The Communion Liturgy at New Life Downtown

Every once awhile, I am asked what our liturgy is at New Life Downtown. Our service flow (in general) can be found HERE. But the most ‘liturgical’ part of the service– i.e. the part that uses the ancient prayers, practices and sequence– is when we come to the Lord’s Table.

While I am an ordained Anglican priest, I serve as a pastor at New Life Church, a non-denominational, charismatic church, where I have been on staff for over 14 years. Fortunately, a trademark of Anglican worship is its adaptability to different contexts.

Almost all these words are from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The only tweak I’ve made is in the way I announce forgiveness in the ‘absolution’ section. We have the band on stage during all of the below, providing a soft, worshipful bed of music. Once the invitation is given (the last section of the communion liturgy), the worship leader begins the song she has chosen for that week. From Easter to Advent, this is the longer section of musical worship, where we sing 4 songs.

Below, the bold are the ‘movements’ or sections of the Eucharist liturgy; the italics are an abbreviated version of the instructions I give.

————————-

CONFESSION (All):
Take a moment and let the Holy Spirit nudge you about ways that you can surrender, ways that you can turn away from self-reliance and toward a dependence on God. Now, let us pray this prayer together:

Most merciful God,
We confess that we have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved You with our whole heart;
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your Name.

Amen.

[UPDATE] WORDS OF ABSOLUTION/FORGIVENESS (Me):
May the Father of all mercies cleanse you from your sins and restore you in His image to the praise and glory of His name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[UPDATE] THE PEACE:
The peace of the Lord be with you! Now turn to one another, and pass on the Lord’s peace, speak His life and His love to one another.

EUCHARIST PRAYER:
Me:             The Lord is here
All:              His Spirit is with us.

Me:             Lift up your hearts.
All:              We lift them to the Lord.

Me:             Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
All:              It is right to give Him thanks and praise

WORDS OF INSTITUTION (Me):
On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”

After supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.”

MEMORIAL ACCLAMATION (All):
Christ Has Died, Christ Is Risen, Christ Will Come Again.

THE EPICLESIS– ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ (Me)
Stretch your hands forwards as a Kingdom of priests:
“We pray you, gracious God, to send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant.”

Lift your hands up in surrender:
“Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace; and at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom.”

THE INVITATION (Me):
“The gifts of God, given for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”

Related articles

Five Marks of a Good Liturgy
The Liturgy: What the Community Builds Together

Who Is “Church”? Pt. 2

In Part 1 of this blog series, we said that in order to answer the question of “who the Church is”, we needed to first ask who Jesus is, and then ask what His salvation is. I walked through two examples of how we tend to answer the series of questions– Who is Jesus? What is Salvation? Who is Church? What is Mission?— and then offered an alternate set of answers from what I observe in the Book of Acts.

All this is foundational. But it is a paradigm shift. Most of us are not used to seeing Church as anything but individuals united by a common purpose— reaching the lost (fill in the word of choice: evangelism, discipleship, mission). BUT…

Church is not a collective of individuals but a community— one family, one body, made of diverse parts who are not members together of an organization but who are members of one another.

Church is united not by a common purpose but by a common identity: we have been marked as the people of God, drawn into the life and fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are, as my pastor is fond of saying, sons and daughters, not slaves and orphans, or even God’s task force or missional operatives. The New Testament’s favorite image for the Church is a household: a family.

——————–

So, what does all this mean for our gatherings, our worship services? Who is Church for?

In one sense, the Church is in the world for the world. We are blessed, broken and given for the life of the world, because we are in Jesus and He was blessed, broken and given for the world. More than that, we are in the world as a sign in the world: we are, as I mentioned in part 1, an alternate society of sorts, showing the world that a new King is now on the throne and this is what it looks like to live under His reign. In this large sense, the Church as the people of God are in the world for the sake of the world and to be a sign of God’s Kingdom in the middle of the world.

But what about the gathered Church, not the scattered Church living out in the world?

Some say it is to reach people, to go “wide” on Sundays and then “deep” on Wednesdays or in small groups. But while that addresses the need for the Church to be both deep and wide, I think it is still answering the wrong question.

The question that not many today are asking is why the Church gathers at all? If we fail to undestand this, we will treat Sundays in a utilitarian way: do the most good for the greatest number of people. So, if a movie series does the trick, go for it. Or if launching a series on sex on Easter is the way to draw them in, by all means go ahead. Or if rock and roll is what the kids are into, ditch the choir and the organ and let ’em have it. The missional movement, I fear, is a reaction to this so-called “attractional” method. No, they say, if you want to reach people, go to them.

There is merit to both approaches and yet both the missional and the attractional seem to me to be built on the same faulty premise: the Church is here to reach people!

But what if the Church is not first about reaching people but about BECOMING a People? Certainly part of the identity involves being sent into the world to “bear witness in word and deed that Jesus is King.” And certainly that witness looks like serving our city and eating and drinking with people in their homes and inviting them into our homes. But all that flows out of an identity.

You know what the Church has said about the reason it gathers? From the early Fathers to the Reformers, you’d be hard-pressed to arrive at a different conclusion than this:

The Church gathers in worship to be formed as the people of God.

We gather in worship. To center on Christ. To be drawn into the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To hear the Scripture proclaimed. To receive the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist.

As we worship, we are formed as the people of God. The table is where families find their identity. At the Lord’s Table, we find our shared, communal, familial identity as the People of God. We are one not because of shared interests or personalities or income levels; we are one because Christ has made us so. Gathering in worship at the Table reminds us of that. No, more than that: it forms us as that People.

————————-

This discovery of how the Church talked about itself long before church growth experts showed up in America has messed me up in good way. I can’t think about Sundays the way I used to. It’s not just that I can’t let the “end justify the means”; it’s that I have begun to see a different end: not reaching people but becoming a People.

You see, for decades church leaders have told us that how we worship–what we do when we gather– is just an expression of our faith, so adjust it according to the people you want to “reach.” But for centuries, the Church Fathers have told us that how we worship actually shapes our faith, so choose wisely. I wrote about the difference between those two approaches and the consequences they have on our faith, not only as individuals but as the community of believers worldwide. Find our more HERE.

Overview of Ephesians in 15 Minutes by N. T. Wright

For those already familiar with theologian N. T. Wright, this talk will seem a bit elementary– and much shorter!– than his normal lectures. For those unfamiliar with Wright, you may not see what all the fuss about this theologian is about. "Ephesians cannot be summed up in 15 years of study let alone 15 minutes," you may rightly say. But keep in mind that Wright is one of the rare breed of theologians who can write multiple 700+ page volumes on Christian Origins, a full-length 500+ page commentary on Romans, and yet write dozens of other books aimed at the general public, and succeed at both! That sort of excellent scholarship combined with accessible articulation are what make him special.

What is remarkable about this short talk, given not to seminary students but to the whole student body at a Wheaton College chapel, is how, in 15 minutes, he is able to show Paul's cosmic soteriology and how we fit into it. If brevity, as Shakespeare said, is the soul of wit (which for Shakespeare meant intelligence not humor), then N. T. Wright's wit and wisdom are both dazzlingly brilliant. The whole talk, only about 22 minutes long, can be viewed on iTunesU HERE.

NT Wright Gives Quick Tour Through Ephesians from Glenn Packiam on Vimeo.

 

 

What Makes A Worship Song Uniquely Christian?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A few posts ago, I started the conversation about what our worship songs communicate about God and why that matters. Then, earlier this week, I was asked to write down some thoughts on songwriting for a booklet that will be distributed at a certain conference coming up in Australia. While I can’t be certain what bits of what I sent will make it and what won’t (it was rather lengthy!), here is an excerpt that I thought might be a nice follow-up to my earlier post of what is at stake in our worship lyrics.]

What do our songs and prayers say about God? If we were to construct our church’s theology solely based on the lyrics we sang, what kind of “God” would that be? And more to the point, could our lyrics be applied to a generic deity or is there anything uniquely Christian about the God they depict?

It is not enough to simply say “God” in our songs. Which “God”? The one Oprah describes, the one Deepak Chopra worships? People in America are filling in the blanks in their own minds of the “God” we’re talking about and the picture of God is often disfigured as a result. I can’t speak for what the view of “God” is in other countries and cultures, but one would think that in countries where many distinct religions abound—like in Malaysia, the country I grew up in—it only becomes more important that we are saying and singing things that are uniquely Christian.

So, what makes a song uniquely Christian?

1.    Christo-centric
This is a fancy way of saying our songs should focus on Jesus the Messiah. We need to sing about His pre-eminence, how He co-created the world with the Father, how He left His throne in heaven and became a man, how He suffered death and was buried, how he rose again conquering sin and defeating the evil that has infected the cosmos, how He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, how He will return in glory to judge the world and set it right and make all things new. (There. I have summarized what the creeds have said about Jesus!)

And in saying all these things we should name Him. We can do better than a generic “You.” His name is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the rightful King of the World.

2.    Trinitarian
The Trinity is not a concept to be understood; they are Persons to be worshipped. But we are not helping that cause by not naming Them in our worship. And we make things worse when we get muddle “Who is doing what.” The early apostles went to great lengths to help us assign the right roles and functions to the right Persons of the Trinity (The Father as Creator, the Son as Savior, the Spirit as Life-Giver, etc). We would do well to pay attention to that in our writing.

This mysterious belief in God as three Persons is uniquely Christian. We are not praying to, singing to, or following an amorphous, monolithic Hero-God. We are drawn up into the Divine dance, the communion of the Tri-Personal God. If we’re looking for help in understanding the distinct roles, we can, once again, turn to the Nicene Creed—the only statement of Christian faith accepted by every stream of the Body of Christ, both Eastern and Western, Catholic and Protestant (and rejected by Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other cults and religions that would like to be called “Christian”).

As I wrestle with this, I am not yet convinced that every song needs to be overtly Trinitarian by acknowledging all three Persons. A song could be aimed at one Person of the Trinity. (Think of a song about Yahweh as Creator-God, the Almighty Father, or about Jesus the Redeemer and King, or about the Holy Spirit as the Comforter or God’s “empowering presence” with us.) But even in doing this we are acknowledging the God we worship as three-in-one.

If you were to comb through the catalog of my songs (you might first need a powerful search engine to find them!), you would discover that many of my songs simply address “God” or “You”.  Many of them are not Christo-centric or Trinitarian, and some, worse yet, are not even uniquely Christian. Much of that I regret. This journey for me is only a year or so old. But I want to write songs that are uniquely Christian and that help people live our truly Christian lives as a result. Would you join me on the journey and embrace the challenge?

Those Whose Best Life Isn’t Now

To mourn is to protest. It is to say that this should not be. 

We mourn when we lose a friend in a car accident. We mourn when we lose a child in pregnancy. We mourn when an earthquake collapses buildings upon untold hundreds of lives we never knew. We mourn when a husband walks out his wife and children. We mourn when a son turns away from his mother and father. We mourn when an economy that enables greed leads powerful people to exploit the powerless. We mourn when disease destroys a life in its prime, when an addiction takes down a life that had so much promise. These and more are occasions when we mourn, when we protest, when from the depths of soul we cry out, “This is not supposed to happen!”

And we’re right. To mourn is to protest. And to protest is to give witness to a better reality. It is a sign in our souls that we are in on God’s secret: all is not as God intends. This isn’t quite the world God made. All is not the way it should be. Sin is at work. Evil has infected the cosmos. Just as Israel was kicked out of the promise land because of their rebellion against Yahweh, the whole universe is in exile because of humanity’s rebellion against Creator-God in the garden. And as Israel mourned so the whole world mourns, lamenting the brokenness. In mourning, we protest the infection of evil, crying out that this is not how it should be. And in protesting, we give witness to a better reality, an unfallen creation. Perhaps there is a faint memory of Eden in our hearts. We have been wandering in exile for so long it’s hard to know.

We can see and taste and feel the evidence of a good creation infected by evil. But what of God? What does He think? Here things take a surprising twist. God is not watching from a distance, waiting to make the earth dissolve like snow and start over. We know that God, right from the Garden of Eden, began looking for Adam after his rebellion. God in the garden was working within His newly fallen creation. God in the garden. God the Gardener

Then, in the fullness of time, God became flesh. Jesus entered our suffering, joined in our mourning, and continued working from within His fallen creation. One of the stories He told was of a tree that had yet to bear fruit and was about to be cut down. But the gardener told the master not to cut it down yet. “Let me surround it with manure and work with it for another year,” the gardener said. Always patient. Always working. God the gardener.

Toward the end of Jesus’ time on earth, God was in a garden again, agonizingly at work within His fallen creation. Jesus, praying, surrendering, blood dripping from His forehead under the weight of what He was about to do. Jesus, at the cross, took the full weight of evil on Himself. He drank the poison that had infected the universe. Like the scene from The Count of Monte Cristo, it was as if on the cross, Jesus said, “Do your worst, and when you are done, I will do mine.” And He did. He rose from the grave, conquering death and hell, signifying that death would not reign forever. Jesus was more than the Messiah who brought comfort to a mourning Israel, suffering in prolonged exile. He was the one who rescued all creation from exile. By rising from the grave, Jesus announced to the world that it would not always be this way. As Paul explained to the Corinthian church, because Christ has been raised from the dead “He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.”  (1 Cor. 15:20 NLT) God in the garden, sowed the seed of His life for a harvest of new creation.

Shortly after Jesus had risen, Mary Magdelene wept at the empty tomb thinking His body had been taken away. Jesus stood before her but she mistook Him for a gardener. Not a bad mistake. The Gardner is at work in His garden, and the garden itself longs for the work to be complete:

“For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope,  the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.  For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Rom. 8:19-22, NLT)

By taking the full weight of humanity’s rebellion and the full force of evil, Jesus entered our mourning and defeated evil at its root. He sowed His life and rose again as the first fruit of a coming harvest, a day when heaven and earth will be made new. The cross was a decisive moment of victory over evil; the resurrection a sign of what is to come. God the Gardener is at work within the garden of His fallen creation, working to rescue and redeem. 

But sometimes all we see is manure…

You are blessed not for your mourning but for the comfort that is coming. You are not lucky for your tears but for the laughter that is coming.

So. In a world of suffering and pain, we mourn. But in the midst of our mourning, we realize that God mourns with us, and we remember that Jesus has triumphed over evil and so death will one day end. Moreover we carry this hope to others who mourn. We "comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God" (2 Cor. 1:4). Jesus the Messiah carries a comfort deeper than anything we have ever known. We who were mourning are lucky, for this comfort has come to us. Now we who have received this comfort carry it to those who mourn.

 [This is an excerpt from "Lucky: How the Kingdom Comes to Unlikely People", which just released on March 1, 2011. This is taken from Chapter 5, "Those Whose Best Life Isn't Now."]

Purchase LUCKY.

 Copyright Glenn Packiam. All rights reserved.

N. T. Wright: “God, the Tsunami, and 9/11: The New Problem of Evil”

What does our culture think of evil? Why do we pretend it doesn't exist until it hits us in the face? And what has God done about it? Is He distant and watching, waiting? Or is He working from within His creation? Does the cross address more than our personal sin? In this brilliant guest lecture from N. T. Wright, given on a visit to Seattle Pacific University, he addresses what he calls the "new problem of evil" and what Jesus has done– and what He will do– about it.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=10785299&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

NT Wright: "God, the Tsunami, and 9/11: The New Problem of Evil from Glenn Packiam on Vimeo.

Click HERE for the link of the near-exact transcript of the talk.


Toward a Better Theology of Healing, Pt. 2

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Read the previous post, “Toward a Better Theology of Healing, Pt. 1”, for introductory remarks and points 1-3.]

4. The fruit of what was gained for us through Jesus has begun and is manifesting in us here and now; but it will not culminate in its fullness until He returns.
The Kingdom of God has come, but it’s full and ultimate reign is not yet. The favorite theological phrase is “already, but not yet.” It doesn’t appear to make much sense, but the tension between the “already” and the “not yet” is seen throughout the New Testament. Salvation itself is described as something that has happened, something that is happening, and something that has yet to occur. Traditionally, these “tenses” of salvation have been described as “justification”, “sanctification”, and “glorification”. Consider Paul’s letter the Ephesian church. In Eph 1:3, Paul says God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” But a few verse later he says that “his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ” will “be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Eph. 1:9b-10). Again in verses 13-14, he writes that we “also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

We have the deposit. Moreover, we have the guarantee. But the culmination will be when “the times have reached their fulfillment”.  This is an idea that modern Americans struggle with. How could you make the down payment for something and not enjoy it fully now? We make a down payment on a house and expect to move in right away. Not so in the ancient world. A deposit guarantees that it is yours. But it is not fully yours yet. It’s not to dissimilar from buying a gift for your child and placing it under the tree as a sort of guarantee that it is his, and yet asking him to wait until Christmas morning to open it. Here is the point some Charismatics can’t grasp: just because a thing is paid for doesn’t mean you will have it all now. 

If we didn’t believe this, that what’s coming is better than what is, that the fullness of what Jesus paid for will culminate later at the end of time, then we should not stop by claiming healing for cancer. We should take authority over baldness and weak joints and shortness of breath after exercise. We should not expect to die at all. After all, what Jesus paid for was more than healing: it was the ultimate restoration of all things: no more bodies that age and break down, no more injustice no more tears, no more suffering of any kind. If we want it all now, we should never have another believer die. Instead, we ought to remember, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, that Lazarus was raised from the dead only to die again. In other words, the best, the fullness of what Jesus paid for is not all to be enjoyed here and now. Those who insist otherwise are not being consistent in their behavior…neither is the universe, for that matter, for people age and die. And, what’s more troubling to that point of view is the fact that none of the apostles– not Peter who quotes Isaiah 53, not Paul, not James who tells us to lay hands on the sick, not John who outlives all the apostles– taught the no believer should get sick or suffer disease if they had enough faith. Furthermore, to my best knowledge of church history (and though I am no scholar, I am a student of church history), no one has taught that theology of healing– that all should be healed if there is no sin and enough faith.

5.  We Can Enjoy the Firstfruits (i.e. Healing and Miracles) Here and Now
This may challenge some who believe that healings and miracles were only for an age but are not for now. While it is true that what is coming is better than what is, it doesn’t mean there is nothing to enjoy now. There is the “foretaste of glory divine”, the beginnings of what is coming in fullness. To put it plainly, we can enjoy healing and miracles here and now. That is not to say we ought to demand it or simply claim it. But it does mean we should pray for it and believe. We can receive the foretaste of God’s ultimate “restoration of all things” here and now. This is what Jesus meant we He announced, “the Kingdom of God has come.” It is here. That explains why when He sent out the 70 (or 72) he simply told them to heal the sick. He reaffirms this in the Great Commission, telling them that for “those who believe” (i.e. disciples), they will “lay hands on sick people, and they will get well”. (Mk. 16:18) 

Throughout the Christian centuries, there are instances of healings and miracles that take place at the hands of certain devout men and women. Gregory Thuamaturgus (the “Wonderworker”) is an example in the early centuries. But the list continues through the saints. And since there is no indication that it was merely for an age, I would contest that it continues through followers of Christ today.

So, what are we to conclude? Chiefly that God is good. That His ultimate plan for us is total and complete healing. And that He has suffered and paid for it on through Jesus. And based on His goodness and His ultimate plan for us, we should pray and ask for healing here and now. But above all, we have hope: for what is coming is better than what is.