Law and Liturgy

Liturgies of the Western Church, by Bard Thompson, has been invaluable to me over the past few years as I consider the worship of the church. One of the more interesting things I gleaned from this book, with the help of a professor, comes from the liturgy of John Calvin’s churches in Strasbourg and Geneva.

Calvin, following Bucer, emphasized what has come to be known as the ‘third use’ of the law in worship:

In the main, however, as one can see in the liturgy of Grund und Ursach, Bucer used the law as Calvin also used it in worship: not to accuse sinners, but to bring the faithful to true piety by teaching them the divine will and exhorting them to obedience (p. 164).

Likewise,

In his Strassburg text, Calvin appointed the Ten Commandments be sung after Confession, even as Bucer had suggested in Grund und Ursach. Here he employed the Law according to its ‘third and principle use’; not to accuse and convict the sinner (in which case the Commandments would likely precede Confession) but to bring the penitents to true piety by teaching them the will of God and exhorting them to obey. ‘In this way the saints must press on’ (Institutes 2:7:12) (p. 191).

This seems like an insignificant point, but it had a marvelous effect on me. My home-church, for years, had a practice which has recently been changed. I really wish it hadn’t been changed; and I fear the reason it was changed was out of ignorance to this point. Let me explain.

During a service that involved the Lord’s Supper, we would recite the Apostles’ Creed followed by the Ten Commandments. Having learned the intentionality of Calvin’s liturgy, this bore a certain weight with me. I would reflect each service on the glory of faith before obedience, of accepting the gospel as the sole enabling for the keeping of the law, and as the sole source of forgiveness in my constant failure to do so.

The problem lies in the fact that many only see the law as either a) condemning and pointing us to Christ or b) something we can keep in our own strength. The Creed before the Law emphasizes that it is faith in Christ that leads to sanctification; that the gospel enables us to keep the law; that all our power for obedience is derived from what Christ has done for us. It drives us to Christ for forgiveness to be sure, but it also drives us to him to gain strength for obedience.

Calvin’s liturgy began with a confession of sin, yet the creed was sung before the law. This reflects a note that is missing in the modern church: the law condemns us and drives us to Christ, but once it has done so, faith in Christ now empowers us to new obedience. As John Flavel, Samuel Bolton, and others have said: the law sends us to Christ to be justified, and then Christ sends us back to the law to frame our way of life. But he never bids us keep the law under our own power. It is only Holy Spirit-wrought faith in him, living, dying, rising, that will empower us.

This is the indicative before the imperative played out in worship: to confess the faith before reciting the law; to confess our sins, to confess our faith, and then to confess the law anew as believers in Christ. Reciting the law before faith and reciting the law after faith are two totally different things.

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Worship: Are We Coming to Give or Get?

Most evenings, during my drive home from work, I listen to a certain preacher on the radio. He’s a well-known, well-respected, and good preacher. This past week the sermons have focused on the subject of worship. As he preached through a few Old Testament texts in order to set forth his theme of worship, one of his regular refrains was something to the effect of ‘We don’t come to get in worship, we come to give.’

This theme was driven home again to me in my reading this week. I was revisiting a book on worship that I had read several years ago. The author made essentially the same point.

Now, back to the preacher. His contention was that, in worship, you come to give your best to God. As King David put it, ‘I will not offer burnt sacrifices that cost me nothing.’ Bring your best in worship, be prepared to give your whole heart to him, be prepared to reach deep into your soul, and deep into your pockets, and leave it all on the altar. You come in worship to give your best to God. That’s the idea, as I conceive it, that I am dealing with. And I intend to brush back against it a bit.

First, let me be clear that I believe that our primary focus in worship should be that God is glorified. No worship is true worship that does not glorify God. But, the question then turns to How is God glorified? Is he glorified by my singing my heart out and emptying my pockets out? Is he glorified by me, like a football player, leaving it all out on the field and pouring myself into acts of worship? Perhaps. But that depends.

The Pharisees, one might contend, laid it all on the altar. They tithed the mint and cumin. They offered long prayers. They always dressed in their Sabbath best. But all the while, according to Jesus’ story (Luke 18:9-14), among those long prayers were those that said, ‘Lord, I thank you that I am not like this publican.’ The publican didn’t do it right. He didn’t tithe the mint and cumin. He didn’t dress the part. He didn’t worship properly.

But he was the one who went home justified.

The intentions of this idea that worship is about giving to God are good. We want to brush back against the modern notion of church as entertainment, of church being catered to meet the pleasures of men. We want to brush back against a ‘buffet’ style of church that says ‘Come and get what you want, what you need.’ And so we say, ‘It’s not about you.’ And that’s right. It’s not about us. It is about God. But how do we make it about God? By putting on our best? By giving him all we have? By singing our hearts out? Again I say perhaps, but it depends.

What did the publican have to give? Nothing. He beat his breast, and begged for mercy. That’s worship. No greater statement of worship was ever given than ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’ That statement acknowledges that God is God, that man is fallen, and that God is a merciful God who shows compassion to the contrite. He is high and lofty, making his abode in the highest heavens, but he is meek and merciful, taking up residence with those who are sorry for how they have defamed him.

Toplady’s great hymn captures the essence of a worshiping heart:

Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling.
Naked come to thee for dress.
Helpless look to thee for grace.

So, in fact, our view that in worship we come to give to God is quite wrong if taken on its own. We come to get in worship. We come to confess that we have nothing to give. We come with empty hands to a merciful God. We come in the spirit of Psalm 81:10:

  • I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

That verse is written in the context of worship, and it invokes the image of a baby bird. The little bird has nothing to offer its mother. It only opens wide its mouth and looks up. And, as a good mother, she provides food. So, we must come to worship, as Toplady says, with nothing in our hands. We must come, as the psalmist says, with open mouths like a hungry baby looking to be fed.

Do not therefore think that you have anything to give to the Lord of the universe. Do not think that you have anything even to offer. God says,

  • If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it (Ps. 50:12).

He doesn’t need to be sustained by your songs. Neither his belly nor his coffer are empty. Your money does nothing for him. He is no fashion cop. He doesn’t say, ‘My doesn’t old so and so look good today.’ He doesn’t care about your hair, or how much fiber gum or moose you have in it. He doesn’t care about your fancy Bible cover, or about how you lifted your hands at just the right part of the song. He doesn’t care about your techno lights or how great your praise band is. He doesn’t care how eloquent your prayer was.

Instead, he says, ‘Open your mouth, and I will fill it.’ He wants you to come to him empty, seeking food; dead, seeking life; lost, seeking direction; orphaned, seeking a Father; damned, seeking a Savior; godless, seeking God. He wants you to come to get.

Contrary to the prosperity preachers, he doesn’t want you coming to sow your seed and get your bills paid. Contrary to the motivational speakers, he doesn’t want you coming to get worldly encouragement. But he does want you coming to get – coming to get God himself. And the cross of Jesus Christ is the great proof that God is willing to do just that – to give himself for, and to, poor sinners with no means of ever repaying him.

So why do we worship? We worship to get God through Jesus Christ. To seek his presence, to seek his providence, to seek his provision, to seek his prescriptions. And when we come in that way he is glorified. Here, like in so many other of the teachings of Scripture, we have a paradox. If you want to live, die. If you want to glorify God, then realize that you have nothing to offer. Come hungry. Come thirsty. Come empty. Come expecting. Open your mouth that he might fill it. Be the baby bird in the nest, and nothing more.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.

To Gaze at the Beauty of the Lord

I offer my translation of Psalm 27:4:

One thing I have asked of the LORD:
To make my abiding in the house the LORD,

Each day of my life,

To gaze at the beauty of the LORD
And contemplate in his temple

David was a poet, the sweet psalmist of Israel. He had one desire – to abide in the Lord’s house, to behold his beauty, to reflect in his temple – and these three are one.

But he was no romantic.

David, where do you see the beauty of God? Answer: Amidst the people of God. Amidst the smell of the smoke of the burnt offering, mingled with the smoke of incense. Amidst the blood of the sacrifices, and the water of cleansing. Amidst the priests and their vestments. Here I see beauty, the very beauty of the LORD. In the worship of the LORD, with the people of the LORD, in the way of the LORD.

To abide, to gaze, and to reflect in God’s house is to abide in, gaze upon, and think about Jesus Christ. He is the Tent of God that covers us in the day of trouble (v. 5a), the  rocky Summit that lifts us from adversity (v. 5b). He is the sacrifice that brings shouts of joy (v. 6a). He is our song (v. 6b).

Why do we gather together and sing? Why do we lift our voices? Why do we make melody? The beauty of Christ demands it. Not that his beauty demands it in the sense of law, but in the sense of fittingness. It is fitting to sing praises to One so great, so glorious, so beautiful.

He is our answered prayer (v. 7), the Yes and Amen of God. He reveals to us the glory of God in his own face (v. 8). Why do we gather together? To seek the face of God, the beauty of God, which he has revealed to us in his own person and work.

He is the friend that sticks closer than a father or mother, much less a brother (v. 10). He is our hope that, like Job said of old, we will see God in resurrected flesh (v. 13). Why do we gather together? To behold the face of a friend, a beautiful friend, and find hope in the resurrection.

We come together to wait upon the LORD (v. 14a), to receive our marching orders, to find strength and courage to bear our weakness and the week (v. 14b).

In all of this – as we abide, gaze, reflect; as we celebrate atonement, find refuge, shout for joy, sing, voice our amens, seek his face, find a friend, hope in the resurrection – in the midst of the smoke and blood and shouts – we worship. Our worship should be aimed at abiding in him, gazing at him, thinking about him. And as we abide, gaze, and think, we shall be more like him.

That’s why we gather together for worship. Not out of tradition, not for fun, not for entertainment – but to gaze at his beauty and respond appropriately.

Family Worship: Biblical Examples

I picked up Thoughts on Family Worship, by J.W. Alexander from the church library today. In the opening chapter he gathers evidence for the practice of family worship/family religion (though the word ‘religion’ is much maligned these days) in the Bible (as well as in church history). In this post I have collected some of the texts he used as examples, for my own future reference, along with a few texts I have added and some introductory comments. And as if that weren’t enough, I throw in a relevant Jonathan Edwards quote that I think summarizes the biblical picture of family worship well.

1. Noah led his family into the ark:

  • Genesis 7:7 And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood.

2. Abraham was commanded to teach his family ‘to keep the way of the LORD’:

  • Genesis 18:19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

3. Isaac ‘not only renews the fountains which his father had opened, but keeps up his devotions, building an altar at Beersheba’ (J.W. Alexander, Thoughts on Family Worship, p. 13):

  • Genesis 26:24 And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.

4. ‘The book of Deuteronomy is full of family religion; as an example of which we may specially note the sixth chapter (Ibid, pp. 13-14)’:

  • Deuteronomy 6:6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

5. Not Joshua alone, but all those under his authority, in his house, will serve the LORD:

  • Joshua 24:15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

6. Job’s faith led him to consecrate his children to the LORD, and offer up sacrifices for them habitually, even when sacrifice had not yet been explicitly commanded:

  • Job 1:5 And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.

7. David not only pronounced benediction upon the people of Israel but saved a special benediction for his family:

  • 2 Samuel 6:18 And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts 19 and distributed among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed, each to his house. 20 ¶ And David returned to bless his household.

8. Perhaps David had learned the importance of family worship from the practice of his own parents:

  • 1 Samuel 20:6 If thy father at all miss me, then say, David earnestly asked leave of me that he might run to Bethlehem his city: for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family.

9. God calls families to his solemn assembly:

  • Joel 2:15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.

10. When God brings Israel to repentance over the death of the Messiah, he will do so by families:

  • Zechariah 12:10 ¶ “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. 11 On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 The land shall mourn, each family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; 13 the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; 14 and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.

11. Parents brought their children to Christ to receive his blessing:

  • Luke 18:15 ¶ Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.

12. Believing spouses and parents have a sanctifying effect on all those in their house:

  • 1 Corinthians 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

13. The ‘household’ passages of the New Testament demonstrate household religious practice:

  • Acts 16:15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
  • Acts 18:8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household.
  • Acts 10:1 ¶ At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.

14. Aquila and Priscilla, ‘Paul’s “helpers in Christ Jesus,”…were able to teach a young minister the way of God more perfectly…You will find that one reason for their familiarity with the Scriptures was that they had a “church in their house” (Alexander):

  • 1 Corinthians 16:19 ¶ The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.

A Jonathan Edwards quote comes to mind, so with it I close this post:

Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church, consecrated to Christ, and wholly influenced and governed by his rules. And family education and order are some of the chief means of grace. If these fail, all other means are likely to prove ineffectual. If these are duly maintained, all the means of grace will be likely to prosper and be successful (reference coming).

This is No Time for Singing, Yet the Singers Leave No Time for Preaching

For Timothy (Read his post)

Qualifier – I love music, especially music (not entertainment)  in church, but these quotes are pure gold.

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Two quotes from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones pertaining to music in worship services:

1. This is no time for singing:

I am no opponent of singing, we are to sing God’s praises in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Yes, but again there is a sense of proportion even here. Have you not noticed how singing is becoming more and more prominent? People, Christian people, meet together to sing only.  “Oh,” they say, “we do get a word in.”  But the singing is the big thing. At a time like this, at an appalling time like this, with crime and violence, and sin, and perversions, God’s name desecrated and the sanctities being spat upon, the whole state of the world surely says that this is not a time for singing …We are just singing. We are wafting ourselves into some happy atmosphere. We sing together.  My dear friends, this is no time for singing. ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ (Ps. 137:4). How can we take down our harps when Zion is as she is?

This is no time for singing, it is a time for thinking, for preaching, for conviction. It is a time for proclaiming the message of God and his wrath upon evil, and all our foolish aberrations. The time for singing will come later. Let the great revival come, let the windows of heaven be opened, let us see men and women by the thousands brought into the kingdom of God and then it will be time to sing. Let us beware of this subtle temptation to entertain people, thinking that thereby we can attract them and save them, thinking that thereby we can keep ourselves happy…I ask you solemnly, is this a time for entertainment? Is it not a time, rather, for fasting, for sackcloth and ashes, for waiting upon God in an agony of soul? You cannot mix singing with that, these things do not go together. (Revival, pp. 63-64).

He may have overstated this a bit – but his point is well taken. What words could be more appropriate for us than, ‘let us beware of this subtle temptation to entertain people’?

It also brings to mind the words of Jesus:

  • ‘And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast'” (Matthew 9:15).

Perhaps this could be a case for an increase in the singing of psalms. Our modern music lacks the tone of lament so prevalent in the psalter.

2. The Singers leave no time for preaching:

Still worse has been the increase in the element of entertainment in public worship – the use of films and the introduction of more and more singing; the reading of the Word and prayer shortened drastically, but more and more time given to singing. You have a ‘song leader’ as a new kind of official in the church, and he conducts the singing and is supposed to produce the atmosphere. But he often takes so much time in producing the atmosphere that there is no time for preaching in the atmosphere! This is a part of this whole depreciation of the message (Preaching and Preachers, p. 17).

That one speaks for itself, I’ll spare comment.