Education must be a holistic endeavor. If that’s the case, then our children’s bodies and spirits need to be trained and nurtured. They need training that is intellectually rigorous and emotionally engaging. If you wish to be an unengaged parent, then your home gets the worldview you deserve. But if you see the world with biblical eyes, your children will see the wonder of creation as intended and taste and see the good of the Lord. This intentionality is the long-term view of parenting. It entails thinking through what kind of child you want to see at the age of 18.
If education is holistic, then education will–whether liturgical or academic–require a special parental effort. Teaching children to see the world means you are engaged with them in the exploration of the world. To train a child in the way that he should go requires parents who already know the way and are fervently seeking that way for their children. Christian education is anti-gnostic from beginning to end.
There is a great app called Couch to 5K. It’s designed for people who have become comfortable with the couch and have an allergy to the treadmill. It’s an incremental approach to working out. As the weeks go by we become more accustomed to the patterns established and we long to achieve the final level when we run an entire 5K. It’s hard work. My proposition is very simple: Worship is hard. We cannot remain comfortable in our pews. We need to start running the race. We may not be ready to run a 5K, but we need to be headed in that direction. And like running, worship requires habits and consistency. I am calling you to burn your calories in worship not because I am a controversialist or a tyrannical trainer but because I want you to be a healthy sacrifice to God. In fact, the formal synonym for worship is liturgy. Liturgy comes from two words: “Work” and “people.” Therefore, worship or liturgy can be accurately defined as the work of the people.
Our Lord was so righteously angry by the easy business transactions (easy worship) of the Temple that he turned upside down the world when he overturned the tables of the money-changers (John 2:13-16). Such audacity should be imitated by God’s people, but cautiously exercised in light of our sinfulness. So here is my attempt to cautiously turn a few tables upside down with the hope that some will decide to keep it that way rather than try to put it back up or mend the broken pieces.
Worship has become perfunctory in our day. a The seeker-sensitive movement of the 90’s has morphed into a thousand strategic models for church growth. Some of these recommendations can be helpful, but the vast majority succumb to a moralistic therapeutic deismb that would be best spread in a meal for Baal than the God who made the heavens and earth.c Easy worship produces light Christians. Light Christians produce weak men and weak men produce feeble societies.
The Hard Work of Worship
These eight reasons are introductory in nature. Most certainly they can be edited or better stated, but in light of ecclesiastical trends and the high significance God puts in the worship of his name, these examples should be taken with great care.
First, worship must be hard work because God demands those who worship him to do so in “spirit and truth (John 4:24).” I take “Spirit” to mean in “Spirit-led” form. Worship must take a Spirit-shaped liturgy. It must be guided by the inspired words of the Spirit and a bathed dependence on the Trinity. Jesus demands that we take up the cross and follow him which is hard work lived out by the power of the Spirit.
Worshiping in truth also demands much from the worshiper. John the Baptist had borne witness to the truth (John 5:33) and that witness cost him his life. Thus, worshiping in truth is no easy task. Our gathered assembly must be prepared to fight hard to/in worship. If worship demands little or nothing from us, it fails the John 4:24 test.
Second, worship must be hard because God’s commandments require perseverance (Ephesians 6:18). Grace is not a synonym for a lackadaisical posture. Grace, rather, calls us to serve the Lord with our heart, mind, soul, and strength. The people of God are called to worship God by loving him and neighbor and both demand a high alertness to God’s principles for worship. Worship is a picture of our own spiritual walk. Passivity in worship may lead to passivity in our Christian walk.
Third, worship demands most work on the Lord’s appointed day. Many say that they can worship anywhere as a way to avoid worshiping in the consecrated time of worship on the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10). It is true that worship can take place anywhere, but the particular worship God commands is the worship of his gathered assembly (Heb. 10:25). Worship is hard because there are competing temptations that draw us away from the gathered assembly. Everything done in the name of God can be worship, but if it is used to substitute a clear call to worship him, it becomes less than worship and a violation of the principle of worship. God places a higher priority on gathered worship than on earthly tasks which are why we ought to apply ourselves with a greater fervency to Sunday worship than to other worshipful activities.
Fourth, worship demands postures. The Bible offers many postures for the Christian in worshipd) Worship has bodily demands for those who are able. It is hard work and requires a proactive response from the Christian. Passivity is not in the vocabulary of worship.
Fifth, worship teaches us patterns. The beauty of patterns is that it requires repetition. The angels in heaven maintain a glory pattern of worship day and night (Rev. 7:15). They are not discontent with the patterns or repetitions. They worship again and again. Similarly, earthly saints must repeat without fear, but with hunger to see such repetition become fervent and acceptable in God’s sight. Every stage of human life demand patterns whether kisses, hugs, sex, greetings, discipline in the home, waking, sleeping, eating, etc. Repetition is part of life. The thirst for the new and change in worship reflects a concern for human desires rather than God’s demands.
Sixth, hard work in worship stresses the mighty nature of God. It’s been many years since Christian Smith coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism.” The phrase expressed a Freudian ecclesiology where the parishioner only sits and allows the clergy to do their thing. I once attended a church where one of the deacons faithfully recorded the member’s tithes and offerings during the service. He used the passivity of that worship service to “catch up” with work rather than working hard to participate and engage in the work of worship.
Seventh, hard work in worship teaches consistency in life. Someone who attended a congregation where hard work was expected from the people asked sarcastically: “Why do you all have to make things so complicated?” The question was addressed to a congregation that took worship seriously and demanded participation from its people. Ironically this individual cherished a hard work ethic and decried the lack of real men in our culture. “Work hard in school. Work hard to save money. Work hard to change a liberal culture,” he’d say. But be prepared to do little work when you come into worship was the implication. This inconsistency is consistent with the easy worship practices of many churches in our day. Let the experts do their thing, and our role is to simply sit and watch while we let others do the work for us. In economic terms, this is ecclesiastical socialism.
Finally, I offer four ways pastors and parishioners can train themselves to work hard on Sunday morning at the great assembly:
a) Disciple your children in worship. Fathers and mothers must be committed to keeping their children in worship with them. We don’t train children outside of worship so they can one day come into worship. Children are not distractions to be put aside during worship, they are disciples to be trained during worship. They have a fundamental role when we gather together (Psalm 8).e Children will generally become like their parents in worship. They will either work hard and sit passively while others do the hard work of worship.
b) Use hymnals instead of other means if possible. Hymnals demand musical knowledge.f You may not read music. You may not be musical. But using hymnals will require you to get out of your comfort zone and learn intricate and theologically rich melodies. I recently told my congregation that an Advent hymn we had just sung covered about ten essential theological doctrines in its seven verses. Hymns–and the Psalms–are sung religious education.
c) We are made to respond. Therefore, responsorial elements in worship are necessary (I Chronicles 16). Even in the easiest and relaxed worship environments, there are responses. If a pastor or a leader says, “Good morning,” the people will naturally respond similarly; the same with “Merry Christmas.” Theological greetings and responses should be an engaging part of the service (Ruth 2:4) that calls people to be attentive and prepared to answer with loud shouts of praise (Ps. 98:4). Worship is hard work and responses from the people serve to keep the people always aware and attentive.
d) Lastlyg, every service should have a bulletin; an order of worship. Worship becomes easy and flippant when the leader and the people go from one thing to the other without purpose or meaning or flow. I recall attending an evangelical church many years ago where the music leader chose our next song the moment he was called by the pastor. Quickly he flipped the pages and found a familiar tune to sing. Worship demands preparation. It’s hard work. And hard work leads to fruitful, engaging, and life-changing worship.
Offering Him Our Reasonable Sacrifice
These actions can be quickly taken by pastors and can be implemented without causing much consternation or division. Worship is discipleship training. We do the work again and again so we may become competent and equipped for it. Contrary to popular opinion, hard work in worship is not the invention of cranky Presbyterians who wish to take away our joy. In fact, the joy of the Lord is our strength. And the Lord takes joy when we are strengthened by worshiping Him. Working hard in worship has nothing to do with earning God’s favor; working hard in worship means God is deserving of our praise. We don’t come and offer Him the least we can give, we offer Him our spiritual sacrifice. Indeed we offer Him our entire self.
Worship is warfare. Warfare is hard. Worship prepares us for the race ahead. By the end of the hour, we should feel the exhaustion of having worshiped a great God who demands and is worthy of praise, confession, singing, adoration, kneeling, standing, and lifting holy hands. No one should come from such worship feeling lethargic. The liturgy–the work of the people–trains us for the hard work of perseverance through life. Let’s work hard with God’s people until our final rest when our work will be perfected by the God who calls us into His presence.
This example serves only as an illustration of the kinds of things that are permissible in our day and highly encouraged. (back)
See Terry Johnson’s Worshiping with Calvin for multiple examples of this: https://www.amazon.com/Worshipping-Calvin-Terry-Johnson/dp/085234936X/ref=pd_sbs_14_img_2?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=HRHPCNKJTWAT4RVM91VX (back)
Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! (Psalm 95:6); Lift up your hands to the holy place And bless the LORD! (Psalm 134:2); Give praise, O servants of the LORD, Who stand in the house of the LORD. (Psalm 135:2 (back)
I understand there is need for cry rooms and perhaps age-appropriate Sunday School, but these do not hinder the centrality for young and old to be together for worship (Joel 2:16). (back)
Here is a great piece advocating the use of hymnals: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ponderanew/2014/07/22/reasons-why-we-should-still-be-using-hymnals/ (back)
and this is only introductory; more could be added (back)
This example serves only as an illustration of the kinds of things that are permissible in our day and highly encouraged.
Language coined by Christian Smith
See Terry Johnson’s Worshiping with Calvin for multiple examples of this: https://www.amazon.com/Worshipping-Calvin-Terry-Johnson/dp/085234936X/ref=pd_sbs_14_img_2?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=HRHPCNKJTWAT4RVM91VX
Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! (Psalm 95:6); Lift up your hands to the holy place And bless the LORD! (Psalm 134:2); Give praise, O servants of the LORD, Who stand in the house of the LORD. (Psalm 135:2
I understand there is need for cry rooms and perhaps age-appropriate Sunday School, but these do not hinder the centrality for young and old to be together for worship (Joel 2:16).
Here is a great piece advocating the use of hymnals: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ponderanew/2014/07/22/reasons-why-we-should-still-be-using-hymnals/
and this is only introductory; more could be added
The Passion Week provides diverse theological emotions for the people of God. Palm Sunday commences with the entrance of a divine King riding on a donkey. He comes in ancient royal transportation. The royal procession illicit shouts of benediction, but concludes only a few days later with shouts of crucifixion as the king is hung on a tree.
The Church also celebrates Maundy Thursday as our Messiah provides a new commandment to love one another just as He loved us. The newness of the commandments is not an indication that love was not revealed prior (Lev. 19), but that love is now incarnate in the person of love, Jesus Christ. We then proceed to sing of the anguish of that Good Friday as our blessed Lord is humiliated by soldiers and scolded by the offensive words of the religious leaders of the day. As he walks to the Mount, his pain testifies to Paul’s words that he suffered even to the point of death (Phil. 2). But hidden in this glaringly distasteful mixture of blood, vinegar, and bruised flesh is the calmness of the day after our Lord’s crucifixion.
The Church calls this day Blessed Sabbath or more commonly, Holy Saturday. On this day, our Lord reposed (rested) from his accomplishments. Many throughout history also believe that Holy Saturday is a fulfillment of Moses’ words:
God blessed the seventh day. This is the blessed Sabbath. This is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works . . .(Gen. 2:2)
The Church links this day with the creation account. On day seven Yahweh rested and enjoyed the fruit of his creation. Jesus Christ also rested in the rest given to him by the Father and enjoyed the fruits of the New Creation he began to establish and would be brought to light on the next day.
As Alexander Schmemann observed:
Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.
Holy Saturday is a day of rest for God’s people; a foretaste of the true Rest that comes in the Risen Christ. The calmness of Holy Saturday makes room for the explosion of Easter Sunday. On this day, we remember that the darkness of the grave and the resting of the Son were only temporary for when a New Creation bursts into the scene the risen Lord of glory cannot contain his joy, and so he gives it to us.
In one of the most lovely letters written in the Bible, I John– which we will be studying during Sunday School in July–the apostle encourages us by the example of Christ that our joy may be full. And then in chapter 5:21, which is the last verse of John’s first letter, we read this remarkable little exhortation: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
We will consider this in the sermon more fully, but before we bow down to the only true God, what idols are we carrying along with us, even this morning?
All those virtues that we treasure: love, trust, hope; all of them can be turned on their head. What do we truly love, hope, and trust in during times of pain? Who do we seek when our lives are turned upside down? If any of these answers do not find their joy ultimately in the God who is righteous and just (I Jn. 1:9), then we have not heeded John’s warnings.
Brothers and sisters, as we come and confess our sins this morning, confess that you have not loved, trusted, and hoped in God as you ought. Confess that you have sought other gods before him. Confess them, and be still, and know that He is God, and there is none other before him.
Prayer: God Almighty, Father, Son, and Spirit, strengthen us today by your great mercy and transform us into the image of your own beloved Son, whom we love, trust, and hope. Amen.
Response to Comments: I am pleased with the enormous response. As of now there have been over 500 views. The vast majority of responses were very supportive and expressed in one way or another the sadness, but also the hope that a new generation will turn this evil tide in our country.
As I expected there were a couple of negative responses. The response can be summarized in the following manner: “Abortion is such a difficult issue, and to expose a four year old to such an issue can be unhealthy.” One comment referred to the topic of abortion as “intense.” I do not wish to spend too much time with a lengthy response, except to say the following:
First, we have largely sanitized abortion in our evangelical culture. We looked at the Gosnell case with absolute horror, but then treated it as something completely different than what happens every single day in the abortion clinics of America. Approximately, 4,000 babies are suffering the same fate every day. Instead of sanitizing, we need to call it for what it is: barbarism.
Secondly, we have also minimized the ability of our little children to understand big issues. My four year old has been raised in a covenant home where the gospel is brought to her attention every day through singing, Bible reading, discipline, and conversations that vary from the Trinity to tying shoes. Children can grasp more than we can imagine. During our lunch time today, my daughter called my wife to tell her something. She whispered to my wife: “Thank you for loving life.” Yes, there were some tears, but ultimately it was a confirmation that the covenant promises of God are yes and amen.
Third, one comment addressed the fact that we need to show more love to these mothers. I agree. And I think that pregnancy centers like Safe Harbor in Pensacola do a marvelous job. Last year alone they–through their counsel–prevented over 150 women from taking the life of their unborn children. At the same time, when these women are walking into these abortion centers, they are mostly making a conscientious choice to take the life of their unborn child. This is tragic, and my daughter’s response was far more mature and pure than my own at times. Death is death. Death is a reality. We cannot keep our children from it, and when we see it we need to despise those who work iniquity (Psalm 5:5).
May God grant this new generation courage and a fresh passion for the glory of God and the purity and value of human life.
It was a morning like any other, except my daughter was wide awake at 4:45 AM. I work hard at not being a morning person, but for her it came rather easily. I got dressed and made the quick decision to take my vivacious four-year old with me. It was an ordinary morning, but at the last abortion clinic in Pensacola it was a morbid morning. Young ladies full of life were entering the house of death.
I am an ordained minister. I have sat through a presbytery oral examination. After having studied for six months, I felt fairly confident as I sat before six other pastors. The Bible verses and the theology flowed from my lips with tremendous ease. This morning, however, I was examined by my four year old. Suddenly I found my rhetorical abilities being challenged as I tried to explain to this beautiful little girl just how un-beautiful this place was. “We are going to a place where mommies don’t want their babies,” I said. “Why do they not want their babies,” she asked. “Well, they simply don’t love life.” She paused and looked outside in silent wonder.
We arrived at the clinic and the signs were beautiful. The faces of lovely little children brought a temporary sanity to some of us. Another sign pictured a bloody and shattered body of an aborted image-bearer. She saw the image.
We joined the other saints. We read a psalm, prayed, and sang Psalm 92. They may not have heard us inside, but God did, and God acts through the prayers of his people. We sang of how the enemies of Yahweh grow like weed, but they are caught in their own evil schemes. Lord, hear our prayer.
We saw the vehicles as they drove by us. They reminded me of young college students flying through the college campus to get to class on time. In this case, they were young college students flying by in their expensive cars to terminate the life of their unborn children. It was a devastating sight to behold.
My daughter asked me to lower myself and quietly asked me: “Are the mommies going to kill their babies?” “They are, baby girl! That is why we are here. We don’t want them to make this horrible decision.” “But daddy, I don’t want them to kill their babies.” “We don’t either. We need to let them know that God loves life, and that He loves babies.” She was visibly shocked. In her world, mommies treasure babies, and daddies are not cowards. But in this world, mommies are bad characters in this unending movie, and daddies are participants in one of the most cowardly acts of history. “Daddy, I want to go home.” I excused myself and took my four year old to the car knowing that I was going to be examined again. “Are they really going to kill their babies?” Now she asked with greater conviction. Once again I said yes. We need to let them know that babies are gifts from God and that we cannot refuse his gifts. We then talked about how precious her baby brothers were. She told me she wanted to go home and kiss her 9 month old brother. Once again, she silently looked out the window in a contemplative manner. Then she burst into righteous anger: “I don’t like those mommies! They will never be able to kiss the babies! I don’t want to come back here.” I didn’t respond. She then pondered for a minute or two. “Maybe I will come back,” she said. “Just let daddy know, and I will bring you with me,” I said.
It was a morning like all others, but this morning my daughter learned that not everyone treasures life. And her heart was broken, and so was her father’s.
Uri Brito is a husband, and a father of three lovely children.
The results are in and they don’t look good. Christianity Today reports on the Sex Lives of Unmarried Evangelicals. The two surveys offer differing numbers, but the conclusion is summarized in this manner:
Bible Reading? Evangelicals who infrequently read the Bible were 70 percent more likely to have been recently sexually active than frequent Bible readers.
Church Attendance? Evangelicals who attend church less than weekly were more than twice as likely to have been recently sexually active than weekly attenders.
Conversion? Of the sexually active singles, 92 percent had sex after becoming“born again.” That’s largely because the average age when evangelicals under 40 became “born again” was 8.
Evangelical statistics have a way of increasing our national Christian guilt, which is something that usually is already mighty high. Furthermore, the numbers usually paint a more pessimistic picture than what is actually taking place. My general principle when dealing with these statistics is to cut the percentage by a third. When the oft-cited “50% of Christian married couples end in divorce” statistic is referenced, this usually means about 35% of Christian married couples divorce. Those original statistics also included Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. A Non-Trinitarian marriage is anything but a Christian marriage.
But however you do the math, the numbers are still frightening. No one can deny that they reflect a weak evangelicalism. It is not that evangelical churches are fully entertainment driven without any substance, but that the substance they offer is not sustaining, and therefore leading our young generations to find pleasure is worldly entertainment. Part of this worldly entertainment is the casualness of the sex culture.
Since this is the case we have responded in the way we evangelical do best: we have over-reacted. We have bought into the “world is against us” slogan and we have acted upon it with zealous fury. We have sheltered our children to the point of stifling their rhetoric and making them miserable spokesmen for the Lordship of King Jesus. On the other hand, we have overly exposed them to the vastness of sexualized culture. By the age of ten they all have their Lady Gaga lyrics as accurately as a Puritan boy his catechism memorized.
What can evangelical churches do to provide a culture that despises impurity and treasures purity?
The remarkable response–according to the statistics– is by focusing on the simple means of grace of Church attendance, Prayer, and Bible reading one reduces dramatically the chances of engaging in fornication. I have stated many times that the evangelical problem is one of prioritization. And what does priority look like in the church? The damning news is that conversion is not enough. For many parents conversion serves as a perpetual moral babysitter. As long as words are spoken affirming the X,Y, and Z of Christian conversion then we are on our way to bringing up pure children. But conversion or its vocabulary are not enough! The evangelical culture has evangelized their children to death, and then they are left wondering where did we go wrong.
Here is a sample quoted above:
Evangelicals who infrequently read the Bible were 70 percent more likely to have been recently sexually active than frequent Bible readers.
Let’s say 50% of this is true. Without going into detail of what this “Bible-Reading” should look like–a worthy discussion to be had–in what ways are churches inculcating their children with the Sacred Scriptures? In other words, what are they doing to instill a desire in our children to drink deeply of the Biblical narrative? Have churches made the Bible so one-sided and narrowly explicated that our children long to escape to a different narrative of the world?
As we affirm Sola-Scriptura, let us also delve into the Scriptures in a transformative way. “Your word is life,” says Yahweh. And this alone is enough to make the point of the study. When one saturates himself in life, then he will find death-like practices abominable.
To echo N.T. Wright, let’s return to a simply Christian view of life. Our understanding of sexuality needs to be transformed by a new understanding of who we are in Christ. Our new creation life is a life that treasures sex in its right context. Further, it sees the life of another human being as sacred, and therefore violating that sacredness–which is what pre-marital sex is–is a violation of life; a profound misunderstanding of the Imago Dei.
The Scriptures and its reading will help us re-shape our view of ourselves and others, but it must be done in a context that perpetuates the reality that the new world brings a new light and this light is filled with redemptive and ethical consequences. Therefore, forsake the works of darkness and drink deeply of the words of life.
*An additional post on “How to read Bible” will soon follow.
Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?
As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.
I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.
It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.
In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.
It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.
It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.
Lent and Wilderness
Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.
In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.
We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.
The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.
Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.
But Why 40 Days?
Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.
Should Lent be Observed?
Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a history based on merit. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.
Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.
I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:
The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.
The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.
As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:
Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance. But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like. “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.
If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.
The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.
Dr. George Grant exhorted and encouraged us this evening to conquer the world. This remarkably titanic vision, he argued, is actually grounded in the prayer our Lord taught us: “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” We need to start believing this prayer.
Grant sprinkled his optimistic talk with particular moments of history where darkness reigned, but yet God–in His mercy–provided and prepared men to embrace the challenge and plant seeds that would bear much fruit long after their deaths.
Among many contributing factors to the grim state of our culture, Pastor Grant argued that a pessimistic view of the world is very much guilty for what is transpiring in our midst. If we expect darkness, then why should darkness not prevail?
Grant’s magnificent rhetorical gifts coupled with his pastoral concerns and passion for the Church, and his loyalty to recover a Christ-centered education inculcated in us a robust vision for the world and the profound need to think futurely.
History has taught us much, but the knowledge of history without the formation of a future vision for Christendom is not the way forward. By embracing those true historical heroes, we have an inheritance that causes us to pursue and desire a world where truth, goodness, and beauty prevail and where Christ is all in all.
Here is my opening prayer for the evening:
Almighty and Gracious God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give you thank for your tender mercies toward us.
We are grateful this evening for the labors of Trinitas Christian School in these last fourteen years; for their commitment to training men and women to know biblical truth, and also to apply that truth in all areas of life. With Abraham Kuyper we affirm that “there is not one square inch that Christ has not claimed as His own.” We are thankful that You are the writer and master of history; nothing happens outside Your sovereign control. And this is why we commit this time unto you, for you have fashioned our ears to hear wisdom and our bodies to live by wisdom.
We thank you that in education You are forming us to be better lovers of truth and protector of that sacred inheritance given to us by our forefathers. With Chesterton, we affirm that “the true soldier fights because he loves what is behind him.” May our environment be bathed with the grace to know that we are not fighting for a vain cause, but for the future of our children and the glory of the Kingdom of God.
We pray for Pastor George Grant; that he might give us a greater vision for truth in our city, and that his words might cultivate in us hearts to desire truth for ourselves and our children.
May the truth of Your Word, the Goodness of your hands, and the Beauty of your majesty be with us now and forever more, through Jesus Christ, the world’s only Redeemer. Amen.
DJesus UnCrossed is SNL’s latest attempt to de-christ Christ. Of course, in our day, Jesus is easy to disrespect. One wonders if SNL would attempt a comedy journey through the life of Muhammad. No further comments needed.
David Flowers believes that the skit has something to teach us, and that we should begin to listen to our critics. He argues that the skit has hermeneutical problems, but that it shows our hypocrisy and inconsistency in our faith. Flowers argues that this is the result of an American-shaped Jesus. He is correct to assert that humor has a way of offending Christians and revealing weaknesses and hypocrisy. We should be aware of them.
The Jesus raised from the dead murdering Romans out of revenge seems bizarre in light of the biblical narrative. Flowers is correct to assert that it reveals the Jesus kick-ass motif portrayed by many in our evangelical culture. It is easy to object to the video’s false portrayals, but in what sense is this skit true, even with its exaggerative and faulty hermeneutics? There is something to be learned here. Flowers is correct that we are to listen to our critics. The point, however, is that our critics don’t go far enough.
Surely the 2nd Amendment Rights’ Jesus is very American and Neo-Conservative like. But that doesn’t even begin to describe the type of justice-driven Messiah we as Orthodox Christians believe.
For starters, we believe in a Messiah that is ascended to the right hand of the Father, and from that place of kingship rules and reigns over us and creation. He is not an unmoved Mover. Further, Jesus did not have the Romans in mind when He judged, He had the corrupt and idolatrous first century Jewish generation in mind. Upon them, He brought a profound tribulation (Mt. 24). The Gospel Lesson this Sunday is Luke 13:31-35 where Jesus laments over Jerusalem. He sought her with love, but she continued to kill and murder the prophets sent with a message of salvation and deliverance. The vengeful Jesus portrayed by SNL has no interest in context, but it should well observe that the Messiah who destroys is first the Messiah who shows mercy.
How Can we Learn from SNL?
First, Saturday Night Live is not a theology show. Its humor is devoid of accuracy, and frankly, that is not their interest. They have been on the air for 37 years because of their exaggerated (especially in the last ten years) view of current events. This is important to keep in mind.
Secondly, use these opportunities to correct false information. Bill Maher, the well-known HBO atheist host, does this better than anyone I know. He takes a portion of Scriptures and twists its meaning in a fashion that would make even the devil jealous. This is a good time for Christians to be hermeneutically savvy. In fact, go ahead and make a t-shirt with that slogan “I am hermeneutically savvy.”
Thirdly, do not allow an exclusively New Covenant narrative to shape your theology. As James Jordan observes: “The division of the Bible into “Old Testament” and “New Testament” is merely for convenience, for the Scriptures are one narrative from beginning to end.” It is important to note also that this one narrative portrays God as a God of justice who says all vengeance belongs to Him. The modern Marcionites have failed us just as much as SNL has.
Finally, remember that the life of Jesus–especially as we meditate upon it in this Lenten Season–is a life of cross before glory; suffering before resurrection. The Jesus that came out of the grave was first a Jesus that came riding on a donkey as the Prince of Peace. But that same Jesus has promised to come again riding a horse of judgment upon Jerusalem and upon all those who despise His Name.