Tuesday, August 05, 2014

What the Church does

"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." (Acts 2:42)

Recently at a dinner with my wife and some friends who go to a large and very modern church, we listened to them tell of their frustration. They are unhappy, because a large cross, that was the central focus of the "worship space" had been replaced by large video screens. The Sunday services are no longer a time of worship, prayer and preaching, but rather a rock concert. The above verse from the Book of Acts came to mind, and we discussed what needs to take place in church services, as opposed to concerts. 

I read how in Australia, some years ago, one Anglican diocese opened a drive through "church." Someone in a hurry could go to a place similar to a bank deposit drive through, say a few prayers, receive communion (?) and go on his merry way. The "worshiper" need not waste his time on any of the things associated with the experience of a full blown service. Those who treat their church as simply a sacrament factory are just as wrong as the people who call rock concerts "church services." And, frankly, the above verse from the Book of Acts tells us that there is a proper context in which to consecrate and to receive the sacrament.

What does it mean to "continue steadfastly" in those four things we read about above? And, if we are Continuing Anglicans, should not this verse be of particular significance to us? 

The Apostle's Doctrine
Let us begin with "The Apostles' doctrine." We believe in the Apostolic Church. Make no mistake about this: A specific taste for either High or Low Church is not what separates us from the corrupt and apostate Canterbury Communion. In my jurisdiction alone, both High and Low congregations have existed for years. I have had to point out to people that we are not in communion with the Episcopal Church here in America, even if they are calling themselves "Anglo-Catholics," and use that big red Missal. For others, the same might very well apply to Episcopal parishes who call themselves "Evangelicals." As a denomination, the Episcopalians have abandoned the Apostles' doctrine in favor of modern trendy innovations, heresies and immorality in place of God's commandments. Like the rest of the World, they do not know the Lord. They advocate everything from homosexual "marriage" to murdering babies in the womb. They claim that God is still speaking to them.

God is, indeed, still speaking. He speaks whenever we read the Bible, and whenever we teach the Apostles' doctrine. But as there are many wrong answers, indeed an infinite supply of wrong answers, to the question, "What does two plus two equal?" so there are numerous doctrines. Bank tellers and Secret Service agents do not study counterfeit money. They recognize counterfeit money by becoming very familiar with the real thing. We need to study and know the Apostles' doctrine in order to avoid the deceptions of our common enemy. It is the Apostles' doctrine that must be preached from our pulpits, taught to those learning for Confirmation, and always brought to the peoples' remembrance.

Here we have a weakness. Too many people think of Communion as a private thing, just between oneself and God. This is wrong. Although we do not mean to reduce the sacrament to a mere "community meal," we still need to understand what St. Paul clearly teaches in I Corinthians; that Communion is with God and with His Church.

"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." (I Cor. 10:16, 17)

That word that is translated "Communion" is the word κοινωνία (koinōnia). The same exact word is translated "Fellowship" in the verse from Acts (2:42). It is translated "Fellowship" in other parts of the New testament, such as the first chapter of the First Epistle of St. John. Christians who engage in verbal shots fired in anger at one another, who separate from each other at the drop of a hat, and in some cases take each other to court before unbelievers (see I Corinthians chapter 6), must not add to sin to sin by partaking of the holy sacrament of Communion. They need to heed the warning of St. Paul (in I Corinthians chapter 11). They eat and drink damnation to themselves, making a mockery of Communion and of the Body of Christ. Does not our liturgy say the same, in the Invitation to the General Confession? "...and are in love and charity with your neighbors..."

Breaking of Bread
It is clearly evident from the whole context of that  First Epistle to the Corinthians, that the Church is supposed to some together on the Lord's Day and have the Supper of the Lord. We have clear doctrinal beliefs about the Real presence in the Sacrament, and about its sacrificial nature in worship. But, it is also the meal of the New Covenant. Such things as Eucharistic Devotions are meaningless exercises when done by people who violate the κοινωνα (koinōnia) of the Church of the Living God, the Body of Christ.

Our sacrifice of worship, thanksgiving, and the offering of prayer, is all connected. Much can be written and taught about prayer. It involves our daily life, it includes our words of worship and praise to God, as well as giving of thanks, supplications and intercessions, all of which are a necessary part of the life of prayer. When a church comes together to pray, we can expect God to answer. Indeed, the Eucharist itself cannot be celebrated without prayer; it is impossible to do so.

We must "Continue steadfastly" in these four things together. When the Church comes together it must be to do these four things as one offering to God, together feeding on His grace. Rock concerts as services and sacrament factories as churches are both equally appalling, and neither of those things is a service of the Church.

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