Saturday, August 29, 2009

Box Store Religion?? Part IV

So what's all this about the Bible? Aren't you Bible thumpers nothing but a bunch of Fundamentalist radicals who want to take over America and kill anyone who disagrees with you? Well, maybe that's a bit harsh. Most people will probably say, Huh...Bible something or others, get out of my way. I have better things to do.
Well, maybe you do. I'm not going to try and stop you. It's not in my power. But, you may want to think twice. If you ignore the Bible you commit intellectual suicide. You knowingly put yourself under your own rule of law which may make you wince when you discover the payoff for following your own dreams.

O.K. O.K...I'm showing my intolerance. No, just reality. But that is up for argument too. But, what if the Bible is right? If so, does it having anything to say to us and to the subject we've been talking about in this wordy blog?
Let's go back to the historical section of our study. Let's follow this new church as it grows.

We don't have much in writing to give us much to go on in the first 100 years of the church. But we have enough to establish a pattern. We know that there was no New Testament as we know it in the early church. I don't even think writing a book was on the minds of the apostles in those first few years. Paul the apostle is the first of the writers that wrote a letter to the Thessalonians which many now believe was the first of the New Testament books.

But the early believers were primarily Jews. They continued to worship in the temple and synagogues, even after the resurrection and day of Pentecost. It was a Jewish world with Jewish understanding and Jewish scriptures. The Jewish Christians went to the synagogues and temple for worship. They sang and taught the scriptures for the day. It was a tradition not unlike some of the liturgy of the Catholic church today. There was the reading of the assigned scripture for the day, the singing of the Psalm(s) for the day and the various periods of the day when prayers were said. The early Christians continued with that practice from what we can tell.

But what about following Christ's command celebrate the Thanksgiving meal? That couldn't be done in the synagogues, so the next best thing was on the first day of the week, remembering the day of resurrection. Remember, they were not on our calendar. They used the Roman calendar which was a lunar calendar. The next day or first day began at Sundown the night before. Again, you see this in many liturgical churches today that celebrate Sunday Vespers on Saturday night. It is a Sunday service celebrated on Saturday night. Only for the Jews, it was the beginning of the first day of the week and after the Sabbath day.

Read Acts 20:7 for an example of this. It is the first day of the week, but it is really Saturday night. Which gives a little better understanding of why Eutychus fell asleep while Paul droned on. After a Sabbath in the synagogue, a nice Thanksgiving meal, (celebration of the Lord's supper) and having a full tummy and Paul, who by his own words was not eloquent, Eutychus fell asleep and lit on his head.

But note what was happening. Paul was teaching the scriptures. For a few years after the ascension of Jesus, the early church met in the synagogue on the Sabbath and then right after that met for the thanksgiving meal, the Todah, the meal of praise, on the first day of the week. We don't know for certain when or why the church split the meal and the celebration of the cup of thanksgiving, but we can make a good guess. After much turmoil between the Jewish leaders and the early Christians, the early church began to meet on homes.

They met, not because this was the pattern for true church. Many teach that today out of ignorance of the facts. The early Christians were driven out of the synagogues and persecuted. First by the Jewish leaders, and then later the Roman armies. But they grew. They met in homes and what did they practice. They practiced what they knew. They read the law and prophets, sang the Psalms, taught the scriptures in light of the revelation of Jesus the Christ and then followed the command of Christ in celebrating the communion.

At first communion and thanksgiving meal was combined. When it was separated, we don't know. It was probably done over a long period of time and probably done to avoid what occurred in Acts when the the Hellenists complained the needs of the orphans and widows were being ignored. So to avoid abuse, many believe the communion was moved to the early morning of the next day. Plus due to persecution, it had to be separated.

When the Christians became a threat to the empire as it spread to the Gentiles, the communion was considered to be repulsive as well as a violation of Caesar worship. Let's look at the communion for a moment. Acts 2.42 tells us the apostles continued the liturgy of the word and the breaking of bread. These are the main ingredients of the worship of the church. First, the reading and teaching of the word and the breaking of the bread, the communion. Many today call this the "Mass."

The Mass is a Latin term that came many, many years later and is part of a phrase which says "Ite, missa, est" and is translated, Go, it is ended." The whole idea is that now you've received the word and the breaking of bread, now go forth and share that expression of love to others. It is a missions statement. It means after the mass has ended, now the ministry of everyone begins. But that is a Latin term that came many years later in the development of the church. What was known as "the Lord's Supper" was known by several names. The earliest term was merely, "The breaking of Bread." Other terms used were "the offering," "the oblation", and "the sacrifice." Don't get too upset by "the oblation and sacrifice." Remember, this came out of the Jewish understanding of Todah. It was the one and only perpetual sacrifice which has permanent effects for all time.
It is not, I repeat, not a new sacrifice as many claim the Catholics observe. It is the one sacrifice permanent and represent in the act of remembrance.

So where does that leave us? You have a church, steeped in the liturgy of the Old Testament and singing the Psalms and as Paul says, Psalms, hymns and Spiritual songs. Hmmm, there's room for some of those ditties in worship??? Anyway, There's the format. The liturgy of the word and the Lord's supper or altar or chalice.
Circumstances changed the church as it grew. Someone has estimated it grew by 40 percent each decade. As the wealthy were converted, the turned their larger homes into places of meeting. And so larger groups met. The practice of the meal gradually fell away and the communion remained. Through persecution, ups and downs, many things changed.

Where ever the new Christians met, they taught, read and sang the scriptures and had communion. When persecution arose time and time again they were driven underground and into the desert. These became the training centers of worship. What came out of those isolated places was the same thing that went in. As the letters of the apostles were copied and distributed they became a part of the worship of the church. I could go into the development of the pastors, Bishops etc, but that is for another time.

The church became a place of worship and teaching. Since so few could read, the church developed icons, pictures, statues to teach the scriptures. Especially after Constantine and the great cathedrals began to be built, the church became a literal flannel graph of teaching. You could walk into many of these early churches and get a gist of the Bible simply by looking at all the murals, tapestries and statues. It was the You Tube of the middle ages. It was the best way the church had to teach the Bible until more could read.

Sure there were abuses and abuses continue. But one thing has remain the same. The liturgy and the communion. In the Catholic churches and other liturgical unions, it's call the liturgy word and the sacrament of the mass. As the reformation grew things began to change. The preaching of the word took center stage. But what most Protestants don't know is that the early reformers held to the actual "presence" of Christ in the Eucharist. (By the way, the Eucharist means Thanksgiving and is taken directly from the meaning of the Todah sacrifice) I urge you to read Dr. Timothy George and his article on the Baptist View of the Lord's Supper on the Internet Monk webpage. It is a blockbuster article. Dr. George is the founder Dean of the Beeson Divinity School. In that article he literally cries out for us evangelicals to restore the communion to preeminence in the worship of our churches.

Well, I'm almost finished. I think the Worship Wars would come to an end if we put put the liturgy of the word and sacrifice (communion) back front and center. While we can't minimize the fellowship of the body in love, neither can we hide and minimize the reason we love. Some may say, oh, that's been tried and it has the danger of becoming a meaningless ritual. I want to say, "and your point?" What is more meaningless than coming as a consumer to a house of religious entertainment just to get my needs met. And if I don't I'll go to another religious grocery store.

Whether it becomes ritual or not depends on sound teaching, constant reminder, the continual presence of the Holy Spirit bringing life into the assembly and the ever contstant truth that teaches us "the mass has ended". Now go and love one another and your neighbor as Christ has loved you in today's worship.
You'll notice I'm not saying anything about styles of music or structure of the meeting place. What I am saying, restore the centrality of the liturgy and bring the communion back to the fore. Christ is present in the table of the Lord and we need to recognize that. Dr. George's article. And think.

God bless.

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