“Don’t mess with my church!” “I prefer the old hymns over the new empty praise choruses!” They’re going to replace our holy pews with WHAT?? THEATRE SEATS?? What are we a theatre or a church?” “I think our pews should be curved rather than straight so that there is better eye contact and fellowship.” “Well, OUR pastor wants a ‘runway’ down the middle of the sanctuary so that he can get up and personal with the congregation. What are we? The Oprah Show?” “I think we need three projection screens up front so that everyone can see our pastor when he preaches.” “Oh, I thought it was because you wanted to see his neat blow dry look or ogle at his waxed spiked hair.” “I hate the drums and guitars, bring back the holy sounds of the pipe organ and let’s sing those hymns.”
Sounds kinda silly doesn’t it when you see it in print? But these are real statements I’ve heard from around the country and even in my own church. We are at war folks. Worship Wars. The face of evangelical Protestantism is changing and we are constantly warring at each other over what is right and wrong in worship and what our churches should look like. We have grand cathedrals, glass palaces, traditional (whatever that means) church buildings, (remember the old “A” frames), warehouse box churches all the way down to the simple home church.
We’ve mucked up the meaning of church so badly that there seems to be no consensus on just what a church is or should look like. We argue over peripherals and ignore the majors. In my first post I referred to our consumer culture that has fueled the “box” stores. I think we are doing the same to our churches.
But for perspective I want to blow some dust off the history books because I believe there is something we are missing. My contention is that wherever we meet, be it a church building or in a home, congregational worship our house fellowships, there are some basic fundamental things that should be reflected in our worship and meeting places. Core truths that even the buildings should reflect. So to discover what this is I want to go all the way back into the Old Testament. All the way to the book of Leviticus.
Yes, Leviticus, that book that most of us skim over because our eyes glaze over when we read it. Laws, laws and more laws. It’s the book you read when you need to take a nap or have trouble sleeping. It can put you to sleep in moments. Or so I used to think. It was Ray Stedman who gave me an insight into the book of Leviticus with his great sermon series on Leviticus he gave many years ago at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto California. The sermon series eventually was compiled into the book. But I loved the sermons better than the book and still have them in a binder. The sermon series is still available online. Read them and enjoy them. He brought Leviticus to life for me.
In Leviticus, Chapters 1 through 7, we find a list of several types of sacrifices. Over looking all the variations of sacrifices, you come up with major categories of sacrifice. There are Burnt Offerings, Cereal Offerings, Peace Offerings, Sin Offerings, and Guilt Offerings. Each serving a distinct purpose. I won’t go into detail as to what all these sacrifices mean. You can do that on your own. But I want to focus on one.
The Peace Offering is the one I want to focus on for a moment and one part of it in particular. Read Leviticus 7:12-15. This is an important subset of the Peace Offering and has traditionally been called in the Jewish tradition, the Todah Sacrifice.
Todah, means Thanksgiving and was strongly associated with praise. In Jewish worship it was always accompanied by song. In this case, a Psalm. The sacrifice was usually made by a person or celebrated in the Jewish worship after a deliverance of some kind. The celebrants would present the sacrifice and then sing a grand Psalm of praise to express to God their gratitude to him for their deliverance.
The Psalm was usually structured in two halves. The first half was a lament, a deep expression of grief, over an impending an death or tragedy. Something we all face on occasion. The second half of would be an expression of praise over the deliverance from death or tragedy, for which praise to God is given.
Are you still with me? Hang in there and don’t go to sleep on me.
An example of this sacrifice can be seen in the life of King Hezekiah in Isaiah 38. There, Hezekiah falls deathly ill right in the middle of the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem. Hezekiah cries to the Lord for Deliverance. Isaiah the prophet comes with a promise of deliverance from both his illness as well as from the Assyrians. In response, Hezekiah composed a Todah Psalm to be offered in the Todah Peace offering in the temple. In the Psalm you see the lament followed by praise for deliverance. It’s magnificent.
But perhaps the most famous Todah Psalm is Ps. 22. We usually miss this because we are focused on the familiar 23rd Psalm. But Psalm 22 is a Psalm no Jew would ever forget. It was regularly sung in the Temple and was memorized by anyone familiar with Temple Worship.
It begins with a lament, “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” It’s the classic words we remember that Christ said on the Cross. We cannot pass up the significance of this Psalm. Here the Psalmist laments the tragedy occurring and eminent death. Looking back 2000 years we see immediately this is a Messianic Psalm. But many of us New Testament believers miss what Christ was actually doing on the Cross.
Jesus was a Jew. No Jew would miss his reference. He was quoting this Todah Psalm. He was undoubtedly too weak to say the whole Psalm but a Jew would pick up on it. For being a Todah Psalm Christ was singing, yes, death and abandonment were present but deliverance is imminent. The second half of the Psalm is all about deliverance and a prophetic word of salvation. What a powerful statement.
Now what does this have to do with church services, pews, hymns etc?
I’ll get to that. Be patient. I have a long journey here. Stick with me and when I’m done you will be rejoicing with me, I think. Church will no longer be the same for you.