Liturgy and Pentecostalism

Over on my Facebook page, I share quotes from books that I have been reading. This quote from “The Benedict Option” garnered a lot of mostly negative reaction:ben-op-cover-black-hill.jpg

The need for liturgy is becoming clear to more and more Protestant theologians. Perhaps surprisingly for a Pentecostal, Simon Chan, a noted theologian, scholar, and writer based in Singapore, is one of a growing number of Evangelical church leaders who argue that their churches must return to the richness of liturgical worship. Evangelical ecclesiology is inadequate to the task of meeting postmodernity’s challenges, he has written. Rod Dreher

 

The first thing to note is that Pentecostal churches already have a liturgy, which is a fancy word for “order of service.” It is nearly always a variation of the following:

4-6 songs- 2- 3 fast songs (“Praise”) followed by 2-3 slower songs (“Worship”)

Prayer

Offering- usually preceded by an overly long exhortation to give

Communion (sometimes)- also preceded by an overly long mini-sermon

Sermon

Altar call or ministry time

 

If you know what is coming next than you have a liturgy, whether it is in a book or unwritten. There is nothing wrong with that because people are comfortable when they know what to expect. It doesn’t necessarily limit the Holy Spirit, but it does provide guidelines about when it is appropriate for people to pray in tongues or prophesy.

Our liturgy is a variation on this model, but when it seems appropriate we mix things up a little.

But when people talk about “liturgical worship” they usually mean a more formalised style of worship such as those found in the traditional churches. 

That raises the hackles of many Pentecostal and Charismatic people who see this as “dead religion.”

We can have various opinions on that, but let me share an observation about the usefulness of liturgy.

I have been to several funerals over the last few years, some of which were led by “Spirit-filled” pastors. The thing that I noticed on these occasions was that they were indistinguishable from funerals led by non-christian celebrants, except maybe there was some reference to “Jesus” or “God” and comments about the person’s contribution to the church.

The central focus in each case was the person being buried. Not Jesus. Not the Holy Spirit.

In other words the church is copying the world, and losing its unique voice in the process.

In every act of worship by the church, the gospel must be proclaimed and Jesus must be worshipped. That is why liturgical worship at these formal events of funerals and wedding, in particular, is so important.

A good liturgy keeps Jesus at the centre. The prayers, the spoken word, the music, it is all gospel proclamation. There is no waffle, no adoration of a person, no stumbled prayers,

At the other extreme where the liturgy is everything, there are issues of over formality. I remember when I first started as a pastor in a small town, someone said to me after a funeral “At least with you, we know who is being buried.” The liturgy I followed had room to thank God for the life of the person, to pray for family members by name etc. But the suggested prayers offer gospel hope and constantly refer back to the cross of Christ and His resurrection.

We can make similar observations about wedding ceremonies.

As a pastor I am always wanting to make sure that my congregation is being brought to maturity in Christ. I think that is is what the quote is getting at. The reality is that a couple of “I Love You Jesus” songs followed by a preach about “Three Ways To Boost Your Bank Balance” is not enough to impart maturity into people, even if all the sermon points start with the same letter. But knowing the Apostles Creed or The Lord’s Prayer in the kind of familiarity that comes from saying them every week can give at least a chance for the great truths of scripture to sink into the soul.

 

 

 

 

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Israel Folau: Faith Is Greater Than Sport

Increasingly, Christians are having to make hard decisions about standing firm in their faith or kowtowing to the secular religion. Israel Folau is stating that his faith is more important than his sport. Notice how the ABC verbals him in the article while showing his actual tweets way down the article.

From the ABC:

Israel Folau is prepared to ‘walk away’ from rugby union over beliefs

Updated 

Wallabies' Israel Folau tackled by All Blacks' Rieko Ioane and Beauden Barrett

Wallabies star Israel Folau has said he is prepared to walk away from rugby if his situation becomes untenable due to his Christian beliefs.

Folau was heavily criticised for a post on Instagram two weeks ago in which he said God’s plan for gay people was “HELL”.

The 29-year-old said he was disappointed in the way Monday’s meeting with ARU chief executive Raelene Castle and NSW Rugby chief Andrew Hore to discuss his social media use was portrayed to the media by Castle.

“After the meeting I went home, turned on the TV and was really disappointed with some of the things that were said in the press conference,” Folau wrote in a column on PlayersVoice.

“I felt Raelene misrepresented my position and my comments, and did so to appease other people, which is an issue I need to discuss with her and others at Rugby Australia.”

Folau said he has “no phobia towards anyone” but refused to back down on his beliefs, revealing he told Castle he would quit rugby if those beliefs were harming the game.

“I didn’t agree with Bill Pulver taking a stance on the same-sex marriage vote on behalf of the whole organisation, but I understand the reasons behind why he did,” he wrote.

“After we’d all talked, I told Raelene if she felt the situation had become untenable — that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through — I would walk away from my contract, immediately.”

Castle called Folau a “strong role model” after Monday’s meeting.

“We are in a negotiation with Israel to extend [his contract] and we would really like him to stay in rugby, that’s hugely important to us, he is a great player, he has delivered some great outcomes for us and has been a really strong role model in the Pacific Islander community and we would like to see he stays in rugby,” she said.

When asked if Folau understood the pain his comments could cause, Castle replied: “Yes, and I think Israel has acknowledged that maybe he could have put a positive spin on that same message and done it in a more respectful way.”

‘My faith is more important than my career’

Folau said he “could never shy away from who I am or what I believe”, and speculation he was looking for a way out of his ARU contract to take up big offers elsewhere was false.

“There have been things written about me angling to get a release from my Rugby Australia deal to pursue an NRL contract. That simply isn’t true,” he said.

“There have been rugby offers from the UK, Europe and Japan that are way above anything I could earn in Australia.

“This is not about money or bargaining power or contracts. It’s about what I believe in and never compromising that, because my faith is far more important to me than my career and always will be.”

The rugby league and AFL convert said his Instagram comment was to give someone “guidance”, not to cause offence.

“Since my social media posts were publicised, it has been suggested that I am homophobic and bigoted and that I have a problem with gay people,” he wrote.

“This could not be further from the truth.

“I fronted the cover of the Star Observer magazine to show my support for the Bingham Cup, which is an international gay rugby competition for both men and women.

“I believe in inclusion. In my heart, I know I do not have any phobia towards anyone.”

Folau has previously spoken out against same-sex marriage, after the Wallabies expressed support for the Yes campaign last year.

In a tweet posted on September 13 last year, Folau said: “I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions but personally, I will not support gay marriage.”

Israel Folau, heaven and free speech

From The Centre For Independent Studies, a defence of free speech in Australia.

Right to speak threatened

Peter Kurti

13 APRIL 2018 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

Enjoy speaking your mind and sharing your views while you can. The rights to freedom of speech, conscience, and religious belief look set to disappear very soon from Australia.

And it will certainly happen if the corporate guardians of public morality have their way following the grilling given to Wallabies superstar Israel Folau who is a devout, conservative Christian.

Falou holds some very traditional Christian beliefs about sin, heaven and hell, and homosexuality. He expressed his view that gay people should repent in this life to avoid being sent to hell.

You can agree or disagree with Izzy. But either way, if Australia is a genuinely free country, he should be free to express his genuinely held religious beliefs.

And if we are a genuinely tolerant country, we will let Izzy say what he thinks even though many of us may strongly disagree with what he says. Remember: tolerating views you agree with is easy.

We often confuse tolerance with ‘respect’. But real tolerance means putting up with the opinions of others that you think are simply wrong — or even abhorrent and repellent.

After all, we clearly expect Izzy to tolerate all the views bluntly expressed by his many critics, including corporate sponsors such as Qantas and ASICS, who accuse him of homophobia, and worse.

Obviously, when he answered the Instagram question, Izzy wasn’t representing the views of Rugby Australia, or ASIC, or Qantas. Only a fool would have failed to see they were his personal views.

Yet now there appears to be a concerted push to silence Izzy and force him to keep his religious beliefs to himself. But why should he keep quiet?

Freedom of speech means sometimes people will say things that others find disagreeable. And if we truly value such freedom, we will stop trying to silence those who offend us.

We are gradually, but inexorably, tipping towards a new kind of totalitarianism where any controversial or awkward opinion is silenced, and all dissent is crushed into submission.

Now is the time to stop this dangerous slide towards tyranny and intolerance. If we delay too long, it will be too late for us, and we will all be muzzled for good.

This is an edited extract of a piece written for the Daily Telegraph.

Where Was Jesus on Saturday?

tomb_stone

It’s Easter Saturday (more accurately Holy Saturday), the space between the sorrow of Good Friday and the joy of Easter.

What was Jesus doing on Saturday?

Maybe we should start with the why of Easter Saturday. In theory Jesus could have resurrected any time after His heart stopped beating. “It is finished!” could have been followed with “Surprise!” as He got down from the cross in His new body.

In Jewish tradition, it was not possible to say that a person’s spirit had truly left their body until the third day after their death. Remember that they counted the day that something happened as the first day. So Jesus rose on the Sunday, the third day after His death.

The delay was for our benefit, so that we would know for sure that He had died on the cross, not merely stunned as some people try to make out. Jesus’ death was truly beyond doubt. Not too many people survived a crucifixion, which in Jesus’ case included a spear thrust through His side.

So the delay was for our benefit, that we would know that the death was real and the resurrection was real.

Jesus’ body remained in the tomb, as far as we know. The opening was sealed and guarded by soldiers in case someone stole the body. They remained there until the events of the resurrection on Sunday morning (see Matthew 28:1-6).

Jesus’ spirit presumably returned to the Father for some high fives and celebration at the completion of the great rescue plan.

In 1 Peter 3:19 we are told that after His death “He went and preached to the spirits in prison.” It is not clear who these spirits are or what He preached to them about or why this happened. But we do know that this particular event happened outside of the constraints of physical time.

Regardless, we do know that Jesus died on Good Friday at the hands of well trained and experienced executioners. We know that He was, by any measure, dead. When He died He took the sins of the world and put them to death also, lifting from us the burden of guilt.

He invites us all to live in resurrection life, being a part of His Kingdom for ever.

 

 

The Cricket Scandal

The news reports have been full of the cricket cheating scandal for a week now.

Many people have commented about the issue. The overwhelming response is disappointment and anger at the cricket team.

That’s the surprise for me. When we are daily bombarded with the poor behaviour of politicians, footballers, celebrities, and the banks why would we expect anything else?

We have abandoned any basis for morality with the rejection of christianity and the embrace of secular humanism. The overwhelming popular morality is “It’s OK if nobody gets hurt.”

Nobody got hurt with the ball tampering plot, so what’s wrong? Cricket Australia tried to avoid the “c” word- cheat.

Nobody got hurt when Barnaby Joyce traded in his wife for a younger model- except for his wife and daughters of course, but people move on.

In both cases some people have claimed that the original “sins” were compounded by lying and covering up. Really? We get upset about lies in a post-truth age? Sandpaper or yellow tape, really who cares?

We do care, because deep down we know that there are objective standards of moral behaviour, right and wrong. We might give ourselves a free pass with our own faults, but we expect better of our “betters”.

God has set some rules that are universally applicable. Don’t cheat. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery.

On the eve of Good Friday some commentators are starting to come around to the idea of forgiveness and redemption.  Real redemption only comes from the cross of Christ and only after we acknowledge our own sin.

There’s the rub. We want forgiveness without repentance from sins we don’t acknowledge and a saviour we refuse to believe in. We think others should set a better example without thinking the same should be true of ourselves.

So after a four day long weekend we will be ready for next week’s scandal and asking ourselves again, “How can this be happening?”

Reading The Bible

bible-Sunlight

I was talking to one of my parishioners the other day about daily Bible reading. She said to me, “I find it so hard because my first reaction when I start to read is, I’ve read that before and I know what’s in it.”

This is a real problem for many people, especially christians who have been diligent for many years in reading the Word. At times I have (still do, occasionally) fallen into this trap.

So how do we overcome it?

I think the key is to approach our devotional time with expectation. We must expect that the Holy Spirit will reveal to us something that we need to know. To do that, we must slow down the process, slow our reading, become more meditative.

Here are some keys to reading the Bible more effectively.

  1. Stop using devotional books such as “Word For Today” and “Every Day With Jesus.” These are excellent resources, but the problem is that they can give you the “right answers” before you have worked at reading the word of God. They then stop you from digging deeper into the Scripture because you think you have got what you need. If you have been a committed christian for more than 5 years you need to cut the string. You don’t need it. I know it’s like parting a toddler from its dummy but really you can do this.
  2. Use a plan of some sort. I use the Revised Common Lectionary, because of my Uniting Church roots and because it gives you four passages a week from various parts of the Bible. You might prefer to go through a book of the Bible (a section of about a dozen or so verses), but don’t stick to your “favourite” books.
  3. Journal. This is the key to slowing down. Write down your thoughts. Use pen and paper rather than an electronic devise such as a tablet or computer. Yes you can type faster than you can write, and yes it is more legible. But remember that we are trying to slow down, to spend quality time with God.
  4. Use a meditative approach. The ancient process of lectio divina directs a method of contemplating, praying and living the Scriptures. There are many articles on the internet about lectio divina, including this brief description.

 

I often use the SOAP method pioneered by Wayne Cordeiro. Most of my Reflections published on my blog are in this format. Remember that this is a process for structuring your thoughts and writing in your journal.

  1. Pray. Ask God to show you what He wants you to see. Open your heart and mind to Him.
  2. Scripture: Read the passage. Is there a verse, sentence or phrase that leaps out at you? If not, read the passage through again and again until the most important phrase becomes obvious.  Write down this Scripture next to the letter S.
  3. Observe: Read the passage again and now summarise briefly what the passage is about. What is happening? What is said? This is the context for your highlighted Scripture.
  4. Application: Looking again at the highlighted Scripture, what does this mean? What does it mean for me today? How can I carry it with me, put it into practice?
  5. Prayer: Write down a short prayer asking God to help you with this.

This is a really simple but profound way of reading the Bible. It will bring your devotions to life.

The key to it all is that you are spending time in the presence of the Living God. It’s not about gaining knowledge or self-improvement. It’s about relationship with God.

 

Easter in Australia

Bernard Gaynor writes:

 

‘There’s not much else to do Good Friday’.

These words come from the philosopher extraordinaire, Jack Ziebell, who otherwise passes his time as the captain of the North Melbourne footy club.

He was urging people to get down to the temple of bread and circuses and worship whatever out of pure boredom and idle curiosity this Friday. Apparently the nation has the day off but no one is quite sure why.

Jack Ziebell may not realise it, but his few words speak volumes about the cultural malaise that is eroding away the social fabric of Australia and tearing it apart. We have lost all bearings with our past and so have no idea where we are headed, let alone what we are doing now.

But just to make things clear, this is what Good Friday is all about:

Good Friday

You might think it’s all a bunch of fairy tales. But here is the practical reality of that: if ‘Good Friday’ is meaningless, don’t expect the state to keep it as a day free from work much longer.

Meaningless days are days of work.

And even if you think the Bible is a book of fiction, it is still the story that has transformed our culture and society.

Good Friday is the most epic of epics in human history.

That Man on that cross.

According to the writers He was hung there after being falsely accused. And after the false accusers contradicted themselves. And after the man who sentenced Him even questioned whether truth mattered at all. And after the rabble outside bayed for the release of a murderer instead of the one who had given them bread for their bodies and their souls.

You really can’t make this stuff up.

And to cap it all off, the official crime Christ was convicted of was claiming that He was divine.

Then, to demonstrate the blinding folly of the accusation, He rose from the dead. In other words, the accusation was true and it was because Christ is God that His body was broken.

None of us today would have acted any differently than the central characters of this story because we are all flawed and weak and self-interested.

Just like they did 2,000 years ago, we would have welcomed Christ as King on the Sunday and then cheered as he was executed a mere five days later. And then, just as they did, we would have descended to the truly bizarre: placing a guard over a dead man’s tomb.

That’s the first part of the story.

It, more than any other narrative, captures the truly flawed essence of human nature. We might live in a newly humanist world but the most human of all stories was written two millennia ago.

But it’s the second part of it that makes it so vast, so immense and so far beyond the scope of human understanding that we are only left to wonder.

It’s the fact that the risen Christ died not just by us, but for us. The sequel to the pain of Good Friday is the hope and forgiveness and glory of Easter Sunday.

However, like I said, you might think it is all a load of rubbish.

Nonetheless, that ‘rubbish’ transformed the Western world. All our notions of justice and truth and forgiveness and society and morality come from the story of the cross.

That, in itself, is worth more than a footy game.

But I do believe this story is true. Every word of it.

The twelve men who stood with Christ during His life all gave their own after His death.

One by his own hand. He could not live with his actions.

The rest by the hand of others.

For what the world today claims to be a lie, they gave a life.

And here’s the hard reality: the only alternative to accepting the truth of this story is to believe that these men – every single one of them – willingly died for something that they knew to be false.

That, truly, is too much to believe.

No one dies for a lie. And they certainly did not either. Instead they, like the society around them, were transformed by that Man on the cross.

That, also, is worth more than a game of footy.

But, sadly, Australia has forgotten all of this and thrown in a real epic for bread and circuses.

We are returning to the barbaric paganism of Roman times. They had their games back then too. But until Christ transformed society, the contestants in those games only received the man of the match award if they survived it.

Jack Ziebell might like to ponder that next time he’s out spruiking an event for the culturally dead Australian Football League (which is the true Pontius Pilate in this modern day matter) that thumbs its nose at the glory of our civilisation and demands a return to those dark ages that enveloped the world before the sun rose over that empty tomb.