Thursday, November 29, 2012

Our Ascent with Christ: Calvin's View

From Julie Canlis' book "Calvin's Ladder" (the quotes are from Calvin):

"'As God he [Christ] is the destination to which we move; as man, the path by which we go. Both are found in Christ alone.' The descending and ascending structure that 
Jesus' life took is to be the shape of the Christian life as well. . . . 'For we must remember that our Lord descends to us, not to indulge our body, or keep our senses fixed on the world, but rather to draw us to himself, and hence the preamble of the ancient Church, Hearts upward, as Chrysostom interprets.'"

Canlis' book is tremendous. She shows us how we have failed to understand that we not only die with Christ, but also ascend with Him by the Spirit. Even our response to Christ must be empowered by Him, and this response brings us upward to Himself.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew" --- An Important Book for Understanding the Gospel of Matthew

Jonathan Pennington
I have been reading Jonathan Pennington's book, "Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew." Pennington shows that Matthew's use of the word "heaven" is used to contrast the ways of God with the ways of this world. Because Christians belong to the kingdom of heaven and have a heavenly Father, they are a heavenly people and should align themselves with heaven rather than earth. Pennington's book is too technical to slog through for most people, but pastors should look at his findings, which demolish the long held notion notion that Matthew uses the phrase, "kingdom of heaven," as a reverent circumlocution to avoid saying the name of God.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Essay and Hymn on the Pattern of the Divine Service

Ask the average Evangelical or Reformed Christian to give the purpose of Christian worship services, and they will give you an answer like this:  Worship is giving praise to God; or, in the worship service we ascribe worth or glory to God. 

I want to suggest that this answer is misleading because it gets the direction of service wrong and ignores the answer that the Word and the incarnate Word give us.  Worship, as defined by our Lord Jesus Christ, is, first and foremost, His service to us in Word and meal.  As our Lord himself said, “For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”  There is a reason that we call the liturgy of the church the Divine Service.  Worship in the church is, first of all, about what Jesus Christ does, not about what we do.  We come to Christ in worship, first, to be served by Him, rather than to serve Him through our thanks and praise.

The first objection to this divine service view of worship might be that it is too self-centered.  Doesn’t this view of worship mean that we are coming to Christ in order to get something?  Is Christ’s kingdom a nanny state?  And the answer is in many ways, yes, because of the nature of who He is and who we are.  Jesus is the Lord, the self-existent I AM, who assumed our nature, died and rose in our nature, and is now exalted in our nature to David’s throne where He reigns over all and blesses His church.  We are His dependent creatures, who through faith in Him, have become the Father’s little children, dependent on His Son for every spiritual blessing.

We come to worship each Lord’s Day in order to receive Christ and his benefits.  But this is not selfish or self-centered, but rather a simple recognition of a spiritual reality that Jesus himself taught us, that apart from him we can do nothing; that the poor in spirit are blessed who have nothing to give to God, except their sin; that we are like little infants who depend on God the way little babies depend on their mothers and fathers for every need and blessing.  To come to receive from the Lord in worship recognizes the reality that God is glorified in saving, teaching, feeding, and defending his people through His Son.  As the Lord says in the context of worship, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15).  Only as we recognize our need and dependence, do we honor God as our Savior and Sustainer.  He must give and teach and feed and save, and then, we give him thanks and praise.

I wrote the hymn below as a hymn for the opening of worship.  I wrote it with the hope that it might reorient our thinking about worship, so that we might come to the worship service to meet with Christ in order to receive from him.  For, primarily, worship is about his blessing of us, not our blessing of him.

Another way we see the primacy of Christ’s service, not ours, in the liturgy of worship, is through the pattern Jesus gave us for the worship of his church.  Especially in Luke’s Gospel, the pattern we see again and again is teaching and meal.  How amazing that God would come and eat and drink with sinners!  But when we see Jesus eating with sinners in Luke’s Gospel, the pattern is always teaching and then a meal (see Arthur Just’s commentary on Luke for an explication of this pattern).  This pattern never varies, and it forms the basis for the Christian liturgy, which has always, until recent times, followed this two part structure: the Service of the Word followed by the Service of the Table.

I would contend that in recent times we have made a mistake by abandoning the pattern Jesus gave us for a new pattern: a Service of Music followed by a Service of the Word.  We see this change, first, in the changes we have made to the reading of Scripture in our services.

In Bryan Chappell’s book, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice, he charts the liturgies of the church through the centuries.  In the Service of the Word, part one of the liturgy, there has always been set readings of Scripture:

ROME pre-1570
LUTHER 1526
CALVIN 1542
WESTMINSTER 1645
RAYBURN 1980
OT reading
Epistle reading
Psalm sung
Gospel reading
Epistle reading
Gospel reading

Psalm sung
Ten Commandments
Scripture reading
OT reading
Psalm sung
NT reading
Psalm sung
Scripture reading
OT reading
NT reading
Sermon Scripture reading

While I would fault Luther for his removal of the Old Testament reading, the Lutheran church wisely did not follow him at this point.  Lutherans today have an Old Testament reading.  Similarly, Calvin eliminated the Old Testament reading, probably because the Old Testament was covered on weekdays in Geneva. Still, however, one can see that the Service of the Word included the reading of God’s Word.  But, today, in our innovative liturgical pattern of music and Word, set readings of Scripture seem to be out of vogue.  Set readings are now down to one, namely, the text for the sermon, and even that is sometimes not read in its literary context for the sake of time!

A second way we see a structural change in the liturgy from Word and meal to music and Word is in our use of songs/hymns.  In the pattern that Jesus gave us of Word and meal, songs fit into their ritual context.  An opening hymn, for example, usually focuses on God’s nature, his tri-unity, and his works as a response to God’s call to worship.  A song after the confession of sins and assurance of pardon gives praise or thanks after hearing Christ’s law and gospel.  A song before the sermon prays for illumination as we prepare to hear Christ through the preached word.  Every song or hymn has a liturgical function.  This is also how songs functioned in the temple worship according to Chronicles.  John Kleinig’s book, The Lord’s Song: The Basis, Function and Significance of Choral Music in Chronicles details the liturgical function of music in the liturgy of the temple.  But in the service of music we have invented to precede the service of the Word, our songs are often divorced from the Word, so that they are no longer a proclamation of the Word or a response to it.  This does not bother us because we wrongly conceive of worship as our service of praise/music to God, rather than Christ’s service of the Word to us.

In the hymn below, I try to re-orient our thinking about what worship really is.  Worship is not just singing, but includes hearing Christ and His Word.  Worship is not just singing praise, but also a meal that we eat in the presence of the risen Lord.  Both of these truths are counterintuitive to us, but we need to recover them if we are going to recover the pattern of teaching and meal Jesus gave his church.  In Jesus’ table fellowship, three things were included: Jesus’ presence, Jesus’ teaching, and a meal.  These are the three things that are still needed for the divine service of worship when Christians gather together.

While it is true that we can miss the glory and beauty of Christ even if we follow our Lord’s pattern for worship, failing to offer our lives to him in faith and repentance, nevertheless, part of repentance and faith for this generation of Christians may be to recover the pattern of worship our Lord gave us, both for His glory and our good.  Amen.


We Come to You Today

To the tune: LAUDES DOMINI When Morning Guilds the Skies (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=812).  Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
We come to You today,
the day when You were raised,
O bless Your people, Lord.
We lift our hearts to You,
and ask You to renew,
O bless Your people, Lord.

v. 2
Your glory help us see,
Your grace and majesty:
the Lamb is now the King.
Though You are King You serve,
in grace that’s undeserved,
have mercy on us, Lord.

v. 3
Enlighten darkened minds,
by nature we are blind,
Lord, teach us by Your Word.
Instruct and catechize,
the hearers and baptized,
Lord, bless us through Your Word.

v. 4
The humble, Lord, You bless,
and therefore we confess,
we need Your risen life.
You are our life and breath,
apart from You is death,
Lord, breathe in us Your life.

v. 5
We come to You to dine,
at table to recline,
Lord, give us heaven’s food.
Though poor and weak we come,
Your work for us is done,
Your presence is our good.

One note about verse 3 above.  The early church divided worshipers into two groups: the hearers and the baptized.  The hearers were those who were catechumens, not yet baptized, who were learning the faith and moving toward baptism.  The hearers would be dismissed after the service of the Word.  Only the baptized (who also were still learners!) were allowed to stay for the Service of the Table.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Raised With Christ---hymn based on Luke 24:50-53

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. [51] While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. [52] And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, [53] and were continually in the temple blessing God.
(Luke 24:50-53 ESV)

Raised with Christ to Courts of Heaven

To the tune: PRAISE MY SOUL (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=596).  Based on Luke 24:50-53.  Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1 
Raised with Christ to courts of heaven,
in the Lord we now abide.
Raised through faith and by the Spirit,
raised to live near Jesus’ side.
With our Lord we’ve died and risen,
in our Lord we’re justified.

v. 2
Risen Lord, Yours is the power,
You have all authority.
Risen Priest, You’re ever blessing,
You have won the victory.
Reign from heaven, spread Your kingdom,
act with might in history.

v. 3
Father, send Your Holy Spirit,
clothe with power from on high.
Spirit, lift our hearts to heaven,
’round the throne of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, act through us with power,
that Your name be glorified.


v. 4
O the peace, the joy, the blessing,
we enjoy in Jesus Christ.
Raised with Him to blessed communion,
hidden from all human eyes.
Ever blessing, ever praising
Christ our Lord who gives us life.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Changing the Way We Look at "Nature"

I read this passage from Julie Canlis' excellent book today. If we made this point our own, it would transform the way we look at "nature" and the world around us!

"If we take communion to be the fundamental objective for the world that God has built (and not just a general 'union,' but specifically in the Mediator), Calvin's doctrine of creation opens before us with breathtaking possibility. 'Now the faithful, to whom he has given eyes, see sparks of his glory, as it were, glittering in every created thing. The world was no doubt made, that it might be the theater of the divine glory.' . . . Against the mechanistic view of the Stoics, Calvin shows the first member of the Trinity to be the 'foreseeing and diligent father of the family' who 'sustains, nourishes, and cares for everything he has made.' Those who 'observe secondary causes in nature' need also to 'ascend by them to God,' for this is not so much a matter of conservation but relationship. T. F. Torrance reminds us: 

'Calvin was so firm upon this point that he would have nothing to do with secondary causation in theology, and inveighed against the tendency, becoming rampant in his own day, of speaking of 'nature' instead of God . . . . Calvin's view of creation, and of the fallen world, was deeply biblical and Hebraic in his insistence that everything created and worldly had to be related to the direct action of the gracious will of God."

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Repentance in Luke --- Quote from Darrell Bock

‎"For Luke, repentance is the summary term for the response to the apostolic message. Change in thinking, or better, direction (i.e., a reorientation) is basic to the human response called for from God's message. People must change their minds about God and the way to him, especially in their thinking about sin, their (in)ability to overcome sin on their own, Christ's essential role in forgiveness, and the importance of depending on him for spiritual direction. Those responding to the apostolic message of the gospel must come to God on his terms in order to experience the forgiveness that comes in the name of Jesus.

"But repentance means more than changing one's mind about God. People must also change their minds about who they are and how they can approach God. Repentance involves turning to and embracing God in faith. Forgiveness of sin comes to those who stretch out a needy hand to Jesus, clinging to him alone and recognizing that without him there is no hope, just like one who comes to a doctor for help with their physical health (Luke 5:32). . . . In short, those who repent cast themselves on God's mercy, grace, direction, and plan. In this way, spiritual healing comes through the glorified Mediator, the Great Physician Jesus, who came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10)."

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