It’s Lent, so naturally I’m thinking about Barack Obama. Well, specifically, about his inauguration. You remember, don’t you—the day that hope became sight?
I don’t want to be overdramatic, but it now seems obvious to me that President Obama’s inauguration explains just about everything that’s wrong with Christian churches in America.
And really, this has little to do with Obama and everything to do with his choice for the inaugural invocation, “America’s Pastor” Rick Warren.
The day after the prayer in question was uttered, I declaimed at length on the Chronicles website about Rick Warren’s syncretism. The god to whom he prayed had a dash of Christian, a sprinkle of Muslim, and a schtick’l of Jewish. The Word Who became flesh was referred to simply as the “one who changed my life,” and that one was called by Hebrew, Arabic, Mexican, and English names, in that order.
A number of Christian critics of the prayer agreed with me, at least up to a point. But, said they, at least he ended it on a distinctively Christian note! Yes, it is true, Warren closed the inaugural invocation by leading the citizens of earth in the Lord’s Prayer, “Yeshua, Isa, Hey-zeus, Jesus, who taught us to pray, ‘Our Father . . . ’”
And that’s the greatest horror of it all, especially if we think about this along with the Church Fathers—Saint Augustine in particular.
The season of Lent evolved around the great tradition of baptizing converts at the Easter Vigil, the beginning of Pascha, the Feast of the Resurrection. As the original “Forty Days of Purpose,” Lent was a time of preparation for the catechumenate, who were subjected to rigorous discipline, examination, and instruction. In fact, you weren’t even allowed to be called a catechumen (“instructed”) until you had demonstrated that you had ceased to practice the gross outward sins of pagan idolatry and adultery. Before that, you were just an “inquirer,” a “listener” (audientes). It wasn’t very seeker sensitive.
What about church? There were no popular songs designed to appeal just to the catechumen, no dramas, no overhead projectors—all had to be memorized. And there was even . . . segregation! The catechumen could go to church along with the faithful, but he was only allowed to participate in half of the service, before he was kicked out and the doors, the doors were manned. Why? The ancient Liturgy of Saint James, celebrated at Jerusalem at least as far back as the fourth century, explains it fairly well in one simple line: “Holy things for the holy people.” (Response: “One is holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ . . . ”) The unwashed catechumens are not holy, and so they cannot partake of or even look upon the holy things—the Body and Blood of Jesus. So they are dismissed before the Service of the Faithful.
(Spoiler alert, and question for Rick Warren: Were there any prayers reserved especially for the Service of the Faithful?)
Eight days before Easter, those catechumens deemed fit were elevated to the rank of the competentes and began to experience something that isn’t a part of your average New Members Class these days—daily exorcisms. Why, you ask? Because these people believed in the Devil, that’s why. And who would be the most vulnerable to satanic attacks if not the competentes, just days before Baptism?
On the first of the eight days, the competentes were given two special treasures, secrets (Disciplina arcani) that they were to guard with their lives: the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. The first, preached Augustine, “so that you may know what to believe,” and the second, “so that you may know whom to call upon.”
“You see,” he declared to the about-to-be-baptized, “you have begun to have God for your Father, and you will have Him so when you are born anew.” The competentes were learning that, when a Christian prays, he is not addressing Zeus or Baal or some far-away vengeful deity, but his Father. And this is not by accident; it is the result of a special privilege, a holy sort of family planning, one in which the unworthy is united to the Son and adopted into the Father’s household.
Parents sometimes, when they have one or two or three children, fear to give birth to any more, lest they reduce the rest to beggars. But because the inheritance He promises us is such that many may possess it without anyone being put in a bind, He has called into His family the peoples of the nations; and the only Son has numberless brothers and sisters who say, “Our Father which art in Heaven, . . . ”
In those times, the Church wasn’t hawking a product, wasn’t selling a road map for life, wasn’t convinced that the customer is always right. These pearls may not be for you. I mean, yes, they are for you and for the “peoples of all nations,” but only if you are willing to count their cost. Who wouldn’t want to call God his Father? Well, you perhaps, if you are not willing to go through the Son. Holy things for the holy people; pearls are not for swine. If you are baptized, you can stay for the part of the service where we say the Lord’s Prayer.
How’s that for marketing?