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.

Our Children Belong to the Covenant of Grace

Why should our children be with us in worship? They belong to the covenant of grace.

Our children belonging to the covenant of grace and receiving the blessings of it is like belonging to a family. As members of a family, everyone from the oldest to the youngest receives the blessings of the family such as love, shelter, and guidance. We do not regard our children as outside our family any more than we should regard them as outside God’s family, the church. As one writer stated, why would the Apostle Paul go out of his way to address the children of the congregations of Ephesus [Eph 6:1-4] and Colossae [Col. 3:20] if they were not part of the covenant of grace?

This is from the excellent little book, The Nursery of the Holy Spirit. 

Bored Parents, Bored Children

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Pastor Danny Hyde on why some children are bored in public worship

Another practical point you need to consider is that the greatest stumbling block for your children in worship is not that they are bored or because nothing is “at their level,” but that you as their parents do not convey in words and deeds that your cherish holy worship. Keep this saying in mind: worship is better caught than taught. What does this mean?  It means that our children learn by participating in worship more than by our explanations of worship. Therefore your children feel the difference between duty and delight. They will pick up from you a dour attitude if you have a dour attitude. They will come  to believe that worship is not important if you do not show them it is important. As a parent, you are the greatest example to your children of the meaning and value of worshipping the Lord. Having your children with you in worship allows them to be taught about by what they have caught in worship as their eager eyes watch you model this Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day…You must love to worship your God so that your children will learn to love him through the liturgy [order of serve] your church utilizes. After all, you cannot preach what you do not possess or have not first preached to yourself.

I have nine children ranging in ages from 1 to 17. I have a tenth child on the way in December. I have been getting kids ready for church, getting them into various vehicles, walking with them into church, rounding them up before worship, sitting with them in worship, and watching them after worship for over fifteen years. I know how hard Sunday mornings can be, especially when there are little ones. How can a parent maintain joy, wonder, and gratitude when Sunday mornings can be so difficult?

The answer, as usual, is faith. As parents we must believe that the most important and beneficial event in our lives and the lives of our children is Sunday morning worship. No matter how messy, tired, and hard getting there and being there is, God meets us and our children on Sunday mornings in a way he does not during the week.  Our spiritual lives depend upon Sunday mornings as our physical lives depend upon food. We need it. And God is worthy of our time, attention, and effort and that of our children’s. He is the one who made us, saved us through His Son, and makes us holy through His Spirit. While we know this from Monday through Saturday, Sunday morning reminds us Who we worship and why. If we believe and make our lives conform to these two great truths, that God meets us in worship and he is worthy of our worship, then we will find ourselves teaching our children not just by words but more importantly by our example that worship is a delight.

Calvin’s Reason for the Reformation: Worship

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The Reformation was one of the great events in Western history. It began long before Luther and Calvin with men like Huss and Wycliffe. But it culminated in a large group of Christians leaving the Roman Catholic church because it had left the teaching of Scripture. It is always good to go back to primary sources and get their reasons for doing what they did. What led these men to break with Roman Catholic church?

Calvin in his excellent book The Necessity of Reforming the Church, lists two main reasons for the why the reformation was necessary:

If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence among us, and maintains it truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts and consequently the whole substance of Christianity: that is, a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshiped; and secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained. When these are kept out of view, though we may glory in the name of Christians, our profession is empty and vain.

At the center of the Christian faith is proper worship of God and proper understanding of justification by faith in Christ alone. Calvin felt reformation was necessary because these two foundations of the faith had been compromised.

Calvin then goes on to briefly explain how these two areas have been corrupted by the church (Roman Catholics). Here are some quotes about worship. Regarding worship he touches on public prayers, which he says are “stained with numberless impurities,” adoration of and praying to the saints, numerous rites and ceremonies not found in Scripture, and people who “devote their whole attention to abstinences, vigils, and other things, which Paul terms ‘beggarly elements’ of the world.”

He ends with this:

Having observed that the word of God is the test which discriminates between true worship and that which is false and vitiated, we thence readily infer that the whole form of divine worship in general use in the present day is nothing but mere corruption. For men pay no regard to what God has commanded or to what he approves, in order that they  may serve him in a becoming manner, but assume to themselves a license of devising modes of worship, and afterwards obtruding [imposing] them upon him as a substitute for obedience.

If in what I say I seem to exaggerate, let an examination be made of all the acts by which the generality suppose that they worship God. I dare scarcely except a tenth part as not the random offspring of their own brain…God rejects, condemns, abominates all fictitious worship, and employs his word as a bridle to keep us in unqualified obedience. When shaking off this yoke, we wander after our own fictions, and offer to him a worship, the work of human rashness, how much soever it may delight ourselves, in his sight it is vain trifling, nay, vileness and pollution. The advocates of human traditions paint them in fair and gaudy colors; and Paul certainly admits that they carry with them a show of wisdom; but God values obedience more than all sacrifices, it ought to be sufficient for the rejection of any mode of worship, that it is not sanctioned by the command of God.

For Calvin the first reason for the Reformation was that God’s people had drifted far from the true worship of God as prescribed in the Scriptures.