Covenant Renewal Worship vs. Paedosacraments

Horeb - Gerome

Ignorance of the Bible’s very consistent architecture has led to the assembly of many well-meaning but errant doctrinal constructs over the centuries. With reference to it, however, the conflicts are made plain. Our own towers to heaven, however historic they might be, and however cherished, must be torn down.

Just as the “tabernacling” of God in human flesh established a new temple, so the architecture of God serves as the measure for the edifices of man in every sphere. As the Bible repeatedly shows, the city of God will only be built according to the blueprint from heaven, the one given upon the mountain. Anything else will be revealed by fire as mud bricks and straw, a house built on sand, or wood, hay and stubble.

Architecture as Process

The Bible’s sacred architecture is not “solid state.” Not only does it become more and more glorious as the story progresses, from garden to tent, from temple to city, from nature to culture, the elements of the building themselves constitute a process of maturity, recapitulating the pattern of “forming and filling” established in Genesis 1.1For examples, see Revelation – Cycle 2 Just as that pattern underlies the shape of Genesis 2 — the social architecture established in Adam and Eve2See Covenant Structure in Genesis 2 — so it also underlies the dictation and construction of the Tabernacle in the latter part of the book of Exodus. These chapters are the worst kind of tedium unless we are willing to think visually, or architecturally. If, after careful and repeated readings of the book of Genesis, we have the “heavenly pattern” hidden in our hearts, the details of the tent of God are not a boring list but a tour of the gallery of grace, an architectural representation of the work of God in every sphere, from the creation of the world down to the heart of the humblest saint. Although these sequences are far more complex, we can begin to sing along because we already know the tune.3See The Shape of Exodus 25-31

Since all God’s works are “musical” in that sense, we should not be surprised to find the same architecture in biblical worship. Jeff Meyers writes:

Jesus taught us to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). He thereby established heaven as the pattern for what is done on earth. (Actually, this pattern is symbolized in many places in the Old Testament, beginning in Genesis 1:1-2.) This is especially the case with regard to the church’s worship. Surely the manner in which worship is conducted in heaven functions as a model for the church on earth. When the Apostle John was privileged to observe heavenly worship, as he records for us in the Revelation, he saw an orderly, formal service performed by angels, living beings, and the twenty-four elders (the precise identity of each of these beings is not our concern here). They repeated various rituals and ritual responses (Rev. 4:9-11). They alternated responses antiphonally (Rev. 5:11-14). They sang hymns in unison (Rev. 5:9). They fell down together (no doubt, a prearranged liturgical action), and they jointly recited prayers of praise and thanksgiving that must have been pre-composed and memorized. How else would they have all prayed (or sung) simultaneously?4Jeffrey J. Meyers, The Lord’s Service: Worship at Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church, 19, a condensed version of The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship.

Meyers notes that, just like the Creation week, and indeed like any good music, the liturgy of worship “moves from tension to rest, from mourning to joy.” What began as “formless and void” becomes “formed and filled.” Our weekly worship is thus a celebration of the new creation established in the death, resurrection, ascension and enthronement of Christ. The action moves from bloodshed on the earth to rule over the nations. This process is called “Covenant Renewal Worship” because it follows the pattern of all biblical Covenants.

God Calls Us – We Gather Together and Praise Him
God Cleanses Us – We Confess Our Sins
God Consecrates Us – We Respond in Prayer and Offering
God Communes With Us – We Eat God’s Food
God Commissions (Blesses) Us – We March Out to Serve God5Since each of these steps is two-fold — God’s action and our response, Covenant head and Covenant body — it should be no surprise that this fivefold construct is also found in the tenfold Ten Commandments. See God-In-A-Box.

The process begins with the authority of God, purifies His people, then sends them as representatives into the world. This is the Above, Beside, Below architecture found in the Ten Commandments.6See God-In-A-Box  The threefold Trinity becomes fivefold by Covenant and then sevenfold in history. The pattern instilled in us in the house of God is then recapitulated in our own houses, tribes, cities and nations.

But this process of the Spirit “coming down” always follows the ascension offering, the sacrifice “going up.”7For more discussion on the meaning of the ascension offering, see The First Ascension. The three-level “ziggurat” described in Exodus 20:4 and Philippians 2:10 is turned upside down in the ministry of Christ.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything…

that is in heaven above,
(Step 3: Jesus’ ascension – Authority to Rule: GOVERNMENT)
or that is in the [land] beneath,
(Step 2: Jesus’ transfiguration – Authority to Die: SACRAMENT)
or that is in the water under the [land].”
(Step 1: Jesus’ baptism – Authority to Testify: WORD)8For more discussion, see Jesus’ Three Ascensions

Jesus sent His Spirit only after He ascended into heaven as the ultimate sacrifice. Man must be represented in heaven before he can be commissioned to represent God on earth. This is why Adam was put through a process of ethical qualification. His submission to the word-sword of heaven would qualify him to be its bearer on earth.9For more discussion, see “The Spirit of Adam” and “The Meekest Man” in Inquiétude: Essays for a People without Eyes. Just as there was tension and rest in the testing and enthronement of Christ (Below, Beside, Above), so there is now tension and rest is the conquest of the nations by the Gospel (Above, Beside, Below). 10Interestingly, although the flow of divine authority in the fivefold Covenant is Above, Beside, Below, the sevenfold process includes both an ascent and a descent. God always works in fractals.

Architecture as Drama

Now, as a visual thinker, some things are obvious to me that are not obvious to other people. Thinking visually not only allows one to think spatially or architecturally (how things are placed in a given space), it then allows you to make some observations concerning the spatial “relationships” between those things. In dramatic terminology, this placement of people is referred to as “blocking.” Eric Sean McGiven writes:

Blocking is the positioning and movement of the characters to tell the story in visual terms. This placement can suggest the attitudes of the characters toward one another so the story situation is conveyed to the audience with or without dialogue. It makes the audience understand, at times contrary to the dialogue, the inner meaning existing within and between characters.

Blocking should make the dramatic or comedic purpose of the scene so clearly apparent to the viewer that even a deaf man could understand it. For example, silent films were almost all physical behavior. A whole generation grew up understanding and enjoying these films.

The visual story reflects the moment to moment failure or success of each character’s struggle toward their objective, as well as the intensity (commitment) and focus (direction) of their emotions. Blocking is thus the accumulation of several components: the dramatic relationship, the character’s wants, what he feels, what stands in the way, and how is the conflict presently resolving. Now when I say winning or failing, I don’t mean whether the character achieves their end goal, but whether they are succeeding or failing at specific moments along the way.

Blocking, is therefore, a comparative portrayal of strong and weak movements, and relative positions. This means that certain body positions; stage areas, planes, and levels along with character movements have definite values. They inject meaning into the picture and the telling of the story.

For instance, a strong movement of a figure is one rising from a chair, straightening up, placing weight on the forward foot, raising the arm, or walking forward. A weak movement, on the other hand, is stepping backward, slouching, placing the weight on the rear foot, sitting down, lowering the arm, walking backward, or turning around and walking away from a figure or object.

We could also define, in general, whether physical behavior is strong or weak, whether it signifies a winning attitude or one of struggle or failure.11Eric Sean McGiven, Blocking and Movement.

The first point that should be made here is the importance of physical posture in liturgy. The saints kneel or prostrate themselves to confess sins because we are slain as living sacrifices. The saints stand to sing and pray because these are priestly acts of service, and servants stand. The saints hear the word and receive communion seated because we are priest-kings, friends of God. Covenant renewal worship (or whatever you choose to call it) purifies our hearts and leads to the saints walking among the nations as prophets.

Liturgy, under the Old Covenant and the New, is sacred drama. People used to go to church to absorb patterns for life. Now, sadly, they watch TV and movies to learn how to live, and entertainment rather than the Bible informs the pattern of modern worship as it does the method of modern Bible teaching. It is little wonder that Christians learn nothing new at church. It is also telling that the first generation to skip Sunday School is responsible for the current plague of corruption in public and private institutions. Cultus always leads to culture. Men must learn to kneel before they can stand and walk with authority.

When it comes to the Bible, obtaining an understanding of the blocking of all the actors on the ubiquitous “sacred stage” explains many mysteries.12See Orientation Day My favourite example is the blocking of the actors in the account of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. The placement of all the people in the “legal” architecture of the court of God reveals it to be a replay of the events in Eden, only this time there is a better Adam. Not only this, but the careful mentions of Jesus sitting, bending down and standing are also architectural cues. There is no drama so deep and rich as even the simplest Bible story.13See The Emancipation of Eve.

Children And Liturgy

Since every Bible story has the same shape (the Bible Matrix), and each of the seven steps in that process corresponds to some element in the Tabernacle, every Bible story is an expression of the house of God, the heart of the city of God. This is very obviously the case with Exodus 24, and this chapter exposes one of the “architectural conflicts” mentioned above.

The pattern of biblical worship is not compatible with the doctrine of paedosacraments held by Jeff Meyers. Why? Because God never puts children in the Sanctuary. As it was in Eden, even before the children were born, the Sanctuary was only open to those who legally represented them.14For more discussion, see Cultivation and Representation. Even in the account of the woman caught in adultery, where the real target of the serpent is Jesus, the Offspring of the Woman, it is Jesus as the Man. Those whose intention is to include children in worship patterned after the biblical order should look more closely at that pattern, and this is where Exodus 24 is extremely helpful. The children were included, but we ought to observe how and where they were included.

Here is the pattern of Covenant Renewal Worship in its sevenfold form (from Bible Matrix, p. 217):

Creation – The saints are officially called to worship (Sabbath)
Division – Corporate confession and forgiveness (Passover)
Ascension – By faith, the saints ascend before the throne in heaven, singing praises (Firstfruits)
Testing – The Word is taught (Pentecost)
Maturity – The offering is taken (Trumpets)
Conquest – Communion is celebrated (Atonement)
Glorification – Thanksgiving prayer and a recommission to preach the gospel (Booths)

As in Genesis 1, the process begins with the authority of heaven and concludes with the establishment of a representative authority on earth. This is also what we see in Exodus 24.

The events of Exodus 24 occurred just before the dictation of the instructions for the Tabernacle. In this chapter, the people of God are not only gathered, cleansed, consecrated, commune with God and are commissioned, they are also divided up within the different stages of the “ascension” process on Mount Sinai. The entire nation, as the “corporate firstborn” of God became a picture of the process of sacrifice, and what we must notice is that the process not only moves from Below, to Beside, to Above, it also takes us from the sons of men on earth to the Sons of God in heaven:

Sabbath – The call to climb the mountain and worship from afar
Passover – Moses and the elders are set apart from Israel
Firstfruits – Moses alone shall come near the Lord (legally representing a new Covenant Head)
Pentecost – Moses tells the people the Laws and the people agree to obey them
Trumpets – The altar and twelve pillars are built (legally representing a new city-Body)
Atonement – Half of the blood is sprinkled on the children of Israel.
Moses and the elders feast before God on the mountain (on or under the “Sea”) in safety.
Booths – The glory-cloud rests upon the mountain

The most common arguments for paedosacraments rely on Circumcision (for paedobaptism) and Passover (for paedocommunion). However, even though women served at the Tabernacle, and even young children had a place in the courts of Solomon’s Temple, not even Israel’s children qualified as legal representatives with Sanctuary access.15My friend Luke Welch totally screws this up, architecturally-speaking, here. Both Circumcision and Passover concerned the households of men, and their earthly offspring. What we see in the books of Exodus and Leviticus is the establishment of divisions within Israel to accommodate the house of God. Just as Israel was the “firstborn” of God, corporately speaking, the Levites were set apart as legal representatives for those sons of Israel.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.” (Numbers 3:11-13)

This shifted the focus from the Land and womb to the Sanctuary, from the firstborn of the womb to the firstborn from the dead, or, in Tabernacle terms, from bloody flesh to fragrant smoke. Where the Bronze Altar represented the four-cornered earthly inheritance, the Incense Altar represented the coming “heavenly country,” the inheritance of the resurrected saints, the courts of God. The architecture on Mount Sinai prefigured the ascension of the saints at the end of the Old Covenant as a mature, human representative government in heaven. To use Circumcision and Passover as proof of the veracity of paedosacraments is to lift raw flesh into heaven without purification by fire. Paedosacraments are the liturgical equivalent of the tower of Babel, or gathering sticks on the Sabbath to warm your own tent instead of gathering around God’s. Sons of men are not Sons of God.

The conclusion is clearly that children, indeed anyone, is welcome in the New Covenant house of God. The Garden is now free of the accuser, so Eve now rules as co-regent with her Bridegroom. Baptism and table are thus for “both men and women” (Acts 2:18; 5:14; 8:12) as New Covenant “Levites” (men) and “Nazirites” (men and women), but restricting the sacraments to believers does not exclude the children any more than restricting ministry of the Word to men excludes the women. Just as the restriction of priesthood to “Adams” who “died” made worship a safe place for women and children, so the restriction of priesthood to “Adams” and “Eves” under the New Covenant makes worship a safe place not only for our children, but for anyone else who wishes to attend. New Covenant worship is open worship, a drama for all the world to see, and the sacraments are part of the liturgical story which we dare not get wrong. They do not constitute “an intellectual fence” which divides the Church any more than did the divisions within Israel upon Sinai or around the Tabernacle.

Now, we all know a picture is worth a thousand words. It has taken me almost three thousand to explain an inconsistency I noticed by comparing Exodus 24 and Covenant Renewal Worship in a single mental image. This might be why software companies are employing people with varying degrees of autism to find bugs in computer code. I am no genius, but I do know my way around the house.

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1. For examples, see Revelation – Cycle 2
2. See Covenant Structure in Genesis 2
3. See The Shape of Exodus 25-31
4. Jeffrey J. Meyers, The Lord’s Service: Worship at Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church, 19, a condensed version of The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship.
5. Since each of these steps is two-fold — God’s action and our response, Covenant head and Covenant body — it should be no surprise that this fivefold construct is also found in the tenfold Ten Commandments. See God-In-A-Box
6. See God-In-A-Box
7. For more discussion on the meaning of the ascension offering, see The First Ascension.
8. For more discussion, see Jesus’ Three Ascensions
9. For more discussion, see “The Spirit of Adam” and “The Meekest Man” in Inquiétude: Essays for a People without Eyes.
10. Interestingly, although the flow of divine authority in the fivefold Covenant is Above, Beside, Below, the sevenfold process includes both an ascent and a descent. God always works in fractals.
11. Eric Sean McGiven, Blocking and Movement.
12. See Orientation Day
13. See The Emancipation of Eve.
14. For more discussion, see Cultivation and Representation.
15. My friend Luke Welch totally screws this up, architecturally-speaking, here.

2 Responses to “Covenant Renewal Worship vs. Paedosacraments”

  • Steven Opp Says:

    How would you respond to a paedobaptist who asks what makes communion different than the rest of the liturgy. Something like “When I bring my child to church, why should I expect him to kneel when everyone else kneels, stand when everyone else stands, but not receive communion when everyone else receives communion. You say unbelievers are welcome to be part of the liturgy, but why not all of the liturgy, as communion is part of it?”

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks Steven
    Good question. The answer is that absolutely anyone is welcome to participate in the liturgy, including anyone’s children, because there is neither Jew nor Gentile. It’s no longer just the tribes of Israel at the base of the mountain (and their children), but all nations. The “Covenant sign” is no longer a divide that is familial, tribal or civic but ethical/spiritual. Baptism seems to be a cross between the Levitical ordination (in the house) and the Nazarite vow (in the field).
    Based on their “tribal” baptism, some paedosacramentalists call for “closed worship,” which is the logical conclusion of their mistaken doctrine regarding the sacraments. But who would go that far?
    So, the same question could be asked of any church service, really. If an unbaptised adult visits the service, are they to be barred from participating in the liturgy because they cannot receive communion?