The Eternality of the Liturgy (part Four)

2 03 2011
Truth Matters Newsletters – February 2011 – Vol. 16 Issue 2 – The Eternality of the Liturgy (part Four) – By Rev. Robert Liichow

Discernment Ministries International

The Eternality of the Liturgy (part Four)

Rev. Bob Liichow

Jesus taught us that the true God must be worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:23) and as we have been studying over the last several months He has always revealed to His people the manner in which He is to be properly addressed. The purpose behind these articles is to explore the historic orthodox Christian liturgical format of worship and thus enable each of us to determine whether or not our own congregations are truly worshipping God in a manner that is acceptable to Him.

As we have already seen that it is quite possible to worship God and our worship be rejected by Him, regardless of how good our intentions were. Consider the following sad case: two men came to worship God, one brought the best of his garden, faultless produce. The other brother brought the firstling of his flock. God rejected the first act of worship and accepted the other (Genesis 4). No doubt Cain meant well, but when it comes to serving God good intentions are not enough. If good intentions and desire were enough to qualify one to approach God then why the following command from God?

And Aaron and his sons shalt thou appoint that they may attend to their priest’s office; and the stranger that cometh near shall be put to death. (Numbers 3:10) (1)

The “stranger” was anyone whom God had not ordained to serve in His temple. What about those whom He did call but failed to serve “according to the pattern” revealed by God?

And the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, took each of them his cener, and put fire in it, and put incense on it, and presented strange fire before Jehovah, which he had not commanded them. And there went out fire from before Jehovah, and devoured them, and they died before Jehovah (Leviticus 10:1-2) (2)

In this case two “non-strangers” offered strange fire, i.e. a sacrifice not required by God nor desired by Him. The end result? Instant death. These were Aaron’s sons, Moses brother, his second in command! Seems pretty harsh to some, yet it says to me that our God is holy and He will have a people to worship Him aright. I could wag long about Samson who went to sleep, woke up shorn and did not know that God had left him (Judges 16:20). It is evident from the whole of scripture that God takes worship very seriously.

Most certainly we live under a better covenant which is based upon better promises (Hebrews 8:6) and we are free in Christ by the Spirit from bondage of the law (Romans 8:2). Yet being “free” from the Law does not make us a lawless people. Being in Christ does not mean that we now can approach The Ancient of Days in any form or fashion. This is especially true fro when we gather together to worship our Lord.

The early church understood the seriousness of approaching God properly, they were mostly Jews by natural birth and thus were raised within the worship structures of both the synagogue and temple.

The historic liturgy of the Church is a combination of both Judaic and Hellenistic influences. Obviously, the Jewish influences are the earliest and comprise much of the “heart” of our services today. From the Jews we obtained.

The Eucharist the Sacraments

Prayer in Common The Liturgical sermon

Most of the service of the Word — that two lectionary readings and the Psalmody between them concluding with the sermon comes to us from Jewish practice. The structure of the ancient Eucharistic prayer come from Israel and is preserved today (albeit fragmented) in the Preface and the canon. Also from Israel comes the great intercessory prayer which was once common in liturgical services and it was modeled on the 18 Intercessions recited at the beginning of synagogue services. The seven day week comes to us via Israel, as do the major Feasts of the Church such as Pentecost and Easter. Even the concept of our “Church” year comes to us via the Jews.

The times of liturgical prayer stem from the root of Abraham’s seed also. Not only was the secular year divided by major Feast Days commemorating the salvicfic acts of our God, but the day was divided into prayer offices. [It is funny to me when I dialog with Muslims how they always bring up their 5 times of prayer a day…little do they realize that Mohammed took the idea from the Church first!]. The following is how the day was historically divided by seasons of prayer (these may differ slightly depending upon whom is cited):

Vespers (at the end of the day)

Compline (upon retiring)

Vigils (sometimes during the night)

Matins (Lauds) (at sunrise)

Prime (during the first hour of daylight)

Terce (at the third hour)

Sext (at the sixth hour)

None (at the ninth hour)

Vespers (at the end of the day)

Benedict of Nursia laid out in his Rule these hours for prayer. (3) This system of prayer was followed by the Church for hundreds of years, some religious orders still keep these hours daily. It is obviously not practical for everyone to attempt to put into play these prayer hours, but all of us could embrace Matins (Lauds) when we rise and Vespers or Compline at the end of our day. From Judaism came the use of the Laudate psalms, invitatory formula such as sursum corda {life up your hears}, oremus {let us pray}, gratias agamus {let us give thanks} is also of Jewish origin. This much is certain we all are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

It should be evident that worship was never a spontaneous “event” or necessarily even an emotional experience (I however personally find worship highly emotional). The year, the months (seasons), the weeks and even daily life was all geared towards the worship of God. I cannot stress this fact strongly enough. We live in a have–it-your-own-way culture, especially when it comes to spirituality. Many congregations across denominational lines have removed the cross from their walls (never mind crucifixes), taken Bibles out of the pews, ministers that no longer wear any type of vestments (a Ralph Loren© Polo Shirt does not count either). Their services are specifically crafted to meet the needs of the seeker. (4) What is the goal of these worship services? Having sat in meetings dedicated to church growth, I can answer on their behalf “what is our goal? To be sure that everyone has an enjoyable worship experience.” In order to achieve this goal then one has to dumb down the Gospel message and be very selective in what is proclaimed from the moveable lectern (altars are passé as well). Our charismatic brethren are even looser in their worship format — they pride themselves on not having one! In fact, I’ve been in many meetings where the ‘Spirit’ moved and no Bible was preached — and these were deemed GREAT services by all (except Jesus, who was no doubt weeping in intercession for us)! Charismatic believers seem to think that “change” equals growth and development. (5) Change is proof that God is indeed moving among His people. Since the time of Zwingli then the Wesley’s (John and Charles) and later that arch-heretic Charles Fox (“fox” how apt) Finney; it seems like the cry has been and still is “out with the old” and “in with the new innovations.” Did not Jesus Himself say that old wineskins (whatever people before you came to Christ) could not hold this new wine of today’s revelation? (see Mark 2:22)…Please re-read the passage and then tell me if that is what Jesus was saying.

Historically, Martin Luther cried out against the destruction of crucifixes, religious artwork, vestments, statuary and icons. (6) The more radical reformers sought to destroy everything that was attached to Roman Catholicism. They not only destroyed the physical reminders of Rome, but also did away with the liturgy as well! In their ignorance they failed to realize that the liturgical practices preceded the formation of the Roman Catholic Church by hundreds of years. Style of worship has a direct correlation to doctrinal belief. Change for the sake of change or to attempt to entice the lost or worse yet, steal sheep from another flock is the work of sinful people who have strayed from God’s revealed will for proper worship.

Brothers and sisters, humanistic innovation is not God’s way of worship. It never has been and regardless of whatever is popular now I can assure you that anything that deviates from His pattern will never be accepted by Him. Nuf said about that!

Perhaps one of the most striking and unique things about liturgical Christianity, and especially in this age of rapid change and even change for its own sake, is its permanence and changelessness. This is especially true for the Eastern Orthodox Church to this day. This was also true of the Western Roman Church until the past century when the reforms of Vatican II significantly altered the liturgical form of the Roman mass. It has been said that one of the most distinctive characteristics of the Orthodox Church is “its determination to remain loyal to the past its sense of living continuity with the church of ancient times.” (7)

What Was Early Christian Worship Like?

Depends on what one defines as early. We have little written evidence regarding the manner in which the Apostles led their actual worship services, apart from the information found in the Book of Acts and some of the Epistles. We’ve already covered in the previous articles how the first believers continued in the Temple until the dispersion around 70 A.D. We know that the initial roots of the Church were Jewish in all their flavor because that is all the Apostles had experienced at the time. It was really not until the apostle Paul began to purposefully reach out to the Gentiles and churches were established in the major Gentile cities that a new Hellenistic flavor was added to the Hebraic worship format. We know that initially the people gathered in homes to worship and for a short while did not experience much persecution. That changed as the church began to grow and converts began to multiply. Persecution arose frist from within Judaism (as the Stephen or later on the Apostle Paul when you see them in heaven) and then later on from pagans (see Acts 19:23-41) appealing to secular authorities and then fairly quickly this turns to persecution from Rome.

It was at this point, due to the intense public persecution of the Church by Roman authorities that the believers went under ground. By 70 A.D. the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews and many Christians scattered, so there was no more temple worship and furthermore, Christians were no longer welcome in the synagogues being seen now as a separate religion distinct from the Jews (at least in the eyes of the Roman government). The dispersion of believers into the Roman Empire led to the bulk of conversions occurring within the ranks of non-Jewish people giving the “face” of the Church a distinct Greco-Roman profile.

The earliest non-canonical writings we have give us some insight into the worship practices. One of the earliest accepted documents is called “The Didache, The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations.” (8) Many scholars’ date this short document to being written sometime early in the first century. “Didache” comes from the Greek word for doctrine or didactic and it is a sort of manual on general Christian life. Many sign-gift seekers like to cite the Didache because it deals with prophets. What they fail to realize is how damning the documents teachings are relating to today’s so-called restored prophets. Regarding prophets it says:

But not everyone who speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the prophet be known. And every prophet who orders a meal in the Spirit does not eat it, unless he is indeed a false prophet. And every prophet who teaches the truth, but does not do what he teaches, is a false prophet. And every prophet, proved true, working unto the mystery of the Church in the world, yet not teaching others to do what he himself does, shall not be judged among you, for with God he has his judgment; for so did also the ancient prophets. But whoever says in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, you shall not listen to him. But if he tells you to give for others’ sake who are in need, let no one judge him. (9)

It is important to keep in mind that at the time of this writing, approximately ten years after the death of the Apostle John (give or take a year or so), there still was no formalized canon of Scripture codified as we now possess. There still were a few men who filled the roles of prophets or apostles (i.e. men sent possibly via the Apostle John himself, or someone sent by a recognized Bishop). What I find interesting to read is how, apart from our Scriptures, the Church is warned in one of its earliest remaining documents about the danger of false teachers, false propjets and false apostles!

Those who came to the Church in the name of a prophet or apostle were to remain no more than three days and ask for no money! If they stayed longer or asked for money it was proof they were false SINisters. Due to the fact of a smattering of genuine charismatic gifts still in operation, the early church was cautious not to totally dismiss the possibility that God had indeed sent the individual to them —but they surely were fruit inspectors (Matt. 7:16).

Liturgically speaking what we glean from the Didache primarily concerns the Eucharistic meal. First, only those rightly baptized, i.e. according to the standard Trinitarian formula were to be allowed to receive communion. The agape meal was held each Lord’s day — every Sunday was a “communion Sunday” not every fourth Sunday, not once a month or annually but every time they gathered. Frankly, I know of no other congregations apart from liturgical ones that still practice regular weekly communion.

But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let on one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: “In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.” (10)

So without laboring the point it seems that this nascent Christian church began with a confession of sin, offering up of thanksgiving, celebration of the Eucharist along with teaching. (11) Few evangelical congregations today have any confession of sin in their services. People gather, the band starts to play and the people immediately begin singing! This speaks volumes of the leadership/.congregation’s attitude towards the reality of sin, the absolute inviolate holy nature of the One they have come to praise. All orthodox liturgical services begin generally with people on their knees with voices united in a corporate confession of sin and then we hear the welcome words of absolution declaring our sins forgiven by Christ and His work alone. For me and my family this is absolutely fabulous and sets the tone for the rest of the service. Once we as a people have confessed our sins, received our pardon (acknowledgment of grace) then and only then are we as a congregation able fully to enter into the presence of God corporately. There is true spiritual unity when you worship amidst a people who kneel before God fresh as new borne babes.

Next time we will continue our consideration of worship and look at Hippolytus and the Apostolic Constitutions. Stay tuned! ¨

Copyright © Rev. Robert S. Liichow

End Notes

1. Darby, J.N. (1996). The Holy Scriptures: A new translation from the original languages (Nu 3:10). Oak Harbor, Logos Research Systems.

2. Darby, J.N. (1996) The Holy Scriptures: A new translation from the original languages (Le 10:1-2). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

3. The following is a good web site to get a glimpse into the prayer hours http://www.yale.edu/adhoc/research_resources/liturgy/hours.html

4. I have always struggled with the concept of seekers. The Bible plainly teaches in both Testaments that there is NONE that seeks after God–no not one (see Romans 3:11). People are searching but not for the God of the Bible, He is the One who does the seeking and He always finds the ones He seeks!

5. All our former charismatic readers will relate to the FACT that almost every charismatic congregation attempts to achieve their understanding of “early church” structure — you know “we are a Book of Acts church!” declaration. Yet none of these fellowships are liturgical at all in any historical/orthodox sense!  What the claim to be (early church) they are not —in fact, early Christians would not recognize most of what happens in 90% of churches today.

6. Luther believed these things were made by the hands of pious men for holy reasons. Historic Lutheran churches are filled with inspirational artwork, but we do not pray to them!

7. Obtained from http://www.liturgica.com/html/litChLit.jsp.

8. Obtained from http://ministries.tliquest.net/theology/apocryphas/nt/didache.htm. At this web site you can read the entire document, which is only a couple of pages in length.

9. Obtained from http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-roberts.html. Underlining added for emphasis.

10 ibid. Underlining and italics added for emphasis.

11. The teaching aspect is easily seen in the other portions of the Didache.

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