Wednesday, June 6, 2012
The Outside-Of-Us Stuff
If you are a Christian who has been faithfully engaging in the corporate worship of God, then hopefully, over the years, you have noticed that much of our religion, much of Christianity is external. The Spirit uses outside-of-us things to bring us into fellowship with Christ. Just think about the Gospel. It is a verbum ex auditu (an external word), that comes to us by another who is outside us, and it confronts and comforts us from the outside. As Paul says: “Faith comes by hearing; & hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10.17). Similarly, think of Baptism or the Lord’s Supper. They also are outside things that God pours out onto us as well.
None of this is a mistake, meaningless, or useless ritualistic rigmarole. God intentionally, purposefully establishes creaturely things to aid and guide His human creatures. To disdain the physical, creaturely rites for some form of “superior spirituality” is to slide, whether subtly or seriously, into the anti-cosmic, anti-creation, anti-historical, anti-human dualism of an escapist spirituality (For more on this, see my book, "Gnostic Trends in the Local Church"). But God, who made us, knows us better than we seem to know ourselves. We are, and will always be, grounded in the physical. Even when we die, our “bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves until the resurrection” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 37). So, physical religious rites are God’s gifts for our genuine good, if we will only receive them in faith with thanksgiving.
Nevertheless, these outside-of-us things are not meant to remain outside. Instead they are intended to get inside of us, as it were. They are “certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken [enliven-MWP], but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him” (“The Book of Common Prayer,” Articles of Religion, XXV). And so, by the “blessing of Christ, and the working of His Spirit in them that by faith receive them” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 91), they become instrumental in shaping and molding us from the inside-out, and become a God-intended part of the coordinates of our Map of Reality.
Therefore, as you reflect on what will happen once again this coming Sunday, recognize that all of that visual, audio, sensual stuff we call worship, is good for your soul, and is the way God normally works to beef up your sincerity and faith.