All That Matters Under the Sun is Relationships

I am slowly learning that it is more important in life to have great, meaningful, and healthy relationships than it is to be right all the time. Not that being right is wrong, but that we, especially me, must learn to have tact and effective communication. My beliefs, principles, and values are immovable and if they weren’t what purpose would they serve? And if I didn’t stand by my principles what kind of a man would I be?

 

 

But I do know that I value relationships more than being right, and have in the past chosen the latter over the former. And if I have ever demeaned, insulted, or hurt anyone due to my standing sure on my beliefs, values, and principles and made you feel as if your beliefs, values, and principles were below mine or less important then I apologize to you all for such horrible things.

 

 

It read on our wall at Mt. Mission School, “I am a person of worth created in the image of God to live and to relate.”

 

 

I absolutely believe the happiness we experience  in our lives stem from the quality of our relationships. We can be right and put that above your relationships and end up lonely. Or we can be right and lovingly tactful and tactfully loving in what we hold as beliefs, values, and principles. We can value our relationships more than our pride.

 

 

The writer of Ecclesiastes came to the conclusion that all that matters in life is our relationships: our relationship with our self by being principled, godly people who make decisions based on principle not emotions and by self-differentiation, by having wholesome, healthy relationships with other people where we avoid emotional entanglement and practice healthy boundaries, and a healthy, deep relationship with our Creator who gives us life by participation in His energies by the grace of His Son, who gave us His blood to defeat death and sin so that we may enjoy the covenant with him.

 

 

So work on having good relationships. Become self-aware. Work on your faults and personal development. Be part of relationships and emotional systems, but don’t get emotionally tangled with others. Discover your values and principles and live by them not by your emotions.  Develop your boundaries.

 

 

Don’t worry about always being right. Don’t be pushy or condescending with your beliefs, but present them with tact and love. Respect other’s opinions and listen to them. Talk to your family. Get to know those around you. Participate in your neighborhood, your community, and your church. Dialogue, converse, and learn. Practice patience. Be forgiving. Be loving. Be gracious. Be a peacemaker. Work towards restoration and reconciliation and live at peace with everyone as far as it depends on you.

 

 

Seek God and the Kingdom above all else.  Participate in prayer, in meditation, in Scripture reading. Take Eucharist. Seek grace and bestow it on others as you would have it on you.  Love God with your whole being and seek to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may put on the divine nature and participate in Christ. Die to yourself. Become new in Christ everyday. Work out your own salvation daily. Don’t live by guilt, but by grace and forgiveness. Give Him your all by death to self.

 

Relationships are hard, but I believe we can have extraordinary relationships if we are willing to be humble and to work hard on them everyday. In the end, they are worth it forever.

The Orthodox Life

Over the past 2000 years, the Orthodox Church has granted the title of “Theologian” to only three Saints:  St. John the Apostle, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, and
St. Symeon.

St. Symeon the New Theologian was born in Galatia
in the year 949.  He was educated in Constantinople, and became abbot of the monastery of St. Mamas.
He reposed on March 12, 1022.

St. Symeon produced many writings which have been well received within the Orthodox Church. In  his second Ethical Discourse, he discusses a number of topics, including St. Paul’s doctrine of predestination:

_______________________

On the Saying “Those Whom He Foreknew,
The Same He Also Predestined”

“Predestination” is an excuse for sloth: God calls everyone to repentance

I have heard many people say: “Because the Apostle says; ‘Those whom God foreknew, the same He also predestined; and those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He…

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The Eternal Liturgy vs. Contemporary Worship

The Eternal Liturgy vs. Contemporary Worship

by Robert Arakaki

This excellent article by Robert Arakaki is an excellent treatment of worship as understood by Christians – and these days, maybe ONLY by Orthodox Christians.

Within the past few decades, a new form of worship has become widely popular among Christians.  Where before people would sing hymns accompanied by an organ, then listen to a sermon, in this new worship there are praise bands that use rock band instruments, short, catchy praise songs, sophisticated Powerpoint presentations, and the pastor giving uplifting practical teachings about having a fulfilling life as a Christian.  This new kind of worship is so popular that people come to these services by the thousands.  They go because the services are fun, exciting, easy to understand, and easy to relate to.  Yet this new style of worship is light years away from the more traditional and liturgical Orthodox style of worship.  How does an Orthodox Christian respond to this new worship?  Is it acceptable or is it contrary to Orthodoxy?  How should an Orthodox Christian respond to an invitation to attend these contemporary Christian services?

According to the Pattern

First we need to ask: Is there a guiding principle for right worship?  St. Stephen, the first martyr, gave a sermon about the history of the Jewish nation.  In this sermon he notes that Old Testament worship was “according to the pattern.”

Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert.  It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. (Acts 7:44 NIV, italics added).  

This phrase comes up again in the book of Hebrews.

They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.  This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”  (Hebrews 8:5 NIV, italics added)

The phrase is a reference to Exodus 24:15-18 when Moses went up on Mt. Sinai and spent forty days and forty nights up there.  On Mt. Sinai Moses was in the direct presence of God receiving instructions about how to order the life of the new Jewish nation.  Thus, the guiding principle for Old Testament worship was not creative improvisation nor adapting to contemporary culture but imitation of the heavenly prototype.

The next question is: What is the biblical pattern for worship?  In Exodus 25 to 31, Moses received instruction concerning the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, the lamp stand, the altar for burnt offerings, the altar for incense, the anointing oil, the vestments for the priests, and the consecration of the priests.  The principle of “according to the pattern” was repeated several times in the design specifications for the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:8, 25:40, 26:30, 27:8).  This was the template for the spiritual identity of the Jewish people.  To be a faithful Jew meant that one offered to Yahweh the proper sacrifices in the prescribed manner.

Despite the clearly laid out instructions in Exodus and Leviticus, the Israelites struggled to keep to the biblical pattern of worship.  The struggle to maintain the right worship of Yahweh in the face of temptations to follow the idolatrous ways of the non-Jewish nations is a theme running through Old Testament history.  The sin of the golden calf in Exodus 32 was not the sin of heresy (wrong doctrine), but the sin of false worship.  When the northern tribes broke from Judah, Jeroboam did not create a new theology, instead he had two golden calves made and appointed non-Levites to be priests as a way of consolidating his rule (II Kings 12:25-33).  II Chronicles is a history of the struggle to maintain fidelity to Yahweh by holding to the biblical worship.  II Chronicles 21 to 24 relates how a bad king—Jehoram—led the Israelites astray through Ba’al worship and a good king—Josiah—brought them back through the restoration of the Passover sacrifice.  Apostasy in Old Testament times meant abandoning Yahweh for other gods and the chief means was the sin of idolatry (wrong worship).  The lesson here is that right worship was critical for a right relationship with God.

Thus, orthodoxy —right worship—in the Old Testament meant keeping to the pattern of worship that Yahweh revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  Right worship was also key to Israel’s covenant identity.  This suggests that right worship is key to our Christian identity.  By studying how worship was defined in the Old Testament and comparing it with the Orthodox liturgy we can better understand why Orthodox worship is the way it is and how contemporary worship has strayed far from biblical worship.

Where Does Orthodox Worship Come From?

Worship in the Orthodox Church is patterned after the Old Testament Temple.  Typically, an Orthodox church has three main areas: the narthex (entry hall), the nave (the central part), and the altar area.  This is similar to the Old Testament Tabernacle which consisted of the Outer Court, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:30-37, 27:9-19; I Kings 6:14-36; II Chronicles 3 and 4).  The layout of Orthodox churches may seem strange to those who attend contemporary services, but it is patterned after the Old Testament Temple.  As a matter of fact, Orthodox church buildings are often referred to as temples.

When we enter into an Orthodox Church we are entering into sacred space much like the Old Testament Tabernacle.  When I go to an Orthodox church on Sunday, I enter into the narthex, a small entry room.  I light a candle in front of the sacred image of Jesus Christ and commit my life to Christ in preparation for worship.  The short time I spend in the narthex helps me to shift my mind from the world outside to the heavenly worship inside.

Then I enter into the nave, the large central part of the church building where the congregation gathers for worship.  All around me I see sacred images of Christ, the saints, and the angels.  This is patterned after the Jewish Temple which had images of angels, trees, and flowers carved on the walls (I Kings 6:29; II Chronicles 3:5-7).  Up in the front is a wall of sacred images (the iconostasis).  In the middle of this wall is a door with a gate across it.  This wall of images is patterned after the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the Jewish Temple (Exodus 26:31-33; I Kings 6:31-35).  Behind this is the altar area where the Eucharist is celebrated.  Just as the Jewish high priests offered sacrifices in the Most Holy Place at the Jerusalem Temple, the Orthodox priests offer up the spiritual sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood at the altar.  The altar area also symbolizes Paradise, the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve enjoyed deep communion with God before the Fall.  We receive Holy Communion in front of the altar reminding us that we have been restored to communion with God through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

Orthodox worship is also patterned after the worship in heaven.  At the start of the second half of the Divine Liturgy the church sings:

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.  

This is a participation of the heavenly worship described in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8.  For the Orthodox Church this point of the Divine Liturgy is not so much an imitation as a participation in the heavenly worship.

Another way Orthodox worship is patterned after the heavenly worship is the use of incense.  Incense was very much a part of the heavenly worship.  In his vision of God, Isaiah describes how as the angels sang: “Holy, Holy, Holy” the doors shook and the temple in heaven was filled with incense (Isaiah 6:4).  The Apostle John in Revelation describes how the angels in heaven held bowls full of incense and how the heavenly Temple was filled with incense smoke (Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4, 15:8).

The vestments worn by Orthodox priests are patterned after the Old Testament and the heavenly prototype.  The entire chapter 28 in Exodus contains instruction on the making of priestly vestments.  In heaven, Christ and the angels wear the priestly vestments (Revelation 1:13, 15:6).  The vestments are more than pretty decorations, rather they are meant to manifest the dignity and the beauty of holiness that adorns God’s house.

Old Testament Prophecies of Orthodox Worship

Orthodox worship is more than an imitation of Old Testament worship.  It is also a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.  The Old Testament prophets besides describing the coming Messiah also described worship in the Messianic Age.  Within the book of Malachi is a very interesting prophecy:

My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun.  In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord. (Malachi 1:11)

The phrase “from the rising to the setting of the sun” is a poetic way of saying from east to west—everywhere.  Here we have a prophecy that the worship of God which was formerly confined to Jerusalem would in the future become universal.  This was confirmed by Jesus in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well.  In response to her question whether Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim was the proper place for worship (John 4:19), Jesus answered that in the Messianic Age true worship would not depend on location but on worship of the Trinity.  His statement about worshiping the Father in spirit (Holy Spirit) and truth (Jesus Christ) (John 4:23-24) is a teaching that true worship is worship of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

What is striking about Malachi’s prophecy is the reference to incense.  Where before incense was offered in the Jerusalem Temple, in the Messianic Age incense would be offered by the non-Jews.  One of the most vivid memories many first time visitors have of Orthodox worship is the smell of incense.  Incense is burned at every Orthodox service.  In the Roman Catholic Church incense is used in the high Mass but not in most services.  Most Evangelical and Pentecostal churches do not use incense at all.  Thus, whenever an Orthodox priest swings the censer and the sweet fragrance fills the church one experiences a direct fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy.  Protestants may complain about how strange incense is, but they should realize that the use of incense was an integral part of Old Testament worship and is one of the key markers of authentic biblical worship in the Messianic Age.

Malachi’s prophecy about “pure offerings” is a reference to the Eucharist.  The Jewish rabbis taught that when the Messiah comes all sacrifices would be abolished with the exception of one, the Todah or Thanksgiving sacrifice.  This was fulfilled in the sacrament of the Eucharist, that is, the last supper Christ had with his followers when he gave thanks over the bread and the wine (Luke 22:17-20).  The word eucharist comes from the Greek word evcharisto “to give thanks.”  Jesus’ statement about the cup of the new covenant meant that he was about to inaugurate the Messianic Age.  The Eucharist is a remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross as well as a participation in Christ’s body and blood (I Corinthians 10:16-17).  Thus, the Eucharist—the pure offerings—is another key sign of right worship in the Messianic Age.

In the last chapter of Hebrews is a strange verse that many Evangelicals and Protestants skip over:

We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat (Hebrews 13:10; emphasis added).

What the author is asserting here is that the priests and Levites working at the Jerusalem Temple have no access to the Christian Eucharist.  The Eucharist is only for those who confess Jesus as the promised Messiah and his death on the cross as the ultimate Passover sacrifice.  The reference to the altar tells us the early Christians celebrated the Eucharist on real altars and that they had priests.

Protestants today have the habit of calling the platform area altars and spiritual songs as sacrifice. This involves a significant spiritualizing of the meaning of Hebrews 13:10.  Furthermore, if we take this spiritualizing approach the phrase “have no right to eat” would not make sense.  In the early Church if one did not confess Jesus as Christ, one could not receive the Eucharist.  Contemporary Protestant worship on the other hand welcomes everybody and makes no distinction between believers and nonbelievers in its worship.  In short, the early Church’s worship style was radically different from Protestant churches that have dispensed with the altar and the idea of the Eucharist as a spiritual sacrifice.  To those who advocate contemporary worship, the Orthodox Christian can reply: We have an altar, where is yours?

An Evangelical or Charismatic visiting an Orthodox service might object to the Eucharist on the grounds that it is a re-presenting of Christ’s once and for all sacrifice.  First of all, this argument comes from the Protestant debate against Roman Catholicism.  Orthodoxy is not the same as Roman Catholicism.  Second, the idea of the Eucharist as a re-presenting of Christ’s blood is contrary to the teachings of the Orthodox Church. In the Liturgy, the priest prays: “Once again we offer You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood….” (Kezios p. 25; italics added).

St. PaulFor the Apostle Paul the Eucharist was just as important as the Gospel message.  As he went about planting churches across the Roman Empire, Paul taught them the Good News of Jesus Christ and how to celebrate the Eucharist.  This can be seen in Paul’s formal phrasing: “For I received from the Lord what I also pass on to you….” in I Corinthians 11:23 for the Eucharist and in I Corinthians 15:3 for the Good News (Gospel).  Paul’s phrase: “What I received from the Lord….” parallels that in Exodus 25:9: “exactly like the pattern I will show you.”  The infrequent celebration of the Eucharist in Evangelical and Pentecostal worship shows how far they have moved from historic Christian worship.

Another prophetic sign of worship in the Messianic Age is the priesthood.  The last chapter of Isaiah contains a prophecy about the time when knowledge of Yahweh would become universal among the Gentiles and God would make priests of non-Jews.

And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites, says the Lord.  (Isaiah 66:21 NIV;emphasis added)

Part of this great ingathering would be the consecration of Gentiles to the priesthood.  This was fulfilled when Jesus gave the Great Commission to the apostles (Matthew 28:19-20).  Paul understood his work of evangelism as a “priestly duty” (Romans 15:16).  In Isaiah is another prophecy about the important role that the Gentiles would play in the rebuilding of Israel, that of the establishment of the New Israel, the Church.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
Aliens will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.  (Isaiah 61:4-6 NIV; emphasis added)

Isaiah’s prophecy could be understood to refer to the Jews’ return from Babylon in 538 BC, but the fact that non-Jews would be part of the rebuilding process is an indication that the prophecy points to the coming of Christ.  At the first Church council, St. James, the Lord’s stepbrother, quotes from the prophet Amos in defense of admitting non-Jews into the Church:

After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent,
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things
that have been known for ages.  (Acts 15:16-17 NIV; Amos 9:11-12)

The key to understanding Isaiah’s prophecy about the priesthood is that a priest does not stand alone but in a certain context: temple, altar, and sacrifice.  This pattern of priesthood, temple, and sacrifice can be found in I Peter 2:5:

…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (NIV).

The Apostle Peter reiterates the teaching that the Church is a “royal priesthood” in I Peter 2:9.  This can be seen in the fact that the early Christians celebrated the Eucharist regularly on the first day of the week, Sunday.  The early Christians understood the Eucharist to be a spiritual sacrifice and had priests to lead them in worship.  Today, two thousand years later, the Orthodox Church still has priests standing at the altar offering the eucharistic sacrifice.  Contemporary worship has none of these.  Thus, Isaiah 61:6 finds its fulfillment in Orthodox worship, not contemporary worship.

Protestants may object to the Orthodox Church having priests on the grounds that because of Christ we have no need for a man to serve as a mediator with God.  This objection is based upon a misunderstanding of the nature of Orthodox worship and the office of the priest.  Basically, the priest’s role is to lead the congregation in worship.  If one listens carefully to the litanies one finds the priest addressing the congregation, For … let us pray to the Lord, and the congregation responding with, Lord have mercy.  In other words, the congregation prays with the priest, not through the priest.  As a matter of fact, in Orthodoxy the priest cannot begin the Divine Liturgy unless the laity is present.  This is based on the Orthodox Church’s understanding that the priesthood resides in the whole church, not just in the ordained clergy.  The participation of the laity is just as critical for right worship as the clergy.  This can be seen in the fact that “liturgy” comes from the Greek  leitourgeia which in Christian usage refers to worship and in the ancient world referred to “public service.”  Jesus Christ is our Mediator and he exercises that ministry through his office as the great High Priest.  This means it is imperative that we be part of the Divine Liturgy and not off doing our own thing.

Protestants cite I Peter 2:5 as a repudiation of the priesthood.  This reading of I Peter 2:5 relies on the illogical reasoning that since we are all priests, no one is a priest.  The Protestant reading of I Peter 2:5 has resulted in churches without priests and no altars.  Historically the Christian Church has recognized the offices of deacons, priests, and bishops.  The practice of an ordained clergy has roots in the New Testament Church.  We read in Acts 1:20,

“Let another take his office” (NKJV, italics added; see also I Timothy 5:17-22, II Timothy 2:2).

Where for over a thousand years Christianity had priests celebrating the Eucharist on altars, after 1500 there emerged a new form of Christian worship that disavowed the priesthood and removed the altar from the sanctuary.

Anyone who compares Orthodox worship with contemporary worship will be struck by how biblical Orthodox worship is and how far contemporary worship has moved away from the Old Testament pattern.  When we take into consideration the Old Testament prophecies, the significance of liturgical worship in Orthodoxy becomes even more compelling. Orthodox worship follows the pattern of Old Testament worship and is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.  This is the worship God wants in this day and age.

Was Old Testament Worship Abolished?

orthodoxyThe Evangelical approach to worship seems to be based on the assumption that Jesus abolished the Old Testament.  Because of this Evangelicals ignore the Old Testament teaching on Tabernacle worship and focus on the New Testament for instruction on how to worship God.  The paucity of New Testament passages on worship has been taken as grounds for an anything goes approach to worship.  But, this assumption is wrong.  Jesus made it clear he did not come to abolish the old covenant but rather to fulfill it:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).  

An examination of the gospels shows Jesus’ adherence to the Old Testament pattern of worship.  Jesus was in the habit of attending the synagogue services (Mark 1:21; Mark 3:1; Mark 6:2).  Likewise, he observed the great Jewish festivals at the Temple: Passover (Luke 2:41), Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1-13), and Passover (Matthew 26:18; Mark 14:14; Luke 22:7-11).  Like Jews throughout history, Jesus considered the Passover meal the highlight of the year.  Jesus told his followers: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15)

In the healing of the leper we find an affirmation of Jewish Temple worship.  After healing a leper, Jesus orders him:

But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them (Mark 1:44; Matthew 8:4).

Here we find Jesus affirming: (1) the Mosaic Law, (2) the Aaronic priesthood, and (3) the offering of sacrifices at the Temple.  Nowhere do we find Jesus or his apostles disregarding the Jerusalem Temple or the Jewish forms of worship; rather we find indications they affirmed the Jewish form of worship.

Likewise, we find Jesus’ apostles continuing the Old Testament pattern of worship.  Following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the first Christians met at the Temple courts (Acts 2:36).  The Temple court was a focal point for the early Christians (Acts 5:20).  The apostles preached the Good News in hope that the Jews would accept Jesus as the Messiah.  Just as significant we find them relying on the ritual prayers used by Jews.  This can be seen in the fact that a literal translation of Greek in Acts 2:42 would be “the prayers.”  We find that Paul, like Jesus, attended the synagogue (Acts 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:2, 19:8).  Even when Paul had become a Christian he continued to make it his habit to attend the synagogue services: “As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue….” (Acts 17:2).

The Apostles of Christ showed a similar respect to the Jerusalem Temple. We read in Acts 3:1 that Peter and John attended the prayer services at the Jerusalem Temple.  In his testimony to the Jews Paul recounts how God spoke to him while he was at the Jerusalem Temple praying (Acts 22:17).  The positive regard Paul and the other Apostles had to the Jerusalem Temple can be seen in: (1) Paul’s eagerness to attend the Pentecost services in Jerusalem (Acts 20:16), (2) the Jerusalem Apostles advising Paul to take part in the purification rituals to show their loyalty to the Torah (21:22-25), and (3) Paul’s participation in the Temple rituals (Acts 21:26).

Where Evangelicals assume a sharp discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments, the Orthodox Church sees a strong continuity between the two.  The Evangelicals’ assumption of a sharp discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments has led them to ignore the Old Testament teachings on worship.  This disregard for the Old Testament is much like the early heresy of Marcionism.  Orthodox Christian worship is based upon a radical continuity.  As the Jewish Messiah Jesus Christ took the Jewish forms of worship and filled them with new content and meanings.  Orthodox worship took the Jewish synagogue and Temple worship and made them Christocentric.

Where Does Contemporary Worship Come From?

The classic shape of Christian worship consists of two parts: the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of Holy Communion. This was the way all Christians worshiped until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s when Martin Luther and his followers rebelled against the Roman Catholic Papacy.  It should be kept in mind that over the years the Pope had introduced changes like the Filioque clause and the dogma of transubstantiation with the result that the Roman Catholic worship diverged from that of the early Church.  The Protestant Reformers sought to reform the church but the result was not a return to the historic pattern of worship.  The Protestant teaching “the Bible alone” resulted in the sermon becoming the center of worship.  Priests were replaced by Bible expositors, and the altar was replaced by the podium.  This marked a decisive break from the historic form of Christian worship.

But the break from historic worship did not end there.  In the early 1800s a more emotional and expressive form of worship became popular on the American frontier.  Then, in the early 1900s Pentecostalism emerged with its emphasis on the baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and other charismatic manifestations.  Where mainstream Protestantism stressed sober singing and the rational reading of the Bible, Pentecostalism stressed ecstatic worship and experiencing the Holy Spirit.  For a long time Pentecostals were relegated to the margins of Protestantism and were derided as “holy rollers.”  Then in the 1950s Pentecostalism began make inroads among mainline Protestants, and in the 1960s among Roman Catholics.  Less demonstrative and theologically more sophisticated, this movement came to be known as the charismatic renewal.

Pentecostalism was just one of three movements that would radically transform American Protestantism in the second half of the twentieth century.  Just as influential on Protestant worship was pop music popularized by music groups like the Beatles.  The pop culture of the 1960s shaped in profound ways the values and outlooks of the baby boomer generation.  A cultural gap widened between the more traditional church services that relied on organs or pianos and had traditional hymns, and the more contemporary church services that used guitars and sang simpler and catchier praise songs.  Many churches were split as a result “worship wars” — hymns and organs versus praise bands and praise songs.

The third influential movement was the church growth movement.  Though less visible to the public eye, it influenced the way many pastors understood and ran the church.  The church growth movement brought market analysis and business techniques to the way the church was run.  With the introduction of the concept of the seeker friendly church, church worship moved away from edification of the faithful to evangelizing outsiders.  Numerical growth was seen as proof of God’s blessing.  This is exemplified by mega churches packed with thousands of enthusiastic worshipers.  However, despite its good intentions the church growth movement introduced several serious distortions.  Worship of God often became spiritual entertainment.  The sermon shifted from an exposition of Scripture to selecting Bible verses to support teachings on how to live a fulfilling life.  In seeking to tailor the Christian message to non-Christians many pastors have dumbed down their message with the result that many of their members know very little of the core doctrines.  Just as troubling is the fact that many churches have become spiritual machines that rely more organizational techniques, high tech electronics, and social psychology than the grace of the Holy Spirit.

In short, Protestant Christianity has undergone a major uprooting as a result of the influence of Pentecostalism, contemporary Christian worship, and the church growth movement.  As a result of this massive uprooting, Evangelicalism has become rootless.  The uprooting of Evangelical worship has created an opening for many new teachings and new styles of worship.  There have emerged fringe groups with strange worship practices like being slain in the Spirit, holy laughter, word of faith teachings, prayer walks, etc.  Some may believe these new forms of worship may presage a great spiritual revival that will sweep the world but it could also be a sign of a spiritual collapse of Protestant Christianity.

What Would the Apostle Paul Think?

If the Apostle Paul were to walk into an Orthodox liturgy, he would immediately recognize where he was — in a Christian church.  The key give away would be the Eucharist.  This is because the Eucharist was central to Christian worship.  In the days following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost the early Christians met in homes and celebrated “the breaking of bread” (the Eucharist).  Paul received his missionary calling during the celebration of the liturgy (Acts 13:2 NKJV).  He made the celebration of the Eucharist a key part of his message to the church in Corinth (I Corinthians 11:23 ff.).

If Paul were to walk into a traditional Protestant service with the hymn singing, the reading of Scripture and the lengthy sermon he might think he was in a religious service much like the Jewish synagogue.  He may not have much trouble accepting it as a kind of Christian worship service, although he might question their understanding of the Eucharist.  However, if the Apostle Paul were to walk into a mega church with its praise bands and elaborate worship routine, he would likely think he was at some Greek play and seriously doubt he was at a Christian worship service.  If the Apostle Paul were to walk into a Pentecostal service he would probably think he had walked into a pagan mystery cult that had no resemblance at all to Christian worship.

Why Orthodox Worship?

A non-Orthodox might ask: What difference does it make to God how we worship?  The better question would be: What does the Bible teach about worship?  Does the Bible teach it makes a difference how we worship God?  The answer is God does care about the worship we offer Him.  We read in I Peter 2:5:

…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (NIV, emphasis added).

This concern for proper worship goes all the way back to Leviticus 22:29:

When you sacrifice a thank offering to the Lord, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf (see also Leviticus 19:5) (NIV, emphasis added).  

If we are instructed to offer “acceptable” sacrifices, this implies we can offer improper worship that will be rejected by God.  We see this in Genesis 4:3-5 where Abel and Cain offered sacrifices to Yahweh, and one was accepted and the other rejected.  It can also be seen in Leviticus 10:1-3 where Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, died because they offered unauthorized fire to Yahweh.  In I Chronicles 13:8-10, Uzzah, a non-Levite, died because he touched the Ark of the Covenant that only Levites were allowed to handle (I Chronicles 15:11-15, Numbers 4:15). In II Chronicles 26:16-20, King Uzziah sought to offer incense to Yahewh, something only the priests could do, and suffered divine punishment.  Thus, there are consequences for not offering right worship.  In this day and age the consequence of wrong worship are less dramatic.  To offer wrong worship is to be outside the Orthodox Church and unable to receive the Eucharist.

If salvation is about a right relationship with God then worship plays an important part in having a right relationship with God.  Before the Fall Adam and Eve enjoyed unbroken communion with God; after the Fall they became alienated from God and mankind has suffered as a result.  God has been at work throughout human history working to bring us back into fellowship with him.  This work of restoration reached its climax with the coming of Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2).  The author of Hebrews stresses that Jesus Christ is the High Priest of the New Covenant (5:7-10; 9:9-14) and as a result of His death on the cross we are able to enter into the Most Holy Place (Hebrews 10:19-25) and take our place in the heavenly worship (Hebrews 12:22-24).  In Revelation 7 is a description of the great ingathering of the Jews and the Gentiles in worship at the throne of God.

Our ultimate destiny is not to be Bible experts but to have communion with God.  This can be seen in a strange verse in Exodus 24:7: “…they saw God, and they ate and drank.”  In ancient times, after a covenant was ratified, the ruler and his subjects would sit down for a common meal.  Eating together was a sign of fellowship and their common life together.  This verse finds its fulfillment in the Liturgy when we feed upon Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist (John 6:53-56).  The heavenly worship described in Revelation is not in some far off future but can be experienced in the Sunday liturgy in an Orthodox church.  In Revelation 22:3 we read:

And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.  They shall see His face and His name shall be on their foreheads (NKJV).

The Greek word “serve” can also be translated “worship.” As we stand in worship facing the altar we behold the throne of God; this is because the altar, like the Ark of the Covenant, is where God’s presence dwells.  The phrase we shall see God “face to face” finds its fulfillment when we face the altar looking at the icon of Christ the Pantocrator (the All Ruling One).  The icon is more than a religious picture, it is also a window into heaven.  Lastly, “His name shall be on their foreheads” is fulfilled in the Orthodox sacrament of chrismation where the priest anoints the foreheads of converts with sacred oil forming the sign of the cross.  Every Orthodox Christian has this spiritual seal on their forehead as a sign of their belonging to Christ.

Thus, it is not Orthodox worship that is so strange and different but contemporary worship.  Orthodox worship only seems to be strange because it is not of this world.  It is part of the worship of the eternal kingdom.  We as Orthodox Christians need to appreciate what a precious gift God has given us in the Divine Liturgy.  We should become fervent in our prayers and our commitment to following our God and Savior Jesus Christ.  We need to recognize that much of the attraction of contemporary worship comes from the fact it has taken the best the world has to offer but in so doing it has abandoned the orthodox, or right worship, God wants from us.  The best response an Orthodox Christian can make to an invitation to visit a contemporary worship service is: “Come and see!” Many people today don’t know about the Orthodox Divine Liturgy and are hungry for a real worship experience.  They need someone to invite them and be ready to explain how the Orthodox liturgy is the true worship taught in the Bible.

 

Robert Arakaki administers OrthodoxBridge.com, “a meeting place for Evangelicals, Reformed and Orthodox Christians.” He attends Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Honolulu, Hawaii.

© 2012, Fr. John A. Peck. All rights reserved.

Worshiping in Truth: How the Entertainment-driven and Emotionally-fueled “Worship” Model Fails Us

Subjective.   If I were to express my thoughts on the entertainment-driven model of “worship” in one word then I would use the word subjective.  It appears that so many expressions of religion today are subjective, narcissistic, self-serving, and self-centered.  It is beyond astonishing how often we hear phrases like “we should feel good”,  “I want something out of it”, “worship left me empty today”, and “I didn’t feel it this morning”!  This should really bother us that we have such things said, and that we have such horrible mindsets, attitudes, and orientations of heart!

Before I continue, I want to clarify what exactly it is I mean when I say entertainment-driven model of “worship”.  I do not mean that people cannot use big lights and big sound to worship or that worship leaders are wrong to implement this particular style of worship.  I am not a big fan of non-liturgical worship settings myself, but I see nothing inherently wrong with the big lights and big sound approach unless of course it is used primarily to put on a show.   It is the intentions of the heart for the leaders and those participating that really matter here!  There are some worship leaders whose sole purpose is to put on a show!  It is the sole goal of some worshipers to be entertained!  There is something really wrong with these orientations.

I hope I have clarified enough what I mean by entertainment-driven “worship”.  Entertainment-driven “worship” has two main purposes: 1) To put on one helluva show and 2) To make the people feel something, to bring about an emotional response in those attending.  I think this lays out what I mean by entertainment-driven worship.  I do not have a problem with the talents of other musicians, stage designers, or sound/light folks being utilized.  I am not saying that those folks cannot use their talents, and I really want to emphasize that point.

One of the main problems I have with this entertainment-driven model of “worship” is that it is manipulative and destructive to the spiritual health of those who participate in it.  What do I mean by this?  I think when the goal is to raise affections and emotions that leaves worship being subjective and filled with sensationalism and emotionalism!  I believe this model of “worship” is very manipulative because it seeks to toy with the emotions and raise them in order that the participants “feel” something, “feel” God, or “feel” close to Him.  Emotions are not in and of themselves a bad thing necessarily.  This is not what I am at all trying to say.  We are emotional beings and have emotions given to us by God.  My concern lies with the issue of making an emotional reaction the very goal and purpose of our worship services.

Here is where I think this model begins to fail us: I believe there is a direct correlation between entertainment-driven “worship” with it’s emotional manipulation and the twenty-somethings leaving the Church in huge leaps!  I believe we are entrenched in this entertainment-driven model as young teenagers, and we have our emotions manipulated so much that we have to feel an emotional  high every time we go to a worship service.  When we graduate from youth groups and such to go on to participate in Sunday morning worship with the adults and that emotional trigger is not pulled then it leaves us feeling empty and discouraged, thinking we have not encountered God.  I believe this leads, along with several other factors, to the eventual leaving of these folks.  Of course there are adult services where the entertainment-driven model is implemented, and I’d bet those churches retain more twenty-somethings as a result.  Regardless, it is still dangerous when implemented in the main service.

Entertainment-driven “worship” leaves us at the mercy of our own subjectivity and emotionalism!  No reason so many people feel like they are on an emotional, spiritual roller coaster!  When they are up they are up!  And when they are down they are down!  They have become dependent upon having that emotional trigger pulled and when it is not then this creates a problem in their spiritual lives.  They feel abandoned, neglected, forgotten by God perhaps.  This is a danger to our health!  I hope I am painting a luminous picture of the dangers of this model of “worship”.

Why do we do this?  Why do we feel as if we have to feel something in our worship in order for it to be worship?  Why do we have to have our emotions tugged in order to say, “I felt God in that service today”?  I believe that it in part lies with our narcissistic culture that is me, me, me!  I also believe it is in part bad theology.

In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says in 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  I believe that the entertainment-driven model of “worship” with its emotionally fueled drivetrain is not worship at all.  Well, let me say it is worship!  It is self-worship!  It is the worship of our emotions!  It is the worship of how we feel!  It is the worship of us!  It is the worship of me!   It is subjective idolatry!  There is no room for worship in spirit and truth when the entertainment-driven model is implemented!

What does worshiping in truth look like compared to the entertainment-driven model?  I believe it is based on our core beliefs about God, our core values and beliefs!  Let’s think about it for a minute with this one example and aspect: if God is omni-present as we so believe, and His spirit is dwelling with us at all times and is present then when we sing, whether we realize it or not, His presence is among us, right?  Our worship should be a reflection of our theology!  If we believe God is always in our midst then we must realize despite our emotions that we are worshiping the Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth when we participate in a communal worship service.  We do not have to leave saying things like “we should feel good”,  “I want something out of it”, “worship left me empty today”, and “I didn’t feel it this morning” because we move our focus from our emotions, a subjective base, to our beliefs, an objective base, and our belief that God is present and is with us causes us to call to mind that He is indeed present!  It is no longer about us when we lay aside this mindset of having to have an emotional experience!  When that emotional experience is being sought we neglect the truth, and we neglect God if the emotions we sought do not come about for us.  We cannot worship God if our subjectivity is what we are all about!

If we worship in truth we remain free from emotional manipulation, emotionalism, and sensationalism!  We free ourselves from the perpetual emotional machine of the entertainment-driven model, which leaves us worshiping ourselves and our subjectivity!  We need to base our worship in truth!  We need to worship in truth!  We do not need to worship in emotions!

I thoroughly believe when we free ourselves from having to feel something in our worship then that is when we will truly feel something and know something.  We will approach worship sacramentally and begin to worship in spirit and in truth.  This carries over to our prayer lives and devotional lives.  When we stop living by our emotions our lives no longer feel like roller coasters.  We have a solid, core belief that God is present!  He promised to never leave us nor forsake us!  He promised to send us the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.  We should live our lives from that belief and saturate our worship and prayer lives with the knowledge of the truth instead of the manipulation of emotions!

Our worship is not about going to the service to get something out of it for us!  If that is the sole purpose of it then I want nothing to do with such worship!  If that is our sole desire then God grant us forgiveness!  A bi-product of true worship would be that you are fulfilled, yes.  I am not saying emotions and a fulfillment cannot be present, but what I am saying is it matters whether or not those desires are the priority when we take our place before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!  The eschatological destiny of the Church is worship!  This should cause us to stop and ponder the dangerous implications of the entertainment-driven model of “worship” and to re-evaluate our priorities!  This destiny should inform every aspect of our worship!  Our worship is about offering a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and should be granted on this Biblical truth.

Our satisfaction should come from the delight and pure joy it is to be in His presence not from having our emotions manipulated.  To worship in the self-serving attitude of the entertainment-driven model is an atrocious lie.  It is not and cannot be true worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We must decrease ourselves by rejecting this ideology that we have to feel something for worship to be worship!  I believe once we do that worship, true worship, will begin to take place.  It will a pleasing aroma to our God!  He will bless that and honor it!  We must worship Him based in truth, in what we believe!  This must inform our worship, not our emotions and what we can get out of it.  If we begin to worship in a true way I believe God will respond to us and will bring us near to Him in a very real way.  We will begin to transcend the here and now and participate sacramentally with His Divine Energies.  Our lives should never revolve around subjectivity.  When worship is left as purely subjective then it becomes whatever you or I say it is.  I do not believe worship to be this way.  We must learn to base our worship upon our core values and beliefs about God not on our subjectivity!   I believe this is what it means to worship in spirit and in truth.

Allow me to leave you with this question to ponder: how is the way you worship and practice your faith grounded in worshiping and living in spirit and truth?  If nothing else I pray you take this question to heart and reflect upon your communal acts of worship and personal acts of piety.

“The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” -Jesus Christ

Just Wondering...

I spent the last week in Vancouver where I had the opportunity to listen to some of the brightest minds in Missional Church thinking including Alan Roxburgh and Alan Hirsch. It was all apart of a conference being held at the University of British Columbia called the Allelon Conference. Dispite the physical challenges I faced while being there it was a great time to make new friends and connections as well as engage in a dialogue about what it means to be a missional church and a Christ follower.

There was so many things that were discussed over the three days that it is difficult to know what to write about now. However, a great deal of my time was spent listening to the values and points Alan Hirsch brought to the table. For that reason I thought I would share six of his values behind the Missional Movement; a…

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PRINCIPLES OF PERSONAL VISION: HABIT 2- BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND

PRINCIPLES OF PERSONAL VISION: HABIT 2- BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND

Synopsis of the Habit

            This habit really begins with a teleological understanding of life.  It is a habit that forces one to examine who they want to be at the end of their life, where they want to be, and with whom they want to be in that final moment.  I believe that virtue reasoning, which is a branch of teleological ethics, to be the very best form of moral reasoning we have.  This is not to discredit the other forms of moral reasoning at all.  However, I think it is virtue reasoning that focuses on who we are in Christ.  St. Paul writes in Philippians 2:5, “Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus.”  I believe that while we are thinking about beginning with the end in mind that we must stop and ask ourselves, “How does this conform me to the mind of Christ?”  Dr.Thobaben of Asbury Theological Seminary put it this way, “Our primary means of moral reasoning should be virtue reasoning. We need to look at who we want to be in Christ and act accordingly.”

Beginning with the end in mind is all about that!  Mr. Covey states it quite well in a nutshell by saying that to live out habit two “is to begin today with the image, picture, or the paradigm of the end of your life as your frame of reference or the criterion by which everything else is examined.  Each part of your life—today’s behavior, tomorrow’s behavior, next week’s behavior, next month’s behavior—can be examined in the context of the whole, of what really matters most to you.  By keeping that end clearly in mind, you can make certain that whatever you do on any particular day does not violate the criteria you have defined as supremely important, and that each day of your life contributes in a meaningful way to the vision you have of your life as a whole” (emphasis mine).  This habit is all about knowing where you are going, so you can know where you are now and the steps you must take to reach that destination.

This habit is a great way to build on habit one, which is being proactive.  Habit one says you are the programmer, so habit two states to write the program.  I particular like that Mr. Covey seems well-studied in Bowen Family Theory when he talks about the scripts we have received due to different influences whether natural or nurtured.  He is right on to talk about how we must rescript our paradigms in order to expose our values and who we really are and who we want to be.  This is particular important in writing our program, our own script!

Strengths and Weakness Surrounding the Habit

I believe my strength in this habit lies with my self-awareness, introspection, and determination to always be better.  My favorite musician, William Fitzsimmons, sings in his song “Passion Play”, “I just want to be not what I am today.  I just want to be better than my friends might say.  I just want a small part in Your passion play!”  I want to be a better person everyday as I am deified by the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.  I believe that discovering Bowen Family Theory and reading a book like Mr. Covey’s has helped me to really focus on who I want to be in Christ as St. Paul wrote.  I believe my proactivity and initiative are strengths for me in this habit.  I long to be conformed to Christ, to become part of God’s energies.

However, I do believe one of my weaknesses at this moment lies with two things: 1) Not being entirely sure what comes next in my life after graduation or if I will become a minister and 2) Not fully understanding what my values and principles clearly are.  This is going to be key in my implementation of this habit.

Implementation of the Habit

             To implement this particular habit, I believe I am going to pay a visit to my counselor in the counseling department here at Johnson to start up some career counseling/introspective exploration.  I want help in clarifying my values and principles, so that I can fully understand why I make the decisions I do and why I reason morally the way I do.

I also have this great urge to write out my mission statement again.  I hope to meditate, pray, read Scripture, and do therapy to help me in my process of writing my personal constitution.  I also want to take advice from this great website called yourmorals.org that Dr. Pierce told us about in Capstone.  This website is a great tool in helping one understand one’s morals and values.  I believe that being proactive to implement the second habit like this will aid me in self-discovery, so that I may use my imagination and conscience as Mr. Covey states to understand my values and principles.  Mr. Covey said it best, “Because I am self-aware, because I have imagination and conscience, I can examine my deepest values.  I can realize that the script I’m living is not in harmony with those values, that my life is not the product of my own proactive design, but the result of the first creation I have deferred to circumstances and other people.  And I can change.  I can live out of my imagination instead of my memory.  I can tie myself to my limitless potential instead of my limiting past.  I can become my own first creator.”

That is my plan for the implementation of this habit.  To be not what I am today.  To be better.