Monday, July 20, 2009

Hebrews and the Worship of the Christian Church

Paget, Francis. “Epistle to the Hebrews: Its Bearing upon the Worship of the Christian Church.” Pages 305-9 in The Official Report of the Church Congress, Held at Wolverhampton, on October 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th, 1887. Edited by C. Dunkley. London: Bembrose, 1887.

At the time of this address, Francis Paget (1851-1911) was Canon of Christ Church and Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology at Oxford University. He later became Bishop of Oxford in 1901.

This address is filled with lofty rhetoric and appears to take the form of a sermon. Here I attempt to give a summary of this address:

At the heart of the epistle is worship, for it is in worship where the struggle of faith is most readily seen. The hardships and afflictions that the recipients of the letter endured caused some to consider turning back to their Jewish faith. It was difficult to sever themselves from the exuberant and comforting worship at the Temple. But the author of Hebrews showed them the magnificence and veracity of Christian worship. Christ’s sacrifice has gained access to God and his ceaseless intercession has obtained forgiveness of sins. While the ancient Jewish worship had its benefits, it was now surpassed by the perfection of Christian worship. Christ, the eternal High Priest was now enthroned in the true tabernacle. Melchizedek revealed the inadequacy of the Aaronic priesthood and adumbrated the eternal priesthood of Christ. The image of the tabernacle shown to Moses at Sinai was a copy of the heavenly reality. In the midst of their trials, the author of Hebrews urges his readers to worship, which takes place in the highest plane, in the heavenly realm; it is in the act of worship “where heaven and earth are one” (cf. 12:22-24). Christ himself is the one who spans the gap between the two realms.

Paget closes by debunking three “imprisoning ideas”: 1) worship should not be focused inwardly but upwardly; 2) our yearning for the presence of Christ, reality, and certainty should not be found in any earthly location, but in the heavenly realm; and 3) it is false to make a dichotomy between that which is spiritual and that which is real, for the spiritual is real.

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