Christianity 201

February 9, 2019

Trashing Our Own House of Worship

We’re back for a second time at John Rothra’s website. There were a number of articles I looked at today, I hope you’ll visit by either clicking the link in the previous sentence, or the header for the article which follows.

Dear Church: We Have Much to Rebuild

Under the leadership of Titus, Roman soldiers destroyed the Jewish Temple in AD 70, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy from a few decades earlier (Luke 21:5-6). Since that time, Jews have longed to rebuild the Temple. The Temple Institute was created and has been constructing many of the items used in in Temple ceremonies, including building the sacrificial altar (this is not the same one you’ve probably seen all over YouTube, which was constructed and dedicated by “Temple activist organizations”).

As we learn from Scripture, though (and taught by the Jew of Jews, Pharisee, and zealous defender of the Torah, Paul), the House of the Lord isn’t a temple built by human hands (Acts 17:24). Rather, God makes his home in the hearts and lives of every believer in Christ Jesus as the risen Savior (Eph 3:17; James 4:5).

We, the Church, are the House of the Lord.  Yet, throughout history, we’ve found ways to tear the temple down.

The Church Often Tears Down the Temple

Over the centuries, the Church has persecuted and killed people they deemed heretics.  If you dare deviate from what a priest thinks you should believe or do, then you faced torture and death.  The Church even persecuted fellow believers for reading the Bible in their own language.

Supposed Christians decided to rescue Jerusalem from infidels (mostly Muslims), and attacked and slaughtered many during the Crusades.  Of course, they also killed Jews and other Christians they considered heretics.

And all this in the name of Jesus.

Although some things may have changed over time, the Church still finds ways to tear down the true temple.

In America, self-proclaimed Christians have used the Bible and Jesus to justify racism, segregation, slavery, and other evils (cf. Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women, Herald Press, 1983).  Today, many preachers continue to swindle people out of their money by making unbiblical promises of health and wealth.  The Church spends much effort making sure the world knows everything we oppose and how sinful people are, while often neglecting our own faults and sins.

Christian leaders and local churches attack other Christians over small matters that don’t really affect the biblical gospel.  If another Christian doesn’t hold to our opinions, interpretations, and personal tastes, then they are somehow lower than us, less holy, or outright non-Christian.

One need only look online at how Christians often behave toward each other and the world.  Egotistical pride abounds and ad hominems are standard rhetorical practice.  We cry victim anytime someone does something we don’t like or that we believe impedes our freedoms, yet often refuse to grant those same freedoms to those of other beliefs.

And all in Jesus’ name.

We Have Much to Rebuild

As the bride of Christ, and as the true House of God, we need to speak the truth in love rather than in judgment.  We need to help the downtrodden and helpless (Gal 6:2; Jas 1:27).  We need to preach and practice the gospel, letting love, mercy, and grace flow in and through us.

As God commands us through the prophet Isaiah,

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.

Isaiah 1:16-17

We need to show the world not merely what we oppose, but whom we love.  We need to go out into the world rather than wonder why the world won’t come to us.  We need to seek the lost, comfort the hurting, and care for the needy.  Only then will we start to repair what we so often tear down.

We are the House of the Lord, and we have much to rebuild.

 

June 23, 2017

Being a Prophetic Church

NLT Jn. 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet…”

This is our second visit to Mystery of Faith. Glenn Packiam is the lead pastor of new life DOWNTOWN, a congregation of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Click the title below to read more articles.

What Does It Mean to Be a Prophetic Church?

What does it mean to be prophetic? The word is thrown around a lot, but depending on which circles you run in, it means something quite different. If you’re in the charismatic crowd, being prophetic means speaking the ‘now’ word of God— bringing ‘fresh revelation’, and possibly even doing it in a way that is spontaneous and disruptive to the plan or the schedule. But if you run with justice-oriented Christ-followers, being prophetic is being bold, confrontational, and possibly disruptive not to a plan but to an order, a societal framework. How could the same word have such different connotations? What can we recover from the Biblical roots of the prophetic role?

In the Old Testament, two words are used to describe the prophet. The earlier of the two is the word ro’eh, which roughly means, ‘the one who sees’. Later, the more common word used for a prophet is nabi, which can be loosely translated as, ‘the one who speaks’, particularly, on behalf of another.

A prophet is one who sees a different world, and says a different word.

Specifically, a prophet is able to speak a revealing word because he sees something others don’t, something hidden to others. This is why the woman at the well in John 4 called Jesus a prophet– he revealed the truth about the number of men who had married and abandoned her. And this is why Paul is a prophet– because the mystery of the Gospel has been revealed to him. If we bring all this together, we can outline a sketch of what it means to be a prophetic church.

A Prophetic Church…

1. Sees Jesus as King and His Kingdom arriving here and now.

One of the major themes in the Old Testament is that the Creator-God is the King of His Creation (many of the Psalms praise God in this way). When we read the first few chapters of the Bible through that lens, we begin to understand that human beings were created to reflect the wise and loving rule of God the Creator-King into His creation. This is what having ‘dominion’ means. Yet, the fall was a rebellion that forfeited that privilege.

Until…the True Adam came as the world’s True King. When Jesus announced His Kingdom mission in Luke 4, He quoted Isaiah 61, where the anointing of the Spirit is the empowerment to bring good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoner, and more. In Luke’s ‘Volume 2’— the Book of Acts— the Spirit is poured out on the Church so that this Kingdom mission can continue.

Paul argues through his letters in different ways that the Church participates in the Kingdom by confessing Jesus as ‘Lord’— the true sovereign of the world— and by living under His reign by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Church is at its prophetic best when it lives in a way the would make no sense unless Jesus is King, and His Kingdom really were arriving here and now. That is why a prophetic church does not divide up evangelism and miracles and justice. We see them as a threefold cord. A prophetic church announces the forgiveness of sins, healing for the sick, and justice for the oppressed in Jesus’ name.

2. Speaks the truth to power.

Our image of the prophet has to be shaped by the Old Testament’s regard for Moses as the greatest prophet in Israel. We don’t usually think of Moses as a prophet, but when we do, we understand that part of the prophetic call is speaking truth to power. In that light, Nathan’s rebuke of David and Elijah’s confrontation with Ahab and Jezebel all begin to make sense. Sometimes the prophet does the truth-telling through the voice of lament, as Jeremiah did.

Thus Jesus is prophetic not only because of His revealing the marriage history of the woman at the well, but also because of His confrontations with power. When Jesus overturned the tables of money-changers in the Temple, and when He defied Pilate— by reshaping his questions, refuting his claims to power, and even by refusing to answer— He was living out the prophetic vocation by speaking the truth to both religious and political powers. (Paul echoes these behaviors in his conversations with various religious and political rulers in the latter half of the Book of Acts.)

The early Christians were not killed because Christianity was a religion Rome did not like. Rome welcomed any and all religions, but they were particularly threatened by Christianity. Why? Because Christianity made a radical, new and exclusive claim: Jesus alone is the Lord of all, worthy of worship; all other gods must be renounced as false. Rome viewed this as a dangerous belief. And every time the Church gathered to worship, there were speaking the truth to power by confessing Jesus as the True Lord– using terms Caesar had applied to himself as political propaganda– and thus declaring the gods of Empire as false.

Every time we show the gods of our age to be false, and expose their claims as a lie, we are speaking the truth to power. We denounce the lie that economic prosperity is the source of joy, that sexual pleasure is the highest end of every relationship, that violence is the path to peace, that a people-group or nation matters more than another. Sometimes our voice is the voice of proclamation and confession; others it is the voice of lament. Both are forms of prophetic truth-telling.

3. Signposts toward the future.

Activism has many appealing qualities. It is better than doing nothing; it unites and mobilizes people toward a common cause. It can raise awareness and even adjust a widely-held cultural paradigm.

And yet, activism is not the same thing as being prophetic. The Church does not care for the poor or feed the hungry or speak for the marginalized for the same reason an activist does. They may be in the same march or use the same hashtag, but the Christian is motivated by something different than the activist. The Christian is not in this— ultimately— to create change or to solve problems. If this were so, then a Christian may weigh the odds of actually changing a situation before speaking up or acting. A Christian is driven to act and speak because she has seen a different future. Remember: a prophet says a different word because he sees a different world.

Every time the Church ‘welcomes the stranger’, forgives an enemy, shows mercy to the offender, or protects the vulnerable, we are a signpost to the future. We don’t do these things to be a good humanitarian or to solve a global crisis. We do it to point toward the day when the Kingdom comes in fullness, on earth as it is in heaven, when every tear will be wiped away, when suffering is no more.

Now more than ever, we need the Holy Spirit to help us live as a witness in the world of a different kind of King and a different kind of Kingdom, arriving on earth as it is in heaven. May God give us the grace to live as a prophetic Church.

June 15, 2015

Living as a Stranger and Living in Exile

Today we pay a return visit to the writing of Raymond Powell, at the blog, The Philippian Jailer. Note: This story was posted in March, and references events taking place at that time. Click on the title below to read at source.

The Relevance of Strangers and Exiles

This week, the headlines shouted and celebrated another high-profile example of the American church bending to accommodate the values of our prevailing culture. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), whose membership has declined 47% since 1967, has once again updated its constitution … this time to embrace same-sex marriage. By doing so, it has doubled down on its bet that “relevance” is achieved when the church molds itself to more closely resemble the world around it.

But is “relevance” where this quest actually leads? No, this kind of relevance is a chimera, as attested to by the collapse of the PCUSA’s membership. In fact, it is worse than that, for while it draws on our deep desire to fit in with our culture, the quest for the world’s good regard is really poison to the church. This leads us into an astonishing place, for by pursuing relevance at all costs, we are gradually slouching into irrelevance.

This is because we don’t understand what is supposed to make us relevant.

The church’s relevance is born not of our identification with the world, but by our love for the world while identifying with Christ. Until we stop trying to be the church the world thinks it wants, we cannot be the church the world really needs.

How shall we then live, now that the culture has decided en masse that our views are no longer merely quaint or weird or puritanical, but hateful? Surely we must change?

Well, yes we must, but not in the way we seem to have decided. First, we must understand that our supreme example, Jesus Christ, wasn’t crucified for his irrelevance, but rather for the way His extreme relevance threatened the culture’s arbiters of what was acceptable. His relevance was built not on the compromise of his principles, but rather on his commitment to them, which was enveloped in a life-giving gospel of love.

What we must do, therefore, is much, much harder than simply repudiating the values and principles of our forebears in favor of the enlightened, modern, accepted truths of our contemporaries. Nor is it profitable to simply rail against the culture in favor of what was “traditional”, a clumsy and loaded word that ensnares many into a sinister trap of arrogance and judgmentalism.

What is required of us is a bold love–one that risks rejection, isolation, stigmatization, and even real persecution for the sake of clearly speaking the truth about God’s salvation–yes, including the hard parts about His wrath and coming judgment–to this lost and dying world in need of a Savior. This is the gospel of the faithful, of those who paid the last full measure of devotion:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

The relevance of the church is tied up completely in the inherent relevance of the gospel … a gospel which does not seek to minimize sin, but rather to maximize Christ and His grace. It means moving boldly but lovingly into the lives of those who reject Him and His truth, in order that they may see Him in us, receive His love and message and Spirit, and thus be saved.

Living the reality of the “stranger and exile” means that we recognize the sinfulness of what the Bible clearly identifies as sin, but do so with compassion instead of condemnation, because we are so keenly aware of the truth of 1 Timothy 15:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Deciding to live this way will hurt, both because of the world’s rejection, and because we will pour our hearts out for so many who will respond with indifference, ambivalence, and sometimes even rage. But Jesus did not promise that He would deliver us from pain in this life–in fact, quite the opposite. Our promises are anchored primarily in the hope of the indescribable happiness that will come with eternity in God’s glorious kingdom, and also in the supernatural strength, comfort and joy that He provides us here, in the land of our sojourn.

July 18, 2012

Why Modern Worship Music is Praise, Not Worship

I know you guys like to go deep, so today’s post is no exception, but unfortunately the writer delves deeply into this topic, but leaves us without a key scripture verse today, so just to frame it up, we’ll begin with a brief repeat item.


The “speaking to yourselves in Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” phrase occurs twice in scripture.

In Ephesians 5: 18-19:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (NASB)

and in Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (NASB)

Christianity is a singing faith. No other “religion” (in quotation marks because Christianity does not meet much of the definition) can boast the volume of music that has been given to the world as has the Christian faith.

Why?

The verses give us the answer, we sing because:

  • the Spirit of God lives within us and causes us to sing (Eph. text)
  • the Word of God fills our minds and provides us with the lyric to which we give voice (Col. text)

Of course, we can’t omit the whole matter of “experience” as a classic gospel song reminds us:

I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me.

But this, too has its roots in the text. Happy and free because of the Spirit’s presence. Known, cared-for and loved as promised in the Word.


…That brings us back to today’s item with the provocative headline!  The writer is Father Christopher Smith, writing at the Catholic Education Center Resources blog.  You MUST click through to read this, I am simply reiterating his points without the supporting paragraph that goes with each one. If you leave a comment, please identify which item number you are responding to.  And please don’t leave a comment if you didn’t read the supporting paragraph for that item.

Father Christopher Smith, PhD, STD is administrator of Prince of Peace Roman Catholic Church in Taylors, South Carolina.  He is a member of the Church Music Association of America and contributes regularly to the Chant Café blog. He is also a member of the Catholic Theological Society of America and is a speaker on sacred music, liturgy, theology, and catechesis. Father Smith speaks Spanish, Italian, French and some German. He enjoys reading, kickboxing, and music.

I’ve changed his title in the headline above, because I believe he is mostly addressing the modern worship movement as practiced in most Evangelical churches and blended with hymns and liturgical music in more traditional churches. I address that more at the end of this first section.

Here’s the link: Why Praise and Worship is Praise but Not Worship.

Outline of points:

  1.  P&W music assumes that praise is worship.
  2.  P&W music assumes that worship is principally something we do.
  3. P&W music assumes as its first principle relevance.
  4. P&W music assumes as its second principle the active participation of a certain age group
  5. P&W music self-consciously divides the Church into age and taste groups
  6. P&W music subverts Biblical and liturgical texts during the Mass
  7. P&W music assumes that there can be a core of orthodox Catholic teaching independent of the Church’s liturgical law and tradition
  8. P&W music consciously manipulates the emotions so as to produce a catharsis seen as necessary for spiritual conversion
  9. P&W music confuses transcendence with feeling
  10. P&W music denies the force of liturgical and musical law in the Church in favour of arbitrary and individualist interpretations of worship
  11. P&W music prizes immediacy of comprehension and artistic ease over the many-layered meaning of the liturgy and artistic excellence

Let me again state that where he is using the phrase P&W music, I believe it is more correct to say “Modern Worship.” The reasons he gives are rooted in a deep understanding of Roman Catholic spirituality, but are overshadowed with the assumption that only certain styles or genres of music are an appropriate part of a liturgy, i.e. a worship service. This assumes that would be impossible to make the mass (or an Protestant worship service) more culturally relevant to people overseas, or that an encounter with God through worship is not going to have a deep emotional element. (If the end result is rooted in, for example, Gregorian chant; to impose this on people in other countries is not unlike the fringe groups who insist that only the King James Bible saves, and therefore, they must first be taught King James English.)

I also think it is important to remember that today’s modern worship is an outgrowth of the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement, and today’s CCM has its earliest roots in the Catholic folk masses of the early 1960s. (See this video as an example.)

But I also believe it not wise to be too dismissive of the writer’s passion about the qualities of worship music we aim for; and I have reproduced this here because I believe there is application here for Christians of all stripes. This is, I believe, the type of thinking more of us need to be exposed to, even if we ultimately disagree.

He ends with a more positive restatement of the same eleven points:


  1. The Church’s musical and liturgical tradition is an integral part of worship, and not a fancy addition.
  2. While Praise is a high form of individual and small group prayer, it is not Worship as the Church understands the corporate public prayer of the Liturgy.
  3. Worship is not principally something that we do: it is the self-offering of Jesus Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, the fruits of which are received in Holy Communion. Worship is Sacrifice and Sacrament, not Praise.
  4. Relevance is irrelevant to a liturgy which seeks to bring man outside of space and time to the Eternal.
  5. Participation in the liturgy is principally interior, by the union of the soul with the Christ who celebrates the liturgy. Any externalizations of that interior participation are meaningless unless that interior participation is there.
  6. The Church’s treasury of sacred music is not the province of one social-economic, age, cultural, or even religious group. It is the common patrimony of humanity and history.
  7. The Church must sing the Mass, i.e., the biblical and liturgical texts contained in the Missal and Gradual, and not sing at Mass man-made songs, if it is to be the corporate Worship of the Church and not just Praise designed by a select group of people.
  8. Orthodox Catholic teaching on faith and morals must always be accompanied by respect for the Church’s liturgical and musical teaching and laws.
  9. The deliberate intention to manipulate human emotions to produce a religious effect is abusive, insincere, and disrespectful of God’s power to bring about conversion in the hearts of man.
  10. While music does affect the emotions, sacred music must always be careful to prefer the transcendent holiness of God over the immanent emotional needs of man.
  11. The Church’s treasury of sacred music inspires and requires the highest attention to artistic excellence. It is also an unfathomable gift to the Church, and must be presented to the faithful so that they may enjoy that rich gift. 

~Father Christopher Smith