I was recently asked to identify the biggest cultural challenge facing American Evangelicals. In my judgment, the biggest cultural challenge is not “out there” in “the culture” but internal–I almost said, “inherent”–to Evangelicalism: the persistent marginalization of the Eucharist in Evangelical church life, piety, and political engagement. Evangelicals will be incapable of responding to the specific challenges of our time with any steadiness or effect until the Eucharist becomes the criterion of all Christian cultural thinking and the source from which all genuinely Christian cultural engagement springs.
The church is called to keep our Lord Jesus, his death and resurrection, as the focal point of worship, witness, service, and mission. How do we protect ourselves from darting off after each fresh fad? Jesus didn’t think Christ-centered preaching would be enough. He left his church not only a gospel to preach, but rites of water, bread, and wine to practice. It’s difficult to forget Christ and his cross when we proclaim his death in the breaking of bread at the climax of every week’s worship. When the Sign seals the Word, the church becomes a communion of martyrs ready to bear the cross because they have consumed the cross.
Our problem is missiological as much as it is ecclesial and liturgical. Jesus asked His Father to make the disciples “one even as we are . . . perfected in unity so that the world may know that you sent me” (John 17:11, 23). What makes us think we can preach the gospel effectively from the ruins of a splintered church? Do we expect to evangelize the world when we cannot even eat together? We confess that the church is one and catholic, but what we confess, we deny at the table. The world notes the hypocrisy, and moves on.