Monday, December 31, 2012

A Plea for a Return to the Liturgy of Word and the Liturgy of Table

I continue to believe that the Evangelical world has lost its way with regard to worship.  We are not following the pattern our Lord gave us of teaching and meal (this pattern is especially found in Luke's Gospel), which the church used to pattern its liturgy into two parts: the service of the Word and the service of the table.  This table fellowship of Jesus found in Luke's Gospel involved three things: the presence of Jesus (God incarnate!), the teaching of Jesus, and a meal with Jesus.  This pattern is found time and time again in Luke and finds its climax in the Last Supper and Emmaus meal after his resurrection, which become the pattern for Christ's people in the present age.(1)  While no one would say that this pattern of table fellowship (presence, teaching and meal) in the early chapters of Luke is the Lord's Supper, this table fellowship does find its culmination in the Last Supper and Emmaus meal, which then become the pattern of the Christian liturgy and its two part pattern of the service of the Word and the service of the table. Not following the liturgical pattern Jesus gave us, has resulted in a number of problems.  Here are two:

First, by not following the pattern of teaching then meal, we have weakened Christ's flock by withholding spiritual nourishment.  When we withhold the Supper from Christ's people, we keep them from the supernatural bread of Christ's life giving flesh and blood.  In light of the coming eschaton, Jesus teaches us the responsibility pastors and elders have in his church:
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. (Matthew 24:45-46 ESV)
But are our leaders giving us our food at the proper time when we ignore the teaching and meal pattern Jesus invariably followed with his disciples?

Second, by not following the liturgical pattern of Word and meal, we have invented a new pattern that does not have Christ's warrant.  The new pattern has elevated the role of music above the role of God's Word.

When we thought in terms of a liturgy of the Word and a liturgy of the table, we gave the Scriptures their proper role in the liturgy of the Word.  At the very minimum, we had an Old Testament and New Testament reading as separate elements of the service.  Most churches had an Old Testament reading, Psalm reading, Epistle reading, and a Gospel reading, which was the climax of the public reading of God's Word, for in them we hear the words of Christ.  We understood that the first part of the liturgy was devoted to instruction, and therefore, it was appropriate to read God's Word.

But when we forgot the pattern of teaching and meal Jesus gave us, we strayed further and further, doing what we thought best.  Gradually music became more important than the public reading of Scripture, until the reading of Scripture was reduced to the reading of a single passage before the sermon and a few verses retained in the call to worship or confession of sins or some other place in the service.  While we sang more and more, we read God's Word less and less.  Our voice of praise supplanted Christ's voice in Scripture.

But, one might ask, how can praise in music ever be considered to be problematic?  Isn't God always pleased with our praise?

The problem is that when we forgot that the main point of the first part of the liturgy is instruction, our praise in response to Christ's life-giving and Spirit-giving instruction became confused.  We forgot the gospel logic of our worship.  The gospel logic of worship is that Christ must first give his forgiveness, life, and blessings before we respond (or can respond!) in praise and prayer.  By elevating, in the liturgy, our voice above Christ's voice in Scripture we lose the gospel logic of grace then gratitude, of the gospel indicative before the law imperative of our response.  Soon the dialogue of worship is lost and the gospel becomes cloudy and confused.  

We ought to come to worship, first and foremost, to hear Christ, to see His glory,  and to partake of his life.  But our voice, I am afraid, is drowning out our Lord's voice in the service more and more.  No longer can our worship be fairly considered a dialogue, for we are like those people who so dominate a conversation to make it impossible to get a word in edgewise!

One way to see our confusion is to see how much we sing, and how little Christ speaks in our services. Another way to see our confusion is to look at our songs, which so often seem random and out of context, like a hymn sing every Sunday, rather than a divine service, where Christ comes to bless us through His powerful means of grace: Word and sacrament!

By divorcing our songs from God's Word, confusion reigns.  The liturgical function of our songs are confused when they are not a response to God's Word.  The opening hymn is no longer a response to God's opening call to worship.  The song after the confession and assurance is no longer a response to His word of grace.  The pastoral prayer no longer builds on the reading of the Old and New Testament Scriptures.  The song after the Scripture readings (which we no longer have) have no connection to Christ's voice in His Word.  The song before the sermon is no longer a prayer of illumination.  Our songs are simply haphazard choices in long sequences with no connection to God's Word heard in the service.  And so, sadly, our instruction (and theology) comes more from the theology of our choruses and hymns than it does from God's Word, and once again, Christ's people are not given their food at the proper time so necessary in this time before the eschaton (Matthew 25:45-46).

In short, I am arguing for a return to the pattern Jesus gave us of teaching then meal, i.e., the liturgy of the Word followed by the liturgy of the table.  While I am not arguing against music in the worship service, I am arguing that our songs should serve a liturgical purpose in the dialogue of worship, and should be chosen with care as a response to Christ's Word to us.  This response can be praise, thanks, prayer, proclamation, exhortation etc., but it needs to be a response, so that we do not lose the gospel logic that Christ serves us with His grace and mercy before we serve Him with our "spiritual worship" (see Romans 12:1).

To enact what I am proposing will entail much study of the topic of worship in Scripture, and, to a lesser degree, church history.  It will require pastors and elders to get involved once again in worship planning.  It will require careful reflection and work each week as we work out the dialogue of the liturgy.  But it will be worth it if Christ's people once again receive their food at the proper time and our pastors and elders obey the voice and receive the blessing of the Good Shepherd.  May our Lord in His grace grant it.

(1) A great summary of this table fellowship theme can be found in Arthur Just's Commentary on Luke.  His excursus on this theme is found in volume 1 on pp. 231-241.  It is remarkable how often the theme of food is found in Luke's Gospel.  Robert Karris lists these references to food in Luke covering every chapter of the book: 1:15, 53; 2:7, 12, 16, 37; 3:11, 17; 4:1-4, 25, 39; 5:1-11, 29-38; 6:1-5, 21, 25, 43-46; 7:31-35, 36-50; 8:3, 11, 55; 9:3, 10-17; 10:2, 7-8, 38-42; 11:3, 5-12, 27-29, 37-54; 12:1, 13-34, 35-38, 41-48; 13:6-9, 18-21, 29-30; 14:1-24, 34-35; 15:1-2, 11-32; 16:19-31; 17:7-10; 18:12; 19:7; 20:9-18, 46; 21:34; 22:1-38; 23:43; 24:28-35, 41-42.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Simple Gifts Judy Collins and New Hymn Lyrics Based on Luke 15 and Colossians 3:1-4




The Lord Our God Is Gracious

To the tune: SIMPLE GIFTS.  Based on Luke 15 and Colossians 3:1-4.  Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
The Lord our God is gracious and our Savior is good,
in His grace He came and in our place He stood.
He saw that we were lost, and far from our home,
so He came to redeem and make us His own.

Refrain:
How blessed are we in Jesus Christ,
we died with our Lord, we're raised to new life.
Good things we seek in heav'n above,
in our Lord the fountain of life and love.

v. 2
To leave our God and Father was our folly and shame,
wanting His gifts, not His presence or His name.
But Jesus came to seek, to find what was lost,
to die for our race, to go to the cross.
(refrain)
v. 3
God's grace and peace are offered to those far, to those near,
for God's Son has risen, salvation now is here.
The Father says, "O come, and live near to Me,
find joy and peace, and live happily."
(refrain)

Our True National Debt

The thought occurred to me today that our real national debt (here it is in real time: http://www.usdebtclock.org/) is a spiritual one. Notice how the Heidelberg Catechism sees our debt as growing and unpayable, except by Jesus who suffered and died in our place. If many in our nation would return to Him, especially those who are baptized and on whom Christ has a special claim, one result might not only be individual reconciliation, but God's mercy on our nation's problems.

Q&A 12
Q. According to God’s righteous judgment
we deserve punishment
both in this world and forever after:
how then can we escape this punishment
and return to God’s favor?
A. God requires that his justice be satisfied.
Therefore the claims of his justice
must be paid in full,
either by ourselves or another.

Q&A 13
Q. Can we pay this debt ourselves?
A. Certainly not.
Actually, we increase our guilt every day.

Q&A 14
Q. Can another creature—any at all—
pay this debt for us?
A. No.
To begin with,
God will not punish another creature
for what a human is guilty of.
Besides,
no mere creature can bear the weight
of God’s eternal anger against sin
and release others from it.

Q&A 15
Q. What kind of mediator and deliverer
should we look for then?
A. One who is truly human and truly righteous,
yet more powerful than all creatures,
that is, one who is also true God.

Q&A 18
Q. And who is this mediator—
true God and at the same time
truly human and truly righteous?
A. Our Lord Jesus Christ,
who was given us
to set us completely free
and to make us right with God.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Death as the Separation of Form and Content

 I am in the middle of two books: "Chance or the Dance? A Critique of Modern Secularism" and "Jacob and the Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel's Story." The two books deal with man's fundamental problem, namely, we were created to be in relationship to God as our Father through his Son, but we want nothing to do with the God revealed in the Jesus of the Gospels. And so, in our departure from the Father we sever all meaning. We do not want the triune God in the living room, the family room, the dining room, the bedroom, the workplace, or even, the church. In our departure from the God we were made for, we lose our ability to see the marriage of form and content, and so the two are divorced and everything in each room loses its meaning. Death, that separation of form and content, enters each room until finally physical death catches up with spiritual death, and thus, the separation is complete. The picture is bleak, and it is why, like the prodigal, we need to return to the Father through the Son he sent. Only this return will bring a reunion---a resurrection of form and content---a heaven that will deliver us from hell.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Mystery in Front of Us Three Times Daily

"...the common, daily necessary business of eating is just that---common, daily, and necessary---but . . . it is also a picture of the thing that lies at the root of all life; namely, the principle of exchange.  My Life For Yours.  We enact that principle whenever we assemble and sit down at the table.  We may be sitting down to cornflakes, pizza, or Beluga caviar, but whatever it is, life has been laid down for us.  We are receiving life by chewing and swallowing the life of something else.  We have to do it to stay alive.  We have to do it daily.  As long as we live, we will be doing it.  Nothing could be more ordinary and functional.  But there it is---the biggest mystery of all, right there before us, three times a day. . . . For Christians, of course, the whole thing is caught up in the biggest transaction of all, of which all these smaller transactions are but examples, namely, the life of the Lamb of God laid down so that we might live. --Thomas Howard from "Hallowed Be This House"

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

History's Need of Redemption

I read this tonight from a book I am reading by Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart.  The quote is particularly apt in the light of this week's events.  It points to the lack of answers that the world gives us, or at least modernity gave us, with its faith in progress (a secular version of the Christian story), and it points to the need of redemption, a redemption accomplished in history through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that alone can give us hope:

"Walter Benjamin, the German Jewish philosopher, died a year before Hitler decreed the Final Solution.  But Benjamin already saw the reality of his time as one of mass murder when he wrote, only months before his own death in 1940, the following meditation on a painting by Paul Klee which he owned and which had long fascinated him:
A Klee painting named 'Angelus Novus' [the new angel] shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating.  His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread.  This is how one pictures the angel of history.  His face is turned toward the past.  Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet.  The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.  But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them.  This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward.  This storm is what we call progress.

"The typically modern view of history as inevitable progress looks resolutely forward, but Benjamin through the staring eyes of his angel of history faces backwards, his eyes fixed on the victims and the wreckage of history that pile up before him.  Progress leaves the victims behind.  The future cannot repair the past.  What Benjamin sees so clearly is that history cries out for redemption and progress cannot provide it.  Even were the angel to be finally blown to a standstill in utopia, the debris of history would remain before his eyes.  Utopia can be no compensation for those who have suffered history.  It leaves the dead dead."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Seeing in a New Way --- Quote from Thomas Howard

"But any Christian . . . knows that what lies about him in his ordinary routines does, in fact, speak of more than its immediate function. It opens out onto vistas that stretch beyond our seeing, into the realm of mystery. Human bodies, for instance, are somehow images of God; work has something to do with our role as lords of creation; eating is a physical case in point of the nourishment that our inner man needs; sleep is a small metaphor of death; and so forth. Ordinariness, in a word, opens out onto mystery, and the thing that men are supposed to do with mystery is to hallow it, for it all belongs to the Holy One." --Thomas Howard in his book, "Hallowed Be This House"

Friday, December 7, 2012

Identity in Christ in the World

St. Vincent de Paul Church in Omaha, Ne.
Every morning I drive by St. Vincent de Paul Church in Omaha. The church's shape, especially from a northwest angle, looks like a huge ship or ark. The architects designed it with this in mind. I love driving by it, because it reminds me of my inclusion in Christ, who is the ark who saves me from the waters of judgment. It is good to be reminded daily of my baptism and identity in Christ.

But there is a problem. As I drive on Maple Street a large mall sign obstructs the view of the church, so that it completely disappears. What an apt metaphor! How often the cares and pleasures of this life, and the love of money, cause us to forget our identity in Christ.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wise and Foolish Hearers

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
(Matthew 7:24-27 ESV)

"The Gospel of Matthew has always stood at the head of the New Testament canon, and its famous Sermon on the Mount has always been considered paradigmatic for understanding both Jesus's teachings and earliest Christianity. It is fitting for us then to listen closely to the climactic conclusion to the sermon in the words above. In this final, parabolic image, Jesus describes his teaching as a fork in the road that divides his hearers into two distinct groups: the wise and the foolish. There is no middle ground.

"The wise are distinguished from the foolish in that they not only hear Jesus's teachings but also then act upon them; that is, they order their lives according to his ways and wisdom. The content of Jesus's teaching matters, but here at the end of his sermon the emphasis is on responsive hearing. Wise people must hear correctly what Jesus teaches, but they must also respond to this grace with faith and faithful living." --Jonathan Pennington from his book, "Reading the Gospels Wisely"

Saturday, December 1, 2012

John Calvin and Q&A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism

John Calvin
I don't know this for sure, but it looks to me as though Q&A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism drew upon the passage below from John Calvin's Institutes.  First, the Q&A and, second, the passage from Calvin:

Q&A 1

Q. What is your only comfort
in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own,
but belong—
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

"We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds.  We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh.  We are now our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.

"Conversely, we are God's: let us therefore live for him and die for him.  We are God's: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions.  We are God's: let all parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal. . . . But the Christian philosophy bids reason give way to, submit and subject itself to, the Holy Spirit so that the man himself may no longer live but hear Christ living and reigning within him."

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