Saturday, June 11, 2005

School's Out for the Summer

Last day of school was yesterday. God has been very kind: four years now teaching at Atlas. It, as they say, has certainly flown by.

In honor of the occasion, I offer this poem which is by one of my students (one of the younger ones, mind you).

A Cave Man

A cave man sat in a cave of stone
picking his teeth with an old steak bone.
He felt he was brave,
while in his cave,
though he didn't have a light or a telephone.

But all at once, he heard a roar.
A Sabertooth Tiger was at his door.
The poor old mole
was in a hole,
and the tiger would have his hide, he swore.

But just as the tiger wrinkled his snout,
the cave man jumped to his feet with a shout.
He grabbed the back wall
and gave it a haul,
and turned his cave right inside out.

Then he was out wih the tiger in,
so he rolled up a rock with a cheerful grin.
He blocked the way
for a week and a day,
and now he's wearing a tiger skin.


Monday, June 06, 2005

Passing the Peace

Is the practice of "Passing the Peace" biblical? Is it necessary? Isn't it just something Roman Catholics and "high-Church" types do? And doesn't it just make people feel awkward? Doesn't it distract from the rest of the service?

The principle behind the practice is that being united to God means that we are united to one another. The point of the Passing of the Peace is not supposed to be an awkward point where everyone tries to think of something they might have done to offend someone else. That’s not the point at all. The ‘Peace’ is not a time of confession. Rather, it’s a time of showing our unity and communion with one another. Shaking hands and greeting one another in the Lord is a visible, tangible opportunity to show forth the unity that we have in Christ (Ps. 133, Eph. 4:1-16). The way we speak, sing, listen, pray, eat, drink etc. in worship is the pattern for how we are to live in the world. Obviously we are not required to do EVERYTHING in worship that we do in the world, but we do have specific exhortations to greet one another. Romans 16 in particular is an entire chapter where Paul gives a host of greetings to be given to particular saints in the Church of God. See verse 16 in particular where he commands us to greet another with a holy kiss! I don’t think that’s just cultural thing, and we know that this is not just a first century version of shaking hands because of the fact that it is designated as ‘holy’. This implies a kind of liturgical connection. It is a particular greeting that saints greet one another with, differently than the rest of the world because we are family in Christ. The end of 1 Corinthians 16 is another passage of greetings from Paul and another command to greet one another with a holy kiss. 1 Thess. 5:26, 1 Peter 5:14, and 2 Corinthians 13:12 also exhort us to greet one another with a holy kiss. Philippians 4:21 exhorts us to greet all the saints in Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to greet all those who rule over us and all the saints (13:24, See also 3 John 1:14). We ought to see the importance of the concept simply on the grounds of how often it is repeated. I should clarify that I am not here arguing that the "Passing of the Peace" must include the 'holy kiss'. I'm rather arguing that the "holy kiss" is at minimum a principle that ought to be applied: a liturgical greeting among the saints.

Obviously ‘greetings’ are something that people often send in the mail, and we are reading first century mail (!). But greeting one another in peace and love is exhorted over and over in the New Testament because we have been brought together for fellowship and communion. The command we have to greet one another ‘in the Lord’ or with a ‘holy kiss’ implies that this is not just a “hey, how’s it going?” sort of greeting. That kind of greeting can be done before or after the service. The Passing of the Peace is a time for real, personal greeting ‘in the Lord’, extending peace and blessings to one another because that is what we have received from God through Jesus Christ.

As far as awkwardness goes, we’ve been doing it here at Trinity for the last 6 months or so, and I have not heard one single comment to that effect. Everyone I know has said that it is one of their favorite parts of the new liturgy. And again this is not a casual, “hey, how was your week?” kind of greeting. This is specifically a time to greet one another ‘in the Lord’. At Trinity we greet one another saying things like: “The Lord be with you/And with your spirit”, “The Peace of the Lord be with you/And with you”, and others just say, “God bless you!” And thus, it should not be a distraction or a sidetrack to the rest of the worship service. This, leading right into Communion is very fitting because Communion is not just a ‘me and God moment’. We are seated together at the table of the Lord, and this is a very tangible way to ‘discern the body of the Lord’ and prove the fact that there are not divisions among us as Paul warns against (1 Cor. 11:18-34).


Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Love that Overwhelms Us

In The Bondage of the Will, Luther notes that 'necessity' is an unfortunate term in describing the alternative to contingency. "Its meaning is too harsh and foreign to the subject; for it suggests some sort of compulsion, and something that is against one's will, which is no part of the view under debate." He goes on to use it, having no alternative on hand, but I appreciate the recognition of its deficiency. I'm not sure I have any better suggestions, but I agree with Luther completely here. When discussing foreordination and foreknowledge, no freedom is displaced or intruded upon; rather the sovereign will of God works in a mysterious and wonderful way upholding, enlivening and directing every last detail of the universe. We are not oppressed or coerced into the path that God would have us take. If any oppression or coercion is taking place it is solely as a result of our own freedom and will. We are only inhibited by our own nature. God does sometimes directly interfere in what we might call the 'miraculous', but the usual miraculous (if we dare call it usual) is a result of the constant joy overflowing the Trinitarian fellowship. The world is won over to God by His love. It's the sovereign grace of God that compels all things, the dance and song of the Triune fellowship that invites the world to follow the path laid out for it before the foundation of the world. It is no faceless necessity that binds us to the God of heaven. Like the perfect lover that He is, it's the rich and (seemingly) careless love of the Trinity that wins every detail of the universe. And thus the vast galaxies and every last stray atom sing his unending praises because we are all deeply smitten.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Devotional 1: Infant Baptism

We believe in Paedobaptism. This means that we believe that God has claimed our son and all children that are born into a family with at least one believing parent. They are set apart to God; they are “holy” to God in fact (1 Cor. 7:14). Leviticus 27 is one place where we learn what it means for something to be “holy to the Lord.” There, houses, fields, servants, fruit, tithes or anything else that is “holy to the Lord” becomes His property. It may not be sold for profit, but it belongs to the priests, God’s personal attendants. But we also baptize infants because salvation is of grace. Peter says that the promise of forgiveness of sins is for us and our children (Acts 2:39), and this is consistent with the Old Covenant which was a promise that flowed through generations (Gen. 9:12, 17:7, Deut. 7:9, 1 Chr. 16:15, Ps. 105:8, etc.). Also, while no children are explicitly mentioned, we do have record of early household baptisms (Acts. 16:15, 1 Cor. 1:16). The faith of one head of the household is enough for God to claim servants, children and any others in the household. The sign of the Old Covenant was circumcision, but the sign of the New Covenant is baptism. As the sign was placed upon both young and old, slave and free in the household of Abraham and his descendents, so it is with baptism in the Christian era (Gen. 17:9-14). Likewise as it was covenant breaking not to obey God in this, so it is disobedience not to baptize our children. Baptism is “circumcision without hands” according to Paul, and through the working of faith it unites us and our children to the death and resurrection of Jesus (Col. 2:11-12).
In addition to believing that we should baptize our children and all household members who are willing, we also learn an important lesson about obeying God. His Word is sufficient and clear, but He sometimes requires things of us that we must infer. Sometimes the tidy-minded want everything spelled out explicitly. But this is called legalism; God expects us to grow up into maturity and connect the right dots as we do.