Monday, July 27, 2009

Rethinking It All: The Revelation

This topic is scary for a number of reasons. One the imagery used in the book scared me so badly when I was younger that I was more receptive to hear the Gospel, even if the viewpoint presented then does not represent my viewpoint now. Second, because neither Luther nor Calvin wrote anything of substantive length on this book -- fools rush in where angels dare to tread.

But my purpose here is not to challenge any eschatological system or put forward a new one. The debate there is intractably muddled. I spent a good chunk of my life wandering amongst dispensationals, postmillennials, amillennials, preterists, and futurists to know the dead ends that there lie.

Instead I wish to speak of worship. Putting "worship" and "Revelation" in the same sentence is, in some parts of my denomination, tantamount to taking the proverbial mark. The worship scenes in the Revelation involve non-Psalm tunes, musical instruments, incense, and other heterodox accoutrements to some. I've heard tell that we cannot use any of the material in this book to account for our styles of worship because it is symbolic, therefore the Regulative Principle somehow does not apply. Whatever one thinks of this is, at least in this post, of no concern to me, maybe I'll address it another time.

What I do wish to speak about is the contention that it does apply to our worship today, specifically the claims of the late David Chilton in his magnum opus The Days of Vengeance. Chilton takes a hard look at the liturgical structure of the book, showing in very detailed ways that the book is really a Day of Atonement/Yom Kippur ceremony, except about the destruction of apostate Jerusalem (in AD 70, mind you) and the vindication of faithful Israel (the Church composed of Jew and Gentile). So far, so good. However, Chilton often makes the point that this should be the model for our worship: with the bishop/pastor representing God, the elders gathered around him, etc. It leads to a very High Church ecclesiology, with especially the pastor having an almost godlike status (and, if reports are to be believed, this is often what happened in Tylerite churches, to much ill effect and spiritual damage, but I cannot corroborate those rumors). It is here that I think Chilton misses a very important facet of Revelation (and, to be fair, it is no fair to pick on someone who has been deceased over a decade -- I mean no ill will to him and have learned much from his commentary and other writings). Revelation is not modeling a pattern for continuing Temple-like worship of the Church, but rather showing forth the last Temple liturgy that was accomplished with the Messiah's eschaton (the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and vindication of the Messiah through the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70). Revelation, then, if I am correct (and these are very preliminary thoughts) is a book that finalizes the old order of things, showing that the Messiah has truly fulfilled all that the Temple was and stood for, in a cosmic way, once for all time, and so now in the New Jerusalem, the Church adorned as a Bride, there is no Temple save the Lord God and the Lamb in its midst. Temple worship of any sort is fulfilled in the Messiah.

This, of course, does not mean that worship is done, but instead we must look to the very fruitful model of the synagogue as the early Christians did.