In 1996 at The Second Annual Conference on Worship: The Theology and Music of Reformed Worship, held in Nashville, TN, Dr. Robert S. Rayburn made the following remarks in his lecture, “Worship from the Whole Bible:”
Part of the reason why so many Christian worship services have no logic, no order, no movement, is because those who superintend those services of worship have not paid attention to the Bible’s main instruction in the formation of a worship service because that instruction is found in the Old Testament. It is this disregard for the importance of what is done that has led to the common pejorative use of the words ‘liturgy’ and ‘liturgical’ in many evangelical and Reformed circles. This is a mistake in more ways than one. Every church service is a liturgy, if it has various elements in some arrangement. That is what liturgy is. Liturgical churches are churches that have thought about those elements and their proper order. Nonliturgical churches are those that have not. It is no compliment to say that a church is a nonliturgical church. It is the same thing as saying it is a church that gives little thought to how it worships God.
I would imagine that most Christians think that the worship services in which they participate are biblical simply because of the content. If it is about God or Jesus then that is sufficient. There is singing, praying, teaching, and maybe the Lord’s Supper, and that is enough. But is it? Is it just a matter of the content of the elements of worship (the substance of which is also debatable) without any regard to the pattern in which those elements are placed? In agreement with Dr. Rayburn’s observations, the answer is “No.” There is a pattern for worship that the scriptures teach, foundationally given in the Old Testament and further exemplified in the New. There is a pattern for liturgy that tells the story of redemption from beginning to end each and every week, even as that story is the story of Jesus. Jesus told His disciples, These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled (Luke 24:44). Since the Old Testament is about Jesus, is it too much of a stretch to conclude that it might have something to teach us about how Jesus should be worshiped?
It is my intention in future posts to make a case for a biblical pattern for worship that is rooted in the Old Testament, and, therefore, fundamentally Christ-centered. Not surprisingly, this pattern is also reflected in the historical liturgies of the Church of the past two millenia. So remember, there is no such thing as a nonliturgical church. Not really. There are only churches that have given more or less thought as to what the whole counsel of scripture has to say about how God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit should be worshiped.
On the one hand, there are “emergent” and “progressive” evangelicals who increasingly are wary to appeal to Scripture as providing any sort of norm for behaviour. After all, Scripture has so often been misinterpreted and read selectively. (Perhaps incongruously, this is almost invariably followed up by some variation of the “all you need is love” refrain. Odd that that could never be misinterpreted and prejudicially understood.)
On the other hand, there are ostensibly conservative pastors who stress that the only thing that matters is “the gospel,” and in this case, the gospel is defined as the free acceptance which God gives to sinners, warts and all. In fact, one should be wary of moral effort and certainly of any notion of moral improvement. (more…)
“Christ took death, ‘even death on a cross’ (Phil. 2:8). The subject of this dying—the One who dies–is God the Son. He obeys unto death. In his original form he was immune to death, but he assumed a form that was mortal. He went towards death, choosing it and tasting it, deciding not to be its master but its victim, and accepting a destiny according to which it would be a sin for him not to die. The Son of Man must suffer. Death was obedience. Not dying would be disobedience.
Besides death, it was death in its most aggravated form. Not merely because the cross involved indescribable pain, but because in his case it was the occasion, the instrument, and the symbol of the curse due to sin. He experienced death unmitigated and unqualified: death with the sting; a death without light, comfort, or encouragement. The long, long journey from Caesarea Philippi to Calvary was a long journey into a black hole involving not only physical and emotional pain, but a spiritual desertion beyond our imagining.
In his agony he would cry and not be heard. He would lose all sense of his divine Sonship. He would lose all sense of his Father’s love. Into that tiny space (his body, outside Jerusalem), and into that fraction of time (the ninth hour, Good Friday) God gathered the sin of the world, and there and then, in the flesh of his own Son, he condemned it (Rom. 8:3). On that cross, at that time, the Son knew himself only as sin and his Father only as its avenger.
Here was the singularity. The Logos, the ground of all law, became lawlessness, speechless in a darkness beyond reason. He so renounced his rights that he died; and he so made himself nothing that he died THAT death. He did not shrink from the connection with flesh. And when a second great step was called for, he shuddered, yet resolutely accepted the connection with death. He became flesh, then went deeper, tasting death.”
-Donald Macleod, “The Person of Christ”
(Hat-tip to my friend Justin Dillehay who posted this quote on FB this morning.)
Posted in: Theology
This week, at the Together For the Gospel conference, John MacArthur supposedly made the following statement, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words. I don’t know who said that, but it’s stupid.” The subsequent conversations that have followed have centered in the realm of semantics, arguing whether one can preach only through words – as preaching is a verbal activity – or if it’s appropriate to say that one can preach through actions as well. At the heart of this debate, though, is another debate of greater consequence: What is the gospel?
(Previously published on timgallant.com.)
Non-Christians (and increasingly, those who self-identify as “Christians”) frequently dismiss biblical ethical norms with a quick “Oh, but the Bible condones slavery and polygamy!”
With, of course, the obvious implication that the Bible’s morals are awfully unreliable. Because it “condoned” things that we find offensive, and that even Christians seem embarrassed about. (We Christians, after all, seem agreed by now that both polygamy and slavery are bad.)
And then, having cast aside the Bible as a reliable guide, we enlightened moderns can take on that role of deciding for ourselves what is right and wrong. (more…)
C.S. Lewis, in his Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, writes, “Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And [people] don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best – if you like, it ‘works’ best – when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe that you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.”
The analogy that Lewis uses is a good one, and raises two immediate points.
Are you a liberal? G. P. Grant thinks you’re insane if you’re not. In his 1974 book, English-Speaking Justice, he proposes,
Liberalism in its generic form is surely something that all decent men accept as good—‘conservatives’ included. In so far as the word ‘liberalism’ is used to describe the belief that political liberty is a central human good, it is difficult for me to consider as sane those who would deny that they are liberals.
Is this merely semantic quibbling? Without any more being said, I suppose, yes, it would be nothing more than a violation of Paul’s admonition to Timothy to “not quarrel about words” (2 Tim 2:14), but what if in the end it isn’t? To quarrel about words would be like quarrelling about anything else—fruitless. To be succinct with our words would be to be like God, who has revealed Himself using words that mean a particular thing in a particular situation, therefore not meaning something else. (more…)
Posted in: Theology