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

Posts tagged ‘worship’

Sacred Time & the End of the World

Advent began on Sunday for most Western Christians (Eastern Christians have already gotten there, but they have a longer Advent). It’s an incredible season–the start of the Church’s calendar. It begins with the end. We come into Advent remembering the Day of Doom–the Lord’s Day, the Day of Judgment, Armageddon. We come remembering that on the heels of our declaration of Christ’s Kingship the week before, that every one of us in the world will have to give an account before the throne of God and His Christ. It’s a portrait of blinding darkness and pitched light. And we are called by the Spirit of Christ to wait in faithfulness and hope, confident that faith in Christ shall stand in the day of judgment.

But we also look back to the season when Christ first came–to the waiting of God’s people, longing for redemption, groaning under oppression and the ignorance of the Gentiles waiting to be enlightened. We prime ourselves for the announcement of Christ’s birth by heeding the call of John the Baptist to repentance, to be ready, and to know for certain that our rescue is close at hand, and when the Savior comes, we will find rest and solace.

It’s a beautiful season. And the Church has its calendar from ancient times as a way of framing our lives, remembering the story of Jesus, and seeing our stories transformed by that grace. But it’s not the only calendar. There are secular calendars that reinforce what James K.A. Smith has referred to as “cultural liturgies.” The day-to-day of American life has its own messages and warnings that it offers, which we could spend a fair amount of time discussing, but what I’m interested in right now, is what has just occurred in the secular calendar. In the past week, the American public has celebrated to one degree or another: Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday.

We began Thursday with the expectation of feasting with family or close friends, in a cadre of delightful culinary traditions. We have some vague notion that we are commemorating the first Thanksgiving held by Non-conformist Christian settlers at Plymouth Colony and indigenous American tribes who helped them to survive. The more learned and attentive might even be able to say how “abundance” was not really the thing that was being celebrated by the community so much as “survival.” But, whatever. We’re Americans. We’ll supersize it to something worth eating. At any rate, it’s supposed to be a happy time, filled with sentimental traditions and our favorite nostalgic games and memories. The media even plays along by replaying old holiday movies in marathon format to be carried throughout the weekend.

But early or not, Black Friday comes quickly on the heels of the tryptophan engorgement. The idea of extreme savings in a consumer mob across stories that mythically places companies from being in the “red” of loss into the “black” of profit has driven a number of experiments and loud arguments that would embarrass most liturgists and worship leaders. But the fanfare of buying things for loved ones (including oneself) at heavily discounted prices has motivated a nationwide pastime and the creation of “traditions” for families. Even those who refuse to participate in the rush are defined by it, as they intentionally determine to not shop on Black Friday.

Newer additions in recent years have joined Black Friday’s corporate bailout by the American people. One is Small Business Saturday–where we are encouraged to remember our local sellers, crafters, artisans, and others, and to offer them our patronage. The other is Cyber Monday, where we are reminded that no matter the deals of Friday, the internet always has a better offer (and one wonders how many spent money on Friday to repent of not waiting for Monday…). These activities are certainly more “minor” by comparison to Thanksgiving and Black Friday but they still consume a great deal of attention and investment, and they will probably grow in importance. The American people, after all, have little to say about themselves that doesn’t involve the purchase and consumption of goods to be enjoyed. If you want to read more on that, I’ll refer you to James K.A. Smith’s description of “the liturgy of the mall” in Desiring the Kingdom.

Finally, the parade of secular feasts ends with “Giving Tuesday.” With the rise of social media, this one has gotten very big, very fast. Yesterday, I saw some dozen or so charities and non-profit fundraisers being hosted by personal friends. Philanthropic organizations were giving out matching grants like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Colleges and seminaries, social service groups and advocacy agencies, and more, were raising money. More than that, they were getting it (and as a church planter trying to find funds and grants, let me tell you it burned a bit!).

But now it’s over. Today is Wednesday. Just Wednesday after Thanksgiving on the secular calendar. But what story have we heard? What does it compare to Advent?

Oddly enough, gratitude, judgment, hope, and repentance are themes in both stories. But the way they play out is very different. In Thanksgiving, we demonstrate gratitude with incredible consumption. In Black Friday, we demonstrate hope in continued luxury by encouraging all income brackets to join in the American dream’s promise that we can all have good, enjoyable and often unnecessary things. In Small Business Saturday, we offer some repentance to our local businesses by doing penance and purchasing their goods and services. Because while we may have sold our soul to Wal-mart, there’s still just enough left to benefit them. And in Cyber Monday, we are reminded that the physical constraints of our geography and schedules do not overcome our fundamental identity as consumers. The barriers will and must be overcome.  Finally, we have Giving Tuesday, because at the end of the day, we do realize it’s not only about us, and that others should be empowered, enabled, and embraced as part of this great American vision to consume. That we should be so privileged to give excesses in order for the do-gooders to have some resources with which to be a part of the community.

So, this American Thanksgiving season is very powerfully insistent as Advent breaks. Because it declares a different kingdom: where consumption is king, and our identity and rights are oriented around the hope for the things we have yet to get. It stands, silently enough, in defiance of the announcement of the Kingdom of God in Advent: where the waiting are blessed, the ready are repentant, and the haughty establishment is cast down. This is no condemnation of our various family traditions in and of themselves, but let’s be wise and make sure that story of our feasts and fasts is the story of Jesus, to whom we give thanks, and who is always present to us in the gift of Himself– in waters of baptism, in the Spirit’s outpouring, in the common meal of bread and wine (Eucharist–the true Thanksgiving feast), and in the loving fellowship of Jesus’ people in all times and all places.

Keep the Traditions

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth….

The Great Litany begins with a blaring, intoned address to the Almighty God.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world…

It’s staunch orthodoxy refuses to bend to contemporary innovations.

O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful…

It’s movement of penitent supplication and confident faith embraces the totality of Christian life and discipline.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God….

But it continues to draw more and more of me into prayer and intimacy with God. It reshapes my mind, my heart, my body in a way that is oriented toward God, that advocates for my enemies and friends, and somehow lets me pray for the life of the world and the life of the Church at the same time.

Liturgical prayer is anything but dead. I can feel the cloud of witnesses join with me. I know in my bones that my ancestors prayed these same prayers, responding to the officiant’s supplications with “Good Lord, deliver us” and “We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.” In the United States, and in England and Wales, and in Ireland. I know my brothers and sisters pray these prayers– in Nigeria, in Australia, and in other parts of the globe. It’s tremendous. It’s a prayer that is larger than me.

And, oddly, it’s the reality of the life-giving nature of liturgical prayer that helps us guard against our own liturgical eclecticism. As Pentecostals, we should be in tune with the Spirit’s guiding the prayers of the Church through the ages and around the world. And if we are embracing that path, and giving the Spirit room to reshape us, change how we pray, and enter into words that have been handed down from one generation of apostolic faith to the next, then we will find that we are not doing anything strange at all. Instead, we are being formed into the people of Pentecost, devoted to the apostles’ teaching, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. And in that, we will see the release of God’s work among us in great acts of love and stunning signs and wonders — all to authenticate and draw attention to the great love Jesus has shown us.

Hands-On Christianity

The laying on of hands may seem like sentimentalism to the non-Christian outsider, or superstition to the modern thinker, or Roman foolishness to the fundamentalist. But for those who are in the Church catholic–Western, Eastern, Reformational, and Pentecostal–the laying on of hands is a deeply Scriptural, communally significant practice. It is not merely the presence of physical touch in the worship of the community, but an expression of Spirit-empowered anointing intended for the life of the Body of Christ. While many in American evangelicalism happily place hands on those they pray for, and many have even considered that what they are doing is beneficial and biblical, this is quite different from the laying on of hands as practiced by historic Christianity or by Pentecostals. (more…)

Extra Ecclessiam Nulla Salus

My news feed has been ablaze with people talking about church and God and life with Christ, and what’s optional vs. what you have to do.

First off, if this is Christianity in its most foundational concerns, I want out. Clearly, the Gospel doesn’t give us a list of options and preferences or a list of do’s and don’ts. Yes, there is an obedience of faith, but I’m not talking about that yet. In the Gospel– in the faith once for all delivered to the saints– we are confronted by the love of a Father who won’t be denied, the hope-filled sacrifice of a Son who won’t be deterred and the joyful presence of a Spirit who won’t be diminished.

Second, The Triune God draws, calls and adopts each of us by name and makes us a single family–the Church. The goal was never, is never and will never be “Me and Jesus.” Or even “We and Jesus.” It’s always been JESUS. And you can’t be one with him if you aren’t one with his Body.

Third, none of our gifts and spirit-empowered passions and abilities can be made sense of apart from (1) the proclamation of Christ and him crucified, (2) the empowerment and refreshment provided by the Holy Spirit in baptism and the Lord’s Supper and (3) the direction and submission to the authorities that the Holy Spirit has made overseers in the Body of Christ. There are no Cowboy Christians. We are all utterly dependent on the Body, which in turn is utterly dependent on the Head–Jesus Christ, who is present through the Spirit and interceding before the Father.

The 3 Streams Shortchange

So, in American Anglicanism, we talk about “3 Streams” — Catholic, Evangelical, and Charismatic Anglicans. Some churches consider themselves one of the three. Others try to blend two or all three together. In a class, some of the emphases were described this way:

  • Catholics: Fed by Jesus in eating the Eucharist to re-vitalize faith.
  • Evangelicals: Friends with Jesus who seek to encounter him in relationship.
  • Charismatics: Filled with the Spirit of Jesus to experience God’s power for renewal.

This is deeply dissatisfying. If these are accurate characterizations, they feel very shallow and incapable of sustaining Christian faith, much less the Anglican tradition. Tribes like this can’t. But there are most is certainly distinctive ethos types within Christian faith, but they aren’t what’s above. Instead, we should consider the different ethos types within the Church, understand their place in our personal spiritualities, our corporate spiritualities, and faithfulness to Christian tradition but above all, in relation to our proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here’s some of the broad types or streams that are legitimately within Christian spirituality:

  1. Orthodox/Catholic (Eastern/Western)
  2. Reformation (Lutheran/Reformed)
  3. Primitive (Baptist/Methodist/non-denominational)
  4. Pentecostal (Wesleyan/Finished Work/Global)
This is not about legitimating these (conflicting) doctrines or discplines. But setting the tone for legitimate recognition of traditions and spiritualities that provide tangible experience of the Gospel’s proclamation. But a fully formed and mature Church will embrace them all and the Body will be shaped by these spiritualities that are much deeper than silly categories like “Catholic/evangelical/charismatic”.

Jesus is There: Pentecostals and the Sacraments: Part 5

Alright, so I’ve been sitting on this footwashing thing for awhile. Why? Because it’s not an easy question. Even though a number of small Baptist groups, Brethren churches, and a number of the Pentecostal churches observe Footwashing as the third ordinance or sacrament, the reality is that through much of Church history, it has not been regarded as a one by most of the Church. It’s never gone out of practice, however, and many liturgical traditions observe footwashing in some way on Maundy Thursday or, as in the early centuries of Christian practice, at baptism. So what’s someone who is both Pentecostal and Anglican to do?

The Gospel of John’s an interesting take because, unlike the other Gospels, John does not record for us the institution of the Lord’s Supper. He has the most content of what Jesus said at the supper of all the Gospels, but he doesn’t give the command about the Eucharist. But he does provide the only account of the Lord washing the feet of the disciples. The question is, does John give us this story instead of the institution of the Lord’s Supper?

People far wiser and educated and more thoughtful than I have given that question a lot of consideration and I’m not sure that there’s any clear consensus (feel free to correct me, scholars). Some will cite Tertullian, or Augustine, or early synods that seem to assume the practice. But everyone has to tangle with the fact that no binding “formularies” (creeds, councils, confessions, articles of religion) hold footwashing as one of the sacraments of the Church. Some Brethren scholars make a compelling case to see it as sacrament, however.

But I don’t want this to be a scholarly argument. I don’t know the answer to the question. I know I want footwashing to be a sacrament practiced in the Church. I also want to not cause those kind of waves! Our Pentecostal forefathers and foremothers found great joy and fellowship with Christ in this rite. They experienced the fellowship of the Spirit and a strengthening for their Christian lives that complemented the Lord’s Supper. They knew that Jesus was there in that service.

When I read John 13, and hear Jesus say, “Just as I have done for you, you ought to do for one another” I can’t help but think that he meant it just as he said it. It’s not popular or glitzy and you can’t dress it up as fancy as baptism or the Lord’s Supper can be. But there’s something to it. There’s something of the presence of Jesus there that is more like Baptism and the Eucharist than not.

What do you think? Feel free to share your own thoughts or experiences!

  1. Part 1: A Pentecostal Theology of the Lord’s Supper
  2. Part 2: A Pentecostal Experience of the Lord’s Supper
  3. Part 3: A Pentecostal Theology of Baptism
  4. Part 4: A Pentecostal Experience of Baptism
  5. Part 5: Pentecostal Questions and Reflections on Footwashing

Jesus is There: Pentecostals and the Sacraments: Part 4

Part 3 may have made some waves. I’m okay with that. We were once a whole movement of wave-makers and earth-shakers, and what happened since is the subject of books and articles by church historians and theologians who have a far better grasp around the issues than I do. But if we’re to be a Pentecostalism for the Church, we have to take our practice of Baptism that seriously– we have to remember it’s about Jesus, not us. (more…)