Christianity 201

February 24, 2020

Letting People See Heaven Mirrored In Earth

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

We are always scanning the internet looking for new sources of devotional material we can highlight and direct you towards. The blog A Simple Christian‘s author goes by ‘justified and sinner’ and is the pastor of a Lutheran Church in California and has been writing online since 2009. As always, click the header below to read this at source.

Is there anything on earth…like heaven?

What God has planned for people who love him is more than eyes have seen or ears have heard. It has never even entered our minds!”  1 Cor. 2:9 CEV

When Gideon looked, the angel was gone. Gideon realized that he had seen one of the LORD’s angels. “Oh!” he moaned. “Now I’m going to die.”  “Calm down!” the LORD told Gideon. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re not going to die.” Gideon built an altar for worshiping the LORD and called it “The LORD Calms Our Fears.”  Judges 6:21-24 CEV


Even the atheistic philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There comes a time when you say even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’ ” How can we understand anything of Heaven if there is nothing at all on earth to compare it to, nothing heavenly, nothing that never gets boring? Thus either Heaven is boring, or something on earth is not boring, or nothing on earth is like Heaven.

There are two parts to the answer: first, that everything on earth except agape is meant to be boring; and second, that agape is not.

– Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 88.


So let us take up this problem: genuine art is “esoteric in the best sense”, say Rahner and Vorgrimler; liturgy is simple; it must be possible for everyone, particularly the simple, to participate. Can liturgy accommodate real church music? Does it in fact demand it, or does it exclude it? In looking for an answer to these questions, we will not find much help in our theological inheritance. It seems that relations between theology and church music have always been somewhat cool.

– Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 100.


As I read Kreeft’s words in scripture today, I was amazed by their accuracy. We don’t understand heaven, we can’t conceive of it, even as the Apostle Paul says in the first quote.

I remember a professor quoting one of the early revivalists who said if he could give people a minute of hell, he would never have to convince them to repent.  My sarcastic comment was, “but what if we could give them a glance of heaven?”

Sarcastically said then, but I’ve thought of the wisdom of it – how can we give people a taste of heaven?  How can we help them know the joys of which we should sing?  That which is “beyond” theology, that which defies our explanation?

How can we show them the holiness, the glory, the pure love that we will experience in heaven? How can we help them experience love beyond love, as radical as the day is from the darkest, stormiest night?

The church’s liturgy aims to do so, revealing the love of God as we celebrate our forgiveness, the Lord dwelling among us, the actions He takes to bless and transform us into His holy people, and the feast of the broken bread and the wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus. The feast that celebrates the love, the feast that opens, for a few moments, a view for our souls of heaven.

I love the story of Gideon, especially the verses above. Here he is, somehow missing the miracles the Angel did, then realizing afterward the significance of being in the presence of a holy messenger.  He starts to freak out, the anxiety builds as he realizes his own sin and inadequacy. His glimpse of something holy, someone from heaven, causes enormous fear.

Then the Lord God tells him to chill.

Wait – where was he?

God does speak to us still, just as He did to Gideon.  One of the ways that should happen is in our church’s gathering.  Even as we receive the message we will struggle with, that kills of our sinful self, and raises us to life with the crucified Christ.  Even as we struggle with that, the Lord comes to us in His feast and tells us, don’t fear, I am with you…

That is why we have a dilemma about the art of leading liturgy and the art of leading songs and hymns that accompany it. The use of the term “art” makes us think it is a showcase for the best of our talents. It isn’t!

What the art is, is not found in the musician’s talent, or the pastor, in the charisma. It is found in the communion, the communication of revealing to people they dwell in the presence of God, and helping them to hear His voice. Therein is the art, there is our target, the goal we strive for, there is our art.

There is our joy as well, for the connection is undeniable, and beautiful beyond words, as people come to know they are loved… as they feast with the Lord, knowing the joy that only comes from knowing you are loved.

January 14, 2020

Distinguishing Between P1 and G1 Issues

Today’s devotional arrives from an unlikely source for a blog that aims to avoid topical issues and stick to to doctrinal discussions. I found this towards the end of my reading of Bruce B. Miller‘s book Leading a Church In A Time of Sexual Questioning: Grace-Filled Wisdom for Day-to-Day Ministry (Thomas Nelson, 2019). Learn more about the book at this link.


…Some theological issues are worth fighting for. When do we, like Martin Luther, say, “Here I stand,” and when do we agree to disagree? Let me suggest we distinguish between P1 and G1 issue, Philippians 1 and Galatians 1. In both chapters there is conflict between people who identify themselves a Christians. Paul wrote to the Philippians,

NIV.Phil.1.15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

Some people were preaching the gospel from bad motives. Likely, in their selfish ambition they were trying to get people from Paul’s church to come to their church while Paul was in prison. I imagine they had reasons why their flavour was better than Paul’s. How did Paul respond? “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).

Paul did not condemn them or try to shut them down. He did not critique them or tell people not to join their group. Paul said the important thing is that Christ is preached  no matter what the motive or what the flavour. If Christ is preached, let’s rejoice… Our Christian churches may have different names… but we are all on the same team. We are all for Jesus Christ.

Now look at Galatians 1. How is G1 different from P1? Paul wrote to the Galatians,

NLT.Gal1.8 Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.

How is the situation different in Galatians 1 than in Philippians 1? In Philippians 1, the other people are preaching the true gospel of Christ, but in Galatians 1, the other people are preaching a different gospel. Paul used some of the harshest language in the entire New Testament. He fought for the truth of the gospel. Why? Because people’s eternal destinies are at stake. If you sincerely believe a false gospel, you are not saved, even though you might wrongly think you are.

So when do you fight for the truth? When do you stand up and say, “So help me God, I will die for this truth”? When the gospel is at stake. When the issue is motive or minor matters, you rejoice that the gospel is preached, even if you would not personally go to that church or belong to that group. When the gospel is perverted, you condemn those who are throwing people into confusion. We must distinguish P1 issues from G1 issues. Is this a minor matter, a personality issue, or is the truth of the gospel at stake? If the truth of the gospel is at stake, we fight against those who pervert it because people’s eternal destinies are at stake.

These days some groups in the American Christian church are using the word gospel for nearly everything – from marriage to songs. While it’s commendable to bring the gospel of Jesus to bear on all of life, and it’s true that the gospel has been truncated in recent American popular evangelicalism, such as in simplistic salvation tracts, it can be harmful to use gospel as a heavy adjective to turn P1 issues into G1 issues…

pp.149-151

 

 

January 8, 2020

To The Church in Ephesus

Over the past ten years, Canadian pastor Kevin Rogers has been a staple for readers here at Christianity 201. I follow him on Twitter as well, and get a frequent update as to what he’s writing about. He recently did two blog posts based on two verses in Revelation 2, the letter to the church at Ephesus. Here are both articles with the headers below so you can click through to read one or both.

But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Revisiting ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’

So Jesus and the church of Ephesus were on the same page in this regard. The Nicolaitan sect were teaching and doing things that were destroying the integrity of their relationships.

While historians do not know much about this group, it appears that there was a movement led by a man named Nicolas. They were rejected by the mainstream church and mentioned again in Jesus’ word to the church in Pergamos. Instead of teaching and practicing faithfulness to God, they compromised with the world in ways that destroyed their integrity.

Roman rule required sacrifice to their gods. Emperors such as Decius attempted to weed out Christians by enforcing sacrifices to various Roman deities. Those who resisted faced persecution and possible execution.

The Nicolaitans appeared to conform to this Roman culture, and seemed to encourage Christians in Ephesus to do the same in a time of dire persecution (1 Corinthians 6:12). In eating the food given to the idols, this implies they had gone to the temples to receive this food and would’ve had to engage in the immoralities there to acquire this meat.[1]

God loves the world he created, but Jesus hates the way some people act. This is not the same kind of hatred that develops because of racial bias, petty disagreement or annoyance. This hatred is an active opposition to ways that destroy people.

In the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, he showed what his love for a sinner looks like. He was not condemning her but turned the attention to the conscience of the accusers. Their demands were destroying the woman and giving her no way to reconcile her failure. Jesus removes accusation and opens the door to her freedom to live reconciled to God.

You can hate what crystal meth does to people in the name of love for the user. The well-worn cliché is to hate the sin and love the sinner. This idea has been largely challenged today relating to sexual ethics, but is exactly what Jesus does. He does hate the sin and love the sinner. The sin is that which takes people away from unity with God and their neighbour.

A Change of Diet

Jesus always tells us what will be gained if we patiently endure and overcome the pressures set against us. Anyone who has victory over sin will eat from the tree of life.

Overcoming sin is not so much starving ourselves as it is changing our diet. The meat offered to idols and the infidelity that went along with worshipping the Empire provided people with a sugar high. It was a fleeting sense of addictive pleasure but it also bonded them to the domination of Rome.

Jesus offers them another kind of food without oppression and bondage. Fruit from the tree of life is offered as a diet for those who hunger and thirst for union with God. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

What do you have an appetite for?

As the [Western European and North American] church continues to decline, there is a way for those who remain to patiently endure. We can survive if we return to our first love. We need to name those things that erode our relationships and turn away.

In this time of tectonic shift, we will need to change to a diet of truth and grace. We cannot love the things that God hates and we cannot hate that which God loves.

If we keep looking for understanding and affirmation from the Empire, we will eventually drink the Kool-Aid. Don’t you hate that? God does…


The Ephesians are also the ones who Jesus said had ‘lost their first love.’ Kevin writes on this in Light Exits When Love Dies.

 

October 1, 2019

Envying the Lost?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , ,

Once again we return to the blog Brothers of the Book, written by Bill Hood. Click the title below to read this at its source.

Let Not Your Heart Envy Sinners

Proverbs 22:17–24:22

Our world is all about pursuit of selfish pleasure, and by worldly standards the most selfish seem to succeed. Brother, Let not your heart envy sinners!

When I came to the following verse in today’s reading, I knew it had to be the focus of today’s commentary.

Proverbs 23:17-18 ESV
“Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”

I have long lamented what I consider to be one of the biggest challenges to American Christians. It seems to me that we American Christians are far more influenced by the world than we influence the world. That is not how it is supposed to be. In the book of Acts, we read of a riot in which Christians were dragged to the town square for stoning because they were turning the world upside down; they were challenging the way the pagan world lived.

Acts 17:6-8 ESV
6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things.”

Further on in Acts, we read of another mob dragging Christians before the civil authorities because Christian teachings threaten their way of life. (Acts 19) America, it seems to me, is the Mecca of self-centeredness. Our culture is toxic. Just view our television, movies, or video games. Listen to the lyrics of our music and read the content of our books and magazines. Sex and violence, money and debauchery seem to be the man-made gods of our society. What happens when Christians stand up and share Christ, share Christian values? Christians are dragged before the media, our modern town square, with outraged cries demanding we be silenced. This in itself is enough to cause many Christians to avoid sharing Christ, and we need to address our fears of such treatment if we are to be obedient followers of our Lord and Savior. Before we can even deal with that, however, we must deal with the fact that our society has infected us with the fleshly disease of self-centeredness. We are influenced by the culture around us and, wishing to be like everyone else, we allow ourselves to become infected and this sickness to distract us from who we are and our purpose for being here.

Brothers, let not your heart envy sinners! They pursue filth! You are meant for greater things! The wealth of eternity is yours as a child of The Living God! Why would you want anything less? You have a future and your hope will not be cut off. Stop letting the world influence you. Start influencing the world for Christ. Expect to be dragged before the public for verbal stoning, but also expect to be joyously escorted before your Lord and Savior to receive your eternal reward! I can withstand the slings and arrows of this dark and dying world because I know what I have in eternity. How about you?

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

February 9, 2019

Trashing Our Own House of Worship

We’re back for a second time at John Rothra’s website. There were a number of articles I looked at today, I hope you’ll visit by either clicking the link in the previous sentence, or the header for the article which follows.

Dear Church: We Have Much to Rebuild

Under the leadership of Titus, Roman soldiers destroyed the Jewish Temple in AD 70, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy from a few decades earlier (Luke 21:5-6). Since that time, Jews have longed to rebuild the Temple. The Temple Institute was created and has been constructing many of the items used in in Temple ceremonies, including building the sacrificial altar (this is not the same one you’ve probably seen all over YouTube, which was constructed and dedicated by “Temple activist organizations”).

As we learn from Scripture, though (and taught by the Jew of Jews, Pharisee, and zealous defender of the Torah, Paul), the House of the Lord isn’t a temple built by human hands (Acts 17:24). Rather, God makes his home in the hearts and lives of every believer in Christ Jesus as the risen Savior (Eph 3:17; James 4:5).

We, the Church, are the House of the Lord.  Yet, throughout history, we’ve found ways to tear the temple down.

The Church Often Tears Down the Temple

Over the centuries, the Church has persecuted and killed people they deemed heretics.  If you dare deviate from what a priest thinks you should believe or do, then you faced torture and death.  The Church even persecuted fellow believers for reading the Bible in their own language.

Supposed Christians decided to rescue Jerusalem from infidels (mostly Muslims), and attacked and slaughtered many during the Crusades.  Of course, they also killed Jews and other Christians they considered heretics.

And all this in the name of Jesus.

Although some things may have changed over time, the Church still finds ways to tear down the true temple.

In America, self-proclaimed Christians have used the Bible and Jesus to justify racism, segregation, slavery, and other evils (cf. Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women, Herald Press, 1983).  Today, many preachers continue to swindle people out of their money by making unbiblical promises of health and wealth.  The Church spends much effort making sure the world knows everything we oppose and how sinful people are, while often neglecting our own faults and sins.

Christian leaders and local churches attack other Christians over small matters that don’t really affect the biblical gospel.  If another Christian doesn’t hold to our opinions, interpretations, and personal tastes, then they are somehow lower than us, less holy, or outright non-Christian.

One need only look online at how Christians often behave toward each other and the world.  Egotistical pride abounds and ad hominems are standard rhetorical practice.  We cry victim anytime someone does something we don’t like or that we believe impedes our freedoms, yet often refuse to grant those same freedoms to those of other beliefs.

And all in Jesus’ name.

We Have Much to Rebuild

As the bride of Christ, and as the true House of God, we need to speak the truth in love rather than in judgment.  We need to help the downtrodden and helpless (Gal 6:2; Jas 1:27).  We need to preach and practice the gospel, letting love, mercy, and grace flow in and through us.

As God commands us through the prophet Isaiah,

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.

Isaiah 1:16-17

We need to show the world not merely what we oppose, but whom we love.  We need to go out into the world rather than wonder why the world won’t come to us.  We need to seek the lost, comfort the hurting, and care for the needy.  Only then will we start to repair what we so often tear down.

We are the House of the Lord, and we have much to rebuild.

 

June 23, 2017

Being a Prophetic Church

NLT Jn. 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet…”

This is our second visit to Mystery of Faith. Glenn Packiam is the lead pastor of new life DOWNTOWN, a congregation of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Click the title below to read more articles.

What Does It Mean to Be a Prophetic Church?

What does it mean to be prophetic? The word is thrown around a lot, but depending on which circles you run in, it means something quite different. If you’re in the charismatic crowd, being prophetic means speaking the ‘now’ word of God— bringing ‘fresh revelation’, and possibly even doing it in a way that is spontaneous and disruptive to the plan or the schedule. But if you run with justice-oriented Christ-followers, being prophetic is being bold, confrontational, and possibly disruptive not to a plan but to an order, a societal framework. How could the same word have such different connotations? What can we recover from the Biblical roots of the prophetic role?

In the Old Testament, two words are used to describe the prophet. The earlier of the two is the word ro’eh, which roughly means, ‘the one who sees’. Later, the more common word used for a prophet is nabi, which can be loosely translated as, ‘the one who speaks’, particularly, on behalf of another.

A prophet is one who sees a different world, and says a different word.

Specifically, a prophet is able to speak a revealing word because he sees something others don’t, something hidden to others. This is why the woman at the well in John 4 called Jesus a prophet– he revealed the truth about the number of men who had married and abandoned her. And this is why Paul is a prophet– because the mystery of the Gospel has been revealed to him. If we bring all this together, we can outline a sketch of what it means to be a prophetic church.

A Prophetic Church…

1. Sees Jesus as King and His Kingdom arriving here and now.

One of the major themes in the Old Testament is that the Creator-God is the King of His Creation (many of the Psalms praise God in this way). When we read the first few chapters of the Bible through that lens, we begin to understand that human beings were created to reflect the wise and loving rule of God the Creator-King into His creation. This is what having ‘dominion’ means. Yet, the fall was a rebellion that forfeited that privilege.

Until…the True Adam came as the world’s True King. When Jesus announced His Kingdom mission in Luke 4, He quoted Isaiah 61, where the anointing of the Spirit is the empowerment to bring good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoner, and more. In Luke’s ‘Volume 2’— the Book of Acts— the Spirit is poured out on the Church so that this Kingdom mission can continue.

Paul argues through his letters in different ways that the Church participates in the Kingdom by confessing Jesus as ‘Lord’— the true sovereign of the world— and by living under His reign by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Church is at its prophetic best when it lives in a way the would make no sense unless Jesus is King, and His Kingdom really were arriving here and now. That is why a prophetic church does not divide up evangelism and miracles and justice. We see them as a threefold cord. A prophetic church announces the forgiveness of sins, healing for the sick, and justice for the oppressed in Jesus’ name.

2. Speaks the truth to power.

Our image of the prophet has to be shaped by the Old Testament’s regard for Moses as the greatest prophet in Israel. We don’t usually think of Moses as a prophet, but when we do, we understand that part of the prophetic call is speaking truth to power. In that light, Nathan’s rebuke of David and Elijah’s confrontation with Ahab and Jezebel all begin to make sense. Sometimes the prophet does the truth-telling through the voice of lament, as Jeremiah did.

Thus Jesus is prophetic not only because of His revealing the marriage history of the woman at the well, but also because of His confrontations with power. When Jesus overturned the tables of money-changers in the Temple, and when He defied Pilate— by reshaping his questions, refuting his claims to power, and even by refusing to answer— He was living out the prophetic vocation by speaking the truth to both religious and political powers. (Paul echoes these behaviors in his conversations with various religious and political rulers in the latter half of the Book of Acts.)

The early Christians were not killed because Christianity was a religion Rome did not like. Rome welcomed any and all religions, but they were particularly threatened by Christianity. Why? Because Christianity made a radical, new and exclusive claim: Jesus alone is the Lord of all, worthy of worship; all other gods must be renounced as false. Rome viewed this as a dangerous belief. And every time the Church gathered to worship, there were speaking the truth to power by confessing Jesus as the True Lord– using terms Caesar had applied to himself as political propaganda– and thus declaring the gods of Empire as false.

Every time we show the gods of our age to be false, and expose their claims as a lie, we are speaking the truth to power. We denounce the lie that economic prosperity is the source of joy, that sexual pleasure is the highest end of every relationship, that violence is the path to peace, that a people-group or nation matters more than another. Sometimes our voice is the voice of proclamation and confession; others it is the voice of lament. Both are forms of prophetic truth-telling.

3. Signposts toward the future.

Activism has many appealing qualities. It is better than doing nothing; it unites and mobilizes people toward a common cause. It can raise awareness and even adjust a widely-held cultural paradigm.

And yet, activism is not the same thing as being prophetic. The Church does not care for the poor or feed the hungry or speak for the marginalized for the same reason an activist does. They may be in the same march or use the same hashtag, but the Christian is motivated by something different than the activist. The Christian is not in this— ultimately— to create change or to solve problems. If this were so, then a Christian may weigh the odds of actually changing a situation before speaking up or acting. A Christian is driven to act and speak because she has seen a different future. Remember: a prophet says a different word because he sees a different world.

Every time the Church ‘welcomes the stranger’, forgives an enemy, shows mercy to the offender, or protects the vulnerable, we are a signpost to the future. We don’t do these things to be a good humanitarian or to solve a global crisis. We do it to point toward the day when the Kingdom comes in fullness, on earth as it is in heaven, when every tear will be wiped away, when suffering is no more.

Now more than ever, we need the Holy Spirit to help us live as a witness in the world of a different kind of King and a different kind of Kingdom, arriving on earth as it is in heaven. May God give us the grace to live as a prophetic Church.

June 15, 2015

Living as a Stranger and Living in Exile

Today we pay a return visit to the writing of Raymond Powell, at the blog, The Philippian Jailer. Note: This story was posted in March, and references events taking place at that time. Click on the title below to read at source.

The Relevance of Strangers and Exiles

This week, the headlines shouted and celebrated another high-profile example of the American church bending to accommodate the values of our prevailing culture. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), whose membership has declined 47% since 1967, has once again updated its constitution … this time to embrace same-sex marriage. By doing so, it has doubled down on its bet that “relevance” is achieved when the church molds itself to more closely resemble the world around it.

But is “relevance” where this quest actually leads? No, this kind of relevance is a chimera, as attested to by the collapse of the PCUSA’s membership. In fact, it is worse than that, for while it draws on our deep desire to fit in with our culture, the quest for the world’s good regard is really poison to the church. This leads us into an astonishing place, for by pursuing relevance at all costs, we are gradually slouching into irrelevance.

This is because we don’t understand what is supposed to make us relevant.

The church’s relevance is born not of our identification with the world, but by our love for the world while identifying with Christ. Until we stop trying to be the church the world thinks it wants, we cannot be the church the world really needs.

How shall we then live, now that the culture has decided en masse that our views are no longer merely quaint or weird or puritanical, but hateful? Surely we must change?

Well, yes we must, but not in the way we seem to have decided. First, we must understand that our supreme example, Jesus Christ, wasn’t crucified for his irrelevance, but rather for the way His extreme relevance threatened the culture’s arbiters of what was acceptable. His relevance was built not on the compromise of his principles, but rather on his commitment to them, which was enveloped in a life-giving gospel of love.

What we must do, therefore, is much, much harder than simply repudiating the values and principles of our forebears in favor of the enlightened, modern, accepted truths of our contemporaries. Nor is it profitable to simply rail against the culture in favor of what was “traditional”, a clumsy and loaded word that ensnares many into a sinister trap of arrogance and judgmentalism.

What is required of us is a bold love–one that risks rejection, isolation, stigmatization, and even real persecution for the sake of clearly speaking the truth about God’s salvation–yes, including the hard parts about His wrath and coming judgment–to this lost and dying world in need of a Savior. This is the gospel of the faithful, of those who paid the last full measure of devotion:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

The relevance of the church is tied up completely in the inherent relevance of the gospel … a gospel which does not seek to minimize sin, but rather to maximize Christ and His grace. It means moving boldly but lovingly into the lives of those who reject Him and His truth, in order that they may see Him in us, receive His love and message and Spirit, and thus be saved.

Living the reality of the “stranger and exile” means that we recognize the sinfulness of what the Bible clearly identifies as sin, but do so with compassion instead of condemnation, because we are so keenly aware of the truth of 1 Timothy 15:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Deciding to live this way will hurt, both because of the world’s rejection, and because we will pour our hearts out for so many who will respond with indifference, ambivalence, and sometimes even rage. But Jesus did not promise that He would deliver us from pain in this life–in fact, quite the opposite. Our promises are anchored primarily in the hope of the indescribable happiness that will come with eternity in God’s glorious kingdom, and also in the supernatural strength, comfort and joy that He provides us here, in the land of our sojourn.

July 18, 2012

Why Modern Worship Music is Praise, Not Worship

I know you guys like to go deep, so today’s post is no exception, but unfortunately the writer delves deeply into this topic, but leaves us without a key scripture verse today, so just to frame it up, we’ll begin with a brief repeat item.


The “speaking to yourselves in Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” phrase occurs twice in scripture.

In Ephesians 5: 18-19:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (NASB)

and in Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (NASB)

Christianity is a singing faith. No other “religion” (in quotation marks because Christianity does not meet much of the definition) can boast the volume of music that has been given to the world as has the Christian faith.

Why?

The verses give us the answer, we sing because:

  • the Spirit of God lives within us and causes us to sing (Eph. text)
  • the Word of God fills our minds and provides us with the lyric to which we give voice (Col. text)

Of course, we can’t omit the whole matter of “experience” as a classic gospel song reminds us:

I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me.

But this, too has its roots in the text. Happy and free because of the Spirit’s presence. Known, cared-for and loved as promised in the Word.


…That brings us back to today’s item with the provocative headline!  The writer is Father Christopher Smith, writing at the Catholic Education Center Resources blog.  You MUST click through to read this, I am simply reiterating his points without the supporting paragraph that goes with each one. If you leave a comment, please identify which item number you are responding to.  And please don’t leave a comment if you didn’t read the supporting paragraph for that item.

Father Christopher Smith, PhD, STD is administrator of Prince of Peace Roman Catholic Church in Taylors, South Carolina.  He is a member of the Church Music Association of America and contributes regularly to the Chant Café blog. He is also a member of the Catholic Theological Society of America and is a speaker on sacred music, liturgy, theology, and catechesis. Father Smith speaks Spanish, Italian, French and some German. He enjoys reading, kickboxing, and music.

I’ve changed his title in the headline above, because I believe he is mostly addressing the modern worship movement as practiced in most Evangelical churches and blended with hymns and liturgical music in more traditional churches. I address that more at the end of this first section.

Here’s the link: Why Praise and Worship is Praise but Not Worship.

Outline of points:

  1.  P&W music assumes that praise is worship.
  2.  P&W music assumes that worship is principally something we do.
  3. P&W music assumes as its first principle relevance.
  4. P&W music assumes as its second principle the active participation of a certain age group
  5. P&W music self-consciously divides the Church into age and taste groups
  6. P&W music subverts Biblical and liturgical texts during the Mass
  7. P&W music assumes that there can be a core of orthodox Catholic teaching independent of the Church’s liturgical law and tradition
  8. P&W music consciously manipulates the emotions so as to produce a catharsis seen as necessary for spiritual conversion
  9. P&W music confuses transcendence with feeling
  10. P&W music denies the force of liturgical and musical law in the Church in favour of arbitrary and individualist interpretations of worship
  11. P&W music prizes immediacy of comprehension and artistic ease over the many-layered meaning of the liturgy and artistic excellence

Let me again state that where he is using the phrase P&W music, I believe it is more correct to say “Modern Worship.” The reasons he gives are rooted in a deep understanding of Roman Catholic spirituality, but are overshadowed with the assumption that only certain styles or genres of music are an appropriate part of a liturgy, i.e. a worship service. This assumes that would be impossible to make the mass (or an Protestant worship service) more culturally relevant to people overseas, or that an encounter with God through worship is not going to have a deep emotional element. (If the end result is rooted in, for example, Gregorian chant; to impose this on people in other countries is not unlike the fringe groups who insist that only the King James Bible saves, and therefore, they must first be taught King James English.)

I also think it is important to remember that today’s modern worship is an outgrowth of the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement, and today’s CCM has its earliest roots in the Catholic folk masses of the early 1960s. (See this video as an example.)

But I also believe it not wise to be too dismissive of the writer’s passion about the qualities of worship music we aim for; and I have reproduced this here because I believe there is application here for Christians of all stripes. This is, I believe, the type of thinking more of us need to be exposed to, even if we ultimately disagree.

He ends with a more positive restatement of the same eleven points:


  1. The Church’s musical and liturgical tradition is an integral part of worship, and not a fancy addition.
  2. While Praise is a high form of individual and small group prayer, it is not Worship as the Church understands the corporate public prayer of the Liturgy.
  3. Worship is not principally something that we do: it is the self-offering of Jesus Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, the fruits of which are received in Holy Communion. Worship is Sacrifice and Sacrament, not Praise.
  4. Relevance is irrelevant to a liturgy which seeks to bring man outside of space and time to the Eternal.
  5. Participation in the liturgy is principally interior, by the union of the soul with the Christ who celebrates the liturgy. Any externalizations of that interior participation are meaningless unless that interior participation is there.
  6. The Church’s treasury of sacred music is not the province of one social-economic, age, cultural, or even religious group. It is the common patrimony of humanity and history.
  7. The Church must sing the Mass, i.e., the biblical and liturgical texts contained in the Missal and Gradual, and not sing at Mass man-made songs, if it is to be the corporate Worship of the Church and not just Praise designed by a select group of people.
  8. Orthodox Catholic teaching on faith and morals must always be accompanied by respect for the Church’s liturgical and musical teaching and laws.
  9. The deliberate intention to manipulate human emotions to produce a religious effect is abusive, insincere, and disrespectful of God’s power to bring about conversion in the hearts of man.
  10. While music does affect the emotions, sacred music must always be careful to prefer the transcendent holiness of God over the immanent emotional needs of man.
  11. The Church’s treasury of sacred music inspires and requires the highest attention to artistic excellence. It is also an unfathomable gift to the Church, and must be presented to the faithful so that they may enjoy that rich gift. 

~Father Christopher Smith