By Joel A. Hess –
Christians routinely use the word “mystery” when explaining the faith. Often times when a believer is stuck in explaining a teaching, she is quick to conclude, “Well, it’s a mystery.” The Orthodox really love this word. It often times seems impossible to even discuss with them their understanding of things as they repeat “It’s a mystery” to every request of explanation. And of course, there is the condescending “The East isn’t concerned about systematic explanations like you westerners.” They sound like Apple users snubbing their noses to PC users. Of course, it was my “eastern” friend from Indiana who told me this.
For sure, it is a mystery as to how God does some things. How seemingly contradictory statements can hold true regarding the trinity is a mystery. Why I was raised in Michigan and not Indonesia is a mystery. God does not and has not told us everything. But we default on this mystery answer way too much! Christianity is not supposed to be a mystery. Buddhism and Islam bank on the otherness and mystery of God and the universe. In fact, Christianity is, by its very nature, the complete opposite of mystery. It is about making known what was once unknown.
St. Paul declares,
When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Ephesians 3:4, 5
Christianity is the unveiling of the mystery of God! That’s the Gospel. It is no longer unknown what God thinks of you. He loves you. It is no longer unknown why you exist, what your purpose is, what your future is. God made you. He saved you through Christ. You will survive and even rise from the dead. His heart and will toward you is not hidden, but extraordinarily clear. As clear as a man bleeding on a cross, buried in a tomb and risen from the dead. Christianity is NOT a mystery religion. It is the end of all mysteries! The Church exists to make KNOWN what was once a mystery.
Man just loves putting God back up in the heavens behind the clouds. We really do. The reformation’s motivation was to destroy this false veiling of God that had occurred in the medieval church.
Still I have a number of friends who argue that a traditional/historic/liturgical worship service invokes a much needed sense of mystery and wonder that seems missing from megachurchy contemporary services popular in America. The albs, chanting, sitting and standing, and incense mark the time and space as very different than most people’s day to day lives. This is true. Something “unusual” is happening as God is unusual compared to man. I am attracted this. Heaven meets earth in the service they say. This is true.
Yet, it did it in a plain ol’ dirty manger. Heaven met earth in ordinary looking guy hanging on a cross between two ordinary looking thieves. The incarnation, the presence of God in our world is not as glorious as we would imagine. But looks like naked feet walking across the mud. It looks like plain hands getting a drink from a shunned woman. It doesn’t look mysterious, but approachable. God with us.
For sure, man needs to humble himself before the almighty God. He needs to learn that he is not God. Yet ultimately the whole point of the worship service is not to keep God mysterious. It is to unveil the mystery. Everything that happens in a worship service should be for the unveiling of the mystery of God to the people!
Jesus says, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables.” Jesus gives the secret of the kingdom of God in the worship service as people come to clearly understand their sins and their forgiveness through the preached Word and the reception of communion.
Paul says in the first chapter of Colossians, “which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.”
A pastor and church’s number goal for every single worship service is to make known the Word of God! It is not to invoke some sense of mystery. The sole purpose of everything that happens in the worship service is to edify and make clear the Word of God, ultimately in bringing people to repentance and giving forgiveness.