Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: worship

Living stones of Zion

Only living stones can strengthen the walls of Zion.
Other stones do not bond and will be pushed out of place.
A block of wood, a bale of hay or straw, will fill a gap in the wall,
They do not bond, they offer a route for vermin to enter Zion.
When the fiery darts of the enemy strike them they go up in flames.

Sunlight shows flashes of gold, silver and jewels in some living stones.
Others are plain granite, all help bear the loads of brothers and sisters
And form bonds that make the walls a sure defence against the enemy.
There is safety within for little ones, not yet spiritually living stones,
And a place where the weak and wounded heal and renew their strength.

Spiritual sacrifices are daily offered within these walls,
Sacrifices of selfish will and pride, of personal desires and ambition.
Sacrifices that arise as sweet incense to the courts of heaven.
Peace, joy and love here are tested, are strengthened and endure ,
Pleasing God and making glad the hearts of the citizens of Zion.

A pillar of fire by night and of cloud by day is seen upon these walls,
The Shekinah glory of God, invisible to unbelieving eyes,
Yet seen and feared by demonic beings that love darkness.
Weary seekers of the city of God catch glimpses of light from afar
Angels of light watch over them, help them find their way home.

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Worship styles – what is essential?

I was reading articles about the history of church pews and it seems most writers feel that pews became important at the time of the Reformation. In Roman Catholic worship the focus was on the communion and provisions for congregational seating were not of major importance. With the Reformation, the focus switched to the sermon where the congregation remained seated for a lengthy period of time and where and how they sat became more important.

That may be true, but I was raised in the Anglican tradition which did not fit neatly into either category. There were two Bible readings in every service, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. In addition there were a few significant passages of Scripture that were spoken aloud, either in unison or as responsive readings. There was a sermon, usually not lengthy, and often there was communion, but the real emphasis seemed to be on the Bible.

Contemporary worship music seems to have come front and centre in most evangelical churches today. Thus the worship leader who leads and directs this aspect of the worship service seems to be as important as the preacher.

Early Christian worship took place in places like private homes, forests, or the catacombs of Rome. This type of worship did not require a special church building, nor did it require pews or musical instruments. This was worship stripped to its bare essentials: Bible reading, prayer, and exhortation to faithfulness. And people risked their lives to be at these worship services.

Anabaptists retained that simple style of worship throughout most of their history. One could question whether the many persecutions they suffered made that the only feasible style of worship, or whether they were persecuted because they chose to avoid the worship style of the official churches. Both were probably factors.

Today, we of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite consider ourselves to be linear descendants of the Anabaptists. Bible reading, prayer, hymns and a sermon all have a place in our worship services. The sermon usually consists of some combination of exposition of a Bible passage, teaching, testimony and exhortation to faithfulness. It is not a prepared, scholarly discourse, but flows from a heart inspired by the Holy Spirit.

We sing both old and new hymns, without musical accompaniment. The message of a song remains with us much longer when we all sing together, rather than just listening. Many have testified of times of difficulty or crisis when part of a song has popped into their mind with words that brought comfort and direction.

Worship then and now

Then was sixty years ago when I was a teenager and member of the Anglican Church of Canada. Services would begin with this exhortation:

Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, and obedient heart; to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy.

The service would continue with words of like eloquence, interspersed with a reading from the Old Testament, another from the New Testament, the reciting of some poetic passages of Scripture, either in unison or as a responsive reading. There would be a few hymns mixed in plus a sermon. All followed the familiar pattern of the Book of Common Prayer, which was little changed since it was formulated by Thomas Cranmer 400 years earlier.

It didn’t take long until you had the services memorized and didn’t need to follow in the book any longer. This was the great danger: the words were beautiful, meaningful and true, but one could recite them with nary a thought as to what one was saying. I have no doubt that many Anglicans were born-again people, but many, probably the majority, just droned along with their mind somewhere else altogether.

I remain very thankful for all the Scriptures read and recited in the Anglican services. I suppose this began in the day when most attendees were unable to read and this was the only exposure they had to the Word of God.  It was still good for those who were readers.

Now, in the Mennonite church to which I belong today, the services might seem a little tohu-bohu (the Hebrew words translated without form and void in Genesis 1:2). There is a certain order to the services, but they are informal and unstructured compared the church of my youth. Still, just as in Genesis 1:2, the Spirit of God is present.

Most congregations have more than one minister. None of them are professionals, they do not derive their income from the church but earn their living much as other members of the congregation. The hymns we sing are not chosen in advance but are chosen in a seemingly random manner by members of the congregation as the service progresses.  Lay brethren are often invited to volunteer to present some thoughts and a prayer to open the service. It may take some time for one to get up from his seat to do so. The sermons are extemporaneous, not written out beforehand. Sometimes there are no ministers present and the whole service is conducted by lay brethren. 

It works. We are fed, encouraged, reproved, inspired. We trust that everything, the hymns that are chosen, the words that are spoken, is prompted by the Holy Spirit.

This type of service goes back to long before Archbishop Cranmer. The apostle Paul wrote:

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. . . Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

Hazards of cross-cultural ministry

At a worship service in Québec the visiting minister rose to begin his message. He had just heard us singing in an unfamiliar language but the melody was familiar and he felt he had found a common thread to connect  with the congregation. He began by referring to several words of the English hymn he thought he had heard.  The brother who was interpreting first explained in French that the minister was referring to an English hymn, then gamely tried to express his thoughts as clearly as he could in French.

As the minister continued with his message, he kept coming back to the words of the English hymn and the interpreter valiantly tried to create something coherent out of those thoughts in French. Those of us who were bilingual smiled inwardly, others listened in respectful bafflement.

That is a common stumbling block in cross-cultural ministry. Every major language has a number of hymns that are unique to that language. Some hymns have been translated into many languages. How Great Thou Art is a Swedish hymn that is familiar to people in many other languages. A Mighty Fortress is our God originated in German and is likewise known to many people in their own language. However, differences in grammatical structure and rhythm often make it  next to impossible to create an exact translation. Thus, new songs are written in other languages, expressing more or less the same thoughts.

More hazardous yet for a preacher venturing to speak to people through an interpreter, often a completely different hymn is set to a tune that is familiar to the speaker in his native language. That is what happened in the incident mentioned above. The words of the song we had been singing bore no resemblance at all to the words that had been playing in the preacher’s mind.

Just a little reminder that in cross-cultural ministry we first need to try to understand before we try to make ourselves understood.

Who is our Lord?

We are told in 1 Kings chapter 17 that the people of Samaria “feared the LORD, and served their own gods.” In reading the whole account, we find that the people understood that they needed to reverence Yahweh to save their lives from the lions. But when it came to the mundane affairs of life, they sacrificed to other gods for the fertility of their fields, their flocks and their homes.

Well, we may say, that was a long time ago, and maybe those people didn’t really know any better. What’s my excuse? and yours?

Jesus said “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” Of course not, we wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing. We are very punctilious in our worship of Yahweh. But what influences our choices in clothing, vehicles, homes, lifestyles? I don’t believe that we have to deliberately strive to be different, but what motivates our choices from the many options available to us? Some Christians seem to be trying to prove that a Christian can live and party just like anybody else. What motivates that desire? Jesus said:  “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”

The Apostle Paul wrote: “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Who, or what, has power over our choices?

Unless we allow Yahweh to be Lord over every aspect and every activity of our life, we are going to be very much like those people back in Samaria.

Grace for daily life

We have gone hurtling through the sky in a series of hollow metal tubes and are now safely home. We left a week ago today, flying by WestJet from Saskatoon to Winnipeg and Winnipeg to Montréal and came home two days ago by the same airline, flying Montréal to Toronto and Toronto to Saskatoon. We were seven or eight miles up in the sky and saw nothing but fluffy white stuff below us, except over Saskatchewan. Both going and returning we could see the ground beneath us as we flew over our home province. It was nice to watch the ground below, but worrisome, too. Clouds would be welcome here; we need rain. There have been a couple of little showers since we got home, but serious rain is needed. Québec, on the other hand, is a lush, dark, green. We had forgotten how beautiful it is.

This trip, the planning and the trip itself, was a whole series of grace moments. I was invited to come to a meeting in Quebec of the Publication Board of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite and the French Editing and Proofreading Committee, of which I am a member. It had been many years since we had visited Quebec and I was enthused, but I wanted my wife to come, too. She was unwilling at first, fearing it would be too tiring (she is coping with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia). After a few days, Chris said she would come.

Then it was announced that there would be revival meetings in our congregation during the days we planned to be gone. The day before we left, it was announced that one of the ministers who planned to come to our congregation couldn’t make it and the meetings were postponed until further notice.

So we left, feeling the Lord was blessing our trip already. The meeting on Friday was a pleasant surprise, we found the Publication Board to be more enthusiastic about our work than we had expected. They are pushing for more books to be translated and prepared for publication. Perhaps pushing is too strong a word, we did not feel that they were being pushy, but they certainly weren’t wanting to apply the brakes. They see the need and said there was money available for more publications.

Then the visiting began. We had no definite plans before leaving home, but everything fell into place once we were there. There are congregations in Montréal and Roxton Falls. We last visited Roxton Falls 10 years ago and hadn’t been in Montreal for 18 years. We lived in Québec for five years and many of the members are old friends. Others we knew only by name. I had never met two of the members of our committee. Their voices were familiar from conference calls, and I had formed pictures of them in my mind. They didn’t look anything like I had imagined.

I considered it a special grace that this was the weekend when the Montreal congregation had an evening service and that we received an invitation to ride along with one of the Roxton Falls ministers and his family to that service. Thus we were in church at Roxton Falls in the morning and in Montréal in the evening and got to meet practically all the members. One couple is in the process of moving from Montréal to Roxton Falls and we missed seeing them.

Chris enjoyed the trip as much as I did and was no more tired than I was when we got home. It was altogether a blessed time, possibly more of a revival than if we had stayed home and the planned revivals had happened.

Little men

Two little men attended our worship service last Sunday.  Kirk and Gary have Down Syndrome and their “handicap” was apparently too much for their birth parents to cope with, so they became foster sons of a couple who used to live here. Here they were loved, cared for and taught responsibility. They were also taught to love and worship God.

“Mom and Dad” eventually grew old and moved off the farm. They found supervised living accommodation for Kirk and Gary in a nearby town. Here they work in a sheltered workshop, serve as school crossing guards and generally live a peaceable and useful life. They are short in stature and somewhat short in intellectual capacity but they are coping quite well with life. Kirk speaks clearly, but most people understand little of what Gary says.

Yet Gary has always been the preacher. I remember a  time when the family was visiting in Ontario, about 25 years ago, and came to our home for dinner. After dinner Gary walked up to the landing on the stairs and for 15 minutes or more his fervent preaching served as a backdrop to our conversation in the living room.

They are in their fifties now. “Dad” died several years ago, “Mom” lives in Alberta. They still keep in touch with her. Sometimes, when there is something special up at church, someone will think of Kirk and Gary and offer them a ride out. Last Sunday the special event was a potluck dinner and Kirk and Gary were in church.

At the beginning of the service, Gary asked for hymn number 350, What a Friend we have in Jesus, his favourite. When it was announced that it was open for someone to come up and have introductory remarks and prayer, Gary popped out of his seat, marched up to the rostrum and spoke to us and then prayed. All I understood was a couple of mentions of Jesus and the Amen at the end of his prayer. No doubt some people understood a little more.

The presiding minister thanked Gary and we carried on. No one suggested that we should now have a “real” introduction, this was sufficient. Whatever Gary said, it came from his heart and without a doubt touched the heart of God. I think even the little children recognized it as a sacred moment — there were no smiles or snickers.

“Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).

The difference between worship and entertainment

Worship is an act of homage, reverence and devotion paid to a deity. Entertainment is something that offers us amusement, excitement and a diversion from the mundane problems of our life.

Worship is something we do; it implies an active participation in the act of worship. Entertainment is an activity where we are merely spectators. Our emotions may be thoroughly aroused, but we have no active role in the activity being presented.

These concepts seem to have become all muddled up in our day. Many people regard church as a spectator activity; they go to church expecting an experience, lively music, an attention grabbing message, eloquent prayers. At the same time, there appears to be a very real adoration and worship of singers, musicians, actors and athletes.

But none of these popular gods can do anything to help us with the real problems of our life. The best they can do is divert our attention from our real needs for a moment and allow us to participate vicariously in their seemingly glamorous and thrilling lives. That will eventually grow old and leave us deflated.

True worship of God the Creator does not need to be embellished by ornate buildings, loud music or human eloquence. Our need is to meet our maker in heartfelt adoration, make our pleas known to Him and to hear what He might have to say to us. This may come through the words of a song, the reading of Scriptures, the words that are spoken and the prayers that are made in the service, but the ultimate source of what we receive is not in the outward things, but in the inward working of the Holy Spirit.

Meaningful worship does not depend so much on the performance of the preacher, or of others who take an active part in the service, but in an attitude of the heart that feels a need to commune with God through worshipping together with those who are bound together in the same faith.

Why I go to church on Sunday

It’s not because the Fourth Commandment demands it. The Fourth Commandment says nothing at all about worship.

It’s not because the ceremonies of the church are a means of imparting the grace of God. I was a member of a liturgical church in my youth, and took part in the Eucharist every Sunday, as much as possible in a rural area where one priest served four congregations. (I was an altar boy for several of those years and often took part in the Eucharist twice on Sunday.)  I have some good memories of the Scriptures read, recited and expouinded, but really, the services left me empty. This is not the way in which God ministers grace to the penitent.

It’s not because of family tradition. My parents attended no church at all for the first ten years of my life. Church attendance did then become a family tradition, but I abandoned it, along with most other family traditions, when I grew up and left home.

It’s not for fear of getting in trouble with the church authorities. I expect some of the lay members would call and wonder where I had been, and a prolonged absence would raise questions, but there would be no harsh laying down of the law.

It’s not for entertainment. If I wished for the best in contemporary music and the most thrilling speakers, I would not be looking to find them in church.

It’s not for making social or gusiness contacts. Sure, that sort of thing does happen in church, but it is not the best, or ideal, setting for such things.

I go to church because I need spiritual nourishment. I may not always feel that need. I don’t always feel very hungry when meal time comes around at home either, but I know that if I skip this meel, I will be feeling very hungry before it’s time for the next meal. It is the same way with spiritual nourishment.

I go to church because my spiritual compass is always in need of realignment. Sure, I could worship God at home, or in the woods, or at the beach, or even at the hockey game. Or could I? In such settings I am very prone to thinking that my priorities are God’s priorities. There is something about gathering to worship God with fellow believers of like precious faith that reawakens and redefines my awareness of  God’s priorities.

That is why I go to church. It is not the magnificence of the building or of the music , the oratorical skills of the preacher or the reverent cadences of a liturgy that draws me. It is the certain knowledge that here, among other believers as weak and fallible as I am, is where God comes near and reminds us that this is after all about Him, not about me.

Home

We had a wonderful weekend, except for the last 80 km.

Saturday was sunny and mild.  We arrived at the home of my cousin in time for supper and spent the night there.  Kara and her husband have four children, aged 9 to 18.  Their oldest son is an enthusiastic lad of 16, almost six feet tall and possesses a deep powerful voice which doesn’t seem to have much of a volume control.  If anyone wonders how John Wesley could preach to thousands of people in outdoor settings, I believe Jordan would be able to demonstrate that it is indeed possible.  In fact, I believe that Jesus, the prophets, and preachers in the days before sound systems, must all have had voices like this.

Sunday morning we joined around 200 other people at the Sinclair congregation of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, just inside Manitoba, about 45 minutes from our cousins.  After the Sunday School and worship service, and much visiting in church, making new acquaintances and renewing old ones, we had dinner in the home of one of the ministers, who had also invited several other couples.   All in all it was a day of spiritual refreshing.

We left for home at 4:00 PM.  Our daughter called around 6:00 to inform us that there was a snowstorm at home.  We continued on our way, hoping to get most of the way home before encountering the storm.  Most of our travelling was on four lane highways with a 110 km/h speed limit.  We encountered rain on the last 10 km before we turned off the major highway.  The moment we turned off, the rain turned to snow.  For the first while there was no snow on the highway but the visibility was poor in the driving snow.  Then slush and snow began to build up on the highway, slowing us down even more.  We finally came to the end of this lonely 50 km stretch and made the turn north toward home.  The visibility in the storm became even worse on this stretch, including a couple of whiteouts where I could just barely see the road.

But finally we saw the lights of home.  As we drove into our yard, we saw a pile of snow by the garage, evidence that our son-in-law had been there and cleared the snow away from  the garage door.

Coming home is the best part of any journey.  Being welcomed by our three cats and being able to sleep in our own bed brought our day to a comforting close.

My wife says we need to make this trip again, but not until May.  I expect that winter is here to stay, which makes the comforts of home even more appealing than at other times.

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