Archive for the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ Category

By Father Toms

         All churches have a distinctive manner of worship.  Even those that claim to have no order of service, are very liturgical in their own way.  Their so-called spontaneous prayers use the same expressions over and over.  Certain movements and postures become standardized even in those churches which claim that they are most free.

            The Anglican Church has a distinctive style of worship.  At St. Paul’s, we encourage people to enter into the full expression of the traditions of our worship.  While we do not makes these expressions legalistic requirements, we believe that our style of worship does foster  a reverence for God and His majesty, a spiritual mindedness while in the act of worship, that keeps our attention focused on God.

            In a typical Reformed Episcopal Church, there is little opportunity for the person to remain idle during worship.  You are always singing, praying, or listening.  The various postures of sitting, standing, and kneeling force us to keep up with what is happening in the service. 

            When St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church was started, many of us from non-Episcopal backgrounds were lost.  It took quite a bit of time before we knew what to do and when.  There are times when we are still forgetful, but gradually, by repetition, and by watching others who are more familiar with this style of worship, we are beginning to become comfortable with Episcopal worship.

            Of course, the best time to learn to worship in this style is in childhood.  American children, by and large, are ill-mannered in every sphere of life.  Perhaps we should send all of them for intensive training in schools of etiquette.  These inappropriate and rude manners often manifest themselves in the church.  If our children would be taught now all of the nuances of Anglican worship, by the time they reach adulthood, their participation in worship would become second nature to them, and they would know how to behave in the house of God.  This article is written with the hope that we will begin to teach our children how to worship in this Episcopal fashion which is so conducive to reverencing the majesty of God.

            First, preparation for worship should begin at home.  As time is available, mother and father should go over the worship service with their children.  From the Book of Common Prayer, explain to them the various parts of the service and what to do at various parts of the service.  They may not be able to understand the “why”, but as they grow older you should explain to them the various reasons for the parts of the service and the gestures and postures.

            On Sunday morning, make it a point to impress upon your children that this day is different from all other days.  This is the day that we devote to the worship of God.  Then, impress upon them that they are going to a place that is different from all other places.  The church building has been set apart for the worship of God.  Therefore, they are to act differently in church than they act in any other place.  Encourage them to wear their very best, because they are about to have a formal audience with the King of kings and Lord of lords.  If you were going to meet with the President of the United States, you wouldn’t wear your normal, every day clothes.  Well, you are about to meet with someone far more important that the President.  Look your best.  Point out that the priest does not wear the robes, stole, and chasuble every day of the week.  These are special clothes to be worn, because we are in the palace of the King of the universe. 

            Since the church building is set apart for the worship of God, our behavior inside the building must be entirely different than anywhere else.  You do not act the same way in church as you do at school, on the playground, or at home.  The church is a house of prayer, and therefore we must pray and remember that others around us are praying.  We must be very quiet and reverent.   Point out to your children when they arrive at church that other people are already kneeling in prayer; therefore, enter the sanctuary with great reverence and respect.

            As you enter the church, look toward the altar that has been prepared for Holy Communion.  As you walk toward your seat, remember that you are in the special presence of God.  Before you enter the row of your seat, stop, look toward the altar, and either bow or genuflect.  In my worship experiences at other Reformed Episcopal churches, some men stop, go all the way to one knee, make the sign of the cross, and then enter the row.  Teach your children to make some kind of reverential sign as a reminder that they are in the presence of God, and that they are there to worship.

            Next, when you have come to your seat, teach your children to get on their knees for a time of prayer.  If they are too young to read, teach them that, at least for a few moments, they can kneel with their heads bowed and eyes closed to say the Lord’s Prayer or some other prayer you may have taught them.  If they are old enough to read, encourage them to take their prayer books and turn to pages 594 and 595 and pray the prayers, For the Spirit of Prayer, In the Morning, and Sunday Morning.  When they have finished, tell them to make the sign of the cross and be seated reverently.

            Encourage your children to participate in all the parts of the service.  Until they can read, they will, of course, not be able to sing all the hymns or say all the prayers.  Sing hymns with them at home so that they can memorize them.  When I was three years old, I could sing, “When the Roll Is Called up Yonder, I’ll Be There.”  If you will sing often with your children, they will be able to recall the hymns they know.  Spurgeon’s mother used to give him a nickel for every hymn that he memorized.  That may be bribery, but the children learn a great deal from the experience of memorizing hymns.  Of course, a child should be taught the Lord’s Prayer and the creeds of the church from as early an age as possible.  When these parts of the service arrive, they should be able to say them from memory.  Also, teach your children the proper times to bow.  Teach them to bow when the cross is processed. Teach them to make the sign of the cross at the various parts in the service.  Have them sit, kneel, and stand as you do. 

            Explain to your children that they are responsible to be attentive and participate in all the worship service.  One of the most amazing features of evangelical church life in the past 30 years has been the frequency with which children leave the worship service.  I grew up in the church from infancy.  Neither I, nor any of my friends, ever got up to leave the worship service once it had started, except in cases of emergency.   Foolishness is wrapped up in the heart of a child, and they will do anything to get out of a worship service.  Be firm with them. 

            When the time for the sermon comes, encourage your children to be very quiet and listen.  I know that I was listening to sermons from the time I was seven years old, because I could repeat them afterwards.  But even if I didn’t understand a word, I sat there quietly.  At St. Paul’s we do not have children’s church, because it is our conviction that the entire family should worship together.  At St. Paul’s we are not going to divide the family and have the children worshiping in one place and the adults in another.  Hopefully, at some point we will be able to have a nursery for the very young.  But children should be taught to sit in the worship service from as early an age as possible. From the time they are children through their teen-age years and into their adult years, they will be kneeling with their families in prayer.

Your children can make it through an entire worship service.  When I was a child, I had to sit through the entire service as soon as my mother could bring me to church.  Even if I didn’t understand a word that the preacher was saying, I had better act as though I was trying.  If I didn’t pay attention during the service, my dad took me outside where the church had a row of hedge around the building.  After I had been switched a few times outside, I learned how important it was to behave during the church service.  Of course, nowadays I suppose my dad would be arrested for child abuse.  (Do I need to put a disclaimer here?  All right, I am not advocating my father’s method).    Nevertheless, your children can learn to behave in a worship service if you make it a priority in your lives.  From the time I was eight years old, I sat alone during the entire worship service.  My dad was usually working and my mother sang in the choir.  I sat on the second row every Sunday.  I didn’t sit in the back of the church with the other young people, because they whispered and didn’t pay attention.  If I had acted in that manner, I would have been in a world of trouble when I got home.  My parents impressed upon me that I was in the house of God, and I had to do everything possible to make sure that my mind was focused on all parts of the service. 

I know that people argue that children cannot understand the sermon.  You would be surprised what children pick up from sermons.   It may be only one line, one story, but it may make an impression that will be life long.  I was gratified the other night to hear one of my young people talking about a sermon he had hear me preach three years ago when he was only nine.   Even if the child doesn’t understand, something is “caught” during the sermon.  Preaching is theology on fire.  Even if the child can’t understand, he should have an early memory of watching his pastor burn with passion from the pulpit. 

            When it comes time for Holy Communion, impress upon your children the need to be especially reverent.  Teach them to come out of their row reverently, again bow or genuflect toward the altar, and then go forward to receive the communion.  When they get to the kneeler,  teach them to bow their heads in prayer and ask the Lord to bless them as they take communion.  Teach them to place the right hand over the left hand to form a little altar for them to receive the bread.  After they receive the bread, teach them to say, “Amen.”  After receiving the wine, teach them to bow their heads for just a moment and give thanks to God for the death of His Son on the cross, then make the sign of the cross and go reverently back to their seats.   It would be a good idea to teach them to kneel and pray when they go back to their seats. 

            By worshiping in this manner, your children will have a proper respect for the house of God.  They will learn that the worship service is not an auditorium, or a lecture hall, but the place where God expects his people to pay him the proper reverence and respect.  May God bless you as you teach your children to worship Almighty God.

 Copyright c 2004 by Stephan R. Toms


Read Full Post »

By Father Toms

Many people believe that the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper is not taught in the Scriptures.  Some think that the observance of the Holy Communion on a weekly basis is an invention of the Roman Catholic Church.  Both of these assumptions are false.  A study of Scripture and early Church history reveals that weekly Communion was the norm from the time of the New Testament until the Roman Catholic Church began to discourage the laity from receiving the sacrament on a weekly basis.

            First, let us look at the testimony from Scripture.  In Acts 2:42, we find this statement concerning the early church:  “And they continued stedfastly in the apostle’s doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”  This verse does not merely describe what people in the early church were doing.  This verse describes the typical worship service.  Each worship service contained doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers.  What was the practice of “breaking bread.”  Some believe that this phrase refers to nothing more than having fellowship over a meal.  In other words, the people in the early church were just eating together.  But the phrase “breaking bread” is more significant than just a description of an ordinary meal.  “Breaking bread” is a technical expression to describe Holy Communion.  In the Greek text, there is a definite article before “bread” and “prayers.”  Thus, they continued stedfastly in breaking the bread and in the prayers.  The bread must refer to a specially designated bread, the bread of Holy Communion.  Simon Kistemaker writes:   “In the Greek, the definite article precedes the noun bread and thus specifies that the Christians partook of the bread set aside for the sacrament of communion (compare 20:11; I Cor. 10:16).   Also, the act of breaking bread has its sequel in the act of offering prayers  (presumably in the setting of public worship” (111).   This verse is a description of the formal act of observing the Lord’s Supper.  If “breaking bread” was merely fellowship over a meal, the previous phrase, “fellowship,” would have taken care of that concept.  Breaking of bread refers to the ceremony of the Lord’s Supper.  No doubt, the Lord’s Supper, at this point in time, may have been a part of a larger meal, but the breaking of bread mentioned here is Holy Communion.  F. F. Bruce writes:

The ‘breaking of bread’ here denotes something more than the ordinary partaking of food together:  the regular observance of the Lord’s Supper is no doubt indicated.  While this observance appears to have formed part of an ordinary meal, the emphasis on the act of breaking bread, ‘a circumstance wholly trivial in itself,’ suggests that this was ‘the significant element of the celebration. …  But it could only be significant when it was a ‘signum’, viz. of Christ’s being broken in death.’ (R. Otto, The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man [Eng.tr., Londone, 1943], p. 315).  (79)

Thus, the breaking of bread is a term to describe how our Lord was broken in death.  When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he “took bread, and blessed it, and brake it…” (Matt. 26:26).   No wonder, then, that the Lord’s Supper is referred to as “the breaking of bread.”  I. Howard Marshall writes:

This [the breaking of bread] is Luke’s term for what Paul calls the Lord’s Supper.  It refers to the act with which a Jewish meal opened, and which had gained peculiar significance for Christians in view of Jesus’ action at the Last Supper and also when he fed the multitudes (Lk. 9:16; 22:19; 24:30; Acts 20:7, 11).  It has been claimed that the thought is simply of a fellowship meal, perhaps a continuation of the meals held with the risen Lord, without any specific relation to the Last Supper or the Pauline form of the Lord’s Supper which celebrated his death, but it is much more likely that Luke is simply using an early Palestinian name for the Lord’s Supper in the proper sense.  (83)

The breaking of bread is also the term that the Apostle Paul used to describe the Lord’s Supper.  In I Corinthians 10:16, he writes, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?  The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”  Once one understands that the term “the breaking of bread” refers to the Lord’s Supper, we can see with what frequency the Lord’s Supper was observed in New Testament times. 


            In Acts 2:46, St. Luke tells us:  “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people.  And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”  Again, the definite article is before the word “bread.”  They were breaking “the” bread from house to house.  Again, as was common in New Testament times, the Lord’s Supper was part of a larger fellowship meal.  But it is obvious that one of the key features of Christian gatherings was Holy Communion.  They broke the bread from house to house, or “by households,” as the Greek could be translated.  Therefore, in each of these household churches they are observing  Communion on a regular basis.

            In Acts 20, we get a picture of how regularly they were observing the Lord’s Supper.    In Acts 20:7, St. Luke writes, “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.”  We can see that by this time the disciples are in the habit of meeting on the first day of the week (Sunday).  When they meet, they meet specifically to break bread.  F. F. Bruce writes, “The breaking of the bread probably denotes a fellowship meal in the course of which the Eucharist was celebrated” (408).  In other words, they meet together on the first day of the week to observe Holy Communion.  As one can see, the meetings of the early Christians were characterized by word and sacrament, preaching and Holy Communion.  These two must never be divorced from one another. 

            We can see that when the early Christians met together, the purpose was to hear teaching and observe the Lord’s Supper.  St. Paul takes this for granted when he rebukes the Corinthian Christians for the manner in which they observe the Lord’s Supper:  “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.  For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper:  and one is hungry, and another is drunken” (I Cor. 11:20-1).  As one can see, St. Paul assumes that when Christians come together it is to observe the Lord’s Supper.  Unfortunately, the Corinthians had so corrupted the practice that it could no longer be considered the Holy Supper of our Lord.

            All of these verses of Scripture show that the normal practice of the New Testament church was that when they met together for worship, central to that worship was the breaking of the bread, Holy Communion.  Therefore, even if we have no explicit command which says, “Observe Holy Communion each Sunday,” we do have an implicit command and the example of the early Church.

            What was the practice of the Church after the death of the Apostles?  How frequently did the church observe Holy Communion?  The earliest descriptions we have of Christian worship outside the New Testament still feature Holy Communion as part of the normal worship of the church.  The Didache,  or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, which comes from the second century, makes it evident that every Sunday the ancient church observed the Lord’s Supper.  In the Didache 14:1-15:1, we read:

On Sunday, the Lord own day, come together, break bread and carry out the Eucharist, first confessing your sins so that your offering may be pure.  Let no one who has a quarrel with his friend join the meeting until they have been reconciled, so that your offering is not polluted.  For this is the offering spoken of by the Lord:  “Everywhere and all times offer me a pure sacrifice.  For my kingdom is great, say the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.” 

Appoint for yourselves therefore bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord; men who are meek and not money-lovers, true and approved, for they all perform for you the ministry of prophets and teachers.  So do not despise them; they are the honourable men among you, together with the prophets and teachers.”  (Dowley, 129)


Another early description of Christian worship comes to us from  Justin’s Apology I, 65-66, written around 150 A.D.:

At the end of the prayers, we greet one another with a kiss.  Then the president of the brethren is brought bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and the he takes them, and offers up praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and gives thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at his hands.  When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their joyful assent by saying Amen. (‘Amen means “so be it” in Hebrew). . . Then those whom we call deacons give to each of those present the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and carry away a portion to those absent. 

We call this food “Eucahrist”,  which no one is allowed to share unless he or she believes that the things we teach are true, and has been washed with the washing that is for remission of sins and unto a second birth, and is living as Christ has commanded.  For we do not receive them as common bread and common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation; similarly we have been taught that the food which is blessed by the word of prayer transmitted from him, and by which our blood and flesh are changed and nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.  For the apostles, in the memoirs called Gospels composed by them, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks said, “This do in remembrance of me, this is my body;” and that in a similar way, having taken the cup and given thanks, he said, This is my blood,” and gave it to them alone. (Bowley 128)

It is evident from these early writing that Christians were observing communion each Sunday, and that Holy Communion was central to their worship. 

People received the sacrament of communion on a weekly basis until Roman Catholicism took it away.  Though the Roman Catholic Church said daily masses, the laity, by and large,  did not partake.  Only the priests took the Lord’s Supper.  In the Medieval Church, the laity participated in the Lord’s Supper maybe once or twice a year.  It was not until the time of the Reformation that the great magisterial Reformers wanted to increase the frequency of communion. Thus, weekly communion is not a “Romish” practice:  it is a Protestant, reformed practice.  John Calvin (certainly no Romanist!  wanted to restore weekly Communion to the Church in Geneva, but his elders would not allow the practice, so he compromised for a monthly observance.  We have to remember that the members of the new Protestant churches were coming out of Roman Catholicism.  They were used to an infrequent participation in the sacrament.  Calvin found it difficult to break the hold of centuries of Roman Catholic practice among his people in this area of worship.  Calvin wrote:

“What we have so far said of the Sacrament abundantly shows that it was not ordained to be received only once a year—and that, too, perfunctorily, as now is the usual custom. Rather, it was ordained to be frequently used among all Christians in order that they might frequently return in memory to Christ’s Passion, by such remembrance to sustain and strengthen their faith, and urge themselves to sing thanksgiving to God and to proclaim his goodness; finally, by it to nourish mutual love, and among them­selves give witness to this love, and discern its bond in the unity of Christ’s body. For as often as we partake of the symbol of the Lord’s body, as a token given and received, we reciprocally bind ourselves to all the duties of love in order that none of us may permit anything that can harm our brother, or overlook anything that can help him, where necessity demands and ability suffices. Luke relates in The Acts that this was the practice of the apostolic church, when he says that believers “. . . continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers” [Acts 3:42, cf. Vg.]. Thus it became the unvarying rule that no meeting of the church should take place without the Word, prayers, partaking of the Supper, and almsgiving. That this was the established order among the Corinthians also, we can safely infer from Paul [cf. I Cor. 11:20]. eAnd it remained in use for many centuries after.

           Hence arose those ancient canons attributed by them to Anacletus and Calixtus, that, after consecration is finished, all who do not wish to be outside the precincts of the church should partake.  And in those old canons which they [Roman Catholics] call “apostolic,” we read:  “Those who do not stay until the end, and do not receive the sacred communion, should be corrected as disturbers of the church.”  The Council at Antioch, also, it was decreed that those who enter the church and hear the Scriptures and abstain from communion should be removed from the church until they correct this fault.  Although this was softened or at least set forth in milder language at the First Council of Toledo, still it was also decreed there that those who, having heard the sermon, have been found never to communicate are to be warned; if, after warning, they still abstain, they are to be excluded. (2, 1422-3) 

As one can clearly see from Church history, not partaking of the Lord’s Supper weekly was the Roman Catholic practice, while participating weekly was the Protestant practice.  As John T. McNeill writes, “Calvin was among the earliest to urge Communion as frequently as this; in general practice the Mass was frequently celebrated, but few received the elements.  Communion received monthly was regarded as “frequent” in the Scholastic era, and the preachers tended to discourage people from frequent participation.  In Roman Catholicism it was the Jansenists who began the reverse trend” (1421). 

In regard to frequency of Communion, the Anglican church has had a checkered past.  Though it seems obvious that the original Book of Common Prayer, both the 1549 and 1552 editions,  was designed with weekly communion in mind.  Though frequency of communion became less and less in Anglican bodies, it was not until the 1892 American edition of the Book of Common Prayer that actual wording was added to ensure that Holy Communion was not necessary every Sunday.  Marion Hatchett writes: 

The 1552 revision made even more explicit the relationship between Sunday and the Eucharist….  This principle, which emphasized the Eucharist as a regular part of the Sunday rite, was maintained until the American revision of 1892.  Even in that edition the rubrics continue to assume the traditional Anglican pattern.  But concern for the shortening of the Sunday service prompted the insertion of a statement in the Book:  “The Order for Morning Prayer, the Litany, and the Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion, are distinct services, and may be used either separately or together; Provided, that no one of these services be habitually disused.” (25)

Nevertheless, it is clear that our English Reformers intended that Holy Communion be observed every Sunday.  As Peter Toon writes: 

There is no doubt that the English Protestant Reformers intended that the central service at the parish church each Lord’s Day should be the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion.  This is confirmed by the content of the first Book of the Common Prayer of 1549.  In this first complete English Prayer Book, the service of Mattins is so constructed as being more of a service for the clergy and especially devoted laity than for the parish as a whole.  It begins, “O Lord open thou my lips.”   But the Order for Holy Communion is so constructed as to be for parishioners and they were expected to come for the Litany, said after Mattins, and stay for the Holy Communion.   It is also confirmed by the content of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer where not only is there expected to be the Order for Holy Communion on the Lord’s Day but that it will be prefaced by Morning Prayer (mattins) and the Litany….  So whether it was Litany and Holy Communion for the laity (1549) or  Morning Prayer, Litany and Holy Communion  for the laity (1552) it was certainly Holy Communion each Lord’s Day in intention.   (Please see this entire article at the website of the Prayer Book Society).   

Peter Toon also agrees that the reason weekly communion did not become part of English practice was because they had not participated frequently for centuries under the domination of Roman Catholicism.    

Another reason for observing Holy Communion every Sunday is to emphasize the central act of history.  Our worship is centered around one thought:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (St. John 3:16).  The central theme of the Holy Scriptures is that God gave his Son to die on the cross in our place.  It is only right that we should make this redemptive act the central theme of our worship.  Every Sunday, during Holy Communion, we offer praise and thanksgiving for the death of Christ on the cross.  The Book of Common Prayer tells us:  “The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was ordained for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and of the benefits which we receive thereby” (293).  It is true that we could simply remember his death  in our minds, but the Lord gave us an outward and visible sign of his death, Holy Communion, so that this important act might always be a potent reminder.  During Holy Communion we touch, taste, feel, and smell the elements of Communion.  We hear the words which explain the meaning of the elements.  Therefore, every Sunday, we have the most powerful reminder of the central event in history, the one that has the most meaning in our lives.

Finally, we observe Holy Communion every Sunday because of the benefits we receive from participation.  Think of what we receive during Communion.   In the “Offices of Instruction” of the Book of Common Prayer, the question is asked, “What are the benefits whereof we are partakers in the Lord’s Supper?”  The answer given is:  “The benefits whereof we are partakers in the Lord’s Supper are the strengthening and refreshing of our souls by the Body and Blood of Christ, as our bodies are strengthened and refreshed by the Bread and Wine” (293).    Why would anyone resist having Holy Communion when we receive so much by it? At the beginning of each week, we need our souls strengthened and refreshed by the body and blood of Christ.  We need every help we can get to grow in grace, to overcome temptation, and to draw nearer to God through Christ.    The Book of Common Prayer tells us that the Sacraments were given  “as a means whereby we receive this grace, and a pledge to assure us thereof” (292).  There are benefits that we receive by participating in Holy Communion that we can receive no other way.  There is a Gnostic tendency in the church to spiritualize everything, to make all of worship a strictly mental act, but Christ ordained the sacraments of his church, because he saw that we needed these physical, tangible things to assure us of his grace toward us.  We need this pledge to assure us of his grace.  God has seen fit that we should have this pledge on a weekly basis.  In the Prayer of Invocation during Communion, we pray that we “may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him” (81).  Who would not want these benefits on a weekly basis?  There is something that happens to us during Communion which happens at no other time.  We need the fullness of his indwelling.  God has given us no other means by which these things may be experienced in their fullness.  We should be thrilled that we have the opportunity each Sunday to enjoy these benefits.         

Realizing what benefits we receive by Holy Communion saves us from the common argument against weekly Communion, that it becomes routine.  The argument is that Holy Communion is more special if we observe it less frequently.  How absurd!  Should we sing hymns less frequently?  Should we pray less frequently so that prayer will be really special?  Should we confess our faith less frequently?  Should we read the Bible once a month so that reading the Scriptures will become special?  Should we come to Church once a year so that our worship experience will be special?  God forbid!  If Holy Communion becomes routine to you, it is not because of the frequency of observation, but because of the coldness of your own heart.  Remind yourself of what you are receiving during Holy Communion, and it will never grow old.

This trend toward less frequent communion is being reversed, and the ancient practice of the New Testament and the early Church of weekly communion is being restored to the Episcopal Church.  Therefore, at St. Paul’s, in effort to be in harmony with the writings of the New Testament, the history of the early Church, the Protestant Reformation, and the origins of Anglicanism, we observe Holy Communion every Sunday.  When we consider the teachings of the New Testament, the testimony of Church history, the importance of the death of Christ, and the benefits we receive from Holy Communion, surely anyone could understand why we practice its weekly observance.



The Book of Common Prayer.  New York:  Oxford UP, 1928.

Bruce, F. F.  Commentary on the Book of Acts:  The English Text with Introduction, 

    Exposition and Notes.  Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983.

Calvin, John.  The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Ed.  John T. McNeill.  Trans.

    Ford Lewis Battles. Vol. 2.  Philadelphia:  Westminster P, 1960.

Dowley, Tim.  Introduction to the History of Christianity.  Minneapolis:  Fortress P, 1995.

Hatchett, Marion J.  Commentary on the American Prayer Book.  San Francisco:  Harper,


Kistemaker, Simon J.  Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles.  Grand Rapids:  Baker

     Book House, 1990.

Marshall, I. Howard.  The Acts of the Apostles:  An Introduction and Commentary

    1980.  Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994. 

McNeill, John T.  Calvin:  The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Trans. Ford Lewis

    Battles. Vol. 2.  Philadelphia:  Westminster P, 1960.

Toon, Peter.  “A Morning Marathon of Prayer, Bible-Reading & Praise, with a Sermon.” 

    The Prayer Book Society of the USA.   15 October 2001. 



Copyright c 2004 by Stephan R. Toms


Read Full Post »

by Father Toms

Many conservative evangelicals have resisted the practice of calling their pastor “Father,” by an appeal to Matthew 23:8-10, which reads, “But be not ye called Rabbi:  for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.  And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father which is in heaven.  Neither be ye called masters:  for one is your Master, even Christ.”  If you take Jesus’ words in the sense that many take it, I suppose you could not call your biological Father, “Father.”  Maybe “daddy” or “pops” would be acceptable, just don’t use that word “father.”  Actually, by this line of reasoning, you could not call anyone “mister” (Mr.).  The word “mister” is derived from the word “master.”  Some people call their pastors “doctor.”  Well, “doctor” comes from the Latin word for “teacher”.  Calling a person “doctor” would be a violation of the command not to be called “rabbi,” which was the Hebrew word for “teacher”.   Some call their pastor’s “reverend,” but “reverend” is a title for someone who is revered for his office.  Some call their pastor’s “pastor,” which comes from the Greek word for  shepherd.  If we can’t call anyone “master,” because only Christ is our master, and we can’t call anyone “father,” because only God is our father, then we shouldn’t call anyone “pastor,” because only Christ is our shepherd. If we are not to call our pastor’s “Father,” based on Matthew 23:8-10, then we should do away with all terms of courtesy and respect.

          Most Bible interpreters have recognized that Jesus’ words should not be taken in their literal sense.  Matthew Henry said, “Not that it is unlawful to give civil respect to those that are over us in the Lord, nay it is an instance of the honour and esteem which it is our duty to show them” (331).   To understand Matthew 23:8-10, you must understand the context.  The context of this passage is Christ’s rebuke of the Pharisees.  Remember that they really yearned for these titles because they were such proud men.  William Hendriksen puts it like this:  “In the light of the both the preceding and the following context the statement is justified that what Jesus is here condemning is the yearning for rank, for special recognition above one’s fellow members.”  As the Lutheran commentator Lenski writes, “The use of the name Rabbi, my teacher, is not forbidden by Jesus; for it is evident that he himself gives his church teachers and leaders who have various officers which also have their distinctive titles Eph. 4:11; I Cor. 12:28.” (898-9)

          The Scriptures command us to honor our father and our mother.  Is our Lord saying, “Honor father and mother, but don’t call them father and mother?”  As you can see, such reasoning is ridiculous.  The prodigal son, returning home, said, “Father, I have sinned.”  The rich man in hell, cries out, “Father Abraham.”  Abraham doesn’t reply, “Idiot, why did you call me ‘father.’”  In I Timothy 5:1, St. Paul writes to Timothy, “Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father.”  It would be strange if Paul said, “Treat elders as fathers, just don’t call them fathers.”  Thus, when an elder has done wrong, the church member is not to rebuke him,  entreat him, still treating him with the loving respect rendered to a father.

          In the Scriptures we have instances of people looking to men as their spiritual fathers.  In I Corinthians 4:15, St. Paul writes, “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, ye have ye not many fathers:  for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.”  St. Paul refers to himself as the spiritual father of the Corinthian Christians.  In I John 2:13-14, St. John wrote, “I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning.  I write unto you, young men, because y have overcome the wicked one.  I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.  I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have know him that is from the beginning.  I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.”  St. John addresses certain men in the church as “fathers.”  Surely, he was not violating the command of our Lord by such an address.

          What was Jesus forbidding when he said, “Call no man father.”  Matthew Henry explains it this way:  “They the disciples)  must not be magisterial, nor domineer over their brethren, or over God’s heritage as if they had dominion over the faith of Christians: what they received of the Lord, all must receive from them; but in other things they must not make their opinions and wills a rule and standard to all other people, to be admitted with an implicit obedience” (331).   To quote Lenski again, “The subordination of one brother to another which is expressed by the term ‘Rabbi’ is not contrary to the Lord’s will, for he himself speaks of ‘the greater of you,’ v. 11.  What Jesus forbids is that any disciple of his should arrogate to himself an authority as the scribes and Pharisees did who usurped the seat of Moses and despised the common people as knowing nothing and as thus being accursed for following Jesus ( John 7:49); an authority which would set aside our true Rabbi or Teacher, Jesus, and would destroy the equality which puts us all on the same level as brethren.” (899)

          On the subject of spiritual fathers Lenski writes, “Now spiritual fathers are rightly called ‘father’….  We are to obey no man, however great he may be or may have been in the church, so as to set aside the one and only real authority in force for us, that of our heavenly Father whose children alone we are in the proper sense of the word.  Paul may call Timothy his son and may, like a mother, travail again till Christ be formed in the Galatians; we may call the great old teachers ‘Church Fathers,’ the Reformer, Father Luther, the old and revered men in the church ‘fathers’–all such loving terms are bestowed on the basis of our common brotherhood in Christ only, on the basis of our common childhood through faith only.  The moment one of these old teachers errs from our Father’s Word, we would not accept such an error” (899).

          Matthew Henry agrees with this interpretation when he explains what Jesus forbids in this passage:  “Call no man your father upon earth; constitute no man the father of your religion, that is, the founder, author, director, and governor of it….  St. Paul calls himself a Father to those whose conversion he had been an instrument of (I Cor. 4:15; Phil. 2:22); but he pretends to no dominion over them, and uses that title to denote not authority, but affection” (332)

                    Of course, so much of this rejection of the term Father, or any other titles, comes from our antinomianism.  Antinomianism is a term that means “no law.”  In his book, An Outline of an Anglican Life, Louis Tarsitano writes, ootnote–no. 6 on page 174

Some of the difficulties with title of respect comes from antinomianism: a rejection of any authority or rule. This is regrettable, since God’s order is a network of interlocking authorities and responsibilities. To be fair, however, some of the rejection of clerical authority has its origin in clerical failure to serve the Church. The polity of religious movements formed in reaction to clerical failure tend towards the anti-clerical, or at least to keeping the pastor under the governance of the local church board. Furthermore, those who believe that peace in inter-church relations can be achieved by the mere manipulation of terms, as in the substitution of “presbyter” for “priest,” should remember the example of the radical John Milton’s rejection of the Westminster Assembly’s efforts to bring peace in England by the adoption of a presbyterian system of polity. He wrote, “New Presbyter is but old Priest writ large” (“On the New Enforcers of Conscience Under the Long Parliament.”).  (174).

Many people are hesitant to use the term “father” because it may imply that there is actually someone over them.  But in the New Testament, elders are looked upon as those who rule in the church.  The writer to the Hebrews said, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God:  whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation….  Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves:  for they watch for your souls as they that must give an account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief” (Hebrews 13:13, 17).

          In the Episcopal church, the term “father” is an address of respect and affection.  Of course, with all of that said, in the Episcopal church we bind no man’s conscience.  You don’t have to call the pastor, “Father.”  You are at liberty to do so as a term of respect and affection.  Using the term “Father” is a way of saying that you realize your pastor loves you and cares for you in the way that Father would his children. 



Hendriksen, William.  Exposition of the Gospel according to St. Matthew.  Baker:  Grand Rapids, 1973.

Henry, Matthew.  Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.  Vol. 5.  Revell, n.d.

Lenski, R. C. H.  The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel.  Augsburg:  Minneapolis, 1943.

Tarsitano, Louis.  An Outline of an Anglican Life.


Copyright c 2008 by Stephan R. Toms

Read Full Post »