Worship or Evangelism?

Pew

One of the key shifts in worship over the last 75 years has been the move to make worship services primarily about evangelism. For most of church history worship was an offering to God by Christians and a place where the faithful were taught by God through the Word, prayer, and fellowship. It was about Christians and getting those Christians to grow. Evangelism was something different. Evangelism was telling the lost the good news that Christ came, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven to save us from our sins. Evangelism aimed at the non-believer. Worship aimed at God and the believer. With the advent of tent meetings, the seeker sensitive movement, church as therapy, and other aspects of the church growth movement worship services became more and more evangelistic.  Continue reading

Malachi 1:6-14

Malachi 1

Taking up nearly one third of Malachi, this is the longest section in the book. The priests are the target of this section. God asks the priests why they do not honor him as father or reverence him as master. The Lord says that they have despised his name. (vs. 6) But the priests seem to be in the dark. They think they are innocent and therefore ask God to bring proof. God brings proof by bringing two pieces of evidence into the courtroom.
The first piece of evidence is the lame offerings the priests give to God. (1:7-14) The priests think they are holy. They do not see how they have despised God’s name. But God points a finger at their mockery of his law to show how they drag his name through the mud. The priests, who are supposed to carefully obey God’s commands, offer to God lame, blind, and sick sacrifices (1:7-8). Leviticus 22:18-25 and Deuteronomy 15:21 forbid this type of offering. God says even the Persian governor would not accept this offering. Why does Israel think God will accept it? (vs. 8) Israel wants God’s favor (vs. 9), but does not want to obey God. Therefore God tells them they should shut up the doors of the temple. (vs. 10) Their offerings are in vain. Continue reading

The Sinews of the Body of Christ

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Book IV, Chapter 12 of John Calvin’s Institutes is one of the clearest, sanest, and most compassionate explanations of church discipline I have read. Here is one of the opening paragraphs, which I will follow up with some comments.

But because some persons, in their hatred of discipline, recoil from its very name, let them understand this: if no society, indeed, no house which has even a small family, can be kept in proper condition without discipline, it is much more necessary in the church, whose condition should be as ordered as possible. Accordingly, as the saving doctrine of Christ is the soul of the church, so does discipline serve as it sinews, through which the members of the body hold together, each in its own place. Therefore all who desire to remove discipline or to hinder its restoration-whether they do this deliberately or out of ignorance-are surely contributing to the ultimate dissolution of the church. For what will happen if each is allowed to do what he pleases? Yet that would happen, if to the preaching of doctrine there were not added private admonitions, corrections, and other aids of the sort that sustain doctrine and do not let it remain idle. Therefore, discipline is like a bridle to restrain and tame those who rage against the doctrine of Christ; of like a spur to arouse those of little inclination; and also sometimes like a father’s rod to chastise mildly and with the gentleness of Christ’s Spirit those who have more seriously lapsed. When therefore we discern frightful devastation beginning to threaten the church because there is no concern and no means of restraining the people, necessity itself cries out that a remedy is needed. Now this is the sole remedy that Christ has enjoined and the one that has always been used among the godly.

A couple of comments on this.

First, notice the connection Calvin makes between different societies/communities. Cities, families, and businesses need discipline to function well. Why would it be any different in the church, which “should be as ordered as possible?” All societies need certain things to function well, including good leadership, discipline, rules, order, a level of freedom, etc. Each society has different tools to enforce their standards and the civil realm deals  primarily with the outward man while the church deals with the inner man. But the principles remain the same. If a father can spank a child and a magistrate can discipline a citizen then church leaders can discipline their congregants.

Second, notice that for Calvin church discipline is not limited to excommunication, but includes, “private admonitions, corrections, and other aids of the sort.” One of the biggest mistakes made in any discussion of discipline is always running to end point, such as spanking or capital punishment. But discipline is much broader than this. Churches fail when they focus on excommunication and leave out pastoral visitation and other types of private admonitions. Excommunication should normally come at the end of a long line of smaller disciplinary exhortations.

Finally, note the different images Calvin uses to describe church discipline, a bridle, a spur, a father’s rod to chastise mildly. Each carries with it a different level of severity and a different purpose. Church discipline, if it is going to be effective and honor Christ, must take into account the person, their personality, the nature and gravity of the sin, past sins, etc. Just as a good parent wisely administers discipline so good elders and pastors do the same. To treat all who sin with the same level of discipline is folly and a recipe for tyranny and rebellion.

It is a Great Vice to Waste the Sermon

pulpitHere is a section from John Calvin’s sermon on I Corinthians 11:17-19.

It is necessary to consider why the Lord wishes that the Church congregate, that there be a certain place, that there be a sanctuary designated for the invocation of his name and the preaching of his word….There must be some goal in order that whatever God has established among us may serve and be useful for our salvation. No one should return home without having gotten some good from the worship service…we come here to hear the word of God, we offer prayers for and with each other and we partake of the sacraments. Afterwards, each one of us in our own home will have some idea of what to do to manifest our Christianity. We must by no means think ourselves acquitted before God because we have heard the sermon each week, prayed in the company of believers, professed our faith, and participated in the sacraments. We must not, I say,  be beguiled into thinking that God is altogether satisfied if we do those things, but we must consider their end and their utility, profiting by being daily confirmed in the fear of God and by the increase of our faith. In brief, we must show that it is not in vain that we have been to the school of our God, for it is indeed a profanation of the doctrine we hear if we continue in the same condition as formerly. 

[Later he says]: This is an exceedingly great and intolerable vice. The result is that we assemble in worship and our lives do not show any semblance of improvement. We act as if we had never heard a single word, had never been instructed in the will of God. If we differ in no respect from those misfortunates who have received no instruction, do we not thereby show that we scorned God every time we come the sanctuary in his name? It is flagrant hypocrisy and duplicity to claim that it is to offer ourselves sacrificially to God when we come to hear his word and yet depart without having been edified by it.

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Snoring, Vomiting, and Flirting During Calvin’s Sermons

I am really enjoying Scott Manetsch’s book Calvin’s Company of Pastors. It is history done right with the right amount of detail and the avoidance of simplistic viewpoints.  At my church the children are in worship. This creates a fair amount of distractions from crying to kids falling and hitting their heads to children arguing with each other. Therefore I found this description of what attending a sermon in Geneva often looked liked encouraging. My comments are in brackets.

The Genevan ideal of a simple, well-ordered service in which the faithful attentively listened to, understood, and responded to the Word of God was not always achieved in practice. [Good to know this is not just a 21st century problem.] A variety of discomforts and distractions made attendance at sermons a challenging experience for even the most devout at times. The city’s churches could be stifling hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter. On several occasions the frigid winter weather prompted the ministers to move services from the cavernous temple of St. Pierre to the smaller (and warmer) church of St. Germain…There were also plenty of human distractions. Between 1541 and 1609, a long litany of nuisances great and small elicited the complaints of ministers as well as parishioners. Members of the congregation frequently arrived late to Sunday worship [That never happens today], missing the congregational singing and the introductory prayers. Others left early [Can’t miss the start of the game.], causing a commotion during the concluding baptismal service. At weekday sermons in the church at St. Gervais, parishioners sometimes found it difficult to hear the preacher because of the noise caused by the blacksmith shops nearby. In Geneva’s churches, babies often wailed, dogs barked, and schoolboys chatted happily through the morning sermon. Worshipers were also distracted when people succumbed to violent coughing fits, when drunkards vomited in full view of the assembly, or when weary souls fell asleep and snored along with the sermon. Some people chased controversy and invited complaints when they brought more than their Psalter hymnals with them to church. In 1560, for example, Francoise Frochet made a spectacle of herself when she came to the sermon at St. Pierre’s  carrying apples, pears, and chestnuts [What did they do with the cores, throw them at the pastor?], which she noisily shared with those sitting next to her. Pierre Toulieu also got into trouble when he sat through a worship service in a countryside church with his musket propped up on his shoulder [Wonder what that pastor thought? Is he going to shoot me?] and his hunting dog sleeping at his feet. It is clear, moreover, that many townspeople welcomed the preaching service as an opportunity to socialize with friends or flirt with members of the opposite sex rather than listen to the sermon. The case of Benjamin Maret and Antoine Grifferat is altogether typical. Maret and Grifferat were brought before the Consistory [Church leaders in Geneva] in 1563 for having talked and laughed throughout the Sunday morning sermon at the temple of St. Pierre. After extensive questioning, Maret admitted to flirting with a young woman in a red bonnet [I think I am predestined to be with you.] while Grifferat confessed to chatting with a friend for part of the service “but not during the entire sermon.” Due to such noise and distractions, some people found it difficult to concentrate on the preacher’s sermon.

I love this paragraph because it is a reminder of two things.

First, churches, people, and worship don’t change. There are always distractions in worship. There always have been. That picture you have in your head of everyone sitting quietly listening to the sermon is a lie. Sometimes I get irritated at the noise in worship. But why? Worship does not take place in some pristine world without noise and distractions.

Second, God works in worship services despite the distractions.  The preached Word week after week changed the men and women of Geneva despite vomit, cold, heat, snoring, and babies. And that Word changes us as well, despite bathroom breaks, microphones that don’t work, crying babies, a two year old hitting her older brother, and flirting teenagers.

Children Are Catechized Through the Liturgy

One last set of quotes from Pastor Danny Hyde’s book, The Nursery of the Holy Spirit.  In this section of the book he is explaining how a liturgy, that is an order of service, catechizes, that is teaches us. Here are some quotes on why having  fixed forms in the liturgy are so helpful for a child’s growth in Christ.

Most of us understand that to become skillful in any aspect of life we must repeat something over and over again…In a word, repetition is the mother of skills.

“Liturgy” or the order, act, words, and ceremonies in public worship, are a key instructor of us and our children…the liturgy of every church catechizes its worshipers.

Life skills are learned by repetition. This is also the case with religious skills such as learning to worship with the people of God. Repetitiveness is a virtue, not a vice.

Worship requires practice over time, as well. The liturgy should be heard from cradle to grave, from birthing bed to deathbed. In times of great joy, what better words to sing than those of the Reformed Doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” In times of great sorrow, is there anything so comforting as praying, “Our Father, who art in heaven?” In times of doubt, the words, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty are fitting to help bolster failing faith. In times of repentance, the liturgy has taught us to cry out, “Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us.”

By including the corporate participation of the entire church, including children, liturgy teaches us that all, young and old, belong to the church. Liturgical worship is active, participatory worship. Children can hear it and learn it even before they read, and see it later with their own eyes upon the pages of the hymnal or bulletin as they begin to be able to read. For example, a four year old can recite the Apostles’ Creed with the local church and the church universal even before being able to read it in the hymnal or bulletin. Christianity is not a religion of adults for adults. Christianity is a churchly religion.

The point is that fixed forms in worship where we say and do the same things every week teach us the central parts of the Christian faith, are excellent tools for training our young children in doctrine and piety, and make our children a part of worship.  I would encourage churches to use the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, Doxology, Gloria Patri, and other fixed forms to aid our children and make them feel apart of God’s people. It also helps the aged. As they get older and their memory falters these fixed forms can be easily recalled.

Do Children Interfere with Public Worship?

More from The Nursery of the Holy Spirit. All punctuation is the author’s except the brackets.

While worshiping with our children is difficult and often very exhausting work, it is desirable.  Keep in perspective the eternal blessings that make your perseverance worthwhile. When you remember the purpose of the “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10), the earthly and temporal difficulties of children in worship are put in there heavenly and eternal perspective. The Lord’s Day is not only a day of earthly, temporal, and physical rest (which may even seem impossible when you have little children), but it is also a day in which our time in worship is time in the presence of the Triune God of grace. Therefore it is a day of heavenly, eternal, and spiritual rest. When you remember the nature of public worship is not merely what we do and what we get out of  it, but instead first and foremost God’s service to us, then all the difficulties are put into their heavenly and eternal perspective. God’s grace is the priority in worship as he serves us by bringing us into communion with our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. He does this by using the external means of the preaching of the Word of God, the celebration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. The Lord’s service to us brings us spiritual rest and refreshment. His service to us, then, creates in us and elicits from us our response as we serve him by praising him in song, prayer, offering, and even by serving each other in fellowship.

Let me put it before you in a very pointed question: do you believe that your children interfere with God’s purpose on his day to serve us…we should welcome little children into our services with us because, like the children above [Mark 10:14-16], we desire our little ones to come into Jesus’ presence to receive his spiritual nourishment even as we need it.