People of the Spirit, worshiping Jesus in all places, at all times

Archive for the ‘Praxis’ Category

Fiery Fasts

The autumn Ember Days fell last Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Traditionally, they come the week after Holy Cross (September 14 for all using the 1662 BCP). They have largely become the days when anxious seminarians and postulants write letters to their bishops, but they historically served as fasts in the Church. I took that as an excuse/opportunity to have an extended time away from social media and streaming (Netflix and its cohorts) last week, and to go through Stephen Macchia’s book, Crafting a Rule of Life. Some observations:

  • Any fast will show you what and who you rely upon very quickly.
  • Quiet is still not the enemy, and taking time for prayer, reflection, and leaning into what God is doing in your life will benefit from it.
  • There’s a lot to be learned when you get away from what you’re addicted to.
  • All the things you’re worried about for next year? Small potatoes that get sorted quickly when you start looking at what God has given you to do today and this week.
  • Fasts go much easier with a partner (thanks Katie!).
  • You might be surprised how it shapes you. I came to Monday and spent most of the day without Netflix, or social media. Social media is categorically under “Useful tools” for me now. I’d do just fine without it.
  • While fasting can happen at any time one wishes or is so led, having the tie to the Church year is helpful for reflection and to recall that you are not the only one through time and space who is fasting.

As to Crafting a Rule of Life, I believe it was genuinely beneficial for me. In a season of discernment, paying attention to God’s call on your daily, weekly, and monthly commitments and rhythms gives a lot of wisdom and direction for seasonal and annual cycles of life. I’m grateful my spiritual director put me onto this resource and commend it to you all. I do recommend finding a friend or two to work through it with. It might take a little more intentionality but it will be worth it.

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Constrained by the Word

I had the privilege of preaching at Church of the Savior yesterday morning. We are spending Ordinary Time in an expository series through the Apocalypse (aka, the Revelation of Jesus to John). As we gathered in an area park shelter, the songs of the glory of God and the frailty of our humanity, echoed by the collect led into the letter to the Church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3, which was my assigned portion for the day.

Preparing for that text was difficult. In the wake of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Attorney General’s report about the horrors of child abuse, I was wishing I’d had one of the sterner letters in Revelation to preach and really let some fire out. My sense of justice was inflamed. Christ had been spit upon by men who claimed to minister in His name. These perpetrators had commenced an assault on the Church. Further, I wanted to offer a word of grace to all the hurting. I had already put something out on social media, but that’s not really the same significance as what is preached.

As I was sharing that with Bishop John Rodgers following worship, the comment I had was, “But I was rather constrained by the Scripture assigned.” Prophetic fire and inflamed passion for justice have their place in the words spoken by those called by God to preach. But they only have their place within the constraints of the revelation of God’s Word Incarnate–and because of His authority, in God’s Word written. Speaking to the “church of little power” like Philadelphia, and rebuking those of the synagogue of Satan, Jesus offers grace and comfort and glorious promises to those who were hurting, And he could reveal Himself as the one who gets the last word–who opens, and no one can shut and who shuts, and no one can open. Praise be to the King, forever blessed, who does not leave us to our passions, but guides us by His Spirit through the Word.

Why How We Worship Matters

Pentecostal worship in the American context has historically emphasized spontaneity, freedom, and attentiveness to the Spirit’s leading.For all of that, there is a stunning level of continuity and family resemblance in classical Pentecostal liturgies. Over the years, the rise of the non-denominational movement, the ambivalence about denominational boundaries held by charismatics and third wave continuationists, and the influx of contemporary music and more expressive praise throughout evangelicalism has also allowed some of that congregationalist spirit to enter into Pentecostal worship. Now there’s a congregational liberty and emphasis on how “my” church does worship in many sectors of American Christianity, including Pentecostal churches.

There’s a lot of good that comes from this common hymnography and hymnology–and Pentecostals have had a hand in making it happen (Hillsong’s music, for example). But one of the things that is being lost in this is that the conversation we have about framing worship can very often focus on preference, taste, and things that more reflect our consumer culture than the passing on of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Liturgical scholar Lawrence Hoffman wrote in Beyond the Text about the nature of liturgy and its relationship to the life and identity of people. He published the following in 1987 (p. 69):

It might be said, then, that whatever worshipers presume to say to God, they are at the same time directing a message to themselves. The very act of worship takes on the function of identifying for the worshiper what it is that he or she stands for, what real life is like, what his or her aspirations are. The liturgical medium becomes the message.

As Calvin connects knowledge of God with knowledge of self in his Institutes, Hoffman suggests that awareness of our worship is awareness of our ecclesial identity. Why prophesy in worship? Why speak in tongues? Why heal? Why preach? Why receive the sacraments? These things tell us who we are. So how we do them matters.

There is a difference in identity between a congregation that prays for healing “up front” or “at the altar” and a congregation that has a team for healing prayer available in the back of the sanctuary. I won’t indict either practice, but healing is more plainly part of the identity of the former congregation than the latter. It says something about what they understand to be part and parcel of being the people of God.  How we worship matters. So, Pentecostal brothers and sisters, let us be self-critical and thoughtful of our liturgies and practices. Let’s not cater to what seems to offer the best consumer experience, but press into who we are, and who the Spirit of God wants to make us in the image of Christ.

Reading Scripture and the Hope of the Poor

As a Pentecostal, I grew up in a home that emphasized and practiced daily Bible reading–both individually and as a family. I was taught to read and study the Scriptures in a personal “quiet time with God.” Additionally, my mother read to us aloud from the Bible and taught us hymns, some small bits of catechism, and helped us memorize significant and sometimes extensive portions of Scripture. It was life-shaping and it has been effective in my life, as the Holy Spirit prompts remembrance and understanding from that past in my present day-to-day life. Christians are indeed people shaped by the Scriptures that bear witness to Jesus, the Word of God.

But I’ve overheard in various circles–Pentecostal, reformed, Anglican, Lutheran, and others–that the key to discipleship is daily Bible reading. Now, I understand where this comes from. I even understand that Willow Creek’s internal discipleship study some twenty-odd years ago reinforces the importance of the Scriptures in the Christian life. But I want to challenge the idea that it’s private daily Bible reading which is to be credited for deep roots in following Jesus.

First off, to borrow from something adapted from the Rev’d Dr. Amy Schifrin, STS, “Christianity is a deeply personal, but not private, faith.” It’s never been “me and Jesus”. It’s always been a Body, a nation, a community of saints and sinners gathered by the Holy Spirit and united in the blood of Jesus. We experience individual transformation in the midst of that, but we do so together. We cannot be disciples alone, and we are not intended to experience the grace of Christ alone. Even Saul’s conversion cannot happen apart from the Body. Jesus changed everything for this persecutor of the Church, but he sends Ananias to baptize and lay hands on Him–creating a community into which Saul is received.

Second, it’s never been reading. The Scriptures, all through the history of Israel were read aloud in order to be heard by God’s people. That continued in the synagogues, and the Church adopted the same practice in teaching the Old Testament, as well as reading the “memoirs of the apostles” and the apostolic epistles. The Apostle Paul goes so far as to say that faith comes by hearing in Romans 10. For the benefit of faith and the increase of grace, the Church gathers to hear the Word of God proclaimed by the Scriptures being read aloud, preached, and visible displayed in the Sacraments.

I know there’s going to be pushback, but I want you to consider–for 1500 years, before the invention of the printing press, there was little access to the Scriptures for the common Christian. Are we to suggest that the great saints and our forefathers and foremothers in the faith were weak, or malformed as followers of Jesus? Even if we allow that the medieval era had a great deal of this, the fact is that the Gospel spread throughout the world with people who were hearing Scriptures corporately, and deep discipleship came from that formation. The rich were the ones with access to Scriptures, even after the printing press was invented. And while that has shifted over the years, literacy and economics of owning a Bible continue to challenge.

So let’s return to the roots. As the Church, let’s gather together–in homes, in churches, in public–to hear the Scriptures together. Rich or poor, men and women, of every ethnicity, let’s attend to the proclamation of Jesus and hear Him revealed to us in the Scriptures. Let’s not be alone. Let’s not stifle the hope of the poor by telling them to get a Bible and keep it to reading alone. Let’s enter the community of people under the Scriptures, fro all to hear, and be changed as the Spirit stirs our remembrance of who we are as God’s beloved and sets our feet onto the way of Jesus.

Pentecostals and Traditioning

Since the Welsh Revival, the Asuza Street Revival, and several others at the roots of the Pentecostal tradition at the turn of the 20th century, the formation of Pentecostals has always been in community: in the people of God gathering. There is very little of the strangely-warmed heart experiencing God’s love under the gate, or the voice of a child over the wall encouraging you to read Scripture.

Sure, evangelical influence has encouraged individual devotion through Scripture and prayer, but that’s a good adjustment. But our greatest moments of formation and catechesis and growth as disciples of Jesus in the Pentecostal movement is when we get together. It’s where we heard the Gospel. Where we got baptized. Where we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Where we washed each other’s feet. Where we were healed, prophesied over, delivered, released into ministry, and witness to so many works of the Holy Spirit.

As a brother of the Charismatic Fraternity of Sacred Ministers, we’re at a place of recovering this aspect of our tradition in order to enable us to engage and grow in the Great Tradition. Pentecostal ministers in any number of traditions– Pentecostal, Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, you name I–can read up and learn from the Tradition, but we don’t really get it until we’ve moved into it together, and we’ve let the Holy Spirit set it on fire. So with our churches…unless we do ancient Christian formation as a congregation, it will never be our own.

So commit to it in community. If you’re a minister or seminarian, join the CFSM and be part of our upcoming weekly conversations. If you’re an intercessor or pastor, gather a small group around you. There’s a simple rule of life that will enable you to step together into the wealth of what our Christian forefathers and foremothers brought together for us. Just leave a comment or contact me and I’ll get that over to you. If you’re independent, get in relationship with the Church catholic. We all need each other and Jesus prayed, died, rose, and now always intercedes to make us one.

Tradition and Tongues

I’m a church planter by practice and pretense (depending on the day, as few of us pull off wearing that hat non-stop). Church planting is by nature an interesting animal. It has that “new car” or “new book” smell all over it. And it’s tempting, because of that, for folks to walk into a church planting effort and expect that everything will be brand new–a church as fresh as the day of Pentecost.

Well, sort of. New works involve lots of Pentecost-type things: reaching out, sharing Jesus, baptizing everybody, and figuring out what it looks like to disciple and to gather for worship. They have a lot of the same growing pains that the book of Acts and the epistles of Paul bear witness to, as well. There are leadership questions, and cultural challenges, and discipleship gaps and experiments.

But that’s not all. Church plants have DNA–they have parents, friends, and bickering cousins who all have an opinion on the shape of things. In other words, there is tradition to take note of. For Pentecostals ministering in the Anglican Church or others in the catholic tradition, this isn’t a negative thing at all. As it’s been noted many times, tradition is a life-giving thing in Pentecostal discipleship.

But what does that look like in church planting? Tradition is what we are passing on in discipleship. Tradition maps out how we follow Jesus together. So, for an Anglican like myself, what that looks like includes:

  • When sharing stories and other texts from Scripture, the point of every single one is to reveal Jesus (Christological reading)
  • We pray together corporately, even the kids outreach has us reciting corporate prayer.
  • We make use of liturgical prayer. For example, baptism candidates will receive a small booklet including daily prayers derived from the family offices from the prayerbook.
  • We value the church year–Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter are especially highlighted in our children’s outreach, and I hope they will be an influence in our small groups as well.

So, yes, tradition provides hands-on discipleship for life in the Spirit as we are all attempting to follow Jesus together. Practice it personally and embrace it’s application in ministry–especially in new ministry like church planting.

Jesus is There: Pentecostals and the Sacraments: Part 3

So there may be some confusion as to why I started with the Lord’s Supper. In the “order” of sacraments, baptism should be first in our experience of the Kingdom of God. It’s why I “held back” from Communion until I could be baptized. But when we’re dealing with a Pentecostal approach to the sacraments, we also have to recognize that to shake the assumptions that have often invaded from our evangelical friends (that it’s “just symbolic”), it helps if we first recognize Jesus’ presence in the Lord’s Supper before we tackle Baptism. In the interest of full disclosure here, I’m going to argue something that few Pentecostals will–at first–accept as valid, but if we are consistent in our baptismal theology, it’s where we end up. (more…)