The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘worship

The restoration of public worship (again)

with one comment

Having heard nothing yet from the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, about the prospects of Christian churches meeting for worship as soon as possible, and given recent developments, I have written again. And, again, I put it here not as the last word, but in the hopes that others might also be able to make representations along these lines for a recognition of our duty and our right to gather responsibly for the worship of the true and living God.

Further to my previous letter of Wednesday 27 May, I would like to raise once more the issue of the worship of Christian churches of the kind to which I belong.

As previously stated, in the matter of Christian worship, the focus in the Bible is on the people who worship rather than the place of worship. While I am sure that many are glad that places of worship are now open for private prayer, for Christians who value the gathering of the church for corporate worship (that is, our worship as a gathered body of believers) it offers little help. We can and do pray at all times and in all places. As made clear in my previous letter, for the Christians for whom I speak, nothing can replicate or replace the distinct spiritual privileges of meeting together for worship as a church, according to the direction of the Bible and therefore our religious principles. Such gatherings encourage and express our deepest convictions and hopes as believers in Jesus Christ.

Recently, the Prime Minister tweeted this: “People have a right to protest peacefully & while observing social distancing but they have no right to attack the police. These demonstrations have been subverted by thuggery – and they are a betrayal of the cause they purport to serve. Those responsible will be held to account” (@BorisJohnson, 9:13pm, 07 Jun 2020). Would the Prime Minister, and you, also be willing to assure us that people have a right to worship God peacefully while observing social distancing and not attacking the police? We believe we can and should be able to gather for worship outside of our church buildings, and to do so at least as responsibly, carefully and safely as any comparable activities.

In that connection, we are aware of moves toward the reopening of cafés, pubs and restaurants, perhaps allowing responsible service outside while maintaining social distancing. If this is the case, whether in June or July, then it should be possible for Christians to meet for worship outside their existing church buildings. My previous letter outlined some ways in which we might be able to do this responsibly, carefully and safely. Given the nature of our regular gatherings, especially with social distancing measures observed, the impact on the R number of meeting in this way for worship would, at worst, be minimal.

I appreciate that there are countless calls on your time and energy at present, and we do pray for God’s favour toward our country and those whom he has put in government over the nation. I look forward to hearing from you, and to positive suggestions as to how the church which I serve, and others like us, can honour God in our obedience to him, while also honouring the civil authorities which God has established.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 June 2020 at 14:16

The restoration of public worship

with 3 comments

Encouraged by efforts in other places, I have written to the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, about the prospects of Christian churches meeting again as soon as possible. The letter has been copied to Baron Greenhalgh, Faith Minister, and my local Member of Parliament. I put it here not because I think it is the last word, but in the hopes that others might themselves be encouraged to do more, better.

I hope that this communication finds you, and yours, safe and well during these still difficult days. My name is Jeremy Walker, and I am a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church in Crawley, West Sussex. I am writing about the government’s plans for the restoration of public worship in Christian churches.

As the government attempts to lead us out of lockdown, I am conscious of the difficult decisions and fine judgments that government and Parliament make and carry out, and the wisdom required. The church of Christ makes this a matter of particular prayer. We pray not as an issue of party political allegiance (1 Timothy 2:1–2) but because the church is a spiritual body rather than a political or even a social agency.

In this regard, I and others like me have been disappointed and even distressed to see the government’s plans for the restoration of public worship. At present, church buildings are in Step Three of the government’s plan (OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy), in which the ambition “is to open at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close, including personal care (such as hairdressers and beauty salons), hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation), public places (such as places of worship) and leisure facilities (like cinemas)” (page 31).

When it comes to the matter of religious worship, the focus in the Bible is on the people who worship. The focus in government policy appears to be on the place of worship. When the focus is on the latter, the physical space and social dynamics of a church building lead to it being classified among other enclosed social spaces like cinemas, theatres and restaurants. When the focus is on the former, the question becomes one of facilitating our corporate gathering as what the Bible calls “the body of Christ”—the people who are joined to him by our faith in him, and who thus become the spiritual family of God.

I note that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has established a taskforce developing a plan to reopen places of worship. However, it seems that Christians who share my convictions about our faith and life (Protestant and Dissenting) are substantially absent from that taskforce. For the Christians of whom I am representative, both in Crawley and elsewhere, it is the act of worship more than the place of worship that is important. So, for example, the government suggests that places of worship may be open for private prayer before Saturday 4th July. While we commend any move toward the safe opening of our church buildings, we can privately pray anywhere and at any time, and we do, together with other acts of private and family devotion.

However, for the Christians for whom I speak, nothing can replicate or replace the distinct privileges of meeting together as a church under the Word of God preached to us in person. Christians like me join believers in other nations in making clear that neither confessional Christian faith nor the church as a body can faithfully exist without a Lord’s day gathering. As others have said in other countries, the Bible and centuries of habit oblige Christians to gather weekly for worship and witness around the Word of God and sacraments—we need one another to flourish in our service to Christ (Exodus 20:9-11; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Hebrews 10:24-25; Acts 2:42, 20:7). This divine obligation and hard-won historic freedom supersedes all human legislation and regulation. The church is not comparable to any other social venue and cannot be dismissed as non-essential by an expert in any field. We say with respect that the church does not exist and is not regulated by permission of the state, for its establishment and rule is found in Jesus Christ himself.

The biblical rhythm of worship is weekly, gathering on the first day of the week to honour God and to receive spiritual blessings from him as his Word is preached. It is why the Bible commands us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). The language of weekly corporate gathering is used repeatedly in the New Testament, and to it are attached any number of divine encouragements to pursue it, divine promises regarding it, and divine warnings against neglecting it. It is essential for us, and we are beginning to see among us and around us the effects of the churches failing to meet, both in the impact on us and on those whom we serve in various ways.

We understand that love to God and to our neighbour, with respect for and cooperation with the civil authorities whom God has placed over us, has necessitated not forsaking but suspending our regular assemblies. As Christians who know the hope of resurrection through Jesus Christ we do not fear death but we do wish to preserve health and life. However, we are convinced that more needs to be done to facilitate a restoration of our regular practice.

At present, we are permitted to spend time outdoors subject to government guidelines. Step Two of the government’s plan begins on Monday 1st June. It includes such measures as phased returns for schools, opening non-essential retail, permitting cultural and sporting events behind closed doors, and re-opening some public transport. There is some scope for increased social and family contact (pages 30-31 of the plan to rebuild).

I respectfully suggest that during this second phase it should be possible for Christians to meet for worship outside their existing church buildings. While we recognise that this involves more than physical families gathering, we believe that we can meet and conduct our worship safely. For example, the church which I serve, and others like us, might:

  1. Use our own church grounds, where we have them, or sufficiently wide open spaces, where we do not, to prevent potentially obstructing or endangering others going about their own business. We would be willing to meet early or late, as common sense dictates, to enable us to meet at all.
  2. Communicate and enforce health protocols in our gatherings based on government guidance.
  3. Prevent access to our buildings to minimise any actual or potential risks from proximity.
  4. Ensure that individuals or family units attending outdoor services are and remain at least two metres apart from one another for the duration of our services, including arrival and departure.
  5. Encourage attendees to use appropriate personal hygiene measures including but not limited to regular handwashing, the appropriate use of hand sanitiser, and the wearing of masks.
  6. Continue online provision of religious services as we are able, so that those who are not comfortable with gathering or who cannot meet in person due to age or health challenges can engage in some degree.
  7. Require attendees to affirm explicitly that they have no symptoms, have not travelled out of the country within the last fourteen days and have not been in contact with anyone with the virus.

I would also suggest that the third phase should explicitly provide for the safe restoration of public worship, whether within or without church buildings. For this to be done well, it might include the following:

  1. Communicating and enforcing health protocols in our churches based on government guidance.
  2. The initial limitation of access to our services and ministries to approximately 40% of our building capacities to permit physical distancing, expanding that number as circumstances permit. This will allow for plenty of room between persons well beyond two metres in most facilities and acknowledges that not all church facilities have equal capacity. If necessary, we could hold multiple or staggered services to allow as many as possible to attend.
  3. Providing a clean facility including hand sanitisers and wiping down of common surfaces between services.
  4. Encouraging attendees to use appropriate personal hygiene measures including but not limited to regular handwashing, the appropriate use of hand sanitiser, and the wearing of masks.
  5. Continuing online provision of religious services as we are able, so that those who are not comfortable with gathering or who cannot meet in person due to age or health challenges can engage in some degree.
  6. Requiring attendees to explicitly affirm that they have no symptoms, have not travelled out of the country within the last fourteen days and have not been in contact with anyone with the virus in order to attend.

Our first concern is for the glory of God and the good of all those for whom the church of Jesus Christ brings God’s good news. We should be grateful for a response from you as soon as possible, and willing to consider any further advice you have to offer us. I look forward to your positive response, and to a continued good and respectful relationship with civil authorities as we seek to honour our Creator and Saviour in the country of which he has made us grateful and prayerful citizens.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 27 May 2020 at 13:51

Social distancing and gathered worship

with 3 comments

What now? What next?

As expected, everything is shifting quickly. What I wrote just a few days ago may still be helpful in principle, but the practice is now challenging. In the UK, the government has given vigorous advice not to attend social gatherings (still only counsel, though strong counsel). I understand that in other parts of the world religious gatherings have been forbidden (by clear command). I expect, too, that everything will shift again quickly, and keep shifting, and we shall have to keep thinking out and applying our principles.

Please bear in mind that I am not suggesting here how we are to interpret these events, nor how we are to preach to them. That, perhaps, is for another time. This is about our attitude to meeting together under the present constraints.

It is important to remember, before we consider anything else, that government counsels and commands under these circumstances are not religious persecution as such. They may not be welcome, and we may be instinctively and strongly averse to them, but we should not put them, at this time and under these circumstances, in the wrong category. The governments of the world are, by and large, doing what they ought to be doing as ‘good’ governors, seeking to take care of those entrusted to their oversight. While I appreciate that almost no secular government has any real sense of what real Christianity involves, and that they lump all ‘faith communities’ and ‘religious gatherings’ together, I do not think we should instinctively resent these strictures.

Taking into account what I said before about respecting the counsels and commands of the civil authorities, I wonder if it actually makes things less complicated if we almost strip that issue out of our consideration.

What if we boil it down to this? “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:29–31). Both of these will intertwine in this discussion.

Keep in mind, too, some of what we said before about principles of Christian liberty, and what it means to extend to others a proper freedom to act in accordance with an instructed conscience. This is difficult, because a member might not necessarily believe that the elders have chosen the wisest course, but should still be willing to embrace that course (provided that there is no question of the elders recommending something sinful, which may be a discussion that is required). None of us have the liberty to lord it over the consciences of others, and we must not allow our liberty to shackle others. You do not have the liberty simply to ignore your elders or trample upon the souls (and bodies!) of others, any more than you have the liberty to raise your fist against a government seeking to do its job well in a nightmarish environment. In this, “do not let your good be spoken of as evil” (Rom 14:16).

The key points in the UK are as follows:

  • everyone in the UK is now being advised to avoid “non-essential” contact with others and “unnecessary” travel.
  • people are also being asked to work from home “where they possibly can”, and avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and social venues (in a question in the House of Commons, this was explicitly applied to gatherings of the church.
  • people are now being advised to stay at home for 14 days if they, or anyone in their household, has either a high temperature or a “new and continuous cough”.
  • people in at-risk groups will be asked within days to be “largely shielded from social contact” for 12 weeks.
  • the UK is to scale up coronavirus testing in the coming weeks.
  • from tomorrow, mass gatherings will no longer be provided with emergency workers.

Notice this is still only governmental advice. It is currently counsel not command. How, then, ought churches to respond to this? (I recognise that in other countries, this is already a done deal, and that counsel has become command.)

First, what does it mean to love God?

As I suggested before, believers should commit to doing all we can to obey God’s commands and embrace the privileges of the saints. We must plan and prepare to make the most of every opportunity for this, now and under any future circumstances. To love God means to desire him and to delight in him, and that is nowhere more fully expressed than in the gathered worship of the church. There we hear his voice; there he lifts up the light of his countenance upon us, and gives us peace. That means a predisposition to gather together to worship him. The first four commandments require us to place God first, to put our trust in and worship him alone, to honour his name above all things, and to serve him with our time and energy on six days of the week, and to gather with his people on the day appointed for his worship, when not providentially hindered from doing so (I think it is worth pointing out both elements of that, not least because we have to contend with the government imposing certain restrictions not just on the one day but on all the days, and we might at least consider whether or not we are being consistent).

But, we are not a social gathering in the casual sense of the phrase. There is a vital spiritual dynamic at work which God’s people cannot afford casually to neglect. For these reasons, I do not think that we should quickly assume that absolute cancellations are the only way forward. At the same time, we are a gathering in which we will have quite prolonged and close contact, under normal circumstances. That will carry us to our concern for neighbours below. Even then, we should remember that many of us are likely to get this disease, or have already got it, and may be able to meet again afterward before too long, if we recover. We should remember the witness we bear to those around us by how we live, and what our priorities are.

Love to God does require a proper respect to the government that he has appointed, within the terms of the fifth commandment (which has application to the way in which we both exercise and respond to God-given authority). Among the things which we should do on the Lord’s day is to pray for our government.

Furthermore, love to God requires us to preserve his reputation, as it is carried by the church, both positively and negatively. We do, perhaps, need to take account of the fact that religious services of some kind proved a catalyst for major outbreaks in both New York State and South Korea. We must therefore avoid giving the impression that we are creating or exacerbating (even deliberately) an otherwise avoidable problem.

Loving God also means honouring his ability to bless us outside or beyond the ordinary means that we typically use for our spiritual wellbeing. Would we deny that God has, for example, been pleased to sustain the spiritual health of men and women who have been, perhaps for years, cut off from the normal means of grace? Can he not do the same under these unusual circumstances?

Second, what does it mean to love our neighbour?

It means, first, that we ought not to risk our own lives or the lives of others unjustly or carelessly. Whatever faith in God means, it does not mean the kind of bravado that flaunts itself. Whatever we do, we ought to take all reasonable precautions to protect and preserve health and life (in accordance with the sixth commandment). Anyone who does exercise their liberty in meeting should not make the gathering itself, or our behaviour at it, an act of bravado rather than of faith. Temple-jumping is not faith but folly – it is testing the Lord your God (cf. Mt 4.7). So, for example, if you choose to gather, you should observe not just the niceties of social distancing on the smaller scale, but take stringent and even aggressive measures to avoid any risk to health and life.

With this in mind, if you are at risk or a risk, you should act out of love to others, and absent yourself for whatever period is wise. If you are obliged to exercise your liberty in not meeting (with good reason), then you should do all you can to make the most of the Lord’s day, taking advantage of every means to enter into the spirit and purpose of the day. (Indeed, you should consider the best use of any other discretionary time forced upon you.) All those who are manifesting any signs of this sickness, or are within those periods of necessary wariness, should not attend; neither should those who fall within the ‘at risk’ or ‘high risk’ categories. If we can maximise the distance between those who appear to be a risk and those who are at risk, we can act with a clearer conscience.

We also need to think about the positive effect on our neighbours of continuing to worship God. Perhaps, for some, this will be the first time they have ever truly considered their mortality, and they need to know the God who saves. Perhaps the fact that we value God above all things, and place his worship so high on our list of priorities that, even in such a time as this, whether corporately or individually, we will organised our lives around its centrality, will be a blessing to them. Let them hear our hymns of praise sounding from our homes during the week and out of the church on the Lord’s day, even if only from a few voices; let them know that we are praying for them and for others; share with them opportunities to hear the Word of God immediately or remotely!

Elders, in making these decisions, must take into account that different congregations have different compositions. A congregation composed mainly of elderly saints might need to make some more radical decisions than one composed mainly of younger folks. If there are an unusual number of sick people scattered among the congregation, that will have an impact. If there are a number of spiritually immature people (whether a risk, at risk, or just a risk-taker!) who mistake folly for faith, pastoral instruction, admonition and rebuke might be necessary. If there are people of over-sensitive conscience, their consciences might need to be instructed.

It means that we need to use all the means at our disposal to feed the souls of God’s flock and to call sinners to repent and believe. Whether that means personal visits (within safe parameters, including standing six feet down the path!), regular calls, employing available technology to provide audio and video livestreams or recordings, or whatever it may be, we must not neglect to care for one another, body and soul. We need to press home upon men and women the fearful judgements of an offended God, and plead with them to turn from their sins, before a worse thing comes upon them. We need to explain that such horrors as these are the birth pangs of the great and terrible day of the Lord. The greatest love we can show to God and to neighbour is to preach the truth of his wrath against sin and his mercy toward sinners, of the salvation to be found in Christ for all who repent and believe, of the horrors of a looming hell and the glories of a promised heaven.

So, what will that look like for the church I serve? We have already stripped down to the bare minimum in terms of meetings and gatherings, a skeleton of Lord’s day morning and evening services of worship, and a Wednesday night prayer meeting. At this point in time, and unless and until the government’s advice changes again, I am anticipating that we shall do all we can to maintain that pattern, urging those who are a risk and at risk to take care of themselves and others by staying away, and enabling others to gather if they deem it wise and proper. We shall open the doors, probably a little earlier than usual. We shall encourage people to enter as individuals or tight family units, and sit accordingly, following stringent principles for social distancing, sitting apart from each other within the building. For the prayer meeting, we shall pray simply, successively, straightforwardly, and then leave quickly. On the Lord’s day, we shall do what we can to embrace all the normal scriptural elements of worship, but we shall probably do so in a more minimal fashion than usual, without feeling that anything is missing. We shall broadcast or record (both, if possible) our praying to the Lord and our preaching of his truth, so that God’s people can, in measure, enter in. While we appreciate the many good resources out there, I am God’s undershepherd in this place, and this is his flock under my care, and—God helping and sparing me—I am going to preach to the people I know and love until I cannot. When we have finished worshipping, we shall dismiss as individuals and families, giving people time to wash their hands and clear the building one after the other. And then we shall do it again when the next occasion comes.

And if we are actively forbidden for a time, for what appear to be good reasons, from meeting even like this? Then we shall consider meeting in the open air, well spaced out. And if that, too, falls under the ban? Then I shall probably go, perhaps with my family, or alone, to the church, and I shall preach my heart out to the saints and the sinners whom I love, even if they are not present, and I will use all the technology at my disposal to ensure that they hear it. And if I am obliged to self-isolate or to stay at home, or fall sick, then I shall either ask someone else, or tell everyone else to stay away, and then go and preach, or I shall find some way to preach at or from my home, so that the saints will be fed and the sinners warned. And if the Lord calls me home, I trust that someone else will take my place, and keep preaching his saving truth. All of this, if the Lord wills.

[A clarification drawn from a note to the church I serve: “Bear in mind that, as a scattered body, we are not trying to replicate what it means to be with God’s people gathered for worship; we are trying to minimise the impacts of our being scattered.’]

In doing this, I trust all of us who are involved, and who cannot be involved, shall be glad to remember that social distance from the saints is not necessarily spiritual distance from God. We shall remember that we may be absent in body but present in spirit, or that others are entering in from afar.

And, I hope, it will impress upon us who have become too accustomed to our privileges and too presumptuous concerning our blessings, that there is nothing on this side of heaven more like the heaven to come than the saints of God gathered in his presence on his day to worship his Name. May days in which spiritual scraps may become the food of our souls teach us to crave the banquets with which once we toyed! May enforced absences teach us the blessing and beauty of the church as she gathers before her God! May it stir up in us, and in many more, an appetite for God and for his Word which shall never leave us, as long as we are left in this world.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 17 March 2020 at 21:26

Sanctifying God’s name at the Lord’s supper

with 2 comments

What is going on when a believer comes to the Lord’s table? What should be gripping your heart – your thinking, feeling and willing – when you come to the Supper? According to Jeremiah Burroughs, in his book on Gospel Worship, it is imperative that we come to the table with understanding. Burroughs says:

I must know what I do when I come to receive this holy sacrament; knowledge applied to the work that I am about; when some of you have come to receive this sacrament, if God should have spoken from heaven and have said thus to you, what are you doing now, what do you go for, what account had you been able to have given unto him, you must understand what you do when you come thither. (244)

So, what might your answer be? Here is Burroughs’ quite magnificent answer, given – I suspect – not to be parroted without understanding, but used as a model for the kind of thoughtful engagement by which we sanctify God’s name in coming to the Lord’s table:

First you must be able to give this account to God, Lord, I am now going to have represented to me in a visible and sensible way the greatest mysteries of godliness, those great and deep counsels of thy will concerning my eternal estate, those great things that the angels desire to pry into, that shall be the matter of eternal praises of angels and saints in the highest heavens, that they may be set before my view; Lord, when I have come to thy word, I have had in mine ears sounding the great mysteries of godliness, the great things of the covenant of grace, and now I go to see them represented before mine eyes in that ordinance of thine that thou hast appointed.

Yea Lord, I am now going to receive the seals of the blessed covenant of thine, the second covenant, the new covenant, the seals of the testimony and will of thine; I am going to have confirmed to my soul thine everlasting love in Jesus Christ.

“Yea Lord, I am going to that ordinance wherein I expect to have communion with thyself, and the communication of thy chief mercies to my soul in Jesus Christ.

I am going to feast with thee, to feed upon the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Yea I am now going to set to the seal of the covenant on my part, to renew my covenant with thee, I am going to have communion with thy saints, to have the bond of communion with all thy people to be confirmed to me, that there might be a stronger bond of union and love between me and thy saints then ever; these are the ends that I go for, this is the work that I am now going about, thus you must come in understanding; you must come with understanding, you must know what you are going about; this is that which the Apostle speaks of, when he speaks of the discerning the Lord’s body; he rebukes the Corinthians for their sin, and shows them that they were guilty of the body and blood of Christ, because they did not discern the Lord’s body, they looked only upon the outward elements, but did not discern what there was of Christ there, they did not understand the institution of Christ; they did not see how Christ was under those elements, both represented, and exhibited unto them, that’s the first thing, there must be knowledge and understanding. (244-45)

When you come next to the communion service, you might consider the question: “What are you doing now, what do you go for?” You are not required to be able to give Burroughs’ answer in its entirety, but it would be good to consider how we, too, need to come with understanding, that we might not only benefit ourselves but also, and especially, sanctify the name of God in our worship.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Sunday 3 November 2019 at 09:30

It’s coming home

with 3 comments

This Wednesday evening something momentous is happening. All around the country, people will gather together. They will probably be keyed up all day, and it will only get more intense as the evening draws on. They will come together with expectation and hope in their hearts. Their songs will express these deep desires. After all, something will happen that is special in itself, with the prospect of much more ahead. By the end of the evening, those people might be rejoicing over something that has not happened, for most of them, in their lifetime.

And, if Wednesday pans out OK, there is more to which we can look forward. After Wednesday, Sunday. And on Sunday … well! Sunday could be the greatest of days! Sunday could be the day when glory, so long looked for and longed for, finally comes. Sunday could be the day we have all been waiting for. Again, that Sunday would be something special in itself, but it holds the promise of so much more. All those years of hurt never stopped me dreaming.

Yes, that’s right. For many of us, Wednesday night is the prayer meeting, and after that we look forward to the Lord’s day.

On Wednesday evening, many of us have the opportunity to seek the face of the Lord of hosts. Our brothers and sisters will expect us to be there with them. It is our assurance that, as we pray together, we shall do so at the very throne of grace, in the presence of our God. We gather together as Christians with the privilege of asking our Father in heaven for the blessings we most desire. As we do so, we anticipate that he will answer us. We shall do business with heaven. It might not be immediately spectacular, but there will be some celestial traffic, and we shall obtain good and needful things for our immortal souls and our often-painful pilgrimage. More than that, we might obtain not just drops but showers of blessing. This might be the night when the Lord draws near in a distinct way and shows his favour to us, granting the Spirit in a measure to which we are unaccustomed.

And after Wednesday, Sunday. And on Sunday … well! It is the day of resurrection. It is the Lord’s day. It is our chief of days. It is the day on which the risen Christ made it his pattern to meet with his disciples. It is the day when we anticipate that the Spirit will work among us so as to make his abiding presence with us sweet and profitable to our hearts. We shall, we trust, as the Word of the Most High God is declared to us, hear the voice of the Eternal. We anticipate the opportunity to enjoy the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We shall sing his praises with our blood-bought brothers and sisters, encouraging one another in the Way. We shall seek his face again as a congregation, pleading for those blessings which the Lord delights to give. We will spend time together considering the things of God and serving our great King. We hope that this might be the day on which friends we have prayed for come to hear the truth, and to heed it. We long to see people being saved. We hope that God might condescend in a distinct way and show us his glory, so that we shall be changed, and never be the same again. We pray that we might get such a sense of eternity, such a grip upon heavenly reality, that we would spend the rest of our lives with a more sure and sweet sense of the things which are not seen but which are most real.

The problem in the eyes of many is that on Wednesday evening England are playing a World Cup semi-final. If they win, the final is due to take place on Sunday afternoon. And so it may come down to a simple choice. Who or what is more important? Football is fine and dandy, and this is a great sporting occasion. There is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying football. However, if you choose football over the Lord God, if you choose to prioritise worship in that way, then football has become your idol.

So, will you miss this or spoil this for a game of football? You might say, “But what if it’s another ordinary prayer meeting? What if it’s another ordinary Sunday?” Remember what you are doing, or ought to be doing, when you gather for prayer, when the church congregates for worship. It is never, in that sense, ordinary or mundane. And with whom and on what basis are you engaging? What would a World Cup victory mean when you lose your job, or your health, or your wife or child? What will it mean when you come to the end of your own life? How will it sustain you against temptation? How will it uphold you and enable you in the battle for real godliness?

Some might say, “Think of the opportunities for witness!” Actually, the best witness you can give is the plain evidence that the Lord is supreme, and that not even an otherwise-beloved sport is allowed to rival him.

Some might say, “What about the scope for fellowship?” Fellowship isn’t simply being together at the same time in the same place, not even united around the same object or activity. It is Christian engagement designed to stir one another up to love and good works, a communion with each other that flows out of union and communion with God. Even a bunch of Christian friends gathering to enjoy a game of football on another occasion is not fellowship, though it might be a joy in other ways.

Some might say, “Can’t we just slide it all around and still get a blessing? Why can’t we do both? Why not get the game in and then get to church before it starts, or at least before it’s over? I went this morning, why do I need to or have to go again?” Would you say to your wife, “I just want to spend some time with this other lass, and then I will get straight back to you?” How do you think that would go? Did you really get your fill of God? Truly to meet with God stirs rather than sates the appetite of a healthy soul. It never leads us to neglect further opportunities to meet with the Lord, but rather to desire them. Would you say to God in as many words, “I simply want to give my idol its due, but I will turn my attention to you just as soon as I have bowed before my other god.”

The point is that the choices we will make or the priorities we will establish are not actually about football. These words are not against football: football does not inherently fall into the category of sin’s passing pleasures. The choice we will make has to do with our attitude to and expectations of God and his worship on his day. If football trumps God, or if we offer God a cold performance with a grudging heart, then we will be saying with our attitudes and actions what we might never dare to say with our lips.

We are told – and these are the words that are used – that this is the chance for us to witness the potential immortals. But we already have the assurance of meeting with the actual Eternal One. What or who is most important? What is most sweet? What is most real?

Saviour, if of Zion’s city
I, through grace, a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy Name:
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
None but Zion’s children know.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 10 July 2018 at 22:20

Asking the right questions

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 16 December 2013 at 14:57

Posted in Doxology

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Your spiritual appetite

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 16 December 2013 at 14:52

Singing in worship

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 28 June 2012 at 09:25

Posted in Doxology

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Leaning on Lent

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 13 March 2012 at 17:15

Being there

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 29 February 2012 at 22:45

Posted in Ecclesiology

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Christ or Christmas?

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 9 December 2011 at 13:31

Concerning compromise

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 26 August 2011 at 12:34

Getting in the way

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 21 March 2011 at 20:28

Posted in Doxology

Tagged with ,

Review: “Voices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings”

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Voices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings

Ed. Richard Rushing

Banner of Truth, 2009, 428pp., cloth, £16.50

ISBN 9781848710481

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 5 March 2011 at 08:55

Posted in Reviews

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Experience and duty in worship

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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.

HT: RBF.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 9 December 2010 at 21:57

Of crying children and church services

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 16 November 2010 at 18:45

Posted in General

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Sunday service

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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?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 6 November 2010 at 22:37

Posted in Ecclesiology

Tagged with , , ,

Feeding the sheep or amusing the goats

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 8 May 2010 at 22:02

“Worship before the Lamb!”

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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.

©JRW

See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 20 March 2010 at 22:08

Simplicity in worship

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The Thirsty Theologian (HT: Nathan Bingham) provides an excerpt from Leland Ryken’s book, Worldly Saints, showing the Puritan’s understanding of simplicity in worship:

[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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 2 October 2009 at 14:43

Truth and/or music

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 30 September 2009 at 08:44

Posted in Doxology

Tagged with , , ,

Our greatest instrument

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 22 June 2009 at 20:55

Posted in General

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More on preaching from Dr Gordon

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 4 June 2009 at 08:55

Plumbing the depths

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 12 January 2009 at 16:31

Posted in While wandering . . .

Tagged with

“You shall love the Lord your God”

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 4 December 2008 at 16:02

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