Category Archives: Church

God’s Sovereignty and our Responsibility to Evangelize

Introduction

How should we understand the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility to evangelize? J.I. Packer’s book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, is a helpful book for those considering this important question.

God’s Sovereignty and our Responsibility

Packer gives various examples of the sovereignty of God. He points out that just by praying to God we acknowledge His sovereignty.[1] Packer points out that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are taught side by side in Scripture.[2] And “far from making evangelism pointless, the sovereignty of God in grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility—indeed, the certainty—that evangelism will be fruitful.”[3]

God’s sovereignty is a great means of encouragement to us in our evangelism. Packer helpfully says that in our evangelism we

have every reason to be bold, and free, and natural, and hopeful of success. For God can give His truth an effectiveness that you and I cannot give it. God can make His truth triumphant to the conversion of the most seemingly hardened unbeliever. You and I will never write off anyone as hopeless and beyond the reach of God if we believe in the sovereignty of His grace.[4]

So, we are responsible for sharing the gospel but God is sovereign. A proper understanding of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility is important and practical. It is important for us to realize, as Packer says, that “it is God who brings men and women under the sound of the gospel, and it is God who brings them to faith in Christ. Our evangelistic work is the instrument that He uses for this purpose, but the power that saves is not in the instrument: It is in the hand of the One who uses the instrument.”[5] So, “the belief that God is sovereign in grace does not affect the necessity of evangelism.”[6] Will Metzger, in agreement with Packer says, “We should not consider… sovereignty and responsibility as enemies but rather see them the way the Bible does—as friends!”[7] So, God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility may seem at odds but they are really not, although we may not understand.[8] We must remember that the secret things belong to the LORD but the things that have been revealed belong to us that we may do what God has called us to do (see Deut. 29:29).

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The Crash of the American Church?

abandoned-church_MJbwV8dO

Research shows that the “evangelical church” lost around 10 percent of her people in the last decade. There are many factors that are involved that have resulted in this decline. Further, most churches that are growing are just taking people from other churches, not converting people. The Great Evangelical Recession explores the factors involved in the decline of the church and offers suggestions for the future. I found the book helpful and thought-provoking. 

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Universalism and Historical Confessional Christianity

As a protestant who believes in sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), I believe that tradition and confessional Christianity does not hold a place above Scripture. However, I do believe it is important and helpful to consider what church history has to say on theological issues. So let’s look briefly at the question of whether or not universalism has been accepted in historical confessional Christianity.

Harold J. Brown makes an interesting point that we should consider. He says,

“curiously enough, it is heresy that offers us some of the best evidence for orthodoxy, for while heresy is often very explicit in the first centuries of Christianity, orthodoxy is often only implicit. If we hope, today, that the orthodoxy we believe is the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’ (Jude v. 3), then it is necessary to assume that it is older than heresy. But heresy appears on the historical record earlier, and is better documented, than most of what the church came to call orthodoxy. How then can heresy be younger, orthodoxy more original? The answer is that orthodoxy was there from the beginning and heresy reflected it. Sometimes one catches a glimpse of another person or object in a mirror or a lake before seeing the original. But the original preceded the reflection, and our perception of it. The same, we could argue, is true of orthodoxy—the original—and heresy—the reflection. The heresy we frequently see first, but orthodoxy preceded it.”[1]

False teachings call into question the pillars of Christianity and so teachers and creeds rise up in protection of the church’s foundational teaching. The doctrine of the Trinity has always been orthodox but there has not always been a creed stating such. The reason for this is because false teaching gives rise to defensive of orthodox teaching. Thus, in history we often see heresy argued before we see orthodoxy defended. Greg A. Allison says that the “issue of the continuation of punishment for the wicked became a point of debate with the theology of Origen”[2] (c. 185-254) so it makes sense that universalism was not formally acknowledged as heresy until later on.

Everett Ferguson says that

“apart from Origen, who entertained the possibility of universal salvation after a period of purification and education of souls in the afterlife, those who spoke to the subject understood an ultimate division of humanity in heaven or hell. The expectation of eternal reward sustained Christian endurance in the face of persecution and other hardships.”[3]

W. G. T. Shedd wrote:

“The common opinion in the Ancient church was, that the future punishment of the impenitent wicked is endless. This was the catholic faith; as much so as belief in the trinity. But as there were some church fathers who deviated from the creed of the church respecting the doctrine of the trinity, so there were some who dissented from it in respect to that of eternal retribution. The deviation in eschatology, however, was far less extensive than in trinitarianism.”[4]

Allison demonstrates in his book Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine that

“from its inception, the church has believed that there will be a final judgment of both believers and unbelievers… On the one hand, this judgment will usher believers into the presence of Christ and the blessedness of heavenly reward forever. On the other hand, following the judgment of condemnation, unbelievers will experience eternal conscious punishment in hell. Only a few Christians deviated from this understanding of the last judgment and eternal punishment.”[5]

A few more examples:

“As regards the fate of the wicked… the general view was that their punishment would be eternal, without any possibility of remission.”[6]

“Everlasting punishment of the wicked always was, and always will be the orthodox theory.”[7]

“The punishment inflicted upon the lost was regarded by the Fathers of the Ancient Church, with very few exceptions, as endless.”[8]

“Church creeds from the early Middle Ages through the Reformation and into the modern era regularly affirmed the eternal punishment of the wicked… The reality of hell and eternal punishment was thought to be as basic to Christian belief as the Trinity and incarnation.”[9]

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A few thoughts on loving our neighbors…

house_myn6tufuGod is a missionary God. God sent prophet after prophet and even sent His own Son (cf. Matt. 21:33ff). And now Jesus the Son is sending us into the world (Jn. 17:18). The task was dangerous for the prophets and deathly for Jesus. We shouldn’t expect anything less (Christians are the most persecuted group in the world). We were sent into the world, not a Christian conclave. And we were sent into the world not to win the world over to our side but to love the world, to love our neighbor. To implore the world on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). 

We are not to hide in Christian castles, build castles, or lob missiles at the outside world from our castle. The commission from Christ did not include a castle, it included sacrificial—boots on the ground—compassion. God showed His love for us through the amazingly tangible incarnation and cross. There is a sense in which we too can give love flesh.

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Why Do We Sing In Church? [Part 3]

Singing

Singing Cultivates a Heart of Thanksgiving

“And be thankful… singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. [17] 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” (Col. 3:15-17).

“Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:19-20)

Another element of singing is thanksgiving. We sing to one another making melody to the Lord in our hearts (not just in our ears), giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:19b-20 cf. Col. 3:16).As we sing rich theological songs we come to see the glories that God has brought to us through Jesus and the regenerating work of the Spirit.

As we sing songs of praise to the Lord the song we make with our hearts is more important than the sound we make with our voices. Singing teaches and transforms us as we thank God for who He is and all He has done. As we thank God for who He is it serves a dual purpose, it also reminds us, we are so prone to forget (and thus, as the song says, “prone to wonder”). As we tell God that He is worthy we ourselves are reminded afresh that God is worthy.

Many of us sadly have a very shallow view of God. In the words of William Lane Craig, we have “a defective concept of God.” We sometimes view God

“as sort of a big chap up there and we appreciate him and we look up to him and so forth, but I think we don’t really understand why we worship God which is to adore God as the supreme good… He is the highest good. He is the paradigm of goodness. That is to say, God’s nature defines what goodness is. It is not as though God lives up to some external standard and does a good job at being good. He is goodness itself. Therefore, he is to be worshiped and adored because he is the highest good.”[i]

So we see that “worship is an active response to God whereby we declare His worth. Worship is not passive, but is participative. Worship is not simply a mood; it is a response. Worship is not just a feeling; it is a declaration.”[ii] That’s in part why were told to make a joyful noise to the LORD, even when we don’t feel like it (Ps. 66:1; 81:1; 95:1, 2; 98:4, 6; 100:1). “Praise Him for His mighty deeds; praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with lute and harp!” (Ps. 150:2-3).

We sing because we are thankful (Eph. 5:19b-20) even in the midst of suffering (see Acts 16:25). We do not merely work ourselves up into a frenzy but are moved into orderly worship by the Spirit as we have the eyes of our hearts enlightened (cf. Eph. 1:15-23). Again, we sing with our spirit, but we sing with our mind also (1 Cor. 14:15). Notice that when we look at the book of Nehemiah we see that revival came to God’s people in part through understanding the Scriptures and a retelling of God’s abundant grace to His people (Neh. 8:1ff).

When we sing songs to God we are not just thinking. We are not just singing for the sake of singing or just edifying each other. We are recounting God’s truth and goodness and being moved anew to thanksgiving (cf. Ps. 78). We are declaring God’s worth.

God is worthy not just of songs about Him, but songs of praise to Him.[iii] We may sing country songs, pop songs, etc. but those songs do not consciously praise anyone or anything. As we sing songs of praise we are consciously praising God, realizing He alone is worthy. We are purposely thanking God for all He is and has done. So, even when we don’t feel like it, we should still sing songs of hearty praise to the LORD. He is worthy!

Conclusion
So, what are some goals we have for our singing? We strive to build each other up (1 Cor. 14:26), be filled with God’s Word (Col. 3:16), be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18ff), be a testimony to an unbelieving world (1 Cor. 14:24-15), and gives thanks to God for all He is and has done for us (Eph. 5:20). It is our joy to sing but we are also commanded to sing (cf. Ps. 100:1-2). Singing is serious. So, let’s do as Psalm 47:6 says:

“Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!”

_______________

[i] Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/what-is-worship#ixzz3pnGBNLGy.

[ii] Ronald Allen and Gordan Borror, Worship, Rediscovering the Missing Jewel [Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1982], 16.

[iii] “Since God is neither an a-personal truth…, contemplation is not appropriate as a way of relating to God. Adoration is. To adore God is not simply to behold the truth in a disinterested way, but to affirm one’s allegiance to God by praising God for his deeds in creation and redemption” (“Reflections on a Christian way of Being-in-the-World,” 209. Italics mine).


Why Do We Sing In Church? [Part 2]

Singing

Singing Transforms Us

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,… Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,… singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:15-16).

 “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:18-19).

God uses singing to transform us because when we sing God’s truth the Word of Christ dwells in us richly. When we exalt Christ and God’s truth in song we teach ourselves what to desire. We see the glory of Christ and the Spirit tunes our hearts to sing God’s praise. Intentional singing (not haphazard but meditative and prayerful) leads to being transformed by the renewal of our mind (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; notice we offer up our bodies so we see cognition, violation, and emotion all involved in songs of worship and a life of worship). We behold Christ and are thus slowly transformed into His image (2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10). We are sanctified by the word of Christ, as we sing of Christ (Jn. 17:17).

Jesus reasons with us in Matthew 6:19-24 about desire. He shows that what is in our best interest, i.e. what we should desire, is laying up treasure in heaven. He tells us specifically in verse 21 that what we desire, i.e. “treasure,” will bring the rest of us along (i.e. “heart”). Our battle is thus the battle of treasuring, desiring. It is clear then that right and good worship is vital because it exalts and holds before us our chief end. Songs of worship are teleological teachers. If our worship has as its object the wrong thing we will thus go wrong in innumerable ways (cf. Rom. 1:18-32).

“Our chosen actions are always the result of deeply held beliefs about the truest and most beautiful sources of life.”[i] So we see that “Worship is a battle—the battle of two lovers. To worship our Worthy Groom we have to put off the mindset of the flesh that conforms us to the world ruled by the False Seducer. We have to put on the mindset of the Spirit by being transformed through renewing our minds, our inner rational control center of images and ideas about the source of life.”[ii] And so we sing. We remind ourselves, sing to ourselves, and others, that God alone is worthy. Notice also that it is not just the Christian that worships, all people do. And all people have things—whether music, movies, or some other form of media—that holds before them and glorifies their chief end of life (e.g. the gangster has a certain type of rap music that glorifies their view of the good life).

Keeping our chief end in view, or the correct biblically informed chief end in view, is difficult. Truly, in the world we live in

“There is a ‘downward pressure’ continually in operation, which seeks to take that which is penultimate, and make it ultimate… The antidote to such ‘downward pressure’ is the continual eschatological emphasis of word and sacrament, of prayer and praise, and of koinonia [fellowship] lived in the present in light of the age to come.”[iii]

Thus we must focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (see Phil. 4:8).[iv] We must keep “the good,” the true good—God and His truth ever before us.[v]

We need deep and substantive reflection and celebration. We need to work at fostering worship of the one true God. John Piper rightly says,

“It is… superior satisfaction in future grace that breaks the power of lust [or addiction, etc.]. With all eternity hanging in the balance, we fight the fight of faith. Our chief enemy is the lie that says sin will make our future happier. Our chief weapon is the truth that says God will make our future happier… We must fight [our sin] with a massive promise of superior happiness. We must swallow up the little flicker of lust’s pleasure in the conflagration of holy satisfaction.”[vi]

Where do we turn for this? “The role of God’s Word is to feed faith’s appetite for God. And, in doing this, it weans [our] heart away from the deceptive taste of [temptation].”[vii] Therefore, we must feast on Scripture. And singing is an especially useful tool to help the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). Singing songs and hymns and spiritual songs in Christian community is very important because, as C.S. Lewis said, “What is concrete but immaterial can be kept in view only by painful effort.”[viii] We need each other and we need music to shake us awake to unseen realities. That’s why we’re told—commanded even when we don’t feel like it—to make a joyful noise to the LORD (Ps. 66:1; 81:1; 95:1, 2; 98:4, 6; 100:1),[ix] even at times using clashing cymbals (Ps. 150:5).

We’re told to sing because when we sing with our voice our whole body, and I would argue, our whole self (i.e. our heart) reverberates with the truth of what we sing. When we sing lyrics, whether good or bad, they get into us and shape us. We are essentially preaching to ourselves, teaching ourselves, telling our self what we should desire, we are holding up a vision of prospering and “the good.”[x] If we are driving down the highway listening to Taylor Swift, Blink 182, or Eminem it has a very real potential to shape us. We, at least, very often, internalize what we are singing. We imagine and feel not only the rhythm and tone but what the whole artistic message is putting forth. Music shapes us by implanting seeds of desire.

We are to be filled with the Spirit, instead of being drunk with alcohol or high on drugs, in part through singing (Eph. 5:15-20).[xi] We sing because it is the means and the fruit of being indwelled by the Spirit and it is the means and the fruit of having the peace of Christ rule in our hearts (see Eph. 5:17-21; Col. 3:15-17). Thus,

“Worship is one of the most transforming activities for us to engage in as Christians… When we become duly impressed with God our lives change because the things that matter to us change. We no longer want some of the things we previously desired. An overridding and overwelming passion for God himself, God’s people, and God’s kingdom purposes in this world replace those desires. True worship happens when we get a glimpse of God–who he is and what he is about–and just stand there in awe of him, being impressed and transformed down to the very depths of our being by the magnificent vision of the glory of our heavenly Father.”[xii]

Truly, we must use a collaboration of means to remind ourselves that it is the LORD God, the Maker of heaven and earth, alone that can meet our every need. We must use good songs, good stories, the Bible, Christian community, logic, etc. to stir up our (correct) desires for the LORD and all the good He is and has for us. We must take care least there be an unworthy thought in our heart (Deut. 15:9). We must pursue things that bring light and life and reject what is rank in ruin and worthlessness (see e.g. Ps. 101).

Truly, wherever our treasure (i.e. desire, view of “the good,” or our view of the good life) is, our heart (“heart” in Scripture has to do with our whole self; cognition, volition, emotions) will be also (Matt. 6:21; Lk. 12:34).[xiii] Thus, we must work at fostering worship of the one true God. That is why we sing. It holds the goodness of God before us. It transforms us.

“Ever singing, march we onward,
victors in the midst of strife;
joyful music leads us sunward,
in the triumph song of life.”[xiv]

_________________

[i] Robert W. Kellermen, Soul Physicians, 191.

[ii] Ibid., 188.

[iii] Doe, Created for Worship, 236.

[iv] Cf. Payne, The Healing Presence, 140.

[v] In Aristotle’s terms our view of “the good” is reshaped by knowledge. Aristotle says, “All knowledge and every choice have some good as the object of their longing” (1095a14 Page 4 for in Aristotle’s Nicomachean EthicsTrans. Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins [The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2011]). “Aristotle famously argues that all human beings do everything for the sake of what seems or is held to be good” (Ibid., 309). Augustine used the term summum bonum, “supreme good.” It took him years of searching to find it but when he found the summum bonum he said “you made us for yourself and our hearts our find no peace until they rest in you” (Augustine, Confessions, 21).And, in catechismal terms, if our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (From the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism). it will necessarily have a specific impact on our lives. That is just the way we are as humans. We all, without exception, live towards our chief end, our view of the “good life.” However, this is messy, there are many things and ideas which vie for this place. Thus the importance of “knowledge” rightly directed (i.e. wisdom), “worship,” and “practice;” all of which inform, play off, and undergird the others. Romans 12:2 says that we are transformed by the renewal of our minds, and so we are. However, what we do with our bodies is also important. Notice that in Romans 12:1 we are told to present our bodies as living sacrifices. As humans transformation through practices of mind and body are not mutually exclusive. Rather, what we do with our mind and what we do with our body are closely linked together and have a continual corresponding effect on the other (cf. Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, 647 and John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, 321).

[vi] Piper, Future Grace, 336.

[vii] Ibid., 335.

[viii] C.S. Lewis, Letter to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963), 114.

[ix] “Worship isn’t merely a yes to the God who saves, but also a resounding and furious no to lies that echo in the mountains around us. The church gathers like exiles and pilgrims, collected out of a world that isn’t our home, and looks hopefully toward a future. Our songs and prayers are a foretaste of that future, and even as we practice them, they shape us for our future home” (Mike Cosper, Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel [Wheaton: Crossway, 2013] 104).

[x] “Music gets ‘in’ us in ways that other forms of discourse rarely do. A song gets absorbed into our imagination in a way that mere texts rarely do… Song seems to have a privileged channel to our imagination, to our kardia, because it involves our body in a unique way… Perhaps it is by hymns, songs, and choruses that the word of Christ ‘dwells in us richly’” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 171).

[xi] “At the conclusion of a passage warning against irrationality and sins of flesh—Paul urges singing and music making… Augustine says: ‘Irrationality is bad. Sensuality is bad. Therefore, be careful about music.’ Paul on the other hand says, ‘Foolishness is bad. Sensuality is bad. Therefore, you had better sing’” (Steven R. Guthrie, “Singing, In the Body and In the Spirit,” 638).

[xii] Richard E. Averbeck, “Spirit, Community, and Mission: A Biblical Theology for Spiritual Formation,” 38 in the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care).  I think Eph. 5:17-21 is noteworthy here. See also “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit” by Steven R. Guthrie in JETS and “Being the Fullness of God in Christ by the Spirit” by Timothy G. Gombis in Tyndale Bulletin. 

[xiii] “Disordered action is a reflection and fruit of disordered desire” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 177)

[xiv] “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”


Why Do We Sing In Church? [Part 1]

 

Introduction
A lot of times we find it hard to engage in singing at church. There are a lot of things to distract us: funny unfamiliar phrases, me singing off-key in front of you, and a thousand other things. Why sing? Why purposely engage in worship?

Singing at Sunday gatherings is basically one-third of what we do. Why do we do it? Why does so much time go into singing? Why have a worship team? Why should so many dedicate so much time so that we can sing songs? There are a lot of reasons. We will only look at three below; the three “T’s” of singing within the church. Singing teaches us, transforms us, and helps us cultivate a heart of thanksgiving.

Singing Teaches Us

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16).

“Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19).

Singing teaches us. But how? First, what is singing and what is music? Dicionary.com says singing is “to utter words or sounds in succession with musical modulations of the voice; vocalize melodically.” Music is “an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color.”[i] So, singing can “expresses ideas and emotion” in a unique way. In a way that informational teaching cannot. I can teach on the fact that God sent His Son to die for us but singing that same truth will impact us diffrently. Take these lines for example:[ii]

“And when I think that God, his Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.”[iii]

Singing and music hold the glories of Christ before us in a unique and powerful way.

Singing is a form of communicating ideas and emotions with voice and tune. Music is a gift. Music has the distinct ability to focus truth with laser precision. Music in Scripture is thus rightly placed in the same category as other speech gifts (see 1 Cor. 14:15, 26).

It is widely known that music has a special ability to affect people emotionally. It can help men march into war or weep at a funeral. Music is a powerful and precious gift but should not be wrongly used to stir peoples’ emotions up. That is, we desire the Spirit to move and transform people by the content of the song, not merely by the contours of the song. We are to sing praise with our spirit, and our mind also (1 Cor. 14:15). So it’s important that when people are moved in Christian worship that they “be moved by the impact of the truth on the mind and conscience. Any attempt to bypass these is both wrong and dangerous.”[iv]

1 Corinthians 14:26 tells us that “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” So when we “come together” we have “a hymn” for the purpose of “building up” each other. Thus, one of the reasons we sing and play various instruments is for the purpose of building each other up.

The “word of Christ dwells in us richly” not just through listening to preaching, talking with friends, or even through the memorization of scripture, but also through “singing” (Col. 3:16). Thabiti Anyabwile has said, “Singing is the moving van taking the Word of Christ into the temple of our lives.” Notice that when we sing more of our whole person is involved—our intellect, emotion, and violation. It should be our desire when we worship to involve as much of our self as we can. This may sound strange but I believe it is accurate.

We are physical people; we’re not just souls. We have bodies. So, I believe physical actions (see kinesthetic learning) are important while we sing. When you worship kneel, clap, raise your hands, bow your head, and even dance! We see precedence for these things in Scripture (Ps. 2:12; 47:1; 95:6; 134:1-2; 150:4). Of course, everything should be done “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40).

We must consciously think hard about what the song is communicating (thus we use our mind/cognition; 1 Cor. 14:15). We should thus also be greatly impacted by it (emotions). And as we worship our violation should be actively engaged as well (both in short-term kinesthetic acts and by long-term acts of service like ministering to orphans and widows). That is, we should actively pray for God’s truth to impact us, we should actively contemplate why God’s truth is amazing, we should actively think about the emotional response we should have, and we should actively evaluate how our everyday life should be reshaped in light of God’s truth.

The question could be asked, “To whom do we sing? I thought that when we gather and sing together, we sing praise to God. So how is teaching part of our songs of worship? How does singing teach us?”

Perhaps surprisingly, we see from Scripture that there are two audiences. We sing to “one another” and we “make music in our hearts to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). Music has both a horizontal and vertical element to it. Music has the function of edifying and transforming us from the inside out as we meditate on and proclaim God’s truth (cf. 17:17) and it also thanks God for who He is and what He has done.

As we sing praise to God we are also teaching our brothers and sisters (and even ourselves). As we sing in unison we are united in the teachings of the church. We are confessing truth. We are telling others of the gospel and the wonders of God. We are also internalizing God’s truth for ourselves. We are hiding God’s truth in our heart. We are letting Christ and His truth take up residence within us. We are teaching ourselves what to treasure and love.[v]

We give roughly one-third of our Sunday gatherings to singing songs of worship because singing these songs not only teaches but also transforms us. How does God use singing to transform us? …See Part Two

__________________

[i] Dictionary.com.

[ii] However, I do not mean that teaching is not important. Instead, I believe they compliment each other.

[iii] “How Great Thou Art.”

[iv] Noel Doe, Created For Worship, 235 see also Jonathan Edwards very important book Religious Affections. John Calvin said, “We should be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the words” (Institutes book III, 895).

[v] “Music gets ‘in’ us in ways that other forms of discourse rarely do. A song gets absorbed into our imagination in a way that mere texts rarely do… Song seems to have a privileged channel to our imagination, to our kardia, because it involves our body in a unique way… Perhaps it is by hymns, songs, and choruses that the word of Christ ‘dwells in us richly’” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 171).


Giving to the Church

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Why do we give?
       …because God gave
We are to give out of the abundance of joy that is produced in us as we remember what Christ gave for us (see 2 Cor. 8:1-9). So we give cheerfully what we have decided to give out of an overflow of worship, not because we have been constrained to give by a command (2 Cor. 9:7).[1]

       …because the Lord is worthy
The expectation that we see for us in Scripture is whole life commitment. The Lord is worthy so we offer all we are, our own selves, as living sacrifices because that is a reasonable response to His abundant goodness (see e.g. Rom. 12:1). We count everything as trash compared to Him (Phil. 3:8).

       …because it’s an eternal investment
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19 cf. Matt. 6:19-21)

       …because everything is God’s
All over Scripture, we see God owns everything. Everything has been graciously given (and entrusted) to us by God (Deut. 10:14; Job 41:11; Ps. 50:10-12; 1 Cor. 4:7; Rom. 11:35).

       …because we are stewards
I am not accountable to you and you are not accountable to me. We are accountable to God. We must all ask what God wants us to do with what He has given to us. We must realize that God calls different people to manage different things in different ways; the Bible is replete with examples of this. God has entrusted us with different levels of responsibility for the gifts He has give us (Matt. 25:14-30; Lk. 12:48; 1 Pet. 4:10) The common denominator between managers is not that they manage the same amount of stuff but that they are accountable and must be faithful. It is before God that we will be judged, not man (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). Be faithful. But realize there are no exact standards prescribed so we should not prescribe them.

Where should we give?
Our priority should be to give where we are fed (see 1 Cor. 9:7-11; Gal. 6:10, 17; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). This makes sense, because if we eat at Chick-fil-A we don’t pay at Chipotle.

Helpful Resources
Randy Alcorn’s book, The Treasure Principle
Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s “A 20 Day Study in Stewardship

Discussion/Application Questions
1) Does meditating on the gospel of Christ motivate you to want to give?
2) Do you typically give with a cheerful heart that flows out of joy from the gospel?
3) Do you think it is legalistic to say that you must give to the church?
4) What does it mean that we are stewards/managers? Do you ever reflect on whether or not you are being a good steward of what God has entrusted to you?
5) Why is giving to the local church important? Or, do you think it is? What responsibility do you have to the local church?
6) Are you aware that everything that you have is a gift from God?
7) Materialism may be the single greatest pull away from authentic Christianity (cf. Deut. 6 esp. v.10-13). What do you think?
8) How can we purposely invest in heaven and not drift into the service of other “gods”?

 

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[1] It is instructive to look at the practice of tithing in Scripture. In the New Testament, Jesus does not command that we tithe but he does tell the Pharisees that they ought to tithe (cf. Matt. 23:23). In the Old Testament there was a tithe for Priests and Levites (Lev. 27:30; Num. 18:21-24), community celebrations (Deut. 14:22-29), as well as a tithe for the poor every three years (Deut. 14:28-29; see also Lev. 19:9-10). This equals out not to 10-percent but 23.3%, averaged over a three-year period. This does not take into account the first fruit offerings (Lev. 19:23-25; Num. 15:17-21) and free will offerings (1 Chron. 29:1-9). However, it should be noted that we are in a different governmental and religious situation then the Israelites. All that being the case, the question should never be, “are we to tithe?” or “how much must we give?” but rather “how much will we have the privilege to give to Christ who gave all so that we might have all?”


A (Very) Brief History of Art and the Church [Part I]

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The Christian Church has a long and varied heritage when it comes to art.[1] That being the case, it is instructive for us to briefly understand some of the issues involved. This will help us better grasp the Church’s present situation when it comes art.

Christians, at first, as a small unpopular and often persecuted group did not produce works of art that were distinctly Christian or had an impact on secular culture. Early Christian art mainly used pagan vocabulary to express Christian sentiment.[2] “Until roughly A.D. 200 most visual imagery was found in catacombs, the burial places (and sometime hiding places) of Christians.”[3]

“In the third century, as Christianity become more established, marble imagery appeared, though it continued to portray the same images used by the early Christians.”[4] However, the biggest change came with the conversion of Constantine the Great (in 312), the Roman Emperor, and the Edict of Milan (in 313) when Christianity was granted religious toleration within the Roman Empire. After the edict, Christians were free to publically display their faith through art and architecture. After this period we begin to see Christian art flourish.

By 574 we see amazing buildings with huge mosaics depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament  being dedicated (like San Vitale). The murals and mosaics were especially important because many people were illiterate and did not have Scripture in their language (e.g. the Mass was in Latin). Although, images were helpful in promoting worship some also saw the use of images as dangerous.

“Images, no matter how discretely chosen, come freighted with conscious or subliminal memories; no matter how limited their projected use, they burn indelible outlines into the mind… Images not only express convictions, they alter feelings and end up justifying convictions.”[5]

One of the dangerous, for some, was the veneration of icons. There are three stages in the development of icons. First, “As the emperor’s image represented the presence of the emperor, Christ’s image, or the image of a saint, came to serve as a kind of ‘proxy’ for their presence.”[6] These images assisted the veneration of the saints. Second, there was a rise in the use of imagery in private devotions. People began to go on pilgrimages to shrines or churches. “The third stage occurred at the end of the seventh century, when portraits or images of Christ and the saints began to appear as isolated frontal figures” and “by the beginning of the eighth century it had become common practice to venerate these images, which meant that honor paid to the image honored the person represented.”[7]

These developments brought controversy to the Church. “The practice in the East of venerating the image of Christ inevitably caused those accustomed to a more symbolic orientation to react. Christians who opposed the use of images in worship generally felt that these objects marginalized the work of Christ.”[8] In fact the controversy got so bad that in 730 Emperor Leo II destroyed the “images of Christ, his mother, and the saints.”[9]

Clearly then, the Church took art and the use of images in various forms very seriously.

“The icon… was much more than an aesthetic image to grace the church and stimulate holy thoughts. It was something that expressed deeply held theological convictions, and it was meant to move the viewer to love and serve God. In many respects, an icon was theology in a visual form, and the practice of making an icon itself represented a spiritual discipline.”[10]

However, did the Church cross the line of making idols that were so clearly and vehemently condemned by the prophets in the Old Testament (e.g. Is. 44:12-20)?

During the Early Renaissance, “a renewal in the arts was closely connected with reform movements that began springing up throughout western Europe.”[11] During this period many massive cathedrals were built (e.g. Salisbury Cathedral and Reims Cathedral).

“These great structures, which must have been extremely impressive amid the modest building around them, not only became the center of the social and religious life of the community but were actually intended to be a microcosm of the world. An image of the last judgment was frequently located over the central portal of the cathedral…, reminding those entering of God’s judgment, which was avoided only by eating the holy Eucharist. The space of the church represented the ‘ark of salvation.’ On either side of the portal were images of the prophets and apostles, on whose word rested the hope of God’s people.”[12]

During this period there were also seeds planted that would eventually rise up and challenge the extravagance of the Church and her art. We see this for example through the work of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic of Spain. For example, Francis and Dominic emphasized simplicity and mission.

Next, we will look at the impact of the Reformation on art within the Church. But at this point, it will be helpful for us to see what we can learn from what we have seen from history so far. So, here are a few questions to consider: 

  1. What are some dangerous to avoid when it comes to art and the church?
  2. What do you think about the extravagance of the church?
  3. What concerns should we have?
  4. What takeaways for our modern context of cinderblocks, cement, lights, and lasers?
  5. How did art serve the purpose of the early church?
  6. Can art still serve the purpose of the church? If so, how? 
  7. What should we be cautious of regarding art and the church?

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[1] For a brief and interesting introduction see “The History of Liturgical Art.”

[2] William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith, 26.

[3] Dyrness, Visual Faith 26.

[4] Ibid., 27.

[5] Thomas Matthews, The Clash of the God, 11.

[6] Dyness, Visual Faith, 35.

[7] Ibid., 35.

[8] Ibid., 36.

[9] Ibid., 37.

[10] Ibid., 37.

[11] Ibid., 38.

[12] Ibid., 39-40.


Living to Share the Gospel

As we read in Philippians we see that Paul lived to share the gospel. That’s what he was all about. Even when he was imprisoned for sharing the gospel he said, “It’s okay. It actually worked out quite well because I was able to tell the prison guards about Jesus.”

Paul lived to share the gospel. But what made him live like this? He hadn’t always lived for the gospel so what changed him? And what perhaps needs to change in our own lives so that we will live to share the gospel of Christ?

As I was preparing to write this I struggled because this portion of Philippians (1:12-18, 27-30) seems irrelevant. It seems disconnected from our everyday life. So, I was trying to think of some angle that I could share to make it relevant and I was struggling to do so. I was thinking that if I were talking about procrastination, lust, or something else then that would be relevant.

As I continued to think about it, however, I realized the problem is not with the passage. The problem is with us, with me. The passage doesn’t seem relevant because we don’t share the concern that Paul had, and that the Bible has. We, I am afraid, our deficient in our devotion to the gospel.

Sharing the gospel and our…
Our Deficiency
This first point comes from my own mouth and mind and not directly from Philippians. However, upon reflection, I think it is important that we consider our potential deficiency.What is our deficiency? Or, what would make this passage seem irrelevant?

I fear we (myself included!) get used to the gospel. It ceases to amaze us. We take it for granted. Paul’s letter to the Philippians was likely written 30 years after his conversion but we see that he is still amazed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) and later on he says everything is rubbish compared to Christ (3:8).

Our deficiency is our deficient view of the gospel. We esteem it of low worth. Until that deficiency changes we won’t delight in sharing the gospel and we won’t carry out our duty of sharing the gospel. So, briefly, what is the gospel?

Philippians 2 talks about Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, made Himself nothing and humbled Himself to die for us, even by death on a cross. 2 Corinthians 8:9 reminds us of the wonder of the gospel: our Lord Jesus Christ, though He was rich, became poor, so that we by His poverty might become rich. This is the good news of the “great exchange.” Jesus, God in flesh, took our filthy sinful stains upon Himself on the tree; and He gave us His beautiful robes of righteousness.

The apostle Paul understood that and that’s why he said everything—everything!—is rubbish compared to Christ. We too need to understand that. It makes sense logically but often times it hasn’t worked itself into the nooks and crannies of our lives.

So, we see the need of cultivating a heart of worship, a heart that is amazed by the gospel. As John Piper has said,

“No one will be able to rise to the magnificence of the missionary cause who does not feel the magnificence of Christ. There will be no big world vision without a big God. There will be no passion to draw others into our worship where there is no passion for worship.”[1]

It is when we taste and see that a restaurant is good that we tell others about it. It is the same with the gospel. We need to “taste” that it is good. We need to know understand that the LORD “has done gloriously.” Look at Isaiah 12:1-5:

“I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation… Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.”

It when we taste the God’s goodness that we say, “Let this be known in all the earth!”

Sharing the gospel and our…
Our Devotion (Phil. 1:12-18)
In a letter such as this, it would have been customary for Paul to explain how he was doing. It would have been natural to discuss his physical conditions.[2] I expect Paul to say something like:

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, especially for the gift you gave me. That was really helpful. However, as you know I am in jail for preaching the gospel and I am fresh out of funds. I don’t have a lot of food and my sneakers are worn out. It’d be great to get some help. I am also very tired as my bed is very uncomfortable and the blanket they gave me is terrible. The guards also keep me up late. They like to play cards and their cursing is terrible…”

However, Paul says nothing like that. Actually, we’re not even really told about his physical well-being, let alone the state of his sneakers.

Yet, imagine how difficult it must have been for Paul. One commentator has said, “For a traveling apostle to be put in prison must have seemed like a concert pianist having his hands tied behind his back.”[3] Yet, Paul was not complaining.

Why is this the case? Certainly, Paul had material concerns. There are times when Paul let his material needs be known. For instance, he asks for his coat and books (2 Tim. 4:13). Paul surely had physical/material concerns but they weren’t main concern. We see Paul is concerned with the gospel and its advancement.

Paul’s good is wrapped up with the gospel.[4] Even though he was locked up he could rejoice because it “served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12).[5] Paul made known to his guards that he was in jail for telling people about Christ. It was such a big deal that it got around to a bunch of people, “the whole imperial guard,” it says (v. 13).

“The soldiers were used, of course, to the ‘gospel’ of Caesar—the supposed ‘good news’ that a new emperor had taken the throne, bringing (so he claimed) peace and justice to the world. Now here was someone out of the blue announcing that there was a different ‘gospel’: that Jesus of Nazareth had taken the throne of the world, and was summoning every man, woman and child to bow the knee to him.”[6]

The guards were interested in hearing Paul’s story because they probably thought Paul was crazy at first. After all, they must have thought, who worships and confesses as King and Lord a crucified Jew?!

Yet, upon further discussion with Paul, they would have seen that Paul was not a lunatic but rather quite sane. If what Paul said about Jesus was true it would make sense that he would be willing to be imprisoned for Him (the guards themselves had suffered for their own king). Further, in light of Jesus being the King and Lord, it makes sense that Paul was encouraged, even in prison.

We see also the impact that Paul’s example had on the Philippians; they were emboldened to “speak the word without fear” (v. 14). How might our boldness help others to be bolder in sharing the gospel? You never know, God may use you to stir up a revival.

Perhaps the most surprising thing we see is that Paul even rejoices when people “preach Christ from envy and rivalry” (v. 15) and “out of selfish ambition” (v. 17). So, we see Paul had a delight in the gospel that bled out into the way he thought about the sharing of the gospel. Paul was passionate about the gospel and desired it to be shared. He had written previously, in Romans, that “he was ashamed of the gospel of Christ because it was the power of God for salvation to all that believe” (Rom. 1:16). Paul continued passionately and boldly unashamed.

So, what are your aspirations? To make money? To travel? To find a new job? To be in a relationship? To do well in school? To be successful in life (however, you define success)? “None of these is inadmissible; none is to be despised. The question is whether these aspirations become so devouring that the Christian’s central aspiration is squeezed to the periphery or choked out of existence entirely.”[7] Our central concern should be the gospel and its advancement.

Sharing the gospel and our…
Our Duty (Phil. 1:27-30)
In Philippians 1:27 Paul tells us about our duty. Paul says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Paul is telling us that the gospel is amazing and calls us to life change. We cannot understand and be impacted by the gospel without being changed. When we taste the sweetness of the gospel then we begin to be moved to desire to live our life in line with the gospel. We begin to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27). We even begin to see it as a good thing if we suffer for the sake of Christ (v. 29).

Paul’s form of ambassadorship changed but not his purpose and duty. Paul was an ambassador in chains (Eph. 6:20).[8] This is the case for us too. We might serve in different locations and different circumstances but we are still called to be ambassadors for Christ wherever we are. So, the specific call and circumstance might change but we are all called to share and care about the gospel.

When our devotion to the gospel of Christ is waning and deficient we need to work at cultivating a heart of worship. Because not only is the gospel a delight but we also have a duty to share and care about it. We are called to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27) and notice as we stand side by side and encourage each other we can stand firm not and not be afraid of our opponents (v. 27-28).

A Few Questions:
1. What did you find encouraging and what did you find challenging about this post?
2. How is our view of the gospel sometimes deficient?
3. The gospel is the most amazing reality in the world but sometimes it may seem irrelevant. What does that say about us and our focus when that is true of us?
4. What are you tempted to care about more than the gospel? What is your “good news”?
5. Do you care about the gospel? Do you share the gospel?
6. How might your boldness help others to be bold in sharing the gospel?
7. Is it true we should have a devotion to Jesus and His gospel? Or, is it legalistic to say we must be devoted and that we have duty?
8. What would a devotion to the gospel look like in your everyday life?
9. Why would we be devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ? What would motivate us in that way?

____________________

[1] John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 40.

[2] Paul’s letter “is thoroughly transformed by the gospel” (Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 106 cf. 108).

[3] N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, 89.

[4] “This passage shows us that when our joy is connected to the advancement of the gospel rather than to our physical condition or to the responses of other people to us, it remains firm, even when these circumstances stand against us” (Frank Thielman, The NIV Application Commentary: Philippians, 66).

[5] We see that “God works not merely in spite of but through adverse circumstances” (Ibid.).

[6] Ibid. Cf. D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 23.

[7] D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 26.

[8] John Stott, The Message of Philippians, 72.


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