Monday, April 11, 2011

Giving and Receiving

Do you ever have a “Eureka!!!” moment, regarding things of faith? A sudden understanding of a concept in Christianity or religion,  which has totally evaded you before? That happened to me a few days ago.

I’d been reading along over at Green Baggins’s blog. The author of this blog is a round-about relative of mine, and he’s particularly good at moderating a lively discussion while not allowing it to get out of hand, into meanness. When the author himself debates with his opponents, he is always kind, civil, respectful. That’s just a push for his blog, but honestly he doesn’t need it; he has huge readership in theological circles.

You should understand that I’m a Reformed Presbyterian. That means that I’m generally conservative, Bible-believing, adhering to things like the virgin birth and God’s sovereignty and election of his children, etc. Green Baggins’s posts lately have been dealing with whether we should be singing hymns in worship.  Should we sing only psalms? Or should we sing only scripture? It’s a lengthy and involved topic, with plenty of good argument on both sides. The debate circles around what God allows in His worship – does He regulate His worship, and if so, exactly how does He do it? Does He want only His own words, or does He allow for uninspired, human hymns to be sung?

But in the middle of this discussion among deep-thinking Reformed Presbyterians, came this other voice, like a clarion call, a ringing trumpet – the voice of a liturgical Episcopalian perhaps.  Not exactly sure of the denomination. But a different voice. And it was shocking – it stood out, because it yelled at all of us that we had it totally wrong! We were looking at worship from the absolutely incorrect perspective! We Reformed Presbyterians assume that the purpose of worship is for us to bring our gifts to God.  I’ve been taught this all my life. We bring Him our offerings:  our money, yes, but also our music, our prayers, our worship, our praise, our attention to His word.  We lay them at His feet. Our goal is always – always – to please Him with our worship.  We want it to be a pleasing aroma, as it were, drifting up to Him. That’s why it’s important to us Reformed Presbyterians to figure out exactly what God might want in His worship, and we spend lots of time examining scripture to discover this. We don’t want to just invent His worship ourselves, because we might get it wrong. It’s all about pleasing God.

But the trumpeting voice told us differently, and I’d never heard this idea before – ever!!! – but I’d felt it. I’d feel it when I would go into Episcopal churches, or really any strongly liturgical church.  I didn’t know what I was feeling. It was pleasant, I’ll say that.  A calm feeling.  A happiness of each worshiper at being there. Relaxed, peaceful.  The worship service lacked the stress that I was used to feeling, at my churches. I just say that honestly – to give only the impression of what the tone of worship felt like, in churches that were probably liberal, theologically, and far away from the type of religion that I’ve always known was correct. Still, it was hard to deny that that feeling was appealing.

And now I know what it was:  this fellow said it.  He said, “I believe that the fact that the debate is taking place reflects a wrong understanding of why we gather in the name of Christ. God does not need our worthship. We gather to receive God’s good gifts.” He adds, “We gather to receive forgiveness of sins. We have nothing to give to God. We naturally respond to God in thanksgiving after receiving His good gifts but that is not why we gather.” (This is rather shocking language for this Reformed Presbyterian girl.) In a later post, he says, “But all of this is simply the result of Pagan beliefs that we need to feed our god. Christians meet to feed on God, which is why when you read the Book of Acts you find that it does not say they met for a teaching lesson or for doxology. They met to “break bread” which is a pretty clear reference to the Lord’s Supper where we receive Christ’s body and blood.”

It becomes clear that the commenter is very into the Lord’s Supper (which is a good thing), but sees the receiving of the body and blood of Jesus as a more literal act than I think it is. So, I’m aware that we are rather far afield from each other, in the spectrum of theological opinions.

Still, I was struck, mesmerized, by his assertion, his assumption, that we were worshiping for all the wrong reasons. We were so busy GIVING to God, that we had failed to remember to RECEIVE from Him, in worship. We were being “Marthas” in worship, hurrying and scurrying in the kitchen, to prepare something to give to the Master, so that we failed to sit as His feet as Mary did, and receive.

It’s important not to dismiss the ideas of others, even if you know their theological position is far different from yours. His words are a good reminder to me, not to become too lop-sided in my worship. We must focus on both giving to God in worship, which is very scriptural, and on receiving from Him. If we do one, to the exclusion of the other, we miss so very much.

I want that calmness. The peace of Mary. I want to sit at His feet and receive. Because the other side has been bred and trained into me for over forty years, I doubt I need to remember to do the Martha work. It’s Mary’s quiet receiving that I forget to do.


  1. "if we do one to the exclusion of the other...." I think is key.One of the best books I have ever read is 'It takes a Church to Raise Christian' by Todd Bolsinger. The concept of worship that he presents is all centered around the 'cup' or the 'meal'. This is not a stretch for us who celebrate the Lord's Supper and read of the Passover, but he does wonderful things weaving it into every day life. Some time ago I came across the song, "God and man at table are sat Down'. I reminded me of when I heard a missionary from Israel tell that in Israel you don't eat with someone you are not at peace with. When Sadat and Begin signed peace accords all around the world the picture was of the two of them shaking hands with JC in the background. In Israel, it was of them eating lunch together. I started seeing this theme throughout the Bible. Moses and Aaron and his sons meet with God. The Bible says, 'They ate and drank" I always mentally added "and lived' I mean, can you imagine living after having a meal with God?? This is their 'peace meal.' And we have a peace meal as well. We remember that we have peace with God by a meal. BTW, there is such a thing as a Reformed Episcopal. Their seminary is in Philadelphia.

  2. Yes, M, that is such a beautiful picture -- and don't forget the marriage feast of the Lamb, that we have with Him in heaven, first thing. It is such an important concept, and one that is lost in Reformed churches (some of them), where they only have communion once a quarter - so sad, IMO. Yes, I did know there is a Reformed Episcopal denomination. I was more thinking of all the more liberal, liturgical groups.


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