Why do we celebrate weekly communion? There are many good reasons but one of the most important is one we might not think about often enough—communion with the risen Christ also entails communion with others who are united to him by faith. Union and communion with our Lord leads us into union and communion with our brothers and sisters in the church, and (to a lesser extent) all people. John Calvin highlights this when he writes about the importance of communion. Calvin calls communion the “bond of charity” and explains, “For as the bread, which is there sanctified for the common use of us all, is made of many grains so mixed together that one cannot be discerned from the other, so ought we to be united among ourselves in one indissoluble friendship. What is more, we all receive there the same body of Christ, in order that we be made members of it.” For Calvin, communion with Christ is the foundation, and the motivation, for communion with others. This is one of our greatest motivations for mercy ministry—weekly communion reminds us of how much mercy God has poured out on us in His Son Jesus Christ. How can we hold anything back we see others in pain, in loneliness, in brokenness? Every week we participate in the sacrament of healing and wholeness, which equips us to be agents of the Kingdom in the lives of others.
 John Calvin, “Short Treatise on the Holy Supper of our Lord and only Saviour Jesus Christ,” in J.K.S. Reid, ed., Calvin: Theological Treatises (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), 151.
Nicholas Wolterstorff, the renowned Reformed philosopher and theologian, has now tackled the subject of liturgy and worship. In The God We Worship: An Exploration of Liturgical Philosophy, Wolterstorff carefully analyzes and probes a subject which confuses many people. Consider the popular and prevalent phrase, “praise and worship.” Many people (and churches) use this to describe a time of enthusiastic singing, which is followed by a sermon, or a teaching time. Is listening to the sermon an act of worship? Is the pastor delivering the sermon engaging in worship? Wait, haven’t we been told that “all of life is worship”? Can’t I worship God by washing my car on a Sunday (or any day)? When we toss the word “worship” around so carelessly, no wonder the world at large (and too many self-professed Christians) don’t take “worship” seriously anymore.
For those with the intellectual stamina to carefully follow Wolterstorff’s train of thought, The God We Worship will help to clarify the fuzziness which pervades the contemporary church. Here’s the end of Ch. 2:9 Continue reading
Excited to announce that Pastor Jeff Meyers will be speaking at this year’s Christ Church Family Conference (Feb. 20-22) this year in Cary, NC! He serves as the pastor of Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) and is the author of The Lord’s Service, and Ecclesiastes Through New Eyes: A Table in the Mist. Join us!
Most people associate the name of John Calvin with the doctrines of predestination and harsh examples of religious persecution. However, this caricature fails to capture the complexity of a remarkable man. Reading through parts of his Genevan Catechism of 1538, Calvin’s practical and pastoral side shine through. As he summarizes the basic points about the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, Calvin writes:
“Now this mystery, as it is a proof of God’s very great bounty toward us, ought at the same time to admonish us not to be ungrateful for such lavish kindness, but rather to proclaim it with fitting praises and to celebrate it with thanksgiving. Then we should embrace one another in that unity with which the members of this same body bound among themselves are connected. For there could be no sharper goad to arouse mutual love among us than when Christ, giving himself to us, not only invites us by his example to pledge and give ourselves to one another, but as he makes himself common to all, so also makes all one in himself” (I. John Hesselink, Calvin’s First Catechism: A Commentary, 35).
One of the fun things about studying worship and liturgy is finding out the origin of things we do, either consciously or unconsciously. One of my pet peeves is all the well-intentioned Sunday school teachers who exhort their students to “close your eyes and fold your hands” in prayer. Where does the Bible command this? Where do we see this bodily position used in Biblical prayer? We don’t, as far as I know. Imagine my delight when I came across a passage, from Miri Rubin’s Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture, which explains the origin of this wide-spread custom. In the late medieval period, it was commonly thought that great blessings and spiritual merit came from seeing, and viewing, the bread of the Eucharist. The most powerful and effective viewing time was when the priest lifted up (elevated) the Eucharist. We have records of people running from church to church to see as many elevated Eucharists as they could. Since this was a holy moment, the people were encouraged to respond appropriately:
“Proper humility was recommended at this moment, when people were to kneel and gaze at the body and the blood. This is the attitude most commonly shown in visual representations of the elevation, a group of men and women with clasped hands, and sometimes holding their hands to their mouths in a gesture of awe, kneeling behind the servers and priest. They are most frequently shown to be clasping their hands in a gesture which becomes increasingly common in thirteenth-century representations, one which we nowadays think of as natural for private prayer” (Corpus Christi, 155-56).
I don’t mean to be too hard on the Sunday School teachers, but it is simply interesting how we inherit all sorts of traditions from the past, and are blissfully ignorant of the origins of most things. This should make us both more humble in our own worship practices, as well as thankful for all the rich history and traditions that have been handed down to us. Thankfully, God sees the heart, which is really the point of prayer. May we all have hearts full of child-like faith, no matter how we express that with our bodies!
I blogged about prayer postures some time ago:
Ralph Martin writes: “The worship of the church means the pulsating of a ‘common life’ (koinonia) that flows through the body of Christ and in which the individuals participate through their baptism by one Spirit into one body (see 1 Cor. 12:13). To conceptualize the church at worship as made up of isolated units, however personal, each worshiping in a self-contained compartment, however closely associated, is really to mistake what the New Testament means by the church. As E. Schweizer well illustrates, the ideal set forth in the pages of the apostolic church is that of fellowship-in-worship. He deals critically with the latter-day notion of the Christian community as split between one speaker and a silent body of listeners; and equally his study rebukes the excessive individualism of what passes for worship in many modern churches. Recovery of the wholeness of the church’s life as ‘life together’ in Christ, in Bonhoeffer’s phrase, would go a long way to set our worship as a corporate exercise on a stable basis, and deliver modern congregations from ‘ministerial monopoly’ with one person conducting a virtuoso performance on the one side, and overemphasis on the narrowly individualistic–such as a disfigured Corinthian assembly where koinonia had tragically broken down–on the other” (The Worship of God: Some Theological, Pastoral, and Practical Reflections,12-13).
In the coming weeks, and months, I’ll be writing more about this topic, because it really goes to the heart of a shift I’ve experienced in my life and my theology. I’ll be posting more about the intersections of liturgy and practical ministry. God has given me many opportunities to get into the nitty-gritty, painful, work of walking alongside people in really messed-up situations. In a sense, I’ve been forced out of my “ivory-tower” of academic scholarship. In another sense, I’ve been encouraged that I’m in good company with many other faithful scholars who have gone before me. So, no new revelations will be forth-coming, but I will be sharing some of the wisdom that I’ve found, wisdom that’s been neglected.