Archive for March, 2009

Becoming fire

Posted in Uncategorized on March 26, 2009 by cockett1

Christianity has become much too cerebral in many ways. It’s all head and very little heart, at least in that part of the Anglican Church I serve in, the Church in Wales. But Christianity is not an idea its life. It’s not just a sensible, logical or intellectually satisfying concept, its a falling in love, head over heels, with God.

I write this, in some sense, for myself, because for many years – too many to mention – the Christian faith has been too often about the development of an idea rather than an encounter with a person. I have fallen for the outer trappings of faith rather than the inner reality, experienced mystically through prayer and the sacraments.When Moses stepped aside to see the bush that was burning, he was initially fascinated with how the branches were burning but not being consumed. However it was not the bush and the non-combustible properties of its parts that, in the end, changed his life and the life of his people forever, it was the reality that was within, beyond and above the fire. That’s why I love the following story from the lives of the desert fathers:

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’

Abba Lot did everything right, everything expected of a monk or hermit. He said the office, prayed, fasted, meditated and tried to live out his life in a God-pleasing way. But he discovered somewhere along the way that that was not enough for him. He sensed that there was still something more or even something missing, and he wanted it.

We can all relate to God in this way and be good Christian people, living out the faith as a mixture of religious rules and self-discipline, but as with Abba Lot we sense, if we are open to it, that there is more. A lot more. In fact the greater part of what the Christian faith is, has all along, been missing.

So Abba Lot  visits Abba Joseph and asks him, for us: “What else can I do?”  Abba Joseph’s answer, complete with visual aid, is that if we want the fulness of God, God has to have the fulness of us. If we want this somethinig more, we must come to that place where God consumes us in our waking, sleeping, thinking, praying and living. Sure he wants our head and our intellects, but that is only a part of the total.

I too want to become fire. I don’t want to play at being a Christian, I want to be one. I don’t want to live out of my intellect, I want to live out of my heart as well. I don’t want luke warm, I want hot. I don’t want just a snippet of God, I want as much as I can bear. I don’t just want the bush, I want the fire.

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Church Services – For believers or unbelievers – Part 2?

Posted in Uncategorized on March 24, 2009 by cockett1

Continuing on from the last blog we turn now to the New Testament and the Orthodox Study Bible has more surprises. In the article “Liturgy in the New Testament Church” it states:

“The key to comprehending liturgy in the New Testament is to understand the work of the High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ, who inaugurates the new covenant. Christ is “a priest forever” (Hebrews 7:17, 21). It is unthinkable that He would be a priest but not serve liturgically:  “forever” suggests  He serves continually without ceasing, in the heavenly tabernacle. Further, he is called not only a priest but a liturgist: “a Minister [Greek. leitourgos, lit., “liturgist”] of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected (Hebrews 8:2). Christian worship on earth, to be fully Christian, must mirror the worship of Christ in heaven.”

These terms are not used without thought about what they are intended to relate to. Words have meanings and the words ‘priest’ and ‘liturgist’ clearly refer to liturgical functions. Why use them unless they mirrrored what was happening in worship here on earth and there was a continuity of understanding in the New Testament which was reflected in existing practice?

The article continues:

“Moreover, Christ is “Mediator of a better covenant” (Hebrews 8:6). What is that covenant? In the words of the Lord, “This cup of the new covenant in My blood” (1 Corinthians 11:25). Just as the blood of bulls and goats in the old covenant prefigured Christ’s sacrifice to come, so the eucharistic feast brings to us the fullness of His new covenant offering, completed at the Cross and fulfilled in His Resurrection. This once-for-all offering of Himself (Hebrews 7:27) which he as High Priest presents at the heavenly altar is an offering in which we participate through the Divine Liturgy in the Church. This is the worship of the New Testament Church.”

New Covenant does not mean that the Old is old and obsolete in terms of its liturgical practice because at the heart of both is sacrifice. In the Old Testament – bulls, goats etc – in the New – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The article then deals with other texts which, given the Hebrews texts take on new meaning. Here are a few:

1. Acts 13:2: “As they ministered to the Lord [lit’, “as they were in the liturgy of the Lord”] and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul.'” We learn that (a) these two apostles were called by God during worship, and (b) the Holy SPirit speaks in a liturgical setting.” (A shock to Pentecostals perhaps).
2. Acts 20:2: “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them,”  Communion was held each Sunday.
3. Romans 16:16: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” A kiss of greeting was common in this ancient culture. The “holy kiss”, however, was an element of the Christian liturgy that signified the people of God were reconciled to one another, so that they might receive the Body and Blood of Christ in peace.
4. Ephesians 5:14: “Awake, you who sleep, /Arise from the dead, / And Christ will give you light.” This is an ancient baptismal hymn, already in use by the time Ephesians was written. Other examples of creeds and hymns of the New Testament times are seen in 1 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Timothy 2:11-13.
5. Hebrews 13:10: “We have an altar” reveals the continuation of the altar in New Testament worship.
6. Revelation 1:10: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” Many scholars believe John saw his vision of Christ during the Sunday Liturgy, as the Lord appeared to him “in the midst of the seven lampstands” (Rev 1:13). Lampstands would be found in the Christian sanctuary just as they were in the Hebrew temple.

The point being made then is that the worship of the New Testament church was unashamedly liturgical, and complete with a priesthood (re-named presbyterate)  and overseen by Bishops and accompanied by deacons. But the question is, who was it all aimed at? For the answer to this see the next blog.

Church Services – For believers or unbelievers – Part 1?

Posted in Uncategorized on March 24, 2009 by cockett1

One of the questions that is excercising the church at the moment – whether it is aware of it or not – is the question articulated above. Are the services of the Church, our regular Sunday worship,  primarily for those who are seeking, or those who have found, faith? It is an important question because on the answer depends what sort of Church we are building and what sort of services we hold.

Before trying to answer that question I want to look at the recently published Orthodox Study Bible and some of the  interesting insights it gives into what was going on in Bible times, first in the Old Testament and then in the New. Starting with the Old Testament here are some of the things it has to say with my thoughts added:

Liturgy and the acoutrements that accompany Old Testament worship are laid out in some detail in the book of Exodus especially chapters 20 through 30. Here are instructions concerning the keeping of the Sabbath (Chapter 23:10-13), the annual feasts (Exodus 23:14-19), and the various offerings and furnishings in the sanctuary (Exodus 25:1-40). Following this chapters 26-30 deal with the design of the tabernacle, the altar, and the outer court, the priest’s vestments and their consecration, and instructions for daily offerings.

Why such detail and why such great lengths to ensure that everything is done ‘just so’ and in no other way?

One reason may be that up until this point in history the people of Israel were not a unified group of people, They were not yet a ‘nation’ centred on the worship of the one true God. By giving them not only an outline of worship but a priesthood with a clearly defined worshipping year and sacrifices. God was forming them into a nation, a cohesive whole with a clear set of principles to guide them, moral principles and laws – the Ten Commandments etc – and a worship pattern and shape that helped underpin and reinforce those laws.

Another reason was that God wanted them to not only look forward but first to look up. If He was to be their God and their leader, the One who rescued, called and commissioned them to be part of His saving work, then one thing had to be made clear. Their eyes must constantly and continually be fixed on Him. The success of the mission depended on it. Their very survival and their lives depended on it. WIthout it keeping the Land let alone conquering it, would be impossible.

Thirdly, worship is a kind of preparation for heaven. Man has been made as a worshipping creature. It is one of the things that distinguishes him (and her) from the animals. If our reason d’etre is found in worship then that has to be a key focus of our lives. It has to be at the very centre of all that we do. And because it is so very, very easy to fall into idiolatry, then detail is important. How we worship and in what manner we worship is of ultimate and utmost importance. Nothing can be left to chance.

Fourthly, we need a model for worship. We can’t make it up as we go along because we will build it around us. We will too quickly substitute ourselves for God and make ourselves, and what we want, the focus of what we do when we meet together for worship. That is why, I believe, the Ten Commandments begin with a reminder of what God has done and then tells us that “You shall have no other gods but me.” (Exodus 20:2-3) Sin is the tendency to put ourselves at the centre. Holiness is the striving, with grace and through right worship, to put God at the centre. There will always be that wrestling at the heart of man. I see it in myself, I see it in society, I see it everywhere. God knows us better than we know ourselves and so gave specific instructions on the ‘how’ of worship to help negate that. It is one of His chief instruments to change and sanctify us.

Fifthly, our earthly worship is meant to reflect the heavenly one. I cannot help but think here of two things. First, the Lord’s prayer in which Jesus asks us to pray that God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) What is God’s will and what does it look like? I mean how can we pray for God’s will unless we can identify it when we see it? Only when we see it can we be encouraged that our prayers are getting somewhere. In Exodus God’s will is made visible in the instructions He gives to the people of God. It is His will that worship should look like the way He has articulated it. In that way His will is expressed physically but also spiritually in that the actions performed can provide the springboard for true worship of the true God. Does that make sense? And second, it is difficult not to think of those passages from Hebrews which tell us that God instructed Moses to make the earthly place of worship as a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5 and Exodus 25:40)

And lastly, the shape and character of Old Testament worship was a preparation for worship in the New. It prefigured Christ and it prefigured Christian worship. God gave a pattern that served the people of God for the centuries following God’s gifting of it to the fledgling nation of Israel. It was not to be the subject to change or manipulation. When Christ came, then, like the seamless robe, New Testament worship followed on with its robes, altars, sacrifice (then One sacrifice, Once made) and liturgical structure. That is why the New Testament does not feel it necessary to give us too much detail about how the early Christians worshipped, although subsequent documents – the Didache and Justin Martyr’s writings – tell us more of what was going on.

So from this brief look at Exodus there is a lot to think about and lots of thoughts and further questions. Like:
1. What relation, if any, is there between the Old Testament pattern and New Testament worship?
2. Does Old Testament worship help us in any way when we look at how we worship today?
3. How prescriptive and detailed should our worship be and does it matter?
4. If the tabernacle and then the Temple with its liturgical structure is meant to be a pattern of heaven, have we any right to alter it or try and ‘improve’ it in any way.
5. What are the dangers if we do?

One thing we must avoid is to dismiss the Old Testament as old hat and superceded in EVERY way by the New. We are not Marcionites. We must also remember that the Old Testament were the scriptures of the Church, the books Jesus referred to and lived by and “not one jot or tittle will by no means pass away” till all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)

I can’t promise any answers to these questions but I believe they have an important bearing on the Church and where it is headed today. In deciding to go down the route of an almost endless variety of services, has the Anglican Church cut itself even further off from the Church God intended it to be? How far have we gone down the road to making our worship man-centred rather than God centred? What are the consequences? Thoughts anyone?

Just wondering

Posted in Uncategorized on March 14, 2009 by cockett1

This is just an ‘I wonder’ blog, a thinking out loud. I have heard and read a lot about conversions to Eastern Orthodoxy over the past two years. The stories are both fascinating and intriguing. What attracts people from all church background – Methodist, evangelical, baptist, brethren and non-denominational – to search for that something more that they can’t find in their own church?  The answers usually revolve around two centres. The first concerns the lack of depth and reverence in worship. Although the seekers value the emphasis on evangelism in their own particular denominations and the knowledge of the Bible, they bemoan the lack of reverence and an element of mystery. They also express concern at the leaning towards ‘entertainment’ as a means of attracting outsiders.

The second regards theology or more accurately ecclesiology. Having read particular biased versions of the Bible over the years and a history which dates back to the Reformation and then jumps back to the first century, the seekers are amazed to discover (or rediscover) that there was a ministerial structure of priests (or presbyters) deacons and bishops from the very beginning. Also, that tradition is not all bad or negative but was actually responsible for keeping the Word of God alive until the Church authorized the key texts that today make up the New Testament. This elevation of the Church over the Bible (yet answerable to it) comes s a huge shock to everyone and gives an authenticity to the Orthodox Church that was previously overlooked or unnoticed.

However, given all this, it is noticeable that those converting come from a church background not a secular one. They don’t come from nowhere but somewhere. Is it because the Orthodox Church can take Christians deeper but has no appeal to those who are seeking for understanding or faith? Is this where it falls down and fails? Is this why so many are converting from existing churches which are good at communicating the faith to non-believers but not to those who won’t go near church in the first place? Just thinking and wondering.