Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Vain repetitions

"But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking." - Matthew 6:7 KJV
It has come to my attention that this is an all too common attack on the Liturgical churches of the Orthodox, Catholic, and high church Protestants by low church protestants. The liturgy, it is often argued, is a set of vain and empty phrases which do nothing to penetrate the heart. The idea being that this is not true worship, but rather, it falls into our Lords statement to the Pharisees:
     And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 
      “‘This people honors me with their lips,but their heart is far from me;
        7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’Mark 7:6-7(Esv)

An example of this might be the refrains of "Lord have mercy" or the Confession and Absolution in Lutheran Churches or the Jesus prayer in the Orthodox churches. Because, many have come to the conviction that prayer must be active, spontaneous, and emotion driven or else it is not sincere. There is, sadly, a cult of emotionalism in many, not all, evangelical circles. It is true that many can get swept up in the monotony of acting out traditions. It is also true that the emotional highs of many pop evangelical churches can elicit the same empty recitation of lines and phrases week in and week out. Daily or weekly Bible studies, going to church and worship all have the danger of becoming empty habits. However, this can not and must not stop us from doing those things. Rather, it should cause us to fall before the feet of Christ in humble repentance saying "Help my hardness of heart Oh dearest Lord.".

One of the first things I think is prudent to address is that realistically praise songs are prayers set to music. Which is what has left me baffled by the Pharisee like claims of vain repetition in liturgies because so many of today's contemporary worship songs lack depth and are replete with repetition resulting in repeated prayers that lack full worship for some. I am left perplexed as to why "Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes yes Lord Amen." or a set of "Our God will never leave us" ad infinitum is outside the scope of vain recitation.

At the moment I do not wish to insist that the liturgy is deeper and far more significant than contemporary worship. Rather, I desire that this article be a catalyst for thought and dialogue among people from various traditions. Especially since the context of the Matthew 6 verse is about saying the same thing over and over again thinking that one is more likely to be heard. So, it is the reasoning that says "IF I pray three times a day every day in long and elaborate words then God will care about my problem." Jesus is saying NO! God hears you every time you pray trust him do not think you need to heap up words for your prayer to be heard like it is a magic incantation. 
In fact, it is right after the statement from Matthew 6:7 that Our Lord teaches his disciples how to pray and provides them with the Lord's prayer. My point being that the liturgy is not inherently vain repetition I experience a liturgical service nearly everyday and each time I am amazed by the scripture, and depth of the hymns and praise Our Lord all the more. So, if there is one major take away, I desire you get from this it is be careful to avoid being the Pharisee who claims to read hearts and be better than others. Because in that parable, it is the repentant tax collector who walks away justified before God.
(see Luke 18:9-14)

And may the peace of Christ be with you always.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Assembly line evangelism

"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:14-15 NIV)

With these words in mind and mulling over them, I must reflect on what the above passage, practically speaking, means. After all, I am sure many have been through the youth camp or the Sunday service where the pastor or speaker as the case may be "challenged" the congregation to "go out and invite a person to church."The implication being something like, you invite your friend; your friend hears the band which excites your friend, then pastor so and so hits home a sermon which convicts your friend, and God seals the deal. This may be one experience or a series of experiences that ultimately end in your friend "Saying the sinner's prayer" and thus, being "saved."
While, I am not here to discourage anyone from inviting their friend to church I am, however, questioning if this is anything like what Scripture is addressing. Is evangelism simply "inviting your friend to church" and using emotion to get them to pray the magic incantation which, by the way, is nowhere in the bible minus a loose reading of Romans 10:9. Instead isn't Jesus' call something more than this. Can evangelism and discipleship ever be separated? I think our Lord clearly makes evangelism something far more profound and deep and which, properly speaking; is intimately tied with Discipleship which is defined in the great commission:

 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20)
So, if we are going to be "Evangelical" we must go and make the good news known, sure we can and should be connected to the church in this. However, if we are going to do this properly, we must recognize it requires Baptism and teaching. We must not separate the two because in evangelism we must disciple them. We have only begun the process when we tell them about Christ and his finished work.

Our calling is not found in telling someone "Jesus died for you" and stopping there we have failed. It is in discipleship so that they may be able to fulfill Scriptures call for us: "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,". When we disciple people well we produce Christians who can also go and make disciples of all nations.
If, however, we have caught them in shallow emotional zeal and keep them in simplistic church programs so that they can not grow and do not know the fullness of God's word and the "new obedience" we are called to we have made mass produced cheap products and have built our foundation on straw.

"13each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." (1 Cor 3:13-15) 
Therefore, let our churches study the scripture, teach the fullness of scripture and go and make disciples not just "converts" of all nations. If we want people to come and stay, we must not fall for and preach a commercialized entertainment gospel. In fact, this is how the early church grew rapidly in spite of the persecution the faced. The church, at that time, was not softening the gospel. Rather, they taught people for months, if not years, about the faith under pastoral care with the help of the body of believers who bore witness to the new faith. If we want our faith to survive, I think we could stand to look to the Scriptures and the early church and how they took Jesus' call to make disciples.

May the peace of Christ be with you.