Puritan Gems

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #7

Preaching The Word

"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

"Preaching is broken...Why do I get to speak for 30 minutes and you don't?...A sermon is often a violent act, it's violence toward the will of the people who have to sit there and take it." (Doug Pagitt - Leader of the Emergent "Solomon's Porch".)

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 89

Q. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?

A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation. (Neh. 8:8, 1 Cor. 14:24–25, Acts 26:18, Ps. 19:8, Acts 20:32, Rom. 15:4, 2 Tim. 3:15–17, Rom. 10:13–17, Rom. 1:16)

In many of today's pragmatic churches, preaching is viewed as increasingly archaic, being either an optional part of worship, or something that snuck in amongst the throngs of church entertainers, hoping that a nugget of that Word might sneak into a few hearts along the way. This type of thing happens when the zeal for church growth over rides the need for truth. The deceptive part of "evangelism by entertainment" is that it does appear in individual cases to increase church attendance, but at what cost? Is merely an increase in church attendance the sign of a true conversion? A church that does not rely on the preaching of the Word has given up on "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..." (Romans 1:16). Oddly enough, many such churches proclaim a strong desire to be "apostolic" in terms of Spiritual gifts and ecclesiology, but have forsaken the apostolic message and method of spreading that message. Preaching is not optional, nor it is a church sideshow, but rather a crucial part of worship, the means by which God has ordained to save the lost as well as feed the saved.

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says,"Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:14-17)

In order to fulfill his ministry, Paul charged Timothy to "preach the Word". It stands to reason that preachers who refuse to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" via the preached Word are not faithful in fulfilling their ministries. What a shame that the preaching of the Word has been abandoned by many churches in favor of fluffy, pragmatic messages on successful living! The Word that is preached must be the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). A good preacher will preach on the glories of Heaven, the horrors of Hell, giving admonishment as well as encouragement to the saints, all with equal effectiveness. He will "labor in Word and Doctrine" (1 Timothy 5:17), seeking to be orthodox, doing his best as an uninspired prophet to remove any error from his exposition by diligent study, holding fast to sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), and "rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15). A good preacher is not concerned with pleasing man, but rather God. (Galatians 1:10). As such, the hard truths about man's sinfulness and God's wrath cannot be ignored. It is God's will that people are saved through the folly of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21), not by skits, clowns, and concerts.

“The pastor is called upon to feed the sheep. (Now that may seem quite obvious.) He is called upon to feed the sheep even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it in Goatland. You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness”. (William Still, The Work of the Pastor).

We live in a day when a person can send a $25 check to a web company and become an ordained minister. This is merely a symptom of a larger problem. The expectations, even among Christians, of preachers and the words they preach are at an all time low. However, the Word that is preached faithfully, is not only "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..." (Romans 1:16), but is also "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Those who insist on the practice of "bait and switch" entertainment evangelism would do well to meditate on these passages, and renew their confidence in both the Word and the preaching of that Word as the effective, Biblical model of both evangelism and worship.

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

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #6

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:16-17)

So what kind of music is fitting for Biblical Worship? Does style matter? Should we use modern songs, old hymns, or a mixture of both?

I am of the private opinion that any church interested in music that is pleasing to God should always have a Psaltery available. The Psalms are superior to other songs in terms of worship, because they are divinely inspired worship songs. How better to worship God other than with songs that He has inspired? It is a shame to see so many churches eliminating the Psalms from their worship.

However, the Bible does not demand exclusive Psalms, and there is a vast richness of great songs that declare the glory of God.

Regarding musical instruments, Scripture allows them to be played in worship (Psalm 150:1-6), and skillfully (Psalm 33:3). Many of the Puritan mindset would disagree, adopting what appears to me to be a "dispensationalist" mindset when it comes to worship (ie. "The New Testament doesn't mention instruments".) Neither however, does it forbid them.

Having said that, it should be God who is glorified in our songs, not musicians or singers. The lyrics of many modern songs demand very little in the area of engaging our minds for worship, ranging from the theologically illiterate "I Have Decided To Follow Jesus" (Compare to Moses' Song "The Lord... Has Become My Salvation" - Exodus 15:2), to the empty repetitions of songs like "Celebrate Jesus". The emptiness of the repetitive lyrics in these songs must often be filled by Van Halen-like guitar solos, robbing God of the glory due to Him alone.

Those who would defend the "rock concert" atmosphere of modern worship often point to it's effectiveness in drawing unbelievers to church. However, the purpose of worship is not to entertain unbelievers, for what good does it do to simply get them to church for entertainment purposes? The purpose of worship is to worship, and it does matter how this is done.

Others would suggest that we just don't like the "style" of their worship. However, style being an aesthetic issue, my main objection to many modern "worship" songs is that so few of them actually worship God (Note: There are some good modern songs). A great many songs today are either songs about worship (ie, "I will praise Him", "we will worship Him") that never actually get around to worshipping, or else they are human centered songs about "how Jesus makes me feel". Consider these lyrics from a popular "Christian" song that I heard in a church I visited some time ago:

I waited for you today
But you didn't show
No no no
I needed you today
So where did you go?
You told me to call
Said you'd be there
And though I haven't seen You
Are you still there?

I cried out with no reply
And I can't feel You by my side
So I'll hold tight to what I know
You're here, and I'm never alone

And though I cannot see You
And I can't explain why
Such a deep, deep reassurance
You've placed in my life
We cannot separate
'Cause You're part of me
And though You're invisible
I'll trust the unseen

I cried out with no reply
And I can't feel You by my side
So I'll hold tight to what I know
You're here, and I'm never alone

We cannot separate
'Cause You're part of me
And though You're invisible
I'll trust the unseen

I cried out with no reply
And I can't feel You by my side
So I'll hold tight to what I know
You're here, and I'm never alone

The lady who performed the song was very talented, but as she finished singing, I had one obvious question. Who is she singing to? Since the song was sung in a church, I'm assuming that this was a Christian song. Otherwise, I would have never guessed. This song could just as easily have been sung in a nightclub about her boyfriend.

Contrast these with the lyrics to Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God", fast becoming my favorite hymn.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

It's not "style" that separates these two genres of music, but rather substance. May the church once again seek to please God in its worship music rather than using it as a church growth gimmick.

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