Puritan Gems

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #5

Tithes and Offerings

"Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need." (Malachi 3:10)

There are few subjects as controversial in the church as that of money. It is unfortunate that many pastors will avoid the subject altogether for fear of offending the greater part of their congregations, who mostly react as a backlash against the robber-barons on TBN. Nonetheless, the Bible has much to say about subject of money, and particularly the subject of giving as part of our worship. One cannot proclaim the whole counsel of God and ignore this subject.

A proper view of the tithe consists of acknowledging the Lordship of God over all things. God owns everything (Psalm 50:10-11), and thus our giving is not for His benefit, but for ours (Psalm 50:12-15). The tithe is to be brought (not sent) into the local church, "that there may be food in my house" (Malachi 3:10). God has designed his church to function financially off of the tithe, in both the Old and New Testaments. A common argument from those who rejecting tithing is that the practice was part of the ceremonial law, and thus should not be observed today. Nothing could be further from the truth. David Chilton responds,

"It is commonly held that we are no longer under any obligation to tithe in this "dispensation." There is not a shred of evidence to support such a position: the law of the tithe has never been revoked. And, it should be noted, while the modern abandonment of tithing has a superficial appearance of freedom, it has actually been replaced with a tyrannical legalism. Listen to any radio or television preacher-or perhaps your own pastor-appealing for funds. If he rejects the tithe, what is the basis for his plea? LOVE. He does not, of course, define love as the Bible defines it- keeping God's commandments (Romans 13:10; 1 John 5:3) - but rather according to the perceived "needs" of his own ministry. God's simple requirement is that we give ten percent of our income; once we have paid His tax, we know that no more is demanded. The modern preacher, on the other hand, defines your love for God in terms of how much you give. ("How much do you love God? Only ten percent? Only twenty? Only thirty? Shame on you! You should love God lots more than that! If you really, completely love Him, you'll sign over your next paycheck to me and drop it in the plate. And don't worry about taking care of your family. How selfish of you. God will take care of them. After all, He's taking care of me, isn't He?") - (David Chilton - Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, p. 52)

Those who honor the law of tithing are free from the manipulation techniques of money hungry charlatans posing as gospel ministers. The tithe is NOT part of the ceremonial law (as some "red-letter Christians" would suggest), because Abram paid tithe before there ever was a ceremonial law. (Genesis 14:20). The writer of Hebrews sanctioned the tithe collected by Melchizedek (a typology of Christ) as being superior to the tithe collected by the Levites (Hebrews 7:8), all without the slightest hint that such practice was to be stopped. Jesus commanded the Pharisees not to neglected tithing in addition to obeying the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). Finally, Paul clearly tells us that the New Covenant Church was to operate financially in the same way as the Old Covenant Church.

"Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:13-14)

The New Covenant church is designed to function financially "in the same way" that the Old Covenant church functioned, via the tithe. A healthy church whose members tithe is a church that should not have the need to beg for money.

Throughout the Scriptures, the giving of tithes are offerings is an intrical part of the saints' worship. The tithe belongs to God (Leviticus 27:30), and therefore we have the duty to render it to Him (Matthew 22:21). Nonetheless, we should not give merely out of duty, but in thanksgiving toward the One who has blessed us to begin with. Other offerings, such as missions offerings, may be given in addition to the tithe as each person sees fit. These are given cheerfully, not begrudgingly (2 Corinthians 7:9).

As fallen creatures, we are constantly being drawn in by the cares of this world, thus the giving of our financial bounty is a good remedy to thwart the world's attempt to draw us away from the things of God, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21). Giving is a good test of one's true allegiance, whether we serve God or Mammon. Therefore, giving is an act of confessing your faith in the One who promises to provide the needs for his covenant children. (Matthew 6:25-30).

"Men trust good stewards with larger and larger sums, and so it frequently is with the Lord; He gives by cartloads to those who give by bushels. Where wealth is not bestowed the Lord makes the little much by the contentment which the sanctified heart feels in a portion of which the tithe has been dedicated to the Lord. Selfishness looks first at home, but godliness seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, yet in the long run selfishness is loss, and godliness is great gain. It needs faith to act towards our God with an open hand, but surely He deserves it of us; and all that we can do is a very poor acknowledgment of our amazing indebtedness to His goodness." (Charles Spurgeon on Haggai 1:9, from Morning and Evening)

Recommended Reading: With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by Hart and Muether

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #4

Confession and Absolution

"In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for." And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."” (Isaiah 6:1-8)

"Accordingly, until God reveals himself to us, we do not think that we are men, or rather, we think that we are gods; but when we have seen God, we then begin to feel and know what we are. Hence springs true humility, which consists in this, that a man makes no claims for himself, and depends wholly on God." - John Calvin

How easy is it to pronounce “Woe” to those who live wicked lives in rebellion to the Lord, and not consider our own deformity? Isaiah, prophet of God, spent five chapters prophesying two sets of triple “Woes” against Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 5:8-23). In Hebrew, repeating a word is tantamount to a superlative (ie. Holy of Holies), and using a word 3 times has special emphasis beyond the superlative. The woes of Judah can be contrasted by the “Holy, Holy, Holy” description of God given by the seraphim, a God whose majesty is such that even sinless angels must cover their faces.

When Isaiah experiences this awesome presence, the focus of his pronouncement of judgment changes to himself; “Woe is me!” Isaiah, being a lowly creature, keeps his eyes low, and thus can only describe the activity at the feet of God, the train of His robe. At this point, Isaiah cannot but confess his sin, because “... my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts”. Thus I would think it fair to surmise that any “worship” service where confession of sin is not made either has no knowledge of God’s holiness, or just doesn’t take sin seriously.

“When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?...Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;” (Isaiah 1:12, 16)

The “confession” of sin need not be made to an earthly priest, but to the one and only High Priest. In many Reformed Churches, the corporate confession of sin is proceeded by the Reading of the Law, since it is by the law that we can clearly see our unworthiness. This confession may be silent meditation, or a reading of Scripture such as Psalm 51, or another corporate confession.

O Lord,

My every sense, member, faculty, affection is a snare to me,
I can scarcely open my eyes but I envy those above me, or despise those below.
I covet honour and riches of the mighty, and am proud and unmerciful to the rags of others;
If I behold beauty it is a bait to lust, or see deformity, it stirs up loathing and disdain;
How soon to slanders, vain jests, and wanton speeches creep into my heart!
Am I comely? What a fuel for pride!
Am I deformed? What an occasion for repining!
Am I gifted? I lust after applause!
Am I unlearned? How I despise what I have not!
Am I in authority? How prone to abuse my trust, make will my law, exclude others’ enjoyments, serve my own interests and policy!
Am I inferior? How much I grudge others’ pre-eminence!
Am I rich? How exalted I become!
Thou knowest that all these are snares by my corruptions, and that my greatest snare is myself.
I bewail that my apprehensions are dull, my thoughts mean, my affections stupid, my expressions low, my life unbeseeming;
Yet what canst thou expect of dust but levity, of corruption but defilement?
Keep me ever mindful of my natural state, but let me not forget my heavenly title, or the grace that can deal with every sin.

(Self-Deprecation from “The Valley of Vision”.)

While our sin is ever before us, all of this is a precursor to the good news, and assurance of pardon. Immediate after Isaiah confesses his sin, he receives absolution. “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for". As such, it is befitting to read a portion of the gospel that speaks wondrously of this assurance.

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah” (Psalm 32:1-5)

As glorious as Isaiah’s vision was, we have even a more glorious revelation through Christ, who is “… the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). It is then that Isaiah may answer the call of God "Here am I", or literally "Behold Me". What a change, from "Woe is me" to "Behold me"!

"he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him," (Colossians 1:22)

Recommended Reading: With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by Hart and Muether

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #3

The Confession of Faith

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me." (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)

Reformed Worship is Confessional. In today's "do-it-yours-own-way" church environment, one may wonder about the importance of confessional worship. Confessional worship serves as a reminder of the gospel, as well as clarifies what the church believes.

Paul was addressing the above passage to Christians. He was writing "To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:" (1 Corinthians 1:2). Yet even though they were Christians, Paul saw a need to "remind" them of the gospel that they received. Furthermore, Paul also received it. The gospel is not a human invention, but it is that which is received and passed on to others. As such, a biblical confession of faith is invaluable.

The corporate confession of faith is also an answer to the question, "Christian, what do you believe?" The confession of faith identifies who we are, and separates those who do not believe. As such, confessions of faith are a great tool to guard against errant doctrine. It is quite possible to sit in many churches today for months without knowing exactly what the saints there actually believe. The confessions of faith make clear what the Christian believes, and is to be professed corporately in public worship.

"The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says,"Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame." (Romans 10:8-11)

The Church has a vast and rich collection of confessions of faith that have been passed on to us by saints of the past, and we should not hesitate to use all or part of them as corporate confessions in our worship. Some of the best and most popular are as follows:

The Apostle's Creed

The Nicene Creed

The Athanasian Creed

The Council of Chalcedon

The Heidelberg Catechism

The Belgic Confession

The Westminster Confession

Recommended Reading: With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by Hart and Muether

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #2

The Prayer of Invocation

"Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven, and said, "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart, who have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day. Now therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father what you have promised him, saying, 'You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.' Now therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken to your servant David my father. But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, 'My name shall be there,' that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive." (1 Kings 8:22-30)

When God calls us to worship Him, His people respond with a prayer to invoke the presence of the Lord. While God is omnipresent, He has times and places where He is present in a special way. Thus we summon this special presence of the Lord in our worship, our new and redeemed hearts agreeing with our Lord's Call to worship in His presence.

What an awesome privilege it is to approach the throne of grace! It is not something to be taken lightly and casually. Proper Biblical worship is honoring to God, and irreverent worship displeases Him. For the redeemed, there is joy in the presence of the Lord, but we are also told to "Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling." (Psalm 2:11). It sounds strange for someone to "rejoice with trembling", but that is what a redeemed sinner does in the presence of a holy God.

Invoking the presence of the Lord is a serious matter indeed, and one who is truly aware of God's nature, and his own, cannot but be in awe. Even as those who are predestined to adoption, God should scare us. He is too big. We are too small. He is too Holy, and we are too wicked. The idea that we could approach him in a careless, irreverent manner is unthinkable to the sober man.

"The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!" (Psalm 99:1)

When we hear the universal call to worship each sabbath, let us respond in agreement with our Lord with a prayer of invocation, doing so soberly as we prepare to meet the true and living God, ready to beseech Him to "listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive".

Recommended Reading: With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by Hart and Muether