Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

Public reading of Scripture

The reading of the Scriptures must never be perfunctory or merely formal. It should not be a mere authoritative presentation of facts or proclamation of words . . . The reader must live his ideas at the time of utterance. . . . He can manifest to others the impressions made on his own being. . . . [For] when one soul is made to feel that another soul is hearing a message from the King of kings, he too bows his head and hears the voice of the infinite speaking in his own breast.

–S. S. Curry, Vocal and Literary interpretation of the Bible (New York: Macmillan, 1903), 132.

Polycarp’s blessing

“Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal High Priest himself, the Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth and in all gentleness and in all freedom from anger and forbearance and steadfastness and patient endurance and purity, and may he give to you a share and a place among his saints, and to us with you, and to all those under heaven who will yet believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father who raised him from the dead. Pray for all the saints. Pray also for kings and powers and rulers, and for those who persecute and hate you, and for the enemies of the cross, in order that your fruit may be evident among all people, that you may be perfect in him.” 

Polycarp, To the Philippians (ca. AD 120) in Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers (219). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

HT: W. Varner

Is the Sabbath required for Christians?

I have touched on the issue of Sabbath a few time here at ET with a few comments and quotes (See Is the Sabbath for everyone?, Is Sunday the Sabbath?, Is the Sabbath abolished?, Remember the Sabbath?). To date, the best book I’ve read on this is the classic From Sabbath to Lord’s Day edited by D.A. Carson.

Justin Taylor has recently posted excerpts from Tom Schreiner’s upcoming book with an edgy, postmodern title, 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law. I found his answer to the question, “Is the Sabbath Still Required?” one of the most succinct answers I have ever read on this difficult subject. Read the whole thing here. Here is the conclusion of the matter:

Believers are not obligated to observe the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic covenant and the Sabbath as the covenant sign are no longer applicable now that the new covenant of Jesus Christ has come. Believers are called upon to honor and respect those who think the Sabbath is still mandatory for believers. But if one argues that the Sabbath is required for salvation, such a teaching is contrary to the gospel and should be resisted forcefully. In any case, Paul makes it clear in both Romans 14:5 and Colossians 2:16–17 that the Sabbath has passed away now that Christ has come. It is wise naturally for believers to rest, and hence one principle that could be derived from the Sabbath is that believers should regularly rest. But the New Testament does not specify when that rest should take place, nor does it set forth a period of time when that rest should occur. We must remember that the early Christians were required to work on Sundays. They worshiped the Lord on the Lord’s Day, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, but the early Christians did not believe the Lord’s Day fulfilled or replaced the Sabbath. The Sabbath pointed toward eschatological rest in Christ, which believers enjoy in part now and will enjoy fully on the Last Day.

“Word to your mother” ~V. Ice

Not under the Law, seriously, no really I mean it

Testimony time around the campfire

I once set off a fire alarm at church camp but that’s not important right now. I’m always interested to see how expositors handle the issue of the Law, especially the Decalogue. About six years ago I preached through Exodus 2o which personally brought enormous clarity to me on many issues. I became convinced that as an expositor I cannot strip the commands of their penalties, stipulations, and context and still remain faithful to the text. The Law is a unit that stands or falls together and squinting my eyes while trying to read through and around Leviticus won’t help. Most of the sermons that I have read or heard tend to run to so-called modern day applications without dealing adequately with the meaning and resulting purpose of the Law. This series was a watershed for me and the more I studied the issue the more I saw in Scripture how Jesus really is the fulfillment of the Law (Matt 5:17). Furthermore, this wonderful truth doesn’t require me to cross my fingers behind my back.

In short, with apologies to my Truly Reformed brothers who are praying for my conversion, I generally agree with Doug Moo who wrote that “the entire Mosaic law comes to fulfillment in Christ, and this fulfillment means that this law is no longer a direct and immediate source of, or judge of, the conduct of God’s people” (“Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Wayne Strickland, 319-76, 2nd ed. [Zondervan, 1996], 343. I have friends who respond to such quotes like an out of control patient with turrets syndrome. Outwardly they say “that doesn’t square with the Bestminster Official Catechism of Orthodox Reformed Belief” but inwardly they’re probably thinking “you’re a filthy antinomian, away with you.” By the way, hurling the charge of antinomianism does not close the case.

A test case

Next time this subject comes up among your circle of preacher buddies ask this question: “how should we understand Exodus 20:8-11?” Some are “all in” (e.g. seventh day adventists) but they conveniently cross their fingers on the “you will die if you violate this command” part (e.g., Ex 31:15). The next group responds with a “that’s an easy one” glimmer in their eye and remind you that the Law is divided into three parts: ceremonial, civil, and moral, the moral being the only part we are still under in some mysterious way. After you ask your friend to show this neat division in Scripture he quickly gets a call and has to visit someone in the hospital.

I recently received a review copy of Al Mohler’s new book Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments. Immediately I turned to chapter four wherein Mohler works through the sabbath question in relation to Ex 20. He does a good job of summarizing the various applications of this particular command. Option 1 is to observe the sabbath on the seventh day, option 2 is observe the sabbath on the first day, and then he offers a third option which is participate in worship on “The Lord’s Day” (87-90). Most folks I know would fall under Mohler’s third option where the Lord’s Day (Sunday) replaces the Sabbath because the Sabbath has been transformed by its fulfillment in Christ. However there’s something unsettling about this “option.” Here’s how Mohler concludes:

Are there things we ought not to do on the Lord’s Day? Certainly there are. Anything that would detract from our worship should not be done on the Lord’s Day. Anything that would rob the Lord’s Day of priority of worship should not be done. Anything that would be on our minds when we are worshipping, as if we can only get done with this in order to go do that, is a matter of sin, no matter what it is.

While most evangelicals and Chick-fil-A employees would nod in agreement there’s still something that doesn’t square here. How is this conclusion justified in light of passages like Romans 6:14, 14:3-4; Colossians 2:16; Hebrews 7-9; James 1:25 just to name a few? I’m not bringing this up because I’m against meeting on Sunday’s for congregational worship but the difference between “we do” and “we must do” is a massive theological issue that directly points to how we truly understand what Christ has indeed accomplished for us on the cross. What say you?

In favor of a little liturgy and the occassional “ditty”

Our church’s liturgy would probably be described as “free church” worship by those who study such things (see Kent Hughes, “Free Church Worship” in Worship by the Book, ed. D. A. Carson). Nothing flashy, no smells or bells but with a healthy dose of Christ-centered singing, Scripture reading, preaching, and lots of prayer. We’re simple like that without apology to our more dour brethren.

So I’m reading Stuart Olyott’s little booklet Reading the Bible and Praying in Public and I come to this paragraph:

There is one more thing to add: when we come to the end of our public reading of Scripture, we should stop and say nothing else at all. Let the Word of God ring in the silence of each listener’s heart! There is widespread habit of rounding off the reading by adding some form of pious ‘ditty’, as if a mortal and sinful man could somehow pronounce a blessing on the Word of God or speed it on its way. This is a bad habit and we should abandon it.

First of all, I like a lot of what he has to say. However I want to know who appointed Olyott the Scripture reading police. A booklet like his would be better served to call ministers back to giving attention to extended readings of Scripture in worship rather than foaming over preference issues. If someone adds a “this is the Gospel of our Lord” or a “thanks be to God” after a reading I will simply rejoice that God’s Word has been spoken. Not to mention the fact that Olyott seems to detest what Ezra actually did after the reading (Neh 8:6). Why impugn motives of worship leaders over something preferential? This is akin to one well-known expositor I know who teaches that the preacher should ALWAYS read his passage at the beginning of his sermon because he believes this gets the hearer into the text as soon as possible. I simply call this kind of wisdom hocus pocus.

Psalm 119 has not a few blessings on the Word, all of which I’m quite sure are appropriate for reciting in worship and after Scripture readings. So I for one am not opposed to “ditties” as described by the author, but then again I’m one of those low life free churchers. Thanks be to God!

The Bible doesn’t say “pray for the President”

So it’s the morning after. Like you I watched some of the Beatlemania Obama Inauguration yesterday. As one who is not wrapped around the axle of the current political system (which means I didn’t vote for him/him or him/her), the whole guffaw over the new President is a bit unsettling. I’m not a Presidential historian but I’ve read my share of biographies. The first few guys who served in the office would not even recognize what it has become today (which is not new with Obama but probably with John Quincy Adams who expanded the office powers way beyond what the Constitution allowed). They’ve all done it so it’s really apples to oranges. On to more pressing issues.

I watched Warren offer a homily dressed up like a prayer at the beginning and a fellow Huntsville pastor offer a ridiculous benedictory diatribe/prayer at the conclusion. I wonder if the crowd would respond the same way if one of the pastors would have simply read Daniel’s prayer from Daniel chapter 9. How many blogs have you read that have exhorted you to pray for the President. I agree that we should pray for the President but let’s not pretend that heaven and earth hang in the balance of his every decision. More importantly, praying for the President never was nor is the point of 1 Timothy 2:1-2.

Paul argues that we should not discriminate in our prayers so we should even pray for, by way of example, our pagan Roman leaders (“on behalf of all men”). This leads to Paul’s more pressing point that God is the savior of all kinds of men (Roman, Jewish, etc.). The bottom line coming in 1 Tim. 2:5 that no mere man (Emperor, President, or otherwise) can represent man before his creator except the God-man (see Dan Wallace’s treatment of the special use of the genitive, pg. 135). Only a man can represent us and only God can save us so He gives us the “man Christ Jesus.” So by all means pray for the President but don’t loose sight of the real issue: there is one God and one mediator between God and man. Some trust in chariots but we will trust in the Lord our God.

For additional reading, file this in your “My kingdom is not of this world” archives. Wilson, I believe, is spot on here (full article here).

The over-the-top adulation of Obama that we are seeing is not just silly — it is wicked. When Obama puts his hand on the Bible to take his oath of office, that Bible really should be opened to this text.

“And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king’s country. And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. But the word of God grew and multiplied” (Acts 12:20-24).

God takes this kind of thing seriously, and we must do so also. What should Herod have done? What could he do, when all those tee-shirt vendors were so out of control as to be hawking their “Herod is god” wares? Well, he needed to rebuke all of it, and give glory to God instead. One time at an Elvis concert, a row of young girls stood up in the middle of the concert with a long banner they had made which said, “Elvis is king.” Elvis stopped, pointed at them, and said, “No. Jesus Christ is king.” They all sat down, abashed, which several millions of politico-idolaters today need to be taught how to do. And things have gotten pretty bad when Elvis is a model we have to look up to.

How young was Calvin’s music leader(s)?

In his extremely helpful book, The Writings of John Calvin, Wulfert de Greef makes a passing reference to the articles that John Calvin used for the regulation of worship after he became a minister in Geneva (January 16, 1537). This document was entitled the Articles concerning the Organization of the Church and of Worship in Geneva. I found the following to be an interesting note regarding congregational singing in Calvin’s church:

The ministers expect the singing of psalms to have a positive influence on the prayers and on the glorification of the name of God. A number of qualified children are to be selected to lead the congregation in the singing of the psalms (pg. 111).

Some Thoughts on Psalm 33

Lest my fellow contributors think me dead, here are some thoughts I’ve been having…

I have been enjoying reading through some psalms in the study here the past couple weeks. Psalm 33, which we recently used in worship at the church I attend, has been on my mind. I thought I would give some minor observations that might help us think well about this text. This is not intended as a detailed discussion of the content of the psalm, but a few points that help guide our reading thereof.

First, Psalm 33 should be read closely with the psalm(s) that precedes. Several lines of evidence support this supposition. Unlike the surrounding chapters, Psalm 33 does not have a title in the Hebrew text. In fact, a few Hebrew manuscripts connect this psalm with Psalm 32. Moreover, connections between 33:1 and 32:11 cannot be missed. Consider the following:

32:11 Rejoice in Yhwh and be glad, righteous ones! And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
33:1 Shout for joy in Yhwh, righteous ones! Praise is becoming to the upright.

Furthermore, it seems that 32:10 forms the basis for the response in 33:21–22:

32:10 There are many sorrows for the wicked one, but the one who trusts in Yhwh, loyal love surrounds him.
33:21–22 For in him our heart will rejoice, for in his holy name we have trusted. Yhwh, may your loyal love be upon us, according to how we have waited for you.

Therefore, the connections with Psalm 32 appear at both the beginning and ending of Psalm 33, which is an appropriate place for such relationships to be made so that the reader does not fail to observe them.

Second, recognition of these connections guides the reading of the psalm; that is, I don’t believe we should simply consider this mere coincidence. The primary answer to the significance of this connection seems to be that Psalm 33 is given as an appropriate response to the exhortation of Psalm 32. The righteous ones—i.e. those who (within the context of the Psalter) meditate upon Torah (Ps 1) and find refuge in the Son (Ps 2)—are called upon to shout for joy in the Lord.

Third, the psalm is corporate in its nature. As such, it guides the response of the readers/worshipers, informing theologically their response to Yahweh. The corporate response is most specifically seen in the change from third person (vv. 1–19) to first person plural (vv. 20–22). So, what began with a call to worship in vv. 1–3, continued with the author’s reasoning of why such praise and reverence for Yahweh is fitting, ends with the response of the forgiven (see Ps 32). Their response is one of waiting, hoping, and trusting in God’s commitment to His promises. I like what Goldingay says about this in his commentary (p. 474):

The frame of the psalms suggests an equivalent comprehensiveness about our human response to God. Worship involves looking away from ourselves to an object. It involves the making of music and noise. But when we have seen who Yhwh is, it involves an expression of reverence, hope, joy, and trust.

Piper on Idolatry

“The idols of the nations are…the work of human hands. They have eyes but do not see…. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them!” (Ps. 135:15-18). Make and trust a blind idol, and you become blind. Apply that principle to the modern world, and think of the idols of our own day. What do we make and what do we trust? Things. Toys. Technology. And so our hearts and our affections are formed by these things. They compress the void in our heart into shapes like toys. The result is that we are easily moved and excited by things—computers, cars, appliances, entertainment media. They seem to fit the shapes in our hearts. They feel good in the tiny spaces they have made. But in this readiness to receive pleasure from things, we are ill-shaped for Christ. He seems unreal, unattractive. The eyes of our hearts grow dull.

—John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, p. 58

Reading the Word in Worship

The reading of Scripture and the exposition of it are primary acts of worship in the church; they are offerings given to God in reverence and devotion. Reading god’s holy Word in the assembly without understanding, interpretation, or enthusiasm undermines the foundation of all worship, which is to hear from God. When the reading of Scripture is with clarity, conviction, and power, it sets the Word of God before the people in a way that demonstrates its authority and demands a response. The reading of Scripture should be one of the most powerful parts of worship–every word spoken from the Word is from God (Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory, 506).

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