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Monthly Archives: July 2018

Ancient Paths: A Diversion to the Jordan

In our look at the “ancient paths” of the people of God, I continue to be struck by the way God has always used very physical means by which to manifest Himself to the world. This modus operandi of God stands in sharp contrast to our modern, “enlightened” expectations of how we think God is obliged to act.

In what we historically call the Modern world — the era spawned out of the European Renaissance, fanned into flame by Humanism, metastasizing into what we call the Enlightenment, and bearing the fruit of the scientific revolution — we have become enamored with that which we can measure. Through measurable experimentation we thhave come to “conclude” that things happen according to what we call “natural laws”. This consistency — this sameness that we find in the created order, we chalk up to being “natural”, and therefore no longer in need of divine impetus or explanation. “If God is going to reveal Himself”, we now say, “it has to be through some sort of super-natural expression.” A burning in the bosom. A miracle. A still, small voice. Still, by modern definitions, none of these things can be counted on as genuine “truth”, because they are immeasurable. Spiritual experience is, by modern definition, doubtful.

All this stand in stark contrast to the Biblical testimony of the Apostle Paul, who says in Romans 1:20 , “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” But, because we can measure things, we have become blind to the revelation of God as God, choosing instead to give the glory for created order to Mother Nature, a big bang, or (dare I say) a super-natural capacity for creation to rise above its clearly measurable bent toward entropy and atrophy to evolve through heredity and selection.

Okay, back to the River Jordan. I’ve been spell-bound (now there’s a supernatural term for you!) by the stuff-ness of the first chapters of the book of Joshua. Here, we have an estimated two million people who are about to enter the pro800-Joshua-03-Ark-Rivermised land near Jericho. Manna is falling daily from the sky. The Ark of the Covenant is in tow. A red piece of cloth is signaling salvation for Rahab and her family. The waters of the flooded Jordan are brought to a standstill when the feet of the Ark-carriers hit the water. God is commanding that stones be gathered and stacked as lasting remembrances. A mass circumcision is performed at God’s urging. Passover is celebrated, including the eating of the prescribed unleavened bread. There is the very real, physical encounter between Joshua and “the commander of the Lord’s army”, where Joshua is told to remove his sandals, because the ground is holy. Then, when it’s time to take Jericho, God specifically calls for marching, the Ark, seven priests, seven ram’s horn trumpets (with a specific prolonged blast), and a prescribed shout.

The (by now obvious) point I’m making is this: For Joshua and the Israelites, their ongoing relationship with God was wildly physical. Inescapably tangible. Any notion that one’s spiritual life was relegated to internal feelings or convictions is completely jerichofallabsent from these descriptions. Rather, God unfolds His covenant with His people in ways that “all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD’s hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the LORD your God” (Josh. 4:24). Through these tangible means, God says, “Today I have rolled away the disgrace of Egypt from you” (Josh 5:9). They all knew that they were now “crossing the plains of Jericho in the LORD’s presence” (Josh. 4:13). God, present, forgiving, proclaiming … through stuff.

Most of us would count scientific progress a great blessing. But the undergirding values of our age which have allowed for great advance have profoundly victimized our faith. They have served to emasculate God in the hearts and minds of the “enlightened”. We now find ourselves the product of a worldview that severs the natural from the divine, honors the former while doubting (and then ignoring) the latter, and is hopelessly preoccupied by our own measuring. With no vision for how the creator makes Himself known to the people of His creation through the stuff of His creation … we have become, not enlightened, but blind. We have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, worshiping and serving what has been created instead of the Creator” (Rom. 1:25).

the-baptism-of-jesus_WCA8889-1800This is also why we have such a hard time embracing the Ancient Paths of the sacraments. Our modern minds can’t calculate how God could have covenanted with His people through stuff — the water of baptism, the bread and wine of the Eucharist, the Church as His body. Imagine the proto-gnostic of Joshua’s day, saying God isn’t really manifesting himself in physical ways, because “it’s the thought that counts.” That person would stand condemned. Meanwhile, today, especially in Evangelical circles, we reduce our spirituality to mental ascent and inner conviction. In our quest to not worship creation, we have exiled creation from our spiritual lives, and have lost His means for manifesting Himself to us — and to the world.

The recovery of the Ancient Paths of the sacraments is so much more than a stray piece of adiaphora. It is human obedience at its core. It is our collective return to all that God is and does. It is fullness of life in the Promised Land.

– EO

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Ancient Paths: Means That Justify the Ends

Ancient Paths: Means That Justify the Ends
 As we “Ask For the Ancient Paths”, we will soon be speaking about the sacraments of the Christian Church.
It is my conviction that, for the past 500+ years of Early Modern history, the world has run roughshod over the means by which man is to engage with God. Many say, “One doesn’t have to be baptized, take communion, go to church or receive absolution in order to be a right Christian. The ends (being right with God) are independent of the means (the God-prescribed ways of communion with Himself).”
Yet, the scriptures are deathly serious about the means. Whether the ark of Noah, the circumcision of the Israelites, the bronze serpent in the wilderness, the animal sacrifices of the Mosaic Law, attendance at festivals, the prescriptions for both tabernacle and temple worship … God is abundantly concerned with the appropriate means. For God, the prescribed means cannot and will not be circumvented in the name of an alternative path to the desired ends.
So, I intend to turn the phrase: We want to see ourselves in appropriate relationship with our God. And the God-given means are non-negotiable for us to get there. The means DO justify the ends.
In a political sense, I would add this: For those who believe in the principles of democracy, it is not okay to get to desired conclusions through inappropriate means (e.g., good policies via the benevolent dictator). One cannot enjoy good “ends” if the “means” have been inappropriate. For those championing a political system, the means are pivotal to the justification of the ends.
But back to the church. God has always been one to give us means. Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, even the Syrian king Naaman … they were called not only to champion certain convictions and beliefs, but were given strict orders for carrying out their calls — means. This remained true with Jesus in the New Testament: His charge to the 70, his administration of at the Wedding in Cana and the feedings of the 4,000 and 5,000, His institution of the Lord’s Supper, and His great commission, where he charged us with means – to go, to make disciples, to baptize, to teach.
God has chosen to justify us through means. The ends don’t justify these prescribed means. They are justified because they are God’s dictates and they must be adhered to for us to have justified ends.
The means justify the ends.
More on this soon – especially how the rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are non-negotiable means for the experience of our justification before God! …
– E.O.
 

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Ancient Paths: The Lord’s Prayer

Ancient Paths: The Lord’s Prayer

I attend a church now that recites the Lord’s Prayer as part of every Sunday service. It also encourages its recitation in home devotions, both morning and evening.

That’s quite a leap from becoming a Christian in a church tradition that never recited this prayer. In fact, that tradition never recited anything. We didn’t even have scripture readings. Everything was spontaneous, except for the more-prepared portions of the sermon.

This practice was a bi-product of a strong bias … that written and recited acts of worship aren’t “sincere”. Or “authentic”. Or “genuine”. Only the spontaneous can be “real”. Everything else, because it has taken a preconceived form, if form-al. Because it can be said by rote, one can never know if there’s heart behind the recitation.

offering prayerInteresting. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus did not say, “Just talk to God like He’s your best friend.” He did not say, “Pray whatever is on your heart, as long as it’s what your really feel” (as though your feelings is the barometer of whether or not your prayer is appropriate!). He did not say, “Pray over these types of topics.” He never said anything like these well-worn approaches to prayer we find in our shallow, contemporary spiritualities.

He said, “Pray thus.” Then He said words. As Christians, we usually are very cautious about mincing the words of Jesus. But not when it comes to the Lord’s Prayer. We not only can find it dispensable … we often consider these words boring and inadequate.

The ancient church did not make this mistake. They recited the Lord’s Prayer. This was central to the liturgy for 1,500 years, and remains central in the expressions of classical Christian traditions today. But, from the outset of Early Modern thinking, the Lord’s Prayer has been trivialized by huge swaths of Christian practitioners. I don’t think what has replaced its use has been anything like an improvement.

A few principles to consider when it comes to written prayers in general, and the Lord’s Prayer in particular:

  1. We should be careful with our words before God. Spontaneous worship acts can get us into big trouble — just ask Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-2). A concise presentation of well-chosen words is to be preferred — just ask King Solomon (Eccl. 5:2) and Jesus (Matt. 6:7-8).
  2. Only pre-written prayers can be prayed in multiple locations at once. In our service book, we have what are called “collects”, from the Latin word collectia, which means “gather people together”. These prayers not only gather the thoughts of everyone within earshot in the service, but also with churches all over the globe. How else could we pray together with our brethren in the global south if we didn’t have written prayers?
  3. The Lord’s Prayer is the Word. Your prayers are not. Recitation of the Lord’s Prayer secures our trust, and demands our reverence. Spontaneous prayers can be a crapshoot.
  4. whiningSpontaneity is a shallow well. Do you really want your congregation’s dialogue with God to be limited to the off-the-cuff thoughts of your leaders? Isn’t it to our advantage to led in prayer by mature, thoughtful saints, from both the past and present? If you’re going to have spontaneous prayer, it had better be done by people with deep doctrinal equipping who know what they should be praying and how.
  5. Spontaneity is no more “genuine” than thoughtfully selected written phrases. For years I have endured “spontaneous” prayers in church that are nothing but the same drivel that has been prayed a thousand times before. Often it’s an auto-pilot prayer which has as it’s only priority providing enough time in the service for the band to get off the platform.
  6. Spontaneous praying makes it hard for people to pray. Do you ever bow your head, and wonder what you should say? Especially when you’re asked to pray out loud, in a group? Written prayers free up those who aren’t so glib to enter into solid seasons of prayer without the pressure of coming up with good stuff. This may be a key reason why there isn’t much actual prayer in most contemporary church services.

My prayer for all of us is that we would be liberated from the cul-de-sac of our limited minds, and be freed to embrace the rich tradition of our church’s prayer life that is stored for us through literature. Jesus’ prayer is indispensable. So are the Psalms. May the Word, and those God has given to us to be its pastors and teachers, give thoughtful shape to our ongoing conversation with God.

– E.O.

 

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