Friday, September 18, 2009

Response to Fairwinds Baptist Church September 16, 2009 Wednesday Prayer Meeting

[Welcome new readers.  Before you go, please don't forget to check out the links to thirteen other Fairwinds responses listed on the right side of this page.  May the Holy Spirit be with you all!]

This post responds to the Fairwinds Baptist Church sermon offered on September 16, 2009.  The sermon title was "At My Father's Throne," and Pastor Carlo began by reading Matt. 21:12-13.

The main thrust of the sermon was the idea of corporate prayer--praying as a church--and how Fairwinds members should learn to value this mode of prayer even more.  I'll comment on some of the key points of the sermon below, but I wanted to respond to Pastor Carlo's sermon with a hearty Amen!

Catholics understand corporate prayer to be an essential mode of prayer in the Church.  Why is this?  The reason is that the "corpus" or body that is central in the New Testament is the mystical body of Christ, the Church of the living God.  So, even though we as individuals should pray, there is something unique about when "three or more gather in [Jesus's] name."  This is why we see right from the very beginning of the Church in the book of Acts that Christian prayed together.  When they met together, they met primarily to offer praise and thanksgiving to God, a point that Pastor Carlo also made in his sermon.  He is exactly right.

So, when we think of corporate prayer, we need to connect this idea with the reason corporate prayer is so critical, and that is because the body that is praying is actually the one mystical body of Christ.

But here is where we run into some difficulties.  The idea of corporate prayer points beyond the walls of Fairwinds Baptist Church.  When we look out over all the Christian denominations, we find many different models of worship, models that often reflect the doctrinal differences that divide denominations from one another.  While on one level, people in today's culture might respond that there is nothing wrong with variety, we could at least admit that most of us would probably feel quite out of place worshiping with a denomination whose liturgy was significantly different from our own.

Things are a quite a bit different in the Catholic Church.  Flowing from the belief that we are all one body, the Church as a whole celebrates a single liturgy.  (Although this liturgy is expressed through different "rites" depending on the location in the world, the pattern is very much the same.  I've been to Mass all over the world and have fit right in as if I was attending my own church.)  We follow the same liturgical calendar, we read the same readings from parish to parish, we celebrate with the same prayers, which we all join in praying with one voice, and we share in one common breaking of the bread.  Why?  Because we are quite truly a single body at prayer: Christ's body.

And we do this from the rising of the sun to its setting, every day of the week, 365 days a year.  Of course, Catholics are only "obligated" to attend Mass on Sundays, but many Catholics go to daily Mass so that they can worship God in a corporate manner.  (I myself once went to Mass every day for almost four months; these months were filled with many spiritual blessings.)  As a church, we celebrate feast days together, where we meet for corporate worship to honor the birth of Christ, or the beginning of the forty days of Lent, or what have you.  Time itself is put in the service of worshiping God through the liturgical calendar.  We go through seasons such as Advent and Lent, where we focus on the coming of Christ into our lives and in letting go of sin.  We do all this as a single corporate body.

Also, because the Mass is viewed primarily as the highest act of prayer of the Church, most of the Mass is spent praying, singing, reading the Bible, and breaking the bread.  Ironically, 60-80% of the services at Fairwinds Baptist Church are spent listening to a sermon.  While Pastor Carlo has many, many good things to say, the historical Christian Church has always kept the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving at the center of its liturgy.  And let's face it, the same basic spiritual and biblical insights can just as effectively (and efficiently) be packaged into a 15 minute homily as they can be delivered in a 45-60 minute sermon (packed as they so often are with stories, quotes, repetition, etc.).  For Catholics, the liturgy is work.  ("Liturgy" literally means the "work of the people.")  Those people who don't feel like they get "fed" at the Catholic Mass don't really understand the point of the Mass to begin with.  On the flip side, I've spoken with many Baptists who eventually came to realize that there had to be something more to Christian worship than listening to a man talk for an hour, even if he is giving you his interpretation of the Bible for the entire time.  (We can only hope that his interpretation is the right one, or else the value of that time is significantly diminished...)

I'll be returning to some of the points I made above to unpack them further, but I'll do so by responding to some of the points Pastor Carlo made below, most of which were VERY good (and Catholic) ones.

Because I'm short on time, I'll basically give an outline of Pastor Carlo's main points in blue.  They won't be all that complete, and are meant to call to mind what he said.  If you would like me to provide more of what he said, just let me know.  I record all the services and would be happy to provide a more exhaustive transcript as time allows.

1. Corporate prayer happens at FBC church services, even more now with the morning prayer time.  Corporate prayer is a tradition at many churches [strongest in the Catholic and Orthodox churches].  It is corporate because we pray together "in one accord." [In the Catholic Church, this often means praying prayers using the same wording.  We join our hearts to our common prayers, just like members of FBC join their hearts to the common words of the songs they sing.]

5 models of corporate prayer.
A. Prayer in Jesus--Jesus taught through the model of corporate prayer.  Why important?  Jesus knew that: Christians would never make it together without it.  Satanic opposition.  Presence of Judaism.  Christians would be together in prison.  Christians would be martyred in the Colosseum.  Burned at the stake.  He knew that compromise and new-age philosophies would creep into our marketplace, homes, schools, and churches.  He knew that believers would have to pray together in order to survive as a collective body.  He knew how important it was in the early church to pray because he knew all the things that were going to come to pass in their lives.

There is a lot of REALLY good stuff here.  My comments are not to oppose A, B, C, or D of what was said but rather to draw Pastor Carlo along his own thoughts to consider E, F, and G as well.

First off, Pastor Carlo has set the stakes for Christian worship very high, as they indeed are.  Just like the family that prays together stays together, so does the Christian Church.  But the Christian Church is the entire mystical body of Christ!  And there are many divisions to the corporate prayer of the mystical body of Christ.  What follows?  Pastor Carlo lays it out perfectly.  The end game is that Satan wins more battles than he should.  (We all know who wins the war.)  Conclusion: Liturgy (the Church's corporate prayer life) is a matter of spiritual (and even physical) life and death.  There is an ancient saying: Lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief).  We who are so divided doctrinally are sadly divided in our corporate prayer as well.  Yet, there is profound reason to hope!  The more Christians today work together to battle common enemies such as abortion, the more they get thrown in jail together and end up praying together.  The more Christians work together to defeat their one common enemy--Satan--the more motivation we will all have to cast off all divisions and to join our minds and hearts in worshiping God in Spirit and Truth.

I'd also like to challenge Pastor on one point: who were those early Christians who were being thrown in prison, eaten by lions in the Colosseum, and burned at the stake?  What were the beliefs that they would not deny even if it meant their lives?  Turns out, these people chose death rather than deny the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and a host of other Catholic beliefs.  I completely agree that the early church fathers provide an invaluable context for understanding the Bible, but I'm not sure why Pastor Carlo assumes they were Christians given their belief in so many Catholic doctrines.  [Note: I believe Catholics are Christians, but I'm not sure that Pastor Carlo does.  General statements that are made at Fairwinds suggesting that Catholics need to come to know the Lord as Savior make me think that the general idea is that Catholics are not Christians.]  When it comes to the beliefs of the early church, please don't take my word for it.  Spend a few weeks reading every day through their writings.  (Doesn't it excite you to read the letters an early Christian who had studied with the apostle John was writing on his way to being eaten by lions for the faith?)  When you do, ask yourself if these students of the apostles and their successors sound like Baptists or like Catholics (or like any other Christian group, for that matter).  I think you'll be surprised.  One of the things I love about being Catholic is that I'm able to honor the deaths of those first martyrs by actually believing the very things that they gave their lives to pass on to future generations.

Prayer also important when people are suffering, because it connects us with God who knows the outcome.

Read Isaiah 56:7  "My house will be called a house of prayer for all people/nations." (Jesus's quote of Isaiah is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels.)

This is another great verse to cite!  But see once again how it points to the idea of a house of prayer that points beyond the walls of any single building.  Jesus's house is a house of prayer for all nations.

It is easy to forget how RADICAL this was for Jesus to say (and for Isaiah to prophecy).  God's people had slowly grown through a series of covenants that he made with them.  We first have a marriage covenant between Adam and Eve.  Then we have a household covenant with Noah.  Then we had a tribal covenant with Abraham.  Then we had a national covenant with Moses.  Then we had a national kingdom through God's covenant with David.  But outside of this kingdom were the pagan gentiles, who never once had received the benefit of any of God's covenants.  Yet, the New Covenant that Jesus would establish would include a "house of prayer for all nations"--including even the gentiles!  What is a house of prayer for all nations?  Universal.  Catholic.  ("Katholikos" is Greek for "universal.")  That is why St. Ignatius of Antioch, a long-time student of the apostle John, first called the Christian Church "Catholic."  And for over a thousand years, this Catholic Church was the ONLY Christian Church.  It was centered in the city where its first leader, St. Peter, was martyred: Rome.   (St. Peter's is built right one top of the site of St. Peter's martyrdom.)  For a thousand years, this Church faithfully passed on the truths it had received from the first Christians, as can be documented by the historical evidence.  (Again, please don't take my word for it....and please also don't take Pastor Carlo's word for the contrary either.  Do the research yourself.  The Internet makes it very easy.  Just Google "early church fathers.")

The gospel message here is that Jesus's house of prayer is catholic!  What Christian church out there even makes the claim to be universal (throughout time and space) in its doctrinal and moral teachings?  Only one: the Catholic Church.

Okay, I have to get back to work, but I'll come back and update this post later.  Here are a couple other points that were made, though I may only have chance to comment later on the first two.  Since I'm a teacher by profession, I'm going to give a little "homework."  Take a look at the link below the second item, and then follow the second link to a blog post of mine, and read the excerpt from St. Justin Martyr's detailed description of the worship of first-century Christians.  Finally, go back and read how Acts describes what Christians did when they worshiped together, and see it all come together like never before!  (Tip: the whole point of this assignment is to enrich your understanding of the what the word "thanksgiving" was referring to--as if you were a first-century Christian reading the Bible in its original Greek.)

2.  early worship--prayer and thanksgiving

1.  On the Todah
2.  St. Justin Martyr on the Mass
3.  Acts 2:40-47 and Acts 20:7


Okay, I'm back!  Pastor Carlo goes on to cite Acts 6, where the apostles appoint other men to help with the widows so they can continue devoting themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.

This brings up an interesting questions:  what Word did the apostles minister, since at the time of Acts 6, not a book of the New Testament had been written yet?  Surely the weren't limiting themselves to preaching only the written Old Testament, were they?

Actually, what we see here is a notion of the "Word" that is not limited to what has been or what will be written down in a book.  Rather, the earliest bishops preached the entire word of God, and they did so for year after year before anyone took the time to write something down.  In fact, most of the apostles never wrote a single thing down at all, because they all knew that the Word was to be faithfully preached and passed on to faithful men.  If Jesus wanted Christianity to be a religion of the Book, then why did he never commission his apostles to "go and write down everything I've told you"?  No, they were to go preach the Word--that Word that is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  That Word has been passed down to us today by word of mouth and by letter, and St. Paul commanded the early Christians just as he commands us today to follow these Traditions (see 2 Thess. 2:15).  Do you know what one of the most important Catholic Traditions is?  The Bible itself.  (How else do we know the Bible is the right Bible, or, in other words, that the table of contents of the Bible is inerrant?)

Next, Pastor Carlo speaks of prayer and the ministry of the Word as the most important functions of the church today.  He is right, but I think he misses other functions of the church that are given equally great importance in the Bible, the chief example of which would be the Lord's Supper.  In 1 Cor. 12, St. Paul speaks of the Tradition which he received from Jesus himself of the Lord's Supper, which he calls the "participation" in the body and blood of Jesus.  Jesus himself, in Luke 24:13-35, ministers the Word (the Word ministers the Word!) to two disciples on the Emmaus road...yet they still did not recognize Him!  But what comes next?  "When he [Jesus] was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks [remember from your "homework": "give thanks" = Eucharistia], broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight."  Jesus is teaching us something very important here about the relationship between the ministry of the Word and the ministry of the Sacraments.  The Blessed Sacrament is Jesus himself, and we recognize him in the breaking of the bread, and through it, come to participate in his Body and Blood.  No wonder the students of the New Testament authors all believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  The Bible plainly teaches it.  Of course, John 6 gives the theology behind it.  But most important of all:
Remember how we were talking about covenants earlier, and that the new "house of prayer for all nations" signaled the establishment of a universal kingdom, the Catholic Church?  If the Bible is all about a series of covenants leading up to Christ, where then does Jesus himself mention the covenant?  One place: at the last supper.  He speaks about forming a new covenant in his blood, and this ritual he COMMANDS that we do as a memorial offering of His sacrifice.  (The language there is sacrificial in tone; the English translation "remembrance" doesn't actually capture the full meaning of the Hebrew.)  So, it quickly becomes apparent that there was much more to church life than prayer and the ministry of the Word; though these two things were central, they were not alone.  Take a look one more time at Acts 2:40-47 and see all that was included when the earliest Christians worshiped.

Third model was Prayer in Scripture. [Pastor Carlo talked about various places where people overcame through prayer.]
Fourth model was Prayer in church history [Pastor Carlo spoke about various revivals.]
Fifth model was Prayer in current events. 

3.  world influences church more than church influences world.

We indeed see this all around us, as different Christian denominations give in to this sin or that.  Some denominations have given in to abortion.  Others have given in to homosexuality.  Almost all have given in to artificial contraception, even though before 1930, ALL Christian churches taught FROM THE BIBLE that artificial contraception was sinful.  There is only one church that I know of that has NEVER given in to the world in one iota of her doctrinal or moral teachings: the Catholic Church, the Church built on the Rock!

(Peter was the Rock in Matt. 16, and the Church today hears Christ through his vicar, the successor of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI.)

(Time for bed...more to come.)

4.  Present bodies as a living sacrifice.

5.  When you win a person to Christ, they are going to be in heaven one day.

6.  Early church was our example.

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