Covenant Renewal Worship

An Hour and a Half Invitation to Believe the Gospel

Note: Here is a healthy summary of Covenant Renewal Worship and its evangelistic nature from beginning to end. The piece is written by my Associate Pastor, Al Stout. 

Guest Post by Al Stout

If you were to ask me, “Does your Church give an invitation each Sunday?” I would tell you, “Yes it does and it lasts about an hour and a half.”

For the uninitiated, an “invitation” is the portion of a service reserved for an appeal all those gathered to believe the Gospel, repent of their sins and trust Christ. It is typically given at the end of the service and may involve musical accompaniment; perhaps everyone will sing a hymn like Just As I Am as they invite you “come to Jesus”:

 Just as I am, without one plea, But that thy blood was she’d for me, And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

While some Churches keep the invitation open for a very long time (there are 6 verses to Just As I Am and it can be sung veeeerrrry slowly) you’ve probably never heard of one lasting for an hour and a half. So, what do I mean?

Bread and Wine

Like many Churches, Providence Church in Pensacola, FL is purposeful in its worship. The elements of each service are in there for a reason. Where we put things in a worship service is equally important. For example, the confession of sin occurs at the beginning of the worship service so that we can worship God with clean hands and hearts. We end each service with a commissioning to go out and make disciples, this is the last command of our Savior while he was physically with us. There are other elements and reasons for each, but you get the idea.

Part of this arrangement is to ensure that everyone hears the Gospel appeal, the invitation if you will, every single Lord’s Day. Not attached to something that is not the Gospel, but so that the whole service is the Gospel in a picture. The gathered Saints need to hear it, those who are outside the covenant need to hear it, God WANTS to hear it and the Church has historically put this message front and center in its worship.

Here is our basic worship outline:

  • We have a formal call to worship. We are ushered, at God’s command, into his presence.
  • We immediately confess our sins to him. This is what people do repeatedly in Scripture; they see God and fall down in repentance. Our confession of sin is not held to the end of the service.
  • God picks us up and tells us we are forgiven. He does not leave us in the dust of death, but lifts us up to life. Singing begins. Joyful, robust, God honoring singing.
  • He then begins to train us in righteousness. His word is like a sharp knife in the hand of the High Priest as he begins to cut us so that we can be a fit sacrifice of praise. Here we have reading, preaching and more singing of the Word of God and Hymns of instruction. We confess the Nicene Creed together so that we might be on guard against heresy and false teaching even in the middle of our worship.
  • We offer up prayers for the people, our city, the state and country. We ask God to bless his Churches around our area and to give great success to the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world.
  • We give back to God in our tithes and offerings after hearing the word of God preached. It is the response of a grateful people.
  •  The forgiven, sanctified (by word and prayer) people of God are then invited to sit at the table of the Lord and to fellowship with him. He is reminded of his covenant with us; that his Son’s body was broke and his blood shed. He remembers and is pleased to call us his friends. This is a joyful time of remembrance for the Church. We are not remorseful or introspective as we look at Christ’s finished work. We are thankful!
  •  More singing.
  • The last thing that happens, is that God blesses us and sends us out to make disciples of all men. His name is placed on us one more time and we go out as ambassadors of the one who died and rose again, teaching everyone to observe all his commandments.
  • We go out singing.

This is a pattern of worship frequently called Covenant Renewal and if you are interested in learning more about that let me recommend The Lord’s Service, by Jeffery Meyers.

As you look at the above doesn’t it look like the Gospel appeal? You can use this in evangelism as a simple way to remember what God requires:

  • God is calling all men everywhere to worship him. Friend, you should heed the call of God.
  • We don’t want to worship him because of our sin, so the first thing we must do is repent.  Here is what that means…
  • When we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us. He does not just pass over them as if they never happened.  Jesus Christ died for them and God raised him from the dead to live forever and he loves you.
  • When you believe that you should follow Jesus and learn from him. He will teach you his word and change you to love the things he loves.
  • He promises never to leave you and will enjoy your company forever. He promises to send the Holy Spirit to be with you.
  • Now go out and tell others about him.

Get that pattern down and you don’t have to learn a script.  You can pick it up in the middle, or camp out on the idea that God calls everyone to worship him, whatever the circumstances suggest or require.

We have an evangelical message every Lord’s day.  If you come to worship with us long enough, you will know this message very well. It will be in your bones and when that happens, getting it out and into the world will become much easier.

So, if you attend Providence be prepared to hear an invitation to confession, faith and communion with God every single Lord’s Day and expect it to last awhile.

Three Reasons Why We Gather for Worship

Three Reasons Why We Gather for Worship

Why do we gather on the Lord’s Day?

First, we gather because forsaking this gathering is not an option (Heb. 10:25). We are very familiar with the exhortation not to forsake the assembly, but we often overlook why forsaking Sunday worship is so detrimental. According to Hebrews 10:24 when we miss worship we miss God’s appointed place to stir one another up to love and good works and offer mutual encouragement.

Secondly, we gather because we war against the forces of evil. “What are those Christians doing in that little building on Sunday morning? What a waste!” the opponents of the Triune God say. But little do they know that we gather to conspire against them! We are gathered this morning to be cleansed and to be instructed in God’s authoritative war manual, the holy Bible. And unlike those who are blinded to God’s plans in the world, we have our eyes opened by the Spirit.

Finally, we are here because the Spirit of God gathered us together. Just as he hovered over creation, he hovers over us creating in us a vision for worship and dominion. But we are not sufficient in and of ourselves. We cannot change the world apart from the Spirit, and for this reason the Spirit puts us here, so the Father can bless us and the Son feed us.

The Ascension of our Lord: A Brief Introduction

The Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord this Thursday. Since most churches are not able to have Thursday services, traditionally many of them celebrate Ascension on Sunday.

The Ascension of Jesus is barely mentioned in the evangelical vocabulary. We make room for his birth, death, and resurrection, but we tend to put a period where God puts a comma.

If the resurrection was the beginning of Jesus’ enthronement, then the ascension is the establishment of his enthronement. The Ascension activates Christ’s victory in history. The Great Commission is only relevant because of the Ascension. Without the Ascension the call to baptize and disciple would be meaningless. It is on the basis of Jesus’ enthronement at the right-hand of the Father, that we image-bearers can de-throne rulers through the power and authority of our Great Ruler, Jesus Christ.

The Ascension then is a joyful event, because it is the genesis of the Church’s triumph over the world. Further, it defines us as a people of glory and power, not of weakness and shame. As Jesus is ascended, we too enter into his ascension glory (Col. 3:1) This glory exhorts us to embrace full joy. As Alexander Schmemann once wrote:

“The Church was victorious over the world through joy…and she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”[1]

But this joy is given to us by a bodily Lord.

We know that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. He is ruling and reigning from his heavenly throne. He has given the Father the kingdom, and now he is preserving, progressing, and perfecting his kingdom. He is bringing all things under subjection.

We know that when he was raised from the dead, Jesus was raised bodily. But Gnostic thinking would have us assume that since Jesus is in heaven he longer needs a physical body. But the same Father who raised Jesus physically, also has his Son sitting beside him in a physical body.  As one author observed:

Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity.[1]

Our Lord is in his incarnation body at the right hand of the Father. This has all sorts of implications for us in worship. We are worshipping a God/Man; one who descended in human flesh and who ascended in human flesh. He is not a disembodied spirit. He is truly God and truly man.

As we consider and celebrate the Ascension of our blessed Lord, remember that you are worshiping the One who understands your needs, because he has a body just like you; he understands your joy because he has a body just like you.

[1] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. Paraphrased

[2] Gerrit Dawson, see http://apologus.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/ascension-and-jesus-humanity/

Why Ministers Leave

The typical pastor stays in a church for 3.6 years. This does not seem to offer much hope for any long-term vision for a local parish. Planning ahead seems futile from the outset. This discouraging number stems from a variety of issues. Some pastors, fresh out of seminary, attempt to revive a church that has already died a thousand deaths. Their optimism suffers the same amount of deaths within the first twelve months. Other pastors eager to persuade a congregation of his theology immerse with psalmic zeal into the nuances of his dogmatic learning only to find that the congregation does not share the same interest or enthusiasm. In many cases pastoral conflicts ensue among staff ultimately leading to each one doing what is right in their own eyes. And the reasons for the 3.6 number can be multiplied.

In Dr. John Gilmore’s Pastoral Politics: Why Ministers Resign he observes the phenomenon of pastoral departure from various angles. In particular, he wants to offer hope to pastors who have gone through the terrible emotional pain of leaving or being forced to leave a congregation. He observes that “Both undergraduate Christian college and seminary courses should do a better job of proactively addressing the matter of pastoral closure.” Pastors usually leave their congregations under tremendous stress and uncertain about their future. If the numbers are right, “resignation” is a common word to the majority of congregations in this country.

When a pastor resigns he is not only leaving his job, he is leaving his life. The pastorate is not merely the exercising of rhetorical skills, but actually the exercising of life skills. No profession is so immersed in the lives of ordinary people than the pastorate. This past Sunday alone during our congregation’s fellowship time I engaged in over 10 different conversations in the space of 30 minutes. From children to older saints, each conversation was important to me because they were manifestations of what was important to my parishioners. As far as I am aware no profession (and I use that term broadly) is so engaged in the well-being of fellow men than the pastorate. And so when a pastor resigns, he resigns not just from a job, but from his life; the life he knew and invested in heart, mind, soul, and strength.

There is no doubt the ecclesiastical charlatans and wolves are out there, and to hell with them! But when the local pastor who sees his unique calling to shepherd and care for his flock resigns he loses more than just a salary, but in many ways his spirit.

Jonathan Edwards understood this. In his farewell sermon he prepared his congregants by saying that it was a matter of vast importance how a people treat their ministers, and in some ways the future of that minister is in the hands of how the sheep treat their shepherd, or as Edwards puts it, “how they receive and entertain a faithful minister of Christ.” Parishioners need to be aware that the implications of Hebrews 13:17 weighs heavily each day to the local minister.

As I stated in a homily delivered at a recent ordination service, no profession undergoes the ups and downs of life so quickly than that of a pastor. He may be rejoicing in the heavenly places on Sunday as he leads his congregation in adoration only to be confronted with a parishioner eager to seek a divorce after 20 years of marriage on Monday morning.

With that in mind, the 3.6 year average seems almost justifiable. But there is hope. And the hope lies not in some pastoral technique or on superb leadership skills, but in the Spirit of God through his intervening grace. The Third Person of the Trinity is the sustainer of the body through the Pentecostal fire poured in the church’s infancy and continued into the church’s maturity. It is by grace that those numbers are not lower and it is by grace that those numbers will increase and no longer reflect the evangelical scene.

May congregations learn to nourish their pastors in love and may pastors nourish their people in every spiritual blessing. And may pastors look with hope to the future of their parishes in the 20-30 years ahead and see the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and care bear much fruit in the lives of their people, their children, and their children’s children.

One Additional Thought on Paedocommunion

Children belong at the table. I have argued for a decade that children of the covenant are recipients of all the covenant benefits. One significant benefit is the means of grace we call the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. Baptism opens the ecclesiastical doors to the Lord’s Table.

I have for so long agreed with those simple statements that the more I interact with Reformation-minded Christians on this issue, the stranger and stranger it becomes. Yes, there are those confessional issues at hand, and there is the most famous Pauline passage in I Corinthians 11:17-34 that is used as an argument for opposing paedocommunion, but if the Reformed paedobaptist is open to considering the Bible afresh without his preconceived notions of what Paul meant, or allowing the text to take precedence over our cherished confessions, then I believe there is an opportunity to re-consider this important matter. As Tim Gallant observes, “no tradition and no confession may be treated as irreformable.”

I do not wish here to elaborate on the many exegetical issues involved. Some books like Tim Gallant’s Feed my Lambs and Strawbridge’s The Case for Covenant Communion do a fine job elaborating on the more technical discussions surrounding the issue at hand. My desire is to add just one theological point about the inclusion of children in the Psalter.

The Paedocommunionist position argues that children are to be not only included in the worship of the saints, but also that they are to be participants in the worship of the saints. And part of this participation means eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table with the body. To be in the body means to partake of the body. The Paedocommunion position is the natural consequence of paedobaptism. In fact, many come to paedocommunion by considering the logical necessities of paedobaptism.

The Psalter makes a fine case for the inclusion of little children in the ecclesiastical community of the Old Testament. Those of us who wish to apply a covenantal hermeneutic consistently conclude that they are to be also included in the New Covenant promises. If the New Covenant is more glorious and greater, then the NC continues to show favor to children of believers, and not take away that favor. Assuming that to be the case (and certainly this is a limited discussion among paedobaptists), then it is safe to conclude that the Psalter establishes a model of inclusion and not exclusion.

One text that is often overlooked in this discussion is Psalm 148. Psalm 148 is a doxological description of the celestial and earthly praise. God designs creation to display His excellencies and glory. But this glory can only be complete if children are in the picture. Children are also part of this great choir. Children, then, are involved participants in this cosmic refrain of praise. Creation is also involved and is sacramentally nourished by the hands of God. Far from an uninterested and uninvolved God, our God is deeply invested in the affairs of creation and so He sustains them with every good thing.

But at the heart of this chorus are old men and children (na`ar). Man plays a pivotal role in this worship scene. He is the homo adorans (worshiping being). 

We can then conclude that the Psalmist engages all sorts of people in the responsibility of praise. And if children are called to praise (Psalm 8:2-3), then they are called to be nourished as participants in that praise. In the Bible everyone who praises eats at some time. I am arguing that those who praise eat very early. When? At the moment they can eat and drink at their earthly father’s table, they should be able to eat at their heavenly father’s table. Simple in my estimation.

Covenant Renewal Worship: Introductory Thoughts

Note: These observations were delivered specifically to Providence Church (CREC). I hope they will prove helpful to you as well.

You have heard it over and over again that famous line from the Beatles: “All you need is love.” Apart from good rhythm and some great tunes, the Beatles were wrong about everything. They were certainly wrong about all we need. If I were to re-phrase that famous line, I would say that “all you need is worship.” It probably won’t be the greatest bumper sticker, but it’s the truth. You can only find “true truth” as Francis Schaeffer puts it, in the worship of God. There is no such thing as a good non-worshipping Christian. But if you ask someone what worship is you may receive a hundred different answers. Some say that worship is synonymous with music; recently I heard a well known scholar[1]say that worship only begins with the preaching of the Word; still some will conclude that worship is a feeling you have when you are in the presence of God. We do not want to minimize music, preaching, and the emotions of human beings in the presence of God; but these definitions miss the point. Worship is the interaction between God and His people on the Lord’s Day. It is a sacred conversation between bride and groom. The conversation is not just limited to one portion of a service, it includes the whole thing. Worship is the entire service of God. More