13 August 2017

Four Reasons to Attend Church

It is no secret that contemporary Western culture emphasizes personal preference and an individualism that leads to isolation. Because culture can be deeply influential, many Christians happen to think of church and their religion in ways that are not according to Holy Scripture but the "wisdom" of the age in America, Canada, Norway, and other lands. We see this in the empty and nearly empty pews in the sanctuary. In this post I shall share four reasons rooted in Scripture that Christians should faithfully attend church on Sundays.

Saint Anna Church. Switzerland. Original photo by Roland zh. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Third Commandment

Christians should attend church because Sunday is our day to sanctify. On the first table of the Decalogue God wrote these words: Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. (Ex 20:8, NRSV) For Christians this is not about ceasing from all labour from Friday evening to Saturday evening as in Judaism. For Christians the third commandment is about setting aside a day to make holy, for ourselves, by hearing God's word and the preaching of it. Although every day is a day to receive His word and privately worship Him, Christians are not meant to neglect meeting together (Heb 10:24–25), hence there is the weekly hearing of God's word and the public worship of Him on the day that the Church set aside for it long ago: Sunday.

The Living Bread

Those who believe in Jesus should attend church because He wants to give them His body and blood. Our Lord said, "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:54, ASV) At the Last Supper He gave bread and wine to His disciples and said it was His body and blood and thereby instituted the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for the Church that night. It has since been our practice for generations to receive and consume those things during public worship on Sundays. Just as Jesus distributed His body and blood in the forms of bread and wine to His disciples, pastors repeat His words of institution and distribute the same body and blood in the forms of bread and wine to those who gather.

Not Islands

Being a Christian is not like being a deist or an agnostic. Christianity is not a personal persuasion that a person subscribes to. Scripture teaches that we who belong to Jesus Christ are limbs of a body (Eph 4:15–16), not islands. We are sisters and brothers, friends, and the communion of saints (Eph 2:19). St. Peter wrote that we are "a chosen race," "a royal priesthood," "a holy nation," and "God's own people." (1 Pet 2:9) The communal nature of the Church is a reflection of God as Trinity whereas the individual who personally subscribes to deism, for instance, naturally reflects Creator as the solitary one. What we are as Christians is manifest when we come to church to be with each other and worship our God. How unfitting it is then that we neglect to meet together!

Being Homeward Bound

As Christians we believe that we are destined to live in our true home, namely, the kingdom of God forever and ever (Heb 11:16). When we get there is a matter of time. It could be that you will die and enter Heaven and be with God. It could be that you will never die but rather Christ will come and bring the kingdom with Him. How wonderful and nice the kingdom will be is beyond our comprehension! In spite of its distance in time, we obtain a glimpse of it when we gather at church. At church we are with our true family who love God and await a world of peace and righteousness and joy. We should come to church to be with each other and sing hymns to our God because the destiny we share is to live in His kingdom as one people who will gloriously sing of His honour and might.

Let us make weekly attendance of church our habit. If it already is our habit, let us maintain such a fine habit! All of us who gather will keep the third commandment, receive Christ intimately, be who we really are, and obtain a glimpse of what our blessed hope will be like.

22 July 2017

The Come, Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit
by Corrado Giaquinto
The first prayer that I pray every morning and evening after making the Sign of the Cross is the Come, Holy Spirit. It is familiar to many traditional Western Christians and we have used it for centuries. In this post, I shall quote the text of the prayer and provide brief commentary on its three parts.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful, and kindle in them the fire of thy love.

In this first petition, we ask the Holy Spirit to renew the hearts of ourselves and all believers. In addition, we ask Him to awaken in us the enthusiasm to love one another with His own divine love.

V. Send forth thy Spirit, and they shall be created.
R. And thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

This versicle and its response are adapted from Psalm 104:30. If you read the verse in context, you will see that the psalmist writes of God giving life to sentient beings as well as the grass and herbs by which they are nourished. For the Church, the versicle can be about us living as a new creation in Jesus Christ, and the response can be about the new heavens and the new earth that we eagerly wait for.

Let us pray.
O God, who hast taught the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant that we may by the gift of the same Spirit be always truly wise, and ever rejoice in his consolation: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In this last petition, we acknowledge that through the Holy Spirit God made it known to us that He is our true Father. Moreover, we ask Him that, through the Holy Spirit in us, He would preserve in us that wisdom we received from Him. Further, we ask God that we would always delight in the consolation of the Holy Spirit who consoles us by bearing witness with our own spirits that we are His (God's) children. We conclude the prayer in Jesus' name.

The text for the Come, Holy Spirit was found in The Garden of the Soul by Richard Challoner. The work is in the public domain.

10 June 2017

Understanding the Four Marks

What is the Church? I think that question is very easy for most of us to answer. In the Smalcald Articles, one of our confessions, Martin Luther called it "[the] holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd." In other words, the Church is all people who hear the word of Christ and believe in Him (Rom 10:17).

Toward the end of the Nicene Creed, we confess our belief in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We know what the Church is as an entity; what is the meaning of her Four Marks? In this post, I shall go over what it means that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic from a Lutheran perspective.

Jasper Lutheran Church in Jasper, Alberta. Original photo by Chris06. (CC0 1.0)
The Church is one. Article VII of the Augsburg Confession tells us that the Church is one because it is the assembly of saints. Moreover, her members have one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all. Her members know the same gospel and they receive the same sacraments because of her oneness.

The Church is holy. It is stated in Part III, Article XII of the Smalcald Articles that the Church's holiness "consists of the Word of God and true faith." She is made holy, i.e., set apart by God's Word and the faith she receives through it.

The Church is catholic. The article concerning the Church in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession says she is catholic or universal because she is made up of people scattered throughout the world who have the same gospel, sacraments, etc.

The Church is apostolic. In the Treatise it is written that the Church is built on the ministry of the confession made by the apostle St. Peter on behalf of all the apostles while in Caesarea Philippi, viz., that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The New Testament ministry that nourishes the Church is rooted in the apostles' confession.

You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners. (Song of Solomon 6:4, NRSV)