A new blog series, Ask For the Ancient Paths, has begun at
Come join us!
A new blog series, Ask For the Ancient Paths, has begun at
Come join us!
I remember meeting with a group of Evangelical senior pastors. I asked this question: “When we gather for worship, by the end of the service, what are we supposed to have done? How do we know that, yes, that was a legitimate worship service?” After a significant silence, one of the men said, “Bill, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that question.”
Then these pastors started to share their experiences. Most all of them simply did what they did because … well, that’s what they did. They didn’t seem to think that there was some sort of worship order they should be beholden to.
Growing up as a young Christian musician, I was always being roped into leading worship at the local churches I attended. I often heard the sentiment that, “There is no right or wrong way to worship. There’s great freedom. We can do whatever we want.”
It wasn’t until I began to earnestly study the theology of worship that my eyes were opened. Our God is jealous for our worship, and is quite clear in his expectations for how it is supposed to done*.
Celebrating the Acts of God in History
Christianity is a responsive faith in an active God. It is not a compilation of principles to live by (though it includes those). Our belief is in God’s saving acts in history. For the Jews of the Old Testament, that included creation (Sabbath), the Exodus from Egypt (Passover), and God’s providence during the wilderness wanderings (Booths), and the giving of the law (Shavuot).
In each of these God-ordained celebrations, the people are called to remember. When we, as contemporary, post-enlightenment, recovering-modernist, quasi-gnostics think of remembering, we think of a mental recollection — something that takes place in our minds only.
But this is not Biblical “re-membering”. Perhaps a better term, that better matches the Biblical idea, is “re-enactment.” We see this in the celebration of the Passover. In Exodus 12, God, through Moses, gives specific directions as to how the Passover is to be celebrated for generations to come. (Mind you, he gives these directions before the Passover actually happens!) The people are called to re-enact what will happen at sunset that night in Egypt — a “memorial day”, kept as a feast. Prepare offerings of bulls, rams and lambs, remove the leaven from your houses, eat only unleavened bread, don’t work, hear the children ask questions about the meaning of the festival,
By the way, “If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel” (Ex. 12:19). Even those who were ceremoniously unclean were to make sure they kept the Passover (Num. 9:9-13). Do you think God is serious about this re-enactment?
But that’s just the Passover. The Sabbath reenacts the seventh day of creation – life before sin and the curse – with feasting, fellowship with God, and no work. The Feast of Booths reenact the wilderness wandering by actually having the people live in tents for a week. At Shavuot, people stay up all night learning the law (not unlike the reading of the law in Nehemiah 8).
New Testament Re-enactments
So … did God initiate re-enactments in the New Testament? Of course. “This do in remembrance of me” said Jesus, as he initiated the Lord’s Supper for future generations (again, initiating it before it actually happened!). And baptism is a re-enactment of the literal death, burial and rising again of Jesus. Both of these sacramental activities were mandated by Jesus and the Apostles.
From the days of the early church, leaders gave great thought to the “liturgy” (aka, “doing”) of their worship. They saw not only the Eucharist and Baptisms as re-enactments, but also the service of worship itself, and the marking of the calendar year! The service was seen as a re-enactment of the saving acts related to the Epiphany of Jesus: The ministry of the Word (the teaching of the Christ), and the ministry of the Table (the saving sacrifice of the Christ). The church year is also a grand re-enactment of the ministry of Jesus: Awaiting the Messiah (Advent), His birth (Christmastide), the manifestation of His Word and works (Epiphany), His sacrifice on the cross (Lent), His resurrection (Eastertide), His ascension (Ascension Day), and the sending of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the church (Pentecost).
The people God have always worshiped by re-enacting the saving works of God. This has always been God’s heart and directive for His worship, and the church should would be wise to return to such a format. Four rock songs and a chat is a bankrupt liturgy.
That Lutheran worship stands squarely and thoughtfully in this classical liturgical tradition is a primary reason I have made my pilgrimage to this denomination. In the next blog, I’ll show you how they do it.
Understanding Lutheran Worship 1: What is “Authorized”?
When God’s people get together and “worship” … what are they supposed to be doing?
We might have some ideas of what we’d like to do. As human beings we have senses, and want love to have them please … so we like things that taste yummy, sound pretty, look beautiful, smell nice and feel good. We evaluate the basic goodness of our days by how our senses are pleased.
Most successful, contemporary churches do a good job of catering to our sensuality. Convenience parking, slick signage, cushy seating, cutting-edge publications, antiseptically clean facilities, meticulous landscaping, great music (from the parking lot PA system to the worship band), dynamic communicators, tasty catering for guests … and don’t get me started on the children and youth ministries! Having been on the staffsof these types of churches, I can tell you that these things aren’t afterthoughts — a large amount of time, attention and cash is given toward honoring these sensual values, and pleasing the people who hold to them (in Jesus’ name, of course).
Flashback to the ancient worship of Israel. Having traveled far to the place of worship, your hands bloodied from having slit the neck of your sacrificial animal (the best one in the flock, too), you stand in the heat and dust of the desert as the priest literally sprinkles your tunic (one of the two you own) with animal blood (“Hey, that stains!”). This was not “seeker sensitive” … this was seeker hostile.
But it was what God prescribed. And it’s His worship, not ours.
Take time to read the story of the tabernacle worship service in Leviticus 8-10. (You’re not grabbing your Bible, are you? No, really … read it, if not right now, but soon.) Aaron and his sons, Nadab and Abihu, are putting together the worship service for Yahweh. Throughout these chapters, it says that they were preparing the service “as the LORD commanded“ (8:4, 5, 9, 13, 17, 21, 29, 31, 34, 35, 36, 9:5, 6, 7, 10, 21, 10:13, 15). The climax of the service is described in 9:23-24: “The glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when al the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.” God showed up, just as He promised!
Then, Nadab and Abihu had a great idea! They thought it would be neat to take some of the fire from the altar, and put it in their censers … either to just have a bit of it for themselves, or to be able to take it from the altar and show their friends. Anything wrong with that? It’s just a little fire, right? And wouldn’t it be good for people to see the fire up close? Hey, I can use this divine fire to light my fire-pit and candles at home! It looks awesome, smells great, feels warm, sounds cool…
One problem. BIG problem. It is “unauthorized fire“ (10:1). The result? “Fire came out from the presence of the Lord, and consumed [Nadab and Abihu].” God is deathly serious about His worship. He wants it “just as He commands.” To do what you want to do, instead or in addition, is unauthorized.
Now, I know of no instances in my lifetime where God has sent down fire on bad worship. (I’ve wanted to see it sometimes, but that’s sin on my part – a worse kind of sin than the bad worship.) Still, this text serves as a glimpse into the heart of God about HIS willingness to bless our worship, and the seriousness with which He insists on HIS prescriptions.
So … what does God prescribe for His worship? It was clear to Moses and Aaron … is it clear to us today?
More in the next blog …
– Bill Hartley
Where does your mind go when I say this phrase: “O say, can you see?”
Four simple words conjure up images of the Stars and Stripes yet waving over Ft. McHenry, and that the flag still flies over the land of the free, and home of the brave. Why? Because we know more than those first four words. We know the whole song.
The religious leaders were jeering the crucified Jesus. “He saved others—but He can’t save himself! Get down from that cross … We’ll all become believers then! If He’s ‘God’s son’, let God save Him now—if he still wants him!”
Jesus’ reply? The first words of a song the Israelites had sung sing they were kids, the 22nd Psalm:
Then, these were the other “lyrics” that would have come to their minds … “I am scorned and despised. All who see me mock me. ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him rescue him!’ I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments and cast lots for them.”
And the conclusion of the song:
“You who fear the Lord, praise him! Stand in awe of him! … For God has not despised the suffering of His afflicted one, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard Him when he cried to him … The great congregation … those who fear you … those who seek you … the poor … the afflicted … the prosperous … those who have died … those yet unborn … all the nations … all will remember, and worship you, for Kingship belongs to the Lord! He has done it!”
For Jesus, the moment is not defined by any feeling of abandonment. The moment is defined by God, and His Word – not just the first words, but the whole song.
His Father is there … and Jesus will be King.
(From the Seven Last Words of Jesus at Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church, Good Friday 2017).
I feel compelled this morning to share some thoughts about Maundy Thursday.
(This is a quick word before we dive into our series on Understanding Lutheran Worship next week.)
I was introduced to Jesus in a Restoration Movement (non-denominational) church that was committed to the weekly practice Communion (a.k.a. “Lord’s Supper”, or “the Eucharist”). I was a point of pride for us back in the day. The Bible seems to indicate that weekly Communion was the practice of the early church (Acts 20:7). And if there’s one thing my first church was, it was committed to being literally Biblical. (I’m grateful to that heritage to this day.)
What was never explained to me, though, was why it was important. It was a nice reminder of Jesus, of course. And, like Baptism, I was compliant with the Biblical charge to do this (what those Catholics call) “sacrament” because the Bible says to. But, it was explained to me that nothing really happens during these practices. They served as physical testimonies of historic realities: Communion, the crucifixion … and Baptism, my decision to follow Jesus.
As I became a student and teacher of theology, I came to realize that my little church’s understanding of the sacraments was not in line with that of the first 1,500 years of the historical church. It was universally understood, from the time of Christ to the age of the Enlightenment, that these Christ-ordained rites were “efficacious” … a good theological word meaning “something happens!” More than just reminders of past events, they are present, real encounters with God. “Means of grace.”
This jibed with my Bible reading. From Jesus’ baptism on, every time there is a baptism recorded in the scriptures, something dramatic happened. Then I read where Paul asked the Corinthians, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”, and then went on to say that “he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep (e.g., have died!). These are more than remembrances. Spiritual power is manifesting itself through these prescribed rites.
As I brought up these topics with my teachers, they insisted that these were not supernatural events. They also told me that the sign-gifts of the Holy Spirit are not in operation anymore. They also told me that God is only doing miracles in far-off places around the world … because they need the miracles, and we don’t, because we can understand the text of the Bible. I came to realize that, like the Liberal Theology churches they were quick to condemn, my post-Enlightenment Evangelical brothers and sisters had dispensed with God manifesting Himself in the physical. He was to be found only in the head-study of the scriptures, with an occasional warm fuzzy at a weekend retreat, and the feeling of assurance produced by good works. And that should be all I need, if I’m a strong Christian.
Fast forward to 2013: After a 28-year pastoral career in the Evangelical tradition, I finally changed my ecclesiastical “relationship status”. I became a member of a classical faith denomination that embraces the historical understanding of (many things, but for the purposes of this post) the sacraments. I believe, am in line with generations that have believed, am led by those who believe, and am surrounded by a church which believes, that:
Maundy Thursday used to be a nice day to remember a touching evening … the night Jesus set up an ongoing reminder of what He was going to do the next day. But now, I realize it is so much more: It was God, in Christ, preparing for us a table in our ongoing wilderness wandering on earth. It is our ongoing source of participation in and with the very presence of Christ. It is the Word of God, not just a mental idea, but made flesh, dwelling among us. It is where I eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus, and thereby have life (Jn. 6:63). It is my actual experience of Jesus promise to be with us unto the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).
To think I lived without this means of grace for decades. My prayer is that many from my original tribe will also be made aware of these incredible graces of our Lord, and embrace them by faith.
– Bill Hartley
I’ve changed my relationship status.
As most of you who are reading this know, I used to write under the moniker of The Evangelical Orphan. I changed my blog to reflect my embrace of a church tradition.
I was “saved” (made a decision for Christ, walked the aisle at an altar call, was baptized by immersion in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit) at a non-denominational church in Southern California back in 1974. Since then, I have served in several churches, and studied historical theology in many contexts. My journey has led me to Costa Mesa, Minneapolis, Antioch, Canterbury, the outskirts of Rome, Geneva … and finally to Wittenberg. I am now serving as a vicar in a Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod, for those scoring at home). I believe the doctrines and practices of classical Lutheranism are the most faithful to those of historic, orthodox Christianity.
There is SO much I want to say about my new family! But for now, I choose to begin by offering some articles in conjunction with a class I’ll be teaching at Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church during Eastertide (Sundays, April 23-May 21, 10:30a). The course is entitled Understanding Lutheran Worship. It’s for those who don’t know much about Lutheranism (or historical Christian worship in a broader sense), and for those who have been Lutherans for a long time, but may not completely grasp how rich their tradition really is!
Topics to be covered:
I’ll be sharing about these topics with an unabashed agenda: To see more followers of Jesus Christ embrace a comprehensively richer, wholistic, edifying and Biblical spirituality, rooted deeply in the historic practices of the church through the ages. I have been extraordinarily blessed to be led to a deeper understanding of and engagement in these five areas. I’d like to think that the same blessings might be in store for you.
I’ll be back right after Easter Sunday with the first installment. Until then, you might ask yourself this question: When the church gathers, what is supposed to happen? Why do we do what we do, and in the orders we choose? Can we do whatever we feel like, or are we beholden to any principles or practices? (The first time someone asked me this question, my life started to change…)
Blessing on your Holy Week celebrations!
I was surprised to find the blog site “Classical Faith” had not already been taken at WordPress.
Happily surprised that I got it. And sadly surprised that no one has wanted it until now!
Which affirms the time is right for these thoughts. Thanks for following, sharing, and growing with me in the days ahead.
Orphaned no more,