The liturgies of the first Christians, the historic patterns of worship, inherited also from the synagogue and temple, are our best chance not to end up worshiping the dollar, or the idea of America, the angry (or the coddling) gods of human projection—even of well-meaning Christian projection—or ourselves.
When we submit to the anchors within the historic liturgies—readings from Scripture, the confession of sin, baptism, creeds, the cry and lament of "Lord have mercy," apostolic preaching and teaching, premeditated prayers for the world, the chanting or singing of psalms, the Eucharistic table set by God in the presence of our enemies—their great collective gift is connection with Jesus Christ: the true image of God, the true image of humanity, and the one by whom we can learn to love all things that exist.
And yet they are not capable of anything apart from the Spirit of God, as is often everywhere observable. It is my experience that when the liturgies are handled without humility and reverence, without passion, and without the authentic investment of the gathered worshipers as a community that seeks to love God and their neighbor in risky and costly ways, these sacred practices that are supposed to be a fruit-bearing tree of life can be or can become withered and lifeless.
These parts of worship—prayer, confession, teaching, baptism, lament, praise, Eucharistic fellowship—can LOOK very different from church to church but they cannot be absent. They are not distinctives of one church, like candles instead of spotlights, or organs instead of guitars, or "traditions of men," like vestments for clergy or name tags for members or holy water fonts, but essentials.
Their absence is a significant debilitating handicap for any group of persons striving to be the church, whether they meet in living rooms or around kitchen tables, in cathedrals of stained glass or drywall, in storefronts, or in schools, in an open field, beneath a shade tree, or underground.
And yet these practices are meaningless and a dance without music or choreography if those who practice them do not yield to the Spirit of God, do not live out self-sacrificial community, do not walk in the humility that attends these mysteries because, after all, they are boundless, gracious gifts of the divine and human Humility who called all things into existence from nothing and who keeps all things in life.
In the absence of what we might call 'those who bear crosses,' the historic liturgies are not entrances to the kingdom, as Schmemann wisely understood, but exercises in archaeology.
A sure sign that one has not embraced the historic liturgies with the humility of the God who became flesh to wash our feet and take our nails is the self-assurance and pride that you are worshipping God in spirit and in truth while all other Christian worshippers "just don't get it."
When it comes to the devil, we must first disabuse ourselves of the mythology that has overlain the concept. Evil is not a reality, it is an unreality. It has no being of its own. It is not real in the same sense that God is real or as theologians might say, it has no ontology. It does not exist in and of itself. The devil, or I should say, the concept of the devil has a history. Jeffrey Burton Russell has written four major books (Devil, Satan, Lucifer, and Mephistopheles) that demonstrate that the concept of the devil is one that develops over time.
The idea of an agent of evil was first introduced into the history of ideas around 800 B.C.E, in Persia by Zoroaster. Zoroaster was a reformer of religion and taught that there were two competing principles, one of light, the other darkness; one was a good god, the other a bad god. These two principles were in an eternal battle. Sometimes in human history, the good god had the upper hand, at other times the evil god seemed to be winning. Back and forth this struggle between the gods went, playing itself out in the arena of human affairs. This principle lies behind the oriental notion of yin and yang, and of karma as well. When the Jewish people were exiled in Babylon in the sixth and seventh centuries B.C.E., they encountered this way of thinking.
Judaism also needed to account for evil in the world. In the Jewish traditions prior to the exile (found primarily in Torah), evil was a purely anthropological datum, that is evil was a purely human phenomenon. The story of the serpent in Genesis 3 shows that the man, the woman and the satan are all part of a matrix focused on the problem of desire. The talking serpent in Genesis 3 is a mythical figure. Snakes don’t talk. When we look at Genesis 3 in a future post we shall see how the snake is a metonym for desire. The important thing here is that the serpent is not some fallen angel in the guise of a snake. There are no traces of the Enoch myth in Genesis 1-3.
It was during the time of the exile that the first creation narrative was produced (Genesis 1:1-2:4). Everything about this creation was good; all seven days were beautiful in God’s sight. There is no evil in this creation story, in fact the story (or myth) is in distinct contrast to the myths espoused by the Babylonians whose gods needed and used violence to beget the creation. The Creator in the first creation story created all things with a word, that is, without violence, and that is what set apart this story from that of the cultural myths of origin from the surrounding civilizations. In my book The Jesus Driven Life I even said that this first creation story is not so much about beginnings as endings; in God’s creation all things end up as “tov, tov”, very good!
In the post-Exilic era, as this Persian dualism was imported into Jewish thinking a certain type of language and literature came into being that sought to explain the problem of evil in the world which we know as apocalyptic. This way of thinking divided the world into two ages, this age and the age to come. The way to account for evil in the world was to say that this age was evil and ruled by an evil power while the age to come was ruled by God.
The second creation narrative was another attempt to tell the story of the creation but this time, rather than express a hopeful vision, the author of the second creation story beginning in Genesis 2:5, seeks to also explain why there is trouble in the world. Notice that there is no seventh day in the second creation narrative. Why is that? Because everything after that is the sixth day: Adam/Eve, Cain, Abel, Noah, Babel. The second creation account names the real problem of evil, it is not abstract. Over and over again the problem of evil is named as violence. Violence is a human issue, not a divine problem. When we are able to recognize this, when we are able to shoulder the burden of our predicament on our own shoulders and not blame it on another worldy “being”, we will have come a long way toward understanding an essential part of the satan. The satan is violence, violence is satanic and both are human.