Monthly Archives: March 2009

 

Mar

31

2009

Trevin Wax|3:19 am CT

Do We Know What Jesus Said?

Lost In Transmission?: What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus

In recent years, I have noticed that many of the twenty and thirty-somethings in my circle ask very pointed questions about the accuracy of the biblical text. Some of the questioners are devoted Christians; others are outside the faith, challenging the foundation of our belief system. Regardless of their background, they are familiar with History Channel documentaries about the Gnostic or Lost Gospels and they have seen movies like The Da Vinci Code.

C.S. Lewis famously argued that Jesus must be either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. There are no other legitimate options. Despite the brilliance of Lewis’ trilemma, his apologetic falls apart if one disposes with the historical data of Jesus given to us in the Gospels. The Jesus of the canonical Gospels must be either liar, lunatic, or Lord. But once you question the historicity of the biblical picture of Jesus, his identity is once again in dispute.

Enter Nick Perrin, former research assistant to N.T. Wright and now the Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. Perrin’s book Lost In Transmission?: What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus takes on the recent critics of the Gospels’ reliability in a winsome and readable manner for laypeople.

The impetus for Lost in Transmission is the recent work of Bart Ehrman. Ehrman has made the argument at the popular level that the words of Jesus have been corrupted beyond recovery – intentionally tampered with by the scribes who handed down the words of Jesus.

Readers of Ehrman are struck by the personal nature of his writings. Ehrman cannot reconcile the existence of a good God and the existence of horrifying, unspeakable evils. Perrin’s response is just as personal. He recounts his own spiritual journey as he dismantles the illogical theses of Ehrman.

Writes Perrin:

“This book is for different kinds of people. It is for the countless people out there who, though interested in Jesus, are afraid to believe because they think that we cannot know anything about him or his words. It is also for Christians who are afraid to think because they believe we cannot know anything about Jesus. And it is for Christians who, being unafraid to believe or think, have dared to ascend the intellectual climbing wall of their faith, but who, having been harnessed into the Enlightenment understanding of historical evidence, are unaware of the fragility of that harness.” (x)

Perrin believes that evangelicals need to do business with historical research. We dare not ignore the historical challenges to our faith: 

“When people succumb to that temptation of ignoring challenges to their faith, they are in the end demonstrating that they are more committed to the feeling of having a lock on truth than they are to truth itself.” (xxi)

In other words, Perrin sees our refusal to engage in the historical debate as a backhanded denial of the truths at the very heart of Christianity. We must never suppress the historical truths surrounding the life of Jesus Christ presented in the Gospels. For Perrin, history and Christianity are inseparable because of the nature of the resurrection.

“I do claim that for historical reasons we can have a great deal of confidence in the scriptural record of Jesus’ words – and for that matter, his deeds as well. My own confidence may initially be born of biblical faith, but it is not a faith willfully oblivious to historical realities. Nor is biblical faith to be afraid of historical inquiry; rather, it seeks out such inquiry. If faith and history collide, it might make a pretty mess for a time. But the only worse mess is a stillborn faith that insists on fleeing history and, ultimately, the world in which we live. Never let it be said that the self-revelation of Jesus Christ demands blind acquiescence. Rather, it demands we ask questions when we’ve come to realize, once again, that we don’t yet fully understand the implications of that revelation.” (42)

The above passage forms the heart of Lost in Transmission. Perrin’s book attempts to demonstrate the need for us to do business with historical inquiry and to answer historical questions correctly.

I benefited from Perrin’s focus on the Jewish-ness of Jesus. Failing to take into account Jesus’ Judaism leads to a failure to understand his words and deeds in the appropriate context.

Likewise, I enjoyed Perrin’s unmasking of the arrogance and exclusivity of Enlightenment liberalism. Perrin ably demonstrates the closed-mindedness of the Enlightenment perspective, even as it parades under the guise of openness. He writes: 

“It is hard, if not impossible, to take Jesus’ Judaism seriously and make him into a poster child for Western liberalism.” (62)

I also appreciated Perrin’s desire to not over-harmonize the Gospel accounts when he runs into apparent discrepancies. He recognizes the danger of the extreme harmonizing tendency to flatten out the different picture each Gospel author desired to present to the readers.

Perrin says we should let the Gospels be the Gospels:

“Luke’s Jesus has to be understood for what he has to say without Matthew’s Jesus interrupting. The problem with sending one evangelist in to rescue another is that this becomes an easy way to get the Gospels to say what we want to hear. To me, this is just manipulating the Gospels as a magician might manipulate a stack of cards.” (123)

Perrin’s critique of the Enlightenment does not lead him to make statements of utter certainty. He proposes what seems to be a chastened postmodern sensibility that accepts our lack of understanding regarding certain aspects of the Gospels.

Do not expect Lost in Transmission to solve every textual problem you have as you study the Gospels. Instead, enjoy the reflections of a scholar whose work will increase your confidence in the reliability and accuracy of the biblical text.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Mar

30

2009

Trevin Wax|3:30 am CT

Screwtape on the Southern Baptist Convention

uncle-screwtapeMy dearest Wormwood,

Though it gives me no pleasure to do so, I must tip my hat to you for the wonderful developments you have initiated in regards to the Southern Baptist Convention. 

Surely you need no reminder of the perilous situation we were facing in the not-too-distant past. I had nearly come to the conclusion that all hope was lost. But alas, you surprise me, dear nephew! You have done it again. (It is obvious that I have taught you well.) I do hope you will keep up the bad work.

Still, there is much work to be done. 

Remember that arrogance and pride is your greatest inroad into the Convention.

Due to your negligence (I will say no more… you were younger and inexperienced at the time), we lost the battle over the Enemy’s book some years ago. I worried that the entire Convention would be lost. For years, I feared an unprecedented advance of the Enemy’s mission to seek out those in our own territory. With the institutions reclaiming their fidelity to the Book… well… it seemed our cause was lost.

But you were right to comfort me during those days of anxiety. Yes, you were right to focus your efforts on perpetuating the arrogant attitude that comes easily for some who pursue higher education. You must continue to foster a sense of disdain among the seminary students and professors towards the people in the pews and their uneducated pastors. 

It is no secret that because of your blundering, we lost the liberal theologians who looked down their noses on the “know-nothings” in the local churches. There is nothing we can do about that yet (though I have some ideas).

But we can still use the seminaries to our advantage. Promote the points of Calvinism or the methods of Revivalism or the principles of Church Growth… whatever you decide to focus on, it matters little to me. Just make sure that whatever theology or methodology you use, the next generation looks down on their uneducated and unenlightened parishioners. Use arrogance to keep the Enemy from doing his work.

And by all means, make sure that the pastors and church leaders are more in love with their techniques, methods, theology or their name and fame than they are with the Enemy or the people under his care.

Related to this, I encourage you to increase the foment between the generations. The bigger the generation gap, the better. Stir up the young people to gossip about the old leaders as legalistic and out-of-touch. Cause the older leaders to resent the young people as libertine and disrespectful. 

I must congratulate you on the excellent job you have done in using the internet to our advantage. From the websites devoted to shaming and scorning the mega-church pastors to the blogsites that keep young and old alike distracted with secondary issues… your work here has been amazing. Keep stirring the pot, Wormwood.

At the local church level, I am convinced that the more you blind the people to their hypocrisy, the better off we will be in the long run. Make sure their temperaments run towards judgmentalism and not repentance. You can do this by keeping them focused on the sins of the increasingly decadent culture (by the way, aren’t the new developments delightful?). As long as the Baptists focus on the actions of those in our territory, they are less apt to repent of the actions of those in their pews and pulpits.

I am upset that you have not yet eased the consciences of those up in arms regarding the recent trends of baptism. Surely you can thwart their attempts to refocus on that cursed Commission.

You are foolish to celebrate the public nature of their decline! As long as their numbers are shrinking, they know something is wrong. Wormwood, you must cause their numbers to grow again. Just make sure effective discipleship is not the way it happens.

You can get their numbers up by attracting people from other churches and denominations who already agree with their critique of society. That way, they can begin growing again numerically as their influence continues to shrink. Stroke their ego so that they feel superior to the other denominations.

It might be good for you to add a touch of nostalgia to the situation. You will recall the work I have done in the past in this regard. I like to distract these wretches from the future the Enemy has planned for them. Let them focus on some other ”glory”. 

For some, you can work the SBC model of the 1950′s-1970′s. Let them remember fondly the heyday of the SBC institutions and cultural Christianity.

For others, you can work the Revival eras of the ”Great Awakenings.” Take them back to the methods of the sawdust trail and the revival meetings.

For others, take them back to the Reformation. Have them envision a Puritan paradise.

Whatever you do, make sure they do not look ahead to the new heavens and earth that the Enemy has in store for them. Such hope might cause them to be bolder in their missions and evangelism. If you can distract them with the false “golden ages” (and not the Age to Come), you will be doing well.

By all means, keep them busy. I hear that some are harping about prayer. Shut them up quickly. Discourage them. Help them to see prayer as a needless exercise that does not deliver results.

Of course, the most important work you can do is keep them from the gospel. I shudder to think of its power. It has proved to be unstoppable in so many cases that I hate to even mention it. You must keep them from reflecting on the gospel, proclaiming the gospel, and living according to the gospel. 

The fact that we lost the battle over the Book almost caused me to lose hope. But we still have a chance. The gospel and the cursed Commission are the tools the Enemy has used against us all these years. You will do well to make sure that these Baptists focus on everything else.

I fear what lies in store for us. The Enemy will not give up on these people. So neither should we.

Your affectionate Uncle…

Screwtape

Related Posts:
7 Types of Southern Baptists
Bridging the Generation Gap in the SBC
A Plea to the Current Leadership of the SBC

 
 

Mar

29

2009

Trevin Wax|3:28 am CT

Make Me Like Jesus

Heavenly Father,
Make me like Jesus, who, though he was rich,
yet for our sakes became poor
so that many, through his poverty, might be made rich.
Help me to deny myself
and give joy and comfort to those less favored than I am;
and many I learn how much more blessed it is to give than to receive.

- F.B. Meyer

 
 

Mar

28

2009

Trevin Wax|3:04 am CT

Subverting our World's Preoccupation with "Success"

  • We subvert the Caesar of Success whenever we, as a community of faith, reject the idea that bigger is necessarily better.
  • We subvert Success when we go from riches to rags on behalf of the world’s poor rather than finding our hope in moving from rags to riches…
  • We subvert Success when our churches partner with one another, not as competitors, but as co-workers in the kingdom…
  • We subvert Success as businesspeople when we are willing to downsize, to take pay cuts to spend more time with family, to refuse a promotion that will sacrifice church and family ties.
  • We subvert Success by praying for our competitors’ success, by thanking God for the success achieved by others, just as the early church prayed for the governing authorities who were persecuting them.

- a quote from my upcoming book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Jesus in an Age of Rivals

 
 

Mar

27

2009

Trevin Wax|3:41 am CT

In the Blogosphere

Check out what some believe to be the real story of The Wizard of Oz.

Why you should use stories from church history to promote kingdom-mindedness in your congregation.

What is “the gospel”? Seven answers.

Tim Challies uses his reliance on GPS to make a point about over-reliance on Christian preachers and teachers.

Mark Roberts thinks we all need a Simon Cowell in our life.

I have been enjoying the Together for the Gospel LIVE album. 5000 men singing.

The Unclassified Laws of Etiquette

iMonk reflects on the SBC: Death by Nostalgia and Is a Great Commission Resurgence possible?

My Romanian readers might enjoy this interview with Dr. Paul Negrut. (Part 1, Part 2)

 
 

Mar

26

2009

Trevin Wax|3:42 am CT

Praying the Psalms

The Power and Pleasure of Praying the Psalms

I once read that Billy Graham prays five psalms a day (completing all 150 in a month). The more I consider that practice, the more I am convinced that such spiritual discipline is much needed in our fast-paced lives. We too often lack  time for prayer and Bible reading.

Most people admit that they would like to pray more. But how to start? How to continue? What to say?

We fail to realize that we have a divine prayer book available to us! Open up the Psalms and you will discover some of the most powerful prayers ever written - powerful because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit himself.

If you are looking for a resource to help you understand how to pray the psalms, then I encourage you to pick up God’s Prayer Book: The Power and Pleasure of Praying the Psalms by pastor Ben Patterson. God’s Prayer Book leads you through a selection of psalms, illuminating ways in which you can make these ancient prayers the cry of your own heart.

This is not a book of prayers inspired by the psalms. It is a book that puts the actual psalms in the spotlight. Patterson says just enough to stir our hearts to pray. He is a guide. He does not do the praying for you. 

Neither should you expect a scholarly commentary on the psalms (though I admit I will consult this book whenever I preach through the psalms). God’s Prayer Book is the best kind of devotional – one that shines light on the psalms and and offers some specific prayer points to get you started, without weighing you down with too many details.

The best part of Patterson’s work is his focus on spiritual formation. Patterson believes that praying the psalms changes our desires:

“Prayer is more than a tool for self-expression, a means to get God to give us what we want. It is a means he uses to give us what he wants, and to teach us what he wants.” (7)

Patterson sees the psalms as a mirror that reveal us. Whenever we read them, they show us who we are in light of God’s majesty. But whenever we pray them, they change us.

God’s Prayer Book contains the meditations of a man who has spent many years drinking deeply from the Scriptures. The book is also filled with good illustrations. Pastors will want to file away some of the stories for future use in sermons.

If it is true that “80 perecent of learning to pray is just showing up – and doing it” (22), then God’s Prayer Book is the perfect way to get started. 

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Mar

25

2009

Trevin Wax|7:28 am CT

Gospel Definitions: Michael Bird

“Taken together we can infer from I Corinthians 15:3 – 5, Romans 1:1-4 and II Timothy 2:8, that the gospel is both about the person and work of Christ.

“God promised in the scriptures that He would renew creation and restore Israel. The gospel is the good news that God has made these promises good in Jesus, the Messiah and Lord. Jesus died and rose for the purpose of atoning for sins, and through faith in Him and His work believers are reconciled to God.

“The new age has been launched and God has revealed His saving righteousness in the gospel so that He justifies and delivers persons from the penalty and power of sin and death.”

- Michael Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message

 
 

Mar

25

2009

Trevin Wax|3:48 am CT

Visiting a Mega-Church

megachurchEarlier this week, I reflected on a visit to a Roman Catholic church. Today, I am putting down some reflections about a recent visit to a megachurch.

I read recently that some people are attending churches “undercover,” much like mystery shoppers who frequent restaurants and stores and report on their findings. I deplore the consumerist mindset that treats the church as just another company.

But I wonder if our churches might not benefit from “undercover” visitors who take stock of every aspect of the worship, looking for the message of the gospel? How many churches could we attend without hearing about Christ crucified? How many ”worship sets” do we sing that leave out the cross and resurrection? What view would one have of God if they sat through just one typical evangelical worship service? 

The irony you will soon discover in the following description of a megachurch visit is that the Roman Catholics read more Scripture in worship than we evangelicals do. And we’re the ones who believe sola Scriptura, right?

Here are some thoughts on my mega-church visit…

A service at this church is a massive endeavor which takes a tremendous number of volunteers and paid workers. Once we arrived at the entrance to the building, the doors were opened by greeters who said, “Good evening,” and “Hi, how are you?”. Once inside, another lady greeted us and told us she was glad that we were there. My wife and I made our way to the nursery wing, where we dropped off our son. The nursery is filled with volunteers that stay with the children during the service. Smiling ushers led us to our seats on the bottom floor in the towering auditorium.

The service began with a man who was leading the church in singing as he played the piano. He was joined onstage by several other people who sang as well. The orchestra and band were hidden down below the choir loft. The ushers that greeted us at the door were involved in serving Communion at the appropriate time. Some of the people on staff baptized new converts at one point during the service.

The senior minister preached the sermon and went down front afterwards to greet people coming forward at the invitation. Many other counselors, elders and ushers were involved in this part of the service as well. There were probably more than 500 total people working to make this service possible.

Several things strike me as being important to the planners of this worship service. First, professionalism is definitely a goal of the worship team and musicians. The music and singing from onstage is executed so well that no awkwardness exists at all. A strong sense of professionalism pervades the atmosphere. Everything done must be top-notch.

Another important factor for the planners is efficiency. The service begins and ends at a certain time, leaving little room for flexibility. It is amazing that so much is accomplished during this worship service within the time constraints of one hour.

Another important factor is outreach. The people are friendly to visitors and church members demonstrate a genuine caring attitude. The music was contemporary, and the sermon seemed relevant to believers and non-believers alike.

The auditorium is built like a 3-tiered stadium. Since it seats thousands of people it is very easy to feel lost within the massive space. There was a cross on the wall behind the stage, as well as a dove that signified the Holy Spirit. Other than these two wall fixtures, nothing would have communicated to an outsider that this was indeed a church sanctuary. The facility is immensely practical.

The décor matched the worship service, thoroughly contemporary and professional. The people who led the service seemed educated and at ease in their task of addressing so large a crowd. The printed materials were full color brochures which not only told about that evening’s worship service, but also about all the activities and programs that the church offers. Overall, all these factors create a sense of “aliveness.”

Everyone around us sang during the appropriate times. I noticed that most everyone took Communion when the plate was passed. People were very attentive to the pastor’s message. I have been in few churches where everyone seemed to be so utterly engaged in the program and in all that was taking place. People applauded when the baptisms were finished, signaling that everyone understood this as a crucial event in a person’s life.

I felt that Communion was taken reverently by the people around me, but since there was very little comment from the stage about the significance of Communion, I cannot describe the individual’s understanding of this ordinance. It seemed to be an intimate moment between the individual and God rather than a corporate event.

The way that this church took Communion is deficient for several reasons. First, there is no clear explanation of the significance of Communion. Neither is there any discussion about who is eligible to receive the elements. Secondly, a newcomer to the church would not know what to do in this situation. Communion takes place in the middle of the service, before the sermon. It is an intimate time of personal reflection. Little emphasis is placed on the corporate “coming together” at the table of the Lord.

Immediately following Communion is the ordinance of baptism. I must admit that I enjoyed the way that the service structure joined the two ordinances side by side in this way. Still, the lack of explanation of Communion’s significance needs to be addressed.

Every worship has a theology, be it sound or errant. The church’s worship service began with the song “Holy is the Lord God Almighty,” a song that speaks of how the earth is filled with His glory. From the start of the service, we were invited to worship a holy and powerful Creator God.

Another song was “God is Great,” about the awesomeness of God’s character. We sang “Amazing Grace,” which explained that salvation is by grace alone for wretched sinners.

“Made Me Glad” was taken directly from a psalm that speaks of what God has done for His children. Overall, I believe the songs chosen helped bring God’s transcendence into view, while the atmosphere of the church emphasized His imminence.

The church’s role in the life of a believer was most evident in the child dedication ceremony, when the parents committed to raise their children in the fear of the Lord and the church committed to assisting them in this God-given task. Even in a church this large, the covenantal aspect of church membership shined through in this moment.

The service’s climax is the pastor’s sermon. The Bible message is given preeminence over all other aspects of the service, including the singing. The sermon was very practical and accessible. People seemed to understand the pastor’s message and I saw many people nodding their heads in agreement.

The sermon explained both what salvation is, and who Jesus is. I must give credit to the pastor for crafting a sermon that explained the Holy Spirit’s power in the life of Stephen, while maintaining a strong evangelistic emphasis.

One of the songs was taken almost directly from a psalm. During Communion, Philippians 3:10-11 appeared on the large screen behind the stage. The pastor read selected portions from Acts 6-7 as the main text for his sermon. Besides the pastor’s reading, there was no other public reading of Scripture aloud.

The songs were uplifting and God-centered, so I did feel encouraged to praise God. The sermon was Bible-based, and God did speak to us through His Word.

The impression one gets from visiting this church is big! Everything is big, from the sound, the screens, the auditorium, to the sermon. It is easy to feel as if you are only a spectator and not a participant, due to the size of the crowd.

The worship service falls somewhere in between formal and informal worship style. The service itself is very structured, so it would be a mistake to consider it informal in its presentation, as if everything were spontaneous or off-the-cuff. At the same time, the atmosphere is informal. Some people are dressed casually, while others are dressed in suits and ties. The worship team was dressed in “snappy-casual” attire. This juxtaposition of structure and informality does not a create dissonance, however; instead, it seeks to make the service accessible to the greatest number of people possible.

I grew up in a Baptist church that was a little more traditional in its musical style. Still, I must say that I am familiar with this type of worship service. My home church follows a similar order of service, and the climax is the sermon there as well. I got the feeling that the church is something like what my home church would be if it were 20 times larger.

My wife and I enjoyed our visit to this mega-church. We both felt that the Spirit of God is at work in this community of believers. Even though there were some aspects of the service that we felt could be improved, we believe that this worship service was honoring to God in the way it centered on God’s character and taught about salvation as His gift of free grace to sinners.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Mar

24

2009

Trevin Wax|3:49 am CT

Visiting a Catholic Church 2

Yesterday, I began describing my visit to a Roman Catholic Church. Today, I am listing some of the positive and negative aspects of the church service.

The Scripture readings formed the high point of the service for me. I am not accustomed to hearing so much Scripture read aloud in church. The first man read a passage from Isaiah which foreshadowed the sufferings of Christ.

The second person to read was an elderly woman. She read from Philippians 2, about Christ humbling himself and then being raised and exalted by God. A woman sang a spine-tingling rendition of Psalm 22, complete with repetitive “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” lines.

Finally, we read the entire Passion narrative from Mark’s Gospel, beginning with Mark 14 and continuing all the way to Christ’s burial at the end of Mark 15. A man to the right of the stage read the narration, the priest said the words of Jesus, the woman to the left of the stage read the other voices in the narrative, and whenever the crowd in the passage spoke, so did the entire audience. This was a creative way to read the Passion narrative. I felt as if I were there, in the crowd, shouting “crucify him” and “come down from the cross.”

The sermon was the most disappointing part of the service. The priest offered a few words about the importance of the coming week. He pointed to the sufferings of Christ done on our behalf, but he did little to explain just how that takes place. The sermon lasted less than five minutes.

The way that the church took Communion was quite disturbing to this Baptist. The explanation of Communion’s significance is clearly sacrificial. The priest said a secret prayer out loud while we were singing, a prayer that we could all hear but not understand. He prayed several times that the “sacrifice” of the Mass might be pleasing to God. Then, he would speak of Jesus as our perfect sacrifice.

The ideas regarding the Mass as a sacrifice and Jesus as a perfect sacrifice were conflated. The priest did not mention who is eligible to receive the elements. I came across a paragraph at the beginning of the hymnal which specified that only Roman Catholics who have not committed grave sins can partake of the elements. But a newcomer to the church would not know what to do in this situation unless they happened to read that paragraph.

The songs were uplifting and God-centered, so I did feel encouraged to praise God. God did speak to me through His Word, but that came from the reading, not from something the priest or singers said.

Every worship service has a theology, be it sound or errant. This church’s worship service began with a song that speaks of Jesus, the coming King. From the start of the service, we were invited to worship a holy and powerful Creator God. Another song was about the sufferings of Jesus. We sang “O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” which recounted more of Christ’s sufferings. “My God, My God” was taken directly from Psalm 22 and spoke again of Jesus’ Passion. Overall, I believe the songs chosen were appropriate for the season of Lent, even though there was little explanation for how one can have the death of Jesus appropriated for our salvation.

The church’s role in the life of a believer was most evident in the priest’s remark regarding two recent funerals in the church. Also, the priest encouraged members to take flowers to the elderly in nursing homes. The priest encouraged the church to act as a family, even though the atmosphere was cold. Aside from the “passing of the peace,” people rarely spoke to each other.

The sermon did little to explain what salvation is, and who Jesus is. There was no effort to evangelize people. The entire service was created under the assumption that everyone knows what is going on, who God is, who Jesus is, and what the church is all about.

The impression one gets from visiting a Catholic Church is seriousness! Everything is taken seriously, from the music, the readers, the auditorium, to the Eucharist. It is easy to feel as if you are only a spectator and not a participant, due to the inaccessibility of some of the songs and prayers. The service itself is very structured, yet the atmosphere is informal. Some people are dressed casually, while others are dressed in suits and ties. The worship team was dressed in robes.

I grew up in a Baptist church that was a not liturgical at all. In the past few years, I have studied Catholic and Anglican liturgies, so I must say that I am familiar with this type of worship service, even if this was my first time to attend a Mass.

I enjoyed my visit to this church. There are things I can learn from the Roman Catholic Church. Even though there were several theological aberrations, I believe we can learn from this church how to better revere God and how to prize history and tradition as Baptists.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2008 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Mar

23

2009

Trevin Wax|3:42 am CT

Visiting a Catholic Church 1

As Christians, we gather to worship the Lord Jesus Christ, who willingly gave His life for our redemption. Our worship gatherings express our feelings to God; at the same time, they communicate our view of God to others.

Today and tomorrow, I am describing my visit to a local Roman Catholic church, as well as my thoughts on the worship service. On Wednesday, I will describe my visit to a mega-church.

My visit to a Catholic Church took place on a Saturday night service on the eve of Palm Sunday. (The worship service on Saturday evening is identical to the services on Sunday morning.)

The priest occupies the central position of leadership in the church. It is evident from the moment he walks down the aisle during the procession. He leads the worship time, initiates the prayers and readings, and he is the one who gives the short homily. Other people who were involved in the service included the organist (who was never seen, but played from the balcony), a violinist (who also remained unseen), and a woman who led in most of the singing. Two altar boys accompanied the priest during the procession, and they remained with him onstage. They helped collect the dishes from the Eucharist after the service. Two laypeople were involved in the Scripture readings, one a man and the other an elderly woman. There were no greeters at the doors of this church.

Several things strike me as being important to the planners of this worship service. First, professionalism is definitely a goal of the singers and musicians. The music and singing from onstage and from the balcony is beautiful, creating a “high church” atmosphere. A strong sense of reverence pervades the service. Everything done must be top-notch.

Secondly, the worship service is concentrated on the individual worshipper before God. The vertical aspect of worship (God and man) overshadows the horizontal aspect (man edifying man). The worship service is designed for the individual to connect with God; little room is left for individuals to connect with other individuals.

Everyone around us sang and prayed during the appropriate times. All the worshipers had palm branches that they waved at the priest and the altar boys as they proceeded down the aisle at the beginning. The priest sprinkled water on all the worshipers as he passed, saying this was a blessing of the palm branches. No more was said about that, so I have no idea what the theology is behind the sprinkling of palm branches.

People seemed distracted during the priest’s message, even though it only lasted a few minutes. The sermon was rather predictable. People seemed to understand the priest’s message, but the priest had little time to develop an exhortation that went any deeper than a typical ”We should be mindful that this is Holy Week” theme.

From what I saw, every person in the church took Communion except me. Communion was taken reverently by the people around me. The comments from the stage about the significance of Communion came out clearly in favor of transubstantiation (not surprisingly, of course).

The auditorium is typical of a Catholic Church. The altar table is central on the stage, with the pulpit to the left. Behind the altar table was a large purple curtain (for the season of Lent, I assume) and a large crucifix hanging down from the ceiling in front of the curtain. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling. On the walls, one could see wood sculptures of the Stations of the Cross. If I were to begin on one side of the church and make my way to the other side, I could follow the wood sculpting and visualize the entire Passion narrative. The pews had fold out kneeling rails, so one could kneel at the appropriate times.

The décor matched the worship service, thoroughly liturgical and reverent. The people who led the service seemed educated and at ease in their task of addressing the crowd.

I saw other worshipers holding printed bulletins and hand-outs, but since there were no greeters at the door, I did not get one and did not know where I could obtain one. Thankfully, there were hymnals in the seat in front of me, so when the woman singing songs gave hymn numbers, I was able to follow along. Also helpful was a Lenten book of prayers and Scripture readings in the pew. This book contained the long responsive reading from Mark’s Passion narrative. Without this, I would have been lost during the crucial moments of the service.

Overall, all these factors create a strong sense of tradition. The liturgy, combined with the antiphonal singing and responsive readings are deeply rooted in tradition. The décor and worship style give you the impression that you have entered into a sacred space, where you are witnessing something much bigger than yourself and your problems. I can see how this type of worship service would appeal to people who are in need of peace and quiet from the hustle and bustle of life.

Tomorrow, I’ll write a few more thoughts about my visit to this church.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2008 Kingdom People blog

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