Theology Thursday | Worship Through a New Covenant

Jesus Demonstrates Perfect Worship

While most of what will be examined from New Testament scripture will be drawn from the book of Hebrews, it is first necessary to look at the example of Jesus’ life as we approach the application of worship for today through the life of the One who facilitates our worship presently. David Peterson in his study on worship in the New Testament, also in Worship: Adoration and Action mentions that the life of Jesus is the “expression of perfect worship” (8). While this is not a difficult concept to grasp, it is also too easy to take for granted the sheer certainty that Jesus, God incarnate, lived a fully human life on earth. Through being tempted by the devil in the wilderness, and successfully rebuking evil, and giving devotion to the Father, and using the scripture from Deuteronomy 6:13: “You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name (NASB).” His refusal to succumb to evil and His proclamation scripture shows perfect obedience to God, obedience which is reflective of the Israelites pursuit of holiness. By being perfectly obedient to the Father, and His command to serve Him only, Jesus demonstrates perfect worship. Noel Due, in Created for Worship also places the theme of worship as central to Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Due claims not only is worship at the core of this account but also serves as the very core of Jesus’ entire life. “All of Jesus’ life was an expression of his worship to God his Father as he served him in thought, word, and deed, and ultimately as he set the captives free from Satan’s power through his sacrificial death” (Due, 55). There is much to comment on in terms of the implications on the scope of worship, which will be addressed at greater length when we look at a more practical theology. However, in understanding Due’s interpretation of this account it is evident that he views Christ’s entire life as an act of obedience to the Father. Thus, he goes on to claim that by quoting scripture to rebuke Satan, he was not ‘using the text as ammunition’ rather being actively obedient to the word. Through this account, we come to observe and understand the life of Christ as the perfect example of a life of worship; a life of active obedience to God.

Worship in Spirit and in Truth 

In John 4, Jesus dialogues with a Samaritan woman whom is concerned about the location of proper worship. Peterson comments that Jesus turns the question around, claiming the question that needs to be addressed is how to worship God in an acceptable manner.12 John gives account of this story in his Gospel, where Jesus responds:

Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”                  John 4:20-4 (NASB)

Jesus brings about the words in which worship is frequently defined today. Worship is acceptable when done so “in spirit and in truth.” To acknowledge Jesus as the truth (ref. John 14:6) also means we need to receive the Sprit who is available to those who believe in him, making Jesus the means in which God honoring worship exists in the new covenant. To worship in spirit and in truth is the very essence of human life and the way in which to come to truly know God. If Jesus is now the means in which we approach God in our worship, how does that relate to the God established regulations of the temple and the priesthood as their relation to the worship of the people?

Worship in the Epistle to the Hebrews                                                                                                                                       The Old Fulfilled in the New 

The temple, priesthood, and sacrificial system, are fulfilled through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The book of Hebrews gives account to Christian worship that is now possible through God sending His son to the earth as the new temple, the ultimate atoning sacrifice for sin, high priest, and mediator between God and man. The first notion of Jesus as the temple, or meeting place is a result of John 2 during the cleansing of the temple, when Jesus declared that if you destroy this temple, it will rise again in three days (v. 19). Jesus at this moment is referring to his body as the temple (This ‘prophecy’ is fulfilled in the resurrection). Hebrews 9 discusses the structure and regulations of the tabernacle that echo back to Exodus 25 as well as the Day of Atonement and the sacrificial system of atonement that was instituted in Leviticus 16.15 In verses 11-12, the tone shifts to signify Jesus’ fulfillment of the sacrificial system, the temple, and high priest.

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (NASB).”

These two verses acknowledge that a blood sacrifice was made for the atonement of sin; the important distinction lies in the fact that Christ did not offer a sacrifice of an animal. Instead, He offers up His own blood, His own life so that all may receive eternal redemption. Chapter 10 further expounds on Jesus being the perfect sacrifice in verse four due to fact that in the old system the animals had no choice in the matter of being offered as sacrifices, however Jesus willingly offers himself in accordance to God’s redemptive plan. Along with Jesus being the atoning sacrifice, He becomes mediator between God and man through His death on the cross.

The tearing of the veil that separated the holy of holies from the holy place as described in chapter twenty-seven in the gospel of Matthew opens up the holiest place for all who declare Christ as Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ fulfills the regulations of worship that were originally ordained by God in the old covenant. Sacrifice is no longer needed to atone for our sin, Jesus’ death on the cross brings an end to the sacrificial system. A high priest is no longer needed to mediate between God and man. The veil being torn has provided man the ability to draw near to God through Christ Jesus, allowing us to look forward to end of the ages, when Christ returns and the new Heaven, and the earth are formed. Due focuses a great amount of his examination of Hebrews on the core theme of worship; he coins it as the core theme of the epistle due to the high Christology found within the text. Due spends much of his analysis of worship in Hebrews in this understanding that Christ has indeed brought about a new covenant specifically a covenant that had been foreseen in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 31).

In Hebrews a whole cluster of concepts are inextricably related. Covenant, law, worship, priesthood, tabernacle and resting place all belong together, and in maintaining the integral cohesion of this constellation of ideas the writer is entirely at one with the Old Testament. One cannot have a change of covenant without a change in the system of worship. The new covenant, while fulfilling the old covenant, came about from the same ordination of the same God. We are now able to approach and draw near to God through Jesus, because God the Father sent his Son.

Worship of the Father is now facilitated by the Spirit, through the Son, and once more God provides the means in which we are able to worship Him, in Spirit and in truth. David Peterson adds to this argument by stating:

“Acceptable worship is something that God makes possible for us, through Christ: it does not depend on our own initiative, creativity, skill or worthiness.” There is no acceptable form of worship outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Because the new covenant in Christ has fulfilled the old, our worship is demonstrated differently from the time when sacrifice and high priest was a necessary component of worship. Hebrews 13 gives the foundation of acceptable worship in the days of the new covenant. Peterson comments on the importance that this passage plays on the worship Christians should be giving to God in their everyday lives. Verses 1-7 express the importance of upholding love and faith as means of worship, while verses 15-16 read:

“Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased (NASB).”

Acceptable worship is therefore exemplified through reverence and awe. Doing good and sharing to all is not just limited to corporate worship. “In its widest sense, this sacrifice of praise will be rendered by those who confess Jesus ‘outside of the camp,’ in various forms of public testimony or evangelism.” Worship cannot simply be limited to our gatherings with fellow followers of Christ. Our fellowship with others needs to flow into our everyday lives; our fellowship must encourage obedience and a lifestyle that glorifies God.

Worship in the Revelation to John                                                                                                                                               An Eternity of Worship to Come 

The theme of worship culminates in the Revelation to John, where in Revelation 22, there is further instruction that worship of God requires living a godly life, where Peterson adds further claim to the definition of worship as obedience and expression of faith in everyday life. Revelation additionally provides the vision of a day where there is a world living in ceaseless worship. Revelation 4 and 5, envisions a city in which God dwells among his followers who give endless praise to God and the Lamb, with echoes of proclaiming the worthiness of both God and Lamb. ‘You are worthy, O Lord our God (Rev 4:8),’ and ‘Worthy is the Lamb (Rev 5:12).’ These verses and acclamations of praise give vision of endless worship in the life to come to both God the Father, and to the Son. God has provided a means for his followers to worship in the old and new covenants, and there will come a time where He will once again dwell among His followers, in a new city provided by Him, where all who have placed their trust in Christ will join in never ending worship.

Looking Ahead 

Next week, we’ll begin to think a bit more practically. How can what we’ve learned from scripture help us to think practically about our corporate worship gatherings. What does biblically faithful actually look like from week to week? I hope that this can work in more of a discussion type format, so in the weeks to come, feel free to post comments, ask questions, or simply respond to some of what has already been posted!

Theology Thursday | Worship in the Old Testament

In the beginning, there was worship | God as Initiator of Worship 

The foundation of worship begins alongside the beginning of the human race during the creation account described in the first chapter of Genesis. In Worship: Adoration and Action, Yoshiaki Hattori suggests the cornerstone of all theological concepts must begin with the relationship between God the Creator, and his created humans. Hattori notes as human beings it is our responsibility to keep a right relationship with God, and we are to pay service to our creator. The concept of paying service to God, immediately suggests that worship must be active and as well suggests that worship is a response to some other action or being. However it is important to note that because God created the earth, and created humanity, that God Himself initiated the interaction between God and man. At the very dawn of creation, God enabled the interaction between God and man. With this in mind, Hattori argues, “If worship embraces the basic attitude of human response to the Creator-God, the original beauty of the responding relationship in that act of worship can be seen even before the fall” (22).  Thus, at creation worship in its purist form, was a human response to the divine provision, initiated by God. In Genesis 3, humans broke their relationship with God through their disobedience of God’s sole command. Through eating the forbidden fruit, humans began a pattern of responding to their own desires rather than responding to God’s provision, disconnecting the human race from the relationship that God intended to have with the people He created in His own image.

Sacrifice

Because of their fall from perfect communion with God, humanity needed a new way to respond and give service to God. While the sacrificial system was not yet established, the lives of Cain and Abel, and their offering to God in Genesis 4 suggests the notion of sacrifice as a practice of worship offering to God. In addition, in Genesis 22, Abraham is called by God to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering to God. The word worship appears in Genesis 22, prior to Abraham building the altar on which the sacrifice is to be made:

“Then Abraham said to his young men, Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you (ESV).”

Hattori notes that the Hebrew word translated to worship in this verse, is the verb sahah, which means ‘to bow down’ or ‘to prostrate’ (23). The Hebrew translation indicates that worship cannot be passive, but must be active. Interestingly enough once again the call to worship is one that is initiated by God. In the garden man did not choose to dwell with God, likewise in the case of Abraham man did not initiate the offering of Isaac as a sacrifice to God. His willingness to offer Isaac is an act of obedience to the task initiated by God. His obedient response to God’s divine initiative is thus, an act of reverential worship to God.

The Tabernacle  

It has been established through a brief examination of the garden and of Abraham, that God is active in initiating our worship of Him. His involvement in establishing worship becomes even more apparent in the book of Exodus, through the giving of the Ten Commandments, as well as the establishment of the Tabernacle as the place where the people would come to meet with God. Exodus 25-31 gives great detail as to the structure and components of the Tabernacle, along with the set of laws established for worship within the tabernacle. The physical structure and comprehension of the rules regarding the structure of the tabernacle at their most basic level remain critical to understanding worship in the context of today. The tabernacle consisted of two pertinent areas: the holy place, and the holy of holies. Within the holy place was the outer court of the tabernacle. Exodus 27 gives direction for an altar of acacia wood to be built. Hattori suggests that the presence of the altar served as a reminder to the people of Israel that sacrifice was required in order to commune with God. The sacrificial system, which began to take its form in Genesis, is now seen as a necessary means of worship. Regulations for sacrifice as worship have now been further established and ordained by God. In Exodus 20:24, before the instruction on the tabernacle, God sets parameters on the appropriate use of an altar:

“An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you (ESV).”

Not only does God set the guideline for acceptable God honoring sacrifice, He once again regards that as a result of the acceptable sacrifice, that ‘[He] will come to you and bless you.’ Further adding to the reality that God’s presence is vital in our worship. Separating the holy place from the holy of holies was a dividing veil (Exod. 30:5). It is essential to be aware of the fact that only the God ordained high priest was permitted to enter into the holy of holies. While this only provides only a brief glance at the make-up of the tabernacle, it establishes once more that God is facilitating worship. He is providing his people a means to approach Him and to follow Him, through the giving of the Law, and the establishment of the tabernacle, where the people could gather together and meet with God. Hattari attests that the giving of the Law and the regulation of the tabernacle provided the Israelites with a set of guidelines or steps that make possible the pursuit of holiness. This pursuit involved first to refrain from uncleanness or impurity, second to seek justice and observe God sanctioned rules and feasts, and third, if a person falters in either the first or second regard, holiness can only be reclaimed through God ordained sacrifices. The approach to holiness must come through the stipulations designed and regulated by God.

Priesthood 

Along with the institution of the tabernacle came the ordained high priesthood which is first established in Exodus 28:1, where God sets apart the line of Aaron from the rest of the people, therein establishing the ordained priesthood as being a Levite from the line of Aaron. The significance of the priesthood in regards to worship lies greatly in the fact that the priest is the ordained mediator between God and man. The book of Leviticus goes into great detail the role of the high priest. The high priest was the sole person granted permission to enter the holy of holies, and was only permitted to do so once a year in order to atone for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16). On the Day of Atonement the high priest would enter the holy of holies and would perform sin sacrifices for his own sins of he and his family, in addition for the sins of the people. The details for the sacrificial rules for atonement are much more in depth, but for the sake of keeping the focus on worship, it is more pertinent to consider the fact it is the priest alone who is able to approach God, and once more only permitted to enter on the Day of Atonement:

“and the Lord said to Moses, Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat (Lev. 16:2) (ESV).”

With the establishment of the Day of Atonement, and of the Levitical priesthood, the people do not have direct access to God. The high priest is the only person given the opportunity to meet with God, therefore in regards to sacrificial atonement for sin, one major element of sacrificial worship must be mediated by the Levitical high priest.

The Tabernacle and the priesthood provided the conceptual beginning of a center of worship, and a person set apart by God, to lead the people in the pursuit of holiness. The true center of worship is established with the building of the Temple in Jerusalem during Solomon’s rule over Israel.

The Temple 

1 Kings 5 describes the beginning of the building of the house of worship, which would also include a holy place and most holy place. In 1 Kings 8:10, the Glory of the Lord filled the temple. Thus the structure of Israelite worship would remain as God had initially ordained. The people would use the temple as their house of worship because that was where God dwelled. The temple would remain the center of worship until 587-586 BC upon the destruction of the temple and the exile of the people of Israel from their land when Judah was besieged by Babylon led by Nebuchadnezzar. The destruction of the temple did not mean however that worship could no longer exist, in actuality the prophet Ezekiel proclaims that though the temple may no longer exist that does not mean that God no longer meets with His people.

“Therefore say, thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone (ESV, Ezekiel 11-16).”

Indicating that the sanctuary will continue to exist wherever God is present further establishes the fact the presence of God is critical in worship. The temple would later be restored once again under the reign of Haggai, who wished to restore the center of worship, and encourage the Israelites to pursue holiness, because true worshippers of God are to be holy in all aspects of life.

Looking ahead

Throughout the Old Testament worship is initiated and facilitated by God. Worship occurred because God required it, ordained it, and met with his people through it. However the people of God continued to fail in their pursuit of holiness. Adam and Eve lived in perfect communion with God, but chose to rebel. God provides freedom for the Israelites out of slavery, and still they continued in rebellion against their deliverer. The concept of worship and how God facilitates our worship takes on similar but fulfilled forms with the arrival of Jesus, God incarnate in the New Testament, which we’ll explore next week.

Theology Thursday: Developing a Biblical and Practical Theology of Worship

One of the most thrown around words in the church community is ‘worship.’ While many hold a strong opinion on worship, many fail to grasp that worship entails far more the songs we sing on Sunday morning. The church today too quickly limits the definition of worship not only to our weekly corporate gatherings, but even more specifically to the style of music that we are singing. It is important to realize that worship cannot be limited to a specific definition because nowhere in the Bible is the word strictly defined. As God’s redemptive plan unfolds, the way in which people worship transforms.

Worship is About God

We should not be questioning what appropriate worship music sounds like, but how to think about worship holistically: what is worship, how do we worship, and what makes our worship glorifying to God? We must understand that worship is not about us. Throughout salvation history, God provides the means in which humanity may interact with Him. God always establishes the means of worship, and God should be the object of our worship at all times. Too often the church loses sight of the centrality of God in worship and the discussion turns to matters of personal stylistic preference.

What to Expect in this Series

The objective of this series is to begin to cultivate a practical theology of biblical worship. Before we can contextualize what biblically faithful worship entails, we must shift our focus to the biblical foundation of worship. Future posts will follow the course of worship throughout the Bible, focusing on how God establishes it in the biblical narrative- from worship at its purist in the garden of Eden, through its tainting at the fall, and to our return to pure worship in eternity. Once the theme of worship is examined from the biblical context, we will then begin to take a practical approach in contextualizing a practical theology when we begin to think about worship in our church settings.

Check back in next Thursday, where we’ll look at the unfolding of the theme of worship in the Old Testament.

Jesus: The True and Better Adam

One of the greatest aspects of leading worship is when someone asks a question about the words we’re singing. Seriously, some may shy away from this task, but for me when someone is able to recall the words we’re singing and desires to know more about what they mean and where they come from, I see that as an opportunity to grow our knowledge of God and His Word.

We’ve recently introduced the modern Hymn, “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” to our congregation. This gospel centered and theologically rich hymn has lots to teach us about who Jesus is.  This morning a congregant asked a great question about the meaning of one of the lines in the second verse of this hymn:

“Come behold the wondrous mystery
He the perfect Son of Man
In His living, in His suffering
Never trace nor stain of sin

See the true and better Adam
Come to save the hell-bound man
Christ the great and sure fulfillment
Of the law; in Him we stand”

What do we mean by referring to Jesus as the true and better Adam?  Initially it seems a bit strange that we would refer Jesus, who we claim to be the Messiah, in the similar vein as Adam, to whom we attribute to fall of the human race.

Let’s consider briefly a couple of things that we know about Adam and Jesus from scripture:

Adam

  • Adam was created by God.  (Genesis 2)
  • Adam was the originator of human race (Genesis 2)
  • Adam and Eve succumbed temptations (Genesis 3)
  • Adam and Eve were now fallen, sinful, and cursed (Genesis 3)
  • Dead Because of Sin (Romans 6:23)

Jesus

  • Jesus is the Creator (John 1, 1 Corinthians 15)
  • Jesus was fully God, and fully man. (John 1)
  • Tempted in the desert by Satan, yet remained sinless. (Matthew 4)
  • Through Jesus we receive grace and life. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
  • Dead to sin, Alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10)

This idea of Jesus being a second Adam isn’t limited to these observations. On several occasions the apostle Paul in his letters refers to Jesus as the second or last Adam.  (1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5:12-21)

1 Corinthians 15: 21-22, 45:

 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive… 45 So it is written: The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.”

We see in Paul’s writing humanity defined by who we are in light of Adam and in light of Jesus. From the first Adam we inherited death, our sinful nature, and separation from God. But Christ, the second Adam came to reverse the curse of sin and restore our relationship to God the Father.  Thus Jesus is ‘the true and better Adam,’ because through his life, death, and resurrection we are given the hope of eternal life with God the Father. A hope the first Adam could not deliver.

 

… But Individuals Still Matter.

Here is Part Two of a series from guest blogger Matthew Wilhelm.

Acts 5:1-11 – “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.’…”

You can read the remaining seven verses for yourself, but to summarize, Ananias dies on the spot after saying this and is taken out. His wife, Sapphira, proceeds to tell the same lie only to suffer the same fate as her husband. The passage closes with Luke declaring that “a great fear came upon the whole church” because of these events…and understandably so.

In my previous post (http://mmwleader.com/how-individualism-cheapens-communion/) I wrote about how individualism has contributed to a cheapening of communion in the evangelical tradition. This post is written as a sort of two-fold thought about the body of Christ and its importance, rather than a complaint about the evangelical world. I want to declare this outright: individuals are important in the body of Christ.

Luke includes this in his early church history letter to Theophilus as no random occurrence, but as the first occurrence of discord in the body of Christ. More than just an example of discord, the real human experience behind this passage had to hurt…badly. Think about it. The feelings of betrayal and subsequent distrust had to run deep as people were betrayed by people. Not only this, but Ananias and Sapphira died. These were not some random people on the outskirts, but probably had friends and potentially even family within the church.

The consequences of this offense didn’t rest merely on Ananias and Sapphira, but on the early church as a whole. I think that it’s interesting that Peter frames his question to Ananias as Satan “filling his heart.” It’s as if Peter was suggesting that Ananias had allowed Satan to fill his heart with ideas of the “flesh” – in this case, dishonesty and selfishness – instead of allowing himself to filled with the fruits of the Spirit.

Simply put, the body of the Christ in the local church is comprised of individuals. As much as I condone the denial of an extreme individualism, it’s really important to acknowledge the necessity of spiritual health in the individual. The spiritually healthy individual should allow him/herself to be submerged in the mission, purpose, and care of the community, but the spiritually unhealthy individual can damage all three if not cared for.

It’s so important to remember that even Paul deems the adverse affects of individual sin in the collective as a very serious problem. In Romans 5, Paul points out that it was through the sin of Adam that sin came into the whole world.

As individuals it’s immensely important to pray that the fruits of the Spirit be built up in us daily. There is no such thing as an action that doesn’t affect other people in some way. Living out the fruits of the Spirit in Christian community starts with Christian individuals.

How Individualism Cheapens Communion…

I’m excited to share with you a post from the first guest blogger here at ‘live the upward call!’ Recently a friend of mine and fellow blogger/worship pastor wrote a two part series on individualism and communion.I’m excited to share with you this series! Matthew Wilhelm is the Pastor of Worship Arts and College Age Ministries at Woodlands Church in WI.   He currently blogs at http://www.mmwleader.com

 How Individualism Cheapens Communion…                                                                                                            Matthew Wilhelm

The title seems a bit strong, doesn’t it? I sincerely mean it. The individualism that has run rampant in America and in American churches has cheapened our view of communion. Personal possessive phrases about Christ such as “my Jesus” are so incredibly myopic that we tend to miss the big picture about why we’re even in church on Sunday mornings. 

We must admit that – myself included – God and his great salvation through the work of Christ have been made to be all about ourselves as individuals. Jesus died for me right? He was thinking of me when he went to the cross, right? These are things that I’ve said and continue to find myself saying, so much so that I perpetuate the thought that Jesus actually died for me specifically.

Individualism isn’t found in evangelical circles only, but I would argue that in American evangelicalism we find a more extreme, more deeply evolved form of it. Individualism has seeped its way into the very fibers of how we encounter Christ and how we encounter his Body, the church.

For example, what do we remember – I mean truly remember – when we take communion? What is our verbiage when we corporately come to the Lord’s table? I would firmly argue that individualism prevents our churches from being unified through the body and blood because our verbiage pushes an individualistic focus. “Christ died for you and he died for me. Remember what he did for you as you take the bread and wine.”

Those phrases aren’t untrue, yet we have to broaden our scope of the symbolism of communion. Call this taboo, but is the symbolism of the Eucharist really limited to substitutionary atonement only? Let alone substitutionary atonement for the individual, as if the individual was the penultimate focus of the cross. The idea of “world” as we read in our English text of John 3:16 has been skewed to read “mankind,” and then eventually “me.” However, the Greek word kosmos means neither, but rather refers to the entirety of God’s creation.

So if we limit our view of communion to a mere remembrance of what Jesus did for me alone, where do we go from there? We take the bread and wine in five minutes of meditation…and then what? If there is another lens through which we can view communion besides substitutionary atonement, what is it? The presence of Christ is that lens.

 

The Unifying Perspective We Might Be Missing

Am I arguing for transubstantiation (the view that the bread and wine transform into the actual body and blood of Christ)? Definitely not. Am I arguing that the presence of Christ in His church is a key factor represented in the symbolism of communion? Absolutely.

There is something beautiful found in the corporate local church taking the bread and wine together, a symbol of a unified group giving up themselves to the nourishment and will of the Word made flesh. More than a symbolism represented, remembering and celebrating the presence of Christ among us gives mission and purpose to us as a body…it sends us out with a fresh sense of our restorative mission as Christ’s church.

The act of taking communion was never intended to be individualistic, yet in the midst of the Sunday morning crowd we’ve somehow managed to make its significance more individualized than corporate.

What if we no longer think only of ourselves in the act of taking communion in our churches? Perhaps a fresh vision for evangelicals of a unifying act remembering the presence of Christ among you could be an inspiring vision for the collective whole. Let’s no longer take communion with merely the individualistic sense of looking back on what Christ has done. Let’s take communion as a reminder of the power and presence of Christ among us also; let’s recognize the life and vitality that exists in communion and make it our mission to take the presence of Christ to the world.

 

Pentecost Sunday | Why it Matters

Ten days after the ascension of Jesus Christ.

Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection.

The Holy Spirit descended on the disciples on the day of Pentecost.

Pentecost is yet another commonly forgotten day in the church year that holds significant historical roots and practical implications for the life of today’s church.

Pentecost

The day of Pentecost significantly transformed what was already an established Jewish festival known as Shavuot (חג השבועות) or The Festival of Weeks. Levitcus 23:15-21 outlines the mandated celebration, which was to occur 50 days following the passover. This week marked the end of the harvesting season.  Because of the ceremonial customs associated with the week, this feast drew people from many nations back to Jerusalem.

The account of Pentecost is given by the apostle Luke in Acts 2.

The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in describes Pentecost as symbolizing a new beginning:

“It celebrates the unleashing of the Holy Spirit on the world and the empowering of the church to reach the world with the gospel. In celebrating Pentecost, the church expresses its gratitude for the faithfulness of Christ in fulfilling his promise to send “another counselor” (John 14:16); celebrates the work of the Spirit in renewing all of creation; professes its confidence and security in knowing the Spirit’s power is available for its mission; and grows in awareness of the immensity of its calling to reach the world with the gospel.”

Pentecost is a reminder that even though Christ’s physical presence is now at the right hand of God the Father, the same power that rose Christ from the grave is available to us through the outpouring of the Spirit. It is by the Spirit we are enabled to know and love God, and it is by the Spirit that we are empowered as the Church to participate it God’s story of creation.

 

 

Ascension Thursday | Why it Matters

Today marks one of the most commonly overlooked days in the church year. Ascension Thursday marks the end of the Easter season as we remember the ascension of our Lord, Jesus Christ, into heaven. If we give some deeper thought to this significant historical event I think that we’ll find our worship can become more informed, significant, and above all bring greater glory to God.

Acts 1:1-11 gives us the Biblical account of the Ascension whether or not you choose to continue reading, I’d highly suggest making it a practice of reading this passage each year on the 40th after Easter. Give it read, and then continue on as I briefly think through the practical and theological significance of this event.

 

Why it matters and What we miss when we forget it… 

One of my go to resources for the liturgical calendar is the The Worship Sourcebook out of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. In their introduction to the Ascension they write on its theological significance:

“Christ’s ascension means that in heaven there is one who, knowing firsthand the experience of suffering and temptation, prays for us and perfects our prayers. The ascension is a witness and guarantee of our own bodily resurrection, as well as an invitation for us to set our hearts and minds “on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1-2) to rule over all things in heaven and throughout the universe (Eph.1:10, 20-23). Finally, the ascension of Jesus serves as the prelude to Pentecost, when the power of the risen Christ came upon all believers through the Holy Spirit.”

Rather than dive deeper into purely theological reflection, I’d like to simply list out five practical applicable reflections, that I pray will help to deepen your understanding of the ascension and inform your worship in way that brings about greater glory to God.

1) The ascension assures us that the one who sits at the right hand of God the Father can relate to us in our humanity. Christ lived a fully human life and experienced pain and temptation. While He Himself was sinless, Jesus’ earthly life was greatly impacted by the brokenness of humanity. The one who intercedes for us, the perfecter of our prayers knows what we are living through.

2) The ascension gives us hope for the resurrection that is to come. Christ died,  rose again, and ascended into heaven. Christ didn’t raise to life so that he might simply die again. His life continues.

3) The ascension should motivate us to exalt the name of Christ. We need the ascension should point us to consider the humility that Christ endured and then bring about the glorification that is due. Paul’s Christological Hymn in Philippians 2 is probably the text the stands out the most regarding this thought:

Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,

6 who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.[a]
7 Instead He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man
in His external form,
8 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
9 For this reason God highly exalted Him
and gave Him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,[b]
to the glory of God the Father.

4) Christ’s Ascension means that we are left on earth to continue in the ministry of Christ.  Jesus parting words commissioned his followers to make disciples among the nations throughout the earth (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47).

5) Christ’s Ascension paved the way for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Christ didn’t give us the task of continuing his work on earth to then leave us to do so on our own might. This supernatural event resulting in the establishment of the church of Christ, was divinely orchestrated. The Holy Spirit, the same power that rose Christ from the dead now lives within us. Equipping us to continue in God’s kingdom work until Christ comes again. This outpouring reminds us  that the Church is from God, not man.

 

Hymns for the Ascension 

Rejoice the Lord is King 

Crown Him with Many Crowns 

All Hail the Power of Jesus Name 

Alleluia! Sing to Jesus

Before the Throne of God Above

Christ Whose Glory Fills the Sky 

Glorious and Mighty 

 

 

 

 

Worship as Rehearsal | Liturgical Function of Congregational Singing

As we continue to think of worship as gospel rehearsal, let us turn to look more specifically at the functions of the liturgy. First, lets take a brief look at congregational singing.

Throughout scripture there are examples of God’s people responding to God’s faithfulness through the use of song. I highly suggest checking our Cardiphonia’s Biblical Canticles project for more examples, you can do so here. For the purposes of this post,  I want to look briefly at the corporate song and dance led by Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15.  Exodus 15 comes immediately following the Israelites safely crossing the Red Sea. The beginning of chapter 15 reads:

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:

“I will sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.

“The Lord is my strength and my defense[a];
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
the Lord is his name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
he has hurled into the sea.
The best of Pharaoh’s officers
are drowned in the Red Sea.[b]
The deep waters have covered them;
they sank to the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, Lord,
was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord,
shattered the enemy.

And the song continues on ending with:

“Sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.”

The song exalts the work of God: and recognizes our need of salvation that can only be delivered by God’s hand. Like the Israelites respond to God’s provision in song, we too when we gather exalt God through songs of praise. We declare that he is our salvation.

In his book, Desiring the Kingdom Dr. James K.A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College argues that scripture envisions the identity and faith of the people of God as a song. I’d like to read a portion of that to you now. He writes:

“Scripture envisions the identity and faith of the people of God as a song. For instance, when Israel finds itself in exile in Babylon, the psalmist expresses the challenge of being faithful amid idolatrous temptations in terms of singing:
 
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:1-4)
 
Here singing is clearly tethered to identity; what we sing says something significant about who we are— and whose we are. Israel’s challenge unlike our challenge: how do we live as the peculiar people of God in a foreign land, given that every land is ‘foreign’ for the people of the city of God? Figuring out how to be faithful in exile is here tied up with learning how to sing in a strange land. And in such exilic singing, we already begin to hymn the ‘new song’ that will resound in the coming kingdom (Rev. 5:9, 14:3) as a redeemed choir from every tribe and tongue and nation. Embedded in this sung hope we se something of the kingdom implicit in Christian worship: a world of delight and festivity, of joyful song, as well as a world of racial reconciliation where the choir is a reconciled community. The practice of singing together in Christian worship- singing one song, with different parts, in harmony- is a small but significant performance of what we’re looking forward to in the kingdom.”  (Smith, James K.A.. Desiring the Kingdom. 172-3)

Corporate singing, like the rest of our corporate gatherings should help us in rehearsing the rhythms of the gospel. In our songs, we affirm the psalmists proclamations to “sing unto the Lord a new song,” we also join in the songs those who have gone before us, we sing about who we are and whose we are, we sing about who we are in the context of living as people of God in world that doesn’t know God, and finally we sing as preparation for what we look forward to, our ultimate hope. 

Past. Present. Future.

Worship as Rehearsal

The following reflections come from a sermon I preached this past September titled ‘Rehearsing the Rhythms of the Gospel.’ Addressing the importance of our corporate worship being a consistent reminder of the life transforming power of the gospel.

As we gather together to worship corporately, we are rehearsing our faith, and we are rehearsing the rhythms of the Gospel.

What do I mean by this? What I mean is our worship serves to better help us to understand who God is and who we are in relation to him.

Past, Present, Future

This idea of rehearsal takes into account the past, the present, and the future.

My undergraduate studies were in Theatre & Drama, so when I first hear the word rehearsal I immediately think of the process of preparing for a performance.

From a looking back into the past perspective, in order to rehearse there must be something previously established that is worth rehearsing. When it comes to theatre you’re typically working from an already established script. It’s been done before therefore it has some roots in history. But even as you rehearse you are creating something unique. No two performances are the same. So even though what is being rehearsed has its roots in the past, there is something distinctly unique in the context of a new setting.  It has roots in the past, encompasses the context of the present, and as you rehearse you are preparing for a future performance.

I’d like to think of our worship in a similar sense.  It’s shaped by and has its roots in the past.  We gather in this space because of Christ, because of what’s revealed to us in the Word of God. We sing songs written by believers who have gone before us. We pray prayers that have been recited by believers throughout history. We affirm our faith through the Creeds established by the early church fathers. There is a profound richness to the history of our faith.

But, the moments that we gather in this space are not simply replications of the past. Every time that we gather together for corporate worship is a unique moment.  A moment in which we rehearse our faith so that we might be able to live it out Monday-Saturday- but even more so we’re rehearsing for an eternity of worship.