September 10, 2012

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What Makes the Eucharist Special? Pt. 1 A month or so ago, I asked my Twitter followers whether they thought the Eucharist was the centerpiece of Christian worship, and if so, why. The responses were varied. Some insisted that only Jesus is the center; others touted the Gospel as the center. I then clarified by saying that unquestionably, Jesus and the Gospel announcement of Him is the center; but what symbol, what act in corporate worship reinforces that center? Here again the responses varied. Some affirmed the Eucharist as a special act; others refused any ritual or ceremony and spoke of only what the "Spirit leads us to do." I promised to explore the question of the Eucharist and its place in our worship in a blog series, so here it is. For this blog series, I simply want to examine the question of the Eucharist-- or "Communion." Is it special or is it interchangeable? Is it a central act or a peripheral one? In Part 1, we'll look at three broad ways the Church has viewed the Eucharist, drawing-- admittedly, selectively-- from Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant streams. 1. The Eucharist as SYMBOL. The word "sacrament"comes from the Latin word, sacramentum. Theologian Stanley Grenz wrote that in the early centuries a sacramentum was "the oath of fidelity and obedience to one’s commander sworn by a Roman soldier upon enlistment in the army.” Augustine expounded on this idea of the sacrament as a sign by describing it as an “outward, visible sign of an inward, invisible grace." Centuries later, combating the Medieval belief that communion was the very thing that saved you, Protestant Reformer Martin Luther described the Eucharist as a sign of “God’s promise given to faith”-- language that is unmistakably Augustinian. The Eucharist as a "sacrament," then, is an act of faith, in which we...
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Five Marks of a Good Liturgy Over the past three years or so, our community-- first at NewLifeSundayNight, now at new life DOWNTOWN-- have said the Nicene Creed, participated weekly in both silent confession and corporate confession (using Psalm 51 and the Book of Common Prayer), taken communion, and listened to Old Testament and New Testament readings. I have had a few people ask why we integrated liturgy in our "non-denominational" church. Many have appreciated it as a welcome change to what they describe as "rootless Evangelicalism"...and a few have wondered if we're "going Catholic!" But the truth is, every gathering of the people of God involves a liturgy of sorts. The question is, is it a good one! But that, of course, begs a broader question: What makes a liturgy good? 1. A Good Liturgy Invites People to Participate. The word "liturgy" literally means, "the work of the people." It is often used in "secular" Greek to describe a civic project, like a bridge or a community square. It's what a community builds for a community's good. A liturgy is simply a corporate expression of worship. It allows the whole community to join in. Israel's liturgy involved Psalm-singing and praying and a sacrificial system. The early church, shaped by Jewish worship, also used Psalm-singing and praying along with hymns to Christ as they gathered to celebrate "the Lord's Supper." Our weekly liturgy, then, is meant to invite others in. This is why, though people complain about musically simple, "vanilla" worship songs, congregational songs must be simple enough for the masses to join in. There is a place for art and artists to push the envelope and be amibiguous in their lyrics and interpretation of themes. But I believe that if corporate worship is to be corporate-- to truly be a liturgy-- then the people have...

Glenn Packiam

Lead Pastor, new life DOWNTOWN, New Life Church, Colorado Springs, CO. Author and songwriter.

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