Thursday, November 26, 2009

Eyes-Open Worship II

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
(from Paul Simon’s I am a Rock)

“Beware of all isms, except for prisms.” (Unknown)

One of the idols du jour is individualism. If you are a modern American evangelical Christian you struggle, at least to some degree, with the pernicious notion that you are, as Paul Simon crooned, “a rock…an island.” But salvation, biblically defined, is salvation not only from sin and death, but to the holy community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and to the community of Christ’s body, the Church.

This bent towards individualism shows up in many places, but perhaps most surprisingly in our observance of the Lord’s Supper. In the tenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul reminded the saints in Corinth that partaking of the communion bread made them “one bread and one body.” Two chapters later, Paul chided the Corinthians for thinking individualistically and not recognizing their place in, and need for, others in the one body of Jesus Christ.

Sandwiched between these two important references to Christ’s body (the Church) is Paul’s warning to not drink the wine of the Lord’s Table “unworthily” (1 Cor. 11:27). Two verses later Paul went on to define “unworthily” as “not discerning the Lord’s body.” Taken in context, this is another reference to the Church, the one body of Christ gloriously comprised of many diverse members.

This being true, to partake of the Lord’s Supper “worthily” we probably ought to be taking the bread and the cup with our eyes wide-open, looking around us to see our brothers and sisters in Christ and knowing ourselves to be joined together with them as “one bread and one body.” But inexplicably, most modern evangelicals seize this as an opportunity to close their eyes and thereby close themselves off from those around them, and individually meditate with guilt and shame upon the broken body of Jesus as he hung upon the cross. As pious as this sounds, this is not what Paul meant by “discerning the Lords’ body.” And therefore not a worthy partaking of the cup.

As the author of Hebrews reminds us, Lord’s Day worship is corporate worship; it is “the general assembly and the church of the firstborn.” It is not a collection of saints worshipping God individually whilst being in the same room together at the same time. Paul Simon is wrong. We are not individual rocks. Together we form the one loaf who is Christ. We are not islands. We are the many diverse members who together make up the one body of Christ.

Given our bent towards prideful individualism, eyes-closed worship is a dangerous posture to adopt in corporate worship. Eyes-open worship reminds us of our place in the one body of Jesus Christ, and our desperate need for the wholeness that can only be found in concert and community with other Christians.


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