillar? 3) Is it imbued with any meaning outside of the church and the Holy Spirit? 4) If it's not, what difference does it's existence make to a society whose system only sees marriage as an empty book jacket? 5) Has society really conceded to the idea that marriage has lost all its meaning, or is this only an inflated sense b/c of publicity and movies? 6) Can the meaning of marriage be effectively recalled/ reinstated/ remembered by communities? 7) Who should do it? 8) What would they have to know about marriage? I'm not sure this even makes sense anymore... maybe you guys can pick something out of it...


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