Amazing in its relevance at this time.

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.

Collect

O GOD, who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright; Grant to us such strength and protection, as may support us in all dangers, and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hymn

For all thy Church, O Lord, we intercede;
make thou our sad divisions soon to cease;
draw us the nearer each to each, we plead,
by drawing all to thee, O Prince of Peace;
thus may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.

So, Lord, at length when sacraments shall cease,
may we be one with all thy Church above,
one with thy saints in one unbroken peace,
one with thy saints in one unbounded love;
more blessèd still, in peace and love to be
one with the Trinity in Unity.

Biblical formality and festivity

Pastor Cathey quotes Pastor Sumpter who quotes  a scholar in the field of reformed worship:

“Since for Americans there is often an in-built negative reaction to any mention of formality in worship, let us turn briefly to Hebrews 12 and Revelation 4-5. Hebrews 12:22-24 describes a New Covenant (contrasted with the Old Covenant worship of vss. 18-21) corporate, Lord’s Day worship service. When the church gathers on the Lord Day she enters into heaven (by faith) to worship God with all of the angelic host and departed saints. It is as if the roof of the church building is torn off when the pastor calls the people to worship. Notice that the worshipers are all organized around the throne of God. The worship service does not merely provide an opportunity for private devotional experiences. The church is a ‘city’ and a ‘joyous assembly’ or ‘festal array’ (v. 22). The word translated ‘festal assembly’ denotes an assembly of people gathered for a celebration or festival. Later, when we are privileged with the Apostle John in the book of Revelation to peek into heaven, how is the worship conducted? What kind of worship is modeled for us in heaven? There are all kinds of liturgical lessons to be learned here. I only wish to highlight one aspect: the heavenly service is liturgical and formal. According to Revelation 4-5, heavenly worship is a formal, coordinated activity. There are cooperative, formal responses by groups of worshipers. Everybody responds together with the same words. There are no individual displays of spirituality. Angels, elders, and creatures respond antiphonally with responses that must have been learned! They have been trained. There is a pre-arranged form to the worship. They have rehearsed this event, and they are dressed accordingly (Rev. 4:4). In other words, heavenly, Spirit-guided worship is liturgical and formal (1 Cor. 14:26-33).”
G. Mark Sumpter

Scoring Points for Traditional Hymnody

 

Scoring Points for Traditional   Hymnody
Written by G. Mark Sumpter
Monday, 02 January 2012 00:00
What’s great at Christmastime can   be great 48 other Sundays. At the Christmas season, traditional hymnody—it’s   words and musical genre—scores big. For about 30 calendar days, traditional,   even some really old, hymnody rebounds in worship-life and society. People   show that they actually like the old stuff. Maybe this is one way to be more   strategic in recruiting worshipers from within the contemporary side of   the evangelical and reformed. It’s time to do a little CARPE DIEM. Here are   some good vibes at Advent, musically speaking.Generations Hold Hands: elementary age kids, very young children, 14 year olds,   25 year olds— goateed and lip piercings to-boot—stand next to 69 year olds,   those still sporting wire frame bifocals, and they’ll work their way through   five lines of #221 Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming. If you look close,   they’re holding a hymn book too. They appear dialed in with gratitude. Carols   bring about the pleasant wrapped-up gift of the church being the   church—young, old, wide, narrow, rich, and poor. Knuckles and high fives.

Sweat on the Brow is No Biggie: At Christmas we don’t mind having to work at our   singing. In our worship age, when we’re told about KISS—Keep It Simple   Songwriter, at Advent we’re not afraid of fancy notes, awkward beats, and   funny syllables. “The shepherds at those tidings re-joice-ED much in mind…”   How odd. (I wonder if Chris Tomlin uses re-joice-ED in contemporary   expression?)  At Christmas, that doesn’t scare us, and that’s good. I   still struggle with the line in O Come All Ye Faithful, the one, “very   God, begotten, not created.” I have to work at this line every time we come   to it. The timing with the syllables freaks me. But our willingness to work   at freaky beats and syllables is good. We see that people don’t mind going   over and over a tune to get it right. Maybe once Christmastime is over we can   make use of our willingness to be patient and work on singing skills. If   people are showing that they’re not afraid of elbow grease, let’s go for it.   Whistle while you work—on more difficult traditional worship music.

Use the Principle of Reinforcement: If you go to the malls and over to   the hospital, and turn on the radio, and attend the Christmas   programs…and—even open a Hallmark Card, you’ll get reinforcement of   traditional hymnody-like carols. The principle of reinforcement should cue   us. Pastor, Worship Leader: do you want a shot at seeing your people grow in   their singing? Discipleship centers on familiarity, recognition and   re-play. Once again—here’s hope for traditional worship music. Finding ways   for traditional hymns to be piped into ears and hearts is key. If God’s   people hear it enough, they’ll grow to love it. Christmas proves this.

If only it was Christmastime every   Sunday.

 

G. Mark Sumpter is a minister in   the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is serving as pastor of Faith Presbyterian   Church in Grants Pass, Oregon. 

 

Why Baptize Babies?

Why Baptize Babies, Does it Matter?

Rev. G. Mark Sumpter, Pastor of Faith OPC, Grants Pass, WA

In the discussion of the administration of the water of the rite of Christian baptism, the question about the subjects of baptism gets most of the attention. To whom should the sacrament of baptism be administered? Does the Bible teach that covenant children are to be baptized or only those of age, based on their profession of faith? But soon in the conversation another question comes: What does it matter anyway if we baptize at a very early age? Don’t we both, Baptists and Presbyterians, as church-going families with children, give ourselves to training the children in the love and grace of Christ? Don’t we both teach our kids to pray? Don’t we both teach our kids to sing to Jesus, memorize specific Scriptures and the catechism? Aren’t all faithful parents in earnest working at correcting and training their kids in obedience unto the Lord? So, whether baptized or not the kids of the church and Christian home get Christian nurture, right? Does it matter?

It does:

1. Its administration is obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ in His great commission (Matthew 28:19).

2. Signs in the Bible are directly associated with a teaching ministry, and in particular, a teaching ministry to children (Josh. 4:21-22).

3. Our children fundamentally need the security of belonging, of being included. They are kids. Baptism includes them in God’s Kingdom, under His ownership (Acts 2:39).

4. Baptism is a witness and summons to the parents to carry out their responsibilities to train, correct, nurture and admonish their children (Matt. 28:19; Gen. 17:7; Gen. 18:19). Just as a wife and husband have responsibilities to one another, respectively, according to one’s role in faith, so are parents called to faithful responsibility to the child who is set apart for Christ–holy in Him (1 Cor. 7:14).

5. Baptism includes the child in God’s story of the out-working of history–the story of the Old Testament, the New and beyond (Acts 2:39; and note the persons included in God’s story of grace in Hebrews 11, for example, Noah and his sons 11:7; Abraham and Issac 11:17-18, et al, and Hebrews 12:1-2). The child knows that he, like his parents and his grandparents, and other senior generations, shares in the generation by generation work of God. Baptism includes the child in God’s tale.

6. Baptism mirrors the societal relations that we know in the biological family and city of man. Just as our children bear a surname in God’s institution of the family and just as they hold a certificate of citizenship testifying to membership in God’s institution of the state, so he’s associated with God and His people with entitlement, expectations and opportunity in the institution of the church (Eph. 4:4-6; see Paul’s welcome into membership in the church Acts 9:19, 26-28). All three institutions ordained by God are rightly represented, starting with the child’s birth.

7. Water baptism of children unites them to the visible, historic body of Christ, distinguishes them from the world and reminds them to take up the tangible practicalities of weekly public worship and congregational service in the life of the church. They help to make up of the recognized body of Christ today, not merely the church of tomorrow (The Book of Ephesians). The historic marks of the church, specifically the administration the sacrament of water baptism, cover the younger generations of the church. The marks are not merely for the older generations.

8. Baptism includes children in the conquering work of the epoch or era of Christ’s earthly glory (John 17:4). It’s the day of the great glory of the One who is the express image of God, who has brought about His regenerating work. The Book of Hebrews denotes the superiority of Christ over the prophets, the angels and Moses, and specifies that this age is under His triumph and finished work (Heb. 2:5). The coming of Jesus signals the dawn of the era of fulfillment, and thus, water baptism, associated with Christ’s atoning, cleansing work, is their basis for claiming the promise of salvation.

9. Baptism of children keeps the corporate, historical identity of the covenant people of God in view (Acts 2:39). The materiality of water, as a means of grace, reminds the church of her glorious ways of ministry, preaching, fellowship, meal-sharing, prayer, evangelism, diaconal work and more, and it helps to keep at bay the notion that the secret work of the doctrine of election is all that matters. We must not allow the secret work of God to eclipse the tangible, revealed things, especially the means of grace (Deut 29:29).

10. Baptizing children is the gospel in miniature. Helpless, dependent children display the mark of discipleship in the kingdom (Matt. 18:3). Fleshy works fail; complete dependency on God, the granting of the gift of faith in Christ, secures life (Eph. 2:8-10). Man’s strength does not save, only God (Rom. 5:6).

11. Baptism is the seal, the stamp of God’s love for all ages, all generations of the church–from birth to death. His care doesn’t skip over anyone (John 3:16; 1 John 2:12-14).

Predestination/Election Quiz

Reformed Christians are accused of many false and foolish things regarding the doctrine of predestination. Here is a short list. Do you hold to any of these errors? Take a close look.
1. The doctrine of predestination and related subjects, by its very character and tendency, turns the hearts of men away from all godliness and religion.
2. It is an opiate for the flesh administered by the devil, and a stronghold of Satan, where he lies in wait for all, wounds multitudes, and mortally pierces many with the darts both of despair and false security.
3. It makes God the author of sin, an unjust tyrant and hypocrite; and is nothing more than a renewed Stoicism, Manichaeism, Libertinism, and Mohammedanism.
4. It leads to sinful carelessness, since it makes people believe that nothing can prevent the salvation of the elect, no matter how they live, and that, therefore, they may safely commit the most atrocious crimes. On the other hand, it would not in the least contribute to the salvation of the reprobate, even if they had performed all the works of the saints.
5. The same doctrine teaches that God has predestined and created the greatest part of the world for eternal damnation by a mere arbitrary act of His will, without taking into account any sin.
6. In the same manner in which election is the source and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and ungodliness.
7. Many innocent children of believers are torn from their mothers’ breasts and tyrannically thrown into hell, so that neither the blood of Christ nor their baptism nor the prayers of the church at their baptism can be of any help to them.

Does your thinking about predestination lead you to these false conclusions? The famous Synod of Dort 1618-19 rejects all of the above false notions and states boldly:

“And there are many more teachings of this kind which the Reformed churches not only do not confess but even detest wholeheartedly.”

Collect for Christmas Eve

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

Christmas Message

Dear Congregation:

The importance of the mystery of the Incarnation of God is impossible to underestimate! It is a “mystery” not because it has not been revealed, but because it is unfathomable. I sincerely hope and pray that everyone who reads the words below will meditate upon this mystery during Christmastide and beyond.

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
(1 Timothy 3:16 ESV)

You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form. He has not assumed a body as proper to His own nature, far from it, for as the Word He is without body. He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men. We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.

from St. Athanasius On the Incarnation – Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!" 
-- Charles Wesley

A very blessed Incarnation celebration to all!

Pastor Edd

Thomas Watson on the Incarnation

He was poor, that he might make us rich.
He was born of a virgin that we might be born of God.
He took our flesh, that he might give us His Spirit.
He lay in the manger, that we may lie in paradise.
He came down from heaven, that he might bring us to heaven...

That the ancient of Days should be born.
that he who thunders in the heavens should cry in the cradle...
that he who rules the stars should suck the breast;
that a virgin should conceive;
that Christ should be made of a woman, 
   and of that woman which himself made,
that the branch should bear the vine,
that the mother should be younger than the child she bare,
and the child in the womb bigger than the mother; 
that the human nature should not be God, yet one with God

Christ taking flesh is a mystery 
we shall never fully understand till we come to heaven

If our hearts be not rocks, this love of Christ should affect us. 
Behold love that passeth knowledge! Eph 3:19

Taken from Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, pages 196 and 198

Liturgical Way of Worshipping God?

Appendix A

Why A Liturgical Way of Worshipping God?

by Michael S. Horton (© 1996 Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals – Used with permission.)

From the Greek word for public service, the English word “liturgy” is frightening to many of us who were raised in evangelical churches that had left traditional Protestant or Roman Catholic churches. However, it simply refers to the divine service.

Scriptural worship centers on God’s service to us rather than on our service to God. This is why we understand the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to be “means of grace.” We come to church first of all in order to receive his gift of eternal life. Of course, we are given eternal life the moment we believe, but our faith is imperfect and weak; we are still prone to doubt and despair. Therefore, God meets with his people and through his Word and Sacraments he gives them what he promises: salvation full and free in Christ.

But we also come to church in order to give. It is a grateful response of thanksgiving. The Heidelberg Catechism is divided into three sections: Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude–and with good reason. This is, after all, how the Bible explains our problem and God’s solution. First we must understand the greatness of our problem before God, then the greatness of redemption, which leads us finally to faith and repentance, praise and grateful obedience. Like the Catechism, the liturgy follows these three divisions. This means that every time we worship, we receive the Word throughout the service, not only during the sermon (although that is the chief place for it). There is a goal, a movement, and every week it is the same even though the text of the sermon may be different. Every week we come to terms again with our sinfulness and particular sins, confess them, hear the assurance of the Word that we are forgiven, and praise our merciful Redeemer.

In more “free-style” liturgies (yes, even they are “liturgical,” for everyone has a style of worship), the form depends on the strengths and weaknesses of the pastor or the music director. Often there is no rhyme or reason to the service and it is the sermon alone that sets the theme. In other settings, emotions are allowed the place of Scripture in defining the character of the service, while still other churches determine the service by their aesthetic sense and preference for one style over another. It is not uncommon for churches to divide over these preferences and since it is difficult to find Scriptural authority for one’s own personal tastes, there is little chance of the Bible being able to settle such disputes.

The Protestant Reformers did not want to “throw the baby out with the bath-water” when they sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church. Instead of abolishing all set forms of worship, they reformed the Roman Mass and removed the idolatry, superstition, and merit-theology. Just as they had evangelized the masses with the good news of God’s grace in Christ, they insisted on making worship conform to that biblical message so that the service itself would be a means of evangelizing Christians in their weakness and doubt as well as unbelievers.

Martin Luther and his associates reformed the liturgy in Germany, while Martin Bucer and John Calvin led the way in Strasbourg and Geneva. It was through Bucer’s direct supervision that the Church of England produced the famous and majestic Book of Common Prayer. Bucer was Calvin’s mentor and the liturgies of Strasbourg were incorporated into the services of the Reformed Churches throughout Europe.

One important link in the development of the Reformed liturgy was Petrus Dathenus (1531-1588), a Dutch Reformed minister, and at the Convent of Wesel in 1568 (four years after Calvin’s death), this became the official liturgy of the Dutch Reformed churches.

Since these forms are based on liturgies that go all the way back to the early church, worshippers sense a continuity–a link–with other worshippers in other ages who confessed the same faith and were united by the same hope. Many see the difference simplistically, in terms of formal versus informal worship. American Christianity, heavily influenced by Romanticism, champions informal worship at least in part because of its individualism and subjectivism. But we come to church not merely as individuals who happen to be doing our own thing together; we come together as the Body of Christ and one immediately notices that this liturgical approach knits us together and causes us to enjoy fellowship around a common faith.

Many of us were raised to think of the early church as “house churches,” much like a modern Bible study –informal, unstructured, with no particular organization or hierarchy. However, this was not the case. In fact, it was just this sort of individualism and rejection of authority that caused division in Corinth and merited Paul’s stern rebukes. While these believers met in houses quietly in order to avoid persecution, they followed a set form of worship. In fact, in the famous Acts 2 passage, we learn that early worship consisted of preaching, “the fellowship,” “the breaking of bread” and “the prayers.” It is not merely to prayer in general, but to the prayers that the passage refers, and Communion (“the breaking of bread”) was regularly celebrated along with the preaching rather than being an infrequent addendum. One can read liturgies from the earliest days of the post-apostolic era and discover many of the same prayers and forms that we find in our own Reformed liturgies.

But there is a balance between form and freedom. In every age there is a need to reconsider the liturgical forms–not in order to do away with them, but in order to make sure that they are doing their job: uniting us in this time and place with Christians in other times and places as we join the departed saints in heaven in singing praises to our God and Savior. To that end, we have taken the liberty to do what the Reformers themselves did when they revised the medieval liturgy.