Archive for the ‘Liturgy’ Category

…An Unworthy Manner July 20, 2010

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason, many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged“ (1 Cor. 12:26-31).

In this passage, Paul is writing in the context of a conflict among the Corinthian believers as to the physical abuse of the Lord’s table during communion. Certain believers were gorging themselves on the bread and wine to the point of drunkenness (12:21), leaving others out of the celebration altogether. Obviously, this would qualify as an “œunworthy manner,” tantamount to taking God’s name in vain. The part that confuses us is the pronouncement of sickness and death as a consequence of these actions (12:30). To our sanitized sense of church, this seems very “œOld Testament”, and out of character with the grace represented by communion.

Passages like this bring us face to face with an imagined conflict between holiness and grace. Christ came to fulfill the law, but the law is not a stand-alone. The law served to show us our sin in relation to God’s uncompromising holiness. When Christ’s sacrifice fulfilled the law, He allowed his blood to cover our sins and permit us to fellowship with Him in His righteousness. The holiness of God is unchanging, before, during, and after the law.

When those who claimed to be brothers and sisters in Christ trampled one another and indulged in the Lord’s supper with a self-focused, gluttonous attitude, they were spitting on Christ’s sacrifice. They were casting aside the significance of the observance for their own gain, forgetting who God is. They were taking Him in vain, demonstrating that, at best, they had not allowed the Spirit to reign in their hearts since professing Christ, or, at worst, that they did not know Him at all.

Does the same principle and punishment apply to us today? Our modernistic worldview has so sequestered disease and death in a scientific construct that, if it is occurring, we aren’t noticing. The principle, however, holds true in any instance of worship (read: life as a believer). Whenever we seek to  magnify ourselves (whether openly or only in the attitude of our hearts), we are not honoring Christ. When we do it under the guise of celebrating Him, we are inviting judgment. When we become involved in the church to improve our social standing or to feel good about ourselves, when we do good deeds for the recognition of men, when we give of time and money for the wrong reasons, we make light of God – we take Him in vain. We invite judgment on ourselves in this way because we are tarnishing the name of Christ. Rather, we should, as Paul commanded the Corinthians, “œ. . . proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

Posted by Justin Lonas

The Disappearance of Discipline December 17, 2009

For centuries, believers practiced a plethora of spiritual disciplines designed to focus attention on the things of the Lord and promote prayer and true repentance. Fasting, monasticism, meditation, pilgrimage,  and even self-flagellation were fairly common to the life of the church. By the 16th century, however,  the reformers  proclaimed (in most cases, very correctly) that such external practices of the Catholic church were all for show and served only to cover up the lack of commitment in the heart. Zwingli, it is said, went so far as to stage an “œostentatious public sausage-eating*” during Lent to mock the futility of fasting for salvation.

In modern Evangelical Christianity, very little, if anything has changed about the general attitude toward many of the liturgical practices associated with more formal branches of the Church (Roman Catholicism, Eastern/Russian Orthodox, and Anglicanism).

Scripture, however, is not wholly on the side of either interpretation. Both the Old and New Testaments are replete with references to fasting and meditative prayer. Christ’s teaching on fasting in Matthew 6:16-24 presupposes its practice: He begins by saying “œWhenever you fast . . .”, not “œif you fast”. Jesus Himself fasted, most notably for the 40 days culminating in His temptation by Satan. While Protestant tradition is correct to point out that spiritual disciplines alone have no power to save, nor to change lives, it often misses the larger point that such habits serve to break up the flow of everyday life and remind us of our true calling. The liturgical tradition, while enforcing a spiritual mindset through discipline, fails to differentiate between means and ends and can very easily promote self-righteousness through what should be very selfless practices.

To a degree, the idea of spiritual discipline is one of “œself-induced suffering”. God promises that suffering and persecution will follow Christians (1 Peter, for instance), but also that He will sustain us and use such occurences to shape us into the men and women He desires us to be. When we partake of a fast, a prayer retreat, or sacrificial service of others, we are voluntarily laying aside the worldly clutter that so easily hinders our prayers. To do so is an open invitation for God to work in our hearts. It is during those times when He is most able to point out and excise sin from our lives and renew our commitment to His purposes.

Fasting in particular can also be a way to empathize with brothers and sisters around the world who go hungry everyday by no choice of their own. It is far easier to have a genuine concern for the poor when you’ve gone to bed hungry. It can serve as a motivator to proactively involve yourself in their lives. As Isaiah 8:6-7 says “œIs this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh. Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”

Perhaps it is time to reexamine the balance of our Christian life. Perhaps we desperately need to refocus – to follow Christ alone and not the muddled images of Him that we so often pursue. Discipline alone is no help in the journey, but when coupled with a broken and contrite heart and an ear inclined to His wisdom, it can be a tremendous step in the right direction.


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