Saturday, September 17, 2011

Finding the Anglican Way - Part 2, Reverence for Our King

I suppose I should include a disclaimer at the beginning of this post (and this disclaimer could probably apply to all of the posts in this series). When I speak of the evangelical church in America please realize that I'm speaking in purposefully general terms. I typically don't have a particular church in mind, nor am I necessarily referring to churches I have attended. I am also not writing for apologetic purposes; I'm not trying to persuade anyone to jump into the Anglican tradition. In the end I hope you take two things from my articles. The first is an understanding of why my wife and I have made the decision we have made. The second is that you contemplate the concepts I'm presenting so as to strengthen your own relationship with our Father Almighty and our Lord Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to have reverence for God? I'm concerned that if you ask many within our Christian culture, the concept of having reverence will be boiled down solely to the word respect without further explanation or consideration. If you ask those same people to describe the nature of their relationship with God or Christ they will say that God is their daddy and Christ is their buddy. Further, if you bring up the concept of "fearing God" they will boldly assert their eternal position before God due to the atonement and continue to exclaim that since we are not under law but under grace we need not be overly concerned with such matters.

To begin I must first address the concept of fearing God. Holy Scripture provides us with two seemingly conflicting statements. One is the command to fear God. The other is the command to not have fear. Some have answered this dilemma by restricting the term fear, when it references the fear of God, to be a mere synonym of respect. Unfortunately for them the Old Testament doesn't seem to support such an approach.

Throughout the Old Testament the same Hebrew term is routinely used for fear. It is the term yārēʾ (ירא) which in short means "to fear" or "to be afraid." It doesn't matter if one is referring to God or other objects, the term retains that meaning and doesn't seem to be restricted to the concept of respect. When God's chosen people are concerned over the strength of an enemy or some other calamity, they are urged to say as the psalmist said, "The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me?" (Ps 118:6). Yet when humanity's position before God Almighty is addressed, even His covenant people are said to fear Him and those who have such fear are lauded.

Christ provides a helpful description of this principle:
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 10:28-33)
Christ proclaims that we are not to fear earthly things because those earthly things cannot touch our souls. We are known by God and valued by Him, therefore we do not need to fear that which is temporal. What we do need to fear is the power and authority of God over the very essence of our being. While those who have been bought by the blood of Christ will be acknowledged by Christ before our Heavenly Father, there is still a sense that the proper posture of the created is to fear the Creator for the just authority He has over us. This posture includes respecting Him, but it goes much deeper than that.

Someone may respond that the New Testament teaches us about the courage and confidence we can have before God. Holy Scripture does indeed teach that we can boldly come before the throne of grace to receive mercy (Hebrews 4:16), but let us not forget that we are still coming before a throne. The writer of Hebrews is not proclaiming our access to the recliner of righteousness, the sofa of sanctification, or the lounge of love; rather he uses royal language to describe the throne room as a place from where a sovereign ruler reigns. No matter the confidence we can have when coming before God, let us not forget that we are coming before a king. No matter how fully Christ's atonement has covered our sin and guilt, let us not allow ourselves to become too casual in our consideration of our position before the Creator.

Allow me to paint a mental picture. Imagine you are sitting in your living room and a man runs up to you, gasping for breath with a look on his face that is a mix of chilled fear and passionate joy. The words tumble out of his mouth as if he could speak them all at once, "God just showed up outside your front door, and He's asking to see you!" What would you do? Would you run out the door with a grin on your face, slug Him on the arm and exclaim, "Dude, it's so good to see you"? Would you run out the back door out of sheer terror? Or would you get up slowly with an alloy of longing and terror in the pit of your stomach, fall to your knees before you even make it to the door, and crawl to His feet with an almost physical inability to lift your face due to the magnitude of your realization of your true position before Him? 

I firmly believe that the totality of Holy Scripture presents God in such a way that the latter should be our response, yet I think many imagine something more akin to the first, more casual response. God is the creator of all that is seen and all that is unseen, He rules and reigns, and even Jesus, though He himself is God, deferred to the Father and revered Him throughout His earthly ministry. Just because we have the opportunity to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ due to His atoning sacrifice for us doesn't mean that our position as the created has changed. We are still the creature while God is still the creator, and although we can call Him father we have no right to consider our relationship with Him to be one of equal substance. He is our Lord, our King, our Master. There is a real sense in which we cannot be casual about how we relate to Him.

Window above the altar at Church of
the Holy Communion in Dallas, TX.
This concept of reverence is probably what my wife and I found most striking when we began attending Anglican churches, and something we were struck with after just one visit to an Episcopal church. In many independent, non-liturgical churches the concept of truly revering God is occasionally taught on some academic level (primarily through Bible studies or sermons) but is seldom actually lived. Instead, Jesus is just my buddy and God is just my daddy; these relational descriptions are not lofted outside of the mortal realm but are mired in the fetters of finite creation.

In contrast, the various anglican or episcopal services I have attended have left no room for a casual consideration of my position before God. The architecture and imagery, the change of posture when bowing, kneeling, or genuflecting, the vestments of the clergy, and the solemn approach to the eucharist all work together to make it obvious that I am interacting with One who is greater than I, and One for whom I must have true and deep reverence. No sermon needs to be taught nor Bible study scheduled to bring this realization to the forefront of the mind; it is woven into the fabric of the liturgy. Simply attending the service teaches volumes about who I am when compared to the Almighty.

Does one have to be Anglican to achieve this? No, but my wife and I have found it a helpful place to experience it. Let me be clear yet again, my prayer for you is not that you blaze a path to the Canterbury Trail, but rather that you consider the necessity of reverencing the One who is in every way our King. If we are to truly worship God then we must reverence Him as our King!

From the Order for Daily Morning Prayer from The Book of Common Prayer (1928)
THE LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him. Hab. ii. 20. I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the LORD. Psalm cxxii. 1. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be alway acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer. Psalm xix. 14.O send out thy light and thy truth, that they may lead me, and bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy dwelling. Psalm xliii. 3.Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. Isaiah lvii. 15.The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. St. John iv. 23.


Anonymous said...

I have found your series on the Anglican Church interesting thus far. I understand the necessity for reverence - not just in "church" but in our daily lives; this is something that in Western society has become lax. I continually pray for you and Shanna. God bless!!

Timothy Reimer said...

I appreciate your prayers, and I definitely agree with your sentiment about Western society. Beyond just our approach to Almighty God, I think it comes out in our response to each other. If we are created in the image of this Almighty God and Father, then we would do well to treat each other with humility and compassion regardless of the differences we have. As we head into this political season especially one of my prayers is that the Christian community exhibits this mentality.

JerBro said...

Furthermore G.K. Chesterton was an Anglican, and he is truly a grand old dead guy.

Timothy Reimer said...

For other grand old Anglican dead guys see C. S. Lewis and John Wesley. For a grand old Anglican living guy see J. I. Packer.