The Elementary Principles of the World: Conventional Worship Praxes

A New & Living Way

A Collection of Essays

Investigating New Covenant Worship in Spirit & Truth

 

 The Elementary Principles of the World

Conventional Worship Praxes

 

© 2018

W.D. Furioso

Edited by Frances Furioso

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A New & Living Way

List of Essays 

  • “Now you are the Body of Christ”
  • Elemental Principles of Worship
  • Another Look at Worship
  • Jewish Roots in Christianity
  • Led by the Spirit
  • Elementary Principles of the World ~ Sacralization of the Spiritual
  • Elementary Principles of the World ~ Sacralization of the Secular
  • Elementary Principles of the World ~ Conventional Worship Praxes
  • Christ, the New Testament Pattern
  • The Holy Spirit & The New Covenant
  • Bodily Functions in Spirit
  • Bodily Functions in Truth

 Elementary Principles of the World

Conventional Worship Praxes

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 Introduction                                                                                            4

Why We Do What We Do                                                                        7

Conventional Worship Praxes in Light of the New Testament 12

Descriptive or Prescriptive ?                                                             18

Sacramental Sunday                                                                             29

Sacramentalism & the New Testament Scriptures                      39

What’s the Harm?                                                                                  48

 

Introduction

The main goal of these essays is to investigate New Covenant Worship in Spirit and Truth. The secondary goal is to uncover “the elementary principles of the world” in worship practices.

In previous essays, I have discussed in considerable detail examples of “the elementary principles of the world”as they were manifested in the worship practices of the first century church. And I have made mention of the fact that, by morphing from Jewish to Christian in fashion, these religious, but worldly[1], practices have continued throughout all of the history of the Church into the present. I have intentionally moved slowly, attempting to build a case – “line upon line, precept upon precept”, as it were, with care to support the argument with scriptural and historical facts.

The study of Church history affords lessons to be learned, and any knowledge and wisdom gleaned from history can benefit the contemporary church. I am of the opinion that most of the worship practices of the contemporary professing church are fashioned and built according to “the elementary principles of the world”. The contemporary worship practices I am referring to are separated, set apart, specified places and times and activities which we have mistakenly called “worship”:

  • Separating, setting apart & specifying PLACES for “worship”
  • Separating, setting apart & specifying TIMES for “worship”
  • Separating, setting apart & specifying PLACES & TIMES for
    • “gathering together on the first day of the week”
    • “a Body ministry meeting”
    • “the collection”
    • “the Lord’s Supper”[2]

Please understand that I am not saying that there is anything wrong with any of these activities, but rather our proclivity to their being separated, set apart, specified, organized and programmed. For in so doing, we are operating according to “the elementary principles of the world”, ignoring the Holy Spirit; and therefore, are living under the shadow of the Old Covenant and failing to manifest the New Covenant which Jesus has already established with His death, burial and resurrection.

This is nothing less than idolatryin that we insist on putting humanly created things in the place that belongs only to God, and putting humanly organized things in the place of the life organism of the Holy Spirit. This contradicts the Word of God and grieves the Spirit of God. It is antichrist in that it, in practice, denies Jesus as the Author and Perfecter of the New Covenant. The insidious thing is we ask God to accept and bless these practices which actually arise from our fallen human nature and have been instigated by “world forces of darkness”[3].

If clearly understood, the implications of moving beyond separated, set apart, specified places and times and organized, programmed activities will be extremely radical– that is, a laying of the axe at the root[4]of these worship practices. What I am indicating can be very easily misunderstood and therefore off-handedly rejected. So, I would like to make an appeal to the reader to find within himself or herself the desire to study the New Testament scriptures objectively for what they actually do and do not say, being willing to let go of certain assumptions and cherished conventions.

 

Why Do We Do What We Do?

 

For a period of approximately 40 years, my professional occupation was attending church services. In various ways, I shared in the responsibility for planning all of those church services. And in most of those services, which took place in primarily independent non-denominational churches, I delivered the message, the music and the ministry of praying for peoples’ needs. With an average of three per week, that’s about 6240 church services. Added to this are six month-long overseas mission trips to factor in a minimum of twenty meetings per trip. That’s another 120 church meetings. And there was also a season of six years in which I held three part-time positions in mainline denominational churches where one of my duties was to commit to print (viz. the “church bulletin”) the “Order of Service” for “Sunday morning worship services”, weddings, funerals, and other “special” services. That adds more than another 300 church services. So, let’s say I’m referring to approximately 6666 church services in total. In any case, one can appreciate that, considering that level of involvement, with regards to the activities of the conventional church meeting, I would ask the question: “Why do we do what we do?” I remember one particular meeting in Brazil. Before being called up to teach, I sat observing the activities of the church service. As I observed, I compared what I was seeing to what I have seen reading the gospels about the ministry of Jesus. I thought to myself: “What in the world does any of this have to do with Jesus Christ?”

For many years, the recurring question would come up in my heart and mind: “What are we supposed to be doing when we gather together?”In considering an answer to that question, I honestly had no use for contemporary answers. To many of my friends who said: “There is no New Testament pattern in the scriptures”, my response was: “You obviously need to study the scriptures more.” To the idea that each generation just needs to contextualize their worship services to the contemporary and indigenous culture”, my response was: “We don’t need to ‘re-image’ the church, we just need to restoreit to the New Testament pattern.” I obviously believed there was a New Testament pattern. I still do, but in a different sense, which I will explain later in this essay.

Also, I was only marginally interested in studying the “orders of worship” and liturgies of the historical churches. As many others, I believed, and still do, that the worship practices of the professing church throughout history right up into contemporary times have strayed from the “New Testament pattern”. Only recently have I come to see those “orders of worship” and liturgies as Old Covenant shadows. And only recently have I concluded that the professing church has never yetnot even in the first century– practiced New Covenant worship in Spirit and truth.

But, admittedly, I did believe there was a “New Testament pattern” to be recovered – which is simply to say, I believed the New Testament scriptures DO instruct us on worship in Spirit and Truth in fulfillment of what Jesus spoke of in John 4. I still believe this.

So, in answer to the question, “Why do we do what we do?”, my response was: “Because it is in the New Testament scriptures.”And to give more detail in answer to that question I found it useful to cite that the apostolic church “gathered together”[5]on “the first day of the week” to “break bread” and take a “collection”[6]. And that they also did the activities highlighted in Acts 2:41-47:

41 “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teachingand to (the apostles’) fellowship, to thebreaking of breadand to prayers. 43  Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising Godand having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

From this passage I would distill the following list of worship practices – I even decided it would be clever to call it a list of “Bodily Functions” of the Body of Christ as it might be more pleasing to “Organic” and “House” church enthusiasts:

  • Apostolic teaching
  • Apostolic fellowship[7]
  • Breaking of Bread[8]
  • Prayers[9](i.e. in homes and in the temple at specified times of the day)
  • Praise

I would also point out that there is yet another list of activities highlighted in 1 Corinthians 14:26 which could be referred to as “Body Ministry”: “What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” These “Bodily Functions” were distinguished from “apostolic teaching and fellowship”, indicating that there would be different types of church meetings, which could be “labeled” firstly, an “Equipping Ministry” meeting (“5-fold Ministry)[10], and secondly, a “Body Ministry” meeting (the whole church) which might also be combined with the “Breaking of Bread”, “Prayer” and “Praise” activities. Then, I would devote myself to seeking a truly New Covenant understanding of each of these practices, and teach them accordingly.

ConventionalWorship Praxes

in Light of the New Testament

But recently, I have asked myself another question – actually, the Holy Spirit asked me this question: “What is it that you think you see in the New Testament scriptures?”In other words, does your perception of what you are reading contain any filters, preconceptions, presuppositions or assumptions?

An example of a “filter”:

The list I made from Acts 2:41-47 leaves out certain other activities which were part of the life[11]of the first century church, at least at that given time– namely, “were together and had all things in common”, “sold their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need”, were “day by day continuing with one mind in the temple”, and “were taking their meals together”. Why aren’t these activities also part of our worship practices? Are they part of the New Covenant? Do they belong in the Old Covenant? These activities are in the New Testament scriptures – how are we to interpret them? Is it incongruous to interpret them differently than the other activities? If so, why so? Various biblical scholars have various theological or doctrinal reasons for their various interpretations.

It seems to me that, if we are going to make a list of New Covenant worship practices based on a particular passage, we should not pick and choose certain activities in the passage. We should include all the activities in the passage. If we pick and choose, we are forced to base our choices and omissions on some theological theory like “cessationism”,[12]which is scripturally indefensible. So, what do I think? I think all the activities in that passage are on “equal ground”, so to speak. I think allthe activities in that passage can beexamples of New Covenant worship practices, if led by the Spirit in the lifeof the Christians. But I also think that noneof those activities are examples of New Covenant worship if humanlyseparated, set apart, specified, organized, and programmedonlyinto meetings in which Christians gather.

An example of reading the New Testament scriptures with preconceptions, presuppositions or assumptions:

“The Collection”

Acts 20:7 tells us this “breaking of bread” on the first day of the week was being practiced specifically by Christians in Troas which Paul visited on his 3rdmissionary journey, probably about 54 A.D. (a year before Paul wrote his first Letter to the Corinthians and 2 years before he wrote his Letter to the Galatians) Were Christians in other places also gathering together on the first day of the week to break bread? Possibly.

Please note that Luke does not say that the Christians in Troas also “took a collection” on the first day of the week. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul is writing to the Corinthians about “the collection for the saints”. He specifically told them to “put aside and save[13], as he may prosper”. (We will look more closely at this phrase shortly.) He told them to do this “on the first day of the week”. Please note he did not mention whether or not the Corinthians gathered together on the first day of the week to break bread. Paul did say that he had previously also given the same direction about “the collection” to “the churches in Galatia”. What had he directed to churches in Galatia to do? “Put aside and save[14], as he may prosper.” Did he tell the churches in Galatia to do it on “the first day of the week”? Seems plausible; but we really don’t know. When was it that he had told “the churches in Galatia” to do this? On his first missionary journey between 47 and 48 A.D. This was 8 or 9 years before he had written the Letter to the Galatians warning against “the elementary principles of the world”.[15]Paul encouraged the churches in Corinth and Galatia to help the church in Jerusalem materially because of the famine they were experiencing at the time. Paul was addressing this special and particular need. He was NOT establishing a “weekly collection” in the churches, as we know it today.

Paul made clear that he didn’t want to take a “collection” when he came. Please note he DID NOT tell the Corinthians to “take a collection” on the first day of the week. He told them to “put aside and save[16], as he may prosper”. This is what two major Greek scholars have to say about this phrase:

M.R. Vincent: “Lay by him in store (παῤἑαυτῷτιθέτω θησαυρίζων) Lit., put by himself treasuring.Put by at home.”[17]

A.T. Robertson: “Lay by him in store (par’ heautōi tithetōthēsaurizōn).By himself, in his home. Treasuring it (cf. Matthew 6:19 for thēsaurizō). Have the habit of doing it, tithetō (present imperative).”[18]

Paul was NOT establishing a weekly collection at a weekly church service.

Another example of reading the New Testament scriptures with preconceptions, presuppositions or assumptions:

 

1 Corinthians 14:26 “Body Ministry”

 

Concerning the “Body Ministry” pictured in 1 Corinthians 14:26: How long did the Corinthians practice such activities in that way? Paul didn’t mention these activities or this particular type of meeting in his second letter to the Corinthians. We can, and many do, make an assumption that this was an established worship practice, but we actually do not know how long the Corinthians continued in the worship practices pictured in that verse. It is certainly a valid understanding that in this passage Paul is not commanding or even suggesting that they should dothese activities – he simply wrote that when they came together they were doing these activities. Did the churches in Rome, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica also practice these activities and have this particular type of meetings? We don’t know – Paul doesn’t mention that in his epistles to these churches. We “Organic” and “House” church people would like to think that all of the Christian churches during the apostolic period conducted these activities and meetings. But this idea emerges from a preconception or presupposition. Making such an assertion can only be based on an assumption. Of more significance, making such an assertion is in accordance with “the elementary principles of the world”. How so? To hold the perspective that all the Christian churches gathered at separated, set apart, special times and placesand practiced “Body Ministry” according to the letter of 1 Corinthians 14:26, and that Paul had somehow established this as a worship practice in all the first century churches, and that it is the “New Testament pattern” for us to follow today, all reveals a proclivity for “technique” – a predilection for human systematizing, ordering and programming activitiesfor the church, in place of the life flow of the Holy Spirit and the Headship of Christ.

So, what do I think of 1 Corinthians 14:26? I think the “Body Ministry” pictured in that passage can bean example of New Covenant worship, if led by the Spirit in the lifeof the Christians. But I also think that such a meeting is not an example of New Covenant worship ifhumanlyseparated, set apart, specified, organized, and programmedonlyinto meetings in which Christians gather.

 

Descriptive or Prescriptive?

Both are “the Letter”.

 Neither is the whole story.

Both fall short of the glory.

 

So, if reading the New Testament scriptures with filters, preconceptions, presuppositions and assumptions is insufficient, then what is needed? In asking this question, we are simply asking to know what we, as contemporary Christians, need to do as the first century Christians did in the New Testament, and what we do not need to doeven though the first century Christians did. This is, indeed, a reasonable question. Theologically, this question is put forward as: “In the New Testament scriptures,[19]what is ‘prescriptive’(we need to do it) and what is merely ‘descriptive’(we don’t have to do it[20])?” The answer to that question is not as simple as: “If it’s in the New Testament, you need to do it – that’s the ‘New Testament pattern’.”

 

Some believe that everything we read in the New Testament scriptures is what the Holy Spirit told the apostolic church to do. The assumption here is that the  apostolic church did everything the Holy Spirit told them to do. The reality is: What we read in the New Testament scriptures is simply what the apostolic church did. It remains to be discerned “Whythey did what they did?” In each instance, were they responding to a Holy Spirit commandor cultural custom?

A survey and study of the New Testament will reveal that some passages contradict other passages with regards to what the first century Christians were doing and what the apostles were writing.For example, some of what Paul wrote in his epistles contradicts what Christians – Jewish and Gentile – are found doing in the Acts of the Apostles. In fact, as I’ve pointed out in past essays, some of what we see Paul doing in Acts is contradicted by what he wrote in his epistles.[21]This obviously indicates that Christians were sometimes doing something other than what the Holy Spirit wanted. Consequently, we usually can find passages in the epistles where an apostle is writing to rectify those situations. Again, “prescriptive”is “what we need to do”, and “descriptive”is “what they did, but we don’t necessarily have to do it”.

When theologians interpret the New Testament scriptures through this “prescriptive – descriptive” lens, they must employ some doctrinal rules by which decisions can be made to determine “which is which”. I find it amazing how the resulting categorizations vary! But, here are some rules which make sense to me. They are ultimately imperfect and insufficient – the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is pre-requisite. Also, as I will discuss shortly, these rules “fall short of the glory” of Christ, who IS the New Testament Pattern.[22]

  • Firstly, we are utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit to give us the understanding of the scriptures He Himself inspired.[23]For this to happen, we must have a teachable spirit characterized by humility, and a desire for the “the mind of Christ” which chooses objectivity over our filters, our preconceptions, our presuppositions and our assumptions.
  • Our approach to the scriptures has two goals: The interpretation[24]of their meaning and their applicationfor our lives. What we are primarily concerned with in this essay is the question of application– what in the New Testament scriptures is “normative” for the church age? Even within the classic Evangelical-Pentecostal perspective, there can be agreement on interpretation yet variance on application. Again, this essay is dealing essentially with
  • The gospelswere written with the intention of being historical records – that is, records which are descriptiveof the life, ministry, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. However, these records also contain the teachings of Christ, which, of course, would be considered prescriptive. But it must be remembered that Jesus’audience was the Jewish people; and he spoke to them as people under the Old Covenant.[25]But He spoke to them as having “more authority” than the Old Testament Law[26], as One who was “raising the bar”, as it were, by introducing new inward requirements that bear on previously established commandments when He says: “You have heard that it was said, but I say to you ….”
  • The Acts of the Apostlesrecords a mixture of what pertained to the Jews under the Old Covenant and what pertained to the Gentiles included in the New Covenant. During the first century, there was, in fact, a time of transition, where aspects of both covenants were practiced.[27]
  • The Epistles, which were obviously written after the New Covenant was established, are “normative” for Christians throughout the church age.
  • The original intention of the writer is key for accurate interpretation and application of scripture.
  • Jesus’ Intention: Considering whether or not something Jesus said in the gospels is “normative”or “prescriptive”for Christians in the church age would require discerning Jesus’ intentionin the given passage, as to whether or not it “belongs” to the New Covenant. Of course, if we see that what Jesus said is also clearly “prescribed” by an apostolic writer in an epistle, then that also indicates it to be “normative”or “prescriptive”for Christians throughout the church age. The apostle Paul specifies that we Christians are not under the Old Covenant Law, but “under the law of Christ”[28], which is the teaching of Christ found in the gospels, where Jesus is revealed as the Living Word, the teleios[29]of the scriptures, the goal of the law and fulfillment of the law.[30]
  • Luke’s Intention: I am of the opinion that Luke made it clear in the opening lines of his gospel and The Acts of the Apostles that it was his intention to record history – not to prescribe doctrine.[31]So I think Acts should be taken as primarily “descriptive”rather than “prescriptive”.In stating this perspective, I am NOT implying that the supernatural displays of the Holy Spirit in The Acts of the Apostles are not “normative” for the church age. In my mind that is a separate issue from the “descriptive” / “prescriptive” paradigm. I am not a “cessationist” – I don’t believe anything about God has “ceased” – including His supernatural power. Being eternal, the Holy Spirit cannot be limited to Old Covenant and New Covenant theologies. It is His nature to be supernatural – He always was and always will be supernatural. And this supernatural power was displayed ON and THROUGH human beings in the Old Testament and IN and THROUGH human beings in the New Covenant. The “descriptive” / “prescriptive” paradigm falls short of the glory – which is Christ.  
  • The Apostles’ Intention: Lastly, we must correctly discern the intention of the apostles in their epistles in order to accurately interpret whether or not particular things they wrote were intended by the Holy Spirit to be “normative”or “prescribed” for Christians throughout the church age. Once again, I must add: I am NOT implying that any of the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in the epistles are merely “descriptive” of the first century church but later “ceased”. It is impossible to defend the “cessationist” theory with sound exegesis. The gifts of the Spirit are a separate issue from the “descriptive” / “prescriptive” paradigm. The Holy Spirit – “the Eternal Spirit”[32]– was poured out on the Day of Pentecost and the resurrected Christ “gave gifts to men” – to each “a measure of Christ’s gift”.[33]This is not only an aspect of the New Covenant, this is an aspect of “the riches of His grace and glory”[34]. The “descriptive” / “prescriptive” paradigm falls short of the glory – which is Christ. Yet, I must add: the glory of Christ is also not limited to the gifts of the Spirit and far exceeds supernatural power displays.

The ”Letter” Falls Short of the Glory of Christ

The following passage, 2 Corinthians 3:4-18, clearly contrasts the Old and the New Covenants. In this essay, I’d like to say a few things here about the phrase “of the Letter”. This will be in contrast to the phrase “of the Spirit”, which I plan to discuss in more detail in another essay – “The Holy Spirit & the New Covenant”.

4 “Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letterbut of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the gloryof his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with gloryFor if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory10 For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it11 For if that which fades away waswith glory, much more that which remains is inglory. 12 Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, 13 and arenot like Moses, who used to put a veilover his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veillies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spiritof the Lord is, there isliberty18 But we all, withunveiledface, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same imagefrom glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

To begin with, we must specify what Paul means by “the glory”. A few verses after this passage, Paul uses the phrases, “the glory of Christ who is the image of God”and “the Light of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ”.[35]Clearly, “the glory of the Lord” – the “out-shining” of God – is Jesus Christ.The manifestation of this gloryis the purpose of the New Covenant, and therefore why Christ must be the Pattern of the New Testament.

Paul used the phrase, “From glory to glory”. Indicating that both covenants had “glory”, he refers to going “from glory”(of the Old Covenant) ”to glory”(of the New Covenant)”. But, “indeed what had glory (the Old Covenant), in this case has no glory because of the glory (the New Covenant) that surpasses it. The revelation of Christ and the transformation into His image by the working of the Holy Spirit surpasses “the Letter of the Law”, making the glory of the Old Covenant pale and dead in comparison to the New Covenant.

To insist on operating according to “the Letter of the Law”, in effect, puts a veil over the glory of Christ. With the revelation of Christ, God has taken away the veil, but to insist on “the Letter of the Law” throws the veil over the glory of Christ.

The “Pattern” to be manifested in the New Covenant is “the glory of the Lord”, which is the image of Christ. The practice of “the elementary principles of the world” places a “veil” over the revelation of Christ, who is the New Testament Pattern.

Moses maintaining a veil over his face, is a picture of our self-effort to keep the glory of God. Self-effort was the vehicle in the Old Covenant. But in the New Covenant, the agent of transformation (into that glory) is not through our self-effort in keeping of “the letter” given by Moses in the Old Covenant, but through the Spirit given by Jesus in the New Covenant – that is, by beholding (through revelation) the image of Christ revealed by the Spirit and surrendering to the Spirit to be transformed into His image. The “Pattern” to be manifested in the New Covenant is “the glory of the Lord”, which is the image of Christ. The practice of “the elementary principles of the world” places a “veil” over the revelation of Christ, who is the New Testament Pattern.

The ”Descriptive”/”Prescriptive Paradigm is still nothing more than “the Letter”.

In this essay, I have been attempting to give a few examples of accurately and inaccurately discerning the intentions of the New Testament writers – that is, what was actually “normative”or “prescriptive”and what was not. But, I have to admit that the “descriptive” / “prescriptive” paradigm is not satisfying to me, as I see the whole idea of prescriptions of certain activities as being at the very core of “the elementary principles of the world”. Again, it is not the activities themselves which are problematic, it is the prescribing of those activities which I perceive as “of the Letter” and therefore violates the essence of the New Covenant by promoting a ministry “of the letter” rather than “of the Spirit” – “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”. I am more of the persuasion to say that whatever is descriptive of Christ is prescriptive. But those are thoughts and words for future essays. For now, let’s continue on with addressing two other activities which are conventionally considered “normative” for the church age – “Gathering together on the first day of the week”, which some understand to be “a worship service”, and “breaking of bread”, which some understand to be “the Lord’s Supper”.

Sacramental Sunday

Gathering together on the first day of the week

In the New Testament, there are only two mentions of “the first day of the week” in reference to what took place during the first century beginning with the Day of Pentecost – namely,Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.[36]Many Christians assume these two references describe– and also prescribe– “worship services” because “breaking of bread” and “the collection” are mentioned. In fact, these two scripture references seem to be the font from which springs the idea of the “Sunday morning worship service”, which itself also contains other worship practices. But is that idea accurate? Or is it just another example of a preconception, or presupposition or assumption?

Acts 20:7

Acts 20:7 tells us that Christians were indeed “gathered together on the first day of the week”. These were Christians in Troas. Please note that Luke does not say that the Christians in Troas also “took a collection” on the first day of the week. But, were all Christians in other places also “gathering together on the first day of the week”? We cannot say that based on the New Testament scriptures.

1 Corinthians 16:1-2

1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul told the Corinthians to “put aside and save[37], as he may prosper” “on the first day of the week”. Please note he did not mention whether or not the Corinthians “gatheredtogether on the first day of the week”. And Paul said that he had previously also given the same direction – to “put aside and save[38], as he may prosper” – to “the churches in Galatia”. Did he tell the churches in Galatia to do that on “the first day of the week”? We cannot say that based on the New Testament scriptures. In any case, as we discussed earlier, most likely what was being “put aside” was being put aside at home, not at a public gathering.[39]When was it that he had told “the churches in Galatia” to do this? On his first missionary journey between 47 and 48 A.D. This was 8 or 9 years before he had written the Letter to the Galatians warning against “the elementary principles of the world”.[40]My argument in this essay is that making such prescriptions are in accordance with “the elementary principles of the world”.

Hebrews 10:25

There is no scripture in the New Testament which indicates that Christians must “go to church”, so to speak. But, many Christians point to Hebrews 10:25 in connection with “gathering together on the first day of the week” for a “Sunday worship service”. The verse speaks of “gathering together”; but what is the nature of the “gathering together”? Let’s look at the context of the verse, the writer’s intention, and compare scripture with scripture for the meaning and application.

The verse says: “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some”. Nowhere in this verse, nor in the whole of the context, is “the first day of the week” mentioned. Neither is “worship” mentioned.

What is the writer’s intentionin Hebrews 10? The Letter to the Hebrews was written in 68 or 69 A.D., just prior to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. In response to the Jewish Revolt in 66 A.D., there was fierce persecution and intense suffering for the Hebrews under Nero.[41]Many were tempted to turn away from Christ and go back to Judaism just to escape the persecution and suffering. In verses 32 through 34, the writer reminds the Hebrews of how, “in the formers days, when, after being enlightened”, (they) enduredgreat conflict of sufferings”. He said they enduredso well “knowing (they) had a better possession and a lasting one”. Then in verses 35 and 36 he says: “ Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” In verse 37, the writer points to the goal: “He who is coming will come….” That is the writer’s intention– to strongly exhort the Hebrews not to fall away from Christ and go back to Judaism in order to escape persecution and suffering, but rather to ENDURE UNTIL THEY ARE GATHERED TOGETHER WITH CHRIST AT HIS COMING.

Let’s look at the immediate context – verses 23 through 25:

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hopewithout wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one anotherto love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own gathering together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the daydrawing near.”

“Our gathering together” has something to do with “our hope”. The apostle Paul wrote to Titus: “… looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.”[42] “Our hope”is the appearing (coming) of our Lord Jesus Christ. What the writer to the Hebrews wrote is remarkably similar to what the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christand our gathering together to Himthat you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed….”[43]Our hopeis the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him. The apostles are saying: “Between now and then, ‘do not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed’, ‘hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering’, ‘stimulate one another to love and good deeds,encourage one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.’” THAT is what the“gathering together”is all about. The writer to the Hebrews doesn’t want to see them also stop gathering – as some of those who had fallen away – because of Nero’s persecution. He doesn’t want to see them go backwards to Judaism, because of Nero’s persecution of Christians. He doesn’t want to see them forsake Christ before His coming, and thus lose their hope and their reward. No, he wants them to “gather together” in order to stimulate and encourage one another to hold fast the confession of our hope until the day of Christ’s coming and our gathering together with Him, because that is our promised hope and reward.

I’ll let the reader choose the better paraphrase:

“We are to continue ‘gathering together’ encouraging ourselves and others with our promised hope and reward until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him.”

Or –

“We are to ‘gather together’ because the scripture commands us to sing songs, say prayers, hear a sermon, and give money on Sunday mornings”.[44]

So, what do the New Testament scriptures tell us about Christians “gathering together on the first day of the week”? Arguing solely from the scriptures, we cannot make a case that it was “normative” or “prescribed” even in the first century. Therefore, we cannot make the assumption that the apostle Paul intended “gathering together on the first day of the week” to be “normative” or “prescriptive” for the church age. For various reasons, this is a minority opinion. But are those reasons valid? I don’t think they can be supported by scripture.

Historical Documents

The Didache

Some point to early historical writings to support the idea of “gathering together on the first day of the week”. In the Didache(“The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”), which was written between 80 and 90 A.D., the first line of the 14thchapter has been (mistakenly) translated: “On the Lord’s day, gather yourselves together and break bread ….”Citing this translation, some argue that Christians were “gathering together on the first day of the week”to “worship”during the first century, and somehow by extension, conclude that it is “normative”and “prescriptive”for the whole of the church age. Firstly, this is not inspired scripture, it is historical writing. Secondly, the word “day”(Greek: hemera) does not appear in the Greek text of this sentence in the Didache. The sentence would be more accurately translated: “According to the command of the Lord,[45]gather together and break bread….”The only scripture in the New Testament which contains the phrase, “On the Lord’s Day”or “On the day which belongs to the Lord”[46]is Revelation 1:10; and it too is a reference to the Sabbath (seventh day). Thirdly, “the first day of the week”is not even mentioned in the 14thchapter of the Didache. Now, it is true that later in history, Sunday came to be designated as the Lord’s Day. But in the first century, the Sabbath (the seventh day) was designated as “the day which belongs to the Lord”or “the Lord’s Day”. Jesus, Himself, confirms this in the gospels, when He declares, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”[47]Frank W. Hardy has written an excellent article on this subject. This is his conclusion on the matter: “Today, ‘Lord’s day’ means Sunday to a large majority of Christians. As early as the late second century it meant Sunday. From this does it follow that it ‘Lord’s day’ meant Sunday in the early second century and beyond that in the late first century? Such a conclusion goes beyond the evidence. The gospels are part of the documentary evidence bearing on this question. They must be allowed to have their input. When they do, it is clear that the ‘Lord’s day’in the earliest Christian decades was not the first day of the week, but the seventh (see Rev 1:10; Matt 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5). If this is the case, the change occurred later. When? …Appeals to early Christian practice fall short if they do not include the church’s earliest practice. But to answer the question, the change occurred for the most part during the late second century. In this Alexandria and Rome led the way.”[48]

The First Apology

We can read in Justin Martyr’s First Apology,written around 156 A.D.,[49]that Christians were gathering together on Sundayfor a meeting conducted much like a conventional contemporary “worship service”.[50]But, there is no historical evidence or biblical evidence that Christians “gathered on the first day of the week” during the first century. Of course, when the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., the gathering place was then limited to the synagogues and houses. The consensus of biblical scholarship is that after the apostolic period, Jewish Christians continued to “worship” on the Sabbath (7thday) in synagogues; and Gentile Christians “worshipped” on both the Sabbath (7thday) and “the first day of the week” in houses. In the 2ndcentury more and more dissent gradually arose among Gentile Christians about keeping Jewish customs, including the Sabbath (7thday).[51]The Edit of Constantine in 321 A.D. mandated Sunday as a legal “day of rest” – not “worship” per se. Never-the-less, this served to further solidify the separation of the two days of “worship” – Saturday and Sunday – as well as, the two religions – Judaism and Christianity.

Sacramentalism & the New Testament Scriptures

The Lord’s Supper & Breaking of Bread

Thus far in this essay, I’ve addressed

  • “gathering together on the first day of the week”
  • “a Body ministry meeting”
  • “the collection”
  • “breaking bread”

According to the conventional perspective (“the elementary principles of the world”), “gathering together on the first day of the week” gives rise to the idea of “a Sunday morning worship service” consisting of various religious activities including “the collection” and “the Lord’s Supper”.[52]It is specifically the ritual (or activity) of breaking breadin a public gathering which introduces the idea of “the Lord’s Supper”. “Sacramentalism” is based upon the conventional idea that Jesus instituted the “sacraments”of “Baptism” and “the Lord’s Supper”, and commanded the Church to practice these ‘sacraments” until His return. In Christendom, I think a commonly accepted definition of a “sacrament” is: A religious ceremony or ritual regarded as a physical and outward act or sign representing spiritual and inward reality.[53]Now, the various groups in Christendom do differ on as to whether that physical and outward sign represents an act of the Christian– that is, an act expressing an aspect of his faith, or an act of God– that is, a work of divine grace. Without going into very lengthy discussions of things which do not pertain to the focus of this essay, I will offer this example of the different views regarding “the Lord’s Supper” – very simply: Some practice “the Lord’s Supper” primarily as an act of faith– that is, in “remembering” and in “declaring His death”. And others practice “the Lord’s Supper” primarily as a means of receiving grace from God– that is, “by eating and drinking of the life of Christ”.

I would like to suggest that the very nature of a “sacrament”, being a physical and outward sign, puts it into the theological category of an Old Covenant type or shadow which symbolically represents Christ or an aspect of the work of Christ.[54]And as we have previously discussed, to continue in the practice of customs (types and shadows) in the Old Covenant which has been made “obsolete” by the establishment of the New Covenant[55], is to be operating under “the elementary principles of the world”, as the apostle Paul indicated.[56]

While the majority – not all, but the majority – of Christians believe that Christ “instituted” the “sacrament” of “the Lord’s Supper”,[57]in this essay, I would like to challenge that idea. I do this “with fear and trembling”[58], but also “trembling at His word”[59], so to speak. I would like to very briefly demonstrate from scripture that the conventional idea of “sacraments” may not be based in the New Testament scriptures.[60]

“Do this in remembrance of Me”

This is a key phrase connected with what has come to be called “the Lord’s Supper”. Jesus said it in Luke 22:19-22. (It doesn’t appear in the other gospel accounts.)  And Paul quoted it in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. I’m inclined to believe that Paul understood what Jesus meant when He said this, because he “received it from the Lord”. So, both Jesus and Paul meant the same thing by this phrase. Let’s see what they meant:

Luke 22

19 “And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”

Who said this? Jesus. Jesus was a Jew who was sent to the Jews.[61]Who did He say it to? His disciples, all of whom were Jews. Jesus is not speaking to Gentile Christians, as there were no Gentile Christians until after His Resurrection and Ascension.

What is the context? Jesus and His disciples are celebrating the Passover. This was not a common fellowship meal which the Jews referred to as “breaking bread”.[62]According to Leviticus 23, Jews were required to celebrate the feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover meal each year.[63]Jesus did not say how often this was to be done, as all Jews knew it was to be done yearly. So, the context is the celebration of the Jewish Passover meal.

Now let’s go on to the passage which Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 11

23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Although known as an “apostle to the Gentiles”, Paul was a devout Jew.[64]He never gave up reaching out to the Jews with the gospel of Christ.[65]And, he practiced all the Jewish customs for approximately 23 years after his conversion to Christ.[66]As a Jewish Christian, he taught that “Christ had been sacrificed as our Passover”, but also advocated the celebration of the Passover feast.[67]

It is important to note that the Corinthians he is writing this epistle to are all Jews.[68]He is writing to them about the shameful way they were celebrating the Passover. And, at this point he refers to the Passover meal as “the Lord’s Supper”.

1 Corinthians 11:17, 20-22

17 “But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.”

Please note that this is the first – and only – time the term, “the Lord’s Supper” is used in the New Testament scriptures. It is a term which only Paul used, and he is used it with reference to the Passover meal – not breaking of bread. Why can  I say that he is not referring to a common fellowship meal called “breaking bread”? Because of a number of reasons:

1) Paul clearly identified the occasion with the Passover meal which Jesus had celebrated with His disciples.[69]

2) In verse 20, Paul said they were gathering together for the purpose of celebrating “the Lord’s Supper”, yet, the way they were conducting it contradicted, denied, and went against the term.

3) In verse 22, when Paul exclaims, “What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink?”, does it not imply that this was a special occasion (the Passover) and not just a regular fellowship meal (“breaking bread”)? In verse 34, he writes, “If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment.” In other words: “If you are really that hungry, eat a meal at home, and then come and celebrate the Passover in a worthy manner.”

4) Don’t the warnings of harsh judgments in verses 27, 29-30 seem to be more commensurate to a consequence of conducting oneself in a manner unworthy of a special religious feast, rather than a common everyday fellowship meal?

1 Corinthians 11

27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.”

1 Corinthians 11:20-30 was written to Jewish Christians who were still celebrating the Jewish Passover in the first century. The notion that Christ instituted this as a “sacrament” to be practiced by Christians throughout the church age is a notion which is not based in the New Testament scriptures.

But, so it was that Christians from the second century and onward “gathered together on the first day of the week” for a “worship service”. This was contrary to scripture – namely, exhortations in the apostle Paul’s epistles, such as: Galatians 4:1-10, particularly v. 10: “You observe days and months and seasons and years.”, and Colossians 2:8, 16-23, particularly v. 16: “Therefore, no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day.”

The practice of “Communion” or “the Eucharist”[70], consisting of just a wafer of wheat and a sip of wine, cannot be equated with this Passover meal. And the “agape meal”, consisting of a meal and fellowship, which may or may not also incorporate “Communion”[71], also cannot be equated with this Passover. We are certainly free to “remember” and “declare” Jesus’ death and resurrection at any meal – anytime we “break bread” – anytime we have a meal and fellowship with other Christians “at table”[72]; but to “prescribe” or establish as “normative” these customs as a “sacrament” which must be practiced throughout the church age is another thing. Another thing which I would suggest is spiritually “harmful“. “Spiritually harmful”? How can I assert this?

What’s the Harm?

In his book, “Custom and Command”[73], Stan Firth’s stated purpose was this: “All I am trying to do in this book is to encourage dear friends in the unstructured churches that they are well within God’s framework in the way they are moving; and to re-assure dear friends in the ‘structured’ churches that those of us who have ‘gone unstructured’ have not gone off the rails, as they may have feared.” He also stated: “If you are a regular Sunday worshipper and an enthusiastic member of a local ‘structured’ fellowship, there is no reason why you should discontinue your custom, unless, of course, God were to bring a contrary conviction to you.”[74]While my main purpose has been to investigate the New Testament scriptures for answers to difficult questions I have had to ask myself, and to provide sound scriptural and theological reasons for myself and others for moving beyond humanly structured church life in search of an expression of New Covenant worship in Spirit and truth, I would say my purpose does go a bit beyond saying, “There is no harm done, if you want to continue in your conventional customs.”

A summary of the argument I have presented in this essay is this: The prescriptionthat Christians throughout the church age must  “gather together”, take a “collection”, and “break bread” “on the first day of the week” are primary examples of “the elementary principles of the world”[75]. If one is able to accept that statement, then one must also acknowledge that, by definition, “the elementary principles of the world” are tools of the “powers and principalities”[76], and are therefore adversarial to the will and purpose of God for His Church’s witness to His Kingdom.

Again, I want to be clear, it is not the activities themselves which are problematic, it is the prescribing of those activities as being “normative”, separated, set apart, specified, organized and programmed which violates the essence of the New Covenant by

  • ignoring the Holy Spirit
  • promoting a ministry “of the letter” rather than “of the Spirit”
  • and thus keeps Christians living under the shadow of the Old Covenant rather than the New Covenant which Jesus established with His death, burial and resurrection.

This is nothing less than idolatryin that we insist on putting humanly created things in the place that belongs only to God, and putting humanly organized things in the place of the life organism of the Holy Spirit. This contradicts the Word of God and grieves the Spirit of God. It is antichrist in that, in practice, it denies Jesus as the Author and Perfecter of the New Covenant. The most insidious thing is – we ask God to accept and bless these practices which actually arise from our fallen human nature and have been instigated by “world forces of darkness”[77].

New Testament Sacramentalism: Prescribing

special gatherings, in special places, at special times …

The idea of focusing on the presence and movement of God’s Spirit being relegated mainly to the “sanctuary” (holy place) and places which have been separated and set apart from everyday day life as designated places of “worship” is based squarely in the Old Covenant.

Scheduling specified times like feast days and Sundays and Wednesday evenings for programmed times of “worship” is also a practice based in the Old Covenant. In the New Covenant God is present and moving in the hearts and lives of His people every day, all day.

To say there are “special” places and times for the presence and moving of God’s Spirit clearly defies the New Covenant, replacing “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” with “special” religious activities. This human systematizing, ordering and programming of activities for the worship life of the church is one of the main examples of “the elementary principles of the world” which are instigated by “world forces of darkness” that are operating in the professing church. The idea that such services are “sanctified” simply because we are Christians gathering in the name of the Lord in places we have identified with His name is actually at the heart of the deception of these “world forces of darkness”. Am I implying that demonic beings are present in the “worship services” of the professing church? From my experience, I would say sometimes they are, and more often they’re not. Also from my experience, I know that, if He wants to, God is perfectly capable of “preparing a table before me in the presence of my enemies”[78]. But, that is not the point I am making about the instigation of these “elementary principles of the world”. The point is: How does God want to be worshiped in the New Covenant? New Covenant worship is not to be influenced by “world forces of darkness”, but through the agency of Jesus Christ.[79]“And coming to Him as to a living stone which … is choice and precious in the sight of God,  you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”[80]

If clearly understood, the implications of moving beyond separated, set apart, specified places and times and organized, programmed activities will be extremely radical– that is, a laying of the axe at the root[81]of these conventional worship praxes.

“The manifold wisdom of God –

made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities”

What’s the harm?If we continue practicing under the shadow of the Old Covenant, a veil remains over our hearts, and minds, and eyes:

“… for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains, it not being revealedthat it is done away with in Christ.”[82]

Jesus established the New Covenant more than 2000 years ago, yet, I believe, it has not yet been sufficiently manifest in and through us. Isn’t this exactly what the powers of darkness would want to hinder through keeping us in bondage to “the elementary principles of the world”. They know the Father and the Son covenanted something glorious by the Eternal Spirit, although the powers themselves do not understand the “the mystery which for the ages has been hidden in God (that) might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[83]

What is that “manifold wisdom”? It is a “… wisdomamong those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but God’s wisdomin a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written,

“Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,
And which have not entered the heart of man,
All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”[84]

The manifestation of this wisdom exceeds what we can think or imagine, but it can be revealed to us and through us by the Spirit[85],if we will come before the Lord and allow the Spirit to remove the veil.

 “A Change is Gonna Come”

Actually, it has already come – we just need to walk into it. Here is just one insight into walking in the New Covenant:

The writer to the Hebrews is distinguishing between Moses and Christ, between the tribe of Levi and the tribe of Judah, between the priesthood order of Levi and the priesthood order of Melchizedek, between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, and he writes of A CHANGE:

12 “For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of lawalso…. not on the basis of a law[86]of physical[87]requirement[88], but according to the power of an endless[89]life.”[90]

Allow me to offer a paraphrase based on some insights from W.E. Vine[91]: “When the priesthood is changed, of necessity the law changes also in this way … no longer on the basis of prescribing human prescriptions, but according to the power of the life of the Eternal One” – no longer “of the letter”, but “of the Spirit” – according to “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”.

In the next essay, I will be discussing more of what it means to have Christ as “the Pattern” for New Covenant worship in Spirit and Truth.

[1]i.e. originating in the world system, inspired by “world forces of darkness” (Ephesians 6:12), viz. “the elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:3, 9-10; Colossians 2:8 & 20).

[2]These are all activities which are pictured in the New Testament scriptures and practiced in the professing Church. But, there are some other conventional church activities which I will not be addressing although they are practiced by the professing Church, such as “bible studies”, “prayer meetings”, and “times of fellowship”. I won’t be discussing these per se because they are not found in the New Testament scriptures as being practiced in any separated, set apart, specified, organized and programmed way, and I am primarily limited my discussion to what is in the scriptures. However, I believe that what is said in this essay can be applied to these activities also.

[3]Ephesians 6:12

[4]Our English word, radical, comes from the Latin word, radix, which means root.

[5]Hebrews 10:25

[6]Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2

[7]In his commentary on this verse, John Gill, reminds us that the disciples were also fellowshipping with the apostles. The syntax in the Greek text has both the teaching and the fellowship referring back to the apostles. In fact, The Amplified Bibletranslates it as: “the instruction and fellowship of the apostles”.

[8]I believe Breaking of Bread is mistakenly equated with The Lord’s Supper. I will discuss this later in the essay. But, I do believe Breaking of Bread can be equated with everyday common fellowship meals, which is what seems to be indicated in Acts 2:46 and possibly 2 Peter 2:13 and Jude 1:12.

[9]Most Greek texts and English translations have the plural – “prayers”. These are formal prayers which would take place either in homes or daily in the temple at specified times.

[10]Ephesians 4:11-12

[11]And therefore, part of the worship, since “worship” is a life lived in surrender and service to God.

[12]Or “dispensationalism”. The theory that God intended that certain spiritual gifts and practices were to exist only in the first century and then pass away.  This theory is most often based on a poor exegesis of one verse of scripture, 1 Corinthians 13:10.

 

[13]Literally, “put by himself” (NASB reference).

[14]Literally, “put by himself” (NASB reference).

[15]Admittedly, there are two theories regarding the destination and dating of the Letter to the Galatians: To Southern Galatia in 49 A.D. or to Northern Galatia in 56/57 A.D.

[16]Literally, “put by himself” (NASB reference).

[17]Vincent’s Word Studies

[18]Robertson’s New Testament Word Pictures

[19]Another theological question is: “What is the relevance of the Old Testament Law in the life of Christians?” There are various views. Some of the main views are presented in the Zondervan Counterpoints book, “Five Views on Law and Gospel”, previously titled, “The Law, the Gospel, and the Modern Christian”.

[20]In the case of the “descriptive”, often there is nothing wrong in doing it; but sometimes there is – if it intrinsically contradicts the New Covenant. Whereas, with the “prescriptive, the principle is that it is in accord with the essence of the New Covenant.

[21]See essays # 4 – “Jewish Roots in Christianity”and # 5 –“Led by the Spirit”in this series, “A New & Living Way”: Investigating New Covenant Worship in Spirit & Truth”.

[22]This is the subject matter of the next essay.

[23]1 Corinthians 2:10-16

[24]It is not in the scope of this essay to discuss principles of interpretation. There are many good articles available about principles of sound biblical hermeneutics. Here are two: “Principles of Biblical Interpretation” by James Davis –  https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-6-principles-biblical-interpretationand “Hermeneutical Principles” by R.C. Sproul – https://www.monergism.com/hermeneutical-principles

[25]Matthew 15:24; 10:5-6

[26]Matthew 7:28-29

[27]See essays # 4 – “Jewish Roots in Christianity”and # 5 –“Led by the Spirit”in this series, “A New & Living Way”: Investigating New Covenant Worship in Spirit & Truth”.

[28]1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2.

[29]Greek, teleios, Strong’s # 5046: that which is perfect, complete, consummate

[30]Romans 110:4; Matthew 5:17.

[31]Luke 1:1-4 & Acts 1:1-2

[32]Hebrews 9:14

[33]Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Peter 4:10-11

[34]Ephesians 1:7, 3:8 & 16

[35]2 Corinthians 4:4 & 6; Cf. Colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:3

[36]Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2 & 9, Luke 24:1 and John 20:1 & 19 mention “the first day of the week”, but all have to do with the resurrection of Christ, which is not at issue here. And these passages do not mention anything about “gathering together for worship”. John 20:19 clearly says the reason the disciples had been staying together in the upper room was “for fear of the Jews”, not “for worship” per se.

[37]Literally, “put by himself” (NASB reference).

[38]Literally, “put by himself” (NASB reference).

[39]See pp. 14-16.

[40]Admittedly, there are two theories regarding the destination and dating of the Letter to the Galatians: To Southern Galatia in 49 A.D. or to Northern Galatia in 56/57 A.D.

[41]Cf. https://www.bible-history.com/nero/NEROThe_Jewish_Revolt.htm

 

[42]Titus 2:13

[43]2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

[44]An excellent article for further study of Hebrews 10:25: “What are We Not to Forsake?” by Peter Ditzel   https://www.wordofhisgrace.org/hebrews1025.pdf

 

[45]Greek: kata kuriaken de kuriou, meaning “according to the command of the Lord”.

[46]This is a different set of words: Greek: te kuriake hemera, meaning “on the Lord’s day”.

[47]Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5

[48]“The Lord’s Day in the Didache”(2010), Frank W. Hardy.

[49] Justin Martyr’s “First Apology”may be dated internally from the statement in chapter 6 that “Christ was born one hundred and fifty years ago under Cyrenius.” Since Cyrenius (the Greek form of the full name in Latin , Publius Sulpicius Quirinus) entered office in the year 6 A.D. according to first century Jewish historian, Josephus. So, the apology may be dated 156 A.D.

[50]Cf. “The Early Christians: A Sourcebook on the Witness of the Early Church”, by Eberhard Arnold, pp. 222-225 & 388-390.

[51]Cf. “The Lord’s Day in the Didache” (2010), Frank W. Hardy.

[52]Some groups have “the Lord’s Supper” weekly on a Sunday, and some have it monthly on a Sunday, always included in the “Sunday morning worship service”. (Many have “the Lord’s Supper” at special times in the “liturgical year”, as well.)

[53]As defined by the 16th-century Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker, the sacraments are said to be “visible signs of invisible grace”; similarly the Catechism of the 1662 version states that a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given to us, ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.”

[54]Colossians 2:17

[55]Hebrews 8:13

[56]Galatians 4:1-10; Colossians 2:8-23.

[57]The Salvation Army and The Society of Religious Friends (Quakers), as well as some non-denominational groups, do not practice “the Lord’s Supper” (nor “Baptism”).

[58]Philippians 2:12

[59]Isaiah 66:2

[60]The two “sacraments” commonly practiced in all of Christendom are “Baptism” and “the Lord’s Supper”. In this essay, I will discuss only “the Lord’s Supper”, as my theme is the worship praxes of the contemporary professing church. “The Lord’s Supper”, or “Communion”, or “the Eucharist” is conventionally practiced in Sunday morning worship services regularly either weekly or monthly. “Baptism” is conventionally only done once in a person’s life and is not seen as an activity to be repeated weekly or monthly in Sunday morning worship services. However, for excellent presentations of a “non-sacramental” view of Baptism, I would highly recommend: “The Papal and Hierarchical System Compared with the Religion of the New Testament”by Joseph John Gurney and “The Sacraments and the Bible”by Phil Layton.

[61]Matthew 15:24; Cf. Matthew 10:5-6.

[62]See my eBooklet, “Breaking Bread”, a complimentary copy of which can be obtained by emailing: AtChristsTable@gmail.com

[63]Matthew 26:1-2, 17-20, 26-29

[64]2 Corinthians 11:22; Acts 22:3; 23:6; 26:4; Romans 11:1; Philippians 3:5

[65]Acts 21:13

[66]Cf. Acts 21:21-24. Paul advocated and practiced the Jewish customs from 33 to 56 A.D. And then advocated against practicing the Old Testament customs, having come to identify them as “the elementary principles of the world”. See the 4thand 5thessays in this series, “Jewish Roots in Christianity” and “Led by the Spirit”.

[67]1 Corinthians 5:7-8. He wrote 1 Corinthians in 55 A.D. Just a year later, he wrote 2 Corinthians and Galatians. In these epistles, it is plain that he had come to see that keeping the letter of the Old Covenant law was bondage to “the elementary principles of the world”.

[68]1 Corinthians 10:1-2

[69]1 Corinthians 11:23-25 and Luke 22:19-20.

[70]This also may be referred to as “the Lord’s Supper” or “the Lord’s Table”, and is observed by almost all Protestant denominations and “non-denominational” churches either weekly or monthly.

[71]This is observed by most “Organic” or “House” churches weekly.

[72]Again, I recommend by eBooklet “Breaking Bread”. AtChristsTable@gmail.com

[73]Some of what I have done in this essay is similar to Firth’s approach in his book, “Custom & Command”, with “Descriptive” equating with “Custom”, and “Prescriptive” equating with “Command”.

[74]P. 22

[75]Galatians 4:1-10; Colossians 2:8-23.

[76]2 Corinthians 10:5; Ephesians 6:12

[77]Ephesians 6:12

[78]Psalm 23:5

[79]Hebrews 13:15. “Through Jesus … “ Greek: dia, Strong’s # 1223,  “A primary preposition denoting the channel of an act; through.”

[80]1 Peter 2:4-5

[81]Our English word, radical, comes from the Latin word, radix, which means root.

[82]2 Corinthians 3:14 Alternate reading, NASB.

[83]Ephesians 3:9-11

[84]1 Corinthians 2:6-9

[85]Cf. Ephesians 3:20-21

[86]The word translated “law” is (Greek) nomos, Strong’s # 3551, indicates “prescriptive usage”.

[87]The word translated “physical” is (Greek) sarkeekos, Strong’s # 4561, indicates also “temporal”.

[88]The word translated “requirement” is (Greek) entole, Strong’s # 1785, indicates an “authoritative prescription”.

[89]The word translated “endless” is (Greek) akatalutos, Strong’s # 179, indicates an “indestructaible, permanent”.

[90]Hebrews 7:12 & 16, Context: vv. 11-17.

[91]Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words

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“The Elementary Principles of the World ~ The Sacralization of the Secular”

A New & Living Way

A Collection of Essays

Investigating New Covenant Worship in Spirit & Truth

“The Elementary Principles of the World ~ Sacralization of the Secular”

© 2018

W.D. Furioso

Edited by Frances Furioso

ACT publications

At Christ’s Table

http://www.atchriststable.org/

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List of Essays 

  • “Now you are the Body of Christ”
  • Elemental Principles of Worship
  • Another Look at Worship
  • Jewish Roots in Christianity
  • Led by the Spirit
  • Elementary Principles of the World ~ Sacralization of the Spiritual
  • Elementary Principles of the World ~ Sacralization of the Secular
  • Elementary Principles of the World & the Worship Praxes of the Contemporary Professing Church
  • The New Covenant
  • Bodily Functions in Spirit
  • Bodily Functions in Truth

Sacralization of the Secular 

TABLE OF CONTENTS 

Sacralization of the Secular             4 

A Review                                                   8 

“Technique”                                          18 

Postscript                                                25

 

Sacralization of the Secular

When we Christians view the world, one of the things we see is the secularization of the spiritual. That is to say: “Secular Materialism”[1], the majority worldview in western societies, has relentlessly sought to eliminate the spiritual from life. The idea that all that exists can be explained in solely physical terms and natural causes. Secularists have written much towards this end; and Christians have written much bemoaning the fact that the Biblical worldview has lost ground in recent times.

Secular Materialism not only created a “spiritual vacuum” by displacing the spiritual in life, its agenda progressed forward by placing the secular in those places which had belonged to the spiritual. It has made the secular the “new spiritual”. It has sacralized the secular. Paul’s words couldn’t be more appropriate: “Professing to be wise, they became fools…. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature  rather than the Creator….”[2]I think the most useful question we could ask about this phenomenon is this: “What is the cause of such idolatry?” The answer would be this: Fallen Humanity has a propensity for self-aggrandizement – AND – there exist “world forces of darkness” and “spiritual forces of wickedness” which exploit that propensity.

Now, we have been speaking of fallen Humanity – society at large. What if we observe the same phenomenon within that which professes to be the household of God? How can such idolatry exist in the professing church? The answer is the same: The professing church has a propensity for self-aggrandizement – AND – “world forces of darkness” and “spiritual forces of wickedness” are at work in the midst of professing churches to exploit that propensity. Thus, we see that the professing church has adopted some of the gods of Secular Materialism and enshrined them in the worship of the church, thus sacralizing the secular.

Many Christians have recognized this and have proposed “bindingthe powers and principalities”. When Jesus spoke about “binding”, He was referring to “forbidding what is already forbidden in heaven”.[3]But, Christians cannot forbid what they themselves have willed to employin their worship practices. I use the word “employ” advisedly, as I dare say that much of the budget of conventional local churches literally does go to “employ” people and programs which (I hope to convince you) are “the elementary principles of the world”, the very tools of the powers and principalities.

As I have pointed out, the “Sacralization of the Secular” has led to a form of idolatry –an idolatry of human organization. And, this same idolatry has invaded the professing Church. In this essay, I am suggesting that this phenomenon of the sacralization of secular – in both society at large and in the professing church – is clearly described in the various writings of Jacques Ellul (although he doesn’t use any of the labels I have used). I am specifically referring to his concept of “technique”. I am also proposing that the concept he labels, “technique”, equates with “the elementary principles of the world”. So, I think somewhat investigating Ellul’s concept of “technique” will benefit our investigation of “the elementary principles of the world”.

I believe that we will see that the practice and pursuit of “technique” has resulted in the Secularization of the Secular and the Idolatry of Human Organization. The adoption of “technique” in worship practices has resulted in the Sacralization of the Secular – that is, the professing church has come under the trance of “the elementary principles of the world”.

All of this has resulted in, not an unveiling, but a “re-veiling” of the New Covenant. The New Covenant was established 2000 years ago by Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. But while some Christians have appropriated this for personal salvation, by and large, the “powers and principalities” have succeeded in blinding and binding the Christians as a collective in appropriating the New Covenant in worship – that is, living a life of surrender and service according to “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”.

I think it would be helpful at this point to review of what we have discussed in previous essays regarding “The Powers”, “The Elementary Principles of the World”, and “Worship Praxes”.

A Review

“The Powers”

As I stated in the previous essay, “The Elementary Principles of the World: The Sacralization of the Spiritual”, scholars hold various views with regards to the identification of “the powers”. Some see them as impersonal systemic forces for good or evil existing in the realm of human society, yet having a kind of spiritual existence given to them by fallen humanity – not beings, per se, but in some way, socio-politico-economic forces. Others, like myself, understand them to be distinct spiritual beings over human society, fallen from their original estate of serving the purpose of God, now both adversarial towards God and oppressive towards humanity – spiritual beings and forces at work in and through human socio-politico-economic systems.

But, it is not the purpose of these essays to fully discuss the definition of “powers and principalities” – I have done that in another series entitled, “The Cross & The Powers of Darkness”, as well as in the previous essay in this series, “The Elementary Principles of the World: Sacralization of the Spiritual”(p. 10).[4]The purpose of this essay is to further our identification of the elementary principles of the world. Suffice for our present purpose to say: The elementary principles of the world are unquestionably related to the powers and principalities, but are not one and the same. My view is thatthe elementary principles of the worldare the “tools” of the powers and principalities.

“The Elementary Principles of the World”

In the previous essay, I offered two definitions of the elementary principles of the world: A scriptural definition: “strongholds (consisting of) sophisticated arguments and exalted opinions raised up in disobedience against the true knowledge of God”[5];anda working definition: The “elementary principles of the world” are religious principles apart from or outside of Christ.[6]     

It is not in the scope of these essays to discuss the operation of  “the elementary principles of the world” in the socio-politico-economic realm. I am specifically dealing with the manifestation of these “elementary principles of the world” in the worship practices of the professing church. Having said that, the interconnection between the two spheres cannot be denied, because, whether in society at large or in the professing church, the common origin of these “elementary principles” is the same – namely, the world. But with regards to their manifestations in the professing church, when employed in worship practices, there is an inevitable tendency to make the observance of these external praxes[7]the means of expressing spirituality and they become the primary focus of the Christian life.

“Worship Praxes”

I’d also like to recap what we have already discussed regarding “the elementary principles of the world” operational in the worship practices of the professing church throughout its history. To begin, I will share an excerpt from Wolfgang Simson’s book, “Houses that Change the World”:

“I trace today’s Christian worship patterns back to the Jewish synagogue. The synagogue was a Jewish survival structure invented in a corrective facility called Babylon, motivated by religious and nationalistic selfpreservation. It was never born out of a direct command of God that said, “Build synagogues!” The synagogue was a symbol of national defiance and rebellion against God. Prayer replaced the temple sacrifices and religious rituals became the center of Jewishness. The synagogue gave the Jewish nation a religious toy, a smokescreen that allowed them to convince themselves of their own piety, while they essentially remained disobedient to God’s laws, statutes and decrees. The liturgy in a synagogue had five elements: a call to worship, singing, reading of a portion of scripture, a sermon, blessings and farewell. Think of it! Does this structure sound familiar? It is, because this has become the pattern of “worship” in most Christian churches today. And who, other than the very enemy of God, would have an interest in installing a faulty operating system into the bones and marrows of all those that wish to follow Christ? Is it a coincidence that Christ himself mentions the “Synagogue of Satan,” of those that say they are Jews, but are not, as a mysterious player in the apocalyptic scenario (Revelation 2:9 and 3:9)?”

I’d like to say two things regarding what Simson had to say in this quote about “the Synagogue Church”: 1) This specific quote is not meant to be in reference to the house churches Simson is promoting in his book – just the opposite. 2) While I agree with what Simson says in this quote, and agree with much of what he has to say in his book – and agree with much of what “Organic” church and “House” church spokesmen have to say – I do not agree with the perception (assumption) that the New Testament church was totally different from the synagogue: I would venture to say that almost all “Organic” church and “House” church spokesmen would say that the churches from the time of Constantine up to the present are based on the synagogue model, and we need to return to the New Testament model. I would agree with this, except that I see the synagogue model also in use in the New Testament church, particularly in the Book of Acts. Therefore, according to my perspective, the full expression of the New Covenant in and through church is not seen in the New Testament, but remains yet to be expressed by the Church Jesus is building.

In previous essays, I have discussed in detail how the first century church continued to practice Old Testament rituals, customs and traditions, mixing these with the New Covenant. I’m referring to attendance at synagogue and the temple, keeping the Sabbath and the various Jewish feasts (sacred days and times), as well as, taking various vows, etc. This was true of BOTH Jewish and Gentile Christians. There is nothing in the New Testament that clearly indicates that Peter, James and John, nor any Jewish Christians stopped keeping the Mosaic Law in the first century. Personally, when in the Didache[8]the rituals associated with first century baptisms and eucharist services, I see an order and tradition not unlike that of the Jewish synagogue or traditional Christian churches throughout history.[9]Church historians agree that Judaism and Christianity did not become completely separate entities until the time of Constantine in 312 A.D.

While it is true that in 48 A.D. (15 years after Jesus ascended) the apostles told the Gentile Christians to “abstain from things contaminated by idols”[10](concerning which Paul had a lenient view)[11], it is also true that the apostles did not discouraged them from being circumcised – the apostles did not requirecircumcision of Gentiles, but neither did they discourage circumcision.[12]In fact, the apostles did not discourage the Gentiles from keeping any of the other Old Testament laws –  at least, not until 56 A.D. that is, when Paul wrote his Letter to the Galatians (23 years after Jesus ascended).[13]

Because of his Jewish heritage,[14]even the apostle Paul practiced the Old Testament laws for a few decades after his conversion to Christ. This is clearly documented throughout the Book of Acts.[15]However, this ritualism was later clearly denounced by Paul in his epistles – particularly in Galatians and Colossians, somewhat in 2 Corinthians, Romans, and Philippians, as well as by the writer to the Hebrews. These epistles were written 23 – 25 years after Christ’s ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.[16]In these letters, Paul most certainly did warn against these practices, but, contrary to the assertions of almost all “organic church” and “house church” spokesmen, it is merely an assumption to think that all the first century churches embraced and obeyed Paul’s teaching and operated totally free of the aforementioned ritualistic influence of “the elementary principles of the world”. For evidence of Old Testament worship practices continuing in the first century church, I refer you to the following articles: When Did the Disciples of Jesus Stop Observing the Old Testament Laws and How the Apostles Were Expelled from Christianity by Ron Ammundsen, Worship in the Early Churchby Sue Bracefield, A History of Christian Artby Bernard Dick, and the following books: Worship in the Early Church by Ralph P. Martin and In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity by Oskar Skarsaune.

I have also previously mentioned that church historians verify that these practices continued on into the Patristic Period. And for the Gentile Christians, these Old Testament practices morphed into Christian rituals, customs and traditions, including the addition of other “man-made” worship practices like the setting apart of Sunday as the day of gathering for “worship”, the establishment of certain “feast days” with prescribed services, set times for prayer, nascent “orders of worship”, recitation of set prayers and hymns, and the creation of a vocabulary of Christian symbols . For evidences of this, I refer you to The Early Christians: A Sourcebook on the Witness of the Early Church byEberhard Arnold, and The First Rites: Worship in the Early Churchby Kenneth Stevenson.

When we come to the Catholic and Orthodox periods, it becomes appropriate to add the label “liturgies” to these “man-made” rituals, customs and traditions. And as church history progressed, more and different “man-made” worship practices emerged in the various Protestant traditions as well, like the concept of “sacred space”, established “Orders of Worship”, the “Common Lectionary” and the “Liturgical Calendar”, and “Sacramentalism”, et. al. It should be noted that, on the one hand, these practices reflected various aspects of a given culture at given times in history, thus being “contemporary” in their time. But on the other hand, at times there were also “retrograde movements” dedicated to recapturing and restoring the worship practices of earliertimes. Very recent examples of the latter are the so-called Ancient-Futuremovement[17]and the Hebraic Rootsmovement[18], which are both very much in vogue at the present time.

Hopefully, in these essays, I have been able to make plain that a direct connection exists between “the elementary principles of the world” and these said “man-made” worship practices of the “New Testament Church” – from the first century on through church history, and up through today. For evidence of the theological promotion and applied practice of these “man-made” worship practices in the churches of our day I refer you to the writings of Robert E. Webber[19], Thomas Howard[20]and Mark Galli[21], along with a number of important articles which were published in opposition to this negative spiritual phenomenon.[22]

In using the adjective, “man-made”, I DO mean that these practices are of human devising. But, I also must add that I believe the inspiration, or muse if you will, of these formulations come from powers and principalities playing upon the fallen human nature. This perspective will be discussed in this essay.

The term, “praxes” is the plural of “praxis”. The noun praxis comes from the Latin and Greek words of the same spelling, based on the Greek word prattein, which means “to do”. Praxes are established customs and practices.[23]In previous essays, I have been labeling these praxes with terms like “sacralization”, “ritualism”, “objectification”, “sacramentalism” and “symbolism”.  These terms, along with the words “customs”, “traditions” and “rituals”, probably carry connotations which associate them with religious practices only in the past. But in this essay, I hope to convince the reader that these external praxes are also present in worship practices today. And, in referring to modern-day practices, we may better refer to them using words like “methodologies”, “procedures”, “routines”, etc. Or, we may use a term coined by Jacques Ellul: “technique”.

Technique”

Jacques Ellul

I would like to propose that starting even in the first century, and then continuing throughout all church history, the professing church has chosen to employ human organizationrather than looking to the life organism of the Holy Spirit. And in modern times this propensity for human organization has reached a point of what could be called an idolatrous obsessionwith methodologies, procedures, and routines which have been adopted from the world system. Today, we not only have “the elementary principles of the world” at work in the professing church through the “Ancient-Future” movement and the “Hebraic Roots” movement, but also through a plethora of methodologies, procedures androutinesemployed in church ministry and mission.

I would like to propose further that, from a spiritual perspective, the source of these methodologies, procedures, and routines are none other than “the elementary principles of the world”, the very tools of the powers and principalities. I am convinced that this is the major blockage in the flow of the Spirit’s life through the Body of Christ and the manifestation of the New Covenant.

I believe a discussion on the basics of Jacques Ellul’s term, “technique”,[24]would help to identify the professing church’s obsession with human organizationmethodologies, procedures, and routines. Ellul’s term, “technique”, is just one way of labeling this phenomenon. In his writing, Ellul did make reference to the “powers and principalities”; but to my knowledge, he did not specifically refer to “the elementary principles of the world”.[25]Still, I believe his thoughts are an insightful peek into these things. So, I will be briefly discussing Ellul’s concept of “technique” and connecting it with the “humanly structured” worship practices of the professing church.

“The Society of Efficient Techniques”

In 1964, Ellul’s seminal work was released in the USA under the title, “The Technological Society”. The book was translated from the French, and the title was an adaptation of another title in French. Possibly a more descriptive title in English would have been, “The Society of Efficient Techniques”. On page xxv of his book, this is how Ellul defines his term, “technique”: “Technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.”

The equivalent in contemporary terms might be the term, “Best Practices”, which Technopediadefines in this way: “Agreement that standardizes the most efficient and effective way to accomplish a desired outcome. A best practicegenerally consists of a technique, method, or process. The concept implies that if an organization follows best practices, a delivered outcome with minimal problems or complications will be ensured.”[26]

“Technique” is the standardized means for attaining predetermined results. It is a fascination with resultswhich esteems “know-how” as the ultimate value. On page 79 of his book, Ellul states: “Technique has only one principle, efficient ordering.” Ellul argues that efficiency is no longer an option but a necessity imposed on all human activity.

Let’s summarize the concept of “technique” with the phrase “technological expertise”. And, let’s introduce another term – “technocracy”, which can be defined as governance by technocrats managing society according to trusted methodologies. I believe it would be accurate to say that Ellul’s term, “technique”, equates with the term, “technocracy”, as he sees “technique”as having a managing, controlling, and governing character and power.

To make the assumption that Ellul is disparaging “technology” in a typically Luddite[27]manner, would be to largely misunderstand him and miss the essential point of what he has to offer. What Ellul means by “technique”is more about the nature of “technocracy”, that is, asking the question whysociety increasing desires to have “technique” govern every area of life– health care, education, entertainment, religion, etc. The key word is “why”. The fact that “technique” doesgovern every area of modern life, I think, should be obvious. What is of interest – and importance – is “why”. My answer: We desire to be governed by what we trust. And we will serve (i.e. worship)[28]what we trustto govern our lives. Now, “why”fallen Humanity serves (worships) “technique” is fairly obvious: In the beginning, Humanity made the choice to live independently of the Creator. Being independent of God, it is therefore utterly dependent upon its own ingenuity and ability for governance. Without God, it has no other option – no other “source” in which to place its trust. Therefore, it will naturally serve (worship) its own ingenuity and ability (technique). What is not so obvious is “why”the professing church has come to trust and serve (worship) “technique”.

Vernard Eller

Vernard Eller, an authority on Jacques Ellul, wrote a piece, entitled “Technique or Kindly Light”which was published by House Church Central.[29]In this piece he references Jacques Ellul and his term, “technique”.

In his essay, which cites the old hymn and poem, “Lead, Kindly Light”[30], Eller contrasts the two very different approaches for the Church: either employing “technique”or following the “Kindly Light”. Eller equates “following the Kindly Light” with being led by the Holy Spirit, which is the essence of the New Covenant. Here are a few quotes which I think may be helpful:

“By “technique” he (Jacques Ellul) intends the pervasive modern mindset that gives primal value to the human skills of “problem-solving” – that is, our quite impressive ability in setting goals, reducing them to manageable objectives, and then devising the most efficient steps and methods for getting things into the shape we have in mind for them.”

“And in our day, the practice of technique-efficiency is the only ‘doing’ worth doing at all – just as ‘problem solving’ is the only ‘doing’ that has any significance at all. You haven’t done anything if it doesn’t show ‘results’ in terms of measurable objectives. Ellul observes that, with us, technique has become totalitarian – that is, we take it as being the only means for solving whatever problem we face.”

Concerning the term “programming”: “(This) is perhaps the prime requisite and ultimate symbol of TECHNIQUE.”

Concerning the phrase “congregational renewal”: “ … a wording as completely indigenous to technique-efficiency as it is foreign to anything the New Testament ever talks about. And from the biblical standpoint, I would argue that whatever our comprehensive strategy might produce, it could be nothing scripture would recognize as “congregational renewal.” That one either happens by the Spirt of God or it doesn’t happen at all. And the Spirit of God is perhaps the last thing in the world that will conform itself to human technique.”

“Ellul speaks mainly of the totalitarianism of technique-efficiency in the world; my concern here is with how it has taken over the church… (as body of Christ) where human technique must be firmly prevented from displacing the primacy of God’s will and way for his people. In those things in which our call is to be faithful, it is idolatrous for us to bow down before technique-efficiency out of our love of success.”

Postscript

I trust that the reader has begun to see that the “techniques” taken in hand by Ellul and Eller, as well as, the various human philosophies upon which the “techniques” are based, are present-day examples of “the elementary principles of the world” which the apostle Paul referred to in his epistles. In these essays, I have discussed in considerable detail examples of “the elementary principles of the world” as they were manifested in the worship practices of the first century church. And I have made mention of the fact that, by morphing from Jewish to Christian in fashion, these religious, but worldly, practices have continued throughout all of the history of the Church into the present. I have intentionally moved slowly, attempting to build a case – “line upon line, precept upon precept”, as it were, with care to support the argument with scriptural and historical facts.

The main goal of these essays is to investigate New Covenant Worship in Spirit and Truth. The secondary goal is to uncover “the elementary principles of the world” in worship practices, not so much in church history, but more so in the contemporary professing church – including most “Organic” and “House” churches.  I have come to see that most of the worship practices of the contemporary professing church are fashioned according to “the elementary principles of the world”. In fact, our worship practices are actually built upon “the elementary principles of the world”. And so, here at the end of this particular essay, I would like to make a list of the specific contemporary worship practicesI am referring to. These are separated, set apart, specified places and times and activities for what we have called “worship”:

  • Separating, setting apart & specifying PLACES for “worship”
  • Separating, setting apart & specifying TIMES for “worship”
  • Separating, setting apart & specifying PLACES & TIMES for
    • “A Worship Service”
    • “The Lord’s Supper”
    • “The Collection”
    • “A Bible Study”
    • “Fellowship”
    • “A Prayer Meeting”
    • “The Assembling of Yourselves Together”
    • “Each One to have a Psalm, a Teaching, a Revelation, a Tongue, an Interpretation”

Please understand that I am not saying that there is anything wrong with any of these activities, but rather our perspective regarding their being separated, set apart and specified. For in so doing, we are operating according to “the elementary principles of the world”, ignoring the Holy Spirit; and therefore, are living under the shadow of the Old Covenant and failing to manifest the New Covenant which Jesus has already established with His death, burial and resurrection.

This is idolatryin that we insist on putting humanly created things in the place that belongs only to God, and putting humanly organized things in the place of the life organism of the Holy Spirit. This contradicts the Word of God and grieves the Spirit of God. It is antichrist in that it, in practice, denies Jesus as the Author and Perfecter of the New Covenant. The insidious thing is we ask God to accept and bless these practices which actually arise from our fallen human nature and have been instigated by “world forces of darkness”[31].

If clearly understood, the implications of moving beyond separated, set apart, specified places and times and activities will be extremely radical– that is, a laying of the axe at the root[32]of these worship practices. What I am indicating can be very easily misunderstood and therefore off-handedly rejected. So, I would like to make an appeal to the reader to find within himself or herself the desire to study the New Testament scriptures objectively for what they actually do and do not say, being willing to let go of certain assumptions and cherished conventions. Please read my next essay where I will attempt to “make an explanation”[33]for these things by looking at them in light of:

  • What is “descriptive” and what is “prescriptive” in the New Testament scriptures.
  • What is “of the Letter” and what is “of the Spirit”.
  • What is means to say that the New Testament Pattern is Jesus.

[1]Or “Naturalism”

[2]Romans 1:18-25, Cf. vv. 22 & 25.

[3]Matthew 16:19; 18:18. The syntax of the Greek text makes the meaning clear: “Whatever thou mayest bind upon the earth shall be having been bound in the heavens, and whatever thou mayest loose upon the earth shall be having been loosed in the heavens”. (Young’s Literal Translation). Amplified Bible: “Whatever you bind [forbid, declare to be improper and unlawful] on earth will have [already] been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose [permit, declare lawful] on earth will have [already] been loosed in heaven.”

[4]A complimentary .pdf or print copy of “The Cross & The Powers of Darkness”, as well as, any of the essays in this series, can be obtained by emailing: AtChristsTable@gmail.com

[5]This is my translation of 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 drawn from James Strong’s Dictionary of Greek Words. The Greek word, logismos (Strong’s # 3053), can also be translated “imaginations”; but, “reasonings” would be more accurate. Both are figurative. The more literal translation of the word would be “computations”, as the root word, logizomai (Strong’s # 3049), means “to take an account of” or “to take an inventory of”.

[6]My phrase, “apart from or outside of Christ” will probably need more detailed definition in each given instance, but it will always mean that which detracts from or undermines authentic Christ-centeredness and preeminence. Colossians 1:18.

[7]i.e. customs, traditions, methods, procedures, routines, rituals.

[8]An anonymous first-century treatise also known as “The teaching of the Twelve Apostles”.

[9]I am aware of the emphasis the “Organic” and “House” church spokesmen place on 1 Corinthians 14:26 which seems to indicate the opposite, and plan to address that in these essays.

[10]Acts 15:20 & 29

[11]1 Corinthians 8:1-13 & 10:23-30; Cf. Romans 14:1-23.

[12]Cf. Acts 15:19-21, 28-29

[13]There are two major theories on the destination and dating of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians – the South Galatia Theory with earlier dating, and the North Galatia Theory with later dating. I subscribe to the latter.

[14]Acts 22:3 & 26:5; Philippians 3:5-6

[15]See “Jewish Roots in Christianity”, essay # 4 in this series.

[16]See “Led By the Spirit”, essay # 5 in this series.

[17]Cf. https://www.ancientfuturefaithnetwork.org

[18]Cf.  https://www.gotquestions.org/Hebrew-roots.html

[19]“Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals are Attracted to the Liturgical Church”, “Common Roots”, as well as the whole of his “Ancient-Future” series of books.

[20]“Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament”.

[21]“Beyond Bells and Smells”, and “Ancient-Future People”, an article in Christianity Today (February 2008).

[22]“Ancient-Future Heresies” by T.A. McMahon, The Berean Call(February 28, 2008); “ Why We Should be Wary of Adding Extrabiblical Rituals to our Worship” by Philippe Sterling, originally published as “Return to Ritual, Part 2”,Grace in Focus (Jan/Feb 2010); “From Ritualism to a Personal Relationship with God” by Gary DeLashmutt (www.Xenos.org)

[23]https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/praxis

[24]

[25]It should be noted that Ellul’s understanding of “the powers” at some point changed from seeing them as actual spiritual entities in and of themselves to later referring to them as a more “impersonal” type of spiritual forces which were empowered, not in and of themselves, but were rather given this power by human societies and cultures. Yet, I believe that Ellul attributed sin, the fallen state of Humanity, to be at the root of this human condition. While, unlike Ellul, I DO understand the powers to be actual spiritual entities working in and through the world system and human organizations, I still find Ellul’s observations on “technique” insightful and worthwhile for this study.

[26]https://www.techopedia.com/definition/14269/best-practiceThat is the goal of all human organization – to help prevent problems, and when problems do arise, to eliminate them in the most efficient way.

[27]Technopediagives the modern definition of a “Luddite” to be a term “used to describe a person who is afraid of using modern technology and avoids it as much as possible, commonly because it is seen as an invasion of privacy.”https://www.techopedia.com/definition/14456/luddite

[28]My working definition of “worship”, combining both Greek words, proskueneoand latreia, is: A life lived in surrender and service.

[29]http://www.hccentral.com/eller1/technique.html

[30]Lead, Kindly Light is a hymn with words written in 1833 by John Henry Newman as a poem entitled “The Pillar and the Cloud”.

[31]Ephesians 6:12

[32]Our English word, radical, comes from the Latin word, radix, which means root.

[33]1 Peter 3:15, an apologia, Strong’s # 627.

“The Elementary Principles of the World”: The Sacralization of the Spiritual

 

“The Elementary Principles of the World”: Sacralization of the Spiritual is the 6th essay in a series of essays entitled

“A New & Living Way”: Investigating New Covenant Worship in Spirit & Truth

© 2018

W.D. Furioso

Edited by Frances Furioso

ACT publications

At Christ’s Table

http://www.atchriststable.org/

Please feel free to share, reproduce and distribute this message in digital or print format.

Please reference any quotes and excerpts with the above information. 

A New & Living Way

List of Essays

  1. “Now you are the Body of Christ”
  2. Elemental Principles of Worship
  3. Another Look at Worship
  4. Jewish Roots in Christianity
  5. Led by the Spirit
  6. Elementary Principles of the World – Sacralization of the Spiritual
  7. Elementary Principles of the World – Sacralization of the Secular
  8. The New Covenant
  9. Bodily Functions In Spirit
  10. Bodily Functions In Truth

“Elementary Principles of the World”: Sacralization of the Spiritual

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Introduction                                                              
  • Galatians 4:1-11                                                        
  • Colossians 2:8-23                                                      
  • “Of the World”                                                          
  • Stoicheia                                                                     
  • “The Elementary Principles of the World”      
  • Sacralization of the Spiritual                               
  • Sacralization of Christianity                                
  • Postscript                                                                   

 Introduction

In the last essay, we traced Paul’s spiritual transformation from his Jewish Roots under the shadow of the Old Covenant, beyond“the elementary principles of the world”, and into “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” of the New Covenant. Before we continue on intoPaul’s thoughts on the nature of New Covenant worship in spirit and truth, I would like to devotethisessay to dealing more completely with the nature of “the elementary principles of the world”(ta stoicheia tou kosmou). We will look into the meaning of the Greek word, stoicheia;review the passages of scriptures in which Paul uses the term “elementary principles of the world”; reference the major interpretations of the term; state what seems to be the most consistently accurate meaning of the term; and discuss sacralization of Christianity which has given rise to the various manifestations these “elementary principles of the world” in the worship of the Church throughout its history and into the present.

 

Galatians 4:1-11

1Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, 2but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. 3So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. 4But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. 8However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. 9But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 10You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.

Colossians 2:8-23

8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. 16Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. 20If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,21“Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22(which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

“Of the World”

The Greek word, “stroicheia” has been translated using various English words such as “elementary principles” (NASB), “basic principles” (NKJV), “rudiments” (KJV), “elemental spirits” (EVS & NRSV), “elemental forces” (HCSB), “elemental spiritual forces” (NIV), et al. Personally, I prefer the term “elementary principles”. But before we delve into exactly what these “principles” are, it would be beneficial to take note of their context, or better, their nature: they are “of the world”, not of the Holy Spirit, but “of the world”. Jesus specified that the world is evil by nature, and therefore the world hates Him and His disciples.[1]He also noted that the world is beset with spiritual snares for God’s children.[2]The apostle James explains that the world is a hostile enemy of God[3]; and that the “wisdom” it offers is “earthly, natural and demonic”.[4]The apostle Paul teaches that “the course of this world operates according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience”[5]; and that through these “elemental principles” the world holds people in bondage[6]; therefore we “wrestle”[7]and are at “war”[8]with these things.[9]

To correctly understand the apostolic perspective, particularly Paul’s, one must be aware that there are “tools” employed by powers and principalities “behind” the idea of “sacred” times, places and things. These are the spiritual forces which Paul identified as adversaries in apostolic warfare. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, he refers to them as “speculations” (NASB) or “imaginations” (KJV)[10]and “proud obstacles (RSV) or “pretentions” (NIV)[11]. It bears repeating: There are “tools” employed by powers and principalities “behind” the idea of “sacred” times, places and things. Of course, it is quite likely the reader is hesitant to accept that as being true. It is the purpose of this essay to demonstrate the veracity of this statement.

I am proposing that “the elementary principles of the world” are “tools’ used by the “principalities”, “powers”, “world-forces of darkness”, and “spiritual forces of wickedness” referred to in Ephesians 6:12. Perhaps by their association with these entities we can learn a little more about the nature of these “elementary principles” which they use as their “tools”. So, let’s take a closer look at:

  • “principalities”:The Greek word translated “principalities” is arche[12], meaning “the first in command” in the world system.
  • “powers”:The Greek word translated as “powers” is exousia[13], meaning “controlling forces” or “forces of control”.
  • “the world-forces of this darkness”: The Greek word translated “world-forces” is kosmo-krator[14]. This is the only mention of it in the New Testament. It means the “mighty ones” or “strong ones” in the world system.
  • “the spiritual forces of wickedness”:The Greek word translated “wickedness” is poneria[15], meaning the “iniquity” or “depravity” inherent in the world system.

Various theological works have attempted to identify exactly what the apostle Paul was referring to when he wrote of the “powers”.  The various views run the gamut of interpreting these “powers” to be solely spiritual, to “demythologizing” them to be solely human. I personally hold a median view, and understand these “powers” to be spiritual entities which influence and work through human entities – specifically the ideologies and cultures of the world, including the political leaders and governments of the nations, as well as, religious leaders and organizations. Colossians 1:16 illustrates this view by explicitly combining the categories of “in the heavens” and “on the earth” and “visible” and “invisible”.[16]

Another aspect we must consider regarding “the elementary principles of the world” is that they are “sinful” (even though they may pose as religious). They are related to the sin principle in the world. The apostle Paul wrote of the principle of sin or “law of sin and death” entering the world.[17]Being “sinful”, by definition, they “fall short of the glory of God”.[18]

David Smith of South Africa[19], offers the following insights:

“The earth was without form ….”[20]In the original creation, God gave the earth His heavenly organization. When Humanity fell, Satan replaced this with his counterfeit organizationby which the world now operates. The apostle John gives us an analysis of the world which seems to coincide with what Satan offered to Eve in the garden: What seemed “good for food” equates to “the lust of the flesh”. What was “pleasant to the eyes” equates to “the lust of the eyes”. And what promised “to make one wise” equates with ‘the pride of life”.[21]In any case, the organization of the world system (“the elementary principles of the world”) is diametrically opposed to the organism of the Holy Spirit.

Stoicheia

The Greek word, stroicheia[22],basically means “any first thing, from which the others, belonging to some series or composite whole, take their rise; an element, a first principle”.[23]It can refer to both material and non-material things. In 2 Peter 3:10 & 12, it clearly refers to the material elements of the universe. In Hebrews 5:12-13 and 6:1-2, the writer is referring to basic or elementary religious teachings. This is more akin to the usage Paul makes of the term in his letters to the Galatians and Colossians, which are the scripture passages we are dealing with in this essay.

Thayer’s Greek Lexiconstates that these “elementary principles” are “the elements, rudiments, primary and fundamental principles of any art, science, or discipline.” Thayer goes on to say: “In the N. T. we have (in Hebrews 5:12 & 13) the rudiments with which mankind were indoctrinated before the time of Christ, i. e. the elements of religions training, or the ceremonial precepts common alike to the worship of Jews and of Gentiles, (and) Galatians 4:3 & 9, specifically, the ceremonial requirements especially of Jewish tradition, minutely set forth by theosophists and false teachers, and fortified by specious argument (Colossians 2: 8 & 20).”[24]

“The Elementary Principles of the World”

Reviewing the major commentaries, one encounters three classical interpretations of “the elementary principles of the world”:

The Law of Israel[25]:

The strength of this view is that it stresses the fact that Paul connects being “under the law”[26]with being “under the elementary principles of the world”.[27]It also stresses the fact that the false teachers Paul refers to are prescribing Old Testament laws.[28]

The weakness of this view is that Paul also uses the term “elementary principles of the world” in reference to false teaching from non-Jewish sources as well.[29]

Spirits Beings which Govern the Planets[30]:

Support for this view comes mainly from extra-biblical literature citing astral deities associated with various heavenly bodies, the movements of which supposedly affect humankind’s life on earth.[31]Paul speaks of the “worship of angels” and of “beings that by nature are not gods” and associates these with “the elementary principles of the world”.[32]Associating “the elementary principles of the world” with spirit beings is not the same as saying they ARE spirit beings. In fact, I believe the “principles” are tools of spirit beings, but not the beings themselves.

One weakness with this view is that it is most difficult to imagine that the Judaizers were advocating the worship of these spirit beings and astrological observances as part of the Law of Israel.[33]And, the dietary and calendar injunctions in Colossians 2:16 and Galatians 4:10 are obviously based in Old Testament ritual and not in pagan Greek practices. Also: George E. Ladd states that the word, stroicheia, was not associated with astral deities until the 3rdcentury;[34]and Gerhard Delling claims that stroicheiawas not used to refer to spirit beings until the 4thcentury[35]– centuries after Paul wrote Galatians and Colossians.

Religious Principles[36]:

According to this view, “the elementary principles of the world” refer to religious principles before Christ and apart from Christ.Paul places ALL other religions – including Old Testament Judaism – in a negative category compared to The Way in Christ. To turn away Christ and return to Old Covenant Judaism, as the Galatians, Hebrews and others were tempted to do, was to place oneself in the shadow of a “weak and worthless”[37]spiritual system similar in some way to pagan religions and philosophies.

This view allows for the Jewish meaning of the prescriptions on Galatians 4:10 and Colossians 2:16 & 21. And it explains why Paul can refer to the Law of Israel as “weak and worthless.”[38] Paul can speak negatively about the Law of Israel even though it was originated by God – namely, that He meant it to be only a shadowof Christ[39], and now that Christ has come, it is a “weak and worthless” system which leads to bondage[40], and therefore He has made it obsolete and abolished it.[41]

This view also explains why Paul can link the Law of Israel with the various pagan religions and philosophies into the one category of “elementary principles of the world”. To receive the Spirit of God, become a son and an heir of God, to know and be known by God in an intimate relationship,[42]only to return to some impersonal religious system is, with regards to spiritual reality, no better than paganism, and therefore, “of the world”, in that sense. While the Law may not be false with regards to doctrine, if one were to analyze the choice of an external religious system over the fellowship of the Spirit, one will surely find idolatry at its base. This self-same analysis and idolatry is the subject matter of this essay.

The one thing questionable about this view is that it would have Paul designating the Old Covenant Law as “of the world”.[43]But this is not so problematic, if one understands that God’s purpose for the Law was to foreshadow Christ. God accomplished that purpose and “moved on” to His next purpose which was to establish the New Covenant – in a manner of speaking, God “moved on” from shadow to substance. The Old Covenant rituals, customs and traditions indeed had material substance, but did not have spiritual substance or spiritual reality– that came only with Christ. These material things were “in the world” casting shadows pointing to Christ, but the spiritual reality is only in Christ.[44]George E. Ladd offers this explanation: “’World’is used as the whole complex of human earthly relationships, which though not evil in itself can stand between man and God.”[45]That really is the point – namely, the phenomenon and tendency of humankind to put the material religious thing before the God who is Spirit. As we will discuss later in this essay, how this is, in fact, idolatry.

As we’ve said, the establishment of the New Covenant abolished the Old Covenant Law and made it obsolete. Therefore, to be operating under the Old Covenant Law now would be like operating under a pagan religion or philosophy of man – that is, “of the world”. The reason this is so is because all law outside of “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”operates in an outward material context, whereas the “Law of Christ” operates in an inward spiritual context.As I’ve said elsewhere, that is not a Gnostic statement. Jesus Himself said: “God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”[46]If one cannot embrace that statement, one cannot understand nor enter into the New Covenant – one cannot understand nor enter into Eternal Life – one cannot understand nor enter into the Kingdom of God – nor can one understand nor be part of the Church which Jesus is building. “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh profits nothing.”[47]“A new covenant not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”[48]“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.… you must be born of the Spirit.”[49]“ For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”[50]“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”[51]“The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy IN THE HOLY SPIRIT.”[52]“(You) are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”[53]

Investigating all the possible interpretations of the term, “elementary principles of the world”, while insisting on no contradiction in interpretation between both the Colossian passage and the Galatian passage, the only sound conclusion one can come to is the one which Gary DeLashmutt puts forth:

“In conclusion, the view that explains “the elementary principles of the world”as pertaining to all religion (including the Old Testament Law and especially its ritual system) before and outside of Christ is the most tenable position.

Paul’s usage of “the elementary principles of the world”obviously warns against syncretism of the gospel with any other human philosophic or religious system. This is the application most commonly pursued by preachers and expositors today. But another important application of this phrase lies in the way Paul views Old Testament ritual and the role of ritual in general.

Imposition of Old Testament Ritual

Clearly, these two passages warn against the imposition of Old Testament rituals on Christians. It is not just looking to those rituals as a means of justification before God that is condemned; the observance of them as a sign “spirituality” is inappropriate for the Christianbecause those rituals merely foreshadowed the “substance,” or reality, which Christians now enjoy in the person and work of Jesus…. Both direct and indirect implementation of this ritual law pervades much of the church.

New Testament Ritualism

These two passages also warn in principle against the danger of ritualism even when the rituals involved are prescribed by the New Testament. “Ritualism” is being used here in the sense of making ritual observance a primary focus of the Christian life and means of its expression. Water baptism and communion are the two rituals most often employed in such “New Testament” ritualism, although foot-washing and other practices are sometimes also included.

The Galatian passage in particular pits the religion of ritual observance against the great privilege of personally relating to God through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Ritualism was legitimate (even necessary) during the Old Testament economy because this kind of personal relationship with God was not possible. But now God has made it possible to relate to him as Abba. The work of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit have made it possible for us to be adopted into God’s family. To go back to relating to God primarily through ritual observance is to reject God’s assessment of this gift. This is spiritual regression which is reprehensible enough to make Paul fear that he had labored in vain (Galatians 4:11)! …. ritualism as the means to relating to God has been ‘outgrown’ and rejected. This is also the argument of the Book of Hebrews (especially chapters 7-10).”[54]

Hopefully, the direct connection between “the elementary principles of the world” and “ritualism” has been clearly established. This “ritualism” is by no means limited to that of the so-called “liturgical” churches. No, I hope to convince the reader that such “ritualism”, as just one way of labeling “the elementary principles of the world, was operational in the “New Testament Church” of the first century, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches throughout their history, the Reformed Protestant churches throughout their history, as well as in Pentecostal, Charismatic, Evangelical and so-called Organic and house churches of today. For evidence of the theological promotion and applied practice of “ritualism” in the churches of our day I refer you to the writings of Robert E. Webber[55], Thomas Howard[56]and Mark Galli[57], along with a number of important articles which were published in opposition to this negative spiritual phenomenon.[58]

I think it would be beneficial at this point to once again clarify what I mean when I use certain terms in these essays:

When I use the term, “heavenly organized”, or “Holy Spirit organized”, I am referring to the Holy Spirit’s organization of the spiritual organism, the Body of Christ, and its life of worship.When I use the term, “humanly organized”, I am referring to various ways we human beings attempt to organize the Body of Christ and its life of worship. The means employed to “humanly organize” the Body of Christ and its life of worship are scripturally identified as “the elementary principles of the world”.[59]And as we’ve just discussed, the term, “elementary principles of the world”, can be understood to mean any religious principles before Christ and apart from Christ.That is the theme of this essay stated in very broad terms. I have and will continue to point to more specific meanings of this term, “the elementary principles of the world”.

Sacralization of the Spiritual

Objectification

I have spoken of “the elementary principles of the world” in terms of “ritualism”. There are other terms we can discuss which may help us to more fully understand this negative spiritual phenomenon. One such term is “sacralization”.Sacralization” in religion is attributing a sacred quality and character to certain people, places and things. In a previous essay, “Led by the Spirit”, I defined “sacralization” in this way: The setting apart, dedicating and consecrating of places, times and activities by separating them from the believer’s everyday life and placing them in a special religious category.

A related term is “objectification”.[60]Dennis McCallum has written an interesting anthropological study entitled “The Objectification of Religion”.[61]His opening statements are pertinent to our discussion: “’Objectification’ is the religious tendency to reduce abstract principles to tangible, visceral objects and rituals. This tendency, found in all religious complexes, has also been prominent in Christianity, despite explicit prohibitions in the New Testament.”

The author (Dennis McCallum) believes objectification (also known as formalism) remains as one of the greatest stumbling blocks to people considering Christianity today: “The student of history of religion must wonder why this is such a universal tendency. Any phenomenon that appears everywhere on earth, during every period of history, and in every known religious complex, must have some underlying explanations that are fairly common or general.”[62]

McCallum’s article is an excellent overview of various studies and theories in the fields of Anthropology and Comparative Religion to which he adds his own Christian perspective. I agree with him when he suggest that the concept of “sacred space”, while only one example, is representative of other aspects of the objectification of religion. And, I believe that what he says about sacred spacecan be accurately applied to the sacralization of other aspects like times, and activities: “’Sacred space’ refers to the universal tendency of religious man to identify space that is sacred, and to carefully delimit that space from profanespace. This space, once marked off, usually also plays a key role in the ongoing worship and religious practice of the faithful in that system.”[63]Later in the article, he states: “There is absolutely no provision in the New Testament Era (which I take to have begun at Pentecost) for any form of sacred space[64]…. Likewise, there is no claim made in the area of sacred time, or religious calendar.”[65]

While I think that there is much in the New Testament scriptures which McCallum does not take the opportunity to include in his article regarding Christianity and objectification, I do totally agree with his stated conclusion: “I find myself unable to avoid the conclusion that humankind’s craving for control and regularization of the sacred has played a major role in the objectification of religion.”[66]And as McCallum points out, anthropologist, Edward Norbeck, speaking from an entirely secular perspective astutely discerns: “… religious acts tend to become goals in themselves. Histories of religions provide many examples of rituals rendered meaningless by passage of time but which are nevertheless tenaciously retained. Empty of their original significance, the rites themselves have become goalswhich the members of society are under compulsion to reach by faithful performance.”[67]“Objectivism” is certainly another term which can be used to label what the scriptures refer to as “the elementary principles of the world”.

Sacramentalism

“Sacramentalism” in theology is the belief that the performance of certain external rites confers the grace of God. A “sacrament” has been defined as “an outward physical sign of an inward spiritual grace”. An integral part of sacramentalism is “symbolism” –  that is, the use of religious symbols or icons to identify particular religious concepts. Symbols and sacraments have obviously played a major role in all religions, including orthodox Judaism and conventional Christianity. The efficacy of symbols and sacraments to produce creative, imaginative, artistic, even spiritual inspiration has proven itself for many centuries. And there has been much written on the nature and benefits of symbol and sacrament.[68]Yet, there have also been significant writings on the corruption of Christianity, specifically through the incorporation of symbol and sacrament in worship practices.[69]The problem with using external physical things to represent internal spiritual things is this: Much too often the physical thing, rather than the spiritual thing, becomes the focus; and the rite becomes the substitute for the reality.Again, an explanation of this negative religious phenomenon is that the external physical things are but a mere “shadow” – a representation of spiritual things – drawn from and based upon human understanding. This is mistaken for spiritual reality. But true spirituality is drawn from and based upon the Person of Christ alone. Authentic spiritual reality or substance belongs only to Christ – that is, “is derived from Christ, and can be realized only through union with Him.”[70]This reality is prerequisite to worship in spirit and truth. As Jesus made clear: “God is spirit, and those who worship Him MUST worship in spirit and truth.”[71]Again, like “ritualism” and “objectification”, “sacramentalism” and “symbolism” are other labels which can be used to identify what the scripture refers to as “the elementary principles of the world”.

The Sacralization of Christianity

Sacralization

To continue with a definition, I established earlier in this essay: “Sacralization” in religion is attributing a sacred quality and character to certain people, places and things. In a previous essay, “Led by the Spirit”, I defined “sacralization” in this way: The setting apart, dedicating and consecrating of places, times and activities by separating them from the believer’s everyday life and placing them in a special religious category.

During the Old Covenant, God assigned the Hebrew prophets to prophesy to His people in an effort to desacralize, in the hearts and minds of the Hebrew people, the religions of Canaan and Assyria, and other pagan nations. Yet, as we know, the Hebrew people continually succumbed to the influences of pagan idolatry. And, as we’ve seen, the early Christians continued in many of the Jewish rituals and regulations of the Old Covenant even after the New Covenant was established by Christ’s death and resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.[72]During apostolic times, the Greek and Roman pantheon of gods were also associated with natural objects, carried associated rites and regulations, and even had guilds formed in the name of these deities to celebrate these rites and enforce these regulations. But the early Christians did generally manage to separate themselves from this particular pagan idolatry. Yet, we must consider the fact that the apostle Paul felt it necessary to warn Christians against these pagan rites and regulations when he wrote to the Colossians:

15 ”He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through it (i.e. the cross). 16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels,takinghis stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”[73]

Do you see that Paul refers to these “elementary principles of the world”– these various special activities, separated to special times and places, and structured with rites and regulations– as “shadows”and not the reality of Christ. He is exhorting Christians to stop this Old Covenant approach to worship, and to embrace God’s New Covenant alternative instead. And that is: “Holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.”

But, unfortunately, Paul’s words were not sufficiently heeded – not during the first century, nor in subsequent times. What, in fact, transpired throughout the history of Christendom – through the “Patristic” period, the Catholic and Greek Orthodox further development of ritual & liturgy, and on into Protestant sacramentalism – was a RE-SACRALIZATION of that which the New Covenant had de-sacralized.

This sacralization in religion – this ritualism, objectification, sacramentalism, and symbolism – obviously has been extremely pervasive. But how are we to explain its pervasiveness? Is it something in human nature? I believe so. But I believe it also goes beyond the human dimension. In his book, “Subversion of Christianity”, Jacques Ellul spends seven chapters explaining that Christianity has become something TOTALLY DIFFERENT IN EVERY ASPECT from the revelation of God in Christ. He then gives his explanation of WHY this could possibly happen given in light of the establishment of the New Covenant and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. His explanation is: human aggrandizement– that is, the deliberate ignoring of the Spirit of God in favor of glorifying the human self. BUT, having concluded this he then offers in chapter 9, “Dominions and Powers”, to further explain the incredible power of this corrupting force.[74]

It is my assertion that Powers and Principalities are intentionally at work in and through fallen humanity’s tendencies in an effort to hinder the purpose of God. And their tools, “the elemental principles of the world”,[75]are that which the apostle Paul also referred to as “strongholds (consisting of) sophisticated arguments and exalted opinions raised up in disobedience against the true knowledge of God.”[76]. So, while we have tried to gain insight into these things through discussion of various human concepts and practices like “sacralization”, “ritualism”, “objectification”, “sacramentalism”, and “symbolism”, the scriptural identification of “the elementary principles of the world” is the apostle Paul phrase “strongholds (consisting of) sophisticated arguments and exalted opinions raised up in disobedience against the true knowledge of God.”[77]

Postscript

In this essay, I have endeavored to discuss what can be called the “Sacralization of the Spiritual”. In these essays, I’ve also endeavored to discuss specifically the sacralization of Christianity – specifically its concept and practice of worship[78].

There has also been a “Sacralization of the Secular” which has led to Idolatry. This idolatry has also invaded the professing Church. I am suggesting that the phenomena of the sacralization of both the spiritual and secular is excellently delineated in the various writings of Jacques Ellul, specifically in his concept of “technique”. I am also proposing that his concept of “technique” equates with “the elementary principles of the world”. So, to investigate Ellul’s concept of “technique” is to further investigate “the elementary principles of the world”.

I believe we will see that the practice and pursuit of “technique” has resulted in the secularization of the secular and idolatry. And, the adoption of “technique” by the Church has resulted in the secularization of the spiritual – the worship of the Church, coming under the trance of “the elementary principles of the world”.

All of this has resulted in the unfortunate “re-veiling” of the New Covenant. The New Covenant was established over 2000 years ago by Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. But while some Christians have appropriated this for personal salvation, by and large, the “powers and principalities” have succeeded in blinding and binding the Church as a collective in appropriating the New Covenant in worship – that is, living a life of surrender and service according to “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”. This is the subject matter of the next essay.

[1]John 7:7

[2]Matthew 18:7. Greek:skandalon,Strong’s # 4625, scandal, offense, stumbling block

[3]James 4:4

[4]James 3:15

[5]Ephesians 2:2

[6]Galatians 4:3

[7]Cf. Ephesians 6:12, Greek: palle,Strong’s # 3823

[8]Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6, Greek: strateuomai,Strong’s # 4754

[9]Ephesians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6

[10]Greek: logismos, Strong’s # 3053.

[11]Greek: hupsoma, Strong’s # 5313.

[12]Strong’s # 746

[13]Strong’s # 1849

[14]Strong’s # 2888

[15]Strong’s # 4189

[16]This view is widely held by many others including Marva Dawn, Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld, William Stringfellow, and Robert E. Webber. On this subject, I highly recommend the writings of Michael S. Heiser, specifically The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. Chapter 37, “This Means War”, deals with some of these very terms. 

[17]Romans 5:12, 8:2

[18]Romans 6:23

[19]David Smith, Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, davendale001@gmail.com

[20]Genesis 1:2

[21]1 John 2:15-17 / Genesis  3:6

[22]Plural of stroicheion – Strong’s # 4747.

[23]Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

[24]Ibid.

[25]This view is held by J.B. Lightfoot, John Stott and Merrill C. Tenney.

[26]Galatians 3:23 & 4:5

[27]Galatians 4:3

[28]Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:16 & 21

[29]Colossians 2:8; Cf. Galatians 4:8-9

[30]This view is held by James Boice, F.F. Bruce, and Donald Guthrie, among others.

[31]Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Strong’s # 4747: “#3. the heavenly bodies, either as parts of the heavens, or (as others think) because in them the elements of man’s life and destiny were supposed to reside…. Hence, some interpreters infelicitously understand Paul’s phrase τάστοιχεῖ α τοῦ κόσμου, Galatians 4:3, 9Colossians 2:8, 20, of the heavenly bodies, because times and seasons, and so sacred seasons, were regulated by the course of the sun and moon; yet in unfolding the meaning of the passage on the basis of this sense they differ widely.”

[32]Colossians 2:18; Galatians 4:8-9.

[33]Cf. Exodus 20:3-5

[34]George E. Ladd, “A Theology of the New Testament”, p. 402.

[35]Gerhard Friedrich, Editor, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament”, Volume 7, pp. 682-683.

[36]This view is held by Colin Brown, Gerhard Delling, George E. Ladd, and Herman Ridderbos.

[37]Galatians 4:9-10

[38]Cf. Ephesians 2:15; Hebrews 7:18-19, 8:13.

[39]Colossians 2:17

[40]Galatians 3:22-23, 4:9

[41]Hebrews 7:18-19, 8:13; Ephesians 2:15

[42]Cf. Galatians 4:6-8; Romans 8:14-17

[43]Cf. Galatians 4:3-5

[44]On the issue of Old Covenant rituals being “of the world”, Gary DeLashmutt offers this in a footnote to his article “Paul’s Usage of ta stroicheis tou kosmou”:“Both Colossians 2:22 and Mark 7:18 draw attention to the ‘this-worldliness’ temporality of the dietary laws. Colossians 2:17 implies the same ‘this-worldly’ status of the Old Testament religious calendar; it was only an earthly ‘shadow’ of the spiritual ‘substance’ of Jesus.”

[45]George E. Ladd, “A Theology of the New Testament”,  p. 399

[46]John 4:24

[47]John 6:63

[48]2 Corinthians 3:6

[49]John 3:6-7

[50]Romans 8:14

[51]Romans 15:50

[52]Romans 14:17

[53]1 Peter 2:5

[54]From “Paul’s Usage of ta Stoicheis tou Kosmou” by Gary DeLashmutt  https://www.xenos.org/essays/pauls-usage-ta-stoicheia-tou-kosmou   I highly recommend a reading of this paper. It is the most complete treatment and sound interpretation of Paul’s meaning of “the elementary principles of the world” I have come across to date.

[55]“Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals are Attracted to the Liturgical Church”, “Common Roots”, as well as the whole of his “Ancient-Future” series of books.

[56]“Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament”.

[57]“Beyond Bells and Smells”, and “Ancient-Future People”, an article in Christianity Today (February 2008).

[58]“Ancient-Future Heresies” by T.A. McMahon, The Berean Call(February 28, 2008); “ Why We Should be Wary of Adding Extrabiblical Rituals to our Worship” by Philippe Sterling, originally published as “Return to Ritual, Part 2”,Grace in Focus (Jan/Feb 2010); “From Ritualism to a Personal Relationship with God” by Gary DeLashmutt (www.Xenos.org)

[59]Galatians 4:3, 9-10 & Colossians 2:8, 20-21

[60]In my understanding, the two terms “sacralization” and “objectification” are essentially synonymous.

[61]www.Xenos.org

[62]Ibid.

[63]Ibid.

[64]Ibid.; Cf. Acts 7:48-50; Hebrews 8:13, 13:10-14.

[65]Ibid.; Cf. Colossians 2:16-17 and Galatians 4:9-10.

[66]Ibid.

[67]Edward Norbeck, “Religion in Primitive Society”, p. 74

[68]Just one example is “Evangelical Is Not Enough” by Thomas Howard; but also, the many writings of Robert E. Webber.

[69]Fine examples are “The Reformers and Their Stepchildren” by Leonard Verduin, especially Chapter 4: “Sacramentschwarmer!”; and “Humiliation of the Word” by Jacques Ellul.

[70]Vincent’s Word Studies

[71]John 4:24

[72]Cf. Previous essays in this series, “New & Living Way: Investigating New Covenant Worship in Spirit & Truth” viz. Essay # 4: “Jewish Roots in Christianity”, Essay # 5: “Led By the Spirit”.

[73]Colossians 2:15-23, Cf. 8.

[74]Various scholars have various views with regards to the identification of “the powers”. Some, like Ellul, see them as impersonal systemic forces for good or evil existing in the realm of human society, yet having a kind of spiritual existence given to them by fallen humanity – not beings, per se, but in some way, socio-politico forces. Others, like myself, understand them to be distinct spiritual beings over human society, fallen from their original estate of serving the purpose of God, now both adversarial towards God and oppressive towards humanity – spiritual forces are work in and through human socio-politico systems.

[75]Galatians 4:1-11; Colossians 2:8-23.

[76]Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.

[77]This is my translation of 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 drawn from James Strong’s Dictionary of Greek Words. The Greek word, logismos (Strong’s # 3053), can also be translated “imaginations”; but, “reasonings” would be more accurate. Both are figurative. The more literal translation of the word would be “computations”, as the root word, logizomai (Strong’s # 3049), means “to take an account of” or “to take an inventory of”.

[78]My working definition of “worship” is living a life of surrender and service to God.