The Easter Service Called Tenebrae
By Dave Hunt
Question: Our church has recently introduced an Easter service called Tenebrae. It began as a solemn service that included worship songs and scripture that led into a contemplation of the sufferings of Christ during his crucifixion. This year they are having “stations that show the ‘Way of the Cross'” (quoted from service outline). A table as you walk in represents the Passover Supper; at the doors, the essence of wintergreen will be offered to mask the smell of death; the four stations:
Humility – foot washing (reenactment of disciples feet being washed by Jesus);
Fellowship with the Father – prayer station;
Apathy – Pilate washing his hands/allow people to do the same;
Suffering – table with crown of thorns and bloody shroud, bowl of nails for everyone to pickup.
There will also be a recreated tomb [with] soldiers rolling a stone over [the entrance]. There will be 30-40 minutes given for everyone to go through the stations and then the service begins. As an ex-Catholic, I would really like your input on this. We are told to remember the Lord in communion; is there any value in this kind of service? This is confusing!
Response: What your church is doing, while sincere, is rife with potential problems, in our opinion. Although your fellowship is putting together all kinds of things that it hopes will increase a person’s interest (some may even believe that these will increase one’s spirituality and knowledge) in the Lord and in what He has done for them, the program may have the opposite effect. Here are a few things to consider.
The New Testament gives no such examples of remembrance productions or ceremonies for the edification of believers. Although baptism and communion have become “efficacious” rituals and ceremonies in much of the church today, that’s not what we find in the Scriptures. Baptism and communion are simply personal ordinances to be followed. Baptism is a public declaration of one’s commitment to Christ; communion is an act of remembering Christ’s sacrifice for humanity.
Most of what you described from the service outline has been taken originally from Catholic and Orthodox traditions and rituals. Since they were created to support their works-oriented way of salvation, they have little if any value in leading a person to the biblical gospel or biblical truth.
Nearly all church productions are of poor quality, even embarrassing. Yet even if they were magnificent, they would still be greatly inferior to the preaching and teaching of the Word. Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” It is God’s Word that sets a person free, not man’s ceremonies and productions.
The Scriptures give us the most direct way of knowing and believing what Christ has accomplished for humanity on the Cross. They are God’s words given to the writers of the Old and New Testaments. As a person reads or hears God’s words, the Holy Spirit brings conviction and enables one to understand the words of God.
The subjective nature of presentations such as you describe cannot teach objective truth – only the Word can do this. People respond to the imagery presented in the productions experientially. It would be like you and me describing a painting that we had both seen. Our evaluations would be different because they would be based upon our impressions, feelings, and other subjective criteria. If, however, we saw a sign next to the painting that said, “For sale,” we would both know exactly what the sign was communicating because of the objective meaning of words.
When Moses went up to Mount Sinai, he was given objective instructions in words that he was told to write down. On the other hand, the Israelites, with Aaron’s help, were involved in a production. They opted for the subjective way of paganism and idolatry. Sadly, at the very least, the church is unwittingly moving in that direction.
Another problem with so-called sacred ceremonies is that most people “feel” they are being spiritually edified or that they have had a legitimate spiritual experience; thus, they have pleased (or have drawn closer to) God in some way. No. These are experiential acts of the flesh, which the Word says, “profits nothing” (“It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life”-John 6:63).
Anything that attempts to supplement the Word through productions, ceremonies, processions, rituals, etc., in order to encourage people to believe in what it says, is at best adding a secondhand, fleshly representation of what the Bible teaches. At worst, such productions mislead people into thinking that the activity itself has some efficacious spiritual value, thus preventing them from worshiping the Lord “in spirit and in truth,” which believers are commanded to do (John 4:23).