Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Does your church conform to tradition or do you like to do things differently?

Whether your congregation is traditional or if it likes to do things differently, we need to ask ourselves, "Why?" Does the outward expression of our faith desire to be different from the rest of the body's? Why? We need to ask ourselves these questions and look for the goals of wanting to be different from the rest of the church or wanting to do things the old way. Is our purpose as single-minded as Christ's or is there some pride there?

Let's have a look at 5 virtues that St. Peter has called for throughout all congregations, throughout all ages and honestly examine the deeper motivation behind our worship.

1 Peter 3: 8-15

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Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3:8

The bible is filled with good advice, and it teaches the highest and best virtues, but it should not be mistaken for a self-help manual, nor is its aim to make us nice.  Instead scripture’s purpose is to make us holy; holy by faith in Christ who gave Himself for our sins, to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of God the Father.

The first thing we must realize if we want to properly grasp Peter’s words is that Christ is our virtue!  As a man He lived a sinless life on our behalf, and by it we are accounted virtuous before God.  It is true that faith without works is dead, but so are works without faith.  Christ came to purify our consciences from dead works so that we might serve the living God, and serve Him we do.  Granted, for now it comes in fits and starts because of the fever of sin that rages within us, but as forgiven sinners, powered by the Spirit of God, we make every effort to live out these virtues more and more.  They are not merely a spiritual hobby but the keynote of our very existence.  In heaven these qualities will be perfectly practiced by all of God’s people, but for now we are like minor league players rehearsing for the majors.

So let us examine each of the five virtues that St. Peter encourages so that we might learn how Christ fulfilled them for us and how He calls us to follow His example.  The first thing Peter admonishes is that God’s people should all be of one mind, but Christian unity is not something we can achieve by blurring denominational differences, conducting joint worship services or by agreeing to disagree.  Instead Christian unity, like every good and perfect gift, is given from above.  The intercession of our Lord in John 17:21 “that they might all be one” bestows it and guards it.  Because of it, we who are many believe in one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of us all who is over all, through all, and in all.

The Unity Peter speaks of is internal and therefore invisible to the eye, but it has always manifested itself in the external harmony of practice.  That is why it is important for every generation to lay aside its cultural preferences and to confess the same creeds, pray the same prayers and worship with the same liturgy as the church that has gone before.

The inward unity of faith is outwardly displayed as well by the consistent use of lectionaries, seasons and even by the furniture we use.  The altar, for example, has always been the central piece of the church’s ecclesiastical furniture.  In the Old Testament it was the place of sacrifice which pointed to the coming Christ and the sacrifice He would make to cleanse us of our sin.  In the New Testament it is the place from which the body and blood of Christ are given to us so that they might provide for the healing of our souls and abolish the fear of death in us.  Thus a church that minimizes the altar, replaces it with a band stand, or overshadows it with a projection screen must, at the very least, make one wonder what kind of gospel it preaches.

Does God command conformity in such external things?  He does not!  These things are not the source of our faith, but they are apt expressions of it, and wherever men are united in faith, unity in practice will also be highly prized, rather than shunned as it is today.

The second virtue Peter enjoins is sympathy.  We are dogged by sin, death and the devil 24/7.  We cannot stand for a single moment without the divine sympathy of Christ, who for our sake became a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  The prophet Jeremiah based his hope on it.  He lived in a day similar to our own.  His nation, his church and his very life were all melting down at once and he was powerless to stop it.  As God’s prophet he was painfully aware that in short order Judah would be over-run by the Babylonian army, God’s temple sacked and his people carried off into slavery.  For all the world it appeared as if God were dead, and the cruel devil was now in charge, but in the midst of his lamentations he made this good confession in the coming Christ:  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, great is Thy faithfulness.”  Let us make his words our own, and may we who have received divine pity in our distress be sympathetic to the needs of one another.

The third virtue Christians are to display is brotherly love.  We do this because Jesus is our elder brother, the firstborn of many brethren and only Son of God, who in holy baptism makes us God’s sons as well.  The love Peter speaks of here is the love that moved Joseph to treat his brothers with kindness even though they had done him wrong.  Let us likewise do good unto all men, especially those who are of the household of faith.

The fourth virtue Peter charges is to be tender-hearted, which is a biblical synonym for forgiveness.  St. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  It is a maxim of the Christian faith that, as we have been pardoned for the great wrongs committed against God, we must so pardon the relatively lesser sins that men perpetrate against us.

Lastly Peter encourages humility.  This is a hard one for sinners so we must remember Christ who lowered Himself in order to exalt us; who did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.  As He was humble, we too must learn humility before both God and man.  We humble ourselves before God when we acknowledge our sins, and believe in the pardon Christ obtained for us on the cross.  We humble ourselves before man when we are more willing to serve than to be served, to honor than to be honored, and to give than to receive.

Christ is our virtue!  Let your minds dwell on that wonderful thought!  Christ is our virtue, who by His life, death and resurrection fulfilled all righteousness for us.  In baptism He purified us and made us His own people, zealous for good works.  Let us imitate His love and rejoice in it.  Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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