Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Liturgical Function of Congregational Singing

The liturgical function of congregational singing is prayer. It is our response to God's words to us in the context of Christ's service to us in Word and Meal.

When people pray in church, most of the time they almost instinctively use "we," "us" and "our" language, not "I," "me" and "my" language. We should follow this same practice in congregational singing, simply because congregational singing functions as our prayer response to our triune God and his Word and grace.

In the Gospel narratives, there are examples of characters who use "I," "me" and "my" language, showing their true state. For example, the devil's language is filled with "I," "me" and "my" language in Luke 4 as he tempts the Lord to worship him. The rich farmer in Luke 12, who is not rich toward God, also exalts himself and exposes his heart with his use of "I," "me" and "my" language. These negative examples, and others, should give us pause before singing the song of self in church. When we sing about our praise or devotion in "I," "me" and "my" language one has to wonder if our self-referential language is not a giveaway to our soul's condition.

In response to this criticism, people often point to the Psalms. The Psalms, they say, are filled with "I," "me" and "my" language, so doesn't this give us license to use "I," "me" and "my" language however we like? The answer is no, for a couple of reasons. First, the Psalms were sometimes individual prayers, and not all the Psalms were used in a corporate setting. But, second, and more importantly, the true speaker of the Psalms is Jesus Christ, who speaks as our representative. Jesus Christ our King, fully man and fully God, represents us before the Father and the Psalms are a record of his prayers, praises, instruction and laments. He is the true worshiper in whom our worship is accepted.

"I," "me" and "my" language is not the only problem with congregational singing in Evangelical churches today. There is also the problem of unbiblical and false theology in so many of our contemporary praise songs. It used to be that at least the "I," "me" and "my" language was followed by sound theology from the pens of people like Watts, Wesley or Crosby, but this is no longer the case, and one of the reasons we don't see it is that most people learn their theology, not from the Bible, but from congregational singing, which has been faulty for a few decades now. Frankly, we have just gotten used to bad theology when we sing, and the only cure for our blindness is a Berean attitude that checks our lyrics/prayers against Scripture.

Not everyone will agree with my assessment of the sad state of congregational singing in Evangelical churches. Some will criticize me for being unloving, legalistic and judgmental. But for those who think that Jesus should guide us when we pray/sing in church ("When you (plural) pray, say, "our" Father...give "us" this day...lead "us" not into temptation...deliver "us" from evil," --- not a single "I," "me" and "my"), then, what should we do, given this situation we cannot avoid? 

My own answer is to do one of three things when I am in church, and I would recommend these steps if you hold the same position as me:

1) If the "I," "me" and "my" language is accompanied by sound theology, sometimes I will sing along.

2) Sometimes I will sing and replace the "I," "me" and "my" with "we," "us" and "our."

3) Sometimes, especially if the "I," "me" and "my" is accompanied by faulty theology, I will just use the time to read a Psalm or bow my head to pray individually. But, you say, in reading or praying individually, aren't you doing the very thing you criticize? In the case of reading Scripture, we read so little of it these days in church that it is probably what we should be doing in greater measure! In the case of praying, I am not against an inner dialogue to accompany the corporate dialogue of worship. Besides, what other choice do I have if the self-language is accompanied by bad theology? Should one lie in the presence of Christ as he dwells among his people?

May the Lord Jesus take note of one poor sinner's lament for a more biblical worship. If it be his will, in mercy may he grant the return of congregational singing to its proper liturgical function.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Seeing Christ in the Psalms: Psalm 114

Psalm 114 English Standard Version (ESV)

 When Israel went out from Egypt,
    the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became his sanctuary,
    Israel his dominion.
The sea looked and fled;
    Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
    the hills like lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you flee?
    O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams?
    O hills, like lambs?
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
    at the presence of the God of Jacob,who turns the rock into a pool of water,
    the flint into a spring of water.

Psalm 114 speaks of the exodus, which was a type of the greater exodus Jesus accomplished through his death and resurrection.

The great blessing of the first exodus was that "Judah became his sanctuary."  The Lord was present with Judah during the first exodus.  But in a greater way after the true exodus, Jesus is with his people, who are his sanctuary and temple.  Jesus is present with his people, and we with him, by the Spirit he sends to indwell us.  Inwardly, Christians have returned to the garden temple of Eden, and can enjoy the life that comes from fellowship with the Father and the Son.

Verses 3-6 speak of the reaction of the inanimate creation to the Lord's presence in the first exodus.  The waters of the Red Sea and Jordan parted and Mt. Sinai shook.  But if inanimate things had such a reaction to the Lord's presence, how much more should animate creatures made in his image fear and love the Lord for his blessed presence with us.  His presence is the water of life for our souls, for the true Rock was struck at the cross, so that we might drink continually from the fountain of eternal life.

A Weakness of the Present Era of the Church

George Horne comments on Psalm 114:1-2.  Notice, how he sees the Christian's relationship to the world as an antichrist system.  How little we hear from the pulpit these days about the world as one of the three enemies of the people of God along with the flesh and the devil.  It is a weakness in our understanding that other eras in church history better understood.

Psalm 114:1-2
When Israel went out from Egypt,
    the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, 
Judah became his sanctuary,
    Israel his dominion.

"When Jahweh delivered Israel from the bondage of Egypt he chose them for his peculiar people, his presence resided in their camp, as in a 'sanctuary,' or temple; and he ruled them as an earthly king exercises sovereignty in his 'dominions.' This world, and the prince of this world, are to us, what Egypt and Pharaoh were to Israel.  The redemption of our nature, by the resurrection of Christ, answers to their redemption by the hand of Moses.  When we are baptized into the death and resurrection of our Lord, we renounce the world, its pomp and vanities; and should, therefore, quit its corrupt 'language,' manners, and customs, with as much alacrity and expedition, as the family of Jacob left those of Egypt.  We are the 'sanctuary,' the temple, in which Christ dwells by his Spirit."

Friday, April 17, 2015

Articles: Transgenderism: A Return to Pagan Mythology

Articles: Transgenderism: A Return to Pagan Mythology   From the article:

What about us mere mortals who accept the reality of their God-given sex? What about the vast majority of us human beings who not only accept the reality of male and female, but actually rejoice in the fixed distinctions between the sexes as a blessing from the Almighty?
As it turns out, we are the ones who are regarded by the Left as delusional, hate-filled people. Though we align ourselves with the scientific knowledge that the human race is divided into male and female, though we believe that “gender” is not infinitely malleable; though we align ourselves with the knowledge every civilization past and present is built on, the Left regards us as delusional and lovers of myth. We are children who don’t realize the emperor really is clothed, not naked; that he is an android, not a man at all.
Like all mythical delusions and fantasies the Left embraces, force is required in order to get the common sense populace who believe in material reality to knuckle under to nonsensical myth. Political fantasies about reality always lead to tyranny. 

Seeing Jesus Christ in the Psalms: Psalm 113

Psalm 113 English Standard Version (ESV)

Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord,
    praise the name of the Lord!
Blessed be the name of the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
    the name of the Lord is to be praised!
The Lord is high above all nations,
    and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like the Lord our God,
    who is seated on high,
who looks far down
    on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
    making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!

We praise Jesus Christ, the LORD incarnate "from this time forth and forevermore."  At all times (v. 2) and in all places (v. 3), Jesus' name is to be praised.  For the Father has raised his body from the grave, to rule over all, at his right hand (v. 7-8).  And just as the Son emptied himself in his incarnation, his poverty culminating at the cross, so now he lifts poor sinners who humble themselves by acknowledging their sin and turning to him for salvation.  He makes sinners like us, who have lived in the shame of sin and death, to sit with him in the heavenly realms (v. 7-8).

His people, his church, have no fertility, fruitfulness or life in themselves.  The church is the barren woman of verse 9.  But joined to Christ, he gives the Spirit to his people.  The Spirit lifts us to Christ, who is our true home. Like our Lord, and like the barren women of Scripture, the church on earth suffers in a hostile world.  But joined to our Husband, we bear children, borne not of the flesh, but of the Spirit.

The Lord Jesus has been lifted to the invisible, heavenly realm, the glory of which is reflected by the visible heavens (v. 4-6).  How wonderful it is to look at the skies and see the glory and beauty of Christ.  But sin and death has entered the world, therefore verse 7 speaks of the "dust" with its connotations of death and "ashes" with its connotations of sin.  What a God and Savior, who not only looked down (v. 6), but came down to raise us from such a depth to such a height!

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Incarnate LORD's Jealousy

Deuteronomy 6:13-15 English Standard Version (ESV)

13 It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. 14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— 15 for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.

One of the most misunderstood attributes of the Lord is his jealousy. People attack this attribute as unworthy of the Lord. But they fail to see that the jealousy of the Lord points to his deep love for his people.

The relationship between the Lord and his people is like a marriage. Jealousy is a product of love that wants what is best for the other and desires fellowship and intimacy.

The jealousy of the Lord is invariably mentioned in contexts of idolatry. When his people join themselves to idols, and seek from those idols what ought to be sought only in the Lord, then his jealousy is aroused.

Part of our loyalty to our divine Husband is that Jesus Christ, who paid the bride price through his sacrifice on the cross, is our sole Husband and sole Teacher. He instructs us in the way, and in fact, Jesus is the way. If we gather to ourselves other teachers, this brings our Lord's jealousy and grieves the Spirit. He alone has the right to teach us. All other teaching must be judged against His.

I am afraid this is a truth not many professing Christians have learned. We need to learn it, because the Lord incarnate is still a jealous God.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

How the Imagery of Scripture Enhances our Desire for the Triune God

One of the things I am learning from Scripture is the value of imagery, and how imagery makes the world and the Christian message so attractive to the soul.

For example, when we see trees, we are able to see beauty and this beauty reflects the beauty of their Maker. But when we look at the symbolic significance of trees in the Bible, what we see in trees as they reflect the Lord and his character is enhanced.

To illustrate, the tree of life was planted in the middle of Eden. Its fruit gave eternal life. Why did it give eternal life? Later Scripture answers. Proverbs three likens wisdom to a tree of life. The lampstand in the temple was modeled after a tree with seven branches. In the last book and last chapter of the Bible, Revelation, trees line the bank of the river of life and their leaves are for the healing of the people.

When we put this together, it is difficult to look at trees the same way. Trees in their verdancy and fruitfulness are a picture of God's wisdom that brings life and light and healing to the soul. The beauty of trees we see everyday is an incentive to seek the Father's wisdom in his Son, for the life and healing of our souls!

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