Saturday, December 13, 2014

A couple of words of wisdom. . .

You don't come to church on your terms but on the terms of Christ. . .  and. . . You cannot commune at the altar if you are not in communion with the Church's teaching. . .

Both of these are paraphrases from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.  They were both casual statements that most folks probably overlooked (in his Erasmus Lecture at the First Things addressStrangers in a Strange Land).  As is so often true, simple wisdom is seldom simple.

We are very good at drawing lines and insisting that we will only do what must be done under our own terms.  But this is surely hubris and comical hubris at that.  Like the answer of God to Job, who do you think you are?  And that is the problem.  We think more highly of ourselves than we ought.  We think that we are the mountains and that God must come to us.  Our intellect, our desire, and our feelings reign supreme -- when it comes to what we believe, how we live it, how we worship, etc...

The other statement reminds us that it is impossible to be in communion at the altar and not in communion with the doctrine from the Scriptures and the teaching of the faith that is the context of that altar.  We find it hard to let go of the idea that churches are like filing stations or fast food stops in which we get what we need while surveying the landscape of others who might be at the same place at the same time, but we do not really meet on the level of belief or conviction.  Sunday mornings find us often alone in our convictions and beliefs who come to the altar for our private time with Jesus yet without any real sense of the church larger than ourselves or of our communion with the saints of the ages and the baptized who share with us this common meal.

"I believe," says the person who insists he or she should commune.  That belief is often seen as the currency that purchases the right to be fed on what you think the food is and then you are off on your way.  How foolish we are.  Our communion is never simply an individual matter.  We come as heirs of those who went before us, as people who share a common life in baptism and a common faith in the creed, and as confessors before the world of what the Lord says (not what we think or feel).

The pastor often has the sense that he is the one who must be satisfied that the person believes correctly in the Gospel and all its articles.  That may be true of churches who come together to confess as best they may a common faith but individuals come as sinners whose lives and consciences have been examined, who repent of their sins, who remain the baptized in faith and confession, and who are captive to the Word of the Lord (especially in the context of what it is that they receive there).  Denominational membership is good and wise but it is not enough to possess a membership card.  It is never the card or the membership that makes us worthy but the faith confessed, the sins repented, the belief in Christ's forgiveness, and the desire to receive what the Lord says is there to be received.  We are not the Lord's traffic cops but the stewards of His mysteries yet we dare not take lightly this stewardship.  We must also be faithful if the faithful are to come and receive.

In the end Chaput reminds us that it is too easy for us to come to God on our own terms, with demands to be satisfied, expectations to be met, agendas to be accomplished, hopes to be fulfilled, and desires to be satisfied.  Too often none of these has much to do with what is really wrong (sin and its death), little is related to the painful distance these create (between God and us and one to another), and hardly ever is the call to repentance received well (with contrition, confession, and faith).

It is therefore entirely likely that we have grown to see Holy Communion as personal, private, and individual and therefore another of our many expected and demanded rights.  We decide not only if we commune but what it means to commune and what is or is not there for us in that communion.  We are not captive to the Word either as a people together in the Lord's House, on the Lord's Day, or as individuals who live both because of and under that Word.

Pastors and people are equally to blame and equally guilty of the tyranny of me, my thoughts, my opinions, and my desires.  The Lord is constantly at work drawing us out of ourselves and into His gracious presence. . . if only we would let Him. . .

Just some ramblin' thoughts on a couple of sentences culled from an hour long presentation. . .  and one that was worth the time to listen. . .

2 comments:

John J. Flanagan said...

In many respects you are correct. We often do come to God with an attitude of "What can you do for me?" Or "What have you done for me lately?" I try earnestly to avoid this type of thinking, focusing on the assurance that God is my Heavenly Father and my Creator. I am His child and have been saved by grace through the blood of Jesus. I worship God not simply from duty, but from desire to know Him, love Him, do His will. I bring my petitions to Him and my problems, however, I respect His will to in all situations, even painful ones. I know with certainty and assurance that on the appointed day my earthly journey will end here, and I will see Him face to face, For me, my Christian faith is very personal and my relationship to my God is absolute and unending.

William Tighe said...

"In many respects you are correct."

That seems to imply that in some respects Pastor Peters is incorrect. Care to explain?