The Untamed Blog

  • No Counsel Can Stand Against the Lord

    The concluding remarks of chapter 2, “Constantine the Great,” from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs are an encouragement to all Christians in every nation and country:

    I doubt not, good reader, but thou dost right well consider with thyself the marvellous working of God’s mighty power; to see so many emperors confederate together against the Lord and Christ His anointed, who, having the subjection of the whole world under their dominion, did bend their whole might and devices to expatriate the name of Christ and of all Christians. Wherein, if the power of man could have prevailed, what could they not do? or what could they do more than they did? If policy or devices could have served, what policy was there lacking? If torments or pains of death could have helped, what cruelty of torment by man could be invented which was not attempted? If laws, edicts, proclamations, written not only in tables, but engraven in brass, could have stood, all this was practised against the weak Christians. And yet, notwithstanding, to see how no counsel can stand against the Lord, note how well all these be gone, and yet Christ and his Church doth stand.

  • A Living Hell?

    In his 1960 Preface to The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes, “We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”

    Spend any amount of time on social media or otherwise in our present day and age, and the description above is rather apt, isn’t it?

  • The Myth of the Nonliturgical Church

    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.

  • Must We Behave Ourselves?

    Behaving?For a variety of reasons, Christians are becoming uncertain about matters of behaviour. Not just what exactly constitutes good behaviour, but even whether it really matters, anyway.

    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…)

  • Carpe Symphoniam – Seize the Symphony

    exteriorLast Friday night, I accompanied my Classical Conversations, Challenge 2 students and their parents to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, Tennessee, to hear the Nashville Symphony. The symphony orchestra performed three Mozart pieces, one of which was his 21st Piano Concerto, featuring Benedetto Lupo on the piano. It had been too long since I had experienced a live symphony orchestra, and, chances are, it has been too long for you as well. Even if you do not enjoy classical music, I think you should go. In fact, if you don’t like classical music, it is probably because it has been too long since you went to hear it be performed. Assuming that to be the case, I submit three reasons why it should not be very long until you attend a live symphony orchestra performing in their local concert hall. First, music is to be heard; second, music is to be seen; and third, music is to be felt.

     

    1.) Music is to be heard. No surprise here, right? Everyone knows that music is to be heard. That’s the main point of music, of course, but my point is that until very recently, say the last 100 years, music had to be heard live. It was written to be heard live. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have a very good set of speakers at home, and I love to sit in front of them and turn the volume up high enough so that the music fills me up. This is a fantastic way to listen to a good recording, but it will always be that: a recording. My head between my speakers or my headphones does not equal the acoustics of a finely constructed concert hall. At home, the best I can do is “stereo,” and I guess some folks can do “surround,” but at the concert hall you are listening to 50-100 different instruments producing their own sound, from their own location, and then bouncing around the room that was created to bounce music before reaching your ears. Surround sound cannot replicate the acoustics of concert hall. At home you hear a recording; at the concert hall you hear the music.

    2.) Music is to be seen. Okay, I know, under normal circumstances, you can’t see sound waves. But what I mean is that music does not birth spontaneously from empty space. People make music, and people are alive, so music is alive. (not exactly a flawless syllogism, but I stand by the assertion none the less.) If you attend the performance of a symphony orchestra, you not only hear the music, but you see the music being made by the creators themselves. The conductor will lift his arms–baton in hand, and the musicians will respond. He is the head and they are the members of this music-producing body. The violin bows will point toward heaven, praying for the gift of music to be granted. The conductor will momentarily lift baton and eyebrows, both will fall, and the dance will begin. The musicians will sway, shoulders will lean, feet will arch, eyes will close, and chests will rise and fall. The music is alive, because its creators are alive. The instruments themselves come to life as their masters lovingly draw the music out of them while stage lights shimmer on brass and lacquer.

    All of this focuses on the musicians themselves leaving out the lighting and architecture of the building. At the Schermerhorn in Nashville, we are blessed with exquisite chandeliers; ornately decorated, vaulted ceilings; and stately, columned architecture. The pipes from the organ stand at perpetual attention behind the stage and exhibit their visual beauty whether or not they are producing their aural beauty.

    All of this is yours to take in at your discretion. Watch it all at once, or focus on one specific thing at a time. It’s your call, but only if you’re there.

    3.) Music is to be felt. You will not only see and hear the music, you will feel it. There is a visceral delight that can only come when the mezzo piano pizzicato of the strings cadences and the full ensemble enters at a solid forte. It hits you. You feel it, and it feels good. You’re alive and they’re alive, and the music is alive. You’re right; you can feel the boom of speakers at home or in the car. We’ve all experienced the boom of the speakers from someone else’s car, but the feeling I’m talking about is not detached from the other two points I’ve made.

    The “feeling” of the music is the culmination of the acoustics, the lights, the conductor, the musicians, and even the little old lady sitting next to you, who smiles when the cadence is especially sweet. Life doesn’t happen in boxes. It happens all at once, and feeling the music at a live symphony performance happens all at once. You must hear the music and see the music and be in the music in order to feel the music in this way.

    schmerhorn 1A symphony orchestra is a crowning achievement of the triune God who made heaven and earth. He is one, and he is three, all at once, all the time. A symphony is 50-100 musicians living and breathing together for 1-2 hours. It is one and it is many, in a way that no other genre of music has ever come close to achieving. A symphony is on a whole other level. It transcends, yet it is right there in front of you, as well as around you, to enjoy.

    So, carpe symphoniam, seize the symphony. If you don’t love it now, devote yourself to it, and grow to love it. You will be blessed, and the world will be blessed that another image-bearer of God has become a patron of symphonic music. In our decadent culture, orchestral music needs all the patrons she can get.

  • Tasting Death

    person of christ“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.)

  • What is the Gospel?

    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?

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  • Hating the Sin but Hating the Sinner

    How should the church respond to homosexuals? Recently, the Huffington Post published an article in which the author lamented the church’s attitude toward homosexuals, his main point being that while Christians readily admit that everyone is a sinner, homosexuals are really the only group of people that receive the “sinner” label.  This, in turn, leads to homosexuals feeling like outsiders within the church. The author feels this is not an acceptable response, and is therefore led to the conclusion that he can no longer “hate the sin, but love the sinner.”  You can read that article here.

    The view represented in this article has gained a lot of traction among Christians in recent years. While this is partly due to conviction, I can’t help but believe that a large segment is just exhausted… exhausted over the arguing, exhausted with being labeled a hate-monger, exhausted with the church telling them how they should act and think, but not seeing any progress in the world. In other words, if they have responded to homosexuals the way the church has told them is the biblical response, then there should have been a cultural decline in homosexuality. There hasn’t been, of course, which leaves the church scratching her head and pursuing new courses of action, whether it be redefining homosexuality in moral terms, or redefining what the church’s role is supposed to be toward sinful lifestyles.

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  • Slavery, Polygamy, and the Bible

    Slave image

    (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…)

  • Liturgical Dancing

    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.

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