Taking Baptism Seriously 1.0

There are four orders of ministers in the Church.  There are bishops, priests, deacons, and lay.  The Church spends a good bit of its resources on ensuring that the first three are up-to-snuff (whatever that might mean in the given context).  It is generally up to those three, the ordained clergy, to disciple the fourth, the laity, and ensure their up-to-snuff-ness.  Some Christians may not like that idea – they’re not “professional” Christians (ie. not clergy).  Why should they have to be involved in the Church’s ministry?  They were never ordained in the Church – what right do they have to tackle this task?

The old joke was that clergy-people were paid to be good, but that laypeople were good for nothing.  I would dispel this idea to some extent, because I’m not paid to be good.  I am not paid for services rendered.  Rather, I am afforded an allowance, a stipend, by the local church (through the diocese), to allow me to live within this geographical parish.  All of the “services rendered” are a function of the person I am, because of who and what God is continually making me.

In the same way, all Christians are called to ministry because ministry is the fulfillment of who and what God is making them.  Lay people in the Church may not generally consider themselves to have been ordained, and perhaps they weren’t ordained to the particular ministry of the priesthood in the Church, to thus maintain the order of the Church, but something like it did happen to them.  They were baptized.  You were baptized.

There are so many things to be said about baptism, but I will here only point in the directions that we’re going to go in future blog posts.  We can talk about baptism’s roots – where did this practise come from? was it an anomaly that sprung up in a void?  We can talk about the symbolism of baptism – what is signified by the water? what is the meaning inherent in the rite?  We can talk about the elements of baptism – why water? how was it instituted this way?  We can talk about the vows taken in baptism – what are they? what significance do they hold? how are they practically applied to daily living?  We can talk about covenantal relationship with God – what does it mean to be God’s people?  We can talk about taking our own baptisms seriously.

All these and more, to come.

The Sermon I Didn’t Preach Today

It’s a risky business, to post what wasn’t said.  Why wasn’t it said?  Why were the things said, that were?  If those were the things that God wanted said this morning, where do these things come from – and where should they go?

I watched Braveheart the other night – a fact I did mention in my sermon this morning.  But where I stopped at William Wallace’s transformation from focusing on dying well to focusing on living well (my paraphrases), the part of the movie that hits me harder involves Robert the Bruce.  The Judas (as they turn-of-phrase might put it).  William Wallace had something, and Robert took it from him.  Was it innocence?  Was it an implicit trust in his countrymen?  More specifically, was it an eye to Robert as the next monarch of the Scots?

I’m not looking for people to actually reflect too deeply upon Braveheart.  People just start weighing in on what they think the movie is trying to express.  The authoritative voice on that can only come across when the screenwriter speaks, and that’s beside the point.  Then there are those who would approach the question from a historical perspective, and discuss how accurate Braveheart’s depiction of that episode in history was.  Again, beside the point.

My point is, and the reason this part of the movie hits me hard, is because too often I feel like that.  Too often I feel like I’m the guy who pledged his loyalty to the One bringing freedom, who then stands with the enemy on the battlefield – and gets found out.  Too often I feel like I’m the guy who rages at his father for sending him to fight for the wrong side – though it’s me raging against myself, not my father (who, incidentally, never pointed me in the wrong direction).

I hate this; I hate it when it occurs; I hate that it occurs.  On the one hand, I hate that the circumstance arises.  On the other hand, I hate that I feel this guilt for it – because it seems as though this is wrong-minded in itself, too!  On the third hand (or paw, if that image strikes you less out-of-the-ordinary) I hate that I’m still in need of such refinement that the potential for either of these still exists.

But maybe that’s just it.  Maybe the picture of the process of salvation that we hold in our minds is just inadequate.  It’s convenient.  We like to have Jesus save us from the consequences of sin.  But we don’t like to admit that we’re sinners; we don’t want the discomfort of His work in us to actually remove sin from us; we certainly don’t want to put in any of the devotional human work that enables and complements His work in us.  So we ask Him to save us from sin, and we only mean “save us from the consequences of sin.”  Because the full picture of salvation is too involved.  The only thing we fully devote ourselves to is the idea that we should take everything in moderation (particularly faith – who wants to be called a fanatic?).

But I want to be a part of an alternative.  An alternative to half-hearted devotion to the One who pours our His whole heart for us; to the minimalist commitment that tries to mask itself behind “faith” that He can use even the smallest faith (no need to have more, or devote more – He may ask it, but He’s willing to work with much less); to the “good-enough” mentality of our society which is never good enough, and dulls us to the call for holiness.  Let me say, emphanatically (you read right), “No!” to these things.

If this precious metal is going to be refined, then the dross must be burned off.  If this precious metal is going to survive the refining process, then there’s got to be more to it than “all” dross.  Cultivate holiness; find that He initiates before our efforts reciprocate.  His path is the narrow one that few find, and it leads to a narrow gateway.  And there is only one way onto His path – Jesus.  Thank God that He meets us in many places as that Way.  Do not settle for less than the fullness of His call.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

How do we talk about what we believe?  I ask this question in a response to a recent letter-to-the-editor in our national church newspaper.  I was surprised at the letter for a couple of reasons, but pertinent to this blog article was its request (?) that we (I suppose the Anglican Church of Canada) would refrain from adopting a liturgical change(?) which the RC Church had made.  The author shared an experience of attending RC mass at Christmas where the Apostles’ Creed was declared.  The point of contention was that it had been edited to say that Jesus descended to hell.  There was another letter placed with it, in which a bishop suggested that there were no changes in store for the Apostles’ Creed.

Now, I can’t say for sure what the deal is.  The Roman Catholic liturgical reform, of late, has changed their liturgy to use language very similar to the old Anglican Prayerbook language (ie. “And with thy spirit,” rather than, “And also with you” as a response).  I’m not clear on all of the changes, but my suspicion is that the “new” Apostles’ Creed used is the same as the old Anglican BCP one, which says that Christ descended to hell after his crucifixion and burial.  If this is the case, then the bishop’s letter which states that no changes are in the works for the Anglican liturgy can be true – but somewhat misleading.  What it might seem to say is that our version of the creed would never say what the “new” RC one does; however, the truth of the matter is that our version of the creed already does.

Regardless of how many parishes and clergy choose to ignore it, the Prayerbook of 1962 is still the standard for Anglican worship in Canada – not the Book of Alternative Services (BAS).  Here, however, is where I think the problem lies – that is, the “between” that we find ourselves in, with the rock on one side and the hard place on the other.

I suspect that some of the disgust expressed by the first writer to the idea that Christ descended to “hell” has to do with popular depictions and sentiments regarding hell.  To someone who imposes the popular image of hell onto the Bible’s use of that word (and also, then, of the Prayerbook’s use of that term), the idea could indeed be ugly.  The preference would certainly fall to the BAS language of “descended to the dead.”  So the word “hell” is a rock that we come up against, because of its popular usage and the imagery associated with that.

But if we think about what “descended to the dead” means, in popular usage, I don’t know that we find any more of a Scriptural view (or “prayerbook-ian,” for that matter) than “hell” conjures up.  Descending to the dead seems to only mean that a person isn’t physically alive – with no particulars beyond that.  I think that Scripture does suggest some particulars, and it is my suspicion that the people who were versed in Scripture to the extent that the compilers of the prayerbook were, knew of this.  At any rate, it would seem that “the dead” can be as much of a “hard place” as hell, and so I think that we get stuck between the two.  One, popularly, defines the intent incorrectly; the other, popularly, under-defines it.

The truth lies somewhere in-between, and is hinted at in Scripture.  Where did Jesus go between His crucifixion and His resurrection?  Did He go nowhere, and simply cease to be?  Was He simply beginning to rot in the tomb, with no existence beyond it?  The Bible, the canon of which has been received and accepted in the Christian Church as authoritative and sufficient, suggests otherwise.  He preached to those “in prison since the days of Noah.” (1 Peter 3:20).  The Odes of Solomon mention this same phenomenon.

The picture painted for the Church is a picture of Jesus “tasting” the fullness of death.  What would be the point of Him sacrificing Himself for us if He failed to do so?  His vicarious atonement/sacrifice, for it to be vicarious, required Him to bear the punishment of our sin, so that there is no punishment for our sin left to fall to us.  He saves us from that punishment because He took it all already.  What

Greek to me

So it turns out that Greek is… Greek… to me.

In somewhat typical fashion (always having been far more secure in my abilities than I should have been), I assumed that because I was taught Koine Greek (really, to be able to read the New Testament) in seminary, I would easily understand spoken Greek at a Greek Orthodox service.  In somewhat typical fashion, I underestimated the task (to a degree), and was, then, wrong (to a degree).

It turns out that there are all kinds of vowels that are pronounced differently, by actual Greek speakers, than I was taught.  I’m not sure if it’s a “time” thing – ie. they used to pronounce it the way I was taught Koine; over the years the pronunciation has changed.  In light of this, I understood far less than I thought I would.  But, that said, I understood far more than this would suggest – and I started to get the hang of the pronunciation that was used, and was able to figure out what various things meant (which, for me, meant figuring out how they were spelled) as I heard them.

I thought that I would at least be able to jump in to the Greek part of the liturgy (all of it was repeated in both Greek and English) at the Lord’s Prayer.  I do know the Lord’s Prayer in Greek.  But the different pronunciations got me, and while I could keep up with the other worshipers as they spoke (with the pictures of the words in my head), I could not keep up in my speech.  Yet my experience this evening suggests to me that I could pick it up without too much trouble.

But then again, it’s somewhat typical of me to be far more secure in my abilities than I should be.

The “One Thing” Revisited, 1.2

Liturgy.  How we do what we do.  It’s the guide to our worship, the instructional rubrics to our practices, the form we put ourselves in when we approach God.  It can dictate our posture, our use of language, our use of Scripture.  It gets under our skin, flows in our blood, touches our souls.

A friend has told me that he thinks that all people should spend some years in traditions that are commonly defined “liturgical,” and he isn’t, strictly speaking, from one himself.  Children do not ride bikes without first riding with training wheels; surgeons do not perform procedures without first going to medical school.  Why do Christians, my friend asked, engage in the deep mysteries of the faith – in what are often haphazard ways – without first taking in what they can from those who do it well?

Eucharistic liturgy, for instance, did not precede Eucharistic practice.  The early Christians did not wait, after hearing Jesus’ instruction to ‘do this in remembrance of Me,’ until they had compiled theologically sound, well-balanced, Eucharistic prayers/prayers of consecration.  These came later, when they realized that not all ministers of the church were as adept at praying such prayers from their own minds/memories.  The Eucharistic Prayer was composed to ensure that those things which were to be included in such a prayer were.  And not only to include the proper elements, but also to include them in the language of the Scriptures – using the same formulations of those elements as God’s Word uses.

Notice, from this small example, that the liturgy was made to suit the worship.  Not the worship to suit the liturgy.  What is most important when Christians gather together to worship God?  Is it not just that – that they’ve gathered (which is, in itself, good) to worship?  If the Christians who gather only do so to engage in liturgy, to make sure that the right words are said, to do what they’ve always done on such days (they won’t feel like they’ve “gone to church” if they don’t!), then are they gathering for the right reasons?  For that matter, if they gather with the agenda in mind that they will not engage in anything they would term liturgical, then are they gathering for the right reasons?

Why, then, do we get together?  Why do Christians bother to meet with one another?  Is it to worship in a certain way, or is it to worship?  It would seem to me that the important thing is the worship, not the way it’s undertaken.  Sure, different worship styles (i.e. liturgical/so-called non-liturgical) impact different people on different levels.  But liturgy is only a tool.  It is only an instrument.  It is only intended to draw people into worship of the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – by whom alone can people come to the Father – that is, Jesus.  It’s all about Jesus.