Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

The necessity of reforming the churchThe necessity of reforming the church by John Calvin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a good little read, which has the advantage of being very concise and direct. It was written to Emperor Charles V on the eve of the Diet of Speyer (1544). This tract was written as an apologia for the Reformation. What was going on in the sixteenth century that made reformation necessary? I think Calvin lays out a case that it was quite necessary, and that the only course of action open to the Christian who loved the church of Jesus Christ was to support the Reformation.

What will be most surprising about this work is how heavily some issues factor into Calvin’s reasoning. You might expect him to focus on sola scriptura or sola fide. These issues simply do not get much attention. Instead, Calvin focuses on the abuses in worship, prayer, and the Sacraments. This, I think, should be quite instructive for us. Too often, we place a great stress on theological purity, but scarcely think about purity in the corporate action of the church. We should have done the one without leaving the other undone. Let us serve our Lord by pressing forward toward excellence in all areas of life.

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For the Life of the World: Sacraments and OrthodoxyFor the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first contact with Alexander Schmemann. I am quite sure that I’ll make some time to explore him further, for I found this little book to be both gloriously illuminating and but also a bit scary.

As to the illumination, Schmemann proposes a view of the world that is enormously compelling. He sees the world “sacramentally.” I think what he means by that is that the world is God’s creation and is both to manifest his presence and also to be fellowship with us. Sin, of course, destroys the whole sacramental aspect of creation and now leads only to death. The church, however, is the sacrament to the world. It is through the church that God manifests his presence to humanity and has fellowship with creation, thus fulfilling creation. This sacramental church function is wonderfully Christ-centered and is expressed and lived in the Sacraments (do note the capital S) of the church. I found all this to be wonderful and refreshing, especially because I saw significant aspects of Postmillennialism and Van Tillian apologetics woven throughout. Not to mention that Schmemann (with his insightful attack on Secularism) would be death on RADICAL two-kingdoms theology. All this is splendid.

But not all is splendid, for the book is also scary. Schmemann did not intend this book as an apologetic for his Eastern Orthodox views of the Sacraments (all seven of them). Rather, it is more a description or an elaboration. Schmemann did not set out to “prove” anything, but rather to set forward or present his ideas. Well, ideas are dangerous things. Just because an idea (or a collection of them) is compelling does not make it correct or true. Holding, as I do, the Bible to be the final word on truth and “leitourgia,” I want to be very careful to weigh Schmemann (and everyone else for that matter) in the balance of God’s very Word. Where Schmemann has captured and articulated God’s truth, let him be our teacher. Where he has not, let God be true and every man a liar.

Finally, as I read this book, I saw Peter Leithart on about every page. Many of Pastor Leithart’s criticisms in The Baptized Body, for example, are quite clearly traceable to Schmemann’s influence (or at least so it seems to me). I mention that only in passing, not to paint Schmemann with a Leithart brush. I am quite sure that the discerning reading will benefit from Schmemann, even in he is opposed to Leithart’s thinking. However, it seems to me that if one wants to understand Leithart better, Schmemann would be a good place to start.

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An Outline Of Christian Worship Its Development And FormsAn Outline Of Christian Worship Its Development And Forms by William D. Maxwell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This review will be a little longer than others, for Maxwell’s little book was like a bombshell for me. If nothing else, I learned that I know very, very little about historic Christian worship. I found, with some astonishment, that I knew virtually nothing of the liturgical nomenclature. I virtually had to have a dictionary open in one hand as I read this little volume. Maybe there is a liturgical dictionary out there (if so, please let me know, and I will buy it promptly, as I need it!), but I was swimming just trying to keep up with language of historic Christian worship. In a word, this book taught me that my ignorance is immense. (more…)

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After the post on Michael Glatze, I’ve been engaged in some very interesting conversations on the topic of homosexuality. Some of the most interesting discussions have been with Christians who hold that being gay is quite permissible for the Christian. One brother in particular has been quite engaging and has come back with responses to my comments. I thought it might be better to publish a response here on the blog rather than on Facebook.

As a preliminary remark, one thoughtful commenter here on the blog has helped me in distinguishing between 1) homosexual desire, 2) homosexual sex, and 3) homosexual identity. These are useful distinctions and I will try to keep them in mind from now on. My thinking on the subject of homosexuality is largely informed by the Bible and by conservative Christian culture, so I don’t pretend to be an authority on the subject. That said, I do know the Bible, which is the standard. Let’s look at it.

Let’s start this discussion in the Old Testament, as that’s where God started it. (more…)

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Honestly, I do not try to focus on issues of Calvinism and Arminianism… Facebook makes me do it! A friend of mine and a brother in Christ, Mr. Billy Birch, has posted on the Arminian view of 1 Timothy 2. This post was shared by some other friends on FB. I want to respond to it and take a crack at showing that 1 Tim 2 does not support the Arminian position.

First, hermeneutics. Not that I noticed Billy using the term “hermeneutics” incorrectly, but (as a general note), hermeneutics is a singular noun and takes a singular verb. (E.g., Billy’s hermeneutics is all messed up – just kidding!) More substantively, folks like to speak of hermeneutics as grammatico-historical, but the reality is that our hermeneutics includes our theological assessment, too. Now, admitting this is not tantamount to saying that our theology dictates our exegesis. Rather, it does means that our theology both aids and is reformed by our exegesis. There’s no way around this, and it is as it should be. We’ll pick this topic back up at the end of this article.

I think the best place to start is in verse 1 of 1 Timothy chapter 2. (more…)

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I’ve long been a fan of Martin Luther’s way with words. Granted, I don’t read German, but I marvel at his ability to turn a phrase, even when that phrase is translated into English. As to native Anglophones, we have one better (I think) than Luther.

G.K. Chesterton

I first read Gilbert Keith Chesterton as a seminary student. The fourth chapter of Orthodoxy (free audio here), in particular, modified my view of the whole world. This fabulous fourth chapter he decided to call “The Ethics of Elfland.” If you don’t want to read the whole book (really, you should read Heretics first and then Orthodoxy, both in their entirety), you absolutely should read this chapter. The upshot is that the world is magical, and that the “scientific” view of the world is actually excessively romantic and irrational. The correct view of the world should yield gratitude (and awe) – see Romans 1:21. Chesterton, even before his conversion, felt the desire to give thanks for the numerous amazing gifts all around and in him – the ones we all take for granted. Chesterton (as it typical) captures this with more flair than a waiter at Choctchkies: (more…)

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Let me start off by saying that this video is offensive. My friend, Jeff at Scripture Zealot, brought it to my attention, but was unwilling to post it on his blog. I’m not unwilling. The reason the video is both (kind of) funny and offensive is that it profanes the holy; it takes what is to be precious and throws it in the mud. Now, that kind of thing can be highly entertaining, but it can also be downright blasphemous. In this case, rest assured that God will make it through unscathed. Pepsi Co.’s got nothing on God. God wins. Done deal. Okay, here’s the video.

But consider this: It is offensive that Pepsi besmirches the Eucharistic meal in an advertisement to drum up business and make some more money. It’s far more offensive, however, when Christ’s church (in the name of Christ, not profit) defames the Holy Supper. When and where does this happen? It happens in countless ways all over the place. From the changing of the elements, to the Supper as merely an individual devotional act done by oneself in the back of the church; from the Eucharist for the bride and groom at their wedding, to infrequent participation. But let me step back and look at this through the broader scope of the whole of divine worship. It’s an understatement to say that the contemporary church has taken great strides toward bastardizing the worship of God. We’ve made worship about people instead of God. We poll the population to see that they want in the services, and then do it. We rarely (if ever) have a thought to consult the BIBLE to see what God wants in worship! It is, after all, God who’s being worshiped, right? Maybe what he wants should be, like, important to us.

Here’s the wonderful part: Pepsi comes along in a commercial and mimics the abject buffoonery of the church, and then the church (no doubt) gets all sanctimonious, all high and holy. She’ll start defending the sanctity of worship and the Supper. This is very much like Christians getting all huffy when monuments of the 10 Commandments are taken down from public places. They see red when the public courthouse removes the Law of God, but don’t seem to notice that the Law of God was removed from their liturgy over 30 years ago. In a very real way, the world follows the church’s lead; Pepsi’s just following our example. They’re making a mockery of worship and the Supper because we have.

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I was visiting a church in Seattle today. It was a rich Presbyterian church [PC (USA)] with a wonderful pipe organ, fantastic facilities, lots of handsome-looking, up-scale people, and other good things. There were plenty of wonderful and admirable things about this church, but the one thing that knocked the wind out of me was that there were almost no children. It was a neutered church.

I’m not joking when I tell you that I saw one family with two little ones in the worship service (and I heard a baby cry from the back). Afterward, I walked up to that couple and thanked them profusely for worshiping with their kids… they probably thought I was nuts. In the interests of full disclosure, we were at the 11:30 service, and I was told that most of the families go to the 10:00 service. In fact, this church has five services every Sunday. For four of them, they offer children’s ministries at the same time as worship. That would probably explain why there were so very few included in the worship of the Triune God… they were off doing more important things.

Here’s what really nailed me: I felt, in fact, I felt very acutely in the worship that a significant part of the body was missing. The worship simply wasn’t complete with a good portion of the body not present. Positively, our children are part of the body and, as such, have gifts given them by God to share with the rest of the body. When we exclude children from worship, we certainly do them a tremendous disservice, but God’s seen to it that it comes back on us and hurts us, too.

One of the ways it hurts us is that, to all appearances, the church is neutered. The Bob Barker treatment has left the body consisting of urbane adults who hear messages geared toward how to shine for Jesus at work. If the minister had to preach to the kids AND the adults, the messages would be quite different. If nothing else, they’d be generationally conceived. The minister and the adults would realize that one MAJOR part of their ministries is to train these little ones to be faithful worshipers of God. What’s more, the little ones will also, in time, have little ones that they’ll need to train to be faithful worshipers of God. Who knows? The vision could extend to (dare I say it?) a thousand generations! Then the Presbyterian church would be living up to the Presbyterian (read: Christian) heritage.

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Elements of Worship

I had the opportunity to articulate some of my thoughts on worship today. Thought I’d put them out for the reading world here on Providence.  I’m aware that many readers will have some difficulty from the beginning on this topic, but that’s okay. We can still have a discussion.

I believe that the Bible, while requiring us to conform all areas of life to God’s commandments, puts a higher premium on worship. That is, I believe that the Bible requires no innovation in the elements worship. We’re not allowed to remove elements from nor to add elements into the worship of God (Ex. 20:4; Deut. 12:29-31; WCF 21:1). This is, of course, called the Regulative Principle of Worship, which the Reformed have, historically, been zealous to maintain.

I think (and I own that I have more work to do on the topic of liturgics) that the necessary elements are as follows (not necessarily in liturgical order):

Divine call to worship: Lev. 23:1-3; Ps 95: 6-7a

Prayer: Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 2:8; James 5:14

The singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs: Ps 95:1-2; Eph 5:19

Confession of faith: Deut 6:4; 1 Cor 12:3; Gal. 3:27-8 et al

The giving of tithes and offerings: Num. 18:26; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8-9

Confession of sin: Lev. 5:1-13 (esp. vs 5); Jer 3:13; James 5:16

Proclamation of pardon: Lev 5:1-13 (esp. vs 13); 1 John 1:9

The reading of God’s Word: Josh. 8:34-5; Col. 4:16; 1 Tim. 4:13; Rev. 1:3

The preaching of God’s Word: Acts 2:42; Luke 4:16-21; 1 Tim. 4:13; Heb. 4:2

Sacraments: Matt. 28:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 11:23ff.; WCF 21:5

God’s parting blessing: Num. 6:22-27; Rev 1:4-5

Occasional aspects of worship include: the paying of oaths/vows; solemn fasting; public thanksgiving (WCF 21:6)

As to lay involvement in the leadership of worship, I am not against having the men of the congregation pray and lead the singing. I think the specific ministries of word and sacrament should be reserved to the gospel Minister, or at least to a man who the Session (the elders) has asked to preach (the administration of the sacraments is, of course, reserved to ordained ministers).

As to liturgical variety, I think there is a good deal of leeway in the Bible, and that the local Session has some freedom here, so long as all regular elements of worship are included and nothing (except occasional elements) is added to them.

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