Responding to a New Yorker article about efforts to bring back dying languages, in the face of culturally dominant languages in cities and on the Internet, Rod Dreher compares the Christian faith to a language that needs ‘language nests’ where people can study their faith in an incubator setting and put it into use in daily life. I believe Christians can make every church a place to do this. Last week, after a rough start, God gave me the opportunity to walk some of my friends through part of the classic service of Evening Prayer in its Anglican form. I was able to explain something of the service’s background and priestly purpose, as well as to give some commentary on the meaning and the significance for priestly duty of some of the service’s particular parts. A habit of common prayer, I think, is the practical centre of catechesis in the Church, putting straight into practice St Peter’s theology of the Church as the temple and the holy priesthood of God:
Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
Given mercy and called away from evil, we are chosen by God to show forth his praises, to offer up spiritual sacrifices to him which are acceptable in Jesus Christ. To do this well, God also requires that we desire the milk of his holy word, that both in prayer and in other parts of our daily living (in which we pray without ceasing) he may give himself glory. This is the purpose of his word: that it may make us into a people who are ready in our daily living to give glory to God. For the Lord is in his holy temple, and from his voice comes our authority to subdue the earth to the order of his holy Name. For this reason we are to study his word, that it may be translated into the due praise of God in word and in deed – not so that we may feel close to him, but so that he, dwelling in us, may turn the whole world into a city where, as Malachi says, in every place incense shall be offered unto the Lord’s Name. Therefore, as the Psalmist says, Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
If this be the main purpose for which Christians gather – to come together as the holy temple of the Lord – I believe that upon the solid rock of Christ our chief cornerstone we shall not founder, we shall not be wrecked, but we shall like living stones be able to weather the storms that beat upon the temple. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. This is the wisdom of the Lord applied. By this word rightly used the temple shall withstand the onslaught of the pagans and not become the home of the false faith of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which serves the false god Mammon. For the kingdom of Christ is not from this world.
And if Christians strengthen one another across imagined boundaries, meeting for the priestly act with those of ‘other churches’, who in fact belong to the same Church, the holy catholic Church of Jesus Christ, we will have and we will feel the strength of the Holy Ghost who works in all. What keeps us apart is the god Mammon, on whose demands Christians segregate around institutions to which they pay money, fancying that these are churches and congregations; but the Holy Spirit of the Lord expels such fantasies, and he bids us move and feel as one Church, regardless of the institutions of man.
On this earth we shall always need some institutions to handle money, some structure to deal with practical needs; but our orientation must be toward the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not in buildings made by human hands, nor is it in gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. For the honour of God’s blessed and holy Name we are bound to find the Church not in things of man’s devising but in things of God’s revelation: the word of God, the sacraments, and a pure offering. When our sacrifices are to the true God and not to idols, when we direct our selves and our lives not to the demands of earthly corporations but to the Lord in prayer, we will have our faces set not backward, upon Sodom and Gomorrah, but forward, upon the heavenly Jerusalem and the life of the world to come, when earth and heaven will flee and the judgement of the Lord will reign in righteousness.
Let our language nests speak the language of Zion. Let our lives themselves be turned to the death of idols and the resurrection of the dead, that when the Lord comes again he may find faith on earth. Let us begin with the habits of prayer, that our mouths may shew forth the praise of God.