In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here is this week’s question: “Dear Dave and TA, What is your take on church liturgy? The evangelical church that a friend of mine attends is trying to incorporate things from the Old Testament. They use related symbols, elements, and rituals to create a more sacred atmosphere that includes incense, lots of imagery, candles, and so forth. They say it’s needed to speak to this visually oriented generation, especially in terms of attracting the lost.
Tom: Dave, this is a growth industry here. The more I see of what’s going on in the evangelical church, there is definitely a trend towards procession, liturgy, whatever they can do to create an atmosphere. And it’s interesting because it’s sort of an answer to the seeker-friendly, seeker-sensitive churches, which have, you know, electric bands and guitars and all this high-profile drama, and so on. But it’s a little different than that. They want to create a sacred atmosphere. What do you think of that, Dave?
Dave: Jesus did use the physical world to illustrate spiritual reality - there’s no doubt about that. He said to the woman at the well, “You drink of this water you will thirst again, you drink of the water that I give you, you will never thirst again.” Now He wasn’t talking about physical water, of course. But I don’t think that He then tried to take some water and, you know, do something with the water, or when He said, “I am the true vine, my Father is the husbandman, and you are the branches,” I don’t think He said, “Come on, let’s go over to a vineyard here, and I will try to illustrate this.” When He said, “I am the door, by me if any man enter in…” I don’t think that He said, “Well, come on, let’s have a door here, and I’ll swing this door open and closed and try to illustrate it to you.”
So, although He did use physical objects to illustrate spiritual truths, I don’t find that He felt, or that the Holy Spirit felt, that it was necessary to illustrate this with physical objects. Now, we do have two ordinances, baptism and communion—the breaking of bread. And so here we have two elements that we are supposed to be involved in, baptism only happens once. Breaking of bread—well, it says the disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread. I think that means once a week—that was the day that Christ rose from the dead. Now, what is the value? Tom, it’s like—we’ve talked a lot about movies in the past and I don’t want to get back into that unless you do today. But the idea of that is, if we could just act out the Bible. You can come to a better understanding of the New Testament if we just had some actors on the screen, some special effects, and so forth. I think that’s counterproductive. I think we’re going in the wrong direction. We need to be led away from the physical to the spiritual reality. Paul said, “That which is seen is temporal, that which is not seen is eternal.” Paul said it to the Galatians—he said: “I am concerned for you. You want to return to the weak and beggarly elements.” They wanted to go back to Judaism, they wanted to go back to these things. That is not the way to go. And furthermore, as Hebrews 9 and 10 tells us, all the furniture in the tabernacle, the setup in the temple—that was directly inspired of God. It was to illustrate heaven, it was a picture of something that was yet to come So, first of all, you can’t make up your own illustrations. Secondly, it says that those things have passed away—the veil in the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom when Christ was crucified. The temple has been destroyed, the Jews haven’t had it for 1,900 years. What are we trying to do? We are trying to bring it back? So, I think it’s counterproductive, and one more point, Tom. I’ve been rattling on here and you want to say something…
Tom: I don’t want to say anything, I’m listening to you—I’m fascinated by it, keep going.
Dave: Okay. The next problem is, you begin to think that the thing itself has the power. And you know, Tom, you were a Catholic—you know that instead of the little wafer being a symbol of Christ’s body that was broken on the cross, it became Christ Himself. So, instead of receiving Christ in your heart, now you are ingesting Him into your stomach. The rituals became the power, and, Tom, we’ve quoted it on this program before, there is an anathema in the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, whoever says that the sacraments do not—what’s the exact phrase?—do not communicate or do not dispense grace (ex opario operato) anathema to him—that’s a Latin term that means “In the act itself.”
So, you cannot get grace except through the Catholic sacraments. So this is where the evangelicals who are adopting... this is where they are heading, and soon they will be dependent upon these rituals, formulas, the (…….), whatever, the vestments and so forth, and the elements, and it’s not going in the right direction.
Tom: Dave, that’s a great concern that I have. A more simple example of what you were talking about, it’s holy water that we used as Roman Catholics. The change takes place through the holy water itself. And that’s a concern that I have.
Also, Dave, visuals, they are very subjective. As you said, when God instructed in the Old Testament, the design and the elements that went into the tabernacle, this was specific and it pointed to Christ, it pointed to heaven, as you said. But today, when we are using our imagination, and we are using these very subjective ideas, what have we got? It’s drawn us away from objective truth. It’s drawn us away from the Word of God.