Friday, June 15, 2007

Fun or Fear in the Presence of God?

(Hebrews 12:28-29) Wherefore [since we are] receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.

Last week, as I was driving around town, I heard an advertisement for a church in town that claimed to be the ecclesiastical remedy for religious boredom, and most importantly (according to their radio spot) FUN!

As C. S. Lewis penned over fifty years ago in his wonderful book, Mere Christianity: “God is the only comfort, he is also the supreme terror; the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion…We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence who, as they say “liked to see young people enjoying themselves” and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be said at the end of each day, “a good time was had by all.”

We would agree with our brothers in Christ that boredom ought not in any way to be associated with the worship of the Lord most high. But we would respectfully disagree that “fun” is the proper remedy for liturgical orthodusty.

As the author of Hebrews reminds us, we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, a kingdom whose progress cannot be halted, and whose purposes cannot be thwarted. Therefore, the only suitable response is to serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, remembering that the object of our worship is a consuming fire. The word "acceptably" reminds us of the possibility of "unacceptable worship." The Greek word for “serve” is the word from which we get our English word “liturgy.” The Greek word for “reverence” is elsewhere translated “shamefacedness”, i.e. the ability to be ashamed that prevents one from being so. The Greek word for “fear” indicates great caution, circumspection and awe.

Fun? Absolutely not. Wonderful, joyful and soul- satisfying? Absolutely.

So…Come let us worship the Lord together!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Cultic Continuity

(1 Peter 2:1-5) Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

I need to begin with a definition of a word that most people only understand in its pejorative, or negative, sense. The word is “cult” and the primary meaning of this word is: a system of religious devotion directed towards a particular figure or object. The adjectival form of “cult”, being then “cultic.”

Although we are very prone, as moderns, to miss the liturgical language and cultic connections linking the worship of the Covenants Old and New, the New Testament is indeed filled with such correlations. Where we moderns see only disconnects and disunity, the authors of the New Testament saw only harmony, consonance and fulfillment in the glorious transition, nay, transformation, of Old Covenant into New Covenant worship.

In fact, you could say that if it was the intent of the New Testament authors to introduce a form of worship that was completely innovative, different and disconnected from Old Testament rites and meaning, then they did an awfully poor job of doing so. For they continued to use words and terminology that for first century audiences were absolutely loaded with cultic inference, import and instruction. Terms such as “temple”, “priests”, “offerings” and “sacrifices” under gird and suffuse New Testament descriptions of New Covenant worship.

The Spirit-inspired authors of the New Testament consistently conceived, and regularly taught, a liturgical paradigm explicitly founded upon, and expressly connected to, Old Covenant cultic rites and rituals. So welcome New Covenant priests, to the Temple of the New Covenant. As together we seek the renewal of our covenant with our covenant making and covenant keeping God, let us now offer up the sacrifices peculiar to, and prescribed for, this glorious age in redemptive history. So...Come let us worship the Lord together!

Monday, June 04, 2007

"Father, have I done something wrong?"

1 Corinthians 11:28-29) But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

Recently, one of our church families with young children was out of town for the weekend and wound up worshipping at a church in the town where they were visiting friends. The church with whom they worshipped do not practice paedo-communion, and therefore were the small children not served the bread and wine of the Lord’s Table. The littlest saint in this family was very disturbed to see the elements pass by him and he began to cry plaintively. And after both bread and wine had passed by these dear ones who have grown wonderfully accustomed to weekly communion, one of them turned to her parents and queried pitifully, “Father, have I done something wrong?”

This little one’s question demonstrated that she understood the meaning and import of the Lord’s Table even better than the elders who had excluded her from the Table. She correctly knew herself to be a genuine member of Christ’s body with all of its attendant duties and privileges. And she also rightly understood that the only biblical ground for being excluded; in other words, ex-communionated; or excommunicated; would be serious sin in a hardened state of impentitence. And so her question, “Father, have I done something wrong?”

This little saint’s query evidenced that she was in perfect accord with Paul’s command to rightly “discern the Lord’s body.” She was recognizing the body of Christ seated all around her, and herself as a bona-fide member in good standing of that body. Hence her legitimate distress regarding her apparent severing from the body of her Savior. And hence her eagerness to know and repent of any misdeeds in order to be restored to her people, her Lord and the glad fellowship of his Table.

This covenant meal, this feast of feasts was intended to strengthen, not sap faith; to encourage belief, not erode it. So come young and old, come male and female; come red, yellow, black and white (all precious in the Savior’s sight) come healthy and come infirm; come sound of mind and struggling; come strong and come weak, so long as you…Come and welcome to the Table of the Lord.
(Matthew 28:18-20) And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

This Lord’s Day is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday that the historic church of Jesus Christ has set aside to remember and celebrate the triune nature of our God, who is one God and three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

To the extent that the Christian Church has ceased to celebrate this glorious doctrine, she has in like measure forgotten, devalued and even begun to distain the very same. Although evidence of this neglect abounds everywhere, one example will suffice. Directly after the 9/11 attacks, the leaders of our nation convened together in the national cathedral in Washington D.C. for a time of mourning, prayer and solace. This overtly religious ceremony was conducted by a Christian minister, a Jewish rabbi and a Muslim imam. Sadly, a great number of Christians watched this service and welcomed the spectacle as an indication that all religious peoples really do worship the same god after all, even though they do so in significantly different ways.

But the holy scriptures are quite clear to the contrary. To possess the Son is to possess the Father and the Spirit. The three persons of the godhead are conjoined in such a way that, as Jesus put it, “he who rejects the Son, rejects the Father who sent him.”

Realizing our proclivity to forget, we sing the Apostles’ Creed every week in the Lord’s Service, to remind ourselves of God’s triune character and nature. We begin and end our service invoking the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit seeking His, and not any other god’s, blessing upon our worship. And when the three names of our one God are thus invoked, we add our heart-felt and hearty “Amen!” as we recall our baptism into this holy community of service, love and fellowship. So…Come let us worship the triune God of Scripture together!