The Way of the Church
When I began my journey into the liturgical church, many referred to it as “walking the Canterbury trail.” While this isn’t a bad way to express it, I’ve recently come to a place and position that would push back gently on this expression. I have not been walking the Canterbury trail; I have been walking the path of the Church.
Let me unpack that a little. Basically what I’m saying is that liturgical worship did not begin with the Canterbury trail. Liturgical worship has been part of the worship of God’s people since He has set apart a people for Himself. If you doubt that, I submit to you that you have not read carefully enough what we would call the Old Testament.
Throughout the details that God gives to His people of how they are to approach and worship Him, He gives strict liturgical practices they are to follow. Those practices were not for the gathered worship assembly only by the way. Those liturgical practices were for all aspects of their lives. God laid out the rhythm of their lives based on feasts and harvests and on and on. In other words, God’s people were told to live all their lives by a certain pattern of time and way of life based on what God said, not what they decided. This is the point, by the way, of the Church calendar.
This is critically important for us to understand in the Church today. We don’t get to make this up as we go along. The worship of God, indeed how we are to live our very lives, is dictated by the One who gave us life.
We are far too individualistic in our approach and attitude toward our lives and our worship. We are far too worried about what we feel or what we want, what is “relevant” or what “resonates” with us. I even had an Anglican priest whom I know say to me that the “tools of Anglicanism” worked best for him and that’s why he was Anglican. He said that if it ever stopped working, he’d just walk away.
Let’s just stop and think about that for a second. This is the problem in the Church today. We think God’s prescriptions of how His people are to live are “tools” that, if they work for us are to be used but if not, they are to be discarded.
The hubris of this is astounding and so very sad.
As I have walked deeper into this way of living with the Church and walking with God, I have found a peace that is hard to describe. I have begun to drink from a very deep well of very ancient wisdom and I have found it to be wonderful, profound and life-changing. I have begun to worry less about my own self interests and desires and am learning to submit.
This is a dirty word to most of us: Submit.
We don’t want to submit to our government, our boss, the laws of our country. We most certainly don’t want to submit to one another or to a priest or bishop or even the authority of God’s Word or of His Church. We are in very grave danger spiritually when we refuse to submit.
In this I have discovered very great freedom. In submitting to the authority of God’s Word and His Church, I have found so much peace. I don’t feel like I have to worry so much now about my preferences or whether I like or don’t like something ‘cause it ain’t about me.
Guess what? It’s not about you either.
I was once the pastor of a church here in Nashville. It was a non denominational Acts 29 church. As their pastor, I was firmly convinced of the need for us as a congregation to submit to the teachings of and the worship of the Church. So we began to install liturgical worship and I began to have teaching sessions on the liturgy; what it meant, its history and the Scripture references where the source could be found.
A question from one of the members was asked. The question was along these lines: “This seems like a lot.” That part was more a statement of their personal feelings but nevertheless…”Can’t we shorten this? Can we contextualize this?”
My response was probably perceived as being impertinent or snarky. I said, “I do not have the authority, nor do you, to change what the Church has been saying to God in worship for the better part of 2000 years.”
Our pride is dangerous.
Our pride has infected the Church.
We need to repent and pray and submit to the Church. I’m not suggesting that we just accept what is taught blindly. I’m saying that, if the teaching of the Church lines up with what the Scriptures have to say (our ultimate authority) then we need to swallow our pride and preference and submit.
In our submission to God’s Word and His Church, we will find a depth that we have longed for and a peace that passes our own understanding. And maybe, just maybe we will find, in that submission, great freedom.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Over the last several months there have been some constants in my life. Amidst all the upheaval and emotional turmoil and uncertainty, there have been three things that have been always there. Those things are depression, discouragement and the love of God.
Now I know that sounds strange. It’s a little weird at first glance that I would put those three things together in the same sentence, in the same breath. So let me explain a little if I can. Almost every day for the last 8 or so months, I have fought depression and discouragement. Most days I don’t even want to get out of bed because I dread another day of this battle.
Even guys like me get tired of the battle.
I don’t say that to sound like I’m cool or some kind of badass or something. I say that simply because I am not a quitter. I hate quitters. I would rather die than quit. But there have been many days recently, for the first time in my life, that I have said out loud to God, “I give up.”
I never thought I’d see the day when I cried ‘uncle.’
Every day the battle with depression and discouragement rages in my heart and mind. Every hour of every day it is a reality that I cannot ignore and I know my family sees. And I refuse to hide the pain from my wife and children. I mean, sometimes I try to act like a tough guy but my wife sees right through that. But she’s also super gracious and so kind and lets me go when I say that nothing is wrong. She knows that’s not true but she’s gentle in her pushback, and that’s a good thing. See, I don’t think I could handle too much “tough love” right now. I don’t think telling me to suck it up is going to do any good. I know this cause I keep saying it to myself and it’s not really helping much.
And then I take up the Bible and read. Here I find some comfort.
Here’s what I mean. Almost every single person that followed God, according to the Bible, had seasons of depression, discouragement, despair and pain. In fact, the constant witness of the Bible is that, if you are sold out to God, you are going to have problems in this life. The great prophets of the Old Testament cried out to God in their discouragement and pain. Elijah even went so far as to long for his own death. Job sat in the ashes of his life and wept, seeking answers. David cried out to God over and over again in the Psalms. Moses asked God to take the burden of leadership from him. And the list goes on….
And this brings me comfort. I am warmed by the fire of the testimony of the cries of those who followed God faithfully and paid the price for their passion. And with all their cries and tears, with all my cries and tears and despair and depression and discouragement, there has been another constant.
Jesus, the lover of my soul, my elder brother, my Lord and Saviour has been with me at all times. It hasn’t always felt that way. I’ve cried out to Him and still do every day to take this from me. But He hasn’t. Maybe He will and maybe He won’t. The Apostle Paul cried out to God that He would take from him a “thorn in the flesh.” But God’s response was not to take it away and give Paul a life of ease. No, He said what Paul probably didn’t want to hear and what I certainly don’t want to hear.
“My grace is sufficient.”
“I am enough.”
This is the constant testimony of those who cried out to God in Scripture. He showed them who He was. I find it compelling and instructive that God almost never answered any of the ‘whys’ of His servants. Rather than give them a reason, He simply showed them who He was. Jesus did the same thing when John the Baptist questioned. John sent his disciples to ask “Are you the One?” Jesus could have just said yes. But He didn’t. He said, “Go back and tell John what you have seen.” Go back, Jesus said, and tell John who I am.
Maybe you’re like me right now. Maybe you’re going through something that has you anxious or depressed or discouraged or whatever. May I offer three things that have helped me?
There have been so many days, moments when I haven’t known what to say to God and frankly haven’t even wanted to talk to Him. What has helped me has been the Book of Common Prayer. Every day, I pray the Daily Office. What I have found in this is that my prayer time has become more focused on who God is and less focused on what I want.
And that is a very good thing.
2. Bible reading
Most days I don’t feel like reading the Bible. I force myself to do it most times. Again, the Daily Office has been helpful for me here. I don’t have to wonder what I’m going to read or pick what I want to read, I simply follow the lectionary readings. I have been often amazed at how precisely appropriate the text was for me that very day.
Even when we don’t want to hear from God, we need to. In fact, I might even say that is the time you need to hear from Him most: when you don’t want to. Read His Word. Let Him speak to you in His Word. It will form you and mold and shape your heart over time and you may not even realize it.
That is also a very good thing.
3. Corporate worship
This may sound odd to you but I cannot overemphasize the importance of the corporate worship gathering of God’s people for you during a time of hardship. For me, the constant proclamation of God’s Word, praying together, singing together, kneeling and rising and affirming our faith in the Creeds of the Church have been weekly balm for an aching heart. But the thing about gathering with the Church that has been the most profound for me has been the Eucharist. The real presence of Jesus at the Table with His people has been of unspeakable comfort to me. Knowing the He is with us, with me when I come to His Table has been profoundly shaping and moving for me.
The gift of Jesus’ presence at the Eucharistic Table is a very very good thing.
I know this has been long so I’ll wrap it up. I want you to know if you’re going through a hard time that you are not alone. Jesus is with you. His Church is with you. Cry out to Him in prayer, seek Him in His Word and come humbly to His Table and you will find rest for your soul!
Soli Deo Gloria!