Wednesday, April 30, 2008

So Much For Seeker Sensitivity

The greatest gift the church can give our society is a glimpse - however fleeting - of another city. But we can only do that if our worship is self-consciously, confidently, and unmistakably oriented to God. If someone wanders in off the street as we pray, he should sense that there is present a double church, as Origen put it: the one that is seen and the other that is unseen. Indeed if the visitor does not feel uncomfortable, out of place and out of step, something is terribly wrong. The visitor should experience a little vertigo, because something is going on that is beyond his perception. Yet one would hope, as he listens to our faint voices and feeble songs, that he would also hear, if only as an echo in the distance, the thunderous sound of the heavenly host singing, ‘Holy, holy, holy.’ ~ Robert Louis Wilken

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

We celebrate the extraordinary minister more than the ordinary ministry of the gospel

All Crossed Up---by Michael Horton

The Ordinary Ministry That Can’t Corner the Market
Never mind Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to submit to elders and pastors as official ambassadors of Christ. These days, even in more confessional denominations, it seems that instead of being the Lord’s servant, ambassador, and minister of reconciliation, a pastor is supposed to be the community’s quarterback, class president, or the one voted “most likely to succeed.”

It used to be that the pastor had an office and worked in his study, but today the pastor has a job and works in his office. Whereas Peter organized the diaconal office so that the apostles could devote themselves to the Word and to prayer, ideal ministers seem increasingly to be managers, therapists, entertainers, and entrepreneurial businesspeople.

Open up the average issue of Christianity Today to advertisements for pastoral positions and you’ll find descriptions like “team builder,” “warm and personal style,” “outgoing,” “contagious personality,” and “effective communicator.” (Catholic friends tell me that something like this affects Catholicism, too.)

I think they’re looking for a Director of Sales and Marketing, whom they may (or may not) call “Pastor.” I’m not against directors of sales and marketing; I just don’t think that this is what we should be looking for in the way of shepherds.

Habits of the Pastoral Heart
We wouldn’t have had Paul, for example. Who, having advertised for an outgoing team builder with a contagious personality, would have hired a pastor who openly disclosed the fact that he was not a great communicator, suffered everywhere he was sent, and lacked the natural charisma of the “super-apostles,” who were only too happy to point out these weaknesses themselves?

Perhaps, like the immature and sectarian Corinthians (1 Cor. 3:5–9), we celebrate the extraordinary minister more than the ordinary ministry of the gospel.

The different approaches to church life, worship, and outreach more generally express different ministry values, which might be summarized this way:

Ordinary < > Extraordinary
Communal < > Individualistic
Predictable and Disciplined < > Spontaneous and “Authentic”
Respectful of office < > Respectful of persons
Hierarchical < > Egalitarian
Patient < > Restless
Receptive < > Expressive
Mediated < > Immediate
Wise/Knowledgeable < > Practical/Intuitive
Custodial/Pastoral < > Entrepreneurial
Formal < > Casual
Mature < > Creative
Traditional < > Innovative
Deferential < > Independent

I am not suggesting that these contrasting tendencies should be simplistically identified with “good” and “bad” respectively. Although for a couple of decades now I have been a parishioner and minister in churches that favor the left side of the chart, I was reared in churches that tilted toward the right side.

I am suggesting that many pastors and churches (including, again, mainline Protestants and Catholics) seem to assume that the first side represents “dead traditionalism” and the right side yields “genuine vitality.” For example, a “worship experience” is only “real” when it’s “authentic.” This oft-heard tautology means that it provides an opportunity for me to experience and express my unmediated, extraordinary, intuitive, deeply personal, individual, and spontaneous familiarity with God.

Churches and pastors whose values fall more on the left side concentrate on the ordinary means of grace. They emphasize a predictable, ordered, and disciplined approach to corporate and personal growth through formal practices of preaching, sacrament, catechesis, profession of faith, training and ordination of ministers, and caring for the flock from cradle to grave.

These values are likely to generate a concern for careful study, deliberate decisions about worship and church life, and a more “covenantal” approach that sees the local church as a local expression of the universal church. Since, in theological terms, this approach maintains that God keeps covenant through the generations, it is more likely to foster inter-generational community.

As a minister in a largely Dutch-immigrant denomination, I have been impressed with the countercultural community exhibited by a pew filled with three generations. In an age of niche demographics and target-marketing even in church, this has been refreshing.

Of course, these values, too, can mask a lazy and unreflective piety that contents itself with its familiar practices and parishioners, that is turned inward with little sense of its commission to the world. In both cases, I wonder whether we reflect enough on the extent to which ministry is often captive to cultural sensibilities that are mistaken for biblical piety.

As I read the Scriptures, it seems that the values most often commended favor the left side of the ledger. Yet in my experience at least, Evangelicals tend to question the authenticity of Christian experience (individually or corporately) unless it is expressed in terms of an immediate, deeply personal, individual, inward, spontaneous, and ever-new relationship that can also be discerned in the entrepreneurial, innovative, spontaneous creativity of “worship experiences.”

To what extent are the values on the right side of the ledger simply expressions of an American personality that easily drifts, in the sphere of faith and practice, toward Gnosticism?

Although I do not have the space to offer citations, there are many passages that define faithful ministry in terms of preaching, teaching, sacrament, fellowship, and the prayers (as mentioned, for example, in Acts 2:42). There are no passages that tell us to expect, much less to plan, revivals or other extraordinary events to perk up this ordinary ministry.

A Different Orientation
Both traditionalists and anti-traditionalists often reflect a human-centered, merely horizontal orientation. Ministry is focused either on keeping the generations together, closely bound in a fellowship across time, or on outreach.

Both forget that the public ministry of Word and sacrament is first and foremost a vertical, eschatological event of the Spirit’s disrupting grace that generates a horizontal extension of covenant succession in history while also drawing in outsiders by that same ministry. It is first of all God’s work, not ours, whether we’re thinking in traditional or innovative categories.

Christ is serving us, building his kingdom, drawing people by his Spirit from the dominion of sin and death, leading them in ever-richer understanding of the gospel, extending that message and acts of love outward to the neighbor. The Triune God is the one creating a new world in the midst of this fading evil age, not simply keeping the old one going or dressing it up in perpetual innovation.

A host of passages exhort believers to patient and mutual submission, progressive maturity and unity in the Word, and a community that is disciplined in its worship, life, and doctrine. There are clear instructions on the examination and ordination of a formal ministry that is entrusted with authority subordinate to Christ, with commands to “guard what has been entrusted to you,” going on from the milk of the Word to solid food, and so forth. There are no equivalent injunctions or instructions for small groups, para-church ministries, crusades, marches, revivals, or other movements that celebrate the extraordinary, spontaneous, restless, expressive immediacy that Americans relish, whether in church or on daytime talk shows.

Just as traditionalism is a parody of a living tradition, a ministry defined by the entrepreneurial, creative, and innovative capacities of today’s “super-apostles” should not be mistaken for genuine growth and outreach. Marking the amazing missionary advances of the apostles in the Book of Acts, we find repeatedly the phrase, “the word of God spread.”

Mission was about Christ as he is delivered to sinners through the gospel, not about us and our frantic efforts to make a sale. In fact, that is the last clause in Peter’s invitation: “The promise is for you and your children, and for those who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” The church is not called to mimic the world, but to feed the world the Bread of Life and incorporate strangers and aliens into the story of his redeeming work.

God’s Living Word
In his critique of revivalism, the nineteenth-century Reformed minister and Professor John Williamson Nevin observed that when he succumbed in his younger years to the pressures of a revival in his town, he was expected to undergo a radical conversion.

In effect, he had to renounce the whole system of covenantal nurture that he had received from baptism, catechism, and confirmation. All of this “formal” religion stood in sharp contrast to the “authentic,” spontaneous, informal, and immediate experience of the individual soul with God.

Nevin, targeting Charles Finney’s “new measures,” contrasted the “system of the catechism”—i.e., the faith and practice summarized in the Westminster catechisms—with the “system of the anxious bench.”

Eventually, Proteus grows weary of the burden of his perpetual, restless, spontaneous, and individualistic makeovers—a works-righteousness that refuses to define the believer or the church as a recipient of God’s grace. As Whitney Cross and other historians have documented, the region most deeply affected by Finney’s repeated revivals became known as the “burned-over district.” Is this not the effect of a religion that identifies genuine faith and piety with the right side of the chart above?

When churches abandon the ordinary ministry for extraordinary “excitements sufficient to induce conversion” (Finney’s phrase), eventually the innovations become traditions and the insatiable craving for ever-new experiences of spontaneous expressivism, like a drug addiction, leads eventually to the spiritual equivalent of a heart attack. Tragically, the landscape of American religion is littered with successive waves of “revival” (often patterned on American trends in salesmanship) followed inevitably by periods of spiritual fatigue and skepticism.

There are no easy answers to finding the right balance between caring for the flock already gathered and seeking those who are far off. However, the New Testament does, I believe, lead us to a crucial conclusion: namely, that the same ministry that leads us and our children to Christ, in an ever-deepening communion with him and his body, also reaches strangers, which most of us (as Gentiles) were ourselves. The church in its ever-widening and ever-expanding circumference is always a creation of the Word.

In response to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, hearers were “cut to the quick,” and asked how they could be saved. Calling them to personal faith in Christ, the apostle nevertheless directed them not to their own individualistic piety but to baptism and communion with the church.

In the same context where the church’s ordinary life is described in terms of preaching, sacrament, fellowship, prayer, and the sharing of resources, “praising God and having favor with all the people,” we read, “And the Lord added daily to the church those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Instead of focusing ecclesial faith and practice on marketing Jesus to the “unchurched,” the apostolic pattern was to draw aimless drifters into the covenantal drama already in progress.

To become a Christian was already to begin one’s lifelong journey in the company of pilgrims under the care of the church. Discipleship was defined by churchmanship. Personal faith in Christ was never set over against active membership in the visible body of Christ.

Begin with Paul
When pastors feel the burden of saving people, selling the gospel, or cornering the market through their own cleverness, methods, creativity, or charisma, they eventually burn out. So, too, do the sheep who are submitted to perpetual exhortations to imitate their restless “authenticity.”

According to a recent study of Evangelical ministers, 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month and 80 percent of seminary graduates leave within five years. This comports with another study that found that 80 percent of the youth who grow up in Evangelical churches drop out by their sophomore year of college.

Charles Finney’s “burned-over district” is growing like a cancer. The challenge before us is to regain our confidence in the ordinary means of grace: “to grow like a tree rather than a forest fire,” as Wendell Berry described our relation to our local environment.

Should we not begin with Paul’s list of qualifications for our pastors rather than the average job description in circulation today, and abide by the habits of disciplined growth that we find in the New Testament rather than the consumer habits of the marketplace?

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Musing About The Origin of Sin

God cannot create God.
A creature (Man) created with a will, (free agency,) cannot & will not always and every time choose right (i.e. 'choose God.')

By virtue of his createdness\creatureliness, (fallibility) the Fall was inevitable...there's no avoiding it. At some point, in some way, Adam would choose “not-God,” either by choosing himself or something else in creation instead of God. With choice being based upon “greatest preference” which in turn is based upon nature\character, Adam's nature\character begins to slide because it is not being nourished by God through the Tree of Life. To eat from the Tree of Life would’ve required Adam to acknowledge God as God, and acknowledge his dependence upon Him. Adam had no positive command to eat from the Tree of Life, so not eating from it wasn’t sin, yet it led to his “slide,” …not guarding the Garden from, & entertaining, the serpent; becoming enamored with his singularity and the idea of autonomy, all climaxed in Adam’s eating the fruit, i.e. breaking The Command. (Also ref. Samson’s demise)

When God did first intervene, it suddenly became apparent that it was “not good that man should be alone.” Also, we must consider Eve’s “version” of the command to not eat came from Adam. Then after the Fall, we notice Adam blaming God, “this woman, You gave…,” faulting God for the helpmeet (“little savior”) God gave to him.

Being fallible, without Divine intervention, (and God did leave him to his own will,) he would eventually choose wrongly... ie. not-God. Which would be the "thing" named sin. Fallibility is inherent in the creature, even the creature created, "very good."

ONLY God is inherently & intrinsically infallible
Self-sustaining Infallibility is an incommunicable attribute of God. Only God is able to choose "right" every single time. The creature cannot do this, unless God continually forces\acts upon the creature to do so. But that’s not the situation God created. God foreknew the Fall and even planned it and planned for it. “…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” And “…a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world.”

So even though man was created very good and even "perfect" in the human sense, he was not, and could not be infallible, unless God so acted upon him to be\do so.

Now let's see:
Adam was supposed to "keep"( i.e. guard,) the garden - he didn't.
Adam somehow goes from a state of "very good" to "it's not good."
Adam's attitude is reflected in the woman's answer to the serpent,

"We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"

Notice the addition? Where would she have gotten the notion of, "You must not touch it," if not from Adam? This is Adam wanting to be God! This is Adam wanting to dominate instead of taking dominion.

So if that’s true of Adam in the unfallen state, how much more of those born in sin. And even if we were born into the same state that Adam was created, i.e. “Innocent,” we would fall just like he did. But we have it worse, because we are born with a corrupt nature and with a “mortal” body too. So then death envelops our very being until Christ regenerates us.

God made it this way to teach all of creation of their total dependence upon their Creator.

For a free agency creature to choose "not-God," is what God named evil and sin, because it makes ‘another god,’ (which is really no god at all) and draws the creature away from God Himself, where there is no Life, and only death. Not only is it true that we “Shall have no other gods before Him,” it is not possible for there to be any other God. For He is and there is no other. For God to create a creature who would love him and worship Him in the way God desired, "freely" & "with utmost intensity," the very opposite of this had to be possible as well...and to the same degree.

Once Mankind died, there is no remedy for him outside of Christ. There is no choosing of God, but only not-God...until God regenerates & gifts him.

There, end of musing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More on Origin of Sin

Is God the Author of Sin?

Jonathan Edwards answers,

"If by 'the author of sin,' be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing…it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin."

But, he argues, willing that sin exist in the world is not the same as sinning. God does not commit sin in willing that there be sin. God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God's permission, but not by his "positive agency."

God is, Edwards says,

"the permitter…of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted…will most certainly and infallibly follow."

He uses the analogy of the way the sun brings about light and warmth by its essential nature, but brings about dark and cold by dropping below the horizon.

"If the sun were the proper cause of cold and darkness, it would be the fountain of these things, as it is the fountain of light and heat: and then something might be argued from the nature of cold and darkness, to a likeness of nature in the sun."

In other words,

"sin is not the fruit of any positive agency or influence of the most High, but on the contrary, arises from the withholding of his action and energy, and under certain circumstances, necessarily follows on the want of his influence."

Thus in one sense God wills that what he hates come to pass, as well as what he loves. Edwards says,

"God may hate a thing as it is in itself, and considered simply as evil, and yet…it may be his will it should come to pass, considering all consequences…God doesn't will sin as sin or for the sake of anything evil; though it be his pleasure so to order things, that he permitting, sin will come to pass; for the sake of the great good that by his disposal shall be the consequence. His willing to order things so that evil should come to pass, for the sake of the contrary good, is no argument that he doesn't hate evil, as evil: and if so, then it is no reason why he may not reasonably forbid evil as evil, and punish it as such."

Why Does God Ordain that there Be Evil?

It is evident from what has been said that it is not because he delights in evil as evil. Rather he "wills that evil come to pass…that good may come of it." What good? And how does the existence of evil serve this good end? Here is Edwards' stunning answer:

"It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God's glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all…

Thus it is necessary, that God's awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God's glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.

If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God's holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God's grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired…

So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature's happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect."

Monday, April 21, 2008

You Get The Point pt 2

In reference to the post, "You Get The Point" down below, even though it may sound humorous and may even have been intended as "ridiculous," here's the Biblical support:

(Gen 4:3-12) In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. {4} But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, {5} but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. {6} Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? {7} If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." {8} Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. {9} Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" {10} The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. {11} Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. {12} When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth."

(Heb 11:4) By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

(1 John 3:12) Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous.

(Note: The word "murdered" is sphazo, "to slay, slaughter, butcher, by cutting the throat." It was used in classical Greek of slaughtering victims for sacrifice by cutting the throat, also of animals tearing by the throat, of any slaughter by knife or sword. It is used in the LXX, of the slaying of the Levitical sacrifices (Lev. 1:5). The usual word meaning "to kill" is apothnesko. The inspired writer goes out of his way to use a specialized word to describe the murder of Abel by Cain. The latter cut his brother’s throat. God said to Cain, "What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground" (Gen. 4:10). The method Cain used to kill his brother was one in which much blood would be shed. The cutting of the jugular vein would fit that description. Hence Cain is flaunting God's method/pattern of worship to His face. Worship wars indeed.)

(Jude 1:11-12) Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. {12} These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Origin of Sin

Man’s First Sin.
The first sin of our first father is found described in Gen. 3:1–7 in words which are familiar to every one. This narrative has evidently some of that picturesque character appropriate to the primeval age, and caused by the scarcity of abstract and definite terms in their language. But it is an obvious abuse to treat it as a mere allegory, representing under a figure man’s self–depravation and gradual change: for the passages preceding and following it are evidently plain narrative, as is proved by a hundred references. Moreover, the transactions of this very passage are twice referred to as literal (2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:14), and the events are given as the explanation of the peculiar chastisement allotted to the daughters of Eve.

Unbelief Its First Element.
The sin of Adam consisted essentially, not in his bodily act, of course; but in his intentions. Papal theologians usually say that the first element of the sin of his heart was pride, as being awakened by the taunting reference of the Serpent to his dependence and subjection, and as being not unnatural in so exalted a being. The Protestants, with Turrettin, usually say it was unbelief; because pride could not be naturally suggested to the creature’s soul, unless unbelief had gone before to obliterate his recollection of his proper relations to an infinite God; because belief of the mind usually dictates feeling and action in the will; because the temptation seems first aimed (Gen. 3:1) to produce unbelief, through the creature’s heedlessness; and because the initial element of error must have been in the understanding, the will being hitherto holy.

If Volitions Are Certainly Determined, How Could A Holy Being Have This First Wrong Volition?
How a holy will could come to have an unholy volition at first, is a most difficult inquiry. And it is much harder as to the first sin of Satan, than of Adam, because the angel, hitherto perfect, had no tempter to mislead him, and had not even the bodily appetites for natural good which in Adam were so easily perverted into concupiscence. Concupiscence cannot be supposed to have been the cause, pre–existing before sin; because concupiscence is sin, and needs itself to be accounted for in a holy heart. Man’s, or Satan’s, mutability cannot be the efficient cause, being only a condition sine qua non . Nor is it any solution to say with Turrettin, the proper cause was a free will perverted voluntarily. Truly; but how came a right will to pervert itself while yet right? And here, let me say, is far the most plausible objection against the certainty of the will, which Arminians, etc., might urge far more cunningly than (to my surprise) they do. If the evil dispositions of a fallen sinner so determine his volitions as to ensure that he will not choose spiritual good, why did not the holy dispositions of Adam and Satan ensure that they would never have a volition spiritually evil? And if they somehow chose sin, contrary to their prevalent bent, why may not depraved man sometime choose good?

The mystery cannot be fully solved how the first evil choice could voluntarily arise in a holy soul; but we can clearly prove that it is no sound reasoning from the certainty of a depraved will to that of a holy finite will. First: a finite creature can only be indefectible through the perpetual indwelling and superintendence of infinite wisdom and grace, guarding the finite and fallible attention of the soul against sin. This was righteously withheld from Satan and Adam. Second: while righteousness is a positive attribute, incipient sin is a privative trait of human conduct. The mere absence of an element of active regard for God’s will, constitutes a disposition or volition wrong. Now, while the positive requires a positive cause, it is not therefore inferable that the negative equally demands a positive cause. To make a candle burn, it must be lighted; to make it go out, it need only be let alone. The most probable account of the way sin entered a holy breast first, is this: An object was apprehended as in its mere nature desirable; not yet as unlawful. So far there is no sin. But as the soul, finite and fallible in its attention, permitted an overweening apprehension and desire of its natural adaptation to confer pleasure, to override the feeling of its unlawfulness, concupiscence was developed. And the element which first caused the mere innocent sense of the natural goodness of the object to pass into evil concupiscence, was privative, viz., the failure to consider and prefer God’s will as the superior good to mere natural good. Thus natural desire passed into sinful selfishness, which is the root of all evil. So that we have only the privative element to account for. When we assert the certainty of ungodly choice in an evil will, we only assert that a state of volition whose moral quality is a defect, a negation, cannot become the cause of a positive righteousness. When we assert the mutability of a holy will in a finite creature, we only say that the positive element of righteousness of disposition may, in the shape of defect, admit the negative, not being infinite. So that the cases are not parallel: and the result, though mysterious, is not impossible. To make a candle positively give light, it must be lighted; to cause it to sink into darkness, it is only necessary to let it alone: its length being limited, it burns out.

~ R.L. Dabney, Systematic Theology, Section Three—The Condition of Man, Chapter 29: The Fall and Original Sin

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

You Get The Point

“One reason why we Christians argue so much about which hymn to sing, which liturgy to follow, which way to worship is that the commandments teach us to believe that bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend.” — Stanley Hauerwas

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Fire In The Fireplace

"A formal, established liturgy is like an ornate fireplace. Warm, edifying, exegetical, Christ-centered preaching is like a fire. The Church of England is filled with cold fireplaces -- very beautifully done, but cold. You can look at them there behind the velvet rope for a donation of three pounds.

And so in reaction to this, actual believers in Scripture have found themselves setting fires in various places around the house -- on the couch, on the coffee table -- places where it is easy to find fault with them, but at least they know there is supposed to be a fire. I want a fireplace, but I also want a fire in it. And to get that, you are going to have to conduct thoughtful, charitable discussion among English evangelicals over the course of the next number of years." ~ Doug Wilson

God's Special Presence

--by Jeff Meyers. and answers the question, "why thousands of Christians don't go to church":

"The one who skips church for the golf course or shopping mall or State park may not argue from God’s omnipresence to justify his not being in church. Sure, God is present on the golf course, just as he is present in hell. But this general presence of God doesn’t do the people in hell much good. Think about it."

read the rest here:

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Regulative Principle of Worship, Part 5

....which is the concluding post on Worship in Spirit & Truth by Jeff Meyers

"Thus, in the New Testament, people who worship 'in Spirit and truth' will gather with the Body of Christ to participate in Spiritual worship of the Father"
(1 Cor. 12:12-14).

"What Jerusalem and the Jews were to the Old Testament - the place and ministers by which God met with men and women - Christ and his Body, the Church, are today. Jesus’ humanity is the place to which God summons us. Christ alone is the new sanctuary, the mercy seat, and the high priest through whom we must draw near to God. And Christ has given the Spirit to fill his Body, the Church, on earth so that she might be the place where humanity finds God. She is the New Jerusalem. If we wish to worship God in Spirit and truth, we will seek God among his people, where the Word is audibly read and preached, where the physical sacraments are given and received. He still embodies his presence by the Spirit, but it is no longer a centralized, geographically limited embodiment."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Regulative Principle of Worship, Part 4

....which is actually the first part of a series, on Worship in Spirit & Truth by Jeff Meyers

"The big point being made by Jesus in this passage cannot be that now in the New Testament individuals can individually bow down, pray to, or mentally worship God wherever they want. That had always been the case."

Monday, April 7, 2008

Liturgy and the Counter-Cultural Church

---by Peter J. Leithart

The question of whether the Church stands "against" culture, is "of" or "above" culture, or seeks to "transform" culture cannot be answered in abstraction from a particular cultural context. To be sure, in many ways the Church's message and relation to the world cannot change; the Church must, in season and out of season, proclaim the whole counsel of God and confess that Christ is Lord of all, and seek to bring all into conformity with His will. But in many respects the Church's relationship to society and culture is not static but fluid; tactically, we might say, her stance toward the world depends in some measure on the condition of the world.

The Church's relation to contemporary America must, it seems to me, be confrontational. As Herbert Schlossberg argued brilliantly in Idols for Destruction, contemporary America is, like ancient Israel, a land filled with idolatries, rarefied and respectable though they may be. Faced with an idolatrous culture, the Church has no choice but to stake out its ground as a counter-culture. (A friend of mine recently remarked that, since the triumph of "the Sixties," the Church is more accurately described as a counter-counter-culture.)

A leading aspect of contemporary life is, according to Neil Postman's 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, the dominance of entertainment and particularly of television. Following Marshall McLuhan, Postman argues that the medium of public discourse molds the content of a culture. A "typographic" culture where the written word is the primary medium of communication encourages certain mental habits, so that "in a culture dominated by print, public discourse tends to be characterized by a coherent, orderly arrangement of facts and ideas." A culture dominated by the flickering image will be one in which ideas are suppressed in favor of entertainment.

Postman makes a powerful case for his conclusion that the symphony of contemporary public discourse is written in an entertainment key. He raises the remarkably obvious question of why news programs begin with dramatic music, and gives the equally obvious answer that television news programs do not intend primarily to give useful information but to entertain. News is not the only victim of the television culture. Politics suffers as well. There is something unnerving about seeing a Senator make a brief appearance on "Late Night With David Letterman" a couple of days after winning a primary or watching a putatively serious political journalist like John McLaughlin yuk it up with Jay Leno. Everyone, it seems, has the potential to become a celebrity; that is, to become an entertainer. To do so is to reach the heights of contemporary American culture.

Postman argues that the constraints imposed by the medium of television do not melt away when the television program has a religious content. Instead, television reduces religion to another form of light entertainment. Thus, "most of the religious shows feature sparkling fountains, floral displays, choral groups and elaborate sets." Celebrities from the entertainment industry make frequent appearances on religious programs (while theologians and serious pastors are seldom seen), and nearly every television preacher has the same blow-dried cheeriness as his secular competitors.

Tasteless as religious programming can be, the more serious threat is the invasion of the television ethos into the Church. Religious celebrity has always competed with the slower rhythms of life in local congregations. Itinerant evangelists have always seemed more vibrant, more exciting, more spiritual than the sinner who preaches Sunday after Sunday to the same faces. The attacks of George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennant on the "unconverted ministers" who populated colonial pulpits are an extreme example, but the conflict can take more subtle forms as well. During the post-Revolutionary period, for example, countless revivalists drew converts by their entertaining appeals to what Nathan O. Hatch has called the "sovereign audience." In England, the Methodist Church repudiated the more extreme revivalists, but in America the same revivalists were embraced. The reason, Hatch argues, was that the revivals were successful in drawing new members into the Methodist Church. Successful methods of Church growth were, in turn, imitated by local pastors and the Church was refashioned in the image of the revival. The passive Puritan congregation analyzing the meticulous Ramist discourses of a Princeton-educated clergyman was transformed into a passive revivalist congregation thrilling to the homiletical pyrotechnics of an Oberlin graduate.

The same dynamics are at work today. On the one hand, more ambitious churches try to imitate the exciting atmosphere of televangelism. Alternatively, churches may seek to contextualize their ministry by adopting forms of worship, Church life, and preaching that will appeal to the entertainment-drenched congregation. In either situation, the television culture acts as a solvent of traditional Church life and worship. Thus the passive congregation continues its evolution, moving beyond the revivalist mode by its transformation into an audience at a low-budget religious spectacle.

In this context, it can be seen that a traditional liturgical form of worship is among the most counter-cultural acts that the Church can perform. As a Reformed Protestant, I favor traditional liturgical forms not because they are traditional but because I believe they are the best expression of the Biblical theology of worship. Today, liturgy has the added advantage of fulfilling Paul's instructions to the Romans: "Be not conformed to the image of this world" (Rom. 12:1). At every point, liturgy swims against the current of contemporary culture. Where the culture celebrates youth and novelty, liturgy honors the wisdom of ancients. Where the culture encourages us to seek pleasure, liturgy forces a congregation to focus on giving pleasure to God. Where the culture insists that freedom means formlessness, liturgy is founded on the principle that there is no freedom without form. Where the culture exalts spontaneity, liturgy trains us in mature habits and responses. Where the culture pitches its appeals to the sovereign audience, liturgy is an appeal to a sovereign God.

It is surely one of the high ironies of the confused state of contemporary Christianity that a Biblically critical re-appropriation of tradition should be the cutting edge of counter-cultural radicalism.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Will of Man, Sovereign or Servant?

---by Mark Kielar

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Friday, April 4, 2008

From Leithart's Blog

"Protestants often claim that our sinfulness is manifest in our efforts to earn God’s favor by our works. That is true, but it doesn’t quite get at the most grievous root of sin. Barth is more penetrating in saying that our sinfulness is manifest in our efforts to usurp God’s place. A sinner who’s trying to earn God’s favor is still acknowledging God as Judge; Barth sees that our sin consists in the fact that we want to be our own judges, measured by our own (rather cushy) standards."

The Regulative Principle of Worship, Part 3

"...the rise of Deism in England and Germany as the precursor to higher criticism. In the process of his research he shows how English Protestants, particularly the Puritans, displayed a deep-seated hostility to anything that smacked of material ceremony and ritual, and that they read the Old Testament with these colored lenses such that they tended to interpret Old Testament religion as a kind of Catholicism before Rome."

"The bottom line is that we need to be whole-Bible Christians when we reflect on how the Bible regulates congregational worship."

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Regulative Principle of Worship Part-2

"...the church must have biblical warrant for the way she worships God; such warrant can be derived from biblical commands, principles, or examples."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What about The Regulative Principle of Worship?

Be sure to follow the series of posts on Pastor Jeff Meyers' Blog

Two very important quotes:

"It is crucial to remember that God does regulate what happens in worship much more tightly than he does the rest of life. That's a biblical principle. It's all over the Bible."

"There can be no genuine corporate worship without some “imposition” of liturgical content and forms."

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Evangelism, Liturgy, and Culture Wars

---by Doug Wilson

What is evangelism? Evangelism is the process, designed by God, in which the old humanity in Adam is supplanted by the new humanity in Christ. This does not conflict with our more familiar (and narrow) definition of evangelism, but it most certainly goes far beyond it. "For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith" (Rom. 4:13).

Evangelism of individuals as such is glorious and necessary, but at some point, the results of such evangelism will bring you to the point of critical mass, and you find that, like it or not, you have engaged the surrounding culture. This is God's design.

Again, at the center of every culture is a cultus, a form of worship. Suffice it to say that the Great Commission requires us to disciple, baptize, and teach obedience to all the ‘ethnoi,’ all the nations of men. This means that robust evangelism cannot be done without challenging the gods of the system.

While we must not despise the day of small beginnings, and must labor faithfully in the little things, we must not be distracted from the ultimate mission and goal, getting diverted into picking off the devil's stragglers, and going off with them to build an isolated evangelical ghetto.

Evangelism is combat between the gods, that is, between the living and triune God of the Bible and the idols of the age. Evangelism is therefore religious war at the highest level.

Evangelism is right at the heart of what are called the culture wars. But Christians have a problem here. Culture wars presuppose that we have a culture. You cannot have tank warfare without tanks. You cannot have naval warfare without ships. You cannot have a culture war without a culture. And by culture, I do not mean some sanitized G-rated version of whatever it is that the unbelievers are doing. The development of Christian culture must include (and not be limited to) Sabbath celebration, music, literature, poetry, architecture, scholarship, and with liturgy at the center driving it all.

But culture wars in this sense presuppose conflict. Such conflict is not a sign that something has gone terribly wrong. The two sides do not just have opposing weapons, but also have opposing views on the nature of the conflict and whose fault it is. Conflict is messy, not tidy. Confusion abounds. We can expect sin to manifest itself on our side. And we are to rejoice in the tumult (Luke 6:22-23).

This means that the courage required for evangelism is more than overcoming stage fright, or fear of strangers. Jesus is Lord of more than Genesis to Revelation. He is Lord of more than John 3:16, or of heaven alone. He is Lord over all, the Christ of all, the Savior of the world.

This is why our worship of Him is evangelistically potent. Evangelism is not primarily talking to men about God; it is about worshipping God for the sake of mankind.

This is why our liturgy needs to be deployed as though it were a battering ram -- because it is. We ought to pray in this way. We worship knowing this is the result:

"(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

And as we beseige their gates, worshipping God in this way, we should not be surprised when they, from time to time, pour boiling oil on our heads.

Consider how the world is evangelized. Personal contact evangelism is not first; it is not the highest priority. Note that Paul does not say that God wants all men to be saved, and that therefore, in the first place, we are to leave evangelistic tracts in laundromats. When you locate the root deep in the soil, this may not look like you are tending to the fruit, but that is exactly what you are doing.

---1 Tim 2---
---The first thing is getting the gospel right: Christ died on the cross as a ransom payment for all men.
---The second thing (and the first thing we do) is getting worship right. Note that Paul says that, first of all, public prayer should be made for kings and all those in authority, so that we will have public order and peace, so that we might bring the gospel to them.
---The third thing here is the public proclamation of the gospel—Paul was ordained to this task as a teacher, preacher and apostle (v. 7).
---In the fourth place, not mentioned in this text, we may locate personal evangelism, according to a person’s gifts and opportunities.

Do not let anyone tell you that you are not evangelizing simply because you haven’t explained the plan of salvation to a non-Christian today. Other forms of evangelism are certainly lawful (bumper stickers, billboards, tracts, movies, books, and so on), but the ordained means & order of evangelism is the liturgical public prayer of the church for all men, coupled with prayer for the ordained preachers of the gospel.

We have allowed our traditions of evangelism to crowd out the Word of God on this point. The question, "Did you share your faith this week?" should be countered with "Did your church pray for the king last Sunday?"

Watch This!

Then highlight and read what follows:

Even though this is an April Fool's joke, it invokes something inside everyone that watches it. A better hope to come perhaps? C'mon, be honest, what did you think or feel while you watched it?