Healing is a highly liturgical act. Jesus demonstrates this in a variety of ways, and we too ought to demonstrate it. The idea of cessationism does not do justice to the normative function of the New Creation Church. Cessationism implies a form of termination from those acts which I believe are actually accentuated for us in this age. As I have argued elsewhere, John Frame’s language of semi-cessationism (or what I call transformationism) is a much better term to describe this theological concept. There is no doubt in my mind that those gifts– particularly healing–had a distinct function. Jesus was exorcising Satan, sickness, and sin. This is a form of healing the nations from demonic oppression. The Kingdom of God was coming by force. But this healing now takes on an ecclesiastical shape. Healing is still healing. Satan, sickness, and sin are still exorcised, but through the body and through unique functions of the body. Jesus’ healing ministry takes on a new form in the midst of the holy assembly.
What Jesus does in Luke is a model for what the Church does in Acts and throughout. The mission of the Church is bound up in healing the nations. But she does this through different means. She does this by upholding and supporting institutions that cherish God’s justice, by nurturing her people from brokenness to health, and from mourning to joy. The Church is a healing place. In worship, God’s people are experiencing the healing power of forgiveness and the constant pain of that divine surgery performed by the piercing Word of the Lord.
Liturgy is a form of healing. As Rich Lusk observed: “Liturgy is the ultimate form of pastoral care and nurture.” Why is it crucial to be in Church and of the Church? Because it is there through the different liturgical experiences that the soul and body are nurtured. It is there where theological medicine is given and where healing is found.
The Church also does this outside of her gathered body. She ministers healing through deeds of mercy. She provides healing to the divorced and widow. She prepares meals and brings joy to the recovering mother after birth. She provides healing through encouragement and exhortation. In short, healing is a highly liturgical act. The Church continues what our Lord started. She does this through means, through oil (James 5), through Word and Sacrament, through rebuke and rejoicing. The Church is God’s house of healing.
Toby Sumpter elaborates on the purpose of worship:
You see, this is actually the first work of the Kingdom here. This is where we lay our ambush; this is where we perform the great air war. This is where we drop our nukes on sin, death, and the devil. Before you fight the battle against anger tonight, before you fight the battle against lust tomorrow, before you fight the battle against laziness on Wednesday, before you fight the battle against lying on Friday, you begin here by asking God to wield His sword on your heart and mind through His Word. You begin here by singing your war songs, believing that God marches before you slaying your enemies, making your path secure. You begin here casting your cares upon the Lord asking Him to move mountains, asking Him to heal the sick, asking Him to remove tyrants, asking Him to raise up the humble and meek. You begin here by feasting at the Lord’s Table, eating and drinking the victory of the Lamb who was slain.
Abraham was promised Canaan, and the He went through the land building altars and calling on the Name of the Lord, and hundreds of years later, Joshua led choirs and trumpets to circle Jericho until the walls came tumbling down. We don’t fight with fists or swords or bombs. We fight by the power of the Spirit. We fight with the Word of God, and we wield the wrecking ball of the Spirit until the walls of unbelief and tyranny and slavery fall down. We fight now. We wage war now.
Finally, liturgy is humbling. Our worship seeks a repeated encounter with our living Lord through word and sacrament to cultivate gospel-shaped lives for the sake of mission. Our identity and renewal is neither a private, individual possession nor a product of our own corporate efforts. Nor is grace dependent upon what we might feel at the moment or our personal worthiness or intellectual grasp of theology. In its set patterns, liturgy manifests salvation as a gift we receive from outside of us. God’s promise of salvation, held out in the gospel word and sacraments, is offered freely to us. Only in the humility of faith do we receive what God offers. As a community practice, liturgy urges us humbly to wait upon one another, to set aside our own agendas, and to coordinate our actions with those of fellow believers. The humility of faith works itself out in humility towards others. Liturgy reminds us that God never calls us out of the world simply to confer upon us some kind of privileged status, but always in humble service to his mission. We are summoned together in worship so God can prepare us to bear his saving purposes out into the world.
When Reformed pastors would enter the pulpit, they would add what is known as a “preaching tab” or “neck band” to their clerical dress. This type of dress is nearly ubiquitous among 17thand 18thcentury Reformed pastors.
Being a Protestant Calvinist in the high-church tradition is not an easy task in the deep south. Apart from the few scattered Anglicans and Lutherans around town, we are surrounded by a largely Baptistic culture. Within the Baptist stream, the word Church has all sorts of connotations. For some it is a place to discover your Potential; to others it is loyalty to missions (a noble task); to some it is the “old-time religion” of mom and pops. Some Baptist congregations are filled with life and casualness; lots of it. Others are known for their strong expository sermons. But rarely is a Baptist Church here in the south known for its robust liturgical expression. Liturgy –if understood–is highly offensive to the ears.
A friend told me recently of a visiting family who had to leave the service early because their little child was overwhelmed by the congregational participation in the service. There is nothing wrong with being overwhelmed by certain elements of the service, but again “what are we teaching to our congregation?” Are we making them replicas of 16th century worship with its passive congregants sitting back allowing the “experts” to do it all?
The problem with the liturgy to many in the south is that it demands engagement with the service. It is easier to be passive; to be a spectator; a un-involved member in a one-way conversation. But liturgy changes passivity. Liturgy is the antidote to one-way conversation. Liturgy is engaging, inviting, and challenging. Liturgy–faithful liturgy as opposed to dead liturgy–engages the mind and body. It is intellectually satisfying and emotionally fulfilling. This is all true because worship is warfare. Worshipers in warfare do not have a choice, but to participate in what is going on.
So, what is the solution to this dilemma? The solution is to strive for excellence, even with negligible means and small congregations. Liturgical churches need to be examples of life and joy. The unfortunate reputation of liturgy makes it all the more difficult for pastors to engage this culture. Yet, I am hopeful. Because I have seen families transformed. I have seen little children growing up to be psalm-singers; little ones craving to sing next to daddy and mommy the songs Yahweh wrote. And I have also seen adults change. I have seen the effects of a liturgical life. I have seen Christ wrapped around the lives of families in their rising up and in their going down.
But liturgy is not the goal in and of itself. Liturgy is a means. Without Christ liturgy is meaningless. Liturgy is a holy labor. God is pleased with our thanksgiving, and He cherishes acceptable praise (Hebrews 12).
So, come. Let us worship and bow down, and kneel before the Lord, our Maker.
One of the things I distinctly remember about ministering in nursing homes in college and now as a pastor is that the elderly –though most mental faculties are gone–are still liturgically aware. “The Lord be with you” is promptly greeted with “and also with you.”
David Chilton in his delightful Revelation commentary The Days of Vengeance demurs Protestant rationalism, which has abandoned liturgical worship. He observes that the abandonment of certain liturgical practices actually “contribute to the outbreaks of individualistic pietism.” Chilton concludes succinctly: “Man needs liturgy and symbolism.” Though a return to liturgy is not a cure-all, it will prove–Chilton argues–to be a “corrective to the shallow, frenetic, and misplaced “spirituality” that has been the legacy of centuries of liturgical poverty.”
Rosenstack-Huessy dedicates an entire chapter bidding farewell to Descartes. He observes that “we do not exist because we think. Man is the son of God and not brought into being by thinking. We are called into a society by a mighty entreaty, “Who art thou, man, that I should care for thee?”…we grow into society on faith, listening to all kinds of human imperatives. Later we stammer and stutter, nations and individuals alike, in the effort to justify our existence by responding to the call (pgs. 9-10, I am an Impure Thinker).” Huessy prefers the idea that our humanity is based on our ability to respond. As the Persons of the Trinity communicate clearly with one another and respond appropriately, so too there is an inherent liturgical component in Yahweh’s image-bearers. We are worshiping beings because of our ability to respond to the sacred call by interacting with the groom.
Liturgy transports worshipers into the eschaton. The corporate expression of God’s people on the Lord’s Day is an eschatological experience. In worship, the Spirit pulls us from earth to experience a taste of the world to come in heaven. When we pray “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying for the interruption of our earthly lives with a heavenly reality; a reality, which is not fully yet, but that is being realized.
I am not quite sure of Ridderbos’ sacramental theology, yet in his commentary on John he remarks that the early church viewed John 9 as highly sacramental. He writes that the narrative of the blind man in the Pool of Siloam played an important role in the early church’s practice of baptism. To be clear, Ridderbos is a bit skeptical about its liturgical use, but affirms the role this account played in developing early church baptismal and liturgical practices.