Cultural Catch Up – Always Reforming

There’s an excellent article by Scott Clark over at The Heidelblog called ‘Always Abusing Semper Reformanda’. I didn’t realise the phrase Reformed, Always Reforming had such a recent history. To have the phrase quoted back at you kind of felt all wrong. To know what you mean, and have it twisted or mangled to mean something antithetical seemed like an own goal. But here’s for me maybe the main paragraph in the article:

“When Calvin and the other Reformed writers used the adjective reformed, they did not think that it was a thing that could never actually be accomplished. Late in his life, Calvin remarked to the other pastors in Geneva that things were fairly well constituted, and he exhorted them not to ruin them. He and the others thought and spoke of reformation of the church not as a goal never to be achieved in this life, but as something that either had been or could be achieved because they believed God’s Word to be sufficiently clear. That is, what must be known for the life of the church can be known and, with the help of God’s Spirit and by God’s grace alone, changes could be made (and were being made) to bring the doctrine, piety, and practice of the church into conformity with God’s will revealed in Scripture. That’s why they wrote church orders and adopted confessions—because they believed that reformation was a great but finite task.”

Note the phrase(s) in bold – that’s my emphasis BTW not Dr Clarke’s, though it’s certainly what he is saying. Like the article indicates it’s a common thing to have the phrase  ‘Always Reforming’ thrown in your face. In my own experience the ‘Always’ aspect of ‘Reforming’ is to do with modern forms of worship.

This brings us to the whole modernising enterprise. I should state that I absolutely love music – all kinds of music. I say because the assumption is that if there’s a problem with modern music in the church there’s a problem with music. This isn’t the case even though a false correlation is often assumed.

Hopefully, having cleared that up, there are styles of music that do not sit well with worshipping a Holy Sovereign God. I should also say I know a number of churches that employ a modern style of worship (choruses & upbeat songs – often but not always complicated to sing) and the Ministers of these churches are good men. However, my concern is for when these good men either move on to anther Pastorate, retire or die. The point should not be lost, made in Dr Clarke’s article, that Calvin was concerned that the gains made by the Reformation should not be ruined (see highlight above). That principle applies to our own day.

The Bible (and history) powerfully illustrates man’s propensity for DE-formation. Something I try to do is take a long-term view of what is happening now. Where will this take the Church in 10, 15, 20 or 30 years from now. One thing we know about De-formation is that it can happen quickly! Not only can it happen quickly but the long-term consequences can take generations before Reformation can take place. Clearly God is able to bring both about, De-formation as a judgement, or Reformation as a blessing. So I do not discount divine intervention – without it we are sunk. Even behind a (sometimes necessary) frowning providence…

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

William Cowper (1731 – 1800)

The Church is always trying to innovate, often out of good motives. Behind this desire to innovate in ‘Reformed’ or Evangelical churches then, is the phrase Reformed, Always Reforming. One important question then, that deserves a longer answer perhaps in another post, is has God spoken clearly on the matter of worship or is it open to our innovations under the guise of ‘Always Reforming’.

So rather than play Cultural Catchup, let’s be content with forms of worship that do not make my foot tap or my body sway in some sort of hypnotic manner. The Church will never be Culturally Relevant. The Culture moves too fast and the Church finds itself just looking stupid. We have something the Culture does not want, but desperately needs – The Gospel of God’s Salvation. Let’s not bury it under a mish mash of outdated so-called cultural relevance. The Gospel of the Grace of God is Always relevant.

Circumstances And Indifferent Until We Say No | The Heidelblog

Circumstances And Indifferent Until We Say No | The Heidelblog.

Here’s a blast of sense from the past. In these days when protesting against modern worship practices is probably considered worse than heresy it was refreshing to read this quote from George Gillespie (1637).

Thanks Dr Clark

Theological Testing of Worship Songs

Came across this interesting piece at Premier Christianity Magazine ‘Theology test your worship songs‘. That is good advice and we ought to that with any song including hymns. I haven’t read it all yet, but others might be interested in checking it out. I particularly like the graphic to show the Industrial Complex that Christian music has become.

I won’t comment on it here now, but I have saved it for future reference.

Manipulation & Performance in Worship

In the Old Testament worship was complex, precise and highly regulated by the Word of God. Not only so it was also to be strictly implemented in every detail. One of these aspects was the Holy Anointing Oil. Here’s the relevant passage from Exodus 30: 22-33

The Holy Anointing Oil

22 Moreover the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23 “Also take for yourself quality spices—five hundred shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much sweet-smelling cinnamon (two hundred and fifty shekels), two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet-smelling cane, 24 five hundred shekels of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. 25 And you shall make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer. It shall be a holy anointing oil. 26 With it you shall anoint the tabernacle of meeting and the ark of the Testimony; 27 the table and all its utensils, the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense; 28 the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base. 29 You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them must be holy.[a] 30 And you shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister to Me as priests.

31 “And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations. 32 It shall not be poured on man’s flesh; nor shall you make any other like it, according to its composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you. 33 Whoever compounds any like it, or whoever puts any of it on an outsider, shall be cut off from his people.’”

And also of the Incense in in Exodus 30:34-38

The Incense

34 And the Lord said to Moses: “Take sweet spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, and pure frankincense with these sweet spices; there shall be equal amounts of each. 35 You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. 36 And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put some of it before the Testimony in the tabernacle of meeting where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. 37 But as for the incense which you shall make, you shall not make any for yourselves, according to its composition. It shall be to you holy for the Lord38 Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people.”

Note in verses 32, 33 & 38 the clear prohibition on copying the oil or ‘making anything like it’. Why do you suppose that was? You argue under that particular administration Israel and its worship was to be completely separate from the surrounding Nations. That would be true. But surely there’s a wider application to The Church and this wouldn’t be difficult to show. The Holy Anointing Oil represents the person of the Holy Spirit. Most Christians I think would accept that interpretation. The strictness placed on the presentation makes perfect sense. We find the same kind of strictness when dealing with any aspect foreshadowing the saving work of Christ. Gathering sticks on the Sabbath would be a good example. The overall lesson is that God will be worshipped in the way He prescribes – not how we prescribe it. He will be approached in the way He prescribes. Yes, we only approach a Holy God by way of sacrifice in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. We ‘enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh…’ (Hebrews 10: 19 – 20) So does anything go now – as long as it’s done in Jesus’s name. Not at all. I get no sense whatsoever that the Apostle Paul or the other NT writers even suggest we should worship any old way we like.

For example in Hebrews 12:18 – 24

18 For you have not come to the mountain that[c] may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness[d] and tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heardit begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. 20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned[e] or shot with an arrow.”[f]21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”[g])

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

I fail to see how any sane person could imply from the contrasting covenants above that our worship should be any less solemn given we approach ‘the judge of all’. I see no reason or justification for flippancy, performance or manipulation in our services.

My concern here is to show how any form of manipulation of the senses in particular and therefore of the will is according to my understanding completely wrong. I abhor any appearance of trying to move the emotions for example by performance style reading of the Bible, and especially so if accompanied by music.

We are NOT to manipulate by any means. When we engage in such activity we are seeking to copy the work of the Holy Spirit. Under the Old Covenant copying the Holy Anointing Oil would result in being cut off from the people. I’m not saying people who use manipulation will be cut-off from the Church or lose their salvation but we should note the seriousness of engaging in manipulation. As the Apostle Paul in

2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.

And in 2 Corinthians 4:2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

Manipulation or performance in evangelism or worship is deceit. We deceive ourselves, the worshippers, the evangelised and are offering to God ‘Strange Fire’. We should be plain in our speech. Paul again in

2 Corinthians 5:11 ‘Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men;’

No amount of performance or manipulation will raise the spiritually dead and neither will it cause the Spirit of God to move in our Worship services or Revive the Church. These activities solely belong to The Holy Spirit and to Him alone. If the Spirit of God is not manifesting himself in our services we must resist the temptation to ‘make up’ the difference as it were by doing what was forbidden in the Old Testament and seek to copy His peculiar presence.

It saddens and concerns me that Christians are now almost defaulting to the position where we are adding to the Gospel. The Gospel IS the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes. We can’t add anything and we don’t need to either. Praise God He does the saving!

I will come back with more posts on worship.

Strange Fire Conference – Some thoughts

I started this post some time ago and was going to drop it because I had ‘missed the boat’ of opportunity. But thanks to a comment by James White I realised that it might be better not to worry about that. If it’s worth doing it’s worth doing even though a bit late in the day. Ones things for sure, this is a topic that will not be going away any time soon – if at all. So onto the post.

It’s a funny thing given my interest in this, I wasn’t even aware of this conference. There had been so much going on at a personal level that even the use of ‘Strange Fire’ as a tagline passed me by. Just before the conference I had thought about revisiting my dissertation about worship (‘Public Worship within Independent Reformed Evangelicalism’) and turning it into a book, but wondered if it still had any traction (see how I avoided the word ‘relevance’ there). I was personally convinced the topic of worship will always be current. The ‘Strange Fire’ conference then shows how the topic still really manages to touch a nerve. If I put my Historian / Sociologist hat on it’s of immense interest to me and confirms the value of studying worship. As Christians though, it is central to all we do – of that I have no doubt. And, it doesn’t matter where you stand on the subject, any discussion always raises the temperature! I can guarantee the subject of worship causes more discussion and disagreement than almost any other topic because it touches on so many areas – differences in theology and of course, personal preference! That fact, in and of itself, is worth thinking about! Why is this so? Worship is not just a case of turning up, singing a few songs, listening to a ‘message’ and then going home. Sadly, it can seem like it at times. But when the Church gathers for worship something extraordinary is going on – and it doesn’t need music either.

Strange Fire (or unauthorised fire) comes from the passage in Leviticus 10 and the best book (IMHO) on this passage is by Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs called ‘Gospel Worship’. I remember well my very first reading of Leviticus 10:1-3 and was (still am) especially struck – stunned even – by Aaron’s reaction to the death of his sons and what had just taken place. ‘So Aaron held his peace’ – there’s a sense of awe in the face of God’s judgement.

There are going to be an awful lot of people  around the world wishing JM et al had kept quiet on this. But, having said that it will probably disappear into the mists of time, only to be remembered by those interested in the topic. Like me. Anyway, I have very slowly worked my through the ‘Strange Fire’ audio and thought a few broad comments could be worthwhile.

1. To have a bunch of people clapping at several points in the message really grated on me. A very good elderly (in his 80’s) friend of mine was a member of Westminster Chapel when Dr Lloyd-Jones was the minister. One of the things that marked a service of worship was the reverent silence. I’m told the Dr would enter the pulpit and say the exact same phrase every time and this ‘Reverent Silence’ would be present. My experience is that when God makes His presence known there is reverence and awe. Maybe the odd ‘Amen’. To have a conference where the theology and practice of Charismatic worship is put under the microscope and then have in that same conference applause for the speaker is to me problematic. Maybe it’s my English sensibility.

2. I haven’t always appreciated the tone of the messages, they have come across as hyper critical, even arrogant at times and in places have really made me wince. Having listened to them, this style I felt was only in the first couple of messages and not representative of them all. However, the more involved in the conference as it were, the more I have found myself either nodding in agreement or saying ‘that’s right’. So the longer I’ve listened, and perhaps because it’s taken a while to get through the audio, and listening at a distance, the more appreciative I have become. BTW. The ‘Strange Fire’ book arrived in the post today – 30/04/2014. I was surprised at the absence of Burroughs in the index: maybe it will be in the text somewhere.

3. Comment on the presentation. The audio quality is excellent. It does make a difference when listening. The website and the availability of the audio and video is very much appreciated. And hat’s off to whoever organised and did the transcribing of the messages – monumental! Big thanks for this.

4. The content, that is the theology, has been first-rate. I’ve listened to them all now, but to single out a two messages, Dr Steve Lawson’s presentation (except for a lot of clapping and playing to the gallery – I am English) on John Calvin and his message on Sola Scriptura were excellent. Also listened  with much profit to Phil Johnson on ‘Throwing out the Baby with the bath water’.

I really appreciated the first Q & A session. I only heard the audio but the clips played were ‘jaw-dropping’ . John M’s comment on ‘turning the music off – all of it!, and changing the lights bulbs and to try selling that’ was not only brilliant but fundamental to all our Churches. If the preaching of the Gospel ALONE is not enough there’s a big problem!

So here’s a question for Grace Church and many other Churches. If it were decided to do away with the music – the orchestra or music group – what would the reaction be? Would members be banging on the Pastors door; ‘we want our music back! Or would there be ‘we have the Gospel, it’s enough’. For example when John Bunyan met secretly in the woods did he need to bring his praise band or learn to play the lute to worship? NT worship is markedly contrasted to the OT by its simplicity.

The change from Old Covenant worship to New Covenant worship is from shadow to reality. Old Testament worship was as elaborate and complex as it was bloody and the simplicity of New Testament worship is a million miles away and unnecessary. It might seem a bit odd to be using an OT passage to justify doing away with OT Worship, but the message of the passage in Leviticus is that we don’t come to God any old way we choose. To have a NT understanding of this read the passage in Hebrews coming to Jerusalem. NT worship is even more awesome (I use that word in the way it should be used!) The Lord is a consuming fire. See Hebrews 12:18-29. We worship then with reverence and awe with some understanding of where all the OT ceremonies and sacrifices were heading – to The Lord Jesus Christ.

If I don’t post this now it will never happen, so I’ll leave it there and come back to this topic another time – as I said, it’s not going away.

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My song is love unknown

I was looking through my Hymn Book yesterday evening and happened upon this wonderful Hymn. It’s a shame many of these ‘Traditional’ Hymns are falling into disuse. If you listen to the You Tube video – skip the ad.

1 My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

2 Christ came from heaven’s throne
Salvation to bestow;
But people scorned, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

3 Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the way
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

4 They rise, and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they saved,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

5 Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

Samuel Crossman, 1624 – 83

How sad our state by nature is!

Isaac Watts

How sad our state by nature is!
Our sin, how deep it stains!
And Satan binds our captive minds
Fast in his slavish chains.

But there’s a voice of sovereign grace
Sounds from the sacred word:
“Ho! ye despairing sinners, come,
And trust upon the Lord.”

My soul obeys th’ almighty call,
And runs to this relief;
I would believe thy promise, Lord;
O help my unbelief!

To the dear fountain of thy blood,
Incarnate God, I fly;
Here let me wash my spotted soul
From crimes of deepest dye.

Stretch out thine arm, victorious King
My reigning sins subdue;
Drive the old dragon from his seat,
With all his hellish crew.

A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall;
Be thou my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus, and my all.

Isaac Watts: Ju­ly 17, 1674 – No­vem­ber 25, 1748.


I saw a new vision of Jesus

I saw a new vision of Jesus,
A view I’d not seen here before,
Beholding in glory so wondrous
With beauty I had to adore.
I stood on the shores of my weakness,
And gazed at the brink of such fear;
‘Twas then that I saw Him in newness,
Regarding Him fair and so dear.

My Saviour will never forsake me,
Unveiling His merciful face,
His presence and promise almighty,
Redeeming His loved ones by grace.
In shades of the valley’s dark terror,
Where hell and its horror hold sway,
My Jesus will reach out in power,
And save me by His only way.

For yonder a light shines eternal,
Which spreads through the valley of gloom;
Lord Jesus, resplendent and regal,
Drives fear far away from the tomb.
Our God is the end of the journey,
His pleasant and glorious domain;
For there are the children of mercy,
Who praise Him for Calvary’s pain.

William Vernon Higham, 1926-

Tune: Crugybar

Link: Vernon Higham Hymns

Hymns of The Incarnation – The Lord Jesus Christ

Jesus the Source of Life 04
Jesus the Source of Life 04 (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

After posting the previous hymn ‘Who is He in yonder stall?’ the following hymn (one of my favourites)  has been buzzing around in my head. Looking through the hymnbook (Christian Hymns) the incarnation or ‘Christmas’ hymns form quite a small section. But the fact is, there are a great many hymns (and Bible texts) that don’t seem to get a mention as it were in the ‘Christmas Canon’. What could be more Incarnational than ‘Mighty, he man’s nature takes‘! I’m reminded therefore of the following text – one of the most amazing and extraordinary texts in the whole Bible – Hebrews 10:10 speaking of the will of God in sending a redeemer – Jesus Christ. Here’s the passage in context:

Heb 10:4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Heb 10:5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;
Heb 10:6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Heb 10:7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'”
Heb 10:8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law),
Heb 10:9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second.
Heb 10:10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Heb 10:11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
Heb 10:12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,
Heb 10:13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.
Heb 10:14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Heb 10:15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
Heb 10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”
Heb 10:17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Heb 10:18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Heb 10:19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,
Heb 10:20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,
Heb 10:21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
Heb 10:22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Heb 10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Note: It is not just difficult, but is impossible to find acceptance with God by any other means than the one God Himself has provided – it’s actually blasphemous to even suggest it! Jesus comes to do the will of God, and what is that will? That HE become man and offer His own infinitely valuable sacrifice – Himself. Because any other sacrifice is unacceptable. The blood of bulls and goats pointed forward to the coming of Jesus – the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. We need a mighty person to achieve this. We need a sinless person. We need a willing person. We need a Great Person. We need a resurrected person. And so to the hymn:

Mighty Christ from time eternal,
Mighty, he man’s nature takes,
Mighty, when on Calv’ry dying,
Mighty, death itself He breaks.
See His might,
King of Heaven and earth by right!

Mighty was He in heaven’s purpose,
Mighty, in the pledge to save,
Mighty, from His birth to Calv’ry,
Mighty, bursting from the grave.
Still will He
Mighty be When things hidden now we see.

Great my Jesus in His Person.
Great as God and man is He,
Great His comeliness and beauty,
White and ruddy, fair to see,
Great that sight,
Sovereign Might,
Throned secure on heaven’s height!

vv. 1 & 3 Titus Lewis, 1773 – 1811;
v. 2, Anonymous;
tr. Graham Stuart Harrison 1935 – 2013 (No. 117 Christian Hymns, E.M.W)

If it’s possible to post a link to how it should be sung I’ll put a link here. It’s a magnificent hymn.

Interview with Carl Trueman on critiquing Big names

Carl Trueman was on The Janet Mefford Radio Show yesterday. There are some excellent points made. Worth a listen.

Carl is first up so download / listen online by going to the page HERE.