I was one of Dr. Harold Braxton’s “boys.” Dr. Braxton was the Religious Affairs Director and Dean of the School of Humanities at Virginia State University. After preaching in the Foster Hall Chapel, he served his Pastoral duties at Union Grove Baptist Church. I was blessed to serve under him with the Baptist Student Union and as a Seminary Intern when I was enrolled at the School of Theology at Virginia Union University. Quite a few of young people, especially aspiring ministers benefitted from “Doc’s” steady wisdom and refusal to fall for the latest trends in preaching.
Charismatics were known for seeking out new members among the freshmen on campus. Their ministries were very exciting and upbeat. The lonely and impressionable students often fell to the style and expressiveness of what they had to offer. For a while, I was among those who fell for their doctrines and worship. But, after seeing some faults with this non-denominational movement and remembering the firm foundation given to me by my Baptist parents and community in King William, Dr. Braxton’s “boring” chapel sermons and steady Christian walk on campus made a lot of sense to me.
Virginia State University
I remember a word of wisdom he gave in one sermon that all but killed my flirtation with charismania. “Don’t shout any higher than you live.” To several students, these were words of the devil designed to “quench the Spirit.” “Doc” was a very spiritual man and was known to give a good “whoop” every now and then from the pulpit. But, the words from this veteran campus minister and pastor was a standard for us to avoid making exuberant praise and worship the standard of who we were as Christians. As young adults, we were faced with a plethora of temptations. Shouting, speaking in tongues, and the like may be exciting to participate in. But, true spiritual life meant having the Holy Spirit guide us through these struggles. As we are likely to fall to them, we must not carry some sort of false face of Holiness. Instead, we had to be humble about who we are in the Lord as we are far from who we ought to be. And being in our late teens and early twenties, not many of us could boast about how God brought us out from what we used to be since we weren’t really old enough to be anything to be brought out of.
I think we would all do well to heed the wise words of Dr. Harold Braxton today. Pointing firstly to myself, it is way too easy for me to point a finger at modern churches and stick out my chest as a member of the Orthodox Church. It is easy to be complacent belonging to the 2,000 year old continuous connection to Christ and His Apostles. But, what good is it for me to boast of the greatness of Holy Tradition if I fail to devote myself to prayer and love for others? An icon on the wall is good. But, without using it as a window toward heaven and seeking the presence of God, it is nothing more than an interesting piece of religious art. Sure, I burn incense. But, clouds of smoke mean little more than a fragrance for my home if I do not have compassion on my fellow man. Like anyone else, Satan continues to attack me from all directions. How dare I act or speak as a sinless man. No, my shouting ought not be loud at all. May God bless me not to think of myself more than I should.
First, I owe a great-big apology to Van Ness Colbert for being late with my response to this one. I meant to give you a well thought out answer on Sunday when you first posed the question. But, this has not been a good week for well thinking for me. Nevertheless, here is my two-cent answer to your question:
Is there a difference between praise and worship?
To me, the answer is a bit obvious. Worship is the totality of the time that we intentionally spend with God. From the days of the tent tabernacle to St. John Chrysostom’s Divine Liturgy, people are called together with the intent purpose of taking part in the songs, readings, sacrifices, rituals, and gathered fellowship to show their dedication to the divine. Praise is but one facet of worship. It can occupy a separate portion of the worship experience, or be done in conjunction with something else (usually during hymns or when the preacher is “closing out” the sermon).
I am more than a little disturbed when people blur the lines of praise and worship, as if they are one in the same. Even in the Church of God In Christ (COGIC) tradition, there were well defined places in the worship where the congregation was encouraged to express themselves vocally and to be in reverent silence. I am afraid that we tend to want to verbally respond so much that even the reading of scripture has become a place for “praise breaks.” Paul taught the Corinthians in his first letter to them that God is not the author of confusion but of peace (14:26-38). But, we tend to excuse these infractions as “being caught up in the Spirit.” Often, people are so programmed into an expected response that they will go overboard in praise. With some, it is because they have had a genuine experience with God doing something miraculous or bringing them through a great trial. With others, it is because they think this is the way they are supposed to respond. I have no problem with giving praises to God. I think we should “Let all things be done decently and in order” (I Cor. 14:38) in worship.
Cyprian of Carthage
My dear sister, Elizabeth Gatling, threw this question out last night:
I have a question. I have a good friend who is a Baptist preacher and very open to discussing the church. However, he recently sent me the following pm:
“So I guess the flaw in the Orthodox Church is its prejudice against other churches…considering the post with the quote from Cyprian. The more I look into it the more uncomfortable I get when it comes to how Orthodoxy views me. It’s almost offensive.”
How do I respond?
First of all, I think this preacher needs to look at the background of St. Cyprian‘s writings. The Roman bishop Novatian took the position that Christians that stopped being Christian during the Roman persecutions could not be permitted back in the church except by re-baptism. Cyprian thought this was too harsh a standard and allowed the truly repentant “backsliders” back into the church. He wasn’t criticizing any of the heretical movements of the time, but the Novatianist who put up a ridiculous obstacle for lapsed Christians to come back into the fold.
Cyprian was writing in the third century under third century circumstances to third century issues. Would he be harsh against us Protestants who have little or no exposure to Orthodox Christianity? Of course not! We aren’t heretics. We didn’t reject and rebel against the apostle’s doctrine as taught by the fathers and the ecumenical councils. We Baptist rebelled against the more acceptable Protestants who broke away from the Roman Catholics. In Bible colleges and seminaries, we don’t really study Orthodoxy because we are being prepared to serve in our own denomination. So, to think that the Orthodox Church has some sort of prejudice against us is not the case (there are individual bigots in every church including us Baptist).
Rather than feel uncomfortable about the Orthodoxy because of statements by an ancient saint that weren’t directly applied to our time, the words of a modern saint (not yet canonized) are far more helpful. Fr. Seraphim Rose’s reply to an African-American catechumen speaks to all who are uncomfortable when studying Orthodoxy:
We should view the non-Orthodox as people to whom Orthodoxy has not yet been revealed, as people who are potentially Orthodox (if only we ourselves would give them a better example!). There is no reason why we cannot call them Christians and be on good terms with them, recognize that we have at least our faith in Christ in common, and live in peace especially with our own families.
I will try not to be slack in answering questions again.