A vaccination against Roman Catholicism

 

I’ve noticed several changes in my thinking over the past year, having officially left my Baptist roots and become a moderately high-church Presbyterian. One of the most notable is a growing aversion to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology, particularly with regards to justification, the atonement, and worship.

When my family moved away my senior year in college, I was forced to come to some more substantial beliefs. My first major flirtation was with Roman Catholicism. I attended worship there and was impressed by the earnestness and reverence with which they worshiped. Earlier in my life I appreciated charismatic theology and their appreciation for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. All of that to say I’ve studied several branches of Christendom, in addition to the different Baptist denominations. But as I moved closer to liturgical worship, I joined what is the most simple form of worship I’d ever been a part of: the Primitive Baptists (PB’s). It was an odd union in some senses, but they were the only Calvinistic Baptists in our county. I began preaching in the church early on, but continued learning from the same authors I had been learning from before (most of whom were Reformed, a few of whom were Baptists).

I came with an appreciation of liturgy (1). I didn’t know how different I was from Primitive Baptists, and I didn’t fully understand the sectarian nature of Primitive Baptists, i.e. closed communion and landmarkism. I thought that since each church was independent, each church could do it’s own thing. To a large extent we did, for a Primitive Baptist church, but I still struggled. I am not intending to complain about the Primitive Baptists. Those I knew best were godly, Bible-saturated, and wholesome people. But they were also true to their beliefs and I differed with those beliefs in the areas of closed-communion, rebaptism for all outsiders, and liturgical structure.

During the time I was the co-pastor of a PB church, I was forced to acknowledge that I was different than most of the congregation in liturgical beliefs. Those differences became too big to ignore when my beliefs on covenant theology and paedobaptism became concrete. There were many other issues in the church that led to my resignation and my difference in belief was not the most important one. However, after my family and I joined Trinity Presbyterian in Birmingham, something else came into focus. (more…)

Making melody in your heart to the Lord

I’ve recently come across several excellent Psalm-singing sites.  These two sites are without instrumentation (here and here), and this one features Psalms being sung with instruments.  These sites allow you to hear Psalm-singing at its best.  If you don’t watch out, pretty soon you too will be singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.

How do I grow?

Recently I was asked what someone can do to grow as a Christian.  My reply was surprising because it’s not the usual evangelical response (pray, read your Bible, etc.).  I do believe prayer and Bible study are important for spiritual growth and no one is doing practicing enough of it.  However there are certain things Jesus and Paul said about spiritual growth that we usually neglect.

  1. Worship weekly – Heb. 10.  One verse in this chapter is usually beaten to death with regards to church attendance (v. 25).  But we miss the rest of what the author is saying.  Worshiping the living Christ is an honor and privilege.  Hebrews 10 is the application of the prior portion of the book, saying that because Jesus has opened the presence of God to us we should enter in.  This is a gift of God’s grace, grace that we need for living our Christian lives.  One of the purposes of coming together is to exhort one another (v. 24).  When we worship with others you will be strengthened.  If we are obediently following the command to exhort one another we will forge bonds of fellowship that will withstand fierce persecution (vv. 32-34).  It will also cause us to think twice about forgetting our faith when times of trial come (vv. 35-39).
  2. Take communion – John 6:51-58.  This is one of those things that isn’t easily explained.  Many of us don’t take communion but every quarter, every six months, or even every year.  Jesus said that His flesh is meat indeed and His blood is drink indeed (v. 55).  If we only ate yearly, we would be starved.  Jesus said if we didn’t eat His flesh and drink His blood we have no life in us (v. 53).  This is one of the ways we profess that we are believers, by the fact that we eat with Him (v. 56-57).  If this sounds odd to our ears it’s because we are deficient in our theology of the Lord’s Supper.  This is what Jesus said.  Paul said in I Corinthians 10:17 that in eating we are united into Christ, the one loaf through the Supper.  Eating is necessary for growth, so don’t neglect the Supper when it’s served at your church.

Lessons from outside brothers

I don’t often speak appreciatively of the Anglicans.  Between permitting sodomy, women priests, and being a little bit too cozy with Islam, there are plenty of reasons to call them out.  But they do have elements that should be valued in the body of Christ.  While at my in-laws house, the family turned on the royal wedding and two of these elements stood out. 

First of all, every time you turned around there was a reference to Scripture.  There were readings, quotations, and allusions throughout the service, much more than any wedding I’ve ever seen.  Then again, as a friend reminded me, most wedding ceremonies today are watered-down versions of the Anglican wedding liturgy.  

The second thing that made an impression on me was that they left no one in doubt as to whether or not they are Trinitarians.  The references to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were numerous.  It was refreshing to hear the work of the entire Godhead spoken of so often.   


 

Having said this, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m leading a procession to Canterbury.  But there are some good lessons to learn from this.  First of all, services in all churches, regardless of denomination, should be filled with Scripture.  It is a sad thing when God’s people only hear a little of God’s word read (and that only in preaching) when they come together for worship on Sunday.  Every part of the service, from beginning to end, should be saturated with God’s word.  When the congregation leaves, they should remember God’s word more than anything else.  Secondly, our prayers and preaching should drill the triune nature of God deep into the hearts of God’s people. Hearing a prayer that calls upon God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit should be as natural as breathing, but to us it seems odd.  I’m not saying we’re not trinitarians, but that we don’t sound like trinitarians.  A visitor could come into many of our worship services and never know that we believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. 

This doesn’t explain exactly what to do, but we’ve got to start somewhere.  

Imprecatory Prayers – 1

Psalm 58

We come today to one of the most ignored types of prayer: imprecatory prayers.  These are the prayers your mother wouldn’t let you pray as a child.  They are the Psalmist praying God’s judgment upon His enemies.  Should these prayers have a place in the life of the Christian today?  If so, what should it be?   

Let’s begin by asking a question: was the psalmist right to pray these things? 

  • The tract liberal scholars take is that these prayers are were wrong for the Psalmist to pray as well as wrong for us to pray; God allowed them to stay there so we would see how not to pray. 
  • But that doesn’t work, because these men were inspired by God to pray this way.  God motivated them to pray in such a manner. 
  • Another option is that it was right for the Psalmist to pray this way, but not for us because we aren’t inspired by the Holy Spirit, sometimes it can be our flesh. 
  • It’s true we can pray these things with personal vengeance in mind instead of Godly justice, but we can take any other good example in the Bible and use it wrongfully. 
  • The potential to use Scripture wrongfully is not an excuse to ignore it. 
  • And let’s be real, when’s the last time you used Psalm 7, or 58, or 137 in your prayer time (or even heard it used by someone else)?  Probably never. 
  • The fact is we don’t know how to use these Psalms in worship or in private devotion. 
  • But all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, and training in righteousness; that includes these passages.  So why don’t we use them?

Coming Hungry – How to get more out of worship 2

Come hungry to the table – Isa. 55:1-3

  • This goes right along with the previous point.  We must acknowledge that we are hungry.  We don’t want to be seen as hungry.  It is easier to act like we have it all together. 
  • The rich are not fed, but the poor are – Luke 14:16-21.
  • Jesus didn’t say, “Come unto me all ye who have it all together.”  He didn’t invite those with no apparent burden to come.  You are only invited to come if you are heavy laden, if you are hungry.
  • The two temptations are to pretend we don’t need anything (pride [even it’s just pretending before God]) or to fill up on our own things (paltry stuff).
  • When we come to worship God, we must come admitting our emptiness and hopelessness unless he comes at that time and serves us.
  • The invitation is there and we must submit to it.

Come expecting to be served – Heb. 3:8-12, 4:1-2

  • When we come to  the public worship of God, we should come with expectation that God is there and He will serve us.
  • This is focused on the proclamation of the gospel.  But the word is presented not only in preaching, but in singing, reading, and communion.  The gospel is not only a spoken gospel, but sung gospel, and liquid gospel.  
  • Our singing, praying, preaching, reading, and communing centers around the word, the living bread and wine, so that by the time worship is over, we have been inundated by the living word.
  • “But,” you might say, “what if the Holy Spirit isn’t in the service?”  Jesus said He would be.  John 14:16-17, 21
  • Jesus promised us the Spirit, whether we think he is here or not. 
  • We must come in faith, lest we fall short of the rest of Christ in unbelief.

Coming Hungry – How to get more out of worship 1

Coming Hungry – How to receive more out of worship

Submit to your need for God’s food – Ps. 81:10-14

  • We are told in Scripture that God intends to feed His people.  He commanded Israel to open their mouths wide and they would be filled. 
  • The only way we can grow is to be fed by God.  There is no other way to receive spiritual nourishment than to be fed by God Himself. 
  • Unless we acknowledge that we need heavenly food, we will stock up on useless stuff.  Let me ask you: are your spiritual needs being met?  Then eat the meat God has provided – John 4:34.
  • If you don’t acknowledge your need, you’ll never be fed – Luke 1:53.
  • It’s important here that we not get busy doing our own will, being bogged down with whatever is on our heart at the time.  Feeding on our own will (even good, important things) will leave us empty yet not desiring heavenly bread.  The psalmist called this walking in your own hearts counsels (Ps. 81:12). 
  • Here we should establish the central way we are served by Christ: in the public worship.
  • It is in public worship that the presence of God meets with his people – Matt. 18:20.  Here he feeds us.  If we had time we could go to John 6 where Jesus fed the multitude and then explains that the important thing is for them to eat of his body and blood.
  • Where does this take place?  The public worship of the church.
  • Here we are nourished and fed, not only in communion but by the word preached,  read, and sung.  These things are designed to feed the people of God.
  •  These are the means by which God feeds his people.  This doesn’t neglect personal prayer and Bible reading, but it is not the primary way we are fed.
  • It is only in being fed that our enemies are overcome (Ps. 81:14).

Surrender to being served by God – John 13:6-8

  • Peter didn’t want to be served by Jesus.  It was too demeaning of Him to serve men. But Jesus corrected him for his refusal to be served.
  • The current perspective on worship in Calvinistic churches is that worship means coming to glorify God, to praise Him, sing of Him, etc. 
  • That’s exactly right.  We come to exalt God, but that’s in no way all.  If we were prioritizing it, we would have it all wrong.  He doesn’t need us to serve Him; we need Him to serve us.
  • We are like Peter many times.  We’ve hear people say, “I just didn’t get anything out of the service,” that we can overreact saying, “It’s not about you.”  That’s true, but Jesus didn’t invite us to come because he needed more glory. 
  • We have to let go of our pride that says, “I can worship God without receiving anything.”  That’s false. 
  • We must submit to the fact that we must be served by Him before we can serve Him.

More meaning than you ever thought possible

This is the fourth in a series of posts on a biblical order of worship.  Much thanks to Jeffrey Meyers for his book, The Lord’s Service, explaining the application of the Old Testament sacrifical system in great detail.

The first sacrifice is the sin offering.  It displayed that the people were purified before God (which must take place before they come into his presence).  In this offering the blood is displayed prominently, since without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.  We are purified before God through Christ, and this reminds us to confess our sins, knowing that when we do he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  Just as this sacrifice had to come before the others, we come to God through Jesus Christ, confessing our sins before we engage in other segments of worship. Our first act of worship is confession of our sins.

The second sacrifice is the burnt offering.  The animal was to be slain, placed on the altar, and burned up until it was consumed in its entirety.  As it went up in smoke, it joined the glory cloud of God’s presence over the tabernacle.  Before we can ascend into God’s presence we must be crucified with Christ and raised again with him.  In public worship we offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God and we ascend into his presence while singing, praying, reading, and hearing his Word proclaimed.  In doing so we come into heavenly places with saints around the world (joining those who have gone before, already in his presence) ascribing unto him glory, honor, and power, both now and forever more (Heb. 12:22-24; Rev. 7:9-12). These activities are the second part of our worship service.

The third sacrifice is the peace offering, signifying peace with God.  In this sacrifice the animal would be killed and cooked, and then it would be shared as a common meal among God (to whom belonged the blood and fat, Lev. 3:16-17), the priest (to whom belonged the breast and right thigh, Lev. 7:31-32) and the one bringing the sacrifice (the rest of the animal, Lev. 7:14-15).  This was a celebration of the communion the person has with God through a mediator (the priest), which pointed to the communion and fellowship we have with God today through the mediation of our Great High Priest.  This is fulfilled in our partaking of the communion meal (1 Cor. 10:15-18).  We partake of the true sacrificial lamb, giving thanks to God for his gift and receiving nourishment from him in faith. Communion completes our worship service.

With this understanding of the Old Covenant order of sacrifices, we can better order our services according to the light of God’s Word.  Rather than wondering if he has given us a picture of how our worship should be structured, we can be assured that he has.  He has given us the order of worship he desires; it is up to us to carry it out according to his commands. We, therefore, follow this pattern: 1.) confession of sins; 2.) singing, praying, reading and hearing the Word preached and 3.) communion.

You find it where?

This is the third is a series on a biblical order of worship.

That being said, however, the question still remains: is there a biblical order of worship?[1]  I believe the answer is “yes,” and it is found in the Old Testament sacrificial system.  In the Old Covenant it was through sacrifice that the priest could be ceremonially cleansed to come before the Lord.  Today we go through the eternal sacrifice (Jesus Christ) when we come unto God.  But public worship is a special time of coming before God.  Paul tells the Romans to present their bodies “living sacrifices” which is their “reasonable service” (which could also be translated “worship”).  Sacrificial language is used throughout the New Testament in describing our worship to God (II Corinthians 2:15-16, Hebrews 4:12, I Peter 2:9).  When we worship, we are said to be bringing sacrifices unto God (Heb. 13:15-16).  When the priest brought the sacrifice to God, he was giving God service, or worship (similar terms in the original language).  The worship of God, whether in the Old Covenant or the new, has always been in the contours of sacrifice.  If our worship is best understood as a sacrifice,[2] we should observe how God ordered the sacrifices in Old Covenant worship and then seek to understand how they are fulfilled in the New Covenant worship.

The key then to understanding how worship should be ordered is to look at the three primary sacrifices in the Old Testament – purification offering, burnt offering, and peace offering.  God ordained them to be offered in that order (Leviticus 9).  Each one corresponds to a particular segment of worship, thus answering the question of how God ordains our worship to be ordered.


[1] My understanding in this area has been greatly enhanced by Jeffrey Meyers’ book, The Lord’s Service.  Most of the explanation of the O.T. sacrifices and their relation to us comes from this volume.

[2] Let me add that I am not advocating the Roman Catholic understanding of worship as Jesus being sacrificed over and over.  Instead I’m saying that our worship should be centered on the commemoration of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and how he gives us access to God the Father. 

Foundation for New Covenant Worship

This is the second post in a series on a biblical order of worship.

The remedy for such a heresy is to utilize the whole counsel of God when informing our worship.  The apostles had only the Old Testament books to inform New Covenant worship.  If it was good enough for them, it should be good enough for us.  Which begs the question: how can the Old Testament inform worship in the New Covenant era? 

The answer is explained in the book of Hebrews: the types and shadows of Old Covenant worship are fulfilled, not abolished, in the New.  We read that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant High Priest, as well as the sacrificial lamb; the use of incense in Old Covenant worship is a type of the prayers of the saints in the New.  Every attribute of our worship should be a fulfillment of Old Covenant worship.  The New Testament worship practices Jesus and his apostles established were not suspended in mid-air; they are rooted and grounded in the types of the Old Covenant.  We should not view them any other way.  This view opens up new horizons in our understanding of worship; instead of looking only at the New Testament for worship instructions, we have all of God’s Word from which to learn.