Appalling as it is, the decision of the United States Supreme Court regarding marriage cannot come as much of a surprise to reformation minded Christians. At the same time, this event is a warning from which we might learn. It is parallel to the attack of AIDS in the homosexual community a generation ago: a warning that God is not mocked. “If a man lie with a male as with a woman, they have both committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death - their blood is upon them” – God, in Leviticus 20:13. The homosexual community refused to learn anything from AIDS and redoubled their efforts to get everyone involved in the judgment for their sin and they have now largely succeeded.
The serious Christian community should not imitate these homosexuals, but should learn from the Supreme Courts attack on Christ and change our ways. After all, ”when a man’s ways please Yahweh, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 16:7).
In this response, I wish to call attention to two matters.
The first is the singing of psalms before the face of God in worship. This has gradually disappeared from almost all churches over the past couple of centuries. God set up psalm singing at His palace-temple as His official worship in the days of David, and the Christian churches continued to keep psalmody central in worship, as the Bible commands (Ephesians 5:19). After all, Jesus is singing all the psalms before the Father in heaven, and we are baptized into union with Him, so it is natural for us to sing along with Him. What could be simpler?
Now, there is no singing in the Bible without instruments. Ephesians 5:19 says ”singing and playing music with your heart.” In heaven, angels speak praise until they start to sing with instruments (Revelation 4-5). So, though the Church obeyed God by singing the psalms, she did so with an element of disobedience. A theory about what spirituality consists of (“no carnal, physical instruments”) led the Church into a “sin of inadvertency.”
Some Protestant churches substituted metrical paraphrases for actual psalms, changing language and structure to make the psalm fit into a preconceived metrical pattern. Here again, a theoretical concern (meter) warped the Churchs obedience. [Metrical paraphrases should be considered sermons or prayers based on psalms, not as substitutes for psalms as such.]
Allowing man-made theologies to warp worship cannot be pleasing to the Father, but at least the Church was offering Him mostly what He hoped to hear. The Church was doubtless weaker than she could have been for all those centuries, but she was nowhere near as useless and impotent as she is today. Many psalms are tough, and they make tougher people. We may not understand them – we may not even like them - but we sing them before the Father by faith alone, knowing that He will know best how to answer them.
Psalmody changes people; but more importantly, it changes God’s mind about His people. If only a few small, yea invisible, churches would stand before God as His liturgical army and sing all His hymns with instruments, He would change things - not today, or tomorrow, but by the third day (Revelation 6:9-11). God conquers by Gideon’s bands.
An equally serious “sin of inadvertency” is how the churches do the Lord’s Supper. This event is a ”memorial,” a term that means an occasion when we come before God to remind Him of what He has done, and to profess our love for Jesus and our desire to be more like Him. (First Corinthians 11:26 says that this rite ”proclaims,” but since the world is not present at this event, the proclamation is not to the world but to the Father. Cf. also Acts 10:11.) But when we come before the Father’s face we do man-made rituals that are not at all what Jesus said He wanted us to do!
He said ”Do this!” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). Do what? Consider: Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it - either halving it or taking a piece for Himself - and gave it to them while He called it His body and told them to take and eat (Matthew 26:26). It was virtually out of His hands at the time He gave it new names - there was no time to set the bread down on a table, adore it, sing Agnus Dei to it, or anything else. Also, when Jesus handed John the loaf and John tore off his own piece, we can be sure that John did not wait around to eat it until everyone else had his piece. He obeyed Jesus and ate. Had he just sat there with the bread in his hand, Andrew would have leaned over and whispered, “John! The Master said to eat!” and John would have eaten.
Then, after all had eaten the bread and only then, Jesus took a cup of wine, prayed a second prayer, and passed it to His people (1 Corinthians 11:25; Matthew 26:27). Obviously they did not all drink from a common cup at the same time!
The disciples were sitting. This was important to Jesus: Every time He fed people He ordered them to sit, something recorded by the Spirit six times in the gospels (Matthew 14:19, 15:35; Mark 6:39, 8:6; Luke 9:14; John 6:10). We are seated with Him in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6). So, why don’t churches sit for communion? Because their leaders have some theory that it is more appropriate to disobey Jesus’ pattern so as to affirm that we stand before God or kneel before our King - though Jesus would clearly rather have His bride sit with Him.
Jesus passed the elements hand to hand. So why do so many churches insist that the pastor or some elder hand the elements to each person? Because they have some theory that involves the leaders being in control of Jesus’ table, or some theory that it is nice for the pastor to bless each person individually. Well, surely such a blessing is a good idea, but this is Jesus’ table. Jesus wants us to serve and thereby bless one another. That’s what He said to do. He washed the disciples’ feet individually, but He did not serve them bread or wine individually.
Jesus did not begin to serve the wine until everyone had finished eating the bread, and He offered a second memorial prayer. So why do churches disobey His command to “do this”? Because they have some theory in terms of which they feel free to combine both clearly distinct actions into one.
Of course, it is not wrong to develop a theology of the rite of the Lord’s Supper, the eucharistic meal. Our theology, however, should develop from what Jesus instituted and commanded, and if our theology leads us away from that, our theology is clearly and obviously wrong.
That’s enough, surely, to make the point. Christians come before the Father to memorialize His Son, to ask for help, and then we do our own thing and openly disobey His Son. Do we really expect the Father to change the world when we refuse to do a ritual that is so amazingly simple? When we disobey Jesus right before the Father’s face?
We must be thankful for the Father’s forebearance, for His amazing lovingkindness. Yet, how long dare we presume upon His graciousness? At what point does He call us to shape up, or else?!
The Church, East and West, has been appallingly weak now for 2000 years. When we read the promised blessings in Deuteronomy 28, we have to wonder why we have seen so little of them. Why wasn’t Islam defeated in its first 20 years? How can it still be around? Perhaps if the Bride of Christ stopped doing her own thing and started doing Jesus’ thing, the Father would change things.
James B. Jordan is Director of Biblical Horizons and Scholar-in-Resident at Theopolis.