Tag Archives: Church

The Crash of the American Church?

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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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Philemon: A Case Study of New Life in Christ (Part 2)

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What do we learn about Onesimus?
Paul calls Onesimus his child, as he often does with converts, especially, it seems, those whom he had a special connection with through discipleship (cf. 1 Cor. 4:14-15; 2 Cor. 6:13; Gal. 4:19; Phil. 2:22; 1 Tim. 1:2).

Onesimus, had a common slave name, his name meant “useful.” Paul makes a pun here. He basically says, Useful was useless to you Philemon but now he is useful to both you and me (v. 11).

So, how was “Useful” previously useless? What did he do that explains the remark from Paul? He ran away from his master Philemon and likely stole money from him to pay for his voyage and new life. He used to be useless but not now, now Paul says, he is indeed useful.

We have already seen that Paul used a term of endearment by saying Onesimus was Paul’s child. However, Paul does not stop there. Paul says, in sending Onesimus back to Philemon, he is sending his very heart (v. 12). Paul has a deep bond with Onesimus, he has been helpful to Paul (the old man!) in prison. As Paul says, “I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel” (v. 13). So, Paul is making the case that Onesimus, though once deemed useless, is indeed useful both to Paul and Philemon.

Onesimus, proves his new usefulness, as we’ve seen, by helping Paul. But not only that, he is repentant. He is willing to go back to Philemon his master, a bold step. In that day, slaves could be branded with the letter “F” for fugitive or “T” for thief (if they had a “gracious” master). Other masters may have their slave executed, perhaps even on a cross. There was a near contemporary of Philemon, a very wealthy slave owner, that was killed by a slave so in order to punish the slave and make an example all of the man’s slaves were killed; all four hundred of them (Hughes, p. 161-62). In fact, in Martin Hengel’s book Crucifixion there is a chapter titled “the ‘slaves’ punishment,” and in this chapter he tells about one occasion after a slave rebellion where there were six thousand slaves crucified (p. 55). Continue reading


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”?

 

__________________

[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?

__________________

[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.


The Church & Social Responsibility

C.H. Spurgeon said, “Nothing but the Gospel can sweep away social evil… The Gospel is the great broom with which to cleanse the filthiness of the city; nothing else will avail.”[1] Spurgeon experienced the truth of that statement in his city and Scripture attests of its truth over and over again.

Look at Acts 19:18-20 for a prime example of the social change that took place because of the gospel. Also look how faith changed Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). He no longer defrauded people but restored fourfold those whom he had defrauded. He also gave half of his belongings to the poor. It should therefore not be our first goal to enact political and social change but spiritual change that takes place through the receiving of the gospel.[2]

If the gospel is truly received social change will follow. I do not believe in the social gospel[3] but the gospel will inevitably bear fruit in the social realm. The gospel is necessarily social; that is, it has unavoidable implications on society. As Carl F. H. Henry has said, “A globe-changing passion certainly characterized the early church… A Christianity without a passion to turn the world upside down is not reflective of apostolic Christianity.”[4] We must show and tell the gospel if there is to be a full and effective presentation.

The Lausanne Committee accurately said this of Christian social responsibility:

“We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all people. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men and women from every kind of oppression. Because men and women are made in the image of God, every person, regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he or she should be respected and served, not exploited. Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist. When people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. The salvation we claim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead.”[5]

_____________________

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, the soul winner, 247.

[2] Thomas r. Schreiner says, “Jesus did not call for political revolution; he trusted in the power of the word of God (mark 4:28) and focused on the need of the nation to repent and turn to God… what will change society is individuals turning from their sin and committing themselves wholly to God” (Schreiner, new testament theology, 52-53). However, that is not to say that political involvement is wrong (mark 6:14-20; matt. 14:1-12; acts 16:35-39; 24:25; 1 Tim. 2:1-4) only that we should not set our hopes on it. The gospel is the power to salvation and therefore the power to change (cf. Rom. 1:16; 1 cor. 6:9-11). Note, however, that john the baptizer was martyred like many other Christians, for biblically informed political convictions (I think of Bonheoffer and Martin Luther King Jr. Notice, also that they gave their life and did not take life). 

[3] The social gospel movement was a movement started by Walter Rauschenbusch in the early 1900s. It emphases social justice over and against the gospel and has a defective view of the kingdom of God (among other things). Contra the social gospel movement the kingdom of God, though ushered in by Christ’s coming, does not find its fulfillment until Jesus brings it down from heaven. However, in revolting against the social gospel we should not be guilty of revolting against the Christian social imperative (see carl f. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, 22)

We don’t bring in the Kingdom, God does (cf. Rev. 21:1-2; dan. 2:44-45).

However much we try or even succeed in our responsibility to secure greater economic justice, Christians can look beyond this world, with all its tribulations and inequities, to the restoration of all things at Christ’s return (acts 3:21). Our faith is not pinned or limited to humanity’s capacity to share generously; for it is only at the second coming that our full humanness will be restored. This does not mean that we cease our efforts to improve this world however. On the contrary, it is because we cherish the vision of completed humanness in the end that we must all the more promote human dignity today (www.lausanne.org).

[4] Henry, The Uneasy Conscience Of Modern Fundamentalism, 16.

[5] http://www.lausanne.org (italics mine). See: Acts 17:26, 31; Gen. 18:25; Isa. 1:17; Prov. 13:31; Ps. 45:7; Gen. 1:26, 27; James. 3:9; Lev. 19:18; Luke 6:27, 35; James. 2:14-26; Jn. 3:3, 5; Matt. 5:20; 6:33; 2 Cor. 3:18; James. 2:20.


Sing the Gospel

Singing

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

~Colossians 3:16

Introduction

Colossians 3:16 comes in the context of thankfulness and living in light of the gospel. In the beginning of Colossians 3 we have seen that we are raised with Christ (v. 1), hidden with Christ in God (v. 3), and will appear with Jesus in glory (v. 4). So we see Colossians 3:16 flows from the gospel.

We see that there are two primary ways that the word of Christ dwells in us richly: 1) teaching and 2) singing. Teaching is important but it’s not the only means that God uses to implant His truth deep inside us. God richly blesses various forms of singing. Singing can be used to make Christ’s word dwell in us richly.

Wow. That is powerful. Singing is important. Singing is serious.

We all know this. We all resonate with music. It can move us even when we don’t know why.[1] It can help us memorize memorable and meaningful lyrics but also obscure and corrupt lyrics.

What should we sing about when we’re gathered togehter?

“Word of Christ”

When we come together and sing to one another we are to have as our goal Christ’s word dwelling in us richly. That is, we want to focus on who Christ is and what He has done, His person and work. We don’t want to keep our eyes on the horizontal, on what we have done or are called to do. We want to keep our eyes on the vertical, who Jesus is and what He has done.

When we gather to sing we want to sing songs that display the glory of Christ Jesus, who He is and all He has done. We want to see Christ! We want to exalt Christ! That does not mean that there can’t be variety. It means that in all our variety we don’t want to forget to worship the Lord God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.

Variety

We see we are told to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” We also see variety in the book of Psalm. Psalm 46:10 tells God’s people to be still, Psalm 150:5 encourages loud clashing cymbals. Psalm 136 has simple and repetitive lyrics. Psalm 105 has more sophisticated and substantive lyrics. Psalm 51 is a humble confession and Psalm 103 is relentless joy. The book of Psalm, the great song book of the Bible, has variety in style and lyrics. This variety served Jewish people of old and it continues to serve us today.[2] Variety is good.

The issue is thus not new songs verses old songs, hymns verses choruses, or an issue of style. The issue is does it make much of and point us to God and His glory? Does it point us to Christ?

Although, we desire a variety of different songs and even music genres this does not mean that skill is not important. Skill is important. Remember, singing is serious and we should take it seriously. Notice Psalm 33:3 says, “Play skillfully” so that must be what we strive for no matter what type of music we play or sing.

Conclusion

It is our joy to sing but we are also commanded to sing (cf. Ps. 100:1-2). So let’s praise Jesus with joy. Singing is serious.

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

~Psalm 47:6

Songs to Keep in Regular Rotation 

  1. In Christ Alone
  2. Before the Throne of God Above
  3. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
  4. Speak, O Lord
  5. Behold Our God
  6. Holy, Holy, Holy
  7. The Gospel Song
  8. Grace Greater Than All Our Sin
  9. Jesus Paid It All
  10. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
  11. All I Have Is Christ
  12. O Great God
  13. We Will Glorify
  14. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
  15. How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
  16. My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
  17. You Alone Can Rescue
  18. Man of Sorrows
  19. Your Great Name
  20. This is Amazing Grace
  21. Be Thou My Vision
  22. Grace Alone

What other songs would you add and why?

_______________

[1] “It is indisputable that music is one of the most powerful media humans have at their disposal; how it mediates and what it mediates are notoriously hard to understand or explain” (Jeremy S. Begbie, Resounding Truth, 14).

[2] See Tom Olson, “Singing That Flows from the Gospel” 147 in Gospel Centered Youth Ministry. This document relies heavily on Olson’s chapter.


Evangelism as an Overflow of Worship

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Why do we share the gospel? Because we’re told to? Guilted into it? Or do we share the gospel? Many of us don’t. However, what could motivate us to share the gospel? Guilt? I don’t think that’s the most helpful or biblical motivation. 

We share the gospel or should share it because it is the gospel; it is good news!  When we have good news will share it. If we like a certain football team, soccer team, or bad mitten team we will be excited if they win and likely even call friends that like the opposing team to brag. If we go to the store and see a certain purse or pair of pants on sale and we buy them we will be excited and even tell someone how much we paid for them. If we go to a new movie or see a show we like we will not hesitate to tell someone about it and that they “have to see it.” We do these things because we’re excited about the “good news.”

I could command you to tell the good news. I could write out the Great Commission right here and just say, “Do it.” But I think if I did that, I would be pulling that text out of context. Notice, before Jesus said His words in Matthew 28:16-20, He first did and said many other things. We find the Great Commission positioned at the end of Matthew. In fact, if my math is correct, there are one thousand and sixty-six verses before it. I believe we must first hear the rest of the book for Jesus’ last charge to be in context; not least of which is Jesus’ death and resurrection. I believe the followers of Christ who were there to hear Jesus’ charge were worshipers (cf. Matt. 28:1; 9: “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary… took hold of his feet and worshiped Him.”). They had not only heard the gospel but had seen it with their own eyes (1 John 1:1-2). They were not given some bland command in the Great Commission but rather it was to them an outlet so that they did not burst.

The singer must sing a song or go mad and the Christian must tell of Christ. Elihu describes well the feelings of compulsion we should have. “The spirit within me constrains me. Behold, my belly is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak, that I may find relief” (Job 32:18b-20a).[i] Or Jeremiah says it this way, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak anymore in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (20:9).[ii]

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