The Christian Passover

The book The Christian Passover: Agape Feast or Ritual Abuse?, by Stephen Perks, is a good read. Get the free PDF here.

This material from the Kuyper Foundation: Post Office Box 2, Taunton, Somerset, England, TA1 4ZD, www.kuyper.org

A few excerpts follow. The bold is mine.

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First, let us consider the notion of spirituality. What is spirituality? Is it a mood? Is it, as was claimed by the leaders of the Church mentioned above, an appreciation of “the mystery and wonder of the transcendent God”? Many ideas of spirituality abound today. Unfortunately, very few are biblical. Spirituality, if we must use the term, is summed up in the phrase “Trust and obey.” That’s it. To be spiritual is not to have some mystical feeling, nor is it a mood of contemplation or piety. It is simply trusting and obeying God.1 If our worship is to be spiritual, therefore, we must seek to obey the Bible in the way that we worship. Only then will our worship be “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24).

How is it, therefore, that chorus singing, or any other form of “preparation” or “spiritual” exercise for that matter, prepares people for this worship whereas talking to each other does not? Before I can accept this I need to see some explanation, i.e. biblical explanation, of this assumption. I need to understand why it is that the cessation of talk, the singing of choruses or the creation of a quiet contemplative mood equips me for worship better than talking to other believers does. And I need to be shown that this is what the Bible says is what equips us for worship, and indeed whether in fact the Bible requires this mood worship of us at all. Because if it does not, this whole notion of spirituality is blown clean out of the water and we had better start thinking again about what spirituality is.

The implication is that talking in church is not spiritual, that communication between believers—i.e. fellowship—prior to the service starting is a hindrance to worship and true spirituality. But I object to this attempt to curtail Christian fellowship in the church, which really amounts to no more than an attempt by the chief “spiritual” persons in the Church to inflict their own mediocre musical tastes and their own ideas of spirituality on everyone else, with the implication that unless one follows suit one is insensitive to the Spirit. And I object because I do not think it can be defended biblically, indeed makes assumptions that are not defensible biblically; in short, is unbiblical because it undermines the biblical concept of both spirituality and fellowship. The idea that worship is a matter of mood, of setting aside the mundane world in which we live in an attempt to attain a higher plane or more “spiritual” mood or state of mind is inherently dualistic and assumes a sacred/ secular dichotomy that is not found in the Christian Scriptures. This concept of spirituality combines elements of mysticism and paganism, but is essentially a notion derived from the Greek dualistic perspective that underpinned the Alexandrian world-view, which has afflicted the Christian Church from the beginning (and our society at large as well). It is this Greek dualistic heritage that is the source of pietism, which mood worship is a good example of. Spirituality, biblically speaking, is not an attempt to escape from or rise above this mundane world in any sense, but rather the proper dedication of this mundane world to the service of God.

Second, I also disagree with the notion that the singing of choruses (or hymns) is somehow essential to the creation of the right attitude in worship, and if singing choruses and hymns does not in itself create the right kind of attitude why should we sing so many choruses and hymns in church? […] There is a natural tendency for singing, which is primarily a musical activity, to direct the emotions rather than the intellect, so that the mind is not as consciously engaged with regard to the meaning of the words as it is with the music. Hence, it has been observed of musically intense worship services that the emotional intensity reached in congregational singing often relates to musical climaxes not to climaxes in the meaning of the words being sung, since the two are not necessarily coterminous. As long as the appropriate degree of musical intensity is reached the singing is believed to be a good time of worship despite the congregation’s being oblivious to the theological content of the songs. With most traditional hymns and Psalms a proper understanding of the meaning of the words being sung requires the engagement of the mind in theological reflection, and in modern Churches both leaders and congregations tend to abominate the very idea of theological reflection, which is often seen as an activity of the mind rather than of the spirit, and because of this deemed to be a work of the “flesh,” despite the fact that this idea directly and in principle contradicts Scripture. Hence even when hymns and songs with good theological content are being sung the primary effect is often an emotional one that does not engage the reason. Yet Christian worship, according to Scripture, should be reasonable worship, i.e. worship that engages the mind or intellect : “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:1–2). The word translated here as “reasonable” (λογικός) is the word from which we derive our English words logic and logical.2 John Murray makes the following interesting comment on this verse:

The service here in view is worshipful service and the apostle characterizes it as “rational” because it is worship that derives its character as acceptable to God from the fact that it enlists our mind, our reason, our intellect. It is rational in contrast with what is mechanical and automatic. A great many of our bodily functions do not enlist volition on our part. But the worshipful service here enjoined must constrain intelligent volition. The lesson to be derived from the term “rational” is that we are not “Spiritual” in the biblical sense except as the use of our bodies is characterized by conscious, intelligent, consecrated devotion to the service of God.3

What real value “spiritually” therefore does this obsession with choruses and hymns have? I suggest that for the most part singing choruses, before, during or after the service has no real effect on our spiritual state of mind or on the spiritual character of our actions—though many Christians may think it does, largely because they confuse spirituality with a particular kind of mood. This is not to say that singing choruses is necessarily wrong—I do not think it is. But chorus singing has become a substitute for worship in many churches today, not an aid to it. Far from preparing us for true worship, I believe singing numbs our minds to what we should be doing in church.

Third, in the worship services of most churches I have attended there has been no time for fellowship with others. Fellowship is not seen as central to what we do in church. This is unbiblical because fellowship is central to the biblical concept of corporate worship. Of course, there is often coffee after the service, to which all are cordially invited. But this is just the point. Fellowship is an afterthought, an extra for those who want it, or who are prepared to create it. Fellowship is not central to what we do in church. We don’t get fellowship as part of what we do in church so we tag it on at the end. What we do in church is meetings that are inherently fellowshipless. And the truth is that coffee after the service does not provide fellowship for everyone. And even if it does for some, they have to go to church and endure up to ninety minutes of ritual to get ten minutes of fellowship. But don’t expect to discuss the faith over your coffee, or anything relevant to it, especially anything challenging—the weather will suffice nicely for pre-Sunday lunch chit-chat! (I am not criticising ritual per se or coffee after the church service, only the balance between ritual and fellowship, the priorities that we have set for what we do in church). Coffee time after church services, while in itself entirely laudable, is a poor alternative for the fellowship that the Bible shows us should be at the heart of Church life. […] Without fellowship there is something missing from Church life on Sundays, something that house groups on their own do not rectify.

My point, therefore, is that Sunday worship in most churches is unbalanced by the near total lack of fellowship, since fellowship is the interaction of people with each other and this is impossible without communication, without talking to each other, something that is virtually impossible to reconcile with the ritual that passes for worship in most churches.

§3
The Biblical Pattern v. Spiritual Immaturity

How, then, are we to rectify this? How do we best get this fellowship? Well, the best, most congenial, the most efficient and most enjoyable way of having fellowship is at a shared meal. Eating together is the best way to have fellowship. Just on a practical level, it is interesting to observe that it is virtually impossible for anyone to monopolise a conversation at a table and eat a meal at the same time. At a meal all have opportunity to contribute to the fellowship, the discussion, and all have to shut up at some point while they service their stomachs. A meal, therefore, creates the ideal, the perfect conditions for the natural participation of all in fellowship.

Not surprisingly, therefore, a shared meal is the context of one of the most important Christian rituals in the life of the Church: the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, which was originally, as practised by the early Church, a fellowship meal, i.e. a feast. This surely says something about what is really important to the life of the Church from a biblical perspective. The Last Supper, which was a Passover meal and the model for the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, and therefore the first Christian Passover,4 was not even remotely like the Eucharists or communions we celebrate in church today; neither was the Jewish Passover. The Passover was a shared meal, a fellowship meal. The ritual and the worship and the fellowship were not distinguishable practically. Analytically we can distinguish the various parts, but to separate them out in practice would have been to wreck the whole event. And all are part of what should characterise our Eucharist services in church since the Eucharist is the Christian Passover (if you are not Anglican just substitute “Lord’s Supper” or “communion” for the term “Eucharist”— whatever your Church happens to call it). Why did God make this important and oft-repeated ritual a meal ? Because, obviously, an essential part of this important ritual is fellowship, and fellowship is best had round the table at a shared meal.

There is something extremely practical and well-suited to our constitution as human beings in the way that God has structured our worship, or at least what our worship should be.


1For a full explanation of this point see “What is Spirituality?” in my book Common-Law Wives and Concubines: Essays on Covenantal Christianity and Contemporary Western Culture (Taunton: Kuyper Foundation, 2003), pp. 91–112.

[Buy the book, and/or get the free pdf, here]

2See further my essay “The Antithesis” in Christianity & Society, Vol. XVII, No. 1 (Summer, 2007), p. 37aff. See also “What is Spirituality?” in my book Common- Law Wives and Concubines, p. 103ff.

3John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), Vol. II, p. 112; my emphasis.

4See further p. 22ff. infra.

4 thoughts on “The Christian Passover

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