Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Thoughts on Worship

I am collecting here thoughts on worship taken from my Facebook series "Just a Thought."

Just A Thought #5: The essence of worship is humility. In order to “lift Him high” we must make ourselves low. There is no true humility without surrender. And there is no true surrender without obedience. The heart of worship is obedience, obedience not to abstract concepts but to the presence of a living God.  JDJ

Just A Thought #13: As a Pentecostal pastor, I have little concern that people will get out of order in worship. The appearance of order is easy enough to reinstate. My concern is that too few ever get into order. Spirit-filled worship requires a conscious surrender to the Lordship of the living Christ and a deep desire to let the Holy Spirit lead in the dance of exaltation. That is the order for worship before the throne of God. Modern worshippers seem all too content to hum the tunes and watch from the gallery. They would rather attend the concert than play in the band. JDJ
Just A Thought #18: Theology can be toxic when your knowledge about God is greater than your relationship with him. But when the task of theology (theologizing) is practiced as a sincere expression of worship, a form of prayer and praise, it nourishes the soul and strengthens faith. Indeed, the practice of exploring and articulating the truth of God is a primary goal of authentic Christian living; It is to seek and to proclaim His glory. Thus, orthodoxy, both in the primal meaning of “correct worship” and the derived meaning of “correct doctrine,” is the celestial port to which we sail and the guiding stream that is propelling us there.  JDJ
Just A Thought #19: For years my welcome to church visitors included the words “please worship in the manner in which you are comfortable.” One Sunday as those words were rolling out of my mouth God spoke to me; He said, “I am not nearly as concerned with their comfort as you seem to be.” In the Scriptures people respond to the presence of God in many ways: they tremble, they prostrate themselves, they weep, they rejoice, they dance, etc. I cannot find a reference where they are described as being comfortable. His invitation is for His children to enter His throne room with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). However, this confidence should be grounded in the assurance of forgiveness, the awareness of a sanctifying High Priest and the certainty of our devotion and reverence. I invite you to worship Him in the manner you believe He is pleased. JDJ

Just A Thought #23: Whatever the church does as church must be done with and for children. Children need to worship with adults and adults need to worship with children. This does not discount the importance of some age appropriate activities. Neither does it demand that children be present all of the time. It does declare that children are important to the life of a congregation. The absence of children when the church gathers as the Body of Christ impoverishes the congregation and cripples the development of the children. JDJ

Just a Thought #37: The Christian life is a journey in which the future permeates the present. Our final place in God, that place of unencumbered fellowship with Him, should be fully realized now and yet ever in front of us. Ever satisfied, we ever long for more. We know Him now, and in knowing Him we hunger to know Him more fully. In theological terms, orthodoxy, both in the original sense of “correct glory/correct worship” and in the sense of “sound doctrine” is the purpose for our existence (ortho = straight, correct and doxa = opinion, praise, glory). The glory of God is the port toward which Christians sail and the stream in which we sail. Both our calling and our destiny are to worship Him forever in Spirit and in Truth. JDJ

Just a Thought #40: A people without a song is a people without a soul. We have become a culture of performers and observers, entertainers and audiences, players and fans. We are a nation that exalts vocal talent but eschews public singing. We have no anthems or ballads that we sing to and with our children. Our praise and worship often contains beautiful, oriented choruses, but very few of the songs can be sung without a praise team of gifted singers and an expensive sound system. They may have deep and profound meaning, but they are shallow in our hearts. We have become a people without a song. We are flooded with noise, but little music springs from our souls. We need a new generation of hymns that teach of His greatness and proclaim our shared experience of Him, but even more we need to become again a people who sing our faith with gusto. JDJ

Just a Thought #62: [I share this thought during every worship service at the time of intercessory prayer.] If you are alive in Christ, you are so by faith. Have faith in Christ in you. Your prayer can be the prayer of faith; your touch may be God’s healing touch; your words may be the words of the Holy Spirit to someone right now. Obey the Lord. JDJ

Just a Thought: Pentecostal preaching is Christ centered because it is anointed of the Holy Spirit. Under the anointing, preaching centers on Christ in its content ("I have determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified"). It is centered on Christ because it is proclamation of the Word of God: the Word of God inscripturated and the Word of God incarnated is one person. It is centered on Christ because under the anointing it is prophecy, that is, the anointed preacher by the Spirit is speaking the words of Christ. The anointed preacher is the “vicar of Christ.” JDJ #83

Just a Thought: The contemporary church seems preoccupied with emotional moderation. There is a façade of happiness but little room for ecstasy and no room for grief. My friend, Dr. Bill Leonard, who was my professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and then became the founding Dean of the divinity school at Wake Forrest University, has observed that the one religious artifact that is universal among Appalachian Pentecostals is the tissue box. According to him it is a powerful visual statement that people are not only allowed to cry in Pentecostal worship, it is expected that many will shed tears. While emotional extremes can be annoying and are not always a response to God’s presence, in the Scriptures they do seem normative for those who encounter the holy, living God. Our objective must be the formation of Godly affections and we should avoid superficial manipulation of emotions. But neither should we restrain emotional responses to the move of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps our fear of emotional extremes is a fear of the loss of control, the very thing God demands of us. JDJ #94

Just a Thought: In conjunction with the contemporary church’s preoccupation with emotional moderation is a continuing “dumbing down” of the faith. This is evidenced in all aspects of our worship but is especially seen in our songs and our sermons. As I have noted earlier, I am truly blessed by our current batch of worship songs, but I am concerned by their overall shallow theology; they are lacking a bold confession of our shared faith. They draw us into a relational response to the gospel but they then set our table with the milk of the Word with little meat for growth. Must we forever nurse the sincere milk of the Word from the breast of the church and not grow into our rightful place at the full banquet of the marriage supper of the Lamb? JDJ #95

Just a Thought: The current reductionist approach, or over simplification, of our faith is most grievous in the pulpit. Granted that I am limited in my exposure to the preaching of others, being constrained to endure my own sermons on Sundays, my impression is that too many pastors and the televised apostles whom they follow show little concern for building people up in our most holy faith. Their objectives appear to be more carnal and superficial, aimed at attaining the “good life.” A few decades ago in my tradition this took on the current form of what is labeled as “therapeutic preaching.” While preaching toward wholeness may seem to be grounded in the example of Christ, in my limited exposure it always seems to be more analgesic than therapeutic. The underlying motive seems to be to help people feel better about their lives as Christians. This was not the preaching and teaching of Christ or His apostles. Their word was a word for conversion, deliverance, and transformation which lay the foundation for new life and growth. JDJ #96

Just a Thought: When I refer to the current reductionist approach or over simplification of our faith, I am thinking primarily of our worship and secondarily of our discipleship programs. [Please keep in mind that I am referring to the general patterns of North America and I know my comments do not apply to all.] My concern in part is that we do not tell the story of our faith (just the highlights) and we do not use the vocabulary of our faith; we are Biblically illiterate. There is little recounting of the persons and events of the Scriptures, not to mention church history. And we avoid like the plague key theological terms contained in the Bible. In our attempt to make the gospel relevant to the non-believer we have turned our gatherings into conversations around the “lowest common denominator” of our shared experiences. The results are that few are challenged to learn more and to grow deeper. One does not become a master plumber, or electrician, or automobile mechanic, or lawyer, or doctor without learning a vocabulary and concepts that are uncommon to the average person on the street. Neither does one become a mature follower of Jesus Christ without learning the concepts and vocabulary that define that very relationship. When do we hear the words sin, sinner, redeem, redeemed, justify, justified, atone, atonement, propitiation, expiation, righteous, righteousness, blaspheme, blasphemy, judgment, hell, sanctify, sanctified, holiness, elect, predestination, etc.? If these words are not used and defined among us, we cannot know and appreciate the fullness of God’s revelation of Himself in His Son, Christ Jesus. JDJ #97

Just a Thought: Faith in Christ must be understood not as mere intellectual assent, i.e., what we think we believe, but as a life of worship for to truly believe is to acknowledge who He is and to respond accordingly. Correspondingly, the disciplines of Biblical and theological study, through which we seek to expand and enhance our faith -- more than our understanding, must be approached as events of worship. We must not study primarily for the sake of gaining knowledge, for that only puffs us up with pride (I Corinthians 13). We must study for and toward His glory, which is the heart of worship. His glory is not a detached and impersonal concept. His glory is a consuming fire and at the same time a connecting power; it is an impenetrable wall but it is also deep crying out to deep. His glory is that of an unapproachable God who invites us to come and dine. His glory is the heaviness of His personal presence, a weight too great to bear so that it must consume and carry us. Therefore, in the study of His Word we must approach Him with fear and trembling and yet without an ounce of timidity for it is He who has wooed us into His chambers that we might know the glory of His love. #105

Just a Thought: If the spiritual disciplines are to bear fruit in our lives, they must be practiced as acts of worship. This requires that at the core of all of the disciplines be active meditation on the presence of God within the practice of the discipline, meditation that is joined with a conscious desire to honor and glorify Him. Worship also requires a consciousness of our selves before God. Spirit-filled worship is in its essence a state of being in which we know ourselves knowing God (“Abba Father”) and being known by Him. This worship is an experiential re-member-ing of our union with God in Christ. Through the disciplines as acts of worship we anticipate and celebrate the strengthening of our union with Christ. In other words, the disciplines are means of grace but not mediators of grace; they do not cause God’s favor. They are tools for creating an inner environment for unmediated communion with God through Christ, an environment conducive for worship, fellowship, formation, transformation, and the reception of God’s good gifts. JDJ #143

Just a Thought: Worship is that which we do before God in recognition of and response to his glory, honor and sovereignty. The root meaning of the English word worship is simply to recognize and respond to the worth of something or someone. In the Scriptures the primary Hebrew and Greek words for worship have as their root meaning to bow down before. Worship is the posture of all who know God. It is more than an event, or activity of the church, more than a set of Sunday morning rituals. Worship is above all else an affection of the heart. It is God-toward affections springing forth in actions of praise. Thus, it is the essential character of the people who know God, the defining nature of creation existing in the face of God, the spontaneous response of the created to the glory of the Creator. Everything the church is and does must be permeated with the drive to proclaim the worth of God. Anything less is but filthy rags no matter how advanced the technology, how glittering the performance, or how sincere the service to others. JDJ #234

Just a Thought: Many years ago Cheryl and I visited a prominent Evangelical church in Boston. As we entered the historic building we were confronted by a large sign on a stand. In large letters were the words “Children’s Church” with an arrow beneath them pointing down a hall way. I paid little attention until I read the words beneath the arrow, “Children under twelve should not enter the sanctuary” or something to that effect. My thoughts, then and now, were that they had written “ichabod” over their door; the glory of the Lord will not abide where children are not welcome. Did we not learn anything from Jesus and His teachings on, and relationship with, children? Our children must know (1) they are loved by the adults of the church, (2) God loves them – which is dependent on #1, and (3) they belong with us in the presence of the Lord. JDJ #238

Just a Thought: For the record, I am not opposed to Children’s Church. I am opposed to children growing up in our churches and not experiencing God with adults in the sanctuary. I want them know they belong; I want them to have a voice that worships and speaks of God. In our church they stay with the adults in the sanctuary until shortly before the sermon. I almost always have them up front for a “Children’s Sermon” which is more of a time for me to get them to talk about their life and faith. I try to also use that time to surreptitiously introduce the “adult” sermon. At New Covenant we spend considerable time during intercessory prayer as members of the congregation move around the sanctuary to pray with one another; my heart is often stirred as I see children lay their hands on adults in prayer. One Sunday a month they remain in the sanctuary for the sermon. I don’t have all the answers; I just have a set of deep convictions we must nurture them with us in the presence of God and we must teach them well. May God so help us. JDJ #239

Just a Thought: Another myth. One myth that became popular in the later 20th Century was the idea that a woman needed a male “covering” for her ministry. I assume this concept is based on faulty understandings of Paul’s discussion of head coverings found in I Corinthians 11. Some translations state verse 10 as saying a woman ought to have a “symbol of authority on her head” and connect that to her husband. Contextually, it is important to note that chapter 11 introduces a section of the letter that deals with public worship: prophesying, praying, love feasts, spiritual gifts, etc. The issue at hand in the opening pericope is proper decorum of women and men in worship. It is not about husbands and wives. Paul insists that women have a head covering in worship and that men not have such a covering. A woman’s hair should be her covering, but if it is shorn she should wear a substitute covering. There are three controversial and interrelated topics at stake here: head, covering, and authority. In this “thought,” I will address the issue of “headship.” Verse three is translated by the New Revised Standard Version as “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ.” However, “husband” and “wife” are translated from words that literally mean “man” and “woman.” It is clear in many contexts that the intended meaning is “husband” and “wife,” but it is also common for their meanings to be literal, “man” and “woman.” Therefore, the New American Standard (NAS) translates the verse as “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” In Greek, the word for “head” (kefalh.)) can have several different meanings. Paul uses it in two different ways in our text. His first use is for the physical head that sits on the shoulders, hence references to hair. Another meaning is “up front” as in the person in charge, a meaning closely associated with the concept of authority. There is a theological problem if Paul is using “head” this way in verse three for that would teach subordinationism in the Godhead, i.e., Christ is inferior to God in authority. A third meaning which I believe Paul clearly uses here is that of “first” in the sense of “source, or fountain from which something springs.” God is the head of Christ in this sense, i.e., Christ is the eternally begotten of the Father. Paul’s argument flows from verse 3 through 4 to 7 into verses 8 & 9 where he describes the creation of Eve out of Adam’s side. Man is the head of woman in that she came out of his side. In verses 11 & 12 he then reverses his logic and clearly implies that woman is the head of man in that every man is out of a woman. As it relates to headship, the overall thrust of Paul’s argument is that men and women are distinct in their existence; they were distinct in their creation and that distinction is evident in nature. That distinction must be maintained in Christian worship. [To be continued…] JDJ #248
[An additional note: If verse three is translated as "husband" and "wife" then the contextual meaning becomes that a married woman cannot worship (at least pray or prophesy) unless her husband is a Christian present in the service.]

Just a Thought (the myth of covering for women in ministry con’t): A second issue that needs clarification about coverings for women is the question of what is the covering to which Paul is referring in I Corinthians 11? Some translations and many cultures have understood this as a woman should have her whole head veiled, with emphasis on the face, of course. There were cultural norms governing the wearing of face-veils during the first century, i.e., slaves were not allowed to wear them, but that is not what is at stake here. First, Paul is not addressing the covering of the face; he is clearly concerned with the presence of hair or a substitute for hair as a covering. Second, Paul makes more explicit what he has in mind in verse 16, “For her hair is given to her for a covering.” In this verse Paul shifts to a different word for covering, a word that is more comprehensive in image. In the other verses the word he chooses specifically relates to covering the head. In this verse he extends the image of the hair to be that which envelopes; a woman is covered in the sense of clothed by her hair. Her hair is an adornment given to her by God, one that signifies that although her origin was out of man and therefore her distinctiveness in hair reflects his glory (v. 7) her existence as woman is to the glory of God. The underlying issue is that of reflecting back to God His glory in worship; in the gatherings and events of worship men must be men and women must be women, just the way God made them, it’s only “natural” (11:14). JDJ #249

Just a Thought (The myth of covering for women in ministry con’t): While the word “authority” only appears in verse ten of this periscope, the central issue being addressed by Paul in the opening section of I Corinthians 11 is the question of authority in worship. By what authority does a woman or man pray or prophesy in the gathering of the church? Verse ten states, “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (New American Standard). The word “authority” (exousia) conveys freedom to act. Its root meaning is “to act out of one’s being” (ex=out of and ousia=being). The Scriptures are clear that all authority is derived from God; He alone is the ground of His own being. He alone is truly free to act without restrictions. You may have noticed that “a symbol of” is italicized; this is because those words do not appear in the original. Translators often have to supply extra terms in order for a sentence to “make sense” in the new language. This becomes a problem when translators/readers assume “woman” should be translated as “wife.” The implication becomes that she should have a symbol of her husband’s authority on her head “on account of the angels.” Some commentators go so far as to suggest her head covering is like a wedding band signaling to the angels that this woman “is taken.” But, the sentence makes sense as a simple statement that, “A woman must have authority on her head.” That is, a woman’s authority to pray or prophesy rests in her identity as one created by God. Her hair signals her being as a woman. The angels will assist a woman in communicating with and for God because she is a woman in Christ just as they will assist a man; no one in Christ has to pretend to be what they are not in order to speak to and for God. In deed no one should ever attempt to do so. JDJ #250  [Twitter: A woman’s authority to pray or prophesy rests in her identity as one created by God and recreated in Christ.]

Just a Thought: Long ago the places where Christians gather for worship came to be called “sanctuaries,” a word derived from the Latin for “sacred” or “holy.” Christians were making a transition from thinking of the church as people who are holy to places that are holy, places people enter for assurance they are safe in God’s care. Christian worship came to be understood as entering a special location where the blessings of Heaven came into the world. Thus, the sanctuary became a place where people went for physical safety, or protection, as well. Worship had to be orderly, controlled, and beautiful as is appropriate for Heaven, nothing like the threats and chaos of daily life. With few exceptions, that was the religious norm at the turn of the 20th century when Pentecostalism burst onto the scene. These modern misfits were not concerned with beauty and order and they certainly were not escapists as Niebuhr proposed with his deprivation theory of Pentecostalism, i.e., Pentecostals went to church for an emotional catharsis to escape the misery of their daily lives. No, unlike the rest of Christendom, Pentecostals brought their misery and chaos to the house of God. They believed the Scriptural portrait of God as an all-powerful Father who delivered His children from their miseries. When deliverance came they celebrated with abandon the mercies of God. Yes, it was ecstatic. One of my greatest concerns for Pentecostalism is that we no longer have room for the realities of life in our sanctuaries. Our worship is beautiful, ordered, and other-worldly, exactly what we imagine heaven will be. Now, like everyone else, we go to church to escape, to be drawn upward into His presence. But seldom does He enter our world and break the strongholds of Satan; we are just too good at hiding our chaos from each other and from Him. JDJ # 263

Just a Thought: Even as Pentecostals have been joining the ranks of those who view church as a sanctuary and worship as retreats into heavenly experiences, they have lost a sense of the holy. There is little reverence for the house of God, little sense of the truly sacred. We no longer go to church to encounter the holy God who is redeeming His creation; we go to church to experience the God who can lift us out of our troubles. When God is revered as holy then the things we associate with God must also be held as holy for His holiness is communicated to those things He touches or they die. The place where we worship must be kept as holy in our hearts not because it is a portal to Heaven, a place of escape; it must be kept as holy because it is the place where God manifests His sovereignty over creation. It is holy ground not because it is other worldly, but because it is the battlefield on which powers and principalities are being conquered in His name. The view from these places where we gather should have Golgotha and the empty tomb in the foreground with streets of gold only visible on the distant horizon. They are places being made holy by the blood of the lamb. JDJ  #264

Just a Thought: In its simplicity, worship is whatever we do to acknowledge the greatness of God in contrast to our own smallness. But worship of God must be much more than that. Our Creator has invited us into His presence to know as we are known, to find ourselves and each other in His face, in the mirror of His all-knowing gaze. The mode of our worship must not be that of escaping present realities but rather that of embracing the eternal. We present our broken and dependent selves before His whole and self-sufficient Self; that which is passing away encounters the great “I-Am-That-I-Am.” Worship is thus an act of surrendering to the embrace of God’s glory and His will, which makes worship at its heart relational. It is that which we do before God and in behalf of God so that we might better know God. It is a response to the heavenly calling to be united in the fellowship of the One Triune God. Not just fellowship with God, but the fellowship of God. This was the prayer of our Lord, “… that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” John 17:21. Love and unity flowing out of worship as a shared encounter with God is the substance of our Christian witness.  JDJ # 276

Because worship is at its heart relational, it centers in relational dispositions and interactions rather than behaviors and performances: 
Humility, Surrender, Obedience
Seeking, Seeing, Describing
Listening, Hearing, Proclaiming
Presenting, Petitioning, Receiving
Thanking, Praising, Exalting

Just a Thought: Followers of Jesus Christ are formed and transformed by the Holy Spirit in the context of the church. Formation takes place in the routine experiences of life, the normative rituals and practices of the community; it is the natural unfolding of life in Christ as it is infused with the graces of belonging. Christian formation is a process of becoming acculturated into the faith and ethos of the people of God. It can only take place to the extent the church is itself being formed into the likeness of Christ. Otherwise, the life of the church is stunted and mal-formed. Because of the deadly effects of sin, Christian life must also include radical transformations which can only take place in times of crises. Crisis can be threatening or promising, unexpected or planned, but they are always events demanding change. In crises we are deconstructed and reconstructed; we are transformed. Christian worship should be an ongoing recapitulation of the crises of the cross. (“Crisis” is etymologically derived from “cross.”) Worship should be a drama in which the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus bursts forth in and through the people of God. In worship we join the battle for the redemption of creation and we celebrate the coming Kingdom. In the Pentecostal tradition spiritual formation takes place primarily (but not exclusively) in personal and corporate worship that routinely retells the story of our salvation and anticipates transforming encounters with the Spirit of God. (See, Pentecostal Formation: A Pedagogy Among the Oppressed, by Cheryl Bridges Johns) JDJ # 277

Just a Thought: The church is the first-fruits of the new order of creation, the New Heaven and the New Earth. Just as the affections are the integrating center of the sanctified life, worship is the integrating center of life in the body of Christ. It is in worship that we lay down all our delusions of self-importance, all of our brokenness, all that we are and all that we hope to be, and we take up our cross and follow Him. It is there that we are tamed, reborn, purified, sanctified, and empowered as those things that hold us in bondage are broken, destroyed, and removed. It is when worship includes encounters with the life-giving, sanctifying Holy Spirit that it most clearly makes manifest the Kingdom of God on earth. In Spirit-directed worship the old passes away and all things are made new. In this we discover what it means to be one in Christ. In conclusion, formation takes place in the routinized rituals of Pentecostal worship and the faith infused practices of the community; transformation takes place in the Divine/human encounters of Pentecostal worship. Those encounters may happen during any of the rituals of worship, but they are anticipated most in the altar service. It is in the altar that we die and it is there that we are equipped for life in the Kingdom. JDJ # 278

Just a Thought: Jesus gave a new commandment; we are to love one another. With that commandment He gave assurance that our love for one another would be the effectual witness of our discipleship. In our love for each other, His love for all the world will be made known. The commandment is also a promise fulfilled. His expectation that we love is matched by His provision of love. Our love for each other is grounded in our love for Him because it flows from Him. The pattern of God’s love is systemic and not sequential. Love for Christ and love for each other are simultaneous expressions of the same love. It is in loving Christ together that we truly come to love each other. For Pentecostals, our union and communion in Christ is most fully actualized during those times when in corporate worship the Spirit arrests us and knits our hearts together with the heart of Christ. In those times we are being individually and corporately formed and transformed into the image and likeness of Christ. In the presence of our triune God we begin to know as we are known and to love as we are loved. JDJ # 279

Just a Thought: Pentecostals are not good with silence. It almost has to be forced upon us. A Catholic friend once stated to a group of Pentecostals that if he could give Pentecostals anything it would be the gift of silence. I leaned close and whispered to Cheryl, “If he was ever in a service where the Holy Hush fell it would knock his socks off. But I think he was onto something. We need to learn to appreciate silence as a spiritual discipline and a tool for discernment. In silence we are bombarded with the noise of our lives, external and internal noise. Silence helps us divide the voices competing for our attention into those that are important and those that are merely demanding. As a spiritual discipline, silence teaches us to govern the forces competing for our attention and to choose to listen more carefully to those voices that are important. The choice to be silent is a choice to listen and an opportunity to be discerning. In silence we can better hear ourselves hearing God. JDJ # 280

Just a Thought: Having extolled the promises of silence, I now offer some cautions about the use of silence in corporate settings. When a leader calls for or simply creates silent space in worship or other settings, that leader is not being passive but is rather actively challenging the audience. Silence is invasive. In public settings, silence makes us uncomfortable and that lack of comfort carries an inherent challenge to respond to the void. In the presence of others, silence increases our self-awareness and triggers our self-defenses. When forced upon us, silence thus serves as a bugle-call for self-presentation. Sitting with others in silence heightens our senses; we become acutely aware of the gaze of others. We are herded inward where we anticipate exposure of our deepest thoughts and the consequential humiliation and shame of that exposure. Forced silence can thus be a tool for manipulation and control. On one hand we should make silence a more normative practice in our private and public worship. But like all other practices it should be an expression of surrender to the Spirit and not a tool to provoke an emotional (even if quiet) response. JDJ # 281

Just a Thought: Pentecostals have generally been negligent in the practice of the ordinances/sacraments. We were overly influenced by more modernist theologies that reduced the ordinances to outward symbolic acts that point to inner spiritual realities. This dichotomy is grounded in a dualism that separates spiritual realities from material realities. In short, we have lacked the ontological constructs needed to easily accept the literal presence of Christ in the sacraments. The literal presence of Christ would require a miracle and although we believed in miracles we were not willing to accept them as ordinary or connected with liturgical rituals. However, if we accept that God is always present in His creation there should be little disconnect with believing He is especially present in the sacraments. If indeed, Christ is gathering all things into Himself and we are the first-fruits of the Kingdom, then why should we not believe He has absorbed consecrated bread, wine, and water into His being with us. JDJ # 293

Just a Thought: I believe the ordinances/sacraments should be special events of Divine/human encounter. They are for me covenant rituals that by and with the Holy Spirit especially enact the union of Christ with His body. Covenants are not private contracts; they create a shared social identity. While the covenant of Christ is personally initialized in the moment of genuine conversion, it is corporately inaugurated in the baptismal waters much as marriage is inaugurated and sealed in the wedding ceremony. Baptism brings one’s personal faith in Christ to its intended state of union and communion with the Body of Christ. From the waters we rise to live in the realm of Christ’s reign over His creation. Likewise, footwashing is a privileged participation with Christ in the ongoing sanctification of the church; in this we actualize with Him His covenant with His people. We are adorned with robes of righteousness appropriate for the marriage supper of the Son of God. The Lord’s Table is then participation in the consummation of the covenant; the present event is one with the coming eschatological feast. The Groom will not leave His bride standing at the altar of baptism. Neither will He neglect her in her preparations for eternity, or reject her at the marriage supper which He has prepared for her. These ordinances then are not events for dispensing special grace; they are special events of God’s abundant grace. They are rituals initiated by Christ in which He bids us to come and receive the fruit of union with Him. JDJ # 294

Just a Thought: For several decades I have lived with a deep inner struggle about the ordinances of the church, especially Communion and footwashing. Early in my ministry I became convinced Pentecostals in North America did not properly appreciate the rituals and therefore did not celebrate them enough. In my childhood, we had Communion and footwashing once a quarter “whether we needed them or not.” However, in accordance with what I had been taught, I retained a fear that should we practice Communion on a weekly basis we would turn it into a meaningless ritual; we would take the meal for granted. In my youth, I had developed a conviction that footwashing was linked by Christ to Communion on purpose; the two should be practiced in conjunction. I even went through a phase where I would not serve Communion to someone who did not first practice footwashing. In practical terms I simply always placed communion at the close of a footwashing service. I still hold to the conviction that people who refuse to practice footwashing are in danger of not discerning the body of Christ in their midst for when we wash one another’s feet, we wash His feet. But I withdrew from this practice because I decided it resulted in the opposite of my intent; it devalued the Lord’s Table by reducing it to the privilege of the few. JDJ # 302

Just a Thought: One of my first breakthroughs in understanding the ordinances was to accept them as “means of grace.” Although, I struggle with using that phrase for fear many will read it as “automatic means of grace” or as “mediated grace,” i.e., the idea that someone or something is required to distribute grace to us. But the phrase “means of grace” should convey the sense of expectation that God will be faithfully present to minister to us as we draw near to Him in faithful obedience. God has chosen the sacraments as a means of making His presence known. No matter how we understand the bread to be His body and the wine to be His blood, we should expect God’s grace to be abundant at the table where we consume the body and blood of our Savior and at the basin where He joins us to wash one another’s feet. We should know Christ is present and where His presence is known, the grace of God abounds. JDJ # 303

Twitter: God has chosen to make His presence known in the pool, the table and the basin. Come there expecting abundant grace.

Just a Thought: Communion and footwashing are not events in which the church dispenses special grace; they are special events of God’s abundant grace. They are events with special promise of the presence of Christ and where the presence of Christ is known, the grace of God abounds. Grace abounds because we are gathered in His name, i.e., under His Lordship, doing the things He instructed us to do. Our personal and corporate faith actualize our shared knowledge of His presence. Furthermore, by the Holy Spirit, His presence and grace are communicable; we share in the same grace like inhaling and exhaling the same air. Our communion is always inward and outward; it is never unidirectional. The gifts of God never dead-end in a receiver. The one who is the recipient of grace becomes by their very nature a communicator of grace, salt and light in the world. JDJ # 304

Just a Thought: In the 80’s I began a pattern of placing the Lord’s Supper at different points of the worship service. I was attempting to move away from the sense that Communion was an addendum to worship. The Eucharist embodies and announces the gospel which we believe. My conviction was that it is a foundational expression of all aspects of Christian worship. We both come into God’s presence through the table and we go out from His presence through the table (for mission = misseo = mass). In this meal we give thanks (the meaning of Eucharist), we praise, we proclaim, and we petition. This meal also should be the fountain of our deepest fellowship, our koinonia. At this table our union with Christ is consummated and our union with each other is born. To be joined to Christ is to be joined with each other. I therefore later attempted to celebrate the Lord’s supper within a Love Feast, or church fellowship meal, the kind of setting in which He introduced it. However, I concluded that our cultural context caused those events to lack the necessary sense of reverence. JDJ # 305

Just a Thought: In the 90’s I experimented with celebrating the Lord’s Supper in different contexts: Sunday morning one week, Sunday evening one week, our Love Feast one week, and small group meetings one week. That system became very difficult to maintain. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with the challenge that His disciples were to eat the bread as His body and drink the wine as His blood. In Luke’s record and in Paul’s account there are two key terms that signal the event as being an eschatological community ritual: “covenant” and “remembrance.” This meal was the feast of Christ’s new covenant. Just like the old covenant, the new constitutes a people who are defined by their distinctive relationship with God. In fulfillment of prophecy, the Last Supper inaugurates and consummates the existence of that holy nation which is the Body of Christ. Like the Jewish Passover, this meal sets the defining boundaries of who belongs. Those boundaries are rooted in an historic person and event. The supper must be open to all who are in Christ lest the ritual created to express our union in Christ become an instrument for division. It must also be barred from all who by their words or conduct deny Christ has come in the flesh. JDJ # 306

Just a Thought: The second term that ties the Eucharist with the eschatological gathering of God’s people is “remembrance.” Jesus stressed that the Lord’s Supper was to be eaten in remembrance of Him, until He comes again. His concern was not that we simply recall the facts of His life and death. He was instead challenging His followers to “member again” or to cause Him to be present. To “remember” is to resurrect the past and join it with the present. Paul’s words “till He comes” further joins the past and present with the future. The Eucharist is not just a ritual of receiving from Christ; it is a rite in which we enter into Christ. The early church tied this rite to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. When we share in the Lord’s Supper we enter into that which is to come. When we are united with Christ we are united with each other; we are united with our destiny for He is the fullness of what we shall become. JDJ # 307

Just a Thought: As noted earlier, the Lord’s Table identifies the church as the eschatological gathering of the people of God. In this meal the church is fully present. Those who eat and drink do so with all the saints throughout the ages, those past, those present, and those to come. The meal renews and extends the covenant into the future; it bridges time and unites the entire Body of Christ. The focus of the table is on Christ as resurrected head of the church and it embraces both what we receive from Him and what we are in Him. We are the first-fruits of the new order of creation. We are buried in Christ, He in us and us in Him. For this cause, the Eucharist must never be a private or closed ritual. It must be open to all who are alive in Christ. The essential nature of the sacrament as an expression of the covenant of Christ requires that it be practiced in a corporate setting that links the contemporary church with the church universal. We have one Lord, one faith, and one baptism; we therefore share one meal. JDJ # 308

Just a Thought: In my youth, Communion was a somber occasion. The moment of eating and drinking was always accompanied with deep sighs of gratitude, “Thank you, Jesus.” But the Lord’s Table was to be approached only after careful self-examination. Those who ate and drank without a pure heart risked severe judgment, possible sickness and even death (I Corinthians 11: 27-30). Congregants were always challenged to examine themselves, confess any hidden sins and repent before participating. The Lord’s Supper centered on the forgiveness of sin, the enormity of the sacrifice, and it was therefore laden with reverence and thankfulness. With hindsight, the thing that was missing was any sense of celebration, one of the things for which we Pentecostals were noted and criticized, i.e., our exuberance in worship. Should our remembrance of Him not be marked by both deep reverence and abounding joy? Is that not the essence of passion? Let us be passionate about knowing Him in the sacraments. JDJ # 309

Just a Thought: A careful reading of I Corinthians 11 reveals that Paul was not as concerned with secret sins being brought into the Eucharistic service as with the very open sin of not honoring the weaker/poorer members of the Body of Christ. During their “love feasts,” the wealthy were indulging themselves out of their abundance while ignoring the poor in their midst who had nothing to eat. They were failing to recognize the body of Christ during the very occasion in which they claimed to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ. Failure to discern and honor Christ in the members of the church made their eating and drinking of the appointed elements ineffectual. That which was given as a source of healing became instead a revelation of sin and pronouncement of judgment. How can we say we know and love God whom we have not seen if we do not know and love the members of the Body of Christ who suffer before our very eyes? We cannot cherish Him while holding with contempt His members. JDJ # 310

Just a Thought: In Christianity of the West there has been a tendency toward an economic subordinationism within the Trinity. God the Father outranks God the Son who in turn outranks God the Holy Spirit. Christ is our Redeemer who reconciles us to the Father. The Spirit is a kind of afterthought whose primary function is to help us make the connection with Jesus. This is a distorted view of God, one that affects the manner of our relationship with God and the Scriptures. The three Persons of the Godhead are One. Neither is subordinate in any manner. The Father, Son and Spirit are all present in their every encounter with Creation. They are present in the Scriptures, present in the prophets, the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection. Jesus is both the object of the Spirit’s work in the incarnation and the subject who ministers in the power of the Spirit. The mission of Jesus is the fulfillment of the mission of the Spirit and vice versa. The members of the Trinity are not envious of each other. When we worship one we worship all. Pentecostals continue to be accused of exalting the Spirit above Jesus. (A truly strange accusation since the only non-orthodox group we produced is called “Jesus Only.”) Nothing could be further from the truth for we have learned through encounter that the most certain way to exalt Christ is to do so in the power of the Spirit. Only when God is known through the transforming presence of the Spirit can Jesus be truly known and exalted with the Father and Spirit. JDJ # 349

Just a Thought: In communication, words are critical, making correct spelling important. Spellcheck must then be seen as a gift from God. Pentecostals are notorious for their creativity in the use of words. Alliteration is our forte; spelling is our nemesis. For example, the altar area is extremely important for us. It is the focal point of our worship, the place where we most expect to encounter God. We go there often. Yet, we have a proclivity for misspelling this short word. You will often see Pentecostals spell it as “a-l-t-e-r.” My friend and noted Pentecostal scholar, Dr. Harold Hunter, has observed this and suggested that there is a theological undercurrent to this common error. We believe lives are “a-l-t-e-r-e-d” in the “a-l-t-a-r.” Another word we use often but frequently misspell is “anoint.” We have a tendency to add an extra “n” and spell it as “a-n-n-o-i-n-t.” I suspect this is our subliminal theology at work again. When we use “anoint” we almost always connect that concept with the promise of a “double portion.” Hence, we double up on the first “n.” We also value creativity as seen in our frequent creation of new words. And if you have not noticed, we are inclined toward hyperbole. This is true when counting attendance or converts; it shows up in every discourse (hyperbole intended). Finally, we have a tendency to hyperbolize technical terms. For example, consider our use of “heresy.” It matters not that the rest of the Christian world reserves the word for those false teachings that deviate from the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. For us a “heresy” is any religious concept with which we disagree. A “damnable heresy” is then any teaching with which we disagree strongly, not necessarily one which results in eternal damnation. Besides, it lets us use a “damn” in a sanctified form. ;) JDJ # 389 

Just a Thought: As the Body of Christ, the church has the responsibility to help all of its members discover, cultivate, and use their gifts for the glory of Christ. This applies to all persons and to all gifts, not just the “beautiful” people and the popular gifts. Ministry gifts are as diverse as there are people. We might categorize them in divergent patterns of service, but they, like the Spirit who births and nurtures them, cannot be constrained to popular categories even the categorical lists contained in Scripture. Are all apostles or prophets or pastors or teachers or evangelists or deacons or elders or bishops? Do all have gifts in teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, or encouraging? Not all are gifted in music or song or art or crafts. But all are gifted. This primary calling on the church requires first of all that the church to learn to honor diversity. Further, the church must create free space where individuals can explore their giftedness through service to one another. Thus, the journey into every kind of ministry must begin with the cultivation of humility and love with a corresponding desire to bless. In that atmosphere there is no room for pride, just a humble desire to serve others. The modern church has focused too much on performance and too little on service, too much on getting a blessing and too little on being a blessing. The only performance fit for the Kingdom of God is that born of love for God and others expressed as a sincere desire to see others uplifted. This is nowhere more critical than in the realm of worship; preachers, singers, and musicians must above all else serve out of humility and love. JDJ # 409

Just a Thought: According to the Apostle Paul, tongues are a sign, not to believers but to unbelievers (I Corinthians 14:22). And yet, if an unbeliever enters a church gathering and all are speaking in tongues he or she will say the speakers are mad (v. 23). A quick read of these juxtaposed statements may appear to be a contradiction in thought, but they are not contradictory ideas. It is important to note that signs are not symbols. Symbols are visual images that by common agreement represent something that they are not. Signs, at least in the Biblical context, are the initial manifestations of an alternative reality, whether natural (weather) or supernatural. Signs are what they represent; they are of the same nature as that to which they point. Thus, the signs of the Kingdom are in fact the in-breaking of the Kingdom and not just arrows pointing toward it. For Paul to say that tongues are a sign for the unbeliever is for Him to equate tongues with the presence of a reality that is not yet fully evident. Tongues confront the unbeliever with the spiritual reality of God’s presence and of His nature to speak. Thus, speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance should be understood as a form of prophetic speech. As such, it demands a response; the hearer must interpret the event if not the words. A cacophony of tongues could only serve to confound the experience of the outsider. The sign would be buried in the confusion. Thus, Paul desires that all would speak in tongues, just not at the same time in a worship service. In those gatherings he prefers that prophecy prevail and that tongues be accompanied with the gift of interpretation. Lord, pour your Spirit out on us so that we will be a sign of your redeeming presence. JDJ # 414

Just a Thought: A great deal of attention has been given through the centuries to the proper manner of keeping Sabbath. Enshrined within the accounts of creation and the giving of the Law, the Sabbath is considered by some to be one of the oldest continuing customs within Judaism. Most Christians have understood the Sabbath to be folded into Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Since the Reformation however there have been many who have opted to keep Saturday as their day of rest and worship. For both sets of believers there have been varying stipulations about what can be done on the day of rest, i.e., no games or other entertainment. Some have discarded the teaching altogether counting it as a vestige of Law with no place in Christianity. In modern times the emphasis has shifted to the benefits of keeping a day of rest; it’s good for your mental and physical health. In light of the fact that God declared that the Sabbath was a perpetual sign of the covenant between Him and Israel (Exodus 31: 12-18), should we not reconsider the significance of Sabbath for Christians. JDJ # 424

Just a Thought: Work was not intended to be drudgery; suffering in labor is the result of the curse, not faulty design. Work was intended to be humanity’s primal expression of worship. Pietistic groups such as the Quakers and Mennonites understood this well. There is beauty in simplicity. Harmony with nature echoes the harmony of God. We were created to worship through our work and not in spite of it. That which we do with our minds, our hearts, and our hands should proclaim the beauty and sovereignty of our Creator. For this reason the Apostle writes “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24 - ESV). He wrote this instruction specifically to slaves, those whose work was oppressive and with little or no reward. As difficult as it may be in today’s post-industrial rat race, those words ring out as a promise. God is with you. He knows and understands. He will join you in your field, assembly line, or cubical and transform it into a cathedral of quieted praise. JDJ # 432

Just a Thought: Sabbath is first and foremost a call to communion with God. It is to enter sacred time and sacred space for the singular purpose of knowing and being known by our Creator. Sabbath is thus an end in itself. It does not exist primarily as a means toward something greater. Its purpose is not principally utilitarian. God did not give us Sabbath so that we would be physically renewed, or mentally renewed, or spiritually renewed. He could do those things in an instant if needed. These renewals were designed to be accomplished through the six days of creative work; work should renew. But sin got in the way. Rather, God gave us Sabbath so that we might be with Him.  Sabbath centers creation in the creator. It makes worship the focal point of our existence. Yet, when properly practiced Sabbath does bear much fruit in the richness of life. It does renew and in this it serves to point us toward our intended future in God. JDJ # 435 

Just a Thought: It is one thing to know that God is present; it is quite another to know His presence, to know Him in His presence. The invitation of God is not to merely think right thoughts about Him or to understand His presence in creation or to understand one’s circumstances in light of His presence. The invitation of God is for us to know Him. This is eternal life, to know the only True God and Jesus Christ whom He sent (John 17: 3). The fulfillment of this invitation requires faith, but not the mere faith of acknowledgement; it requires the faith born of fervent desire. The expectation of God is that we seek Him, not that we simply acknowledge Him. If you seek Him with all of your heart, He will let you find Him. Never settle for the satisfaction of insight when God is offering intimate knowledge of Himself.

Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. (Isa 55:6 NAS)

I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me.  (Pro 8:17 NAS)

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.  (Jer 29:13 NAS)

Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.  (Heb 4:16 NAS)

Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. (Mat 7:7 NAS) (Or more accurately “Keep asking…Keep seeking…Keep knocking”).
JDJ #436

Just a Thought: I am not opposed to the use of the word “sacrament” to designate the central rites of Christian life and worship (baptism, Lord’s Table, footwashing). For the record, I often use it because it is the most common designation in use in modern English. But I find it too far removed from the New Testament and too grounded in a Latin/Roman worldview for my comfort. I slightly prefer the word “ordinance” to signify those rites ordained by Christ to be practiced in the life of the church. However, I find the Eastern Church closer to the New Testament with its language of the “mysteries.” I fear in the West the sacraments function too much like a veil; they point toward the Holy One while simultaneously functioning like a barrier to Him. They are treated like icons that allow a glimpse into heaven and allow a little of heaven to touch us. Lost in the liturgical churches of the West is the full realization that the veil between us and God is removed. Christ leads us into the holy of holies. The mysteries are then much more than signs of grace. They are present events occurring within the coming reign of Christ. They express Emmanuel; God is with us. They are not occasions of special grace; they are special events infused with God’s promised presence. The mysteries are not primarily about grace at all. They are about life in the New Covenant; they are about the communion of the saints with each other and with God.  Or to express this in metaphysical terms, the mysteries are not occasions in which the material world is supplanted by the spiritual world; they are events in which the material world is being recreated and its incipient spiritual nature restored. In them the mystery of the incarnation of Christ is extended to His union with the Church as His body, which then serves as a promise of the summing up of all things in Him. Thus, the mysteries (or ordinances, or sacraments) are less about receiving a gift from God than they are about ongoing encounters with Him, the celebration of and renewal of our covenant relation with Him. They are events for the renewal of His glory yet to be revealed but already within us. They are a missional expression of God’s reign over creation. JDJ #437

Just a Thought: I am thankful for the congregation I am blessed to pastor, the New Covenant Church of God. We began as two home based covenant groups in January of 1989, 25 years ago. Our overarching vision has always been to be a faithful expression of the body of Christ, a congregation that “worships together in the presence of Christ, walks together in the way of Christ and labors together in the mission of Christ.” With this vision we have cultivated a distinctive identity. We are not different for the sake of being different nor do we consider ourselves better than others; we are merely distinct in our efforts to be found faithful. Visitors often comment on the depth and beauty of our worship, and the strong sense of community we share. We are known for our emphasis on the place of children with us as church, especially our weekly children’s sermon. Those who have been with us for any period of time know that we are a “city of refuge,” a place for the wounded to come and seek healing. They also know we are a sending and giving church; currently ten missionary families consider us their “home church” (http://www.newcovenantcleveland.org/our-missionaries.html). We are a Scripture oriented church, experiencing the Bible as Spirit-Word of God wed to the thoughts/language of humanity. Those who stay with us for a long period of time seem most appreciative of our emphasis on the preached Word. Our reputation has been that we are more “liturgical” than other Pentecostal churches. We do loosely follow the church year: Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, and Pentecost. We also practice weekly communion and footwashing is made a prominent opportunity every Sunday service. (Does that make us more, or less liturgical?) Like all other churches we have people who come for a season and leave; we just never feel like “home” for them. The comments I hear from those who visit for a few Sundays and leave most often center on (1) they loved the beauty and depth of our worship, but (2) we are just a little too Pentecostal for them. I find it always disappointing when we cannot be for people what they need us to be. It is painful when this happens because we have failed to be faithful to our calling, and that does happen. But I have no delusion that we can always please God and people. More significantly, I know we can not be faithful to the heavenly vision without the ongoing outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Why would I want to be anything other than Pentecostal in faith, experience, and practice? Come Holy Spirit; take full control. JDJ # 438.

Just a Thought: During the second half of the twentieth century there was a steady flow of believers out of the historic liturgical churches into Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Certainly there were many congregations in the “mainline” denominations that retained their historic identity while embracing charismatic doctrines and experiences. But the trend was to migrate to less restrictive liturgies with more phenomenological experiences. However, in the last twenty years there has been a reverse-migration taking place. Not a small number of persons rooted in the Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions have converted to more liturgical church traditions: Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican in particular – the same is true for other Evangelicals as well. For the most part this phenomenon is centered in the young and well educated. In my opinion, they are looking for a broader base for spiritual experience, beginning with a reasoned foundation for spirituality. They are looking for security in tradition. They desire to be connected to something bigger than themselves that is historically grounded. They are also looking for symbols, art, and beauty in worship, a more holistic approach to spirituality. Conversely, they are rejecting both a faith limited to reason (as is common among many Evangelical groups) and experiences grounded in individualism (as is common among many Pentecostal and Charismatic groups). Even so, they are retaining the self as ultimate authority, embracing liturgy and tradition more as a larger and safer pool in which to swim than constitutional delimitations of the faith. The church must do a better job of understanding the growing appeal of tradition and it must respond with wisdom and grace in light of the Scriptures. JDJ # 440 

Just a Thought: There is much to commend in the liturgies and traditions of the historic liturgical churches. Through their images, symbols, and dramatic rituals they convey the Gospel more holistically than the typical Evangelical church’s more limited modes of expression. A Benedictine Monk I know (and highly respect) is fond of saying that he wished his Pentecostal friends could accept that there is nothing in Catholicism to prevent a person from having a dynamic personal relationship with Christ (and I agree). Yet, his own Catholic Church has in recent years put forth a concerted effort to evangelize its own members having recognized untold numbers of them have failed to personally own the truths of the Gospel. I am left with the question of why the historic churches have statistically produced so many members who do not profess having a dynamic personal relationship with Christ; why do so many of them need to be evangelized? Why are the ancient traditions and liturgies so appealing to some persons who were raised in a Pentecostal/Charismatic spirituality while at the same time they are so often ineffective in nurturing mature disciples among those raised within their own more historic spiritualties?  (Granted that Pentecostals are not known for keeping all of their youth.) In my opinion, formal liturgies may serve well to nurture an existing faith but they are less effective in spawning a living faith. They provide a form for godliness but lack the power thereof. I suspect they are well suited for aiding in introspection by those with a living faith but are lacking in ability to generate such faith. They provide the security of structure and patterns of normalcy but fail to see transforming encounters with a living God as the norm of the Kingdom. Indeed, they may become a substitute for those encounters. They do not prevent, but they may hinder. For me, beauty is a poor substitute for glory. JDJ # 441

Just a Thought:  Apparently some interpreted my last “Thought” as pejorative against the historical, high-liturgy churches. That was not my intent. My desire was to merely point out that converts from Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Charismatic churches [herein EPC] to the more liturgical churches typically find the liturgies to be meaningful, beautiful, and edifying. This phenomenon runs counter intuitive to the experiences of many who grow up in these traditions, a significant number of whom fail to see the meaning and beauty of the liturgies. [I am not here addressing the experiences of those who grow up in EPC churches and remain there or move out of there to other traditions or to no tradition.] I was merely observing the obvious; (1) converts have a higher appreciation of the liturgies of their adopted tradition, and (2) EPC’s who convert to these churches tend to be more highly educated. My interpretation was that (1) formal liturgies tend to nurture an existing vibrant faith while having less of an impact on those who are nominally of the tradition and (2) those who get the most meaning from the higher liturgies appear to be the more highly educated [not that others don’t find them enriching]. One implication is that persons who convert from EPC’s to high church traditions are not necessarily switching spiritualities but rather adopting a more satisfying location for their already formed, more intellectual approach to faith. Further, their adopted tradition allows for a more holistic experience of that spirituality, one that fits well with the aesthetics of the more highly educated. [I recognize the reasons for converting are far more complex and diverse. I am merely offering what I believe to be one important thread in the cord.] The ultimate implication for me centers on the question of what the EPC’s need to learn from the older traditions in order to be more effective in making disciples. How can we be faithful to our own faith traditions (which emphasizes personal experience with God) and also embrace practices that are faithful to our own “catholic” heritage? For Pentecostals in particular, how can we retain our primal commitments to (1) the freedom of the Spirit to direct worship and (2) the promise of Spirit baptism with signs for all believers, while also recognizing the work of the Spirit in the liturgies, forms and structures of the church? I have committed 40 years of ministry to that later question but always from the stance that the presence and work of the Spirit as revealed in the Scriptures must take priority over liturgies and forms developed in the early centuries of the church and later. JDJ # 442

Just a Thought: Too often worship is human centered. Many years ago David Horton shared with me some transitions he had made in his understandings of worship. He spoke of how he had early in ministry rejected the more testimonial songs of his Pentecostal youth, but he said, “then I made the mistake of reading the Psalms in the Bible; they are chocked full of testimony.” He also spoke of a transition from seeing worship as something we do to “move God into action” to seeing it as a drama we perform before God for His enjoyment. I suspect in the last decade of his life David made another transition in his understanding of worship. When I was blessed to worshiped with the Lee University Campus Choir under his direction I sensed he had entered into a more primitive understanding; true worship is to enter into the worship that eternally exists within the Triune God. We do this by entering through the worship of Christ our elder brother, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. We must enter into His life to worship with Him. I had suggested a simplified version of this to David in that earlier conversation; worship should be less of a drama we do before God than it is a dance we do with God. (I am not suggesting my comment influenced David; I don’t think he ever made major transitions without seeking God and doing thorough research. I did have a brief conversation with him about the transformation of the Campus Choir in which he shared it was the result of a divine in-breaking on the choir.) The Orthodox have especially retained the sense that worship is done with God, as have to a lesser degree the other historic, high-liturgy churches. This is why liturgy is critical to them. God is revealing Himself through the church, especially the worship of the church. Worship must therefore conform to the traditions handed down from the Apostles. Ask any Orthodox Patriarch and he will assure you their liturgy follows the pattern established by the Apostles. I personally cannot affirm this from my studies in the literature of the Ante-Nicene church. What I strongly affirm is the assertion that worship should be viewed as entering by the Spirit into the Triune life of God. I also affirm that the ordinances/sacraments are critical components of the dance of God. When we share them we should do so to the music and rhythms of the Spirit. JDJ # 443

Just a Thought: All churches practice liturgy in some shape or form. “Liturgy” simply means “worship.” Our worship may be highly stylized or appear impromptu and spontaneous. It may be formal or informal, but we all follow patterns and practice certain rituals. The least formal among us have a standardized sequence in our worship services. All but the most radically reformed would practice baptism and communion on special occasions, if not weekly. Virtually all would include the reading of Scriptures with some form of exposition, times of prayer, songs and opportunities for giving in their weekly worship services and all of those in a pre-set order. The question is not do we have rituals, but why do we have rituals? What is their source of origin? What is the purpose of our rites or rituals? What is their meaning? Perhaps more significantly, what is their intended function in the lives of believers and in the life and mission of the church? Why do we do what we do? My fear is that too few Evangelical/Pentecostal/Charismatic pastors give any consideration of these questions. They fail to realize the liveliest of worship calisthenics can in fact be rituals dead of meaning and void of the Spirit. JDJ #455

Just a Thought: If Pentecostals and Charismatics are tempted to confuse enthusiasm with anointing, many others are tempted to confuse meaning with anointing or wisdom. Insight is confused with inspiration and illumination. There is a certain stoic inclination in much of Christianity that tends to elevate reason and understanding above feelings and affections. In such an atmosphere the “ah ha” moment can be equated with a spiritual word of wisdom, a divine insight, or divine approval. Insight can be erroneous; a burst of understanding can be deceptive. Meaning can be self-deception. Even when these “experiences” are grounded in valid logic they are powerless to make one holy and acceptable to God. Insight is not wisdom if it lacks the fear of the Lord. In short, people can have worship experiences that are meaningful and insightful but void of the transforming presence of God. In my experience, the wisdom of the Spirit is more likely to produce an “oh me” response than an “ah ha” or “wow” response. True worship must engage the mind and the heart; it must cherish meaning without fearing emotion. JDJ # 456

Just a Thought: The most prominent image for ministry leadership in the Scriptures is that of a Shepherd. While not explicit in the Bible, it seems appropriate to apply that metaphor to those who lead in worship. A shepherd leads and his or her flock follows. By way of contrast, ranchers drive their herds of cattle. My fundamental posture is that worship leaders should therefore be worshippers who by example and encouragement invite others to join them in worship; they should not be entertainers, neither should they primarily function as cheerleaders. Worship leaders are not ramrods on a weekly cattle drive to ecstasy. Yet, when I read the Psalms I find an abundance of exhortations for the people to worship exuberantly: “shout aloud unto the Lord.” There is not a shortage of commandments to worship with a shout of joy and to clap your hands. My conclusion is that worship leaders must be persons who can follow and give voice to the leading of the Spirit. The Spirit will woo us into God’s presence and the Spirit will thrust us there if need be. The primal disposition of a worship leader should be that of a shepherd, one who invokes a worship response by others, but she or he must also be available to be a prophetic mouthpiece for the Spirit, one who provokes praise from the people. There is a place for psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, anthems and testimonial ballads. There is also a place for songs requiring a spirited cheerleader. Shepherds may not drive their sheep, but their staff does have a crook/hook for a reason. JDJ #457

Just a Thought: While I have long been a proponent of a more intentional inclusion of the historic rituals of Christianity, I have never seen that as a break with Pentecostalism. For the most part it has only meant for me that we have returned to the patterns of earlier Pentecostalism, i.e., we practice footwashing and the Lord’s Table more frequently than most modern Pentecostals; for the past year both of these ordinances have been made available during each Sunday morning worship service at the New Covenant Church of God where I serve as pastor. We have for decades also followed the church calendar, which may represent a bending of but not a break with our Pentecostal heritage. In truth, my initial motivation for following the calendar was for discipleship purposes. I recognized there was significance in the Jewish calendar and that the cyclical time it represents was woven into the processes of identity formation for God’s people. The first Christians continued to follow the Jewish calendar with its feasts and festivals. We are formed, our identity takes shape, through the normative patterns of our lives, through the rituals that embody and provide meaning for our values and relationships. Our walk with God is shaped by those normative practices that we deem as sacred. In the best of Christian tradition those practices embody the gospel of Christ, the mystery of the incarnation, in a manner that is faithful to and responsive to the sovereign presence of the Holy Spirit and thereby incorporates believers into the mystery of Christ. Otherwise, the rituals of the church “collapse Pneumatology into ecclesiology” (I am not certain if I got this from Cheryl or she got it from me.) and people are incorporated into the culture of church without being incorporated into Christ and formed as living and Spirit-filled members of the Body of Christ. Rituals provide the form but they must never be confused with the grace they were intended to convey. JDJ # 459

Just a Thought: Having defended the more formalized liturgies as being packed with meaning and beauty and thereby offering opportunities for sincere and deep worship (See “Thoughts” 280-281, 293-294, 302-310, 389, 437-438, 440-443, 455-457, 459. They are collected at http://jackiespeaks.blogspot.com/2014/06/thoughts-on-worship.html), I now turn to my criticisms of them. My first concern has to do with the historicity of the highly formalized liturgies and the tension that exists between them and the Scriptures. The liturgies of Christianity evolved over centuries and until the Reformation the general trend was for each development to exact greater control over the form of the liturgy. What were at first practices grounded in Judaism and the life of Christ would by the fifth century take on forms far removed from that heritage. Specifically, the atmosphere of communal celebration was replaced with one of public presentation with personal reflection, and active participation was replaced with more passive reception. Interactive engagement with the Scriptures (at first the Old Testament) was replaced with the patterns of Roman rhetoric, i.e., a speech or ritual that called for a response. In brief, the primary ordinances of First Century Christianity (Lord’s Supper, Hymns, Scripture, Homilies, Prayers, Sharing of the Peace) were retained but transformed into liturgical forms more compatible with the Roman world. It is not coincidence that the more formalized liturgies took their shape during the same period (4th and 5th centuries) that Christianity was consolidating a polity of power and control common to the empire. Ordination to ministerial positions was being restricted to men and the gifts of the Spirit were being placed under the tight oversight of the Bishops all but shutting them down, especially the prophetic gifts. It was also the same period in which the church aligned itself as a partner with the Roman Empire moving from a persecuted sect to the official state religion, which for the first time endorsed the execution of heretics. In short, I am not satisfied to stop with the forms of the 4th and 5th centuries; I am compelled to press all the way back into the Scriptures.  While ancient in origin, formalized liturgies were not written by the Apostles and do not carry the authority or power of the Scriptures. JDJ # 464

Just a Thought: Every development in the history of the liturgy came in a specific ecclesiastical context, which almost always was the need to address a pressing doctrinal concern. At the core of these concerns was the need to keep heretics and their heresies out of the church. Orthodoxy with its primal meaning of straight or correct worship (“ortho” meaning “straight” and “doxy” meaning “glory”) became merged with the concept of orthodoxy as straight or correct doctrine. Sound doctrine became the delimiter of sound worship. In time, the precise form of the liturgy in words and actions became essential to what was understood to be true worship. Thus, the shape of the liturgy was defined by the doctrines it was intended to preserve. While it is true that the essential forms of the liturgy developed as the canon of New Testament Scripture was being formed, it must be noted that the earliest Christians were guided by the oral and written traditions attributed to the Apostles, i.e., they were guided by a commitment to follow the patterns established by the Apostles. It is also true that the church has never ceased to link the liturgy to the Apostles. My point is that in spite of that linkage there is a wide gulf between the worship presented in the New Testament and the worship circumscribed by the liturgies as they evolved in the history of the church. It is my belief that the more liturgy became formal and controlled the more it lost its core New Testament feature, i.e., the manifest presence of the Spirit through the charismata. (After I have a chance to read Metzger’s History of the Liturgy as Dale Coulter suggests I may have to amend the above.) JDJ # 465

Just a Thought: My second concern is with the form of our liturgies. Form can enhance or interfere with purpose and meaning. There is an old architectural adage that form should follow function, that is, a building should be built so that the form of the structure serves the intended purpose of the space. However, the inverse is true as well. If the form does not well suit the function, the function will soon adjust to the form. The form of a space will largely determine the character of the events that happen within its environment. This is most readily seen in the classic cathedrals of Christianity. With their high, long, and narrow space combined with their ornate décor, the structures were designed to draw attention forward to the altar and upward toward heaven. The effect was to create a sense of the sacred that lifts the worshipper toward heaven while temporarily shutting out the realities of life on earth. In other words, the design enhances the vertical aspect of worship and suppresses the horizontal or communal aspects of worship. Marshall McLuhan offered a parallel thought from the perspective of communications theory: the medium is the message. His underlying thesis was that regardless of what was intended, the medium imbeds itself in the message, drastically influencing how the message is received. Taken together these theories imply that the form in which worship is experienced will greatly impact the meaning of the experience for the believer. The patterns we follow in our liturgies will impact if not determine the spiritual realities of the participants. The critical question becomes, does the form and content of a worship practice conform to the nature of the practice as revealed in Scripture? Do the patterns of our worship communicate the great mystery of Christ incarnate in us? JDJ # 466 

Just a Thought: For me the primal test for true worship must be whether it welcomes believers into the glory of God (orthodoxy), that divine light shining forth from the intra-Trinitarian communion of our God. This requires that we open ourselves without reservation to the deep searchings and longings of the Spirit of God (ortho-pathy). It further requires that we know ourselves as rightful participants in the reign of God, both recipients and agents of His gracious gifts (ortho-praxy). It also requires that we as living epistles join in the chorus of the eternal Word of God being written on our hearts (ortho-doxy). In this kind of worship the chaos of our broken world is tamed and creation is reclaimed as the habitation of God. This worship is located more in God-with-us than God-above-us, or better stated, it focuses on the God who is wholly other having made His dwelling place with us. The vertical and the horizontal are melted into the universal. Generally speaking, the problem with the more formalized liturgies is not so much the doctrinal content associated with them as the nature and functions of worship circumscribed by them. The question is not whether our liturgies (and we all have them) are consistent with the truths revealed in the Bible. The question is whether Christian worship is experienced as a shared entering into to the light of God’s Kingdom. Do the rich and the poor, the lettered and the illiterate, within all the races know each other knowing God? In that atmosphere the sacraments are not significant because they express sound doctrine, or because they are beautiful dramas portraying divine activity on our behalf, or because they invoke faith. No, their significance is that they actualize our shared union with Christ as attested by the Spirit and the Scriptures. JDJ # 467 

Just a Thought: Reflections on worship in the New Testament and other early Christian writings offer a vantage point from which to critique the forms of our own worship. During the first few centuries of the church the nature and function of worship was quite different from the patterns that would later develop. I offer the following personal perceptions about early Christian gatherings for consideration. 1. Christian gatherings were above all else considered to be gatherings with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit; the post resurrection appearances of Christ on the first day of the week set the stage for all the Sundays to follow. The true significance of the Lord’s table and the gifts of the Spirit was not the meal or gifts themselves but the meal and gifts as signs of the presence of Christ and the in breaking of His Kingdom. 2. Christian gatherings were familial in character, with fellowship in Christ being the cornerstone of all that happened: one with Christ, one with each other. 3. All members were expected to minister grace to one another through the sharing of the fruit of the Spirit, especially the peace of Christ, and other spiritual gifts. 4. The church understood itself to be a learning community; their mission was to make disciples and their principle officeholders were tasked with faithfully communicating the revelation of Christ. 5. Emphasis was placed on reading the Scriptures, preaching and teaching the Word of God and communicating the traditions of the Apostles, fervent and effectual prayer, and varieties of songs: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. 6. The Lord’s Table was celebrated frequently, weekly by the early second century if not from the beginning. 7. Giving was a hallmark of Christian worship with offerings being used to support ministers, widows, orphans and the needy. 8. Washing the saints feet was a normative activity. 9. Christian gatherings were orderly, being overseen by a presiding officer and elders, but they were also open to spontaneous participation by any or all persons present; any member might give a gift of the Spirit or a spiritual song as the Spirit led. Bishops played a prominent role in assuring all was done in a manner consistent with the teachings of the Apostles. 10. During weekdays, it was normative for believers to gather in one another’s homes for worship, fellowship, prayer, and study, but they gathered on Sundays in spaces sufficient for larger numbers of people. JDJ # 468

Just a Thought: No one can come to the table of our Lord in isolation. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one table. Whenever we feast on the mystery of His incarnation we are assembled with all who are in Christ Jesus. It is not enough that we grant intellectual assent to this truth; we must also discern and honor the Body of Christ in our midst (I Corinthians 11). The table is not for our healing alone; it is for us to share in His healing. It is not directed toward our blessing alone; it is directed into us that it might be channeled through us. It is not for our time and context alone; it is that we might be one with all the saints in Christ Jesus. A sure sign that one has not been blessed with union with Christ at His table is the absence of a sense of union with the members of His Body, especially the poor and oppressed. Woe to that person who rejoices in the blessings of God offered at the Table of Communion but does not also mourn with those who suffer. Our union with Christ cannot exist without union with His sufferings. The ancients gave thanks in their Eucharistic prayers, “We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever” (The Didache). Whenever we make the Eucharist about ourselves alone we have made an idol of the Table. JDJ # 469

Just a Thought: Having established the importance of the Lord’s Table and my own present commitment that it be a part of Sunday worship each week, I turn to my concerns for the current Pentecostal/Charismatic/Evangelical infatuation with tradition-based liturgies, the Eucharist in particular. First, when I read what others write about the comfort they take in the Lord’s Table, it often reads like they perceive the Eucharist to function as a dispersion of grace instead of a means of grace, the gradual infusion of love and acceptance without the requisite transformation appropriate to an encounter with God. As a means of grace the sacraments are occasions of God’s abundant grace for those who embrace Him in the sacrament in order to be embraced by Him there. The sacraments cannot be entered into with passivity; they are not a spiritual sauna where we sit and soak in the aura of grace. They are a reminder that we live in the already-not-yet of God’s Kingdom; we live in a state of spiritual warfare. The grace belonging to salvation is not infused merely because we have a habit of quieting ourselves in an otherworldly space and partaking there in a reverential ritual. We truly partake of them only if we actively come in faith. They are occasions for the renewal of our covenant with Christ and that renewal requires a recapitulation of the inauguration of the covenant. The Lord’s Table must be an occasion of self-examination of our readiness for the Kingdom, a place of repentance, an altar of self-denial and cleansing, a tabernacle of praise and thanksgiving, and a meal of communal celebration. There is grace at the table, grace that refuses to leave us bound to our sinfulness. JDJ # 472

Just a Thought: As my physician/theologian daughter Alethea Allen has observed, it appears that some are making an idol of “The Table.” I fear that this is all too true. We have made an idol of the Table when we focus more on what it symbolizes than on Who’s presence it actualizes. It has become an idol when we leave the Table more focused on our state of well being than in awe of Him, when personal catharsis is allowed to supplant fellowship with our Triune God, when the Table becomes a shortcut around the work of praying through to the presence and peace of God, when it becomes a substitute for spiritual discipline. Another indicator is the tendency to bifurcate the Word of Life and the Bread of Life. The Eucharist is not a substitute for Scripture; they are one. The table has become an idol when it ceases to call us into the written Word of God, when it ceases to create a hunger for the voice of God inscripturated. Another indicator the Table has become an idol is when connection with the sainted dead there assembled becomes more real and comforting than fellowship with contemporary corporeal believers. Harmony with an idealized spirituality of those gone before must not supplant the call to embody the presence of Christ with our imperfect brothers and sisters gathered with us at the Table. A corollary indicator is the abuse of the table as a means of escape. The Table has become an idol when it serves as a means for denying the truth in which we live, a portal of temporary escape from this life. The sacred meal does not transport us into the future and away from this world; it brings the coming Kingdom into this world. Do not come to the Table to flee your problems; come to confront them in the presence of Christ. JDJ # 475

Just a Thought: One of the most misunderstood concepts in the Church of God is our position on “open communion.” We do not believe that we are exclusively “The Church of God.” We do believe we are an expression of the one catholic (universal) church. We therefore welcome all who are members of the church universal to the Lord’s Table when we celebrate it. Generally, this means we welcome all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. On the surface it would then appear that we would never forbid anyone from the table. On reflection however, it should be evident that the table is only offered to those who actively profess Christ as Lord. I am not suggesting that the table be barred until visitors speak the passwords “Jesus is Lord.” I am stating that it must be clear that participation is a proclamation that Jesus is Lord. I am also stating that persons who are known to refuse to declare the Lordship of Jesus must be barred. There is another set of people who must be barred from the table, those whose lives make evident they are not of Christ regardless of the words they utter. I am referring to those who are known to be living in the “works of the flesh” as identified in Scripture. Those whose lives are marked by fornication, rage, greed, etc. are to be forbidden from the Lord’s Table until they have made evident their repentance. Our position must be that we accept all who are in Christ and reject all who are known to be outside of Christ as is made evident by the Spirit of the Scriptures. I usually state it this way, “Everyone who professes Christ is Lord is welcome when I preside over the Lord’s Table, except those whose lives make evident He is not their Lord.” We do not take these issues seriously because we do not take the Lord’s Table seriously; we have reduced it to a publicly exercised, private, symbolic gesture far removed from the actualization of the body of Christ. JDJ # 494

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