Liturgical Trap: What is the Trap?

Jordan defines the “Liturgy Trap” as seeing worship as a technique for evangelism (xiv).  Whatever else our liturgy may be, it must always be a response to the Word of God.  Said another way: The Word of God comes first.  The rest of the introduction explains why evangelicals would be tempted to high church traditions.  Since that’s is fairly well-documented by theologians and sociologists (Christian Smith et al), I won’t belabor the point.

The Saints

Should we venerate the saints?  We should at least ask, “What does the Bible say?”  Critics might respond, “Yeah, well the Bible doesn’t say anything about the term T rinity, either” (this is a specific quote from Orthodox Bridge).  True, but assuming the Bible to be part of tradition (which I don’t assume), shouldn’t we at least pretend it is the most important part?

Jordan first notes there is no biblical warrant to pray to saints (18).  Since the disciples asked Jesus specifically how to pray, and he gave them a specific template, it is telling that venerating saints is absent.  Jordan then gives the standard biblical arguments against necromancy,  pointing out that Saul was condemned for talking to the dead Samuel.

Interestingly, had the early Christians talked to dead people, the Jews and Judaizers would have had a field day condemning them, yet we don’t see that.

Jordan writes,

The notion that the saints can hear our petitions means that a given saint can hear thousands of petitions coming from people all over the world.  This means that the saint has become virtually omnipresent.  What happens when that saint gets his resurrection body and is once again limited to being in one place at one time? (21)

Of course, and my critics hate to hear this, but this is a movement back towards chain of being and Hellenistic philosophy.

Jesus, Firmament, and Prayers to Saints

Jesus = Firmament.   This is so because he is the only mediator between heaven and earth.

Earth (us)  ———————- Firmament (Jesus-Mediator) ————————— (heaven) departed saints.

You can’t talk to dead saints because Jesus is in the way.

The firmament, and this needs some fleshing out from the Hebrew, is the boundary between heaven and earth (understanding, of course, that the Bible uses heaven in a multiplex sense).  Jesus becomes the New Firmament. The Firmament in Genesis 1 is not simply the boundary between earth and sky, or earth and waters, but also the boundary between the waters above (which is the sea before God’s throne) and the waters below (which have yet to be gathered into seas).    The Firmament in this sense is “above” us.

While speculative, this makes infinitely more sense of the hilasterion passages of the NT.    Liberals and Eastern Orthodox hate the word propitiation because it suggests God gets mad.   Conservatives are on stronger lexical ground.   I think propitiation is a good translation of Romans 3:25.   It becomes problematic, though, when we move to 1 John 2, where it says Jesus is the propitiation for the whole world.   This comes very close to universal atonement.

Most good commentaries will say that hilasterion is (correctly) referring to the Mercy Seat above the ark.   If so, then Jesus is the new mercy seat who takes to himself God’s great fireball to destroy evil.   He is the Protective Covering between heaven and earth.   This way hilasterion means nothing about universal atonement.

John Barach has an interesting take on this.

(2) Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters (Gen. 1:6) & You shall not make for yourself a carved image … you shall not bow down to them nor serve them (Ex. 20:4-6).

The firmament is between the waters above and the waters below.  The firmament includes everything we call “outer space,” since the sun, moon, and stars will be placed in the firmament on Day 4.  The waters above the firmament reappear later in Scripture as the sea below God’s throne (e.g., Rev. 4:6).  Thus the firmament is the barrier and the mediator between heaven and earth.  It’s a veil, corresponding to the veil in the tabernacle.  The tearing of that veil represents the rending of the mediator (Heb. 10:20).

The second commandment has to do with bowing to images in order to worship Yahweh through them.  The images are false mediators.  So both the second word in Genesis 1 and the second word in Exodus 20 have to do with mediation.

 

On not praying to angels

A prior note on terminology.  Anchorites will insist they don’t worship angels the same way they worship God.  The Bible, however, collapses the distinction between doulia (reverence by way of service) and latria (proper worship).  God specifically tells his people neither to worship these gods (however you want to define that term) or serve them.   Further, the claim that praying to an angel is no different from asking your friend to pray for you won’t hold up.  If you examine these prayers, besides the fact it is nowhere commanded by God, the angels are simply asked to intercede, but to act in such a way that they have power to do x and y.  That is simple Paganism.

Old Creation Judged and Gone

Angels ruled the Old Creation.   That has since been destroyed in the Death-Resurrection of Christ and the Death of Jerusalem.  Why would we pray/invoke entities who no longer rule?   Does not the New Covenant say The “lights” of creation (day 4) were designed to rule (thus the language of greater lights ruling over the lesser lights).   Lights (e.g., the sun) manage time, and so also in the Old Creation they are connected with Festivals.

Before Jesus humanity was under angelic tutors. Psalm 104:3-4 (and Heb. 1:7) connects angels with the natural forces.  Further, this is also connected with Torah.  The law was to shut the whole world under sin (Gal. 3:22-23) and was given by angels (Acts 7:53).  Thus we can conclude that the angels had some authority over the world which was connected with Torah.   Paul further connects Torah and Angels with “elementary principles” (stoichea, Gal. 4:3, 9; Col. 2:8).  We may further conclude that any attempt to live under the guidance of angels, however slight, is seeking to go back to the stoichea and is elsewhere condemned in the book of Hebrews.  Oliver O’Donovan even notes that Paul connects both Torah with the stoichiea. In fact, Paul even notes (Galatians 4) that the Gentiles were in bondage to Stoichea.  This is shocking.  No one ever accused the pagan Gentiles of being too much under Stoichea. It’s not as shocking as it seems:  apart from Christ both Torah and the stoichea appear to us as a threat (RMO, 22).  This conclusion of Paul’s only makes sense if we keep in mind that Angels, Torah, and Stoichea are interconnected under the Old Creation.

Forms, Realism, and Nominalism

One thing I noticed in recently reading Homer and Vergil is that the pagan deities were often invoked as powers.  This is not that different from the language of Forms.  Forms in this philosophy is not simply an idea of x, but that the higher form causes and acts in such a way that is is a power to the lower forms.  Paul Tillich made the interesting connection that ancient Christianity simply baptized the older view of Forms with the newer view that these forms were saints and angels, which form a hierarchy of being to God.

Tillich’s suggestion makes sense.  After Plato and the skeptics, few Greeks and Romans were stupid enough to believe that Athena sprang from Zeus’ head.  However, Greek mythology did have a lot of explanatory power.  It might have been philosophically naive to suppose that the pantheon was rule, but it was philosophically astute to transpose that understanding of deity to the realm of the Forms.

Maximus the Confessor famously (though not originally) spoke of the distinction between Logos and Logoi.   Jesus is the Form in whom all the forms exist.  He is the inter-causal causal cause.  It’s beautiful philosophy.  It runs into problems with the Forms are identified with the stoichea.

This is why I am neither realist nor nominalist, but covenantal verbalist.
Nota Bene:  I wonder if this is why demon-possession stories are so common in Catholic and Orthodox lands (see Seraphim Rose, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future and  The Soul After Death).  They are playing too close to the elementary principles of the Old Creation, which God has specifically condemned.  If they get too close to these principles, then God just might let them get close indeed.

N. T. Wright on not venerating saints.

Rethinking Tradition.

Let us suppose, then, the ultimate destiny of Christians is bodily resurrection, an event which has not yet happened. This means that all such persons are currently in an intermediate state, somewhere between death and resurrection. Call this intermediate state ‘heaven’ if you like. This brings me to the first really controversial point in the present book: there is no reason in the foundation documents of Christianity to suppose that there are any category distinctions between Christians in this intermediate state. All are in the same condition; and all are ‘saints’

This means that the New Testament language about the bodily death of Christians, and what happens to them thereafter, makes no distinction whatever in this respect between those who have attained significant holiness or Christlikeness in the present and those who haven’t. ‘My desire’, says Paul in Philippians 1.22, ‘is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.’ He doesn’t for a moment imply that this ‘being with Christ’ is something which he will experience but which the Philippians, like Newman’s Gerontius, will find terrifying and want to postpone. His state (being with Christ) will indeed be exalted, but it will be no different, no more exalted, than that of every single Christian after death. He will not be, in that sense, a ‘saint’, differentiated from mere ‘souls’ who wait in another place or state.