I’ve been reading Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s book For the Life of the World, and a bit of it struck me last night in a way I had never considered before. He mentions a phrase I have heard many times before, but had always discounted; precisely: “The Church’s very mission is to become all things to all men.” (Ch. 3, Sec. 5, p. 59)
I had always taken this to be an excuse for all kinds of experiments in church, from rock bands to live mules. But Fr. has turned it inside out for me; it is quite clear from his context what this phrase is supposed to mean, although he never says it straight out. If the Church is really to mean “all things” to someone, it is to be his life, breath, food, drink, and air — living as a member of Christ’s Church, partaking of Him through the sacraments, and loving as He loved. To mean it “for all people” is a challenge of mission for sure — for if the Church is truly supposed to be “all things”, then it is incumbent on us as members to bring those who will come with us to Christ and to the Church to find real life. If the Church becomes “all things,” focusing us and pointing us to Him in a community based on His love for us and through us, we can become truly “in the world, but not of it”.
“Behold, I make all things new,” Christ says. Yes, even the liturgy and hours and prayers of 2000 years, if we would only let Him make it new. I’ve heard some say regarding liturgy in general, “but you say the same things over and over again… your church sounds kind of boring.” But they fail to understand that each and every liturgy I participate in, it wears on my heart and rubs on my rough spots and helps in the work of transforming me just little bit to be more like my Lord Jesus. It is new every time — I am lucky to get through a service without tears, be they of joy, sorrow, or contrition.
I am so glad that Fr. Schmemann has cleared this up for me. I can’t seem to let this wondrously simple and powerful statement out of my mind since I read it a couple of days ago. It has literally been transformed from words I once scoffed at, due to how they were used in my Protestant days, into such a simple and beautiful statement of mission. I hope that it inspires us all to make our life in Christ’s Church “all things”.
“Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh;
But the earth abideth for ever…
The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing…
There is no new thing under the sun.”