It must not content us to take our bodies to Church, if we leave our hearts at home.
It must not content us to take our bodies to Church, if we leave our hearts at home.
In the dictionary worship comes right after worn, worn-out, worry, worrywart, worse and worsen. Sometimes on Sunday mornings worship follows the same sequence. Getting children and young people to the worship place is too often as far as we get in helping our offspring to worship. As the dropout rate of older kids indicates, there has got to be a better way! … Recently I listened to a group of parents share their frustrations with Sunday mornings. These were parents whose lives are given to Christian ministry–parents steeped in Scripture, parents committed to rearing their children in ways that honor the Lord. Even though I understood, my heart just broke as Sunday morning was described as “the worst morning of my week.” One mother confessed, “Sometimes I’m relieved to stay home if one of the kids is sick.” Another shared, “I’m just exhausted by the time I get to church.” –Robbie Castleman, Parenting in the Pew
Getting the tribe to church can be an exercise in herding cats, but with the added task of getting the cats dressed and fed! Still, this herding is important since the last thing you want your kids to think is that the light yoke of following Jesus is really heavy on Sunday morning. If anything should be joyous, it’s worshipping the Maker of heaven and earth. Joyous, however, doens’t mean easy. Here are 8 ways to make church, and getting there, better. (more…)
From a post by Toby Sumpter:
“It occurred to me as I finished my sermon yesterday on the Second Commandment that the reason God prohibits carving other images to bow down to and serve is because they always function as excuses. They are lifeless but they demand our time and energy. You must light candles in front them, burn incense to them, bow down and say your prayers to them or through them, but meanwhile your wife needs help with the dishes or your husband could really use some encouragement or your children would really be blessed by a good wrestle or a book or just attentive conversation.”
Read the whole thing here.
I get asked regularly about what we do for “family worship.” Among Christians who love the faith and their kids, family worship becomes a topic of interest. My initial response is always ambivalent, encouraged on the one hand that someone wants to have a family culture that includes the Bible and devotion in the home, and slightly concerned because the common issues that plague “family worship” are considerable. For those considering implementing some version of family worship, here are some remarks that I hope are helpful.
1. Family Worship Isn’t Required by the Bible This might seem impious, but it’s really only impietistic. We simply are not required to have a set, formal, liturgical time of worship as families. I’m glad some people do this and benefit from it, and as far as they do, I’m for it, but no one should feel it is something they ought to do. This is not the same thing as saying parents shouldn’t read the Bible, pray and talk about God with their children. Of course they should. And it’s helpful if this is regular, methodical, and often. But some of the healthiest Christian families I know never had “family worship” formally conducted. They would read and discuss the Bible at meal and other times for particular seasons, sing and pray before going to bed etc, but these things were not done primarily in one sitting, not in what we would typically call family worship. I know there are lazy parents, particularly fathers, who don’t make time to regularly read and teach the Bible to their kids, and I know my point here will be used by them to justify and continue their laziness. This is what gracious biblical standards always do, and in response legalists try to curb sin by adding rules. So no excuses for lazy people, and no excuse for pietists combating laziness with legalism. (more…)
Contemporvant worship is funny and embarrassing, but one thing it is not: authentic.
The first birth I saw was not live but via that infamous high school biology video, the one where someone in the audience inevitably passes out. One girl did that year. This is always funnier than sad due to the fact that everyone just watched a person push another person, smaller but not reasonably small enough, out of her body. The woman groans, works and writhes until a new life breaches. It’s astonishing the mother is alive afterwards–something far more common in the past century–and even more astonishing that now she now cries not because of the agony that is finally over, but for overwhelming joy of what just came of that agony.
The Apostle Paul says that creation eagerly longs for the revealing of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19). Salvation is not simply occurring in the hearts of individuals while the rest of the earth waits around to be destroyed. Rather, all the earth (and beyond) is doing something in anticipation of final redemption, and that something is “groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom. 8:22). The creation has hips, and those hips are for birthing.
But isn’t Paul simply talking about believers eagerly looking forward to the conversion of others? No. We do this also, but it’s bigger than us. “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). Don’t feel left out. You are included and your body will be redeemed along with “creation itself [which] will be set free from its bondage to decay” (8:21).
The girl who hit the linoleum floor in biology class can’t be blamed. She had a weak stomach and no eyes for blood. We, however, don’t go to the nurse’s office so sympathetically. Paul is clearly saying that the world is pregnant, and as the saying goes, not a little bit. What is happening? According to some, the world is one giant miscarriage. God tried. He gave Adam and Eve everything they needed to succeed but they flubbed it. He wanted the human race fruitful and multiplied, loving and enjoying him and cultivating the earth. But that tubed. And now what we really need is a little more trauma in the Middle East for the rapture to begin so we can get out of the Hell here. This is easier than getting the Hell out, easier than enduring another contraction. Those hurt. There’s conflict. And fluids spill.
According to another view, what does pregnancy have to do with birth? What does the reign of King Jesus have to do with his kingdom here? I know, let’s multiply kingdoms (but leave out mention of other kings). Let’s give Jesus dominion over spiritual things in the church but that’s it. The word of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover that one puddle in my otherwise bone dry backyard. There’s the already, the not yet, and never shall there be any historical progression between the two. The baby might be further developed in week 26, but it might not. This view ignores the fact of maturity, the miraculous development of a fetus, the sure spread of the kingdom of God, the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
In God’s world, pregnancy has everything to do with birth. “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:24-25). The creation isn’t laboring in vain, but preparing for a glorious birthday. Preparing for a successful birth is different than insisting on a painless one. Since the fall, pain in childbirth is multiplied (Gen. 3:16). Unless a seed goes into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Tertullian was right to say the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. If this is true, and it is, and there were more Christian martyrs in the last hundred years than in the rest of the church’s history combined, then we have much to be encouraged by. But don’t be fooled. Braxton Hicks hurt, but they’re not the end. There is still much growing to do, far more knitting in the womb before the canal. This is going to be a big baby.
“The song, a form of prayer, in the festive dress of poetry and the elevated language of inspiration, raising the congregation to the highest pitch of devotion, and giving it a part in the heavenly harmonies of the saints. This passed immediately, with the psalms of the Old Testament, those inexhaustible treasures of spiritual experience, edification, and comfort, from the temple and the synagogue into the Christian church. The Lord himself inaugurated psalmody into the new covenant at the institution of the holy Supper, and Paul expressly enjoined the singing of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” as means of social edification. But to this precious inheritance from the past, whose full value was now for the first time understood in light of the New Testament revelation, the church, in the enthusiasm of her first love, added original, specifically Christian psalms, hymns, doxologies, and benedictions, which afforded the richest material for sacred poetry and music in succeeding centuries; the song of the heavenly hosts, for example, at the birth of the Saviour; the “Nunc dimittis” of Simeon; the “Magnificat” of the Virgin Mary; the “Benedictus” of Zacharias; the thanksgiving of Peter at his miraculous deliverance; the speaking with tongues in the apostolic churches, which, whether song or prayer, was always in the elevated language of enthusiasm; the fragments of hymns scattered through the Epistles; and the lyrical and liturgical passages, the doxologies and antiphonies of the Apocalypse.” Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 1, p. 463-4.
As we have said, the division in principle between “corporate” and “private” worship must be discarded. The purpose of worship is to constitute the Church, precisely to bring what is “private” into the new life, to transform it into what belongs to the Church, i.e. shared with all of Christ. In addition its purpose is always to express the Church as the unity of the body whose Head is Christ. And, finally its purpose is that we should always “with one mouth and one heart” serve God, since it was only such worship which God commanded the Church to offer.
–Alexander Schemmman, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, p. 24
Conservative churches rightly emphasize the preached word. Paul says “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14). The emphasized whom is how the Greek ought to be translated rather than of whom, as the NIV and ESV mistakenly have it. People need to hear Christ, and not about Christ.
The bulk of a minister’s time ought to be given to preaching. This doesn’t need to be counted as minutes actually writing it or reading a specific book for it, but rightly understood, connected and applied, a preacher centers his broad reading, evangelism, counseling and teaching to that preached word, for it is there that Christ specially speaks to his people and there the power of the Spirit of Pentecost is felt. The pulpit is the prow of the world, as Melville called it.
It’s ironic that churches that most value the pulpit often flag in its application. If Jesus came and spoke this Sunday at your church, would you talk about what he preached on? Of course. Yet this is exactly what Paul says happens every time a minister faithfully proclaims the Word. We fail to intentionally interact with it, to take that gift and wring all we can out of it. Small-group focused churches routinely minimize the importance of Sunday worship other than as an evangelistic event. The preaching is largely for unbelievers and therefore not challenging to mature Christians. It is wrung out in a few minutes on the way back to the car. Then the action comes Wednesday night at the small group when the Bible is examined and the deep things of God brought out. The small group has now become the place of theological depth and personal sanctification.
Sermon-based Bible studies and small groups uphold the Bible’s high view of preaching, allowing, in fact requiring, the minister to preach in-depth and challenging sermons. They also require those sermons to be earthly good. Every sermon does not need explicit applications (as any survey of the Apostolic sermons in the book of Acts will reveal), but every sermon does need to be applicable. Rather than draw people away from the centrality of Lord’s Day worship, sermon-based studies bring them in, making them pay attention, take notes, and prepare to think later about it. Larry Osborne relates a common case:
Let’s take Marginal Mark as an example. He comes to church primarliy for his wife and kids. During a typical sermon, he daydreams about his job, some major decisions he’s facing, or his fantasy football team. He’s a moral guy, just not too “religious.” He’d rather leave the extra stuff for those who are really into it.
Now let’s imagine that his wife gets him to sign up for a sermon-based small group. Suddenly, despite his previous lack of interest, he’s listening at a deeper level. He’ll almost certainly start taking some notes. Then he’ll look at them again, however briefly, before the meeting. At the meeting, with some friends in a safe and non-judgmental enviroment, he’ll discuss the Scriptures and what it means to follow Jesus.
The hook has been set.
He’s now interacting with the Word of God at a level far beyond anything he’s ever done before. And in most cases it won’t be long until the Scriptures start to do their stuff convicting him, instructing him, and training him in a righteousness he didn’t even know he was looking for. (Sticky Church, p. 66)
Jesus speaks through fallible men, and because the words are his, they scatter out beyond worship, accomplishing his purposes. Churches ought to make sure the pulpit echo as far as possible.
Being “missional” is all the rage these days. Are you missional? Is your worship missional? Do you sing missional songs? All words are prey to sloganeering, and it appears that this one is in a bear trap. The more places I see it, the more it’s becoming obvious that those promoting it are the least missionally minded–that is, willing to confront unbelief with the Gospel of God’s grace.
My most recent encounter occurred at a “Reformed” church where the pastor talked (I can’t say preached) about his pet gerbil and lessons he learned about God from his weightlifting. In doing so, he robbed me of hyperbole. I just can’t top it. It’s funnier now. At the time I whispered to my wife that we need to come up with a point at which we leave the service. When does blasphemy lite become too much? (more…)