A huge part of my childhood was spent in the “church” environment. By this, I mean much of my time as a child was spent going to various church programs, musicals, anniversary celebrations and a number of other religious activities associated with the particular tradition I grew up in. This was all, of course, before I had truly come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Now since I have become a true believer and follower of Jesus Christ, and as I have grown over the years since I really began a walk with the Lord, I have learned and grown in so many ways. As a part of that growth and maturity, I have looked back over many of my early experiences prior to coming to faith in Christ and I have evaluated much of what I experienced then in light of the truth I now know today. In so doing, I have not been able to help but to comb over my previous experiences and be able to identify so many redeeming qualities about some of my early experiences. Now you may be asking, what do I mean by “redeeming qualities”? By redeeming qualities I mean things that have some good in them and that, if done in the right way, with the right heart and motive and perspective, can still be used and offered up to God as a legitimate means to worship and adore Him for who He is.
Why do I bring this up? Because as I have been reflecting in recent days on my early experiences and have thought about much of what I recall being said and sang and done as worship, I have realized that much of what I witnessed wasn’t bad in and of itself. Now this is not the case with everything, to be sure. But in large measure there is a lot from my past experiences that I can actually look at now with the new heart and renewed mind that I have today and can consider them good things in and of themselves. So if they were good, then what was the problem? The problem was that the ways many of the people who were doing these things weren’t. And it reminded me of a great lesson that we learn from the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:8 when he says this to the Corinthian church gone wild – “Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (ESV)
What is the connection here? Well, without making this too long, here’s the long and short of it. The Corinthian church was a church that Paul had gone to preach the gospel to, and many people were saved as a result (Acts 18:8-11). Yet, though many of these believers had come to faith in Christ, they were still maturing in their walk with Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). And one of the things they were still maturing in was dealing with sin in their midst. The word of God makes it clear. Christ came to pay for sin and set us free from it so that we might die to it (1 Peter 2:24). So in Paul’s mind, continuing to walk in sin after you have been set free from it was not optional (Romans 6:1-2). And so he wrote to challenge these believers to deal with the myriad of sinful problems that had crept into their church. And what he tells them is that because they are now really saved, they need to deal with the remaining sin in their midst (1 Corinthians 5:7). He challenged them to do this because Christ, the Passover Lamb had been sacrificed. And there is the key there. Christ is the Passover Lamb. (Look for a future post for more on the Passover). And, so since Christ has become our Passover Lamb, setting us free from sin and death once and for all, we do have something to celebrate. And so having the festival celebration is very much in order, for there is much to celebrate now that Christ has come and completed His sacrificial and atoning work on the cross! The only difference now, is that because of what Christ has done, we are now free to celebrate the festival no longer as we had to in the past, with the old leaven of malice and evil. Leaven in Scripture is characteristic of sin. But now, because of Christ, we are free to celebrate the festival with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth! Meaning, we are now free to celebrate without unatoned sin in our midst!
And so bringing this all together, what is the point of this post? – well, as I began to think of my early experiences and much of what I recall that I felt was actually good, it made me think of this account. Just as Paul was not condemning celebrating the festival itself, but rather the way the festival was being celebrated, I feel much the same way with much of what is being done in church culture today. Not all of it is bad. Some of it is good. Really good. And much of it can even be really profitable for stirring us up to personal holiness and devotion and joyful worship to our Lord. So in like manner to Paul, I would say that the issue is not the festival celebration in and of itself. The issue is the leaven that permeates the festival celebration. So, the answer? Cleanse out the old leaven that it may be a new lump (1 Corinthians 5:7).
And so let us not necessarily get rid of those things we have done in our history and culture as a means to express our worship to our God (if in fact it is something that is good and redeemable)…let’s just cleanse out the old leaven of sin that permeates it so we can offer it up to God in purity. In sincerity. In truth. And what is the motivation for doing so?
Because Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. And He therefore now is worthy of the best worship we can give.