Inconsistency?

I find it curious that folks who are willing to assume the existence of Noah’s tools (never mentioned in scripture) – in order to illustrate their defense of a doctrine of expediency (also never mentioned in scripture) … that those same folks blanch at the idea that God might have indeed told Nadab and Abihu and Moses and all of Aaron’s sons that only the fire He had authorized could be used in worship to Him.

True, that instruction never appears as such in scripture. (Just like Noah’s tools.)

Yet it is quite possible that the two oldest sons were bringing their own fire was because they had disobeyed by letting the fire go out (Leviticus 6:9-13) which had come from the presence of the Lord a few verses before (Leviticus 9:24). So fire came out from the Lord again and consumed them (Leviticus 10:2). You have to wonder why else would they be bringing fire in their incense censers, if it had not gone out on the altar …?

I guess that assuming such a command missing from scripture would not be expedient to the argument about God’s silence being prohibitive. Because if God was not silent, but in fact did express a command forbidding fire that was not His … well, the whole argument of God’s silence being prohibitive would hit a major iceberg; that’s the main rationale for it.

That would also put a big, leaky crease in the hull of the theology which goes which that argument.

Which is that God is on the edge of His throne looking down on us for the slightest excuse to utterly destroy anyone who disobeys Him by doing something that He has not specifically authorized (especially in worship).

And that, sadly, reminds me of the way that the steward entrusted with one talent envisioned his master: solely wrathful, greedy and vengeful. He was afraid to do anything with the talent that he hadn’t been specifically authorized to do. So he did the no-risk, nothing-ventured-nothing-gained thing to do: he buried it (Matthew 25:14-30).

(Of course, if you think about it, he hadn’t been specifically authorized to bury it, either.)

Is that really the way that we should assume God operates?

Because the other servants took some risk, transacted some business, put themselves out their to honor their master’s house and to increase the esteem of others at its assets – and his wisdom in choosing and investing in stewards for it.

They were generously rewarded.

Shouldn’t we put ourselves out there when we’re transacting gospel business for the chance at gaining the maximum return on investment? Shouldn’t it be that way every day of the week we’re in business, instead of just one day (which is all it takes to bury something)?

Let’s face it, we’re not specifically authorized to stand motionless singing in four-part harmony with books in our hands following only one song leader, either. So if we decide to start forbidding how hearts gifted by God want to worship Him, where do we draw the lines that scripture doesn’t?

At one day a week? At one day a week, plus maybe a Wednesday night? At one person speaking, rather than two or three? At one cup? At projected lyrics and/or music? At clapping? At a praise team leading? At accompanying instruments? Which instruments? At whatever I think is decent and orderly? At what my brother or sister thinks is decent and orderly? Do we draw the line at what does or doesn’t praise God, because we think we know Him so well through His silence?

Here’s the picture I have of God, and I get it straight out of scripture: someOne who wants us to express His praise, His wonder, His love and His power fully and with all our hearts (and encourage each other and be blessed by doing so!), whether we are gathered in worship, or worshiping by serving, or serving by sharing, or sharing by teaching. SomeOne who wants us to put ourselves out there – way out there! Take some risk. Transact some gospel. Not sell it. Live it. Share it. Give it away. Give it all. Don’t hold back.

Because that’s what He has done and does for us.

That’s what I find Jesus doing, and later, those who followed Him.

And if we picture our God before others as being miserly and stingy and secretive and vindictive, He will become the God we fear … but do not love and trust.

That’s not the provident God described by Peter:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” ~2 Peter 1:3

A loving God. A giving God. A God who is just, but merciful; righteous but forgiving.

A consistent God.

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Every Day or Sunday Only? Unauthorized Worship, Part 6

Tongues of Fire on PentecostI have nothing against worshiping God together on Sunday. Worship has been practiced among believers on Sunday since the early days of the church.

What I oppose is the notion that gathered worship can only take place on Sunday; that it is only “commanded” on Sunday; that it only has significance on Sunday.

Really? Where in scripture do we read that?

Oh, I’m fully aware that Acts 20:7 says, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.”

I’m also completely certain that 1 Corinthians 16:2 has the instruction: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.”

But to insert the word “only” at the beginning of each sentence and to bind the example of the first passage and the instruction of the second as a command for all believers for all time – I believe – is going beyond what the word of God says.

I’m also cognizant that as early as about AD 107, Christian writers were urging the observance of gathered worship on Sunday to especially commemorate the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1):

  • AD 107: ” … let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days of the week. (Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, chp 9. Ante-Nicene Fathers , vol. 1, pg. 62-63.)
  • AD 130: “Moreover God says to the Jews, ‘Your new moons and Sabbaths 1 cannot endure.’ You see how he says, ‘The present Sabbaths are not acceptable to me, but the Sabbath which I have made in which, when I have rested [heaven: Heb 4] from all things, I will make the beginning of the eighth day which is the beginning of another world.’ Wherefore we Christians keep the eighth day for joy, on which also Jesus arose from the dead and when he appeared ascended into heaven. (15:8f, The Epistle of Barnabas, 100 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers , vol. 1, pg. 147)
  • AD 150: “But Sunday is the day on which we hold our common assembly, because it is the first day of the week and Jesus our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.” (First apology of Justin, Ch 68)
  • AD 150AD: “And on the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a city or a rural district. … We all make our assembly in common on the day of the sun, since it is the first day, on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior arose from the dead on the same day. For they crucified him on the day before Saturn’s day, and on the day after (which is the day of the sun the appeared to his apostles and taught his disciples these things.” (Apology, 1, 67:1-3, 7; First Apology, 145 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers , Vol. 1, pg. 186)
  • AD 190AD: He does the commandment according to the Gospel and keeps the Lord’s day, whenever he puts away an evil mind . . . glorifying the Lord’s resurrection in himself.” (Clement of Alexandria, Vii.xii.76.4)

I think that’s great! And I even understand why morning would be a preferable time for that observance! But although there is a special reason to commemorate – even celebrate! – the resurrection … where is the word “only” which limits us to this one day?

For those who require scripture to “authorize” everything that a church does … where does the authorization come for gathering to worship on any other day of the week – say, for instance, Wednesday? (And if it ain’t authorized, then worship must be forbidden … right?)

The earliest believers in the first century had no scriptural authorization to meet on the first day of the week; what scripture commanded was to observe the Sabbath.

(I suppose the “authorization” for Sunday nights would be John 20:19, though that’s really stretching it!)

Well, I’ll tell you where everyday worship comes from, if it must indeed be “authorized” by scripture: Acts 2:42-47.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Did you notice all the things they did? They shared to the apostles’ teaching. They enjoyed fellowship. They broke bread (the term used in Acts 20:7). They prayed. They were awestruck. They shared. They took Jesus seriously at His encouragement for them to sell their possessions and give to the poor (Luke 12:33). They met at their place of worship, the temple courts (where women would not be excluded). They opened their homes and dined together. They praised God.

Is it any wonder that they also enjoyed the favor of all the people and that the Lord added to their number daily those that were being saved? (One would have to assume that, given the events recorded a few verses before, they were also baptizing people daily.)

They were doing all of the things we do in church – and so much more – and doing them daily. And if we try to fit all of the possible acts of worship (see Gonna Need More Fingers) into one day a week – rather than each day of our lives, as Paul recommends in Romans 12 – we’re gonna need more hours in the day!

We folks of the Restoration Movement have a kind of pride in the notion that, a couple of hundred years ago, some of our forebears in faith sought to restore the New Testament church to the glory that it had in the first century.

When you look at Acts 2, don’t you think they might not have gone far enough back?

We need to look back to a time when believers were being restored in their relationship to Christ … doing every little thing He had suggested … celebrating with thanksgiving the grace that had been given to them through His death and resurrection by generously giving and graciously receiving … dining together to perpetuate His ongoing table ministry with loving hospitality.

In other words, the earliest believers were doing everything they could to become more and maybe just like Him.

Every single day of every week of every month of every year – even Sabbaths! – just like Jesus did.

If our hearts were so afire as the tongues of Pentecost and the hearts of the believers who heard them, we wouldn’t need any command, example, necessary inference or authorization to worship God all the time … would we?

What Constitutes Heresy?

At first glance, that might be hard to answer. You won’t find the word “heresy” in your Bible very often.

Unless, you have the King James Version; there, you will find it in Acts 24:14. There it’s used to describe what the pagans called “The Way” – Christianity.

Peter uses its plural, once, to warn:

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. ~ 2 Peter 2:1

There are, however, plenty of false teachings and descriptions of false teachers and what they do outlined in New Testament scripture:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. ~ Romans 16:17-19

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. . . . Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. ~ Colossians 2:8, 16-23

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. ~ 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. ~ 1 Timothy 4:1-5

If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. ~ 1 Timothy 6:3-5

Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. ~ 2 Timothy 2:14-18

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. ~ 2 Timothy 3:1-9

For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. . . . They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. ~ Titus 1:10-11, 16

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. ~ Hebrews 13:9

I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work. ~ 2 John 1:7-11

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. ~ 3 John 1:9

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. . . . These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. . . . These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. ~ Jude 1:3-4, 12-13, 16

Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. ~ Revelation 2:14 . . . Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. ~ Revelation 2:20

These are the false teachers and what they taught and did, whether out of Jewish exclusivity or pagan inclusivity … whether out of piety or selfishiness.

You learn a lot about these false teachers from those phrases I put in italics. They love to be first and call themselves prophets; they slip in secretly; they will lie, lie about where their teaching came from, flatter, cajole, take control of others, take over their homes, will not welcome others, and cause divisons and controversies. They are boastful, proud, arrogant, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, treacherous, rash … the adjectives go on and on. (You’ve got to admire Jude’s very poetic description of them!) They like to quarrel about words. They are control freaks. They must have their own way. And some of them hope to make money from teaching what they think they know. If that were the worst of it, one could teach them and ignore them – keep away from them; not associate with them – if they ignored the teaching, so that they would be shamed.

But it’s what they teach that makes it impossible for them to repent; they confidently assert the rightness of it; their consciences have been seared. And what they teach include these heresies: impose circumcision and kosher dietary laws; cause trouble over celebrating holidays; encourage participation in idolatry; teach myths and genealogies as crucial; add worship of angels; forbid marriages; that Christ has already come; deny that He is Lord; and deny that He came in the flesh.

All of these things stab at the very heart of Christian faith: the sufficiency of the blood of Jesus manifesting the love and grace of the one and only God. They contradict the gospel of Jesus Christ.

These were no mere quibblings over what can or can’t be done in worship; who can or can’t preach Christ and Him crucified; or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

But hear me out on this, please.

When quibblings are elevated to a level that rivals the sufficiency of Christ to save, they become heresies. They don’t even have to produce the kind of personalities described above, although they can and probably will. Whatever empties the cross of its power and causes divisions (1 Corinthians 1:20) almost always is – or becomes – extricated with personalities and ego and personal preferences.

Those are the kinds of personalities Jesus had to deal with among the Pharisees and Sadducees, who had elevated their human teachings to the level of law and attributed them to God – even though some schools of human teaching didn’t agree with others (Matthew 2:22-23).

Quibbling matters are earthly things (Colossians 3:1-17); and when they become elevated to something more than they are, these teachings of men render worship vain (Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:7).

Ultimately, they bring swift destruction to the one who teaches them.

Our Singing Idol

On another blog recently, a friend adjured me to keep breaking down idols.

It hadn’t occurred to me until then that my fellowship’s obsession with a cappella-only worship is an idol.

It is.

We of the churches of Christ worship it above the unity Christ prayed for on the night He was betrayed. We worship it above the teaching of Paul to Galatia that adding any law to the atonement of Christ is a fruitless attempt to weaken the power of His blood. We worship it above dozens of more life-shaping, world-saving instructions Jesus explicitly left, which we ignore at our own leisure – and peril.

And by “worship,” I mean that we elevate a cappella-only worship above all of these things. We preach it. We argue it. We condemn others who do not accept it.

Yet a cappella-only worship is a teaching of man which – though it may go back to a human preference expressed very early in church history – has no firm or inarguable basis in scripture. There is certainly no command for it. There is no example of it. There is no unimpeachable inference of it, for those who require such things.

It is a doctrine which pends solely – not on love for God and for others – but on a singular way of looking at scripture as law, the silence of which on any given practice expresses God’s disapproval and condemnation.

That “law of silence” is called the “regulative principle of worship,” and has its origins in the teachings of John Calvin, many of whose other teachings my fellowship (Churches of Christ) would immediately repudiate.

And the view of scripture as law persists in spite of verses like:

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” ~ Romans 7:6 

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” ~ Romans 8:1-4

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” ~ Galatians 5:16-18

The clear implication of these passages – and many, many more – is that we didn’t need more law. We needed grace. We needed Christ. We needed the guidance of His Spirit within us.

No matter what anyone tells you, scripture doesn’t tell you that Christ came to bring more law. His singular commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you,” expresses all the law and the prophets; for love that acts for the benefit of others mirrors God’s love, and expresses love for God as well. This is the “law of Christ,” spoken of in Galatians 6:2, because it expresses love by carrying others’ burdens. This is “Christ’s law” spoken of in 1 Corinthians 9:21, because it wins those not having the law, rather than binding its restrictions on them.

Law does not express love. Law expresses guilt and failure and judgment. It does not unite; it separates. It sees everything as intrinsically right or wrong, where common sense reveals that some things are neither. Because law must be interpreted, authority is required to clarify. Judgment must take place. Violators must be punished.

This is the case with the law of silence, specifically reformulated within the Restoration Movement to exclude everyone who didn’t agree with what the excluders believed, especially about a cappella-only worship. I am sorry to have to speak so plainly; it is a shameful fact of our history.

We can choose to perpetuate this error by continuing to condemn those who do not bow down to our idol of a cappella-only worship.

Or we can

  • repent of our guilt,
  • stop condemning what God commanded and approved in the Old Testament (and never repealed, if we can only see scripture as a matter of law)
  • stop consigning to hell those who practice vocal and instrumental worship,
  • admit that a cappella-only worship is a matter of personal preference – and has been since just after the first century –
  • and that New Testament scripture says virtually nothing about it.

(Except, of course, that it does not seem to be practiced in the eternal heaven revealed to John in Revelation 15:2-3.)

If we refuse and say, “I’d sooner die first,” then God can certainly arrange that. He has done so before for idolators. And we just might end up somewhere that a cappella-only worship does not take place.

But it might not be the place we’d prefer.

Women Evangelists: Unauthorized Worship, Part 5

Should women be forbidden to speak about the Christ?

Apparently Jesus Himself didn’t think so.

He stopped at a well near Sychar of Samaria and spoke to a women whose reputation was known in town, but most visiting Jews would not have known (John 4). After they had spoken, He did not forbid her from going “back to the town and [saying] to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Nor was He so offended at the turnout she prodded that He immediately left town on the run; in fact, He stayed two days there.

In Samaria. Thanks to a woman.

Nor did He choose to appear first to the remaining eleven on the morning of the third day after His crucifixion. No, instead, “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.” (Mark 16:9).

A cured demoniac. A woman.

In fact, the eleven didn’t believe her nor her feminine friends at first (Luke 24:10-11). But they were ones He sent – and Peter and John had enough curiosity stirred to go and see for themselves (John 20:3-9).

Granted, these women were not evangelists in the sense that they wrote any of the four gospels, nor were they Protestant (or Mormon!) missionaries or ministers. But in the word’s original use in scripture, they were bringing good news.

Good news about Jesus.

In one case, news of a prophet who might be the Christ who shared news about His kingdom.

In the other, news of the Son of God miraculously raised from the dead.

Really, really good news.

They were not telling old wives’ tales (1 Timothy 4:7), nor were they disgracing an assembly by inquiring about things during worship (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). They had good news to share, and they were sharing it.

They were people who sinned who had also encountered the embodied Grace and Word of God, and there was an urgency about this good news that could not be delayed nor kept silent – and Jesus encouraged it, giving them this good news to share.

Against all of the prejudices of culture – but against no prohibitions of the Law – Jesus gave that news of Himself to women to share with men and it was enough that people came looking for the Christ.

He told one woman “… the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” and “… true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

He told the others that He was “…returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Really, really, really good news.

To women who would serve as His messengers in a world that only listened to men, He gave this gospel.

He innovated.

And people responded.

“And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” ~ John 4:41-42

“Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)” ~ John 20:8-9

They believed.

Now, you may object that neither of these situations involved gathered worship, but let’s remember that Jesus’ message to the woman at the well was that true worship was no longer a matter of time and place, but of spirit and truth. His words were “a time is coming and has now come.”

People were gathered. They heard gospel. They believed.

Just what Jesus wants – and what glorifies His Father’s name through Him (Romans 15).

Outside the Walls: Unauthorized Worship, Part 4

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. ~ Hebrews 13:11-16

Under the first covenant, the people of Israel encamped in a circle around the center of worship: the tabernacle. The Levite clans were to surround it as the first layer; each of four clans was assigned a compass point and a particular responsibility along with it (Numbers 3). Wherever the cloud signifying the Lord’s presence went or stayed, the entire camp followed or remained (Numbers 9:15-23). Sin had no place in that camp. Offerings for sin were to be released or burned and discarded outside it (Leviticus 16:1, Exodus 29:14, Leviticus 4:21, 16:27, et al). The bodies of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were taken outside of the camp, away from the sanctuary (Leviticus 10:4). Even sickness and temporary uncleanness and Gentiles were to be outside the camp (you can look all these up; they’re too numerous to list).

No sacrifice for sin was to be made outside the camp, and the penalty was excommunication from Israel (Leviticus 17:3-7). And no one outside the priest’s family could consume what remained of the sacrifice on the altar at the sacred center of the camp (10:31).

But the writer of the letter to Christians (and seekers) among the people of Israel said that all that had changed.

Worship is now acceptable outside the camp; outside the city walls, where the sacrifice of Jesus had taken place. All are welcome to participate in that sacrifice – and not only by consuming Him, but also by being consumed with confessing His name and doing good, and sharing with others.

That is what Jesus taught before He died and that is what His followers taught after He was raised and returned to the throne to serve as intercessory high priest before God.

And that, my good friends, is pure innovation.

Nothing in the law spells that out as acceptable by God’s commands to and through Moses. Poets and prophets would warn that He desired mercy above sacrifices (Psalm 51:17, Amos 5:21-24, Hosea 6:6). Jesus would teach it (Matthew 9:13; 12:7) and personify it in both His life and His death – and His followers would say that we should imitate it. Paul would cast it as our worship (Romans 12:1); Peter would describe it as our priesthood (1 Peter 2:5).

But it was not the law of the wall and the camp.

Yet we continue to gather inside the walls of our so-called holy places one hour of one day each week – our expensive automobiles encircling the sanctuary like encamped Israelites – and seem to think that the first covenant is somehow still in place; that all of our worship for that week takes place at that time and that enclosure. We sacrifice our 2.5% (according to the Barna Group), sing a few songs, consume a bit of bread and a sip of juice, pray a moment, hear a tidbit of hope or reprimand, spend our 0.59% of the hours in that week glorifying God and we’re done. We’re good. We’re graced.

While, outside the walls, sin reigns. People are unclean there. They are the dis-graced. They are sick; they are poor; they hurt; they hurt others and cheat others and kill each other; they lie and covet and steal and worship self … not really that much unlike the people who gather within:

Us.

In our supposed conformity to command, haven’t we taken a turn back in the wrong direction? Back to law, back to inside-ism, back to priest-ism and clan-ism and time-ism and place-ism?

Should we not return to practicing the innovation bought by blood, paid in full, offered for free and open to all: any place, any time, anyone?

Shouldn’t we worship outside the camp, sharing His disgrace with the dis-graced, and bringing His grace through doing good and sharing what we have?

Would that not please God as much or more than all of the worship we could muster inside the sanctuary?

At the Table: Unauthorized Worship, Part 3

The Passover meal was celebrated by Israel at twilight, in haste, on the fourteenth day of their first month each year, by command of God. The commandments and specifications regarding it were numerous, and always tied to the story of God saving Israel with a mighty hand from captivity in Egypt. The penalty for disobedience was strict: to be cut off – excommunicated – from the people of Israel.

The only exception that God made was a time when the nation re-instituted the practice on the fourteenth day of the second month after many years of not observing it at all (2 Chronicles 30).

No stranger to the commanded custom of Passover, Jesus told his closest followers that He had looked forward to celebrating it with them in Jerusalem that final time.

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. ~ Luke 22:14-20

No one in Israel’s history before was ever recorded as identifying the matzoh with a body, let alone his own. No one was quoted as identifying the blood of the grape as human blood, certainly not his own. The hint of cannibalism would have taken the Israelite of century one back to days when Samaria and later, Jerusalem, had been under siege and about which a song of lament asked, “Look, O LORD, and consider: Whom have you ever treated like this? Should women eat their offspring, the children they have cared for?” That abomination had been prophesied early on by God Himself (Leviticus 26:29).

Jesus was also no stranger to their disgust at the notion; He had encountered it while teaching in Capernaum (John 6:43-66).

Nothing in the law permitted anyone to speak in such a way about the Passover as He did at the table, nor to turn it in any direction away from that moment of God’s salvation from slavery in Egypt.

But Jesus had a greater salvation to achieve for all people and all time – not just Israel of 2,500 years before – and He had in mind this meal as the way His followers would remember it.*

So He innovated.

I don’t know what else you can really call it, but “innovation.” We can look back on it and say that Passover and the Lord’s Supper were type and fulfillment; but that is the advantage that hundreds of years of history gives us. For the people around the table in the upper room, it was innovation: taking something familiar and putting it to a use it had never had before; it was the act of starting something for the first time; it was a change in customs and contrary to established customs, manners, or rites.

And those who followed Jesus adopted it as a new part of their culture. They recognized His authority as the Son of God to institute it.

But how often did they observe it?

If they followed the 2,500-year-old pattern of Israel, they would have celebrated it one time a year, on the fourteenth day of the first month.

If the term “broke bread” has the same significance in Acts 2:42-47 as it does later in Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 10:16, they did so frequently; perhaps as often as daily, or at least weekly.

Do we have a record of how often Jesus instructed them to observe it?

The closest we can come is Paul’s recollection of the event – which was related to him either by man or God’s Spirit, since he was not present at it – and that is the phrase ” ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:25-26). The first “whenever” seems to be quoting Jesus. The second seems to be Paul’s reminder.

How often is “whenever”?

Obviously, the when of it is not nearly so important as the how of the Supper: in remembrance.

So, it would seem, at the table Jesus left to His followers the privilege of innovation as well – regarding the when of it. And perhaps sometimes it was daily, and sometimes it was weekly. (One can only assume weekly from Acts 20:7 from the fact that no mention was made of breaking bread at the Feast of Unleavened Bread – the Passover – twelve days before when the mission team was at Philippi.)

Most church fellowships would argue convictedly that Sunday – the first day of the week – is the only day authorized by scripture to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Some hold for weekly observance; others for annually or even semi-annually.

But I have to wonder, in view of two things:

  • the early followers’ enthusiasm and the possibility that they may have celebrated it daily
  • the implication even from the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 30) that the penitence of heart was more crucial than the date of the Passover

… I have to wonder if the how has always been more important than the when with regard to feasting in honor of God’s salvation among us.

And I have to wonder if we aren’t, in fact, expected to innovate in some matters of when we celebrate that communicate the grateful, penitent, anticipatory how of our hearts.


*Someday I hope to blog about why I believe the Bible is one testament, though two covenants.