Some Liturgical Housekeeping
As a congregation we have grown a great deal over the years. We are very grateful for what God has given us, and we are even more grateful for what He has taken away from us. By faith, we trust that as the years go by, we will grow our roots even deeper into that grace.
“And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ. As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:4-12).
The apostle Paul is concerned that the Colossian church not be dragged into plausible errors (v. 4). Although he is away from them, yet his spirit is together with them. He rejoices to see their order (v. 5), along with the steadfastness of their faith in Jesus. Being a Christian is to be conducted on the same principles as becoming a Christian was (v. 6). They have been taught the faith at the root, and they are well established (v. 7). We can tell if they are connected to this root by the fruit, which is thanksgiving. Watch out for those men who were educated past their intelligence, and who would spoil you through worldliness of mind (v. 8). Reject this kind of thing on the basis of the Incarnation (v. 9), which is not the same thing as rejecting it because of intellectual laziness. Christ is now the head over all principalities and powers, and we Christians are complete in Him (v. 10), which places us over those principalities and powers as well. God has made us kings and priests on the earth. We were set apart to Him by means of spiritual circumcision (v. 11), which is identified with baptism (v. 12). In that baptism, we are raised with Him by the same power that raised Him from the dead.
Beholding Your Order
We have commented before on the import of an important word in verse 5 here. Should worship be spontaneous, free-flowing, stream of consciousness? No. The apostle rejoices to see the order of the Colossian church. The word here is taxos, and refers to a military discipline. To get the same effect, we could render it as regimentation. Liturgical worship is defined, disciplined, planned, and ordered. But, having defined it this way, as we ought to, we have to keep in mind that this kind of discipline creates its own set of temptations. As a Christian church trying to establish a robust pattern of covenant renewal worship, we need to be oriented to the next temptations, not the temptations of ten years ago. It is the curve up ahead that will get us, not the curve in the road three miles back. We are acutely aware of the problems of mob worship, as opposed to the ordered worship that we want to have, and which St. Paul commends here. But are we so foolish as to think that there are no errors associated with “regimentation”? Not at all, and hence these comments.
Love Your Bibles:
As we stand to hear the Scriptures read, it is fully appropriate to simply listen. The Word of God heard is having a different effect than the Scriptures simply read. But because we have sermon outlines, and an order of service, it is quite possible to get through an entire service without having to open your Bibles once. Now intellectually this might be quiet defensible—but it is still not a good liturgical statement (Acts 17:11). Don’t follow along in your Bibles like you are reading a contract offered you by a salesman whose honesty you suspect. You should follow along because, like the Bereans, you are excited by what is there. At the same time, raising another liturgical issue, some of you are not following along in your Bibles at all because you have five kids and you are trying to maintain moral order in your row. Do so more and more. We are not superstitious about our liturgical practice of reading the Bible. You are to have a high view of the worship of the Church, but do not allow the church to get between you and our Bible.
We have rightly moved away from rambling, extemporaneous praying. When we come to pray to the Lord, more often than not whoever is praying has written this prayer out beforehand. But beware of falling into a false understanding of this. We readily equate enthusiasm in prayer with cluelessness, and preparedness with lethargy. Practicing your martial arts moves beforehand is a planned activity, but there comes a time when you are actually in the fight. And then, all the preparedness ought to come together with focus and discipline and emotional strength. Far too often liturgical worship is conducted like the droning of a fly against the window at the far end of the museum. Formal liturgy, if it is to avoid being an insult to God, has to be robust.
Wine At the Table:
The Lord Jesus established this meal, and He did so with wine and bread. He did what He did for scriptural reasons, and yet, in the nineteenth century, the temperance movement in the United States did a great deal of damage to this God-given drink. It has been established beyond all reasonable doubt that the Lord established this meal with wine, and not with grape juice. That being the case, the elders would like to move (sometime in the foreseeable future) to having only wine available in the trays.
Remember What We Do:
Every week we ascend into the heavenly places in order to worship God the Father in the name of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. This begins with the call to worship, where the heavens open and we are taken up in the power of the Spirit. We acknowledge our sinfulness first, confessing our sins, knowing that we are approaching a holy God. We consecrate ourselves to God, by hearing His Word, and by offering up to Him all that we have and are. Having done so, we sit down at Table with our Lord, and we have communion with Him. This is a service of covenant renewal. And when it has occurred, you are blessed, and commissioned, and sent out into the world to advance the cause of God’s kingdom. It is by this means, rendered in faith, that God establishes His work in the world. But remember that He does this, not just through us having the right forms, but also the right hearts, fervent in zeal.