Okay, I love the emerging church, but sometimes you guys make me shake my head in wonder. Call me old, call me a relic. Fine, I’ll take my lumps. But when young seminarians are told to stand in their evangelical seminary class and recite an Orthodox prayer, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me” over and over, in a droning unison, for at least five solid minutes, I gotta say something:
That something is HELP!
Help me understand. Help me appreciate. Help me value this kind of “vain repetition.” (Matt 6:7). And please don’t tell me it’s helpful repetition, not the vain kind.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, considered by many to be the greatest English speaking pastor of the 20th century, argued forcefully against consciously manipulating the “mood” in worship. He called it an abomination. Granted, he probably called lots of things abominations, but that’s neither here nor there.
The point is that there is no biblical value in inducing a kind of trance-like state through the repetition of a phrase over and over and over and over and over. In fact, we could argue that it is positively damaging because it renders the words meaningless after a while, shuts down the brain, weakens the volition, and casts us into a somnambulant vulnerability (if you know what I mean). Might as well be chanting “Om.” That would be relaxing too.
I’ll stick with Paul: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8, NKJV.
The people of God turned away from monasticism for many good reasons. I’ll grant that we threw out some babies with the bathwater. But let’s be careful: we may like the formalities, or the symbolism, or the reverence, or the mystery of the Orthodox/Roman church, but we have serious (albeit respectful and loving, hopefully) DIFFERENCES IN DOCTRINE. And to gloss over them is a mistake. The Reformation was a blessing. Let’s not turn back the clock.
If we want mystery — and God knows I do — let us find it biblically: in a transcendent Creator, in a biblical glimpse of the invisible realm, and supremely in the MYSTERY OF GODLINESS, which is CHRIST IN YOU. Who’s teaching Christ-in-you these days? When was the last time you were taught to rest and work in the power of Christ, and how that works, and what that’s all about?
And we’ve gone away from that because of a rush to be concrete and practical and relevant.
God help us. What could be more practical than “an ever present help in time of need”? or, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you”? or, “working through His might which works in me mightly”? The mystery of Jesus reliving his life through me.
Christianity isn’t the imitation of Christ. It’s Christ still alive (imitating himself?) in and through me. In and thru his people. And that requires no chanting, even though it’s worth repeating.
The road to Rome is paved with silence, solitude, and chanting. The road to mystery, however, is paved with simple faith.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20, NKJV.
A.W. Tozer wrote: (in Man, the Dwelling Place of God)
True religion is removed from diet and days, from garments and ceremonies, and placed where it belongs – in the union of the spirit of man with the Spirit of God.
From man’s standpoint the most tragic loss suffered in the Fall was the vacating of this inner sanctum by the Spirit of God. Man by his sin forfeited this indescribable wonderful privilege. Christ, will enter only by the invitation of faith. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me”. (Rev. 3:20).
By the mysterious operation of the Spirit in the new birth, that which is called by Peter “the divine nature” enters the deep-in core of the believer’s heart and establishes residence there. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” for “the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:9,16). Such a one is a true Christian, and only such.
Click here to read “Himself”, a fascinating tract by A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian & Missionary Alliance. The hymn at the bottom is worth the read.