Thursday, January 28, 2010

Just some random thoughts on the Faith...

1. A number a years ago sitting with my wife on a Sunday morning in an evangelical church I wrote down the following on the bulletin sermon notes insert, concerning modern church services:

When one takes away the Liturgy [referring specifically to Thomas Cranmer's BCP] with its content (which is Christ and Scripture centered), it is difficult, if not impossible to replace it with something that doesn't fall short of a holy worship; a definite problem for the modern Church.

Newer and "more relevant" is not necessarily better when it comes to the faith once delivered and to what the Church has been called to as it gathers to worship Christ. One need only read through portions of the Book of Common Prayer (1928 or earlier) to be impressed with this.

Though the old style English is a bit foreign to our modern ear, the weightiness and focus is nonetheless apparent. Here is an excerpt from the Holy Communion (BCP 1662):

O LORD and heavenly Father, we thy humble servants entirely desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; most humbly beseeching thee to grant, that by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion. And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that all we, who are partakers of this holy Communion, may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction. And although we be unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord; by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.

2. William Willimon, a bishop in the United Methodist Church in the U.S., writes concerning the preaching from the pulpit in today's churches:

"Unable to preach Christ and Him crucified, we preach humanity and it improved"

Today, preaching Law and Gospel from Scripture is considered antiquated and something that all too many preachers (and Christians) think only relevant to those congregations of the long forgotten Reformation and not appropriate for our "advanced age." But man's condition hasn't changed. The preaching of Christ and Him crucified has never been fashionable. The Law, rightly presented, diagnoses man as he is - born into Adam's sinful race and willfully alienated from God as an enemy of righteousness... helpless to change or free himself from the bondage of sin. This resonates with the one who hears, as it is consistent with what is the reality within the hearer's conscience. The Gospel presents Christ Jesus as the only propitiation for man's sin and our only means of salvation; a salvation that by God's grace is obtained through faith and repentance in Christ alone; His merit of a holy life lived as man, His loving offering of Himself as the full satisfaction for our sins upon the cross, and His resurrection from the dead being the sole basis of our justification and sanctification before a just God; and that is freely offered to all who believe in Him. He takes our sin away and then accounts to us His righteousness unto eternal life. This is good news; and as saints who are yet still sinners we need to hear this constantly.

5 comments:

  1. Amen, brother. We must keep our eyes on Jesus and not on ourselves. God is holy, infinitely so, and we must humble ourselves before Him. If we don't, He will do it for us by bringing our pride low. The liturgy is so good because it get our focus where it belongs,; namely,on what Jesus has done for us, instead of singing songs about how we feel.

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  2. Jack: Your words ring true. But I believe there are balances to be struck between rubric and daily bread, between Word and response, between communion and commingling.

    I have attended Masses at Catholic churches for 57 years. The "look and feel" of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass" has ranged from pre-Vatican II "awe & mystery" (the Latin or Tridentine Mass) to Mass in the vernacular to inclusive language in songs to liberation theology to feel-good, hand-clapping, social justice songs.

    Mass celebrations have varied by parish, by priest and by music offerings. Many worshippers select this or that church based on the personality of the priest(s), or the length of the Mass, or the economic or social milieu of the membership, or the parish's general attitudes toward pro-life issues, or the convenience of parking, or whether there is a religious education program, or if there is a youth scouting program, or simply the number of "folks like me" in attendance. Some seek engagement. Some seek anonymity, wanting only to engage a dialog between their own soul and the Trinity.

    I have a high regard for historic Mass settings and rubrics. I like awe and mystery. Some of that has been lost with "greeters at the door," the rabble-rousing sermon and the all-important "donuts and coffee to follow in the social hall."

    I am a cantor and a choir member who leads worship with a wide range of songs, from ancient to classic to contemporary. I sometimes lead song from the ambo up front, next to the altar, with pipe organ accompaniment. I sometimes lead song with acoustic guitar and piano from the church proper, right next to the front pews. I sometimes sing bass with our SATB choir. It's all good. But what I want most is for the music to be accessible to the worshippers. However, not all people want or are able to sing. Sometimes, our music liturgist selects songs which hardly anyone knows, including myself. But the songs are always chosen on the basis of their relevance to the Epistle and Gospel readings for the day.

    And when it comes time for the priest to give a homily, I want advice on how to love Christ and follow his commandments as a disciple. I have heard sermons which range from simple, basic moral imperatives to highly academic explanations of biblical history to fist-pounding exhortations to "feed the hungry" or to "fix our broken economy by voting for the right candidate."

    The Eucharist, for Catholics, is Word and Sacrifice. There is the Mass of the Catechumens which teaches us holy truths. Then there is Transubstantiation, the changing of bread to our Lord's Body and wine to our Lord's blood. It is a "miracle-remembrance" of Christ's promise of redemption. We partake of His Body and Blood and then are commissioned to go forth and live and preach the Good News.

    So, I think the Mass has to have "a little of everything," in varying degrees, according to the talents and dispositions of the celebrant and congregation. But, personally, I do tend toward awe, mystery and great devotion to core truths and values of Christianity.

    Dominus vobiscum.

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  3. Rich,
    I'm not sure I understand about all that you've written in connection with my post. I would say that that regarding the Church worship service I am basically saying that that gathering is not a "general" meeting for whatever Christians want to include in it. It is marked essentially by the presentation of God's law, our response (we fail to live up to the Law), worship (psalms, profession of faith, hymns) and prayer, confession of sin and absolution based on Christ's sufficient once-for-all death on the cross, preaching from Scripture presenting (again) God's law, man's sinfulness, and the good news of our justification through faith in Christ by God's grace. Our justification in Christ by His death and resurrection is the ground of our walk as Christians; His merit not ours. As that old hymn says, "all other ground is sinking sand." And finally the taking of the Lord's Supper, the visible Gospel. This is beautifully exampled in the Holy Communion as found in the Book of Common Prayer, as I mentioned earlier.

    As you probably know, Anglican and Reformed Christians don't accept the doctrine of Transubstantiation, in as much as it is viewed as not supported by Scripture nor the early Church Fathers (see John Jewel's book An Apology for the Church of England and see Article 25 & 28 of The Thirty-Nine Articles which is in the back of the BCP. Though we do actually partake of the body and blood of Christ in the eating of the bread and wine, it is not His corporeal body and blood that we receive. Rather, as we take the bread and wine we are eating and drinking of Him after a spiritual nature, a sure means grace imparted to the one that receives the sacrament in faith.

    Jack

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  4. I think we are in excellent agreement – that the "Church worship service" should not be made into a general meeting that includes all kinds of stuff not related to the core liturgy.

    This was a point of discussion at "Catholic Professionals" group at LinkedIn when someone posted an article about a church having a mortgage burning celebration "at their weekend Mass." Although the article did not say WHEN the incendiary action was to take place in the context of the worship service, many argued that it should NOT be within the Mass itself, but only before or after. Even at that, some found the whole concept of celebrating early payoff of church debt as a matter fully outside the worship service. I did not necessarily agree, as sometimes the "business of good stewardship" is conducted during or right after the homily, or just before the final blessing. In fact, we are used to having a PowerPoint presentation projected on the wall in lieu of the homily, once a year, for the Archbishop's Annual Appeal...or what is now called the Annual Catholic Services Appeal.

    Richard

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  5. Rich, you wrote

    'I think we are in excellent agreement – that the "Church worship service" should not be made into a general meeting that includes all kinds of stuff not related to the core liturgy.'

    Amen... that is what I was getting at and what I believe very central to the Church's right worship.

    best to you brother...

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