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Theology of Public Worship

Worship must be carried out according to God’s revealed will. We want to worship God in the way that He has prescribed as best as we possibly can.[1] So, we want our worship to be drenched in Bible. We want every aspect to pour out biblical truth.

Public worship must succeed as much as possible in carrying out what God has given us in His word to do. We should acknowledge, however, that “The New Testament does not provide us with officially sanctioned public ‘services’ so much as with examples of crucial elements.”[2] Even though it is true that the New Testament does not give us “a complete manual of liturgics,”[3] it does gives us clear things that we are to do.[4]

The Great Commission in Matthew 28 tells us a few things that are essential for disciples of Jesus. Matthew 28:19-20 says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We will look at implications from the Great Commission first and then turn to other crucial aspects of what it means to be the called out ones of God.

First, the church is given a command. Something we must collectively work at carrying out. We must make disciples and that includes sharing the good news of Jesus with others (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Public worship then is to facilitate discipleship (which includes encouraging evangelism).

Second, after those that we share Jesus with trust Him and repent of their sin then they are to be baptized (Matt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15-16). Thus, the church is to celebrate baptisms. 

Third, we see the church must teach disciples to do all that Jesus the Lord commanded and so we see the importance of teaching, preaching, and reading Scripture within the church (Matt. 28:19-20). Why is preaching such a big deal? Preaching is essential because it teaches God’s truth so as to exalt Christ, encourage and build up, and exhort the gathered church.

Thus, we see the preaching of the Scriptures have a central place in the gathered services of the church. Sermons communicate God’s transforming truth, they exalt Jesus Christ, they teach the Bible so that people understand and apply what God has said, and they encourage conformity to Christ.

Fourth, gathering together on a regular basis is vital (Heb. 10:24-25). It was the practice of the early church to gather together on Sunday, the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7-11; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). Thus, we see the vital importance of community

Fifth, celebrating the Lord’s Supper together is essential because that’s what Jesus told us to do (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Jesus said “…do this…” so it’s not an option. We must gather together and celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. 

Sixth, qualified leaders (elders/pastors) are very important so that they can ensure the health of the church. Titus 1:5-9 tells us that Paul put elders in Crete because things were out of order until qualified elders were leading. Leaders are also given to the church to teach and equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-14 see also Col. 1:28-29). Thus, it is important that qualified leaders have oversight of the public worship of the church.

Seventh, the Bible also tells us that it is important for churches to sing songs together. Ephesians 5 says, “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, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 18-20; cf. Acts 16:25; 1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16). Notice too that it’s not just a person singing by their self but rather we address one another as we sing. 

Eighth, it is also very important that churches be a holy witness and so church discipline is vital. See, for example, Matthew 18:15-20 (and also Phil. 2:15; 1 Cor. 5:9-12). Matthew 18:17 says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” When the church gathers for public worship it is, as much as possible, to be a gathering of saints; or course, seekers are welcome to! But, false converts who will spread heresy like gangrene (2 Tim. 2:17) are not.  

Ninth, another foundation of healthy public worship is the practice of spiritual gifts for the upbuilding of the body, the church (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 14:26). This is important because “each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). It’s good to be “eager for manifestations of the Spirit” but we see from Scripture (and especially 1 Corinthians) that it’s more important that we “strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Cor. 14:12).

Tenth, from reading the New Testament we also see that prayer is an important part of the gathered church. Jesus taught on the importance of prayer and we can see from reading Acts that prayer was vital to the early church (e.g. Acts 1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:23-31). 

Eleventh, almsgiving and charity are also important aspects of a Christian church because Christians are called to care for and help people, as they are able. We see this seems to be the regular practice of the early church (e.g. Acts 6; 1 Cor. 16:1-4). 

With all this being said, I agree with Michael A. Farley, we should not “read the NT in an inappropriately narrow and legalistic fashion as if the NT as a whole is to function as a collective new covenant version of Leviticus. If none of the individual NT books were written to be an exhaustive liturgical manual, then it is wrong to read and apply the NT as a whole in this restrictive fashion.”[6]

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[1] I appreciate what Michael A. Farley says: “Evangelical scholars employ a range of very different hermeneutical strategies in applying the Bible to worship. This is not surprising, of course, since evangelicals are divided over the theory and practice of biblical hermeneutics in many areas of theology. The first step toward progress in reconciling divergent views is a clear recognition and accurate characterization of the diversity of hermeneutical approaches to constructing a biblical theology of worship. If discussion can take place at this level, evangelicals can avoid the frustrating experience of talking past one another without comprehending why one’s arguments are not persuasive to one’s interlocutors” (“What Is “Biblical’ Worship? Biblical Hermeneutics and Evangelical Theologies of Worship,” JETS 51/3 [2008]: 610).

[2] Worship by the Book, 52.

[3] Farley, “What Is “Biblical’ Worship?,” 610. “There is no single passage in the New Testament that establishes a paradigm for corporate worship” (Worship by the Book, 55).

[4] For example, I really appreciate this summary by Edmond Clowney: “The New Testament indicates, by precept and example, what elements of [corporate] worship are. As in the synagogue, corporate prayer is offered (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 2:1; 1 Cor. 14:16); Scripture is read (1 Tim. 4:13; 1 Th. 5:27; 2 Th. 3:14; Col. 4:15, 16; 2 Pet. 3:15, 16) and expounded in preaching (1 Tim. 4:13; cf. Lk. 4:20; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 4:2). There is a direct shift from the synagogue to the gathering of the church (Acts 18:7, 11; cf. 19:8-10). The teaching of the word is also linked with table fellowship (Acts 2:42; 20:7, cf. vv. 20, 25, 28). The songs of the new covenant people both praise God and encourage one another (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:15; 1 Cor. 14:15, 26; cf. 1 Tim. 3:16; Rev. 5:9-13; 11:17f; 15:3, 4). Giving to the poor is recognized as a spiritual service to God and a Christian form of ‘sacrifice’ (2 Cor. 9:11-15; Phil. 4:18; Heb. 13:16). The reception and distribution of gifts is related to the office of the deacon (Acts 6:1-6; Rom. 12:8, 13; cf. Rom. 16:1, 2; 2 Cor. 8:19-21; Acts 20:4; 1 Cor. 16:1-4) and to the gathering of believers (Acts 2:42; 5:2; 1 Cor. 16:2). The faith is also publically confessed (1 Tim. 6:12; 1 Pet. 3:21; Heb. 13:15; cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-3). The people receive God’s blessing (2 Cor. 13:14; Lk. 24:50; cf. Num. 6:22-27). The holy kiss of salutation is also commanded (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Th. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14). The people respond to praise and prayer with the saying of ‘Amen’ (1 Cor. 14:16; Rev. 5:14; cf. Rom. 1:25; 9:5; Eph. 3:21 etc.). The sacrament of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are explicitly provided for. Confession is linked with baptism (1 Pet. 3:21); and a prayer of thanksgiving with the breaking of bread (1 Cor. 11:24)” (Clowney, “Presbyterian Worship,” Worship: Adoration and Action, ed. D.A. Carson, 117 as quoted in Worship by the Book, 48).

[5] Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 1

[6] Farley, “What Is “Biblical’ Worship? Biblical Hermeneutics and Evangelical Theologies of Worship,” JETS 51/3 (2008): 610-11. “Liturgical theology ought to be a matter of wisdom that results from reflection upon all that God has revealed in Scripture about corporate worship in light of the person and work of Christ. Thus Christians need to employ a more theologically oriented regulative principle rather than one that would limit legitimate liturgical practices solely to those explicitly attested in the NT” (Farley, “What Is “Biblical’ Worship?,” 611). In a similar way, John Piper says, “In the Old Testament, there is an extremely detailed set of guidelines for how everything should be done in relationship to the tabernacle and the sacrifices and the way people come to God. In the New Testament, those details are almost completely lacking. I am tempted to say completely lacking. There is no way anybody could construct a normative worship service from what we have in the New Testament. Lots of people think they can, but I don’t think so. There is more tradition going on there than they realize.” “Do We Really Need Musical Worship?” https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/do-we-really-need-musical-worship. John Piper goes on to say, “I don’t think you look for prescribed patterns in the New Testament. You look for emphases, trajectories, implications, the nature of God, the nature of man, the nature of his mind, the nature of his emotions, the nature of salvation, the nature of gifts. And what you find is that there is an extraordinary centrality and emphasis to the word of God in the Christian life” (Ibid.).

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4 Reasons Sermons are Essential

Why are sermons such a big deal? The Bible tells us to sing as the gathered church. The Bible also tells us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and baptisms. But why are sermons essential? 

Sermons are essential because they teach God’s truth so as to exalt Christ, encourage and build up, and exhort the gathered church.

First, the teaching aspect of the sermon is important. Its importance is seen all over Scripture (e.g. Neh. 8:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:2). God has spoken and so helping people understand and apply the revelation from Him is life-changing. God’s people, however, are able to understand His truth. This is because all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:22; 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16), Jesus has made all those in Him priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:5-6), and Scripture is clear on the things which are “necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation” (The Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 1). Qualified teachers are still vital, however, because sound (or healthy) doctrine is vital. That is, in part, why pastors must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24) and defend the truth (2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 1:9). We also see in Scripture that right teaching leads to maturity and the body of Christ being equipped for every good work. Believers may be able to subsist on milk but teachers are able to provide needed meat (2 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-13).

Second, communicating God’s truth in sermons is vital because the Bible is the authoritative word of God and it is uniquely profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It is our sole authority for faith and practice. Scripture is a light (Ps. 119:105,130), a sword (Eph. 6:17), a hammer (Jer. 23:29), and a surgeon (Heb. 4:12). Scripture is more essential than bread (Matt. 4:4), better than gold (Ps. 19:10; 119:72), and we need it to live (Ps. 119:144). Scripture is perfect (Ps. 19:7), true (Ps. 19:9), pure (Ps. 19:8), and eternal (1 Pet. 1:25). Scripture contains the words of life (Jn. 6:68) and the words that are breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). Scripture gives joy (Ps. 119:111; Jer. 15:16), makes wise (Ps. 19:7), equips (2 Tim. 3:17), guards (Ps. 119:9), guides (Ps. 73:24; 119:105), saves (1 Pet. 1:23), sanctifies (Ps. 119:9,11; Jn. 17:17), and satisfies because by it we know God (1 Pet. 2:3 cf. Ps. 16:11; Jn. 17:3).

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As the church we are…

This is not an ecclesiology. But it does tell you a lot about the church. As the church we are…

Welcomed and Welcoming

We remember that Jesus Himself was criticized by religious leaders because of the type of people that He hung out with and helped (cf. Matt. 9:9-13; 11:19; 21:31-32; Mk. 2:15-17; Lk. 3:12-14; 5:29-32; 7:36-50; 15; 19:1-10). So, we’re not like the hypocritical religious leaders. Instead, we’re like our Leader, the One who reaches out to heal our brokenness. 

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Our Idolatry…

We could basically be the stars of any western, we have individualism, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency in our bones. The truth is, I know some pretty capable people. But with that capability can come idolatry. Self-idolatry. We, moderns in the west, don’t form gods out of gold, we are the gods. We have feet, mouths, and hands. We can deliver ourselves. At least, that’s what we think. 

Our idolatry is often self-idolatry, we trust ourselves over against God. The New City Catechism says, “Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security.” Often, we trust in ourselves. That, however, is not our only form of idolatry. 

Our idols can be anything we…

  • trust and look to more than God 
  • make more important than God
  • give our attention to more than God
  • expect to give us something that only God can give 
  • make so central and essential to life that if we lose it, life will no longer feel worth living

When something in our life is an absolute requirement for our happiness and self-worth, it is an idol. When that thing is threatened, whatever it is, we will act out. we will become anxious or angry when that thing is in possible danger.[1]

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Practice Unproductivity (part 2)

Our Supposed Self-Sufficiency and Rest

“Only the weak rest.” That’s how we’re tempted to think. We play god. We think we can be everywhere and be everything to everyone as fast and as efficiently as possible.  

We play god. We hate limits! We have military macho (makes me think of the nacho man commercial). We believe we can do everything and if we can’t there’s a problem. A problem with us, we’re weak, or a problem with someone or something else. We think we’re unlimited. We think we can play god. It’s really a form of idolatry. 

This carries over to our work as well. Our relationship with work is way out of whack.[1] We admire workaholics and will sacrifice our marriage and kid(s) to the god of success and achievement.  We are out of step with the reality of our needs and limits.[2] 

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Practice Unproductivity (part 1)

“Practice unproductivity,” what?! The phrase, especially outside of DC, sounds almost heretical. You probably cringed when you read it and you’re probably tempted to stop reading. 

It’s important to realize, when I say, “practice unproductiveness” that I’m not saying binge YouTube, play candy crush, or Fortnight. Please don’t do any of those things. I’m actually talking about Sabbath rest…

Sacrifice and Sabbath Rest

Aren’t we supposed to be living sacrifices? Isn’t that what Romans 12:1 says?

Living sacrifices don’t spend their time sitting around eating bonbons. They die. They give themselves away.

Charles Spurgeon essentially worked himself into the grave. And the Apostle Paul was absolutely willing to spend and be spent for the sake of the gospel.

So, what does the Bible say? Sacrifice or Sabbath rest? 

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A Brief Theology of Emotions

We all have emotions. How often do we consider emotions from a biblical perspective though?… Yet, what better place to turn than God’s word! So, what does the Bible say about emotions?

Emotions are part of God’s good design

First, it is important to realize that “Our emotional capacities are part of our nature as personal beings created in the image and likeness of God.”[1] Second, Emotions are part of God’s good design.[2] Third, We often don’t think about it but we are actually commanded to be emotional. For example, Psalm 2:11 says “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” And there’s a bunch of other examples (Deut. 28:47-48; Ps. 51:17; 97:10; 100:2; Matt. 6:25-34; Rom. 12:9, 15; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:15).

So, Jay Adams says:

“The fact is that there are no damaging or destructive emotions per se. Our emotional makeup is totally from God. All emotions of which He made us capable are constructive when used properly (i.e., in accordance with biblical principles)… All emotions, however, can become destructive when we fail to express them in harmony with biblical limitations and structures.”[3]

You may have heard: “Don’t follow your emotions” or “don’t let your feelings get the best of you,” or “use your head.” But emotions are not bad in themselves. God created us with emotions.

Even our negative emotions are not always wrong. It’s not always bad to feel bad. Sometimes feeling sad and angry is good and right. It’s important to realize that in the Psalms the genre of lament is most dominant.[4] It is also important to remember that there is no book of Joys but there is a book of Lamentations.[5] We don’t always have just “good” feelings and that’s okay. On the other hand, God made us at least in part to experience profound joy and to experience this forever, Psalm 16:11 says. So, our first take away is for us to realize that emotions are not bad in themselves.

But what’s wrong with emotions? Or, why is it that sometimes we can’t or shouldn’t trust our emotions? Because…

Emotions are broken by sin

A lot of us remember the (true) story of Adam and Eve. John Frame has said, “the fall… was rebellion of the whole person—intellect as much as emotions, perception, and will—against God.”[6] After looking at Genesis 3:1-6 (notice the highlighting) we can agree with what Frame says:

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