Saturday, January 20, 2007

Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit

I don't know if it's a result of living in a country that is, quite literally, the birthplace of Christianity ("And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians," Acts 11:26) and steeped in a rich Christian history. Perhaps it's being fed up with the often mindless and bland forms of current evangelical worship or longing to find a place in something that involves more than just me and my local congregation. But over the past several months I've had an increasing desire to find ties to other forms of Christian tradition and practice, "finding our roots," as it were.

(1) In no way am I abandoning my Reformation convictions--in fact, I'm rather returning to the beliefs upheld by Luther, Calvin, and the framers of the Book of Concord and the Westminster Confession of Faith--but I've come to believe that the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion are central to our corporate lives as the ekklesia, "the assembly." (Shoot, just look back at my posts from the past six months.) Today's evangelical churches need to place a greater emphasis on both understanding and carrying out these rites ordained by the Lord himself (Matt. 28:19; Luke 22:19). When was the last time you heard a sermon about the sacraments? (Likewise, I hope to see Covenant Theology preached and taught much more fully; it simply makes sense of so much of the Bible.)

(2) I long to sing hymns--rich, meaningful, Christ-centered hymns--that express who God is and what he has done, not my own feelings and emotions. I want to sing the songs that have been sung for hundreds of years, or even thousands, like the Phos Hilaron, sung at sunset worship services.

(3) I appreciate liturgies and the church calendar much more now. I value the calendar because it keeps us focused on the historical acts of God in this world in Christ: awaiting a savior in both his first and future comings (Advent), the Incarnation (Christmas), the passion (Lent), the Resurrection (Easter), Christ's reign and intercession (Ascension), and the giving of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost). A few weeks ago someone mentioned Ascension Sunday, and a friend of mine asked "Drew, what's that?" And the more I look back at my own life and that of others within the church, it's easy to see that the principle of lex orandi [est] lex credendi ("the law of prayer is the law of belief"). I think it's true that for many people and in different ways, what we believe is influenced by what we do, and not entirely vice versa. I may well have come to believe and understand orthodox Christianity if by nothing other than reciting the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds every week. Liturgies of some sort drill into us the truth of God and a life of response to him.

St. Vartanants Armenian Apostolic Church

Something I think is cool about living here is that, at least as far as I can tell, there is a much more visible and valued ecumenism within the church here--Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant. This past week was the Week of Prayer for Church Unity. I was afforded the opportunity to worship and pray in an entirely native liturgical Presbyterian church (some of the melodies and words predate Islam) and also in an Armenian Orthodox church. The bright lights and gold, the pungent smell of incense, and the rich, echoing chants from the chorale were a pleasant shock to my senses. But best of all, it felt good to be able to sing and pray with such a diverse gathering of people and know that they were all my brothers and sisters; we are all in this together, "called and chosen and faithful" (Rev. 17:14).


halfmom said...

This may be kindof a dumb question - but how is it that you know they are really all brothers and sisters in the faith?

Andrew said...

I'm not really so big on the "visible church" vs. "invisible church" distinction, personally. I think that's not something that we can really sort out on our own -- it'll be revealed at Christ's Judgment (Matt. 7:21ff) -- and it can lead to as much divisiveness as it does assurance. I do think there are lots of people within the church -- Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic alike -- who never truly repent and embrace Jesus as Lord over their sin and death. But without knowing everyone there and intimately seeking to understand their beliefs and actions, I'm going to assume that they all chose to trek across the city in the winter to attend a prayer meeting because they are actually Christians and care about unity in accordance to Jesus' wishes (e.g., John 13:34f; 17:21ff). And I think to be biblically honest, the continual apostolic criterion for faith is simply this: that Jesus of Nazareth is the anticipated Messiah and Lord who died for our sins and rose from the dead (Rom. 1:1-6; 10:9; 1 Cor. 15:1-5). Specifics about justification, etc., are important but, I think, not absolutely essential for salvific faith and incorporation into God's people. We need a definition of faith that is possible for all people, at all times, in all cultures, everywhere.