How to read Scripture Like A Lutheran And Not Like A Fundamentalist: Part 2
How To Read Scripture Like A Lutheran Part - 2
Rev. Dean Kavouras, Pastor
Christ Lutheran Church
rev. August 27, 2018
Grace to you and peace to you from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In Part 1 of this essay we considered how to read Scripture like Lutherans, and not like Protestants. It is topic of utmost importance because between these two there is a great chasm! The latter reading consigns its children to an existence below the spiritual poverty line. The former makes us rich with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sakes became poor, that by his poverty we might become rich.
But before we proceed let us define our terms. According to Fr. Peter Mills, Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church Akron, Ohio, Protestants are: “those sects and denominations that deny the gospel by way of the sacraments." The term Protestant is not used much anymore, but it includes all the heirs of the 16th century Radical Reformation. In a better day they identified themselves as: Reformed, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal etc. In our day, however, they have shed their denominational identifiers and proudly name themselves "just Christians," which also is a denomination.
All Protestants and most Lutherans read the Bible the same way. For them Scripture is a compendium of doctrines and proof texts, and / or a devotional book, and / or a handbook of morality. It certainly can be used in those ways, but I contend that Scripture is first a liturgical book. One that teaches us how to liturgize the Father and Spirit and Truth, to be devoted to him, to believe Christian truth and to walk in the newness of baptismal life. (Romans 6:3 ff)
I. The Old Testament is a Christian book.
My first assertion in Part 2 of “How To Read Scripture Like A Lutheran” is that the Old Testament is a Christian book. It is not a Jewish (or Muslim) book which the church appropriated in the fullness of time. But it always was a Christian book on par with the New Testament.
That is not to say there is no difference between the two. The Old Testament is the promise the New the fulfillment. The Old is the shadow the New the body. The New Testament is, as it were, the last chapter of the Old. And so whatever was written before finds its terminus ad quem in Christ crucified for us men and for our salvation. We learn this from the lips of our Lord, the writings of the Evangelists, from St. Paul's uniquely Christian interpretation of the Old Testament and from the church Fathers through ca. the 9th century.
At this time I will give examples of my assertion. Some will be obvious. But I also hope to connect some dots today that Christians might not normally connect. And I am confident that once you learn the rhythm a kaleidoscope of new correlations will flood your mind.
In exploring our topic that the Old Testament is a Christian book let us begin at the beginning. But as we proceed let us also take careful note of the liturgical fashion in which so much Scripture is cast. Indicating to us once again that the Bible is not the arsenal of proof texts that Protestants (and Protestantized Lutherans) think but that it is God's own Word given in the language of men to be used in the church, by the church and for the church. To be utilized in her worship, teaching and all important mission: to forgive the sins of the penitent and withholding remission from the impenitent.
The creation chapters of Scripture are factual. But because the Old Testament is a Christian book we must remember that they testify above all else of Christ crucified as the sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Creation happened as recorded but is a proto-type of the New Creation recorded in John 1:1ff. It is the true vocation of man to worship God through Christ. In Genesis 1ff the universe is the church; Eden the chancel; Adam the pastor; and the Woman the congregation.
Why did the first creation fail? It is unclear except to say that it was a proto-type and not the fullness. Adam was, significantly per Romans 5:14, a type of the One to come! Of Christ. Of him who was never Plan B, but always Plan A.
Again, a Christian must never isolate the first creation from the New Creation in John 1ff: that of Christ and his Bride the church. To read Genesis through any other prism is to render a Protestant interpretation that misses the point entirely.
This is why "creation experts" have nothing to teach Lutherans. While the implied scientific details of creation may be interesting they are beside the point. This is not to deny the creation in six twenty-four hour days or to deny the fact that you can read Genesis through scientific glasses if you like. But to what end?
To read "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," without reading, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God," makes Genesis 1:1 little more than interesting religious literature.
This is not the case for Protestants who can preach on Genesis 1 for hours and never reference Jesus except possibly as the agent of Creation.
In like manner we must not read Genesis 1:2 "And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" without noting the Spirit hovering over Jesus in the waters of the Jordan at his baptism; who by the Eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, in order to undo the chaos of sin. Apart from this understanding there seems to be little point.
Nor must we read Genesis 1:3 "And God said, 'Let there be light,' apart from John 1:4 "In him was life, and the life was the light of men." Because that early reference to "light" in Genesis 1:3 which existed before the creation of the sun, moon and stars is Christ! He is "the true Light that enlightens every man was coming into the world." Apart from this connection there is little point in reading Genesis. But by connecting such dots the mysteries of God are revealed to us.
Perhaps one of the most abused sections of Scripture by Protestants is the proto-marriage of Genesis 2. Let us read it now.
What we read here occurred as stated but is not an end in itself. The earthly iteration of marriage was imperfect, and since the Fall is fraught with sin. But again it is only a type of the greater reality we learn in the New Testament. Namely the betrothal of Christ to the church which he cleansed of every blemish by his blood. You are that church so cleansed! Now by faith; but to be brought to Perfection, to its terminus ad quem, at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. A Reality of which we enjoy a foretaste every Lord's (Christ's) Day of our lives.
A Man shall leave his Father and his Mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh by baptism and the Eucharist. Jesus is the Man, God the Father, Mary the Mother and the Church the Bride washed clean in holy baptism. She who emerges from the New Adam's pierced side, opened on the cross by a Roman spear, who is now become the true Mother of all the Living by water and blood.
If this is the principle interpretation of the proto-marriage, do we learn lessons in Genesis 2 about the social institution known as marriage? Yes. But we can also learn a valuable lesson that will lighten many un-necessary burdens. Namely that while the church accords marriage the highest possible dignity, she also realizes that no sinner participating in its earthly iteration can attain to it.
Marriage is sacred among Christians and must be glorified as such; so that wedded love and faithfulness must be the aim. But keeping in mind the doctrine of sin we must break out of our pietistic bubble, and accept the fact that this earthly iteration of the heavenly reality can and does falter, can and does and fail, sometimes miserably so. And the sooner we accept this the sooner unnecessary burdens of guilt and shame will diminish, and divorced people can again live in peace as God has called them to do.
Much more could be said on these opening chapters of Genesis but let these brief examples demonstrate how the Old Testament is a Christian book that means little apart from its fulfillment in Christ.
In summary, to read Genesis 1 through in any other light is inconceivable! If it is moral philosophy we are after there is no shortage of those who can supply it. But it can never "satisfy and make me whole."
Side Bar A… The church should be careful not to speak of Christ in the abstract: as simply a name or notion. But of Jesus as he comes to us in peace and joy in Divine Service. For as we cannot know God apart from Christ we cannot know Christ apart from the Divine Word and Sacraments; and we cannot know these good and perfect gifts apart from the church as she liturgizes the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion with him.
Side Bar B … Note that Genesis chapter one is nothing like a comprehensive record of the Creation. But rather a carefully crafted summary that would serve equally well as catechism or liturgy; showing once again that the Bible is not the abstract database of doctrine that Protestants think. But a book that finds its terminus ad quem in Christian liturgy.
The account of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac should be an easy interpretation for Lutherans. But due to the unhealthy influence of religious broadcasts our people might miss the point. And so let us briefly consider the account.
The Protestant preacher will typically highlight the obedience of Abraham and exhort his audience to imitate it. While such admonition is not irrelevant, it is a confusion of Law and Gospel because it uses the Gospel to preach the Law. And so let us understand the account properly since the Old Testament is a Christian book.
Abraham is God the Father, Isaac his Only Begotten Son.
The wood Abraham cuts is the Cross for the offering he is to make to the Lord. On the third day of his journey Abraham looks to a far away mountain. This is a prediction of both Calvary, and the Lord's resurrection on the third day.
Side Bar C … Whenever we encounter third day / three days in the Old Testament we must think Resurrection. Likewise all references to wood (e.g. Aaron's rod; "thy rod and staff"; the wood that made the bitter water sweet; the stick that made the iron ax head float; etc.) we must think Cross. All references to water and oil should be understood as baptismal; while bread, grain and wine should be seen as pointing to the Eucharistic.
In verse 5 Abraham and his son leave the servants behind, so that they might "go and worship." We must learn here that the Sacrifice the Lord made for us on the cross is the "worship in Spirit and in Truth" that the Father seeks as revealed by Jesus to the Samaritan woman. Worship in which we take part in union with Christ, and worship most perfectly realized when we die with him in baptism, and when we participate in the Eucharist. And more so when we shed this body of death, and take our place at the Messianic Banquet. Then we will render worship pure and true!
In vs. 6 it is Isaac who carries the wood / cross to the place of sacrifice. When he asks about the Lamb for sacrifice in vs. 7 it is nothing less than a prophecy of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. A truth beautifully embedded in the holy liturgy as the Agnus Dei.
In v.8 Abraham confirms the same with the prediction: "God will provide for himself the Lamb for a burnt offering, my son."
In v. 9 Abraham builds an altar! The significance of this act cannot be overstated if we are to understand what it means to "worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth." If we wish to read the Bible and practice the Christian religion as orthodox, catholic Lutherans and not as sectarians / Protestants. The cross is an altar. And it is to this highest and holiest altar of all that Abraham's, and every other altar of the Old Testament looked forward: Noah's, Abel's, Jacob's, Solomon's etc.
Thus the altar, not the pulpit (or bandstand) is the chief liturgical furnishing and focal point of the Christian worship space. In the history of Christian interpretation the altar has been understood sometimes as the manger because his flesh and blood are given to us from it. Sometimes as the tomb of Christ from which he rose again, and comes to us today as Living Bread in the Eucharist. This is one of the rationales for the use of the fair linen and other altar clothes. They remind us of the swaddling clothes of the manger or, alternately of the burial shrouds of the holy Tomb.
But above all the altar represents the cross. The place where God's people receive Christ the Perfect sacrifice that God gave his church, and who ever lives to make intercession for us. And the place God's people have always offered the true oblation of praise and thanksgiving / Eucharistia to the Father.
Abraham's sacrifice never took place but the one it pointed to did! True, our Lord could have called for angelic intervention, such as took place on Mount Moriah, but he did not! Because, "it was necessary that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise."
When the test was over we learn that Abraham looked over and saw a ram caught in the thickets by his horns, which he then offered up in place of his son Isaac.
It should not surprise us that many Church Fathers interpreted the horns of the ram as the outstretched arms of our Lord caught in the thickets of the cross. Reverend Pastors if you don't want to go there in your preaching you don't have to but there is great benefit. Because the gospel is further proclaimed from such details which are not accidental. And why should we cut short the glad tidings when the account before us offers so many possibilities? To this end Holy Fathers I commend to you the study of the Church Fathers. Those men who had a level of clarity that has never been equaled. But is available to any who wish to know by their preserved writings.
The account goes on to say in v. 14, "On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided" giving us another prophecy of our Lord's sacrificial death on the cross for us men and for our salvation.
But the chief thing we should remember is that this event sets the stage for the much beloved John 3:16. What occurred in the Isaac event is a dramatic liturgy that is filled to the full when the Son of Man is lifted up on the cross in order to draw all men to himself.
Here is true worship!
Here is Divine Service!
Here the Old Testament Scriptures reach their terminus ad quem and a new eternal testament is enacted! “The New Testament in my blood.”
But that said we are still not finished if we wish to read the Bible like Lutherans and not like Protestants. Because however nicely we might parse the Sacrifice of Isaac on paper it must be more than an intellectual exercise.
How is this accomplished? In liturgy. Specifically in this case by the Offertory.
The Offertory is a vital but little-understood element of Christian worship consisting of two parts. First is the gathering of the people's Offerings. From earliest Christian times when the baptized came together for Holy Communion they brought Offerings to God. They brought bread and wine to be used in the Supper as well as other gifts for the support of the clergy, maintenance of the church, and for distribution to the poor. Today, because we no longer live close to the land we bring our Offerings in the form of currency which are used for those same purposes.
While the Offerings are being gathered the celebrant moves the elements from the credence table to the altar (if your chancel is so equipped). This is the second part of the Offertory and is done in view of Abraham's offering of Isaac which was filled to the full when God gave his Son as the Sacrifice for the sins of the world.
As our Lord moved from heaven to earth, and from the cradle to the cross; even so the elements move from the credence table to the altar.
And as Jesus received the loaves and fish and infinitely multiplied them even so God receives our earthy gifts, and returns them to us as heavenly ones. As the Flesh and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ given for us Christians to eat and to drink for the remission of our many, dark, shameful and repetitive sins, for life and salvation. This is the Eucharistic Sacrifice of praise that the church perpetually offers in union with her Lord.
But what the church does here is not theater but a factual participation as her children eat the Sacrifice of God: all of which revolves around the words "this do in remembrance of me." Words which do not indicate mere psychological recall (as Protestants posit) but factual participation in it! This last point cannot be too strongly stressed.
As Abraham's sacrifice looked forward to Calvary ours looks back to the same. To earth's finest hour and at the same time forward to "the Feast to come."
Much more could be said on the Isaac event. But to teach anything less is to leave money on the table. Don’t do that!
A less well known example of understanding the Bible as a Christian book (at least for the western church) is the account of Moses at the Burning Bush. In Eastern theology the event prefigures the Blessed Virgin Mary giving birth to the Incarnate Deity without suffering any harm or loss of virginity.
You don't need to go there if you don't want to pastors. But there is a great deal of precedent for doing so. "The Eastern Orthodox Church has always regarded the Unburnt Bush on Horeb as a type of the Most Holy Theotokos giving birth to the Savior Christ, while remaining a Virgin. This imagery is to be found in the Church’s hymnography and also in iconography."
When we read Exodus 3:7-10 and the salvation promised therein it becomes clear that the Burning Bush is an Old Testament Christ event pointing to his incarnation. But like all Christian worship there is nothing vague about it. The ground is holy. The Lord instructs Moses, who like the tax collector could not look up, to keep his distance and remove his shoes. Above all God speaks, then as now, to sinful men by Jesus his Angel who was born of the Virgin Mary.
In other typology the Burning Bush event also foreshadows our Lord’s incarnation. The fact that the finite is, in fact, capable of containing the infinite because with God all things are possible.
In the Melchizedek event in Genesis 14 as explained by the famous Bible commentator Matthew Henry we find a clear example of how Protestants read Scripture.
We know from the 110th Psalm, the Book of Hebrews, and from the name itself that Melchizedek is Christ! After Abram is given victory over his enemies he meets enigmatic Melchizedek who supplies bread and wine for a feast; and who blesses Abram; and to whom Abram gives a tithe of all he has. Knowing all this we must ask how it is possible for Commentator Henry to use this event as a morality tale in which he praises the virtue of hospitality, urges Christians to be kind to strangers, and to give a tenth of their treasures to God?
To the Lutheran it should be clear not only that Melchizedek is Christ but that this event is also a prophecy of the Eucharist. The Feast of Victory For Our God by which true Christian thanks / Eucharistia is given to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in union with our Lord who is the church's true High Priest and Liturgist.
Before we leave Melchizedek I call upon any who are musically talented to weave this event into a Eucharistic hymn. It would be a great gift to the church.
Another obvious illustration of the Old Testament being a Christian book is its sacrificial system. From the Lord killing animals in Genesis 3 and using their skin to cover the sin of Adam and the Woman to the grand sacrifice we read of at the dedication of Solomon's temple – every Old Testament sacrifice points to Christ and him crucified.
For each of the 22,000 oxen and the 120,000 sheep sacrificed at said dedication the Christian must hear: The body of Christ given for you! The blood of Christ shed for you! To say anything less is to say nothing at all.
As often as we hear "the Word of the Lord came to Abram (or Samuel or Nathan or David or Jeremiah etc.) we should not think mere verbiage but Theophany. We should think of "the Real Presence." Of God meeting with man in peace through Christ. The Word who in the fullness of time would became flesh and dwell among us.
We should think of these visits no differently than the Lord meeting our first parents in the Garden. Or with St. Paul on Damascus Road. Or with us in holy worship every Lord's (Christ's) Day of our lives! Indeed, we must think of all Scriptural revelation first as Theophany and never as mere reportage or as an armory of proof texts. Because as often as we hear Holy Scripture we have communion with Jesus who is the Word made flesh, and with his heavenly Father.
Jonah is Christ! He is the prophet who slept in the boat; and who offered himself to be hurled into the raging sea in order to calm the deadly waters, and save the inhabitants of the ship from perishing. We are those inhabitants.
As a result of Jonah's sacrifice those who were redeemed from the storm "feared the Lord exceedingly, and they Offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows." In our parlance they believed, were baptized, incorporated into the ship of church, and there offered the Sacrifice of Eucharistia. Liturgical actions one and all.
We can also reverse engineer the connection by reading Jesus' calming of the storm back to Jonah. In this way we not only show the promise and fulfillment, but the fulfillment back to promise: that "one greater than Jonah is here."
We know, too, from our Lord's own words that Jonah's release from the belly of the whale after three days and nights was a prediction of his resurrection. Until we make these connections we are presented with little more than a morality tale. As suggested above, O church musicians among us, an Easter hymn based on this text would be a gift to the Lord's church for generations to come.
Job is Christ!
He is the Greatest Man (1:3); the blameless and upright man who feared God and shunned evil (1:2); the rich man who became poor so that by his poverty we might become rich (1:3). He is the one offered himself as the Burnt Sacrifice to purify sinners who devote their lives to parties and pleasure (1:4). He is the one who gave his skin for ours, and who was afflicted with painful sores from the soles of his feet/nails to the top of his head/thorns (2:4 & 7). He is the Redeemer who rose early in the morning so that by his life we too might live.
But until we put Christ at the center and engage in Holy Communion with this Crucified and Risen Christ our faith is little more than an intellectual exercise.
As for Job's many shortcomings we never ascribe sin to Jesus. But we could well read them in light of St. James' Epistle who vindicates Job in all his sufferings. And as regards his many travails we can think of them in light of the letter to the Hebrews.
What wonderful Good Friday hymn could be written based on Job's sufferings, O church musicians!
II. The New Testament is a Christian book.
My next assertion is that the New Testament is a Christian book. While this point may seem obvious it is not. For Protestants the New Testament is largely a corpus of legislation, life principles morality tales and proof texts. For Lutherans it is God's revelation of Christ which teaches us how to believe, how to worship, and how o live the Life which God himself lives! This is not to deny Scripture's moral teachings but they are derivative of the divine life that is ours by faith in Christ.
To this end let us realize that the Gospels are not biographies of Jesus, though they do contain biographical material. Nor are they written chronologically but rather topically with liturgical, catechetical and ecclesiastical ends in mind. The same can be said of the epistles. In order to learn more please refer to the Part 1 of this essay.
Let me give just two examples of how the New Testament is a Christian book.
We are all familiar with the accounts of the Syrophoenecian woman recorded once by Matthew and once by Mark. But what does this encounter teach the church?
To reduce it to a spiritual struggle in which persistence pays off is not the main point. Rather the event provides the church with Eucharistic instruction. Here we learn who may eat from the Table of Life, the qualifications needed, and what its power is.
To begin with "children's bread" should immediately ring Eucharistic bells even as the loaves and fish do. St. Mark teaches his audience that the Eucharist is not reserved for Jews only: which would have been a question for the evangelist's hearers at the time of writing.
But if the Lord was sent "only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" what was he doing in the pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon? Cities far outside the ambit of true religion and roundly condemned by the prophets?
St. Mark teaches us here that Gentile dogs may also "eat this bread and drink this cup." But they must first confess Jesus as Lord. This is more evident in Mark's telling where the word faith does not occur than in Matthew's where Jesus praises her faith. In Mark the Lord says "because of this word," this true confession, you may receive the children's bread. What confession? In St. Matthew Jesus is the merciful Son of David to this woman. But in St. Mark Jesus is Lord. Herein Saint Mark teaches his churches that a true confession of Jesus is prerequisite for receiving the Eucharist. Lastly, that among its other benefits, the Bread of Heaven expels demons, and lets one formerly tormented little girl rest peacefully in her bed in Christ.
Thus a pericope that Protestants utilize to urge people to greater faith, Lutherans use for a sacramental purposes. One whose end actually gives the needed faith and doesn't merely talk about it.
I would further like to suggest that the 10th chapter of St. Mark's gospel is only incidentally about the earthly iteration of marriage, but rather about the marriage of Christ and the church.
The Lord's response is to a question by which the Pharisees try to tempt him so that they might discredit him. But Jesus does not answer their evil question, nor that of the dim-witted disciples in vss. 11 & 12: unless one calls enigma an answer. We should read his reply in that light.
It seems unlikely that the Lord is not making rules here or establishing a dogmatic theology on marriage and divorce. Instead he uses this hostile question to convict his hearers of their spiritual adultery and teach the Kingdom of God. He expounds the things of which earthly marriage are only a shadow.
To rightly understand the New Testament as a Christian book we must remember that the subject of the Gospels is not the Christian or a new ethic; but Christ crucified for us as the terminus ad quem of the Old Testament.
This means that the so-called "teachings on divorce" in Matthew, Mark and Luke are no more about the earthly version of marriage than the Lord's word about giving unto Caesar is instruction in Christian citizenship. Or if they are, secondarily, even as in Ephesians chapter five.
What is happening here? Old Israel is being indicted! She is the faithless wife who divorced her husband and now searches for justification from Moses. But Jesus gives the Pharisees no respite.
Jesus is the man who left God his Father, and womb of his Mary his mother in order to redeem his Bride the Church and become one flesh with her by the cross. By holy baptism and holy communion. What therefore God has joined to Christ let no blind Pharisee separate.
In Mt.19:9 there is the added rebuke: "And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality and marries another commits adultery." God did not divorce Israel but Israel God. She is the adulteress! Guilty of spiritual adultery by her marriage to the gods of the surrounding pagan nations.
Nor can Luke 16:18 be abstracted from its context. On the lips of Jesus in this particular place it serves as another parable of the Kingdom, as do those immediately preceding it. Jesus is the Faithful Bridegroom who will never leave his Bride except for the case of unfaithfulness. That is to say "a man is justified by faith," and "without faith it is impossible to please God."
So what of marriage?
Is it sacred and inviolable as the church has maintained over the centuries? Yes. Because it is an earthly model of the divine reality of Christ and the Church. But the earthly model is only a shadow of the reality and Christians must learn to distinguish between the two.
As such the earthly iteration will always fail to measure up, and in many cases disintegrates; while in others it must be ended by one party or the other. As distasteful as that is we must not deny reality. Nor must we deny the blessings of re-marriage to Christians who have sinned and are now repentant as though their sin is perpetual and ongoing. Any Lutheran who holds this should join the Roman Catholic church.
Whoever misses this point reads Scripture in isolation from Christ crucified and his spotless Bride. He makes holy Scripture a book of statutes and mistakes the Symbol for the Reality. And though usually unaware such a Christian interpreter, or pastor, plays the part of the zealot who sears consciences and causes great harm. But "God has called us to peace."
III. Scripture is anti-Puritan.
The Bible teaches and assumes rites, rituals, ceremony, celebration and every other appurtenance for the beautification of holy worship. This being the case Calvin, Zwingli and those who follow in their fundamentalist train can never properly understand Scripture as Worship but only as intellectual silage.
At this juncture let us again define our terms. Puritanism is not primarily the insistence on prudish morality, but a general theory about worship.
The Puritan theory is that "worship is a purely mental activity, to be exercised by a strictly psychological attention to a subjective emotional or spiritual experience. For the Puritan this is the essence of worship and all external things which might impair this strictly mental attention have no rightful place in it. At the most they are to be admitted grudgingly and with suspicion, and only in so far as practice shows that they stimulate the 'felt' religious experience or emotion. Its principal defect is its tendency to 'verbalism', to suppose that words alone can express or stimulate the act of worship.
Over against this Puritan theory of worship stands another -- the ceremonious conception of worship whose foundation principle is that worship as such is not a purely intellectual and affective exercise, but one in which the whole man -- body as well as soul, his aesthetic and volitional as well as his intellectual powers -- must take full part. It regards worship as an 'act' just as much as an 'experience'".
The warrant for the "ceremonious conception of worship" is the Lord's incarnation which sanctifies all creation and enlists it in the Father's glorious praise.
Incarnational worship is not only justified but required if we are to worship the Father in Spirit and Truth. The zenith of incarnational worship is Jesus on the cross! This is the worship the Father seeks, and by his own example and teaching our High Priest bids us to go and do likewise. We first worship when we are baptized into his death which is accomplished by the church's baptismal rite; and we continue in the same by participation in the church's ongoing Eucharistic Feast.
Because it is not our souls alone that need redeeming but our bodies and all creation as well. Nor did the Lord come to earth as phantom but rather as "true man born of the Virgin Mary." His DNA is that of Mary and of Adam so that he might redeem our bodies, souls and all the created order.
Ceremonious, incarnational worship is both taught and assumed by Holy Scripture from Genesis to the Revelation. To learn this a person only need take note of the rituals, liturgy and liturgical furnishings employed in Israel's classic worship: both in the wilderness, the Jerusalem temple, and by individual believers as well. By Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, the progeny of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh Samuel, David, Solomon and Zerubabel who built altars, and offered sacrifices, prayers and ritual praise to their God involving their "reason and all their senses" in holy worship.
This is what St. Paul is getting at when he writes, "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." He is talking about the very thing Christians do every Lord's (Christ's) Day.
For worship is not simply a matter of the mind but includes our bodies as well. It includes sitting, standing, kneeling, bowing, crossing ourselves, folding of hands, modulating of voices, approaching the altar, closing our eyes and opening our lips to eat the sacrifice of God! The true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which remits our sins and gives us joy and gladness in their place.
Biblical worship employs colors, fabrics, sounds, sights, smells, taste, time, season, light, darkness, movement and is tactile and sensory from beginning to end. This is why sitting in a cushy climate controlled conference center, viewing large video screens can hardly be called Christian worship.
Thus the minimalistic gatherings of the sects and denominations who conduct worship in a lecture hall, strictly by means of words (and disorderly "music") exist well below the spiritual poverty line. Too many Lutherans have followed in their train and sold their birth right for a pot of beans. It is your speaker's hope by this essay to discourage such devolution and to raise the bar ever higher.
IV. Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition are not adversaries.
The term sola scriptura, "scripture alone," has been abused by Lutherans and Protestants alike. At one time it served a noble purpose but in our day it is made to say things it was never meant to say. Namely that everything the church does must be justified by Scripture or it is invalid.
Such fundamentalism was and is still used by the Radical Reformation to rid the church of altars, statues, icons, crosses, vestments, candles, to say nothing of her rubrics, rites, rituals, ceremonies and celebrations.
The orthodox catholic church has never practiced fundamentalism but has advantageously employed Holy Tradition in her teaching, worship and practice. Like Ruth, who refused to leave Naomi's side, Holy Tradition faithfully serves as Scripture's handmaiden glorifying and expositing all the Divine Word has to say.
Consider Scripture's own witness to Tradition with the use of the Greek word, "paradidomi" which means to deliver, hand over, hand down, or pass on.
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. (1 Corinthians 11:2)
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, (1 Corinthians 11:23)
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3)
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. Jude 1:3
And with the Greek word "paralambano" which means to receive or utilize the things delivered.
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1)
As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:9)
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me -- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)
Christians must not gloss over such verses. Instead they should humbly and thankfully utilize Holy Tradition until such time as it should contradict, or detract from Holy Scripture.
The chief expression of Holy Tradition is the Mass. But it also includes the church's creeds, confessions, the witness of the Early Church Fathers and their interpretations. By these the church witnesses to the world not only what the Bible says but also what it means! For everyone who can read agrees on what it says, but they don’t agree on what it means.
It further includes matters of liturgical ceremonies, actions, art, architecture, décor, music, church custom and much, much more. Things that, while not explicitly commanded by Scripture, are taught us by the Spirit of Truth who leads us into all Truth. Truth given for the church's edification, and for the praise and glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
V. The Poetry of Scripture is Not Poetry.
I also assert today in breach of all received truth that Biblical poetry is not poetry.
I consider the assumption that it is poetry to be illogical, one that says nothing and proves nothing.
This is not to imply that the so-called "poetic" portions of the Old Testament are artless because they are not. Far from it! But I propose we think of them as liturgy. As the stuff of Israel's worship and of our own worship as fulfilled in Christ: once again proclaiming Scripture as Worship. Scripture as Liturgy.
I sought the opinion of Dr. Reed Lessing on this matter. He is former Old Testament professor at Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He is also author of three of the Concordia Commentary Series (Jonah, Amos, Isaiah 40-55). In a personal email he replies:
"I'm sympathetic to your hypothesis. If memory serves me correctly, Duane Christensen takes this up in his Anchor Bible Commentary on Nahum. And, of course, the Massoretes chanted the entire Hebrew Bible, as do most Jews today. Also, the idea of Old Testament "poetry" is as elusive as a Cleveland Browns Super Bowl victory. So you are on to something there, too. Another thought; the third part of the Hebrew Bible places books like Ruth, Ecclesiastes, etc. to coincide with liturgical feasts. Many New Testament scholars hold that most of the New Testament books were composed to be read in liturgical / Eucharistic settings."
If my assertion is correct it means that the Protestant conception of Scripture is wrong. It means that Scripture is not the database of cold theological facts that Protestants conceive it to be. Nor a “paper pope” as many Lutherans seem to treat it!
Instead it is first and foremost a book to be prayed, chanted, heard, and taught in the church . The chief vocation of man is to worship God in Spirit and in Truth which is to say in the person of the crucified and risen Jesus who is the Truth, and by the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Scripture in the hands of the church is the content, teacher, transmitter and mediator of that worship and of eternal worship, glory and salvation imparted to sinful men by grace through faith in Christ.
If not poetry then what? Liturgy, of course. If this is so, that the poetry is actually liturgy then a great deal of Holy Scripture was recorded to be used as worship and not as a memorable or romantic way to tell salvation's story.
The scrolls were not committed to writing in order to remain unused, stored away in a library or restricted to study by the professionals. But rather to be fully utilized in the church, by the church and for the church. Then as now the liturgical form of versicles and responses easily recommends itself. Thus, as often as we engage the Holy Scripture we are drawn into the resounding, antiphonal worship of God. We gain a deeper understanding of his glory; and we enjoy a foretaste of the Feast to come.
VI. Scripture as worship.
This last point is still in the thinking stage but I wanted to present it, if for no other reason, than to solicit your thoughts on the matter.
What exactly are the gospels? How should we think of them? Many people consider them to be the story of Jesus written for our learning by those who were eye witnesses. They are that. But I think they may be more. I wonder if the gospels are not 4 distinct liturgies / lectionaries / catechisms / agenda book / missional writings.
Concerning the Gospels as Lectionaries they consist of authorized Christian readings, ones that complete the Old Testament by showing Christ crucified as its true meaning. This is what St. Paul calls, "the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed." (Romans 16:26)
Concerning the Gospels as liturgies they include: the chief service of holy communion; directives for worship (when you pray, when you fast, when you give alms, when you stand praying / Mk 11:25 etc.); hymns (such as the Magnificat, Benedictus, Gloria, Sanctus, Nunc Dimittis, prologue of St. John); and prayers (Our Father & High Priestly Prayer).
Concerning the Gospels as an Agenda Book all four Gospels include the rites of Holy Baptism and Holy Ordination, informed by the Lord's baptism, and by his commissioning of the Eleven.
People often refer to the Book of Psalms as "the worship book of Israel". Might we not think the same of the Gospels? The worship books of the New Testament? If we keep in mind that Scripture is the verbal icon of God, and that as often as it is given voice God is factually present in that place, then "Scripture As Worship" should come as no surprise to us. It is a peaceful encounter with the Living Lord.
Is it possible that primitive Christian worship consisted of chanting the Gospel cover to cover each Sunday? My assumption here is that, at least early on, no church had more than one of the four in its possession. And that to have a Gospel constituted a group as a "church". Also assumed is that the Gospels were written immediately after Pentecost.
Also of interest is St. Paul's phrase "my gospel" "different gospel" "another gospel":
"Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel …" (2 Timothy 2:8)
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed … (Romans 16:25-26)
" … on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." (Romans 2:16)
"For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough." (2 Corinthians 11:4)
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)
What was Paul's gospel? Was he simply showing solidarity with the kerygma by such phraseology? Or referring to the accurate preaching of the message of salvation? Or might he have had something else in mind. Perhaps St. Luke's gospel with whom he was closely associated? Or the Gospel he received directly from the Lord and explicated in his preaching and his writings?
Please send any thoughts on the subject (or any of the above) to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This concludes my presentation.
Thank you for reading.
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