Posts Tagged ‘worship’
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.
But when we are told that this is the time of year when Christians begin to think again about the death and resurrection of Christ, does it not prompt the question of what we are supposed to be doing for the rest of the year? When men speak after their so-called Holy Week of the abating euphoria of the resurrection, surely they are explaining why a merely annual remembrance is insufficient? Christ Jesus is the risen Lord for 365 days of every year (plus the extra one when required), and we have a weekly opportunity for the distinct recollection of his death in an atmosphere conditioned by his resurrection. To flatten the whole year, perhaps rising only to a few unnatural annual peaks, is to miss so much, to lose so many things, to gain so little.
Christ died to set us free from empty things. Men died to liberate us from the rigamarole of unscriptural traditions and man-made routines and performances of religiosity. I hope that you will hear a voice from the blood-washed streets of the Old World, where those battles and the cost of their victory are ground into our consciousness, where the issues and enemies are neither distant nor tame, and where the lines remain clearly drawn in the collective memory of some of the Lord’s people, and consider whether or not the prizes so hardly won ought to be so quickly abandoned.
The conclusion of a heartfelt plea at Reformation21.
One of the ways which Reformed Baptist Churches have traditionally been distinct from many others Baptist churches is in regard to the serious nature of church membership. We believe that membership is biblical and that it is vital to the life of the disciple. We believe furthermore that members ought to be committed to the church and that they ought to express that commitment by attending all the meetings of the church (for instruction, worship, and prayer) unless they are providentially hindered from doing so.
In what follows I want to give four clear incentives to faithfully attending the stated meetings of your church.
The brothers at Main Things go on to give four incentives – Godward, selfward, saintward, and sinnerward – for our attendance at the meetings of the gathered church. Read them and remember that one of your simplest and best services to God and his people is simply being there.
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.
Charles Spurgeon had the knack of straight talk with a cutting edge leavened with a cheerful spirit and a lively tone, even when dealing with a serious subject. Here he employs this composite skill on the subject of compromise:
Men seem to say—It is of no use going on in the old way, fetching out one here and another there from the great mass. We want a quicker way. To wait till people are born again, and become followers of Christ, is a long process: let us abolish the separation between the regenerate and unregenerate. Come into the church, all of you, converted or unconverted. You have good wishes and good resolutions; that will do: don’t trouble about more. It is true you do not believe the gospel, but neither do we. You believe something or other. Come along; if you do not believe anything, no matter; your “honest doubt” is better by far than faith. “But,” say you, “nobody talks so.” Possibly they do not use the same words, but this is the real meaning of the present-day religion; this is the drift of the times. I can justify the broadest statement I have made by the action or by the speech of certain ministers, who are treacherously betraying our holy religion under pretence of adapting it to this progressive age. The new plan is to assimilate the church to the world, and so include a larger area within its bounds. By semi-dramatic performances they make houses of prayer to approximate to the theatre; they turn their services into musical displays, and their sermons into political harangues or philosophical essays—in fact, they exchange the temple for the theatre, and turn the ministers of God into actors, whose business it is to amuse men. Is it not so, that the Lord’s-day is becoming more and more a day of recreation or of idleness, and the Lord’s house either a joss-house full of idols, or a political club, where there is more enthusiasm for a party than zeal for God? Ah me! the hedges are broken down, the walls are levelled, and to many there is henceforth, no church except as a portion of the world, no God except as an unknowable force by which the laws of nature work.
This, then, is the proposal. In order to win the world, the Lord Jesus must conform himself, his people, and his Word to the world. I will not dwell any longer on so loathsome a proposal.
It turns out that God does not need a cheerleader.
To see why, read this helpful reminder.
Ed. Richard Rushing
Banner of Truth, 2009, 428pp., cloth, £16.50
There is a great deal of editorial skill and sensitivity in this volume. The compiler has not just selected apposite passages, but has sometimes condensed them or otherwise reworked them in order to give the essence of several pages. Unlike some other such works, the source of the material is given on each page, so particularly fruity portions may be traced to their root. Here you will find uniformly profitable substance in all the freshness and variety that different authors brought to their work. Well-known men jostle among lesser lights to provide the reader with a daily morsel of good things, stretching the soul in various directions over the course of time. If you seek something to spice up your morning or evening devotional material, then you would be well served by this excellent volume.
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.
The Norman Rockwell on the right represents a scene too often played out in churches, and which we have laboured to address in the one which I serve: the bawling infant, the stolid guardian, the penetrating howl. We cannot object to children being children, and the occasional gurgle, slurp, cry, or – when older – the distinct answer to the preacher’s rhetorical questions, we will not criticise. We love to see them present, and learning to sing and pray and hear the Word of God. However, when they keep everyone else from doing the same, we must take a stand.
Earlier today a friend passed on a nugget of Spurgeonic wisdom, which – not being able to trace it immediately – I can only paraphrase: “Crying children in the services of worship are like New Year’s resolutions: they should be carried out immediately!”
And so say all of us.
The following advice seems to have tickled a thousand fancies, being all over the shop at the moment. It began life in a seminar reported at the 9Marks Ministries blog. Since I have a deep-rooted need to jump aboard every passing bandwagon, and out of a slavish attachment to the 9Marks blog, and – more seriously – because it is good advice which bears repeating, here – for your delight and delectation – are some things that church members can do to serve Christ in his church on the Lord’s day.
Apart from the always grating assumption that we only go to church once on Sunday (which I have already assaulted by changing a few singulars to plurals), is there anything more that might be added to the list, or any caveats that might be included (I have added a couple)?
Before the services
- Read the passage in advance [if you know it].
- Pray for the gathering.
- Greet newcomers (act like you are the host).
- Think strategically about who you should sit with.
- Arrive early.
During the services
- Sing with gusto (even if you can’t sing) [as part of the congregation, and not apart from or against it].
- Help with logistics (if there’s a problem, help fix it).
- Don’t be distracted.
- Listen carefully.
- Be aware of your facial expressions (you may affect others and discourage preachers).
After the services
- Connect newcomers with others.
- Get newcomers information.
- Start a conversation about the sermon.
- Ask someone how they became a Christian.
- Stay late.
So, anything missing or needing clarification?
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.
Moscow 6 6 4. 6 6 6. 4
Worship before the Lamb!
Lift up his holy name:
Give him all praise!
Dwell on his precious blood,
Poured out in gracious flood,
That makes us heirs of God,
And our debt pays.
See him on Calvary,
Suffering in agony.
Will it not cease?
Not till the Saviour died,
When from his wounded side
Poured out the crimson tide
That brought us peace.
Lift up your voice to sing!
Let heaven with praises ring
Each joyful day.
There at the mercy seat,
The Lord your Saviour meet,
And at his piercèd feet
Your offering lay.
Let us now glorify
Our glorious Lord on high:
Give him all praise!
Soon those redeemed by grace
Shall, in the heavenly place,
Gaze on his glorious face
Through endless days.
See all hymns and psalms.
[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.
One of my great delights is the beauty, range and power of the human voice. These two videos, posted independently on a couple of sites over the last few days, demonstrate – in slightly different ways – why the human voice is well-qualified to be our primary instrument in the worship of God. This is, of course, not a plea for mere performance in worship, either by a ‘choir’ or any individual, nor a recommendation about styles of worship.
However, anything which detracts from or overpowers – rather than guides and assists – the congregation united in vocal praise is, to my mind, unhelpful. The voice can do so much if it is allowed to do so.
Dr. Gordon, who wrote Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers (see review here), recently delivered some related lectures at Amoskeag Presbyterian Church on “Reformed Worship in the Electronic Age”:
- Individual and Cultural Effects of Electronic Media
- Electronic Media and Preaching
- Electronic Media, Sacraments, and Prayer
- Reformed Worship in the Electronic Age (Synopsis)
If you are in the mood for a good rant about worship, dissidens may be your man:
How might we know a low view of worship when we see one?
I am tempted to reply by saying that if we were to cram ourselves together in a deep-sea submersible . . . and descend until the glass in the portholes cracks, we will be roughly at our present level of worship. It wouldn’t be a scientific measurement, but we would be ballparking it.
See this excellent post from Paul, taking Zephaniah 1 as his springboard. He calls us to worship the Lord our God, and serve him only, identifying the sins which our holy God hates: idolatry, pantheism, syncretism, apostasy, atheism and agnosticism. It’s good stuff, and he points the finger of warning in every direction, including back at ourselves.
John MacArthur has some stimulating thoughts on modern hymnody here.
Michael Brown has a brief but pointed post about the regulative principle of worship among Reformed Christians. In it he quotes John Calvin:
I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word. The opposite persuasion which cleaves to them, being seated, as it were, in their very bones and marrow, is, that whatever they do has in itself a sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honor of God. But since God not only regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to His worship, if at variance with His command, what do we gain by a contrary course? The words of God are clear and distinct, ‘Obedience is better than sacrifice.’
I cannot remember who put me on to this, but it’s a sad and accurate reflection of much of sung worship in this (and probably every) age (remember, tripe is not the sole preserve of the 21st century – remember The Rivulet?). How many songs and hymns are about my experience, my longing, my fulfilment, my desires, my felt needs? For those who believe that this is the way forward, the following album is for you . . .