KB Categories Archives: Liturgy

The Lord’s Supper: Foundations and Practice in Puritan Liturgy

Marc Brown: For Puritans, worshiping around the Lord’s table was of crucial importance to communal and individual piety. Through which lens did the Puritans view this fundamental worship practice; Lord’s Supper, eucharist, or communion? Perhaps a case could be made that Puritan worship employed all three of these views in some form or fashion. However, through careful exploration, I hope to identify which of these positions most closely aligns with Puritan doctrine and practice.

In this paper, I will investigate the doctrines and worship practices defining Puritan understanding of the Christian covenant meal. I will demonstrate, that the Puritans employed the Lord’s Supper as their preferred model of Table worship. I will trace understanding of the Lord’s Supper from Scripture, to the early church, to Calvin’s Institutes, and finally to Puritan doctrine and liturgy. I will validate my thesis by consulting a number of primary and secondary sources.

Please click here to read the rest of Dr. Brown’s wonderful work.

Image right: “Scottish Communion Service.” Henry John Dobson


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Ancient-Future Millennials in Portland

Father Jon Aamodt, one of our AFFN members, was the special guest in this edition of Ancient-Future Faith and he talked about his work in church planting. Jon is the pastor of Five Streams Community Church in Forest Grove, Oregon, a western suburb of Portland, and has a heart for millennials. Want to learn how he sees Ancient-Future Faith as having an important impact on his life and ministry? Join us!

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The Relationship of Systematic Theology to Liturgical Theology

old-booksMarc Brown:

Introduction: The Issue

I have always been interested in why there are so many types of theology: systematic, biblical, historical, liturgical, etc. As a pastor who plans and leads worship in the local church, I have spent much time pursuing an understanding of liturgical theology. For good reason, many pastors with whom I have served have been more familiar with systematic theology. Do these disciplines connect? If so, how do they connect? Or, are these two areas of theological reflection separate from each other?

To address my questions, the purpose of this paper is to discover and discuss the similarities and differences between systematic theology and liturgical theology. Through examining the pertinent texts and lecture material, I will formulate an initial understanding of the identity and purpose of systematic theology. Next, I will explore several opinions as to the definition and purpose of liturgical theology. I will consult ideas from several liturgical theologians representing different church traditions so that a wider consensus may be attained. Then, I will compare the identifying characteristics gleaned from these opinions to the identity and purpose of systematic theology. Finally, while providing points of support and disagreement, I will offer my own understanding on the matter.


Many theologians have attempted to define systematic theology. Some of their definitions include…


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Presentational vs. Participatory: Are We Teaching to the Test?

Marc Brown:

test-taking-pencilMy wife is an educator. Her entire adult life has been spent teaching children and helping equip teachers. Perhaps the most formidable and irritating challenge she deals with is the enduring bane of standardized tests. Tests, in general, are not bad. Tests are meant to reveal objective progress toward a desired benchmark or standard. In the world of American public school education, standardized testing has unfortunately become the 800-pound gorilla in the room causing all things to revolve around its needs– determining the very curriculum it was designed to assess. In deciding what is crucial or dispensable, standardized tests can leave educators absolutely no time, opportunity, or choice to teach anything outside of the tests’ sometimes narrowly-focused objectives.

In planning and leading worship, the benchmark for which worship planners and leaders strive is congregational participation. If worship is what happens when God’s people assemble to receive and respond to God’s revelation, then it makes perfect sense that leaders want these moments to count. We want people to actively participate in the holy dialogue of worship with Creator God. We do not want to turn the sanctuary into an auditorium, nor the congregation into a crowd that passively seeks entertainment. Over the last few years I have read many books and heard several speakers expound on responsible worship planning, preparation and leadership. The buzz words in this milieu are “active congregational participation.” In nearly every instance the focus specifically lies on congregational singing. Recently, though, I have begun to wonder if focusing on the goal of congregational participation and inevitably dropping “nonessential” worship elements might be doing the same thing to evangelical worship that standardized tests have done to public education?

spectatorPlease don’t misunderstand me. I truly believe that one of the biggest problems in Western Christianity is audience-style, consumer-driven, passive worship attendance that turns would-be worshipers into non-engaged spectators. As Robert Webber writes, “we sit passively and are entertained by television…as spectators, we listen and watch, but we seldom participate actively. This same mood is often carried over into our church services.”[1] Bob Kauflin expressed the same sentiment when he wrote, “How can you stand there with your hands in your pockets and apathetic looks on your faces and claim to be worshiping God?”[2] For many Christians, greater participation is needed in congregational worship. My concern is that in our culture, active engagement in worship simply means that everyone sings for as long as possible. If someone sits down or does not sing, they are considered to be passively engaged in worship or not engaged at all. The fallacy at work is that we can’t see all forms of active engagement.

The root of this issue might come from our need to mend what is broken. A pastor once spoke to me comparing music ministry to preaching ministry. He said it must be nice for me to have immediate recognition as to whether or not I had done my job well. In preaching a sermon, he felt he had no evaluation of the effectiveness of his hours spent researching, writing and delivery other than expressions on the congregation’s faces, handshakes at the door, and their general responsiveness to his leadership. As opposed to the sermon, he remarked, with music everyone knows right away whether or not my work has been successful. In trying to achieve our goal of helping the congregation worship, we may be over simplifying our evaluation criteria to include only what is most obvious– congregational singing. Just like the pastor in my story, we can immediately see and hear active participation when the congregation sings, but may not so easily identify internal forms of active participation.

John Baldovin, in his introduction to the book, The Postures of the Assembly During the Eucharistic Prayer, points out that all Christians turn actions of worship into ritual.[3] Ritual has a bad rap in American culture. For many people, “ritual” is synonymous with “meaningless.” According to Baldovin, ritual is what “helps a group of people experience solidarity, identity, and common purpose.” Our ritualistic actions are the tools we need for the Body of Christ to “express our identity bodily and communally.” Singing together in the congregation can help us to experience this solidarity, group identity, and common purpose, but it is not the only way. If God reveals Himself to us in corporate worship and our response is our participation, don’t we need options for response in addition to musical expression? Shouldn’t we build liturgies in a way that accommodates more ways to respond than singing alone?

Throughout history, God’s people have responded to Him in many different ways. Andrew Hill points out several of these historic responses in his book, Enter His Courts with Praise: Old Testament Worship for the New Testament Church.[4] In addition to singing, Hill gives biblical evidence for liturgical responses (such as AMEN!), prayer (worship, praise, thanksgiving, adoration, devotion, communion, confession, petition, and intercession), making vows or commitments, preaching/teaching, giving tithes and offerings, participating in seasonal festivals, penitential acts (weeping, tearing clothes, shaving one’s head), and artistic responses. In her book, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services, Constance Cherry lists numerous principals to consider when moving congregations from passive to participatory that do not include singing.[5]  Cherry asks worship planners to consider these questions: Which of the five senses have I employed? Where have I asked people to connect with fellow worshipers? How many times have I invited all worshipers to do something? What physical action have I invited? How much of what is being done by leaders can be done by the people? And, am I intentionally and pastorally guiding worshipers toward appropriate responses?

In a recent conversation with a good friend, we talked about this very subject. As we talked, my friend Tom shared that he almost never sings with the congregational music. However, he told me how he appreciates well-crafted and well delivered presentational music in the same way he values sermons. Why? Both presentational music and sermons give him time to hear God or to reflect on how God is revealing Himself. Tom is an introvert. Congregational music helps many in our congregations understand God’s revelation. However, as an element of worship naturally geared toward extroverts, it may also make it difficult for some introverts to listen to God. Some estimates are a that a third to a half of all people may function this way. [6] We need to provide many ways for our congregations to hear and respond to God’s revelation, not just one. If we don’t give our congregations time and opportunity to hear God, then to what or whom are we asking them to respond? Let’s not reduce the structures of our worship to include only the forms of response we can see and hear. That would be like turning congregational worship into a standardized test.


[1] Robert E. Webber, Worship is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 2004), 3.

[2] Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway 2008), 121.

[3] John Baldovin, The Postures of the Assembly During the Eucharistic Prayer(Chicago, IL: Liturgy  Training Publications, 1994), 3.

[4] Andrew Hill, Enter His Courts with Praise: Old Testament Worship for the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1993), 113-130.

[5] Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 267-269.

[6] Susan Cain. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking(New York, NY: Broadway Books, 2013), 14-15.

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Few Words, Great Grace: Thoughts on the Distribution of the Eucharist in Pentecostal, Evangelical, and Charismatic Parishes

Ryan Mackey:

“The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven. [Amen.]”
“The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. [Amen.]”
“The Body (Blood) of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in everlasting life. [Amen.]”
(“The Words for Ministration of Communion”)[1]
Over the last several years I have been blessed to worship in congregations of different denominations and even minister with pastors from some of those denominations.  I have appreciated the pastoral heart I’ve observed in those many services, especially when it comes to the ministration, or distribution, of the elements of the Eucharist.  In many High Church denominations there are certain phrases that accompanies the ministration, similar to the ones found above.  By contrast, the phrases of ministration used in Pentecostal, evangelical, and charismatic parishes can be as varied as the ministers distributing the elements and the people receiving the elements.

While the approach of tailoring the words of ministration for each communicant, one who is receiving communion, can make the moment more personal, it can potentially make the moment awkward for both minister and communicant.  Suppose you, as the minister, know the first person in line very well and have a grandiose statement for them, but you don’t know the next person in line at all and they overhear your grandiose statement and feel disappointed when they receive a less than grandiose statement when you offer them the elements.  I propose that Pentecostal, evangelical, and charismatic parishes should follow our High Church brethren in the use of concise phrases at the ministration of the Eucharist.

communion2These few words, these simple phrases, are containers of great grace.  The words for the ministration of communion are encapsulations, small containers with great potential, of the Gospel.  When a communicant comes to receive the elements of the Eucharist they are responding to God’s grace and are coming to the Table to encounter the living Christ.  At that moment it is not the job of the Eucharistic minister, whether lay or ordained, to preach or be overly demonstrative– the “job” of ministry in that moment is facilitated by the one sent by Christ, the Holy Spirit.  The Body of Christ has answered the call to gather and worship the Triune God; the word of God has been declared through song and Scripture, the homily/sermon has been given, and the Creed has been professed.  The reception of the elements of the Eucharist is the time to open our hearts and minds and to listen as we receive Christ in the Eucharist.  This reception is a gift from Christ himself who is the great high priest of our confession.

When we, as ministers of the Eucharist, offer the elements to the other members of the Body of Christ we give the elements with simple words, believing that the Holy Spirit will open the encapsulated Gospel to the communicants, just as the breaking of the bread opened the eyes of the two disciples who journeyed with Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).  When the host, or communion wafer, is placed in the hands of a communicant with the words, “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” it is Christ, the Host of the meal, who nourishes with his words, because he is the Incarnate Word of God.  When the chalice, the cup, is offered to the communicant with the words, “The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,” it is the shed blood of the Lamb of God that takes away their sins, affirming the covenant between them and God, and testifies to the life they live in Christ.  By functioning in the few words we can more readily observe, and come into agreement with, the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Eucharist to the communicant.  Let us consider Ecclesiastes 5 during the ministration of the elements:

“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God; to draw near to listen is better than the sacrifice offered by fools; for they do not know how to keep from doing evil.  Never be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few” (Eccl 5:1-2, NRSV).

In conclusion, as we approach the Table of the Lord, whether as a communicant or a minister of the elements, let us do so with these three things in mind:

  • Joy, in that Christ will meet us in the Eucharist because he promised to be where people would gather together in his name (Matt 18:20).
  • Humility, in that it is God who does the work in spite of our shortcomings (1 Pet 5:6-7).
  • Confidence, in that we will “receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.” (Heb 4:16, NRSV).

Ministering through the few words “fits the occasion,” gives room for the Holy Spirit to move and minister as he sees fit, and will “give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29, ESV).

20 August 2015
The Feast of Bernard of Clairvaux

[1] Church Publishing, The Book of Common Prayer (New York: The Seabury Press, 1979), 365.

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The Right Order

Donald Richmond:

PrevinComedyRoutineIn his book and study guide The Way of Beauty, David Clayton relates the following comedic television routine: Famous composer and conductor, Andre Previn, is leading an orchestra. At a point during the mock-performance, Previn cues the pianist with his baton. As the pianist plays it becomes obvious that the music is not right and Previn tells him to stop. When Previn insists that the pianist was playing the “wrong notes,” the pianist gets up, walks over to the conductor, takes him by the lapels, and shakes him shouting, “I am playing all the right notes… but not necessarily in the right order.” This, used as an illustration, is the problem with much Protestant worship today. We may have the right notes, but we all too often “play” them in the wrong order.

The Worship Arts includes visual, vocal, poetic, prosaic, musical, rhetorical, and kinetic components. Each and all are included in public worship, and are crucial to the worship experience. Well-ordered worship will not simply attend to the biblical and theological aspects of “communication,” but, as well, the aesthetics which either add or detract from the worship encounter. To confuse the order is to confuse the message and confound the hearer. As just one of many examples, have we ever really thought about the theological implications of when (or if) we do the Announcements? Even Announcements proclaim a theological agenda!

I am sure that many worship leaders today, even if they enjoy some liturgical sentiments, think that Acts 2:42 provides a perfect paradigm for structuring worship. That is, if apostolic teaching (catechesis), fellowship (communion), breaking bread (Communion) and prayers are included, all is well. Of course, taking a hint from both the Psalms and Paul, “hymns and spiritual songs” would also be included. But, even with this sound substantive outline, is it really enough? Is it truly ordered for biblical fidelity and social impact? I think not.

One of the lessons that I learned from Dr. Robert E. Webber is that while substance does not change, structure can, does and must change. I wholeheartedly agree with this idea. Nevertheless, even if the structure changes it does not mean that the structure is unimportant. As with everything in worship, structure is vital. Everything “says” something. What are our structures of worship saying?

Let me provide another illustration: Some time ago I was asked to lead a worship workshop at one of our local churches. During my two hour lecture, and then Questions and Answers, we covered almost every element of how we worship– or, in fact, do not. One of our topics was physical architecture. As I began to address this issue in greater detail, I focused (in part) upon their Communion Table. It was bare. There was nothing on it: no Table Cloth, no Wine Goblet, and no Paten. Nothing! “What,” I asked them, “is wrong with this picture?” They could not guess. My answer to this semi-rhetorical question was simple: “Even if you do not celebrate Communion every week, Word and Sacrament are so crucial to worship that when you have a bare Table your subliminal message is, ‘Come for the Bread of Life, although we cannot offer you anything.’” This is clearly not the Good News!

And every part of worship is almost equally as important. But have we clearly thought about every part of worship, from beginning to end, and why and how we “do” it? I think that many churches have not. How is worship to be practically understood and navigated? Do we have a theology of arriving at church? Do we intentionally embrace a functional Entrance Theology? What, specifically, is our theology of welcome? When a person enters our doors, what, within the entire structure of worship, do we want to say? What is our Preparatory Theology? Are we using our entrance into the Sanctuary optimally or is it simply a dead zone punctuated with somewhat purposeless (and thus powerless) music? What tone must the music have: Why? When? Where? How? What is our synthetic theology of music? Do we have one beyond the rather inept idea that it must integrate with the Sermon and be “missional” (another article in-and-of itself!). How many biblical texts do we read and reflect upon each week? Why one…two…three…four? How are Announcements done? Why? What is the theology behind Announcements?

The Road to Emmaus. Duccio. c. 1308

The Road to Emmaus. Duccio. c. 1308

All of these questions and illustrations beg an important question: Why? Although I have briefly hinted at answers throughout this article, it is important that I am absolutely clear about the purpose of playing the right notes in the right way in the right order. Fundamentally this concern is rooted in our relationship with God as revealed in and through both Word and Sacrament. From Genesis through Revelation God communicates a pronounced concern about proper worship. At no time did God ever communicate an “anything goes” orientation. God provided Adam and Eve the priority of blood sacrifice. Abel honored this emphasis, and his offering was acceptable. Although Cain’s offering may (or may not) have been well intentioned, it did not follow the revealed pattern and process. As such it was rejected. Also, and not to be minimized, the process and pattern of Passover was revealed by God, and disobedience to this revelation was both costly and immediate. Similarly, God gave Israel the patterns and the processes for the Tabernacle, Temple, and Feasts. Although some measure of artistic creativity was allowed, as the biblical text suggests, Tabernacle, Temple, and Feasts were revealed. God’s calculations, from coverings to costly jewels, were specific. Structure and substance were clearly stated. Turning to the New Testament, and not overlooking our Lord’s emphasis upon worship being “in spirit and in truth,” our Lord was deliberate in how the Last Supper was to occur. “Took, Blessed, Broke, Gave,” is the ritual refrain in the Communion (and other) narratives. Speaking and acting are both evident and emphasized. The Emmaus revelation was also predicated upon the Word (“did not our hearts burn?”) and Sacrament (“their eyes were opened”) paradigm as found throughout Holy Writ. That is, in other words, worship suggests a revealed pattern and process that requires careful and prayerful attention. There is NO arbitrary in worship. Worship is not well-intended whim. It is crucial to God’s revelation. Are we truly being attentive? (Although I do not entirely agree with their analysis of worship, I am indebted to both Dr. Scott Hahn and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger for at least some of these ideas.)

There are many other questions that must be asked and answered in worship. Have we actually taken the time to prayerfully and carefully work through the entire process? Without asking and answering the right questions we may have all the right notes but be playing them in the wrong order. Do we want cacophony or true celebration?


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Liturgical Preaching

PreachLectern Every church has a liturgy, a way of worship. Liturgy cannot be evaded or escaped. It is. If we publically worship we have liturgy. A question that should be asked in this regard, however, is about whether our worship is both deliberate and informed. If our worship is not both deliberate and informed, and regardless of our well-intentioned hearts, we are not worshiping. We may be calling and encouraging ourselves to worship. We may even be concerning ourselves with worship. But, in fact, we are not worshiping.

The renewal of worship in the Latin West, and including both Catholics and Protestants, can be traced to the Second Vatican Council which took place between 1962 and 1965. The first document to be released was Sacrosanctum Concilium/Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy. This document, along with documents on the Word of God and on communicating the gospel, radically reoriented worship cross-denominationally.

Many Protestant churches since Vatican II, and more so over the past twenty-five years, have begun to embrace fixed forms of liturgy. Worship as the work of the entire body of Christ, with identifiable priorities and processes, are finally (if not fully or functionally) being embraced. Liturgy that is both informed and deliberate is slowly being welcomed and enjoyed. This is an important shift, and one that many more of our churches need to make.

In spite of this, as with our Roman Catholic friends, little attention is given to liturgical preaching. At best, as in the past, we Protestants want to ensure that the entire process of worship is centered upon the sermon. Apart from this “essential,” little attention is given to what a sermon should actually sound or be like. Consequently our preaching is pathetically thin.  How can we thicken and deepen our preaching? How might we become more effective and efficient pubic communicators of Christ’s good news? How might we become liturgical preachers?

As ridiculous as it may sound, liturgical preaching is liturgically informed, liturgically formed, liturgically framed, and liturgically preached. Over the years I have known of pastors preaching out of one book of the Bible for seven to ten years. Barring some holidays they returned– for weeks, months, or years at a time– to the same book. These preachers should not be celebrated, they should be lamented. If preachers must be concerned about the “whole counsel of God,” how does hobby-horsing one book or one theological idea constitute a reformed biblical model of communication? It doesn’t! Liturgical preaching is concerned with God’s whole counsel– liturgically generated, guided, governed, and graced. It does not hobby-horse. It does not flog a book, a doctrine, or a principle. It preaches the whole gospel as outlined in the whole Lectionary, to the whole congregation throughout the whole year. Anything less is, at best, far less than liturgical preaching.

And this applies equally to pastors who preach through a particular book, or upon an important theological doctrine or principle, over a couple of months. Although I cannot suggest that God would never lead the pastor to do this, I am highly suspicious (in this regard) of “Spirit guidance” that is not informed by a received tradition. It is at best questionable to assert our “leading” above Lectionary imperatives. As such, on Sundays if at no other time, our lips should be governed by the Lectionary. If we want to preach through books, or emphasize certain doctrines or principles, this should be done in an entirely different forum– possibly during a Wednesday Night Service or as part of a Class Meeting / Bible Study / Cell Group. Liturgical preaching must be informed by the texts and the seasons, formed according to both, and framed within the emphasis given by the passages as they intersect with the people. Liturgical preaching must be entirely liturgical.

Liturgical Preaching must be precise. For many years now I have governed my preaching by the words found in Ecclesiastes 12:11: “The Words of the wise are as a well driven nail.” Just after I became a Christian I helped an Elder in my church build his home. Although I was and remain entirely unskilled, I did learn about how to properly drive a nail. In order to not waste time, energy, or a good nail, you fix the nail and swiftly (usually in two to three blows) drive it “home.” This is the way of the effective preacher. Preachers do not meander. Preachers do not miss the point by trying to make the point. Preachers say it and drive it home. If I want comedy I will go to a club. If I want a story I’ll go to a Pow-Wow. If I want an abundance of illustration I’ll purchase a children’s catechism. Preachers PREACH! As such, to preach well, be precise. Get to the point. Say enough to make your point “flush” with the Lectionary and with the congregation. Move on or move out!

Liturgical Preaching is purposed. I must admit that I sometimes sacrifice effectiveness on the altar of efficiency. It is a weakness, and one that at times I take to the pulpit. Nevertheless, effective preaching is efficient preaching. My old preaching professor used to say “If you can’t say it well in five minutes, you can’t say it well in twenty-five minutes.” This does not mean that sermons must be homilies– ten minutes or less. What it does mean is that time does not dictate content. Length does not determine depth. If we speak well, efficiently, we will be far more effective. Quite frankly, we often take too much time to preach. In fact I would assert that the more time it takes the pastor to make h/er point, the more likely it is that s/he lacks focus or purpose.

to_the_pointIt is not that preachers don’t have purpose. Almost every sermon I have heard during my years of ministry has been purpose-driven. The problem is that so many preachers couch the purpose in so many illustrations, jokes, garden paths, and conversational communication that the point (purpose) is compromised. GET TO THE POINT!

And what, within a liturgical setting, is the point? The answer to this question has both a fixed and a flexible answer. At all times the preacher preaches the substance of the good news of God. The preacher, stealing from Dr. Robert E. Webber, preaches God’s saving acts throughout history. This is fixed and inflexible substance. It never changes. However, when we use the Lectionary, the substance of the message is seen from different perspectives. While we receive God’s “whole counsel” by using a Lectionary, each week or month or season will have a different emphasis. We must capitalize on this in at least two ways. First we must preach according to the purpose of the Lectionary. We do not read the readings and then preach what we want. Lectionary and Lecture must match. Second to this, and often overlooked by both Protestants and Catholics alike, we must (as far as possible) touch upon ALL of the texts that we read. Liturgical preaching will reference EVERY passage in every proclamation: Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel. We lose purpose when we compromise the passages.

Liturgical Preaching is proclamation. Preaching is not conversation. Although I do not entirely reject a conversational tone, it seems that preachers today have adopted this as their “go to” methodology. It is, flatly, tedious nonsense. It demonstrates a profound insensitivity to the tones of the texts and the seasons. Preaching is preaching. It insists upon a scorched heart apologetic. Its policy is to burn. Its policy is to enflame. Its policy is to incite. Its purpose is to reveal God as a flaming fire who simultaneously burns with passion and damnation. We will burn with the fire of God, this God of passion, or we will burn and be consumed by our own passions to damnation. Or, more precisely, preaching presents the biblical God who is untamed. Liturgical preaching, for all of its propriety and order, presents a God who is wild from the core to the edges. And, quite honestly, this scares the shit out of me. Please do not be offended by the use of this word. It is intentional. It speaks of a reality, a biblical reality. Have you ever felt God’s presence so intensely that you begin to shake and your innards melt? I have, and we should. This is at least one of the outcomes of biblical, liturgical preaching.

(To be sure, and not to be neglected, I have experienced what Thomas Cranmer [16th century English Reformer] called the “comfortable” word of God. We need those comforts. Thank God for them! But before comfort must come a profound discomfort. Sin precedes grace.)

Finally, and not to be lost in a well-ordered Service of Worship that values liturgical preaching, liturgical preaching is dynamically pneumatic. We must not sacrifice Holy Spirit to Holy Scripture. Both work together. Both “need” each other. Without text we are at risk of licentious preaching; and this is a perpetual problem. How many dangerous doctrines have been generated by a refusal to abide by what is revealed? We must remain within the revelation. On the other hand, without Spirit we are at risk of lamentably lame preaching. How many messages have we heard– or, sadly, may have given– that are true but tediously true?

To some degree I think this lack of Spirit reflects a lack of prayer. As of late I have myself been challenged to ask the following question: “What does it say when you spend more time preparing than you do in praying?” Consequently I am seeking to pray more and prepare less– keeping in mind that true prayer is the most effective preparation. If preaching is a form of spiritual warfare, which I believe it is, we should be prayed up before we speak out. Spirit AND Scripture!!!

The Church is desperate for preachers, biblical preachers, liturgical preachers who have the two-edged sword of the whole gospel to communicate. Will we take up the call? Will we preach?


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Gloria Patri: Bonus Musical Content

Chris Alford:

Dr. Ellen Koehler, AFFN Board Member and liturgist for Epiclesis, has posted some bonus musical content for Contributing Members of the Ancient-Future Faith Network. Check out the materials just below for some biblical and historical foundations for the Gloria Patri, plus sheet music for a beautiful new setting by Ellen.


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Worship & the Future of Apologetics: Recovering the Vision of Lewis and Tolkien

John Burtka:

tolkiencslewisIn the past decade, a large number of Christian media outlets have dubbed C.S. Lewis as the “patron saint of American evangelicals.” For those who keep a close eye on Christian culture, this title– and the irony it presents– will not come as a surprise. The excitement surrounding Lewis’ work continues to grow and few can deny his articulate and moving presentation of the Gospel. Following in the footsteps of Lewis, other 20th century British authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton have also taken the evangelical imagination captive. For some evangelical leaders, the influence of these 20th century authors is problematic given their sometimes controversial theological convictions. It is not my purpose to give a three-point sermon on why these British authors were not evangelicals. My purpose, rather, is to address a particular aspect of their Christian faith which was central, nay, the very source and summit of these apologists piety, without which, Narnia and Middle Earth could not exist– I am speaking of worship. More than Lewis’ love of medieval literature or Tolkien’s love of philology or Chesterton’s love of journalism, it was their union with Christ in worship that formed their theological imagination. And from this theological imagination came a platform for apologetics that has been effective in reaching millions of souls with the Gospel of Christ. If we evangelicals want to appreciate, appropriate, and perhaps, imitate the creative capacity of these literary giants when articulating the Gospel to our own culture, then we must first understand how significant a role worship played in forming our favorite authors’ Christian worldview.


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For Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton, the world in which they lived did not pale in comparison to the fantastic world created by their pens; to the contrary, the stories they told were sub-creations of a greater cosmic narrative where they were active participants in a world much more fantastic than their fantasy. And this active participation in the cosmic narrative was indeed much more active than most Christians might think. Perhaps we need to hearken back to the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and life everlasting. Amen.

In English, the phrase sanctorum communio is translated as “communion of saints,” but it also means “communion of holy things,” as inspired by the liturgical prayers found in the Apostolic Constitutions of the fourth century. The holy things referred to in the Creed signify the total sum of spiritual and material goods shared in the Church today and by the earliest Christians in Acts 2:14 (ie. Apostle’s Teaching; Fellowship; Breaking of Bread; and Prayers). Yet, among them, the “breaking of bread,” or the Lord’s Supper, is preeminent because it provides the chief means by which the others are fulfilled. By participating in the body and blood of Christ, the Church becomes united with all Christians, from all times and places, who have united themselves with Christ in Sabbath-day worship. That Christian unity comes from the Lord’s Supper is evident in the Scriptures when the Apostle Paul teaches, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17). Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church is made “catholic” in the Lord’s supper and becomes one communion of saints dying with Christ for the “forgiveness of sins,” rising with Christ for the “resurrection of the body” and partaking in the present reality and eternal hope of “life everlasting.” These creedal truths affirm the goodness of the created order, the purpose of our physical bodies, and the power of the Kingdom of Heaven bursting into the Church every Sabbath day. And it was these truths which formed the vision of Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton as they gave a defense of the Christian faith to a hurting world.

Tolkien offers the most vivid example of these theological convictions in his letter to his son:

“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament…. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death. By the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste- or foretaste- of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires. The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion.”

800px-Map_Middle-Earth_A_Part_of_the_ShireFor Tolkien, “the true way of all your loves on earth” is found in union with Christ through participation in the Lord’s Supper. For it is there that deep yearnings and passionate movements of human relationships become lifted up with Christ into the heavenly realms and take on an eternal nature. It is through the communion of saints in the Lord’s Supper that the friendships, romances, and families of this earthly life are given divine natures and take on incorruptibility. Outside of our union with Christ in the sacrament, all hope of lasting relationships with our brethren and with Christ is extinguished. Where does the simplicity of hobbits, magic of Gandalf, mystery of Strider, beauty of Galadriel, majesty of Theoden, immortality of elves, wisdom of Ents, and warmth of the Shire get its beauty and relevance to our lives? These people, places, and stories find their meaning in the Lord’s Supper where there actually exists a love stronger than death and a “taste- or foretaste-” of our heavenly Shire where we will all return one day to feast with our Lord and all the faithful departed.

Lest we think this is only an archaic remnant from a Catholic past, let us turn our attention to the conclusion of C.S. Lewis’s essay, “The Weight of Glory,” where Lewis explains his relationship to other Christians in light of his relationship with the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper:

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object present to your senses.”

Communion-Cup_BreadAt first glance, the weight of Lewis’ first claim might go unnoticed given the sweetness of his second claim. However, in his first claim, Lewis actually says that the sacrament is equally or perhaps more holy than our neighbor. Can a piece of bread be more holy than our neighbor? Skeptics might be tempted to qualify this statement as a superstitious relic from Lewis’ formation in medieval literature; however, such a reading misses the mark by failing to grasp the integral role of sacramental theology in Lewis’ thought. The reason that Lewis calls his neighbor holy is because in receiving the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, Lewis’ neighbor actually becomes, as affirmed by St. Augustine, what he is– a living member of the Body of Christ, the Church. The real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper means the real presence of Christ in the Church, in our Christian neighbor. In light of this understanding, it is evident why Lewis considers his neighbor to be so terribly holy. If we begin to see our brothers and sisters for what they truly are- the body of Christ on earth, Christ’s very presence in this world- how might this change our treatment of one another? And how would this change our approach to evangelization or questions of theodicy? Do we see how this holistic understanding of Christian worship, as most fully consummated in the Lord’s Supper, makes sense of how God uses the material gifts of the world (bread and wine) to nourish our physical bodies as we feast with Christ in the Kingdom of God every Sabbath-day? This portrait of Christianity is what so powerfully inspired the apologetics of Lewis and Tolkien. It was their sacramental vision, grounded in the Lord’s Supper and the communion of saints, that combined for such compelling “fairy stories” which told the truth of Christianity.

Apologetics needs sacramental theology. Our union with Christ in the Lord’s Supper is the heart of our fellowship with God, each other and the very world itself. Without it, explanations of the Christian faith will be true in a rational sense, but fail to meet the fullness of our human needs because hearts and bodies will be cast aside. Jesus Christ came as flesh and blood in the Incarnation, and we need his flesh and blood to sustain us for our salvation (John 6:54). Mankind has an innate hunger for Christ, a “God-shaped vacuum” as Pascal puts it, and without the bread of heaven, the Church is starved and our presentation of Christ to the world disfigured. If we hope to learn one thing from our “patron saint” and his holy friends, it is that the source and summit of Lewis and Tolkien’s Christian faith flowed from their life-giving experience of worship where they were united to Christ and his Church in word and sacrament. Their fairy stories were so human because their Gospel met the totality of human needs- head, hands, and heart. It is time that we evangelicals embrace the robust theology of these authors who we rightly admire and re-appropriate their sacramental vision within our evangelical churches. The life of the world, and the future of apologetics, depends upon it (John 6:51).


Image above, right: “A Part of the Shire.” Drawing by Christopher Tolkien (the author’s son) for an early edition of The Fellowship of the Ring.

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