Counseling and Worship

 

Do counseling and what we have come to call one’s “style” of worship have anything to do with each other?

Written by Terry Johnson | Saturday, November 23, 2013

 Readers of the Journal of Biblical Counseling and similar publications will gain invaluable wisdom by studying its articles each quarter. As they apply in counseling what they learn, they may see significant results in their counselees in the short term. However, unless their counselees are attending churches which are determined to read, preach, sing, and pray God’s word, and administer the “visible word,” the sacraments, morning and evening, fifty-two weeks a year, year in and year out, their efforts are likely to be blunted.

Since the publication of Jay Adam’s Competent to Counsel in the 1970’s, a revolution in counseling has occurred among American evangelicals. So has a revolution in worship.

Do counseling and what we have come to call one’s “style” of worship have anything to do with each other? Are there ways of worship that are more congenial to the aims of biblical counseling than others? “Of course,” experienced counselors might say. “We pay close attention to the ministry of the word and understand that it is vital for equipping both counselors and counselees” (see Journal of Biblical Counseling, Winter 2003). “We strongly urge our counselees to attend Bible-teaching and preaching evangelical churches.” This answer, which I assume most biblical counselors would give, is a proper answer, as far as it goes. The question is, does it go far enough? Is enough attention being paid to what is happening in the rest of the worship service at those churches? Does it matter if substantial portions of the Bible are being read? Or if biblical and theologically rich songs are being sung? Or if significant time is being given to biblical prayer? Or if the sacraments are being regularly and biblically administered? There is, after all, more to the “means of grace” than preaching.

Let’s imagine Counselor Bob and his Counselee Billy concluding their sixth and final counseling session together. Bob asks Billy about his church. It turns out that Billy attends a local evangelical church. Five years ago this church adopted an exciting worship format complete with a worship team and praise band. Services there start with a 20 minute song set which begins very loud and hard driving, gradually becomes softer and more contemplative. The tone of the service is casual, upbeat, and positive. The worship leader is gregarious and winsome. The preacher is relevant, has a wonderful sense of humor, and is practical. The service is fast paced and seeker-aware. The church has experienced dramatic growth. However little time is given to prayer or Scripture reading in deference to the seekers. The music is mostly performed by professionals. The songs the congregation does sing have irregular rhythms, seem to be designed for soloists, and offer only a couple of lines of content. The sacraments are administered periodically on Wednesday nights. Sermons are topical.

Should Counselor Bob have an opinion about Counselee Billy’s choice of churches? Here are several observations which we might see as vital for our consideration.

Three observations

First, the Bible is the manual for all counseling and discipleship. It provides both the methods and contents by which believers are guided and nourished. By the “living and abiding” word of God believers are born again (1 Peter 1:23-25). By the “word of Christ” believers come to faith (Romans 10:17). By the “pure milk of the word” believers grow (1 Peter 2:2). By the word of Truth believers are sanctified (John 17:17). By the Scripture believers are “equipped for every good work” (1 Timothy 3:16). I say nothing new here. The Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF) and the National Association of Nouthetic Counseling (NANC) both have affirmed from the beginning the irreplaceable role of Scripture in Christian counseling and discipleship. .

Second, once outside of the counseling room exposure to the Bible for most believers takes place primarily in public worship services. The recent revelations at Willow Creek (“Reveal: Where Are You”) shouldn’t shock any experienced pastor. Despite all the effort put into small groups, discipleship, quiet times, and personal Bible study over the last 25 years, most Christians are not “self-feeders,” as the Willow Creekers call it. Excepting a small minority, most of those attending Sunday services don’t read their Bibles between services or participate in discipleship or Bible study groups. They don’t and they won’t. Yet they need to feed on the Scriptures if they are to grow. When will they? How? Counselors: the word of God either reaches your counselees in the church’s public worship services or, by and large, it doesn’t reach them at all. No amount of inspiring and motivating, of begging and pleading, of technological creativity and programmatic excitement is going to change that reality by more than a handful of percentage points. Non-seeker churches need not gloat over the travails of the seeker churches. To a greater or lesser degree, we all live with this stubborn fact.

Third, realistic ministries will take into consideration observation #1, that we grow by the word of God,  and #2, that exposure to the word of God for most people occurs primarily in public worship services. Realistic ministries (and counselors) will refuse to bury their heads in the sand, or to confuse hopes with facts or wishes with data; they will adjust their expectations about the levels at which Christian people can be expected to engage in disciplined Bible study. Similarly, realistic churches will determine to reach their congregations with the word of Christ in the public services lest they fail to reach them at all. Let’s put this observation positively: they will realize that they must reach the people with the word of God in the public services because in most cases there is unlikely to be another venue in which to do so. Consequently biblical counselors should be intensely concerned about the “style” of worship in the churches their counselees attend. Why? Because, on the one hand, they counsel with the conviction that Scripture is the key to their counselees’ growth. On the other hand, they are (or should be) realists who are aware that the primary source of scriptural nourishment for most counselees will be the public worship services of their churches.

Worship content

Observations 1-3 lead inexorably to our next question. Given our passion for restorative counseling and spiritual wholeness, how can we avoid discussing, caring about, or even advocacy respecting what goes on in worship services beyond preaching? In other words, how can we, as counselors, avoid the worship wars? Trace the trajectory of biblical content in evangelical worship services over the last 100 years, and especially the last 25 years. R. Kent Hughes, former pastor of College Church in Wheaton, claims that we are witnessing today a “debiblicizing of corporate worship.”[1] The undeniable (though anecdotal) facts are that less Scripture is read, less is sung, less is preached, and less is prayed. If observation #1 is true, if indeed we are born again, grow, and are sanctified by God’s word, this development is an unmitigated disaster, the church deliberately having made the astonishing determination to deprive itself of Christ’s appointed source of life and growth. This is not the time to probe too deeply into why this is being done but that it is with stunning universality is a fact not to be denied.

Readers of the Journal of Biblical Counseling and similar publications will gain invaluable wisdom by studying its articles each quarter. As they apply in counseling what they learn, they may see significant results in their counselees in the short term. However, unless their counselees are attending churches which are determined to read, preach, sing, and pray God’s word, and administer the “visible word,” the sacraments, morning and evening, fifty-two weeks a year, year in and year out, their efforts are likely to be blunted.

This brings us to our main point. Historic Protestant worship features what the years and locusts have eroded. It offers substantial Bible reading when few churches are reading Scripture beyond the couple of verses upon which the sermon is based; expository (even sequential) preaching in an era of topical and therapeutic sermons; extensive biblical prayer even as public prayer is vanishing; and Bible-rich songs (classic hymnody and metrical psalmody) rather than the subjective and repetitious genre that dominates the church landscape today; and it offers the regular administration of the sacraments. It calls the people to worship with Scripture, collects tithes with Scripture, and pronounces the benediction with Scripture. It begins with Scripture, ends with Scripture, and its elements are saturated with Scripture. Worship is so much more than “style” preferences. Our Protestant forefathers were convinced that the word of God was “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword,” the “sword of the Spirit” and the “power of God” (Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17; Romans 1:16). Through the word of God, they believed, the people of God would be converted, transformed, and fed. Their worship reflected that conviction, not just in preaching, but in reading, singing, and praying Scripture as well. So should ours. So should be the worship of the churches we commend to our counselees.

Christian counselors: is it not the case that our counselees will only be sustained in good spiritual health by a steady diet of God’s word? Is it not also the case that they are only likely to receive this diet at churches that order their public worship services along the lines of classical Protestantism?

Terry Johnson is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as Senior Pastor of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Ga.

Please Come!

Grace and Peace is a family of people in Southern Maryland. We are all about worshipping God as we study the Bible, and caring for each other. We welcome new persons, families, young or older, all races. We are all learning together led by our pastor and other leaders. PLEASE COME!

“Lex orandi, lex credendi”

Rev. Dr. Edd Cathey-adapted from Pastor J. Strey

“Lex orandi, lex credendi” is a Latin phrase that literally means, “The law of praying [is] the law of believing.”  The idea behind the phrase is that the way you pray says something about, and even shapes, what you believe.  Practically speaking, this observation can be extended beyond prayer to worship in general.  The way you worship as a Christian congregation says something about your beliefs.

“Lex orandi, lex credendi” is a shorthand version of the original Latin phrase, “Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi.”  This phrase is attributed to Prosper of Aquitaine, a 5th century lay theologian, Christian writer and student of Augustine. A translation of that phrase is, “The law of praying establishes the law of believing.”  The original phrase is even stronger than the more common, shortened version: The idea is that the way you pray and worship actually establishes what you believe.

It’s no secret that many churches today have been reexamining their worship practices.  A careful analysis of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it is a good thing.  We don’t want to get ourselves into a liturgical rut, nor do we want to jump on the next bandwagon just because it’s passing by.  Now, before we do what we’ve always done, or before we change anything, we need to understand our own theology and how worship reflects, or fails to reflect and support what we believe.

Take the example of singing multiple songs at the beginning of worship.  There is no law that says you can’t sing multiple songs at the start of worship.  Scripture doesn’t tell us how we should specifically arrange the songs in our service.  We have the freedom to sing songs wherever we choose in the service, or even to sing at all.  And since there are more than a few churches pulling in big numbers each week that begin worship with multiple praise songs, perhaps that’s something we should look into.

So let’s look into it.  Many people do not realize that the whole idea of singing multiple songs in worship comes out of Pentecostal thinking.  The following quotation from Donald Hustad warns non-charismatics that they should not copy charismatic worship ideas in their own services unless they want to adopt charismatic theology (emphasis mine):

Praise and worship music itself originated with the Charismatic Renewal Movement; all of the approaches identified in these chapters … are carefully devised according to charismatic theology and Scripture interpretation and are expected to lead to characteristic Pentecostal experiences. … Charismatic believers have a right to develop their own worship to match their own theology and exegesis, and they have done this well. Non-charismatics should not thoughtlessly copy or imitate their worship formulae, unless they expect to enter the same “Holy of Holies” in the same way. Instead, they should develop their worship rationale based on their scriptural understanding, and then sing up to their own theology!

In many Non-reformed Evangelical circles, music and prayer are the “means of grace,” i.e. the way God comes among us and strengthens our faith.  For Reformed believers, the means of grace is the gospel, the message of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ redeeming work; the gospel message is administered to us in the Word and the Sacraments.

If you look at a Pentecostal or Evangelical service, it is quite clear that singing and praying are the “means of grace.”  Multiple songs are sung to call God into our presence (following a curious misinterpretation of Psalm 22:3.) Prayers are scattered throughout the songs and the service.  Obviously I’m not against prayer, but the content of the prayers often reflects the idea that we are praying God into our presence.

Let’s take the content of the songs out of the discussion. Let’s simply examine the practice of multiple praise songs at the start of the service.  Again, there is no law saying “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not.”  But consider these factors.  American Christianity is heavily influenced by the Pentecostal/Evangelical movement.  If Evangelicals believe that we can sing ourselves into God’s presence, and if they include a series of songs to do that at the beginning of their worship, and if Reformation Churches subsequently borrow that idea from Evangelical worship and place it into reformed worship, what will be the long-term effect on Reformed churchgoers?  How could they not, over time, be led to think that music is the means of grace?  Even if the pastor never said or taught anything remotely close to that, the influence of Evangelicalism in American Christianity and the continuous use of their worship concepts will teach and reinforce a bad understanding of the means of grace over time. “Lex ordandi, lex credendi.”

An aside: Someone may argue that if we shouldn’t borrow from the Evangelicals, we also shouldn’t borrow the liturgy from the Roman Catholic Church.  A few things should be noted.  First, the basic liturgy’s so-called Western Rite was around long before Rome’s false doctrine.  The liturgy was not based on false doctrine, and Reformed versions of the liturgy do not incorporate any later elements that reflect Rome’s theology.  Second, Catholics, Lutherans and Reformed both acknowledge that the Word and Sacraments are the means of grace, so it’s no surprise to see some similarities — though not total similarity.  Finally, while Catholic and Reformed liturgical outlines are similar, there is quite a bit of difference in specific content between the two.  Compare the confession of sin and pardon at the start of the service, or the Eucharistic Prayers (Prayers of Thanksgiving) prior to the reception of the Lord’s Supper. Rome’s prayers turn the Supper into our sacrifice to God; Reformed prayers keep the Supper as the sacrament of Christ’s once for all sacrifice for us).

Many other examples could be offered about the way that worship practices can affect our beliefs, whether they are practices borrowed from other denominations or practices developed within a church or denomination.  But the point should be clear.  Whether it is a developed or borrowed practice, every worship practice needs to be carefully examined to see if we’re communicating the gospel message clearly and without compromise.  “Lex orandi, lex credendi.”

Jesus Christ was and is a real man!

Jesus Christ was/is no Phantasm: “The Gospels constantly portray Christ as living a thoroughly human, bodily existence: he was conceived in a womb and born when a census was being taken; his penis was circumcised when he was an infant. He grew in stature—he did not come full grown. He got hungry, thirsty and weary. His body was nourished by ordinary food and rested by ordinary sleep; his spiritual relation to the Father was refreshed by prayer, like us”   Thomas Oden, The Word of Life

God redeems creation: against Gnosticism

Not A Ladder But A Cross

R. Scott Clark | August 31, 2013

“17. Why must he also be true God?
That by the power of His Godhead He might bear in His manhood the burden of God’s wrath, and so obtain for and restore to us righteousness and life.”

Almost from the beginning of the history of the apostolic church there arose movements that, like the Evil One, sought to suggest that God had made a mistake in creation, that we were not created in righteousness and true holiness. Ever since that terrible conversation with the Evil One we have either been suggesting that God erred in creation or that the fall was really his fault or both.

It isn’t true. We were created in righteousness and true holiness. Scripture says that creation was “good.” The first two humans were good. That’s an important word, especially in the context of the creation narrative and in light of all that transpired. Good is a loaded term there. It carries a number of ideas within it. It means that there was no defect, that it was pleasing to God the way a beautiful piece of art is pleasing to its creator. Chief among the ideas embedded in “good,” however, are “righteous” and “holy.” By righteousness we mean to say that we were legally upright. We were in conformity to the law of God. We had not transgressed. We were liable to no punishment because we had committed no crime. By holiness we mean to say that we were created morally pure and good. We were without stain or pollution of any kind. On reflection it might seem surprising that we speak of holiness before the fall, since we tend to speak of holiness as a consequence of God’s work in us, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ, by the Spirit, after the fall. There was, however, holiness before the fall. Remember the creation narrative in Genesis 1. God set aside one day out of seven and called that day holy even before the fall. Even in a morally pure setting, before we had sinned, it was possible to set aside a day as distinct, as special, in order to point to a state of existence beyond our present state. More about that later.

We know from the creation narrative that the Sabbath day, the climax of the creation narrative, was holy. It was different. It was set apart. We know from the creation narrative that Adam and Even were holy. They were set apart. They were pure. They were not, however, glorified or in the consummate or final state. They were in a probationary state. They, and particularly Adam as the representative of all humanity (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15:45), had a test to pass. Should they pass that test, they would enter into the state of blessedness represented by the Sabbath and signified and sealed by the Tree of Life.

Within the apostolic period, however, there arose a dualist movement that taught that the created world was not inherently good. They taught that creation (the material world) as created was inherently corrupt and evil. They did what pagans and many misguided Christians have often done. In effect, without always admitting it, they blamed the Creator rather than the creature for the corruption of the original state. Implicit in the claim that the material, physical world is inherently corrupt is the idea either that God erred or that it is impossible for the material world to be good. Behind those notions is the assumption that humans live on a continuum with the spiritual world and that what we need is not salvation from sin and judgment but more being. In other words, what is really being said is that God held out on us, as it were. That, of course, is exactly what the Evil One said: “God knows that the moment you eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you will be like him and he’s scared.” He was implying that God is a con artist and a liar.

We know, however, who is the con artist and the liar don’t we? This idea that the material world is inherently broken and evil was so pervasive some Christians, perhaps many, incorporated it into their thinking and began to say that Jesus’ humanity wasn’t real. It couldn’t have been.

  • Human nature is inherently evil.
  • Jesus was good
  • Ergo Jesus’ humanity couldn’t have been real.

The first premise is false and therefore the conclusion is wrong. Jesus’ humanity was and is true humanity. Our problem was not that were created badly. Our problem is far more mysterious and difficult to explain! We freely chose to sin. We voluntarily plunged ourselves into death and judgment.

The idea that the material world is evil was so pervasive that the Apostle John wrote 1 John against it. The error grew and by the middle of the Second Century (150 AD) it had developed into a full-blown heretical movement—the greatest of the ancient church—called Gnosticism. They developed a competing version of Christianity wherein salvation was not from sin but from creation and not by trusting in Jesus as our Mediator (substitute) but as one of many bringers of secret knowledge (Gnosticism) through which we could, for a fee, climb up a sort of cosmic ladder into a state of blessedness.

This very sort of teaching is widespread today. Peter Jones has been pointing it for a couple of decades. We have a Gnostic teachers in our town. They’re called “New Age” teachers but they teach almost exactly what the old Gnostics taught in the 2nd century. The Christian Science movement has been teaching Gnosticism for more than a century. More than a few evangelical Christians have incorporated Gnostic ideas into their theology. They’ve turned the faith from a public confession about public, historical truths and realities int o Gnostic secrets that divide the church into sects. They offer secret knowledge about how to climb the ladder into another state of being.

What was offered to us in the beginning was not that we would become competitors to God but that we would enter to a state of blessed communion with him, that we would be transformed by him and that, having passed the test, we would be utterly contented in him.

That future still exists. The way to such blessedness is not by overcoming our humanity but by embracing the truest human, Jesus, the Second Adam, the Mediator, the representative for all those who believe. When we disobeyed, we incurred a just death sentence. He paid that penalty for all who believe. When we trust him as our Substitute, we enter into communion with him through faith, worked by the Spirit. We begin to experience now, intermittently, in the church, in communion with other Christians, some of what will be. When we hear the gospel preached, when we see the sacraments administered, when we receive communion, we get a sense of what was intended and of what will be at the consummation.

God didn’t create this mess. We did. Grace means, however, that he entered into our sin and corruption, not by becoming a sinner, but by remaining righteous and holy, so that by the power of his resurrection, through union with Christ, we might be delivered from the fall and all its consequences. Don’t believe the lie. Creation is not inherently evil, even though sin has grotesquely deformed it. Heaven is not at the end of a ladder. It is on the other side of a cross.

You and your Avatar

Second Life or New Life?

One of the earliest challenges to the New Testament portrait of Jesus was docetism, the idea that Jesus only appeared to be human.  As with all heresies, there was a legitimate concern that lay behind it: a desire to preserve the transcendent otherness of God from the mess and change of the physical world.  But, legitimate concern notwithstanding, the Jesus of the gospels and the Jesus of history was a most real, physical, human being.  Some centuries later, Gregory of Nazianzus made the famous point, in a different context, that that which is not assumed by the deity is not redeemed.  His point is pertinent to the issue of docetism, however: a Christ who only seems to be human cannot save what is really human; the humanity of Christian is essential to his mission.
Now, at the start of the twenty-first century, docetism is back, but with a new twist.  It is not Christ who has only the appearance of humanity; rather it is human beings themselves.  Newsweek ran a fascinating article on the web sensation, Second Life  where people create avatars, or virtual characters, and live out their lives in virtual reality.  The phenomenon is fascinating for a variety of reasons.  It surely speaks of a degree of loneliness, perhaps of unrequited ambitions in the real world, and of a desire to break free of the mundane drudgery that is the real world for most of us.
But it also points to the new docetism: the whole idea of human nature has been under heavy fire for some time now, particularly from radical postmodernists, many of whom see it as a Western construct designed to establish certain norms as natural and absolute (whiteness, maleness, etc.) and to oppress and marginalize those who do not match up to this true notion of humanity.    Now the virtual world has taken that idea and made it a reality – or at least a virtual reality.  In this strange world of avatars, I can apparently be the ultimate in self-creations, constructed both in terms of looks, history, and personality, to my own specifications.  I can be god.
Or rather, I can hide from God.  Sad to say, for all of the baloney talked about human nature as a construct, human nature remains stubbornly un-malleable.  I can still only really be in one place at one time; even while the ‘self-created me’ roams around Second Life, the real me can only look at one computer screen and type on one keyboard at a time. I still need to eat, visit the restroom, sleep.  And ultimately, of course, I still need to answer to God.  I can hide on Facebook, or in some collection of pixels on a screen for only so long.  Sooner or later, I have to switch off the computer and go back to real life.
Christ took human nature for a reason: our human nature, the human nature that fell, is real; and salvation by illusion is no salvation at all.  Try as we might, we cannot escape from that fact.  Second Life is perhaps the most impressive attempt ever made at such an escape; but the fact is: we are bodies; and our bodies impose limits on us.  They also impose responsibility towards God upon us, as made in his image.  Just as a docetic Christ cannot deal with the real problem of fallen human nature, neither can the docetic avatars of Second Life.

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”  – John 14:6, NIV

Dr. Carl R. Trueman , vice president for academic affairs and professor of church history and historical theology

The Word-less “Church”

 

We need the word of Christ to dwell in us richly today more than ever

Written by W. Robert Godfrey | previously published in Tabletalk (used with permission)

 

Churches seem to have lost a love for and confidence in the Word of God. They still carry Bibles and declare the authority of the Scriptures. They still have sermons based on Bible verses and still have Bible study classes. But not much of the Bible is actually read in their services….Congregations where the Bible is ignored or abused are in the gravest peril. Churches that depart from the Word will soon find that God has departed from them.

Many American churches are in a mess. Theologically they are indifferent, confused, or dangerously wrong. Liturgically they are the captives of superficial fads. Morally they live lives indistinguishable from the world. They often have a lot of people, money, and activities. But are they really churches, or have they degenerated into peculiar clubs?

What has gone wrong? At the heart of the mess is a simple phenomenon: the churches seem to have lost a love for and confidence in the Word of God. They still carry Bibles and declare the authority of the Scriptures. They still have sermons based on Bible verses and still have Bible study classes. But not much of the Bible is actually read in their services. Their sermons and studies usually do not examine the Bible to see what it thinks is important for the people of God. Increasingly they treat the Bible as tidbits of poetic inspiration, of pop psychology, and of self-help advice. Congregations where the Bible is ignored or abused are in the gravest peril. Churches that depart from the Word will soon find that God has departed from them.

What solution does the Bible teach for this sad situation? The short but profound answer is given by Paul in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” We need the Word to dwell in us richly so that we will know the truths that God thinks are most important and so that we will know His purposes and priorities. We need to be concerned less about “felt-needs” and more about the real needs of lost sinners as taught in the Bible.

Paul not only calls us here to have the Word dwell in us richly, but shows us what that rich experience of the Word looks like. He shows us that in three points. (Paul was a preacher, after all.)

First, he calls us to be educated by the Word, which will lead us on to ever-richer wisdom by “teaching and admonishing one another.”Paul is reminding us that the Word must be taught and applied to us as a part of it dwelling richly in us. The church must encourage and facilitate such teaching whether in preaching, Bible studies, reading, or conversations. We must be growing in the Word.

It is not just information, however, that we are to be gathering from the Word. We must be growing in a knowledge of the will of God for us: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9). Knowing the will of God will make us wise and in that wisdom we will be renewed in the image of our Creator, an image so damaged by sin: “Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (3:10).

This wisdom will also reorder our priorities and purposes, from that which is worldly to that which is heavenly: “The hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of truth, the gospel” (1:5). When that Word dwells in us richly we can be confident that we know the full will of God: “I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known” (1:25). From the Bible we know all that we need for salvation and godliness.

Second, Paul calls us to expressing the Word from ever-renewed hearts in our “singing.” Interestingly, Paul connects the Word dwelling in us richly with singing. He reminds us that singing is an invaluable means of placing the truth of God deep in our minds and hearts. I have known of elderly Christians far gone with Alzheimer’s disease who can still sing songs of praise to God. Singing also helps connect truth to our emotions. It helps us experience the encouragement and assurance of our faith: “That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:2–3).

The importance of singing, of course, makes the content of our songs vital. If we sing shallow, repetitive songs, we will not be hiding much of the Word in our hearts. But if we sing the Word itself in its fullness and richness, we will be making ourselves rich indeed. We need to remember that God has given us a book of songs, the Psalter, to help us in our singing.

Third, Paul calls us to remember the effect of the Word to make us a people with ever-ready “thanksgiving.” Three times in Colossians 3:15–17Paul calls us to thankfulness. When the “word of Christ” dwells in us richly, we will be led on to lives of gratitude. As we learn and contemplate all that God has done for us in creation, providence, and redemption, we will be filled with thanksgiving. As we recall His promises of forgiveness, renewal, preservation, and glory, we will live as a truly thankful people.

We need the word of Christ to dwell in us richly today more than ever. Then churches may escape being a mess and become the radiant body of Christ as God intended.

Grow UP!!!!

When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity

We’re all adolescents now.
Thomas E. Bergler
[ posted 6/8/2012 12:33PM ]
When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity

ILLUSTRATION BY PAUL KISSELEV

The house lights go down. Spinning, multicolored lights sweep the auditorium. A rock band launches into a rousing opening song. “Ignore everyone else, this time is just about you and Jesus,” proclaims the lead singer. The music changes to a slow dance tune, and the people sing about falling in love with Jesus. A guitarist sporting skinny jeans and a soul patch closes the worship set with a prayer, beginning, “Hey God …” The spotlight then falls on the speaker, who tells entertaining stories, cracks a few jokes, and assures everyone that “God is not mad at you. He loves you unconditionally.”

After worship, some members of the church sign up for the next mission trip, while others decide to join a small group where they can receive support on their faith journey. If you ask the people here why they go to church or what they value about their faith, they’ll say something like, “Having faith helps me deal with my problems.”

Fifty or sixty years ago, these now-commonplace elements of American church life were regularly found in youth groups but rarely in worship services and adult activities. What happened? Beginning in the 1930s and ’40s, Christian teenagers and youth leaders staged a quiet revolution in American church life that led to what can properly be called the juvenilization of American Christianity. Juvenilization is the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for adults. It began with the praiseworthy goal of adapting the faith to appeal to the young, which in fact revitalized American Christianity. But it has sometimes ended with both youth and adults embracing immature versions of the faith. In any case, white evangelicals led the way.

Saving the World

Juvenilization happened when no one was looking. In the first stage, Christian youth leaders created youth-friendly versions of the faith in a desperate attempt to save the world. Some hoped to reform their churches by influencing the next generation. Others expected any questionable innovations to stay comfortably quarantined in youth rallies and church basements. Both groups were less concerned about long-term consequences than about immediate appeals to youth.

In the second stage, a new American adulthood emerged that looked a lot like the old adolescence. Fewer and fewer people outgrew the adolescent Christian spiritualities they had learned in youth groups; instead, churches began to cater to them.

Between 1930 and 1950, Americans got blasted by the Great Depression, World War II, and the cold war. Youth pastors, politicians, and parents all wondered if America and its “way of life” would survive. In the public mind, young people held the key to national survival. After all, millions of young people were unemployed, and Hitler and Stalin were riding to power on the backs of easily manipulated youth. Torrey Johnson, the first president of Youth for Christ (YFC), spoke for many when he said, “If we have another lost generation … America is sunk.” In a world of impending doom, who could argue against doing whatever it took to Christianize and mobilize the young saviors of the world?

The 1940s also saw the birth of the “teenager.” Unlike the more diverse youth of previous eras, teenagers all went to high school and participated in a national youth culture increasingly dominated by the same music, movies, products, and cultural beliefs. Although it may seem that the teenagers of the 21st century bear little resemblance to those of the 1950s, crucial similarities remain in the structure of adolescent life and its relationship to the church. And one of the most important traits is the aversion to growing up.


FROM ISSUE:

June 2012, Vol. 56, No. 6, Pg 18, “When Are We Going to Grow Up?”

Marks of a True Church: Pure Administration of the Sacraments

from Daniel Hyde Jan 30,

The second of the three marks of a true church is the pure administration of the sacraments.

The two sacraments that Christ Himself instituted are baptism (Matt. 28:18–20) and the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:26–29). Because of our continuing struggle with sin, the visible Word of the sacraments supplements the audible Word of the gospel preached, for God “hath joined [the sacraments] to the word of the gospel, the better to present to our senses, both that which he signifies to us by his Word, and that which he works inwardly in our hearts” (Belgic Confession, Art. 33). As the preaching of the gospel creates faith, the sacraments confirm that faith within us (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 65), just as circumcision did for Abraham, being “a seal (confirmation) of the righteousness that he had by faith” (Rom. 4:11).

To purely administer the sacraments, a church must do so “as instituted by Christ” (Belgic Confession, Art. 29). This means, first, that it recognizes that there are only the two sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—and that it therefore rejects the five other sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church as false sacraments (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 68). Second, this means that it administers the sacraments without the unbiblical ceremonies and elements that have been added to them over the course of history, such as we find in the Roman Catholic Church.

Baptism is to be administered simply with water, in the name of the triune God, and by an ordained minister (Matt. 28:18–20). Whether one is baptized in a church building or at the beach; whether the baptism is done from a font or in a pool; whether it is performed by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion; and whether the minister sprinkles, pours, or immerses once or three times is all indifferent. The Lord’s Supper is purely administered when bread (whether leavened or unleavened) and wine are given to those who profess faith and are members of Christ’s church, whether kneeling, sitting, or standing. This is to be done with the recitation of the words of institution (as the example of Paul testifies in 1 Cor. 11:23–26), the breaking of the bread (“… he took bread… he broke it… “), and prayer over the bread and wine (“… when he had given thanks… ”).

In the future we will conclude by considering the third mark of a true church, the exercise of church discipline.

The Marcions have landed. A warning for evangelicals

By Carl Trueman
http://www.e-n.org.uk/p-2105-The-Marcions-have-landed.htm
February 20, 2013

When one asks the most influential thinkers in the modern evangelical church are, one might find names such as Jim Packer, John Stott, and Don Carson.

I would like to suggest, however, that there is one whose influence is perhaps much greater than we are aware of, yet whose thinking all but pervades the modern evangelical church: Marcion.

He’s the man who gets my vote for most profound influence on evangelicalism, from canon to theology to worship practices. You never see his books on the shelves in your high street Christian bookshop; you never see him advertised as preaching in your local church; but, rest assured, his spirit stalks those bookshops and pulpits.

He’s the man who gets my vote for most profound influence on evangelicalism, from canon to theology to worship practices. You never see his books on the shelves in your high street Christian bookshop; you never see him advertised as preaching in your local church; but, rest assured, his spirit stalks those bookshops and pulpits.

Marcion is – or, rather, was – a somewhat shadowy figure, with most of what we know about him coming from the hostile pen of Tertullian. Apparently, he was a native of Pontus (in modern times, the area by the Black Sea), who flourished in the middle of the second century, dying circa 160. His major distinctive was his insistence on the Christian gospel as exclusively one of love to the extent that he came to a complete rejection of the Old Testament and only a qualified acceptance of those parts of the New Testament which he considered to be consistent with his central thesis (i.e. ten letters of Paul and a recension of the Gospel of Luke).

So how does Marcion influence modern evangelicalism? Well, I think evangelicalism has become practically Marcionite at a number of levels.

Exclusively love

First, the emphasis upon God’s love to the utter exclusion of everything else has become something of a commonplace. We see this in the collapse of the notion of penal substitution as an evangelical doctrine. Now, maybe I’m missing something, but of all the things taught in the Bible, the terrifying wrath of God would seem to be among the most self-evident of all.

Thus, when I hear statements from evangelical theologians such as ‘God’s wrath is always restorative’, my mind goes straight to countless OT passages, the Bible’s teaching about Satan, and NT characters such as Ananias and Sapphira. There was not much restoration for any of these folk – or are being swallowed alive by the earth, consumed by holy fire and being struck dead for cheating the church actually therapeutic techniques intended to restore the individuals concerned?

And when leading evangelicals tell me that penal substitution is tantamount to cosmic child abuse (don’t laugh – this is seriously argued by some leading evangelical theologians), I’m left wondering whether I should sit down and explain the doctrine to them, or whether I should merely tell them to go away and grow up. Do they really expect the church to take such claims as serious theological reflection?

Out with the Old

Then, there is the constant tendency to neglect the Old Testament, in particular in our theological reflections, and our devotional lives also need to take full account of the Old Testament. We need to read the Bible as a whole, to understand each passage, each verse, within the theological and narrative structure of the canon as a whole.

As evangelicals we can often err by focusing purely on the straight doctrinal teaching of the letters in the NT and the great passages in John’s Gospel. An NT scholar and friend once said to me that he thought the average evangelical’s life would be pretty much unaffected if the whole Bible, except for the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Romans, simply disappeared. Hyperbole maybe, but probably not by much. We need a solid biblical theology – not one which downgrades everything to the level of economy at the expense of ontology but one which takes full account of the central narrative of the Bible and seeks to do justice even to those bits of the Bible we don’t like.

God’s songs

Then, in our church practice, we need to take the Old Testament more seriously. It astounds me, given the overwhelming use of psalms as central to gathered worship in the first four centuries, the absolute importance given to psalmody for the first two centuries of the post-Reformation Reformed churches, and the fact that the Book of Psalms is the only hymn book which can claim to be universal in its acceptance by the whole of Christendom and utterly inspired in all of its statements – it astounds me, I say, that so few psalms are sung in our worship services today.

Moreover, often nothing seems to earn the scorn and derision of others more than the suggestion that more psalms should be sung in worship. Indeed, the last few years have seen a number of writers strike out against exclusive psalmody. Given that life is too short to engage in pointless polemics, I am left wondering which parallel universe these guys come from, where the most pressing and dangerous worship issue is clearly that people sing too much of the Bible in their services. How terrifying a prospect that would be.

Imagine: people actually singing songs that express the full range of human emotion in their worship using words of which God has explicitly said, ‘These are mine.’ Back here on Planet Earth, however, there is generally precious little chance of overloading on sound theology in song in most evangelical churches as the Marcion invasion is pretty much total and unopposed in the sphere of worship. Yet I for one prefer Athanasius to Marcion as a patristic thinker and, in his letter to Marcellinus, he gives one of the most beautiful and moving arguments for psalms in worship ever penned (available at www.athanasius.com/psalms/ aletterm.htm). It is a pity more have not taken his words to heart

Making God unknowable

So what will be the long-term consequences of this Marcionite approach to the Bible? Ultimately, I think it will push ‘the God who is there’ back into the realm of the unknowable and make our god a mere projection of our own psychology and our worship simply into group therapy sessions where we all come together to pretend we are feeling great. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – take that identity away and what do we have left? As the OT is the context for the NT, so the neglect of OT leaves the NT as more or less meaningless. As our reading, our sermons, and our times of corporate worship neglect and, sometimes, simply ignore the OT, we can expect a general impoverishment of church life and, finally, a total collapse of evangelical Christendom.

Indeed, there are mornings when I wake up and think it’s already all over, and that the church in the West survives more by sheer force of personality, by hype and by marketing ploys rather than by any higher power. We need to grasp once again who God is in his fullness; we need to grasp who we are in relation to him; and we need teaching and worship which gives full-orbed expression to these things – and this will only come when we in the West grow up, ditch the designer gods we build from our pick-n-mix Bible where consumer, not Creator, is king, and give the whole Bible its proper place in our lives, thinking and worship.

Think truncated thoughts about God and you’ll get a truncated God; read an expurgated Bible and you get an expurgated theology; sing mindless, superficial rubbish instead of deep, truly emotional praise and you will eventually become what you sing.

Carl Trueman is Professor of Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, USA. This article is adapted from Carl’s editorial in Themelios Vol. 28 No. 1 from last autumn and is used with permission