Archive for the ‘Doxology’ Category
At the risk of being trampled by the ireful in the latest slanging match over rap and hip-hop, I wonder if I might interject? It seems to me, watching from a distance and not trying to read every contribution, that the debate quickly escalates into absolute and swingeing declarations that fail to take account of the various issues that ought to come into play. I may be wrong, but I hope I can lob a few thoughts into the debate.
I suggest that there are at least three questions that ought to be asked in assessing not just rap and hip-hop but other musical genres and forms.
First, and most generically, in what ways can a Christian appreciate, enjoy and embrace either a form or genre of music in and of itself, or a particular instance of that form?
Second, and a little more narrowly, to what extent is a certain form or genre an appropriate vehicle for the communication of distinctively Christian truth?
Third, and most specifically, is this question: is a certain form or genre a legitimate and appropriate means for the corporate worship of the gathered church?
Read the explanations at Reformation21.
This day was the best that I have seen since I came to England. . . . After Dr. Twisse had begun with a brief prayer, Mr. Marshall prayed largely two hours, most divinely, confessing the sins of the members of the Assembly, in a wonderful, passionate, and prudent way. Afterwards, Mr. Arrowsmith preached an hour, then a psalm; thereafter, Mr. Vines prayed near two hours, and Mr. Palmer preached an hour, and Mr. Seaman prayed nearly two hours, then a psalm. After this, Mr. Henderson brought about a sweet discussion of the heated disputes confessed in the assembly, and other seen faults to be remedied. . . . Dr. Twisse closed with a short prayer and blessing.
Read some lessions from Robert Baillie’s experiences at Reformation21.
David Murray passes on from David Clarkson twelve reasons why public worship is better than private worship:
1. The Lord is more glorified by public worship than private.
2. There is more of the Lord’s presence in public worship than in private.
3. God manifests himself more clearly in public worship than in private.
4. There is more spiritual advantage in the use of public worship.
5. Public worship is more edifying than private.
6. Public worship is a better security against apostasy than private.
7. The Lord works his greatest works in public worship.
8. Public worship is the nearest resemblance of heaven.
9. The most renowned servants of God have preferred public worship before private.
10. Public worship is the best means for procuring the greatest mercies, and preventing and removing the greatest judgments.
11. The precious blood of Christ is most interested in public worship.
12. The promises of God are given more to public worship than to private.
Interesting. Worth bearing in mind that this is no argument against private worship, rather fairly typical Puritan reasoning for the priority of public worship.
I posted this on “The Great God Entertainment” by A. W. Tozer over at Reformation21. It’s a stonker.
Responding to an article in which the author claimed that Easter prevents his being a Sabbatarian, Iain D. Campbell at Reformation21 responds graciously with a piece on precisely why Easter makes him hold to a Lord’s day, concluding:
This has become something of a test case for interpreters and theologians, but I still feel obliged to argue for the abiding moral authority of all ten commandments; our point of departure is that the law is ordained by God, and recast in a new form in the new covenant era, as the law is now engraved onto new hearts by God’s Spirit. After all, that is what the Old Testament anticipated in Jeremiah 31:33: ‘I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts’.
It seems to me that the position that bests suits the biblical evidence is precisely that of the Westminster Confession of Faith, that the Sabbath of Sinai becomes the Lord’s Day of the resurrection, joyfully set apart by God’s people as their day of special witness and corporate worship. If we deregulate our time and make times of worship according to our own minds and consciences, we descend into the worst form of subjectivism and indiscipline in our Christian lives.
Christ deserves much more. He is our Lord. He is Lord of the Sabbath. He is Lord of all our days. Let us observe the rest he offers and the time for worship and devotion which he gives, that all our days shall be spent in happy service for him until he comes and brings the final Sabbath rest with him.
I am teaching through this topic in the church in Crawley at present, and – while I would doubtless have some slightly different nuances to Iain – I think we arrive at substantially the same place. Read all Iain’s brief piece here.
Over at Reformation21, some thoughts on public worship as it relates to our singing:
The New Testament data with regard to singing in the worship of the church is, to put it bluntly, sparse. On the one hand, it seems strange that an issue which excited so little attention in the early church should be the sphere of so many of the worship wars which have erupted in recent years. On the other, perhaps it is precisely because the instruction is sparse and simple that we feel we have a right or even a need to develop our own principles and practice. . . .
I hope that these few thoughts will at least stimulate us to consider once again and more carefully, the hows, whys and wherefores of our sung worship, lifting up heart and voice in the right way and for the right reason, glorifying God and doing good to men as we sing a new song to the Lord.
Read it all if you’re interested.
Lewis Allen with some helpful and balanced transparency on the role of our emotions in worship:
There’s no real embarrassment in expressing a heart-reaction to the Saviour’s love. We might, one day, realise that we’ve expressed our live to Him so little. Now that would be more than an embarrassment.
If you intend to worship, be warned and directed by William Gurnall:
Now godliness comprehends the whole worship of God, inward and outward. If thou beest never so exact in thy morals, and not a worshipper of God, then thou art an atheist. If thou dost worship God, and that devoutly, but not by Scripture rule, thou art but an idolater. If according to the rule, but not in spirit and truth, then thou art an hypocrite, and so fallest into the devil’s mouth. Or if thou dost give God one piece of his worship, and deniest another, still Satan comes to his market.
William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, 60.
Some years ago a man who had attended our church announced to me that he thought it was legalistic to have and to ‘require’ an evening service. I said to him, “Well, let me tell you what we will be doing Sunday night. We will gather together with the saints, who are the excellent one in the earth in whom is all my delight (Psalm 16:3). We will gather as living stones to form a spiritual temple in which the Spirit of God will come and inhabit. We will have the words of the living God read and expounded to our needy hearts. We will sing songs and hymns and spiritual songs. We will have our hearts and our minds lifted toward heaven and be reminded of that eternal Sabbath Day.”
I then asked a simple question, “Are your plans for the day better than that?”
I am not saying that the Bible commands an evening worship service, but when one is available and those dynamics are in play–what is better?
Every church I’ve ever been a part of has had a Sunday evening service. I’ve always gone. It’s what I grew up with. It’s part of my rhythm as a Christian and I am immensely grateful for it. I hope this brief blog post will encourage other Christians and other churches to consider making an evening service a part of your Christian walk and worship.
Read Kevin DeYoung’s complete recommendation for morning and evening worship. Good stuff!
Christmas is coming. The waterfowl belonging to the tribe Anserini of the family Anatidae are becoming appetisingly tubby; you might wish to provide some kind of charitable donation to the elderly gentleman holding out his headgear in the hope of a handout (work with me on the folk song/nursery rhyme, please). However, this particular Christmas comes on Sunday 25th December. And with Christmas come all the demands that generally get loaded on the Christmas season, and Christmas day in particular. The gifts. The cards. The decorations. The food. The fun and games. The festive films. The family gatherings. Oh, and for some of us, if we have time, maybe a bit of church.
Except that this particular Christmas comes on Sunday 25th December. And because it falls on a Sunday, it raises a question of priority. My point here is not to question – either for assault or defence – the validity of the Christmas celebration. In a Western society we recognise that – love it, like it, or loathe it – this particular season and this particular day come loaded with all manner of cultural baggage, and a fair weight of at least nominally Christian freight as well.
There is nothing inherently wrong with gift-giving, card-sending, thankful feasting, and family gatherings, and much that is inherently good and pleasant. Furthermore, the incarnation is one of the most glorious mysteries of the Christian religion: “our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man,” as Wesley phrased it. Which child of God would not pause to delight in the wonder and excellence of the Godhead veiled in flesh, the incarnate Son – our Immanuel? In some senses this is the foundation of the atonement. There are depths of delight to be plumbed and high songs of praise to be sung. In addition, even in our degraded Western culture there may still be a few whose wish to go through the motions of worship, and that might bring them within earshot – we pray, within heartshot – of the truth of the Son of Man who came to seek and to save that which was lost (Lk 19.10). It may even prove a particularly profitable day in performing acts of mercy for those for whom Christmas is an appropriate (if merely moralistic to some) occasion for such.
But those good and pleasant things ought not to displace the things of first importance. The incarnation ought not to be a doctrine reserved for any particular time of year, and neither is it the particular focus of the Scriptural commands for the worship of Christ Jesus and the commemoration of his work. And while we embrace our opportunities for gospel witness, there are other realities that govern and condition our embrace of those opportunities. And even if you argue for a degree of Christian latitude in the fact or manner of your celebration (or not) of Christmas, there is nothing that requires a Christian – or anyone else – to make the 25th of December a day of particular focus.
But there is something that requires a Christian to make this 25th December a day of particular focus. It is the Lord’s day. It is that one day in seven, that first day of the week, that resurrection day, the day on which the church can and should gather in order to worship their living Lord. And that act of privileged obedience takes precedence over every act of liberty.
That imposes certain demands and pressures on us, on some more than others. For some, we face the desire to ‘do Christmas properly,’ a desire that might need to be toned down or put aside, at least for the day itself. However, for others it is the pressure of making it a real ‘family day,’ as if the family of God should take second place (Mark 3.32-35, anyone?). Such pressure will be painful, especially if many or all of the family are unconverted. But is this an opportunity to show where your priorities lie? It may be the sense of a lazy day, when you get up late and just mooch around, the temptation to minimise or even do away with the public and private exercises of worship. It may be the pressure, especially with young children, to flood the day with gifts and treats, and – even if you do seek to be in church – the forms take precedence while the substance is washed away on a tide of weariness, carelessness and greed. It may be that Christmas trumps Christ altogether, as services of worship and private devotions give way to the fact that, “It’s Christmas, after all.” Indeed, ironically, where in most years saccharine nativity scenes and pappy Christmas sermons rule, this may be the very year when some decide to give church a miss altogether.
However, if we are believers in God and followers of Christ and indwelt by the Spirit, worshippers of the Most High in all his majesty, might, and mercy, then Christmas must give way to Christ. Our attachment to the Lord Jesus must take precedence over all cultural and other pressures. Let the day be, before it is anything else, the Lord’s day. Plan and prepare around that priority, and let that which does not fit within such a framework give place. Indeed, a fairly simple solution might be to postpone or promote the occasion by one day.
So by all means enjoy a feast of good things. By all means take advantage of the trend of thought and feeling to do good to others, body and soul. By all means preach the glories of the incarnation of the eternal Son to those who may, under God, be primed to hear the truth of the Saviour, born of a virgin, born in the city of David, who is Christ the Lord.
But by no means forget the feast of soul that is laid up for the saints of God on the day and at the times when God, in a distinctive way, draws near to bless his gathered people. By no means forget that the best good you can do to a man is to speak the truth as it is in Jesus. By no means fail to declare that this infant born in Bethlehem, weak and helpless, was the mighty God, and that this God-man came into the world for the purpose of salvation through his death and resurrection. Be where you ought to be, doing what you ought to do, seeking what you ought to seek, and in so being, doing and seeking, may God truly bless us, every one.
It turns out that God does not need a cheerleader.
To see why, read this helpful reminder.
Jesus did not come to change the law, but he came to explain it, and that very fact shows that it remains, for there is no need to explain that which is abrogated. Upon one particular point in which there happened to be a little ceremonialism involved, namely, the keeping of the Sabbath, our Lord enlarged, and showed that the Jewish idea was not the true one. The Pharisees forbade even the doing of works of necessity and mercy, such as rubbing ears of corn to satisfy hunger, and healing the sick. Our Lord Jesus showed that it was not at all according to the mind of God to forbid these things. In straining over the letter, and carrying an outward observance to excess, they had missed the spirit of the Sabbath law, which suggested works of piety such as truly hallow the day. He showed that Sabbatic rest was not mere inaction, and he said, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” He pointed to the priests who laboured hard at offering sacrifices, and said of them, “the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless.” They were doing divine service, and were within the law. To meet the popular error he took care to do some of his grandest miracles upon the Sabbath-day; and though this excited great wrath against him, as though he were a law-breaker, yet he did it on purpose that they might see that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, and that it is meant to be a day for doing that which honours God and blesses men. O that men knew how to keep the spiritual Sabbath by a easing from all servile work, and from all work done for self! The rest of faith is the true Sabbath, and the service of God is the most acceptable hallowing of the day. Oh that the day were wholly spent in serving God and doing good! The sum of our Lord’s teaching was that works of necessity, works of mercy, and works of piety are lawful on the Sabbath. He did explain the law in that point and in others, yet that explanation did not alter the command, but only removed the rust of tradition which had settled upon it. By thus explaining the law he confirmed it; he could not have meant to abolish it or he would not have needed to expound it.
from The perpetuity of the law of God by Charles Spurgeon
May you enjoy tomorrow, on the first Lord’s day of the new year, a day free from the rust of unholy traditions and full of the joy of honouring God and blessing men.
William Bridge points out that felt emotion is not simply to trump grounded conviction in the matter of our worship:
Objection: But what need of ordinances, for I enjoy God most in private; when I go unto God alone, when I am all alone in prayer I enjoy God more than I do under the public ordinances, and therefore what need of them?
Answer: Do you enjoy more of God in private; what, more than ever you did in public? Where wert thou then converted? Wert thou not converted under the public ministry? Ordinarily men are converted by the public ministry; and now you have some good affections in private, doth that good affection that you have in private arise to a higher enjoyment of God than your first conversion to God? Do you think that a little affection or drawing out of the heart in private, doth arise to a higher enjoyment of God than your first turning to him? This cannot be. Is it not an easy thing for a man to think that God is most enjoyed when his heart is most affected? It is possible a man’s heart may be more affected when God is less enjoyed; such is the deceit of our hearts. God is most enjoyed where God is most served. But, now, suppose God were more enjoyed in private than under public ordinances, I do but suppose it, yet were this no reason why a man should lay by the public ordinances: for you are sometimes in your closet at prayer, and there you enjoy God; sometimes you are below at dinner and supper, and you have some enjoyments of God there. But, I pray, tell me, whether do you enjoy God more at your ordinary dinner and supper or in your closet in prayer? Surely I enjoy God more in my closet in prayer. And is this a reason why you should never dine and sup again? Yet, notwithstanding, how do people reason thus: I enjoy God more in private, therefore I must lay by the public.
William Bridge, “Vindication of Ordinances” in Works, 4:141-42.
Strong words, often attributed to Charles Spurgeon (but see comment below, which suggests that they may be a version of a piece by Archibald Brown):
An evil resides in the professed camp of the Lord so gross in its impudence that the most shortsighted can hardly fail to notice it. During the past few years it has developed at an abnormal rate evil for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the Church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them. From speaking out as the Puritans did, the Church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses.
My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the Church. If it is a Christian work why did not Christ speak of it? “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” That is clear enough. So it would have been if He has added, “and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel.” No such words, however, are to be found. It did not seem to occur to Him. Then again, “He gave some apostles, some prophets, some pastors and teachers, for the work of the ministry.” Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people or because they refused? The concert has no martyr roll.
Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all His apostles. What was the attitude of the Church to the world? “Ye are the salt,” not sugar candy-something the world will spit out, not swallow. Short and sharp was the utterance, “Let the dead bury their dead.” He was in awful earnestness!
Had Christ introduced more of the bright and pleasant elements into His mission, He would have been more popular when they went back, because of the searching nature of His teaching. I do not hear Him say, “Run after these people, Peter, and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow, something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it. Be quick, Peter, we must get the people somehow!” Jesus pitied sinners, sighed and wept over them, but never sought to amuse them. In vain will the Epistles be searched to find any trace of the gospel amusement. Their message is, “Come out, keep out, keep clean out!” Anything approaching fooling is conspicuous by its absence. They had boundless confidence in the gospel and employed no other weapon. After Peter and John were locked up for preaching, the Church had a prayer meeting, but they did not pray, “Lord grant Thy servants that by a wise and discriminating use of innocent recreation we may show these people how happy we are.” If they ceased not for preaching Christ, they had not time for arranging entertainments. Scattered by persecution, they went everywhere preaching the gospel. They “turned the world upside down.” That is the difference! Lord, clear the Church of all the rot and rubbish the devil has imposed on her and bring us back to apostolic methods.
Lastly, the mission of amusement fails to affect the end desired. It works havoc among young converts. Let the careless and scoffers, who thank God because the Church met them halfway, speak and testify. Let the heavy-laden who found peace through the concert not keep silent! Let the drunkard to whom the dramatic entertainment has been God’s link in the chain of their conversion, stand up! There are none to answer. The mission of amusement produces no converts. The need of the hour for today’s ministry is believing scholarship joined with earnest spirituality, the one springing from the other as fruit from the root. The need is biblical doctrine, so understood and felt, that it sets men on fire.
From the Banner of Truth website comes a fascinating snippet from a rare book by J. S. Curwen published in 1880, Studies in Worship Music. The author seems to have surveyed the United Kingdom at the time, commenting on the psalms and hymns sung by the different denominations, the place of the organ if one was used, chanting, harmonizing, and how to train a congregation to sing. The last third of the book describes his visits to the main churches of London including the following description of his visit to the Metropolitan Tabernacle one Sunday when Spurgeon was preaching. It was a curious encouragement to see that some of the issues we face in our much smaller congregation – seeking to sing at a good pace, encouraging some not to drag behind, seeking the appropriate mood and tone of a tune to match the words of the hymn – were writ large in the experience of the Tabernacle. At least I am not the only preacher with an instinct to stop the singing and offer some suggestions, although I am not sure that I have a sufficiently Spurgeonic twinkle in my eye to encourage people who drag out their singing to prevail over the devil and keep up! For the record, despite strangely thin congregations yesterday, our singing was excellent for tempo and feeling, so I can safely post this today.
The mere fact that Mr. Spurgeon’s is the largest congregation in the country invests the singing with an interest to the church musician, and there are other reasons which make the Tabernacle psalmody a profitable study. But the congregation is a special one from its size and the spell which Mr. Spurgeon’s voice and presence exert upon it. One is, therefore, cautious in drawing general conclusions from the good and bad points in the singing.
Nothing but hymns are sung at the Tabernacle, and these are taken from a collection of no less than 1,130, made by Mr. Spurgeon about seven years ago. The book superseded Dr. Rippon’s selection and Dr. ‘Watts’s Psalms and Hymns,’ which had before been in use. Dr. Rippon, by the way, was a former pastor of the church from which the Tabernacle congregation has descended. He was an earnest worker in the service of song, and published a tune-book which was much used in old times. The tunes used at the Tabernacle are chiefly taken from the ‘Union Tune Book.’ A few come from the ‘Bristol Tune Book,’ and three or four from ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern.’ A new tune is not introduced unless it has become popular in the schools and classes connected with the place; then it is tried in the service, and if it goes well it is permanently placed on the list; if not, it is dropped at once. This caution is commendable, and contrasts with the carelessness of the people’s interests which many precentors and choirmasters display. The tunes are led by a precentor. Mr. Hale, who has held the office from boyhood, has lately been disabled by weakness of the voice, and Mr. Turner, who had before led the week-night service, now does the whole duty.
The first hymn on Sunday morning last was ‘God is our refuge and our strength,’ to the tune ‘Evan.’ Mr. Spurgeon read it slowly through, then he announced the tune and read the first verse again. As the people stood up the precentor advanced from the back of the platform, and started the melody with a clear voice. Like a giant that needs a moment to arouse himself the congregation allowed a note or two to pass before they entered in full strength. Then the heavy tide of sound streamed forth from every part of the building. Many churches have more cultivated congregational singing than Mr. Spurgeon’s, but, from the numbers engaged, no other singing touches the heart with such an indefinable pleasure, and makes the frame glow with such a sense of worshipful sympathy. ‘There are waterfalls,’ it has been said, ‘more beautiful than Niagara, but none so overwhelming.’ To yield oneself to the power of this great human voice, to let the spirit sink and rise with the swell of this mighty bosom, is to know the force of human sympathy, and feel the joy that companionship in worship inspires.
The second hymn was ‘Thou hidden love of God,’ to one of the old tunes, ‘New Creation’, made up from Haydn’s chorus, ‘The heavens are telling.’ This the people enjoyed, and sang as generally as before. The third hymn was ‘Beneath Thy cross I lay me down,’ to the tune ‘Buckingham,’ which, of course, was a congenial melody. The people were warming to their work, and the volume of sound poured forth more solid and powerful than before. But why should the hymns be read twice through? It may help some illiterate people to understand the words, and Mr. Spurgeon’s energetic reading may infuse the devotional spirit of the poet among the congregation; but nearly all the hymns are so well known that these considerations must be of little practical worth. The reading takes up time, and is evidently wearisome to many; besides, it takes away the freshness of the thoughts that are to be uttered. The sermon was followed by the benediction; it is very rarely that a hymn is sung at this part of the service.
I have said that the singing was led by a precentor; but Mr. Spurgeon is the real motive power of the music, as of everything else at the Tabernacle. The fact is that when the precentor has set the ponderous body of voices rolling, he finds it beyond his power to control it. He battles with his Goliath, but it is all in vain, and if he were three or four notes in advance, the people would not quicken. Mr. Spurgeon evidently takes delight in the service of song, and is anxious above all things that every man, woman, and child in the place should sing. In announcing the hymn he generally makes some remark, such as, ‘Let us sing joyfully the 48th Psalm,’ — ‘Dear friends, this hymn is full of joy, let’s sing it with all our hearts,’ &c. Occasionally he will stop the congregation, and make them sing more softly or more quickly, when the effect is at once felt in a surprising degree. ‘Dear friends,’ he said at the watch night service last week, ‘the devil sometimes makes you lag half a note behind the leader. Just try if you can’t prevail over him to-night, and keep in proper time.’ For this dragging, the besetting fault of the Tabernacle singing, the immense size of the congregation is partly the reason. It is also encouraged by the use of a class of tunes in which the tendency is always to linger on the notes, — I refer to tunes in triple time, and those in common time with runs and slurs. But neither tendency is invincible, if pains were taken to instruct the people in the duty of intelligent and joyful praise.
At present the beauty of the Tabernacle singing is religious and spiritual. That is the highest attribute of congregational singing; without that quality no church singing is worth anything. But its musical improvement would not make it less of heart singing: it ought to make it more. It is a pity that the reaction against Romish ritual has driven the Puritan churches to an opposite extreme, and led them to take this objectionable ground, that ‘it does not matter how we sing, so long as we sing with our hearts.’ Why should the service of praise be singled out like this, for in other actions of our lives we do not say, ‘Never mind how you do it, as long as it is done.’ Such a view of praise is dwarfed and incomplete. If we have the foundation, it does not follow that we are to be content with an ugly superstructure. ‘Clothes do not make the man, but when he is made they improve him.’
The Tabernacle singing is, musically speaking, such as may naturally be expected from an undisciplined company of untrained voices. It is breathy and whispering in effect, and lacks that musical ring which comes from people who have learnt to use their voices. But much might be done to improve it, notwithstanding that the vast size of the congregation and the large number of strangers in it will always be difficulties to contend against. To begin with, it is out of all reason to expect any improvement until some means commensurate with the size of the congregation are taken to practise the people in the tunes, and to provide them with enough reading power to take their part in a hymn-tune. One tune-book should be adopted and adhered to, and this should be in the hands of the congregation. Until the average musical culture of the nation is much higher that at present, good musical congregational singing in a church can only be maintained by systematic training, extending from the Sunday School upwards. We see in the Tabernacle how helpless a precentor, who is nothing but a precentor, is to control a large congregation. But if the precentor were also the teacher of large singing classes, through which numbers of the congregation had passed, if he were also the conductor of a ‘psalmody association’ of several hundred members which met weekly for practice, and though scattered all over the place during the service, had all the esprit de corps of a choir — the case would be different. All the best singers of a congregation would be familiar with the voice and manner of the precentor, and would be accustomed to obey it with precision. In a year or two they would have grown in numbers sufficient to carry the congregation along with them. The heavy, rhythmless singing, with its gliding from note to note, would give place to a more impulsive and accented style, in keeping with the joy and thanksgiving of Christian worship. With all its shortcomings, the Tabernacle singing is thoroughly enjoyable. The heartiness of Mr. Spurgeon’s manner is felt by the congregation. They use their voices, if with a drawl, yet with a will; and no one can doubt that they sing as much from the heart as any congregation in the kingdom.
An interesting overview – historical and theological – of the regulative principle from Jim Domm at the RBS blog.
[T]he Puritans simplified church architecture and furnishings. They took images and statues out of churches. They replaced stone alters with communion tables. The multiroom floor plan became a single, rectangular room. The walls were painted white. The physical objects that would have caught one’s eye upon entering a Puritan church were a high central pulpit with a winding stairway to it, a Bible on a cushion on a ledge of the pulpit, a communion table below the pulpit, and an inconspicuous baptismal font.
All this simplicity should not be interpreted as an attempt to avoid symbolism. It was the symbol of Puritan worship, and it was a richly multiple symbol. Here in visual form was the Puritan aversion to idols and human intervention between God and people. Here was a sign of humility before God and His Word. Here was a sign of the essentially inward and spiritual nature of worship. Here was a reminder that God cannot be confined to earthly and human conceptions, that he is transcendent and sovereign. By calling their buildings “meeting houses,” moreover, Puritans stressed the domestic aspect of worship as a spiritual family meeting with their heavenly father.
This triumph of simplicity was not necessarily unaesthetic. The simple is a form of beauty as well as the ornate. Horton Davis calls the simple beauty of Puritan church architecture “a study in black and white etching, rather than the colored and multi-textured appearances of Anglican . . . churches.” A study of Puritan vocabulary shows that “naked” was one of their positive words when applied to worship. In the Puritan Church, the individual worshiper stood “naked” before the light and purity of God’s word and presence. An authority on church architecture writes about Puritan churches, “Clean, well-lighted, they concentrated on the essentials of Puritan worship, the hearing of God’s Word, with no distractions.”
This is a delightful description of what I consider to be something akin to the ideal environment for new covenant worship (sans winding staircases and the like, and certainly involving a proper baptistry rather than a font). Contrary to those (on various sides of various divides) who are getting hung up on the cultivation of atmosphere and the employment of ornate liturgies (and, yes, I know that at that point I am going outside the immediate scope of the quote), there was a development of thought and practice in the decades following the Reformation, and this was part of the result. It is the practical effect of the conviction that the most important thing in worship is God himself, and that we desire no stimulants that might replicate some of the subjective effects of the presence of God without knowing its reality.
Greg Gilbert makes some helpfully unsubtle points regarding our tendency to be moved emotionally by the music to which we sing truth rather than the truth which we sing to music. There are, perhaps, some assumptions underlying the piece that would need to be considered, but – whether or not our background is unaccompanied psalms and/or hymns, simple accompaniment by organ or piano, or the band that has become de rigeur in modern evangelicalism, whether or not we sing older or newer tunes, or a combination of both – the challenge as to whether we have come to obsess over, rely upon and ultimately idolise our music is a good one.
Consider carefully the following evidence that the redemption accomplished through Christ’s resurrection determined the day for Christian worship:
- Jesus Christ arose on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1). He entered into his rest from labor, not on Saturday (the seventh day), but on Sunday (the first day of the week). As Jesus entered into his rest on the first day, so he encourages us to begin the week by resting in the confidence that He will provide for all our needs for seven days with only six days of labor.
- Jesus Christ appeared to His assembled disciples on the first day of the week, as well as to Mary and to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (John 20:10; Luke 24:13). By these appearances on the first day of the week, the resurrected Lord set a pattern for meeting with His disciples. They began expecting to meet with Him on the day of his resurrection, which is the first day of the week.
- Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples one week later on the first day of the week, with doubting Thomas present this time (John 20:26). Already a new pattern of assembly for worship was emerging. God’s new covenant people were making it a habit to assemble together on the first day of the week, the day of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus honored these assemblies by appearing to the disciples at this time, and encouraged their faith in Him as the resurrected Lord.
- The resurrected Christ poured out his Spirit on the assembled disciples exactly fifty days after the Sabbath of the Jewish Passover, which was the first day of the week (Acts 2:1; cf. Lev. 23:15–16). The word Pentecost means “fifty,” referring to the fifty days after the Sabbath of the Passover. Forty-nine days would span seven Jewish Sabbaths or Saturdays, and the fiftieth day would then fall on a Sunday, the first day of the week. So it would appear that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit came on the first day of the week, when God’s new covenant people were assembled for worship. So the pattern would be established more firmly. Both the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit occurred on the first day of the week.
- As Paul spread the gospel of Christ among Jews and Gentiles throughout the world, the first day of the week was used as the time for Christians to assemble for worship. In Greece, Paul and Luke assembled with the people of God to break bread and to hear the preaching of God’s word on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). This was the day that the people of the new covenant assembled to hear God’s word.
- Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth to establish the pattern for their presenting of offerings for the service of the Lord. He ordered the Christians in Corinth to follow the pattern that had already been set with the churches in Galatia (1 Cor. 16:1). On the first day of every week they were to consecrate their offerings to the Lord (1 Cor. 16:2). This schedule for honoring the Lord had become the pattern for God’s people throughout the churches. The churches were not to present their offerings any time they wished. Rather, on the first day of each week, all the Corinthian Christians were to follow the pattern that had already been set among the Galatian churches. The first day of the week was the designated time for the presentation of offerings to the Lord.
O. Palmer Robertson
Why on Sunday? New Horizons, March 2003.