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The “Altar Call”: James 1:21 and the Circumstances of Worship

January 31, 2011 14 comments

I believe we have good biblical grounds for regulating worship by Scripture.   True worship recognizes Who God is and gives Him what He wants.  We find out Who He is and what He wants in the Bible.   God’s Word is sufficient.   In so being, Scripture limits what worship is.  It is only what God says He wants, which is only in His Word.  We know from the Bible that God forbids additions and deletions to the elements He prescribes for worship—since worship is only what He wants.  God is God, He wants what He wants, and that’s alone what He will receive.  He rejects those elements He does not prescribe.

Worship in and by the church is regulated alone by the Bible.  The New Testament reveals elements of worship that God wants from the church:   reading the Word, preaching the Word, singing, prayer, baptism and Lord’s Supper, and collection of offerings.  You’ll notice that among those six that the altar call or invitation is missing.  You won’t find the altar call in the New Testament—it isn’t an element of worship.

Preaching of God’s Word is an element of worship.   Regarding preaching, we read the following in James 1:19-21:

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:  For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.  Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

Is the listening to preaching an element of worship?  I believe that it is part of the element of preaching.  The preacher and the listeners, the congregation, are worshiping simultaneously.  They are all saying “yes” or “amen” to the message of God from His Word.  This is an offering to God, an offering of one’s mind, heart, and body to whatever God says, as preached and heard in the preaching.   Only a certain hearing of the preaching is to God acceptable, which is, as seen in v. 19, “swift to hear.”  In line with that in v. 21 is “receive with meekness the engrafted word.”   “Swift to wrath” and “slow to hear” are both unacceptable to God as an offering.  God rejects those two.  God doesn’t accept any kind of hearing to His preaching than “swift to hear” and “receive with meekness.”

And then we can see in the above text in v. 21 that besides the preaching and the hearing, there is also a response to the preaching.  This too is prescribed worship.  What is it?   It is to “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.”   A part of the element of preaching is the response to preaching, which is doing what this first part of v. 21 says.  This is an actual sacrifice on the part of the hearer.  He is sacrificing something:  filthiness and naughtiness.  Not fulfilling this response is taking away from the Word of God and is not acceptable to God within the perimeters of the element of preaching.

How does someone lay aside filthiness and naughtiness either during preaching or after preaching?  How he does this is a circumstance for worship.   A church could choose to have him do this sitting there in his seat. A church could suggest to him as an application to get some further instruction and application from someone in another room.  A church might apply this Divine instruction by inviting those with the filthiness and naughtiness to come forward and kneel at the front of the auditorium.  None of these are the actual element of the worship, but merely the circumstances of the element.

Concerning the circumstances of worship, Brian Schwertley writes:

The circumstances of worship refer not to worship content and ceremony but to those things “common to human actions and societies.”   The only way someone can learn a worship ordinance is to study the Bible and see what God commands. But the circumstances of worship are not dependent on the explicit instructions of the Bible; they depend only upon general revelation and common sense (“Christian prudence”).

The Bible does not command for offering plates, hymnbooks, pews, or microphones.  Those are all circumstances of the elements of either the collection, singing, or preaching.  The “altar call” or invitation could fall within the perimeters of the circumstances of preaching.

Richard Baxter wrote:

What a loathsome and pitiful thing is it, to hear a man bitterly reproach those who differ from him in some circumstances of worship.

I don’t think we should assume that someone who gives an invitation at the end of preaching is disregarding the regulative principle of worship.  I don’t believe we should regard someone who practices an invitation as an innovation beyond that which God prescribed.  He could be obeying James 1:21 as a circumstance of worship.

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“Redeeming the Culture”

October 21, 2010 16 comments

This last week I was out evangelizing with quite a few others from our church and I came to the door of the jr-high pastor of one of the local Rick-Warren-Purpose-Driven types of churches.   I was with two teenagers.   The man’s wife answered the door-bell and she seemed happy we were there once she knew we were out preaching the gospel (not JWs).  She said her husband was the jr-high pastor at that particular church, which I know well.  A first thought for me was what does a jr. high pastor do all day, but I refrained from asking that question, although I was really curious.  I considered the oiling of the skateboard wheels and the proper wrinkling of the urban chic t-shirts.  But I digress.  I talked to her for awhile about the gospel to find out what they believed the gospel was.  I had about finished with her thinking, which wasn’t quite developed enough for me to conclude, when her husband arrived.   I spotted her husband before she did.  As much as people stereotype fundamentalists, evangelicals might be easier to identify in their desperate desire to blend.  Information:  stop trying so hard.  You blend like a Chinese tourist at Dollywood.  Next.

The wife had to leave, so jr. high man and I talked first about the gospel.  I was a little surprised to hear that he was a Calvinist.  The senior pastor is a Dallas graduate.  He didn’t disagree with most of what I said there on the basics, although I’m hard pressed to have even an LDS contradict me up to a certain point.  It’s become all how you define the terms.  Maybe that’s always been it.  A big one is:  Who is Jesus?  A lot of different viewpoints there all under the banner of Jesus.  But I moved on to worship.  I kinda see that as the next thing.   In a certain sense, I see the gospel and worship categorically as the same (see John 4:23-24).  My question is:  do you worship God in your church?  Just because worship is happening doesn’t mean that it is actually happening.  What people think is worship relates to Who they think God is.  I already knew that at this church the worship was a matter of one’s taste.  Those were almost the exact words I heard from their senior pastor when I had a previous conversation with him.  I will say that talking to the jr. high pastor was a little like talking to a jr. higher.  The arguments were similar to jr. high ones.  I made a note that he needed to get out of the jr. high department a little more—pooled ignorance was happening.

Jr. high guy asked what music was appropriate for worship.  I’m fine answering that question, and I knew it was a trap to offer the name of a particular style, but I did name some I did not believe were acceptable to God for worship, namely rap, hip-hop, grunge, and rock, among others.   Upon listing those, his eyes lit up and he fired off a derogatory question as an answer:  “So you’re saying that God can’t take rap music and redeem it for his worship?”  The answer to that question is, of course, “N0,” but that is not how you answer.  The key word in his question, I believe, was “redeem.”  How he used that word says a lot about his view of the world and his understanding of God, of Christ, of worship, and of the Incarnation.

I believe this man’s concept of “redeeming the culture” is quite popular today.  It is also new.  It is not a historic understanding of either “redemption” or “culture.”  The phraseology is an invention, designed to justify worldliness.  What is most diabolical is that the phrase, “redeeming the culture,” is used to categorize a wicked activity into some sort of sanctified one.  You should be able to conclude what damage this would do to the cause of biblical discernment.

Earlier I said the man carried on a jr. high type of approach.  What did I mean?  He used questions as a form of mockery.  For instance, he asked, “So you’re saying that individual notes are evil or something?”  He also leaned on the time-honored, “So any kind of song that is upbeat, I guess, is wrong then?”   Who said anything about “individual notes being evil” or “upbeat songs being wrong”?  No one.   And he asked them with a kind of accusatory and incredulous tone, as if he was shocked.

To get the right idea of what God will redeem, we should consider 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, which says that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost and that we can glorify God with our body.  The body itself is not evil, despite what the Gnostics might say.  It is how one uses the body.  Paul explains that in Romans 6 when he says that the body can either be used for righteousness or unrighteousness depending upon what it serves.  Letters and notes are about the same.  They can be either used for evil or for good.  Cloth is the same way.  The material that turns into immodest clothing is not itself evil.  What is evil is what the cloth is turned into, how it is used.  Letters can be turned into foul language.  Paint can become wicked or profane art.  Notes can be formed into godless, pagan music, just like they can be made into sacred music.

However, someone can’t take pornography and redeem it for God.  I explained this obvious point to jr. high man.  I illustrated it by asking if naked women on the streets of a Marine base could be redeemed by handing out tracts.   The Marines would show more interest.  More tracts would be taken.  The contents of the tracts was holy.  Does the message justify the medium?  Of course, he said no.  The beauty of the illustration is that it makes it simple even for a jr. higher.

At a root level, this wrong idea about redemption relates to a perversion of Christ’s incarnation.   It is very much a Gnostic understanding of the Incarnation.  The logic of it goes like the following.   Jesus became a man.  Men are sinful.  Jesus became a man so that He could relate with sinners.  This takes His condescension right into the sewer.  Jesus was a man, but He was a sinless, righteous man.  He was tempted like men were, but without sin.  Jesus didn’t relate to men.  There was nothing wrong about the body.  A body isn’t wrong.  Jesus took a body.  That wasn’t wrong.  Jesus wasn’t redeeming the thing of having a body.  He didn’t take a body to relate with what sinful men do with their bodies.  He took on a body to die for us.  That’s how Jesus redeemed.  Jesus didn’t take a body to be like men; He took a body so that men could be like Him.  These “redeeming the culture” people turn this right around.  We Christians are not to take on the characteristics of the world, become like the world.  That isn’t incarnational.  We should be turning the world upside down, not the world turning us upside down.

To go a little further, we can also see an attack on the atonement in this idea.  Jesus redeemed by dying in His body, and shedding real, physical blood in His body.  He did not redeem the whole thing of sinful men having sinful bodies by taking a body Himself.  This borders on a moral example theory of atonement, as if Jesus showed to sinful men how to have a body through his moral example in and with His body.

Here’s what the “redeeming the culture” people take out of this.  If Jesus could take a body to do His work, then we can take rock music to do our worship.  Just like Jesus accomplished what He did with a body, we can accomplish what we need to with modern art.  This is incarnational to them, redeeming like Jesus redeemed.  We redeem these things, making good use of them, sanctifying them, like Jesus made good use of a body.

What should be sad to anyone reading this, and really anyone period, is how that this brand of so-called Christianity destroys scriptural concepts and just about makes it impossible to follow Jesus for these people.  The people of their churches think that their feelings, that are really orchestrated by sensual passions, are actually love.  They are convinced of it.  They are told that it is true, and in so doing, they are deceived.  And now the most conservative of evangelicals and most fundamentalists would say that we can’t judge that to be wrong.  Sure we can.  Those feelings are not love.  They are not love for God.  Ironically, they are love for self, fooling someone into thinking they are love for God.  Rather than redeem anything, they have taken something already redeemed, love, and have perverted it as a result.  And God requires His own to love Him.  You can see what this does to Christianity.

Professing Christians should just stop using the “redeeming the culture” language.  They have it all wrong.  They’re just excusing their love for the world and their desire to fit in with the world.  You don’t take a profane or sinful activity and “redeem it.”  The letters can be used for God.  The notes can be used for God.  A body can be used for God.  But a wrong use of letters, notes, a body, or cloth is not redeemable.   Whether any of those will be used for God will depend on what to which they are yielded.  If they are yielded to God based upon biblical principles, therefore, acceptable to God, then culture is being redeemed.  And only then is culture being redeemed.

Culture is a way of life.  If one’s way of life smacks of this world system, the spirit of this age, it is not redeemed.  Only a way of life surrendered to the way of God will God redeem.

Dan, Bethel, and Parachurch Organizations

August 3, 2010 49 comments

1 Kings 12:25-33 is a pivotal section of scripture.  In those verses we get some insight into God’s thinking about what He said about worship.  God wanted the kingdom split at that juncture (1 Kings 11, 12:1-24).  However, He didn’t want changes in worship, like changes in the manner, the place, and the time of prescribed worship.  To keep his crowd and make it all more convenient, Jeroboam built new places of worship at Dan and Bethel.  “But God didn’t say that they couldn’t worship somewhere else!”  He did say Jerusalem, but He didn’t say “not Dan and Bethel.”  And Jeroboam did argue the advantages of Dan and Bethel.  And that reminds me of Saul arguing the advantages of what He did.  Stuff makes sense to us that is different than what God said.

Today God prescribes the worship in a place too—the church.  I’m happy about all the writing today that criticizes the modern violations of the means and manner of worship.  I believe we have New Testament absolutes about the kind of music God wants to receive in worship.  I think contemporary Christian music is a travesty.  But what about all the deviations of New Testament place of worship?  Why then the silence about this aberration?  The worship prescriptions of Romans 12 don’t stop at vv. 1-2.  You move to vv. 3-8 to find the place of the “reasonable service,” that is, “spiritual worship.”  The place is the church.  Is modern evangelicalism and fundamentalism moving out of the limitation of the church akin to Jeroboam moving out of the limitation of Jerusalem?  I believe they are.

The church is the New Testament temple of God (1 Cor 3:16-17).  The church is the means by which God has chosen to make known His manifold wisdom (Eph 3:10).   God designed the church to protect and propagate the truth (1 Tim 3:15).  God has chosen in this age for the church to judge all matters (1 Cor 6).   Unto God is glory in the church (Eph 3:21).   Jesus gave His authority and the promise of His presence to the church (Mt 16:18-19; 18:15-17; 28:18-20).

Neither the college, the mission board, the convention, the association, the fellowship, nor the camp are found in the Bible.  They fall outside the limits of biblical teaching, like Dan and Bethel did and like the cart that carried the ark did.  Some might say that those things are not prescribed, but neither are they wrong.  They are simply out there to supplement the church.  They come up beside the church (“para”) to help the church.  Consider what God says about the issue of place with Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12:30:  “And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.”  Worshiping in Dan was a sin.

Some might argue that these organizations are just additions.  They aren’t replacements for the church.  But they are innovations that deviate from scriptural worship.

Someone might say that they are well-intentioned.  They’ve got good motives.   Uzzah seemed to have a good motive too when he touched the ark.  And Saul had a good motive when he kept the best of the animals to use for sacrifices.

Someone might contend that these people are doing good things.  They have good preaching, good music, and say the right things to one another that are helpful for the Lord.  They are a good opportunity to serve.  For instance, in the chapel at the Christian university, the preacher preached a good message and the student body sang really good hymns to worship the Lord.  Is that true?  If you took various components of Jerusalem worship and moved them to Dan and Bethel would they be acceptable?  Verse thirty of chapter twelve says it was a sin.  It was a sin.  Deviating from God’s prescription for worship is sin.

Faith is simply taking God at His Word.  Romans 14:23 says that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”  God says do it this way and we do it another way.  That’s sin.  Jesus always did the Father’s will.   Like Him, we are to be sanctified by the truth, not by our opinions, by what we think will work, or by what makes us feel good.  We are not sanctified by an unbiblical way of doing things.

The Jews thought signs were an effective means of accomplishing God’s will.  The Greeks thought that wisdom would work if relied upon.  Fundamentalists and evangelicals think that parachurch organizations will help.  They can even start listing all the good ways that those non or un-scriptural organizations have helped, just like Charismatics will list all the ways that signs have helped their ministries.  But then in 1 Corinthians 3 we see that if we don’t do it His way, it is wood, hay, and stubble.  It’s not how God wanted us to build.

So, in other words, I’m not wanting people to have their works be worthless.  I don’t want them to be sinning.  We probably would all say that we want God to be honored.  So I want you to think about this.  The fact that I wrote this could become the big deal here.  The big deal is our worship of God.  What God says about that worship is the big deal.  I can’t make someone’s worship valueless.  They do that to themselves.  I’m just reporting.

OK.  Now this is the part that most will think is the tough part.  I could have even left it out.  But I don’t want to be confusing here.  Still, however, I’m going to put it in the way of question.  What about Bill Rice Ranch, The Wilds, Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, Ambassador Baptist College, Baptist World Mission, Baptist International Missions Incorporated, or the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches?

I’ll ask it before you do.  What about Jackhammer?  What about ‘What is Truth’?  Fair question.   These aren’t organizations.  These aren’t institutions.  I’m not serving the Lord at Jackhammer.   I’m sent by my church to preach where ever I preach, including online.  Jackhammer is nothing more than an element like an offering plate, a cell phone, or a letter.  Everything I write here represents my church, exactly what my church would teach.  I don’t compromise anything my church teaches to write here.   Jackhammer and What Is Truth for me are elements in the ministry of my church.

Many of the arguments for parachurch organizations parallel very closely to the kind of rationalization that Jeroboam made in his own heart.  They will work better.  They’re just necessary in the times in which we live.   A lot of good experiences have been had in and through them.

I know my last three paragraphs might be the most popular in the whole piece.  The other popular thing, even more important than judging whether the teaching is scriptural, is to make sure that I’m practicing it all consistently.  But read everything that comes up to those three paragraphs.  Think about that first and consider whether parachurch organizations are sin.

Can or Should God Be Worshiped Merely by Musical Instruments without the Words or Lyrics?

The breadth of Psalm 98 tells me that God can be and should be worshiped not just with voice or lyrics alone or with voice and instrument combined but also solely with instruments.  Here are the words of the psalm:

1 O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory. 2 The LORD hath made known his salvation: his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen. 3 He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. 4 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. 5 Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. 6 With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King. 7 Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. 8 Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together 9 Before the LORD; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.

In v. 1 the psalmist calls on his audience to sing a song to God for worthwhile reasons seen in vv. 2-3 and then at the end of v. 9.  Everyone is called to praise God, Israel and the rest of the world (vv. 3-4).  As we move through here, we can see that God is praised by more than just voice.  For instance, in v. 7 the sea is called upon to roar.   The sea sings to God in that unique way.  And then the floods or streams clap (v. 8a), the hills be joyful together (v. 8b).   This passage isn’t calling on people to find the sea or hills to accompany their voice.  Each of these—voice, instruments, seas, or streams—separately can praise God.

Certain men allegorize these psalms based upon their New Testament priority.  They spiritualize much of the content, leaving the New Testament as the only literal guidebook for worship.  And the New Testament doesn’t mention instruments, so churches shouldn’t use them.  However, in Ephesians 5:19, the term “making melody” (psallo) means “to pluck on a stringed instrument.”  God wants psalms sung, so the psalms are still in play as songs to be sung.  Both singing and making melody are to be presented to the Lord, but what about just the “making melody.”  I believe Psalm 98 would say “yes.”

I would like to see great musical pieces composed and played for God, offered to Him as worship.  It doesn’t have to be the music from a hymn that is sung.  It can be music that on its own will praise the Lord.  Music that communicates within the nature of the Lord can be used to worship Him.  I believe an orchestra even without vocalists can and should play music to God.  A soloist can and should play his instrument to the Lord.  This justifies becoming a great musician for the Lord not just as accompaniment and with only songs that people may know the words.  Great music can and should be written and then played to God.  This would be a worthwhile project of a church.

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: The Embrace of Neutrality

April 14, 2010 6 comments

Nobody is really neutral.  Paul writes in Romans 1:18:  “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”  The word “hold” means “suppress.”  Whoever does not receive the truth suppresses the truth.  Everyone starts from a position of knowing the truth.   Paul elaborates a little further in v. 25 by saying that these truth suppressors “change the truth into a lie.”

You might be thinking, “well, they suppress the truth about God, but they don’t suppress all the truth.”  Wrong.  When you suppress the truth about God, you have also suppressed all the truth.  Why?  Without God there is no absolute truth, no objective truth.  Without God, everything is random and haphazard.  Someone may say that he believes the truth about something, but he cannot qualify it as truth without some standard of truthfulness, a standard that does not exist without God.

Now you might be thinking, “well, someone can say that an object is the color red without God.”  Wrong again.  There would have to be the idea of color, and someone can’t know there is color and that a color is red unless an idea can exist and that someone could think.  Without God, everything is essentially molecules indiscriminately meeting and bouncing off of one another.  Why is that color?  And how could it be red?  Without God, everything is subjective.  What’s happening on earth is of no more consequence than what is occurring on Neptune.  Chemical processes and colliding matter can’t think or make value judgments.  They’re just accidents moving toward ultimate entropy.

So for all truth, we start with God.  And everybody knows that even if they do suppress it.   Since God began everything, He defines everything, and He determines reality.   We know God and we know because of God.  We don’t really know without Him, so what we know, including what is true, beautiful, and good, is based on Who He is.  And there is no neutrality.  We all begin with God.  It’s just that one admits it and the other suppresses it.

Evangelicalism and fundamentalism, however, have embraced neutrality.  This is a trick of Satan, a shell game that he plays with men, so that they will begin to look at life on his terms.  He would like men to think, in contradiction to God’s Word, that everyone starts out on even ground or with a blank slate in the development of his beliefs and the determination of what is true or false.   With neutrality, revelation is personal so theological knowledge is ambiguous, requiring a response to evidence.

WHERE WE SEE AN EMBRACE OF NEUTRALITY IN EVANGELICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM

This embrace of neutrality is seen in the evangelical and fundamentalist explanation of beauty.   Beauty has been reduced to a mere mechanical response to sensory input.   This neutrality denies intrinsic or inherent beauty or any absolute standard of beauty outside of man’s personal choice.  While once Christianity accepted an objective standard of beauty that started with God, evangelicalism has fallen prey to the world view espousing man as the arbiter of beauty.  This is manifested today in the evangelical embrace and fundamentalist acceptance of anything-goes in music.  Objective beauty, sacred and unprofaned, has been sacrificed on an altar of modern and post-modern culture.

I expect evangelicals to deny this, which, of course, they’ll especially have the right to do in their contemporary realities, dogmatic in their tolerance.  Modernism broke down traditional institutions through secularization and urbanization, giving numerous opportunities of pleasure and self-fulfillment.   Men then looked at life on their terms.  Instead of concentrating on what God expects, churches focused on what people thought or felt they were missing.  As modernity stripped life of meaning, which begins and ends with God, men have turned to self to explain.  The individual became the ultimate adjudicator of what is beautiful.  Evangelicals have accepted this.

In many ways conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists have objected to doctrinal relativism.  They have held the line to a certain degree at certain fundamental truths.  They seem to be proud of this.  However, they have embraced neutrality in relationship to aesthetic values—what is beautiful—and all absolute truth to maintain their credibility in a post modern world.  This embrace of neutrality is seen in the rampant subjectivity in music for worship both personal and corporate, in the casual and coarse, often immodest, apparel, the vast slippage in the realm of entertainment values, and in the wide-ranging acceptance of doctrinal ambiguity, which includes a shunning of the doctrine and practice of separation.  God has been marginalized by having far less importance in man’s actual life.

When you watch evangelicals and fundamentalists talk about doctrine, you hear the damage that their own embrace of neutrality has caused.  They pander post-modernity with their theological reductionism, relegating truth to essentials and non-essentials.  This plays right into the attack on meaning and the self-autonomy of interpretation.  Men are on a quest for knowledge, whose progress is slowed by the oppressiveness of unequivocal and authoritative conviction.  Certainty violates personal viewpoint and self as source of meaning.  This has reduced the church to a shop for religious consumers.   The message must be contextualized to the shopper for accomplishment of mission.

With a conformity to post-modern culture, unity has become the highest value of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.  You hear this narrative in today’s political speech, the era of post-partisanship.   Political operatives vie for the admiration of the independent voters, a mass of humanity in the ambiguous middle, who are proud for not having made up their minds.  Uncertainty is elevated to a sacramental place in American culture with few exceptions, such as food and celebrity.   Evangelicals and fundamentalists won’t hold your differing belief and practice against you.  You can join in by agreeing to disagree and all getting along based on the supreme injunction of unity in the body; well, with the exception of a few essentials that even in those it’s probably just going to be a matter of interpretation.   The embrace of neutrality is witnessed in the compliance to this view of unity.

THE RESULTS OF THE EMBRACE OF NEUTRALITY IN EVANGELICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM

Evangelicals and fundamentalists proclaim the supremacy of the gospel.  I don’t mind an emphasis on the gospel.  But the point of the gospel, the worship of God, is often lost with this embrace of neutrality.  God is seeking for true worshipers (John 4:23-24).  The profane, desecrated music that evangelicals especially, but also fundamentalists, offer as worship results from their aesthetic neutrality.  They have forsaken an objective beauty and worship is the casualty.  God doesn’t accept the ugliness they have decided is acceptable to Him because they have forsaken an absolute standard of beauty.

Evangelicals and fundamentalists have devalued aesthetics, resulting in heteropathy.  And as they relate to God, they can’t separate doctrine and practice from affections.  Without the proper affections, our relationship to the Lord can’t be right, even if we happen to be doctrinally and practically orthodox.  The imitation affections, actually passions, desires mistaken for love, are more blasphemous to God than if He had received nothing, no affection, no passion, no nothing.

The product that is devised and delivered by churches today and called worship blasphemes God by its deviation from beauty.  It is often profaned by its fleshly stimulation, its banality, or its kitsch.  Like animals churches have become driven by their desires, needs, and appetites, and have treated God and worship itself as an instrument to fulfill those things.  God is to be the end in itself of worship, the worship to be governed by devotion to Him and not those things that are the means to us.   In his book, Beauty, Roger Scruton has called this profanation that he has seen the “Disneyfication of faith.”  He has also written, and I agree (pp. 176, 182):

Desecration is a kind of defence against the sacred, an attempt to destroy its claims.  In the presence of sacred things our lives are judged and in order to escape the judgment we destroy the thing that seems to accuse. . . . One cure for the pain of desecration is the move towards total profanation:  in other words, to wipe out all vestiges of sanctity for the once worshipped object, to make it merely a thing of the world, and not just a thing in the world, something that is nothing over and above the substitutes that can at any time replace it.

What people really love is themselves and the world.  They know that’s not right.  Their true love they profess is about God is really still about them.

Almost all evangelicals and fundamentalists would say they love the truth.  But truth can’t survive their embrace of neutrality.  Some truth, sure, but truth as a whole won’t make it with the accession to modern and post modern culture.  It does start with certainty about the Words of God.  Evangelicals and fundamentalists can’t know that because they have elevated reason above faith in line with modernism.  And then meaning of Scripture comes crashing down close behind, because how can we know what words mean if we aren’t sure what they are.

The next victim of the embrace of neutrality is discernment.   With the forsaking of objective beauty, what is goodness and true must also necessarily fall by the wayside as well.  The certainty here all comes from the same source.  When you change the basis of your conclusion to make way for your own opinion, you lose the ability to decide with any authority.  Various factions of evangelicalism and fundamentalism stand at various stages of deterioration, but none will survive their embrace of neutrality.

In the end, perhaps what is lost more than anything is obedience to God.  God is not pleased.  His truth is not respected.  His ways are not kept.  And the churches are not so concerned.

CONCLUSION

If your whole life has been lived in a bunker, it will be hard to see the world with any other perspective than the bunker in which you live.  That’s what will make this essay hard to accept for evangelicals and fundamentalists.  Most will likely never understand because they will refuse to separate themselves from the bunker.   If they hear this in a post-modern way, influenced by the world and the Satan’s work to that extent, they will hear this about how Bill Clinton listened to Ken Starr during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  I’ll be the villain like him for attempting to impose my oppressive and narrow moral narrative on their unity and their freedom.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be thought to be kooky right wing fringe who attempts to dictate my personal preferences to others.

The barbarians are not standing at the gate any longer.  In many ways, we’ve become the barbarians.  We have allowed the Philistines to have their way.  Churches have lost their will to contend.  We’re at a very serious time for the truth, for Scripture, for obedience to God, for true worship, for what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful.  Please do not dismiss this.  Do not take it lightly.  Don’t marginalize it.  Don’t be fooled.  I ask that you consider whether it’s me or it’s you.

We Shall Rise! (Hallelujah!)

April 2, 2010 4 comments

Finding a subject for Sunday’s sermon always presents a challenge.  Not because we run out of good material for preaching.  Let it never be said!  Who could exhaust the pages of Scripture?   I for one can say that the more I attempt to preach through the various books of the Bible, the more I find them inexhaustible.  I recently spent three weeks on Proverbs 3:5-7 in our Wednesday night service.  And when I finished, more subject matter came to mind that I had not covered.  I am currently preaching through the Book of Acts on Sunday mornings.  The series began in January of 2009.  I just preached through the first part of chapter 12.  I had to move on from chapter 11, even though I had more that I wanted to do.  The Bible is always that way.  It is impossible to “run out” of good material.

The challenge of finding a suitable subject for preaching has nothing to do with a lack of suitable material.  Rather, the refrigerator, the deep freeze, and the pantry are so packed full of good things that I sometimes find it difficult to choose which one.  It is like the menu at a really great, four-diamond restaurant with a world-renowned cook.  You know that everything on that menu will be outstanding, and you just can’t decide which dance you want your tastebuds to do.  The Bible is so full of great truths and power-packed verses that we sometimes find ourselves tossed between texts like a boy in a ball closet.

Never is this more true than at Easter.  I’m a “series” guy.  I like to preach a series of some sort, often through a particular book of the Bible.  But at Easter, I always take the time to preach on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and on the promise of the resurrection of the saints.  But what to preach?  There are so many wonderful texts to choose from.  We can do the resurrection story itself, or cover any one of the hundreds of verses and passages that deal with the resurrection.  Of all the doctrines of grace, it is the most chock full of rich goodness.  We shall rise!  Hallelujah!  Because He lives, we shall live also!  We shall be caught up together in the clouds with the dead in Christ that rise first.  We shall meet the Lord in the air.  And so shall we ever be with the Lord!  Christ has gone to prepare a place for us, and since He has, He will come again, and receive us unto Himself; that where He is, there we may be also!  Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed!

What a day that will be!  But, anticipating that great resurrection morning, we are reminded that the resurrection is for the here and now as well as for then.  And you hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.  Christ came that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly.  Having received the gift of God, we live the resurrection life (Colossians 3:1-3).  Let’s live it up, then!

Wasting Energy=Worshipping God

March 27, 2010 2 comments

8:30-9:30 p.m., March, 27, 2010. Pagan Hour.

Pagan Hour

Pagan Hour

If it’s already 9:30 p.m. for you, it’s too late.  Sorry.  For the rest of you, turn your lights ON between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. TONIGHT.  Why on?  Because you love God and are jealous for his glory and worship.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  (Genesis 1:1)

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:28)

Maybe I won’t explain myself well enough, but I’m going to make a defense for reckless waste during this one hour of the year.

When God created the earth and man, he gave man responsibility for it and we, therefore, are to be stewards of the whole world.  For this reason, I conserve my resources everyday of my life.  God has given to me bountifully and as his steward, I strive to keep good care of his gifts.  I try to save money and resources all the time because all my money and resources are not really mine–they’re on loan from God.

The World (and it’s ideologies) wants me to make a statement tonight that I’m concerned about the earth and the crisis we are in globally.  Are we in a global climate crisis?  The Word tells me that God is in control and that He is the one that will destroy it someday.  For it to be here for Him to destroy, it will have to stick around until He’s ready to do that.  Also, the World tells me that I should surrender the responsibility God has given me and do what my “Mother Earth” wants.  If I do that, I’m rebelling against God.  If I cave in to the pagan idea of “gaia,” I’m joining the heathen in their worship of the earth.  I want to stand in STARK contrast with pagan-heathenism. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

So I’m turning every light on I can think of:  and to revel in the bountiful goodness that God has created the earth with, and allowed me to steward, I’m also turning on every electric device I can think of, and leaving plugged in every appliance I can think of, and if I think of anything else, I’m turning that on too.

Tonight at 8:30 p.m. is NOT the time any Christian should be “off the grid.”  Consume all the energy you can to the glory of God!  (1 Corinthians 10:31)