Our congregation was enriched yesterday with a whole lot of faces who made vows before God and man to join our local church. In my exhortation to the new members I noted:
“To be joined to a local church is one of the most counter-cultural decisions you will ever make and I am sure glad you have not allowed modernity’s individualism to shape your view of the Church.”
Over the years I have heard stories and met individuals who refused to join a church for a host of reasons. Some had been attending a particular church for over ten years and yet, refused to become a member.
In some cases, they have some fear of submitting to anything; some are said to be waiting for the right time; others are still hurting from some past church experience and are now forever fearful of a repetitive cycle; still, some are just naive of what membership means altogether.
My encouragement to those engaged in a local church, committed to a local body, a regular attender of a local congregation, fed by a local pastor, enriched by local fellowship, is to walk up to the pastor as soon as possible and say: “How can I formally join this body?”
It is entirely possible that after such commitment to membership occasions might arise where you will have to leave to another church and memberships will be transferred. This is all possible. But what you cannot do is act as if you can benefit from a local body, enjoy the blessings of family life and yet refuse to formally join such a body.
You cannot claim the universal church by despising its expression in the local church.
By now the entire Christian community is aware of the Duggar debacle. Josh Duggar, son to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, has not only been found out for his despicable acts of molesting five girls in 2002, but also his name turned up when hackers released stolen customer data from cheating site AshleyMadison.com earlier in the week. So far social media celebrity, Matt Walsh, has apologized for giving Josh a pass after the molestation revelations. Walsh used his gigantic platform to treat Josh as a victim of leftist propaganda. If I could summarize Walsh’s first reaction, it would be like this: “Yes, he sinned, but don’t you see why the left is making such a big deal out of this? This is a selective political sniper kill.” The good news is that Walsh’s most recent statement has been very clear in his criticism. Here is a lengthy quote:
So I was wrong about Josh Duggar being a repentant man. Clearly, he isn’t. Or at least he wasn’t. Maybe now he’ll finally begin the process, but it’s certainly impossible to believe that someone could be truly sorry for past sexual sin while currently in the process of fishing for affairs and “experimental” one night stands.
He’s a traitor to his family. I feel awful for them, and I pray that Josh really does come to Christ. Beyond that, I pray his wife and kids somehow recover from all of the shame Josh has brought upon them. Because, let’s be clear, if you sign up for an adultery website and then your information gets hacked and your family ends up embarrassed and devastated — that is YOUR fault. You are the one who victimized them. The hackers acted illegally, but this all happened because of your choices. Don’t want your information stolen from an adultery website? Don’t sign up for an adultery website. Pretty simple formula.
I must also admit that the more I think about this, I realized I was too easy on the the Duggar parents as well. Jim Bob and Michelle knew that their oldest son was struggling with severe sexual sin, they knew their daughters had been abused, they knew their family was in the midst of moral and spiritual turmoil, yet they STILL decided to put themselves and their children on TV for ten years.
I hope others will take the same path and recognize that no matter what royal family one is born into and no matter the influential position he may have in the culture war, no man should be exempt from the lawful discipline of the Church or state, or both.
I concur. Josh Duggar is guilty. Repentance bears fruit (Lk. 3:8). There is a long continuous pattern of sexual misconduct by Josh Duggar. At this point we should stop and think why are we so comfortable giving a pass to these Christian celebrities? And then we should consider very carefully how we can begin fighting passionately to protect the many victims in our culture who suffer at the hands of such men, but yet are trivialized into a category of “wrong place and wrong time.” Where is the safest environment for them to be restored and emotionally healed from such torments? Who will care for their trauma? The difference is vast.
I am deeply saddened for Josh’s wife and children who will have to live and re-live these awful events due to hyped media attention. As for Josh, words of contrition only go so far. His next few years will prove whether his repentance is genuine or not. I have learned long ago that not all sin is created equal. Repentance can be easily couched in evangelical lingo. Those who defended Josh Duggar without second thought or who assumed his initial incoherent words of confession made everything just fine or who treated repentance like some nebulous concept divorced from the reality of the pain caused to victims will hopefuly have learned a significant lesson: God is not mocked. Sins are not inconsequential. This is not a left vs. right issue. This is an issue of morality and God has made clear that his justice will not be in vain. Josh Duggar affirmed that, “He is the biggest hyprocrite ever.” But hypocrisy can only be dealt with by understanding what God hates and what he loves.
Paul spoke of temptations that are stunningly difficult to face. When he says “flee from temptation” he is not simply using a 1st century bumper sticker. This is more profound. Paul’s context is an ecclesiastical one where confession and collective sorrow manifests themselves continually in a community of grace. But even then sin is subtle. You must flee temptation, but you must first understand what temptation looks like. Yahweh speaks about the seven sins that he hates and provides this list as a step-by-step calculation made by those who embrace evil:
16 There are six things which Jehovah hateth; Yea, seven which are an abomination unto him:
17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood;
18 A heart that deviseth wicked purposes, Feet that are swift in running to mischief,
19 A false witness that uttereth lies, And he that soweth discord among brethren.
Duggar’s long history of sexual perversions was not born after a particularly miserable day. There is a pattern of thought and action. There is an anatomy of evil involved. There is a whole-body determination to follow these sins from the eyes to the feet. There is a calculated narrative that culminated in sexual abuse and adultery. For those who do evil the feast of the wicked is incredibly appetizing. One drink leads to another and only increases the hunger.
Where do we begin then? If situations like this do not cause us (particularly men) to be ever cautious then we will not have learned from it. Every person’s crime is a reason to re-consider our strategies to fighting sin and living righteously. If I had five minutes to counsel Josh I would tell him to look at this list and begin to detail where his narrative went awry. Where and when did his eyes become arrogant and haughty? At what point did he think he was invincible? At what point did he rationalize the presence of God away from his actions in secret? Then, when did he begin to put into words his pride by lying about his reality? I would be sure to point him to Jesus; not the Jesus that dismisses sins, but rather takes them with utmost seriousness and urges him to put on Christ and put off the deeds of darkness.
Josh needs to re-consider this list. He needs to see grace as redeeming the mind and abolishing calculated plans for evil. God has plans of his own. His plans involve demolishing our plans and replacing them with plans that are good, true, and beautiful. The task is great. Josh is only a clear example due to his high profile status. There are many Joshes out there currently afraid that they may be found out; afraid that their secret adventures will come out in Duggar fashion. The good news is God has already found you out. The bad news is that God has already found you out. In the end of the day to be found out by God is the best news. His throne is justice. He makes no mistake. His discipline will hurt, but it will not damn you. Accept it. Receive it. Confess it. Find refuge in Him.
There is a venomous snake in the garden. While the great Messiah and his disciples enter the garden, a certain snake-like figure named Judas knows precisely where the faithful are. He enters the garden knowing that this was a place of constant fellowship and peace. But Judas is not a man of peace and his fellowship with the Messiah has been broken. He is now a man at war and his loyalty is with the darkness.
In the Garden of Eden, the Great Serpent entered the garden to bring about chaos; to tempt the first Adam. Indeed he was successful. The first Adam failed in his loyalty to Yahweh, being deceived by the serpent in the garden, and thus, thrusting all mankind into a state of sin and misery. Now in John 18, the New Serpent enters the garden. He is possessed by the same devil that possessed the serpent in Genesis. It is this precise battle that is unfolding before us in this text. The question is: “Who owns the garden?”
Does Judas with his new found commitment to darkness and evil own the garden or does Jesus own the garden? As the text reveals to us we see that Judas, the son of perdition, seems to have the upper hand in this sacred dispute. In verse 12 we read:
So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jewsarrested Jesus and bound him.
Jesus is arrested and bound. They take him out of the garden bound like a defeated enemy. Now, in every conceivable scenario, this would be the historical determination that Jesus has lost. But if the Messiah is to bring this unshakable and unmovable kingdom with his coming, then how does this binding, this apparent defeat in the garden connect with this glorious kingdom? The answer to this question is: paradoxically. The coming of the kingdom is paradoxical. The kingdom does not come in the way and in the expression that many expected.
Now if the kingdom of God comes paradoxically, in a way unknown to the first century, then there may be a different way of understanding this garden scene. In this text, Jesus is not being bound because of defeat; he is being bound because of victory. Jesus’ arrest is his release. His arrest is not his binding, it may appear to be, but it is ultimately the binding of the evil one, the father of lies, Satan himself. This is why the gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus is the One who bound the strong man. He is the One who arrested the Serpent and dragged him out of the garden. Jesus owns the garden, not Judas or His master, Satan.
This arrest and this binding of Jesus in the garden is not a plan gone awry, it is exactly what has been planned. In one sense, this arrest is the cosmic Trinitarian conspiracy against the kingdoms of this world. When evil leaders and governments think they have the Son of Man trapped, he fools them. As Psalm 2 says, “God laughs at their plans.” The conspiracy of the cross is that the cross is Christ’s sword to defeat evil. But the serpent does not know this. He is virtually blinded to the Messianic plan and nothing will stop Jesus from conquering evil and bringing in a new world, a new creation. The garden belongs to him, because the garden is where his people gather, and eat, and fellowship. The garden is the sacred space, the place of peace. Make no mistake, we are a warring people, but we war against the enemies of Messiah. In the garden, the King, Master, and Messiah says, “the gates of hell shall not prevail. Death dies once and for all and victory will come and we will celebrate it this Sunday. Today, though we fast, it is only a prelude to our coming feast. Jesus’ death marks the end of the serpent’s sting of death.
Note: It’s not very common to post writings from others on my own blog, but I have done it a few times in the past as a way of revealing my joy in exposing the profound observations of others. Tom is a dear friend, parishioner, and a capable student of the Bible. He took a single thought from a sermon of mine and developed it to something much better than I could have written.
Guest post by Tom Robertson
“…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” –The Apostle Paul
“Heaven is the blueprint; earth the raw material.” Uri Brito
Uri Brito is the pastor (my pastor) at Providence Church in Pensacola. The quotation above comes from a sermon he preached a few Sundays ago. The Apostle Paul is familiar to you all. His words were written nearly 2000 years ago from an Ephesian prison. I believe Uri’s illustration may be a little unsettling to the average Christian, especially when compared with Paul’s description of Heaven as “gain” and “far better.” Now, no one believes Pastor Brito is talking about mere drawings and measurements. However, he is at a minimum suggesting that Heaven is a kind of starting point and not the finished product. After all, a blueprint is the plan, not the dwelling place. If this is true, then it follows that Heaven is imperfect. And this sounds a bit alarming.
A Place Where No Storm Clouds Rise?
Most of us – at least most of us in “the South” – grew up singing songs that promised we’d leave this world and fly to a place of eternal and undiminished joy. Our understanding was that Earth is toilsome, a place where we must spend “just a few more weary days.” We all thought Heaven to be a place where “no storm clouds rise”, where “joy shall never end”, “no tears ever come again.” Heaven was not a mere temporary lodging. Yet, scripture teaches that Christians will live in a new heavens and a new earth forever and ever. In fact, all things will be made new (Rev 21:5). We ourselves will be made new; our resurrected and glorified bodies will be fit to enjoy a renewed cosmos (Phil 3:21).
So, we will not live forever in Heaven. In fact, Heaven and Earth were never intended to exist forever as separate places. The plan was always for a unity (See Gen 1 and 2, Acts 4:21, Phil 3:20-21, Col 1:20, Rev 21 and 22). At the moment, however, we are in the midst of a cosmos which has undergone what C.S. Lewis described as The Great Divorce. When Adam sinned creation “fell”; Heaven and earth were “torn asunder” with all the resulting pain and consequences of a divorce.
The Coming Unity
It was Ephesians 1:9-10 – “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth” – which occasioned Pastor Brito’s comment “Heaven is the blueprint; earth is the raw materials.” God’s plan, said my Pastor – said the Apostle Paul, no less – is to unite all things in Christ, both in heaven and on earth. It has always been the plan, which is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Neither Heaven nor Earth is meant to be alone.
Heaven is Imperfect
Does this mean that heaven is not a pleasant place? Certainly not! Paul’s confession, that to “die is” not only “gain”, but “far better” (Phil 1:21-23), settles that. To be sure, the comfortable accommodations of heaven are preferable to a sin-ravaged world. Yet, Heaven separated from Earth is imperfect – imperfect, but not defective. Neither was Adam defective. Yet, He was not perfect until joined to Eve. Just as it was not good for Adam to be alone, it is not good for Heaven or Earth to be alone. The ink pen resting on the desk is not defective, but when taken in hand, put to paper and employed by a master poet it becomes perfect. Similarly, Heaven will become perfect when it is intertwined with a gloriously liberated Earth.
So, until then, we are to do what we can to “heavenify” earth, so says my Pastor – “Heaven is the blueprint; earth the raw materials.” And if we happen to leave this Earth before Christ speaks into existence a new cosmos, we’ve been told by a reliable source that our temporary accommodations will be quite comfortable. For to depart and be with Christ is “far better” says Paul – far better, but not perfect.
It doesn’t happen quite often, but once in a while when I recommend a book or a quote by N.T. Wright on facebook, I will receive a question that goes something like this:
“Do you approve of N.T. Wright? Do you think it’s fruitful to endorse N.T. Wright? Or don’t you know that N.T. denies Justification by faith alone?”
I addressed the first question on facebook and I thought I’d make it available here. My response goes like this:
I think the question ought to be more nuanced. In other words, humans and their ideas, especially new humans recreated by God, ought to be analyzed more carefully and charitably. As a pastor I recommend Wright to my parishioners with the same enthusiasm I would recommend C.S. Lewis, Schmemann, and Martin Luther. I have disagreements with all of them, but charity allows me to communicate with these great thinkers and gain from what they offer, while expressing sometimes strong disagreements on some of their contributions.
Yes, Reformed people, in fact, Christians of all stripes should read Professor Wright. His profound insights, his vision for a renewed humanity in Christ, his invaluable defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and his commitment to the historical, Biblical Jesus make him one of the most gifted teachers and scholars of our time and The Jesus Seminar’s worst nightmare.
But what about justification? Shouldn’t we stand for the principal article of the Church? And by standing shouldn’t we reject anyone who denies it?
First, N.T. Wright has written and clarified many of his statements. He stated again and again that he does not deny justification by faith alone. I take him at his word. “But hasn’t he been unclear?” To those who think so, he will always be. “I and many others find Wright’s overall project to be fruitful, despite having disagreements with him at points.” I find Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s humorous, but yet serious points on the Wright vs. Piper debate to be very helpful, and from what I hear from reliable sources, Wright agrees and finds Vanhoozer’s attempt to bridge the two paradigms extremely beneficial.
Secondly, the Reformation did not settle every issue. There are contemporary issues that still must be handled within our context. The Reformers did not exhaust the fullness of justification. There is indeed a robustly corporate view of justification that the Reformers–rightly preoccupied with Romish theological abuse–simply did not address explicitly in the 16th century. In this sense, Wright needs to be read and listened to attentively.
Thirdly, when one poses the question of whether we should eliminate such an author from our library because he is wrong on an issue, no matter how important the issue may be, he is betraying the charitable nature of the Christian vision and our personal libraries. Of course, he may choose to avoid Wright, and other authors who also had some questionable theological presuppositions (like C.S. Lewis), his theological vision will be narrow, and his ability to articulate a vision of the world will stop at the wardrobe (to borrow from Lewis). Those of us who appreciate Wright prefer to open the wardrobe and see Narnia in all its beauty.”
Finally, the West’s over-emphasis on the individual is tragic. The individual matters, but Adam himself knew that the individual is not alone. Just as the Trinity is not alone, so too man needs to be a part of something greater. “Community” is not just a buzzword no matter how often hipster Christian groups use it. In its biblical sense, community is the essence of the Christian experience. Paul’s vision was highly ecclesiastical. The individual who divorces from the community loses his ability to be truly human. He breathes and eats as a human, but his breathing and eating desecrates God’s intention to incorporate him into a multitude. N.T. Wright offers immeasurable contributions on this subject.
Naturally, there is the possibility of over-emphasizing community, but that hardly seems to be the problem in our day. The reality is if you stress the community you get the individual, if you stress the individual you don’t get the community.
Should we read N.T. Wright? Yes. Read him often with the eyes of discernment. But again, discernment is the Christian’s best friend in any human activity.
I was asked recently to provide a simple look at worship and applications to making worship a more worthy endeavor in the Christian life.
My assigned area is worship. My specific focus is corporate worship.
So, what is significant about corporate worship? First, a definition: “Corporate worship is the formal gathering of the people of God on the Lord’s Day where God gives gifts to his children and his children respond in praise.” Corporate worship is to be distinguished from private worship and informal gatherings of the saints throughout the week. The Bible assigns a specific day called the Lord’s Day as a day when the people of God come together and offer themselves to God in truth by the Spirit and where God comes and gives of Himself to His people in Word and Sacrament.
Hebrews picks up this theme and says that we are not to forsake this gathering, because forsaking this gathering may lead to destruction. It may lead to the worship of false things. Ambrose Bierce, in his class, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary, says that a heathen is “a benighted creature who has the folly to worship something he can see and feel.” Essentially, a pagan worships that which can be created.The Christian worships the one who is a consuming fire, whom the Bible refers as Holy, Holy, Holy, Father, Son, and Spirit.
Why is it important? It’s important because corporate worship is the most power Biblical method used by a Christian to wage war against the world. When we gather, there is a general biblical consensus in the Bible, that what we are doing is changing the world. The first response of the Christian in crisis is to worship. This is what we were created to do first and primarily. We are worshipping beings (homo adoranis).
Finally, what practical steps can we take to steward this area of corporate Christian worship?
First, we can begin to train ourselves and our families to practice worship throughout the week. By practicing worship throughout the week in Scripture reading, prayer, and singing, we will be more equipped to worship corporately on Sunday.
Second, instead of passive creatures on Sundays, instead of merely watching or listening to worship like a passive individual, we are called to participate wholeheartedly in the task of worship. In whatever tradition we may be a part of, we are called to joyfully engage in what is happening in worship. Sing with joy. Pray with fervor. Love one another as you have been called to love.
Finally, and most importantly, be present. As Randy Booth once said, “The decision as to whether I will be in Church on Sunday is a decision made once in a lifetime, not every Saturday night.” Corporate worship is a requirement whether you are on vacation or a home.
When you worship God together as a people, you can begin to see why our forefathers sang so passionately, “ I rejoiced when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.”
Doug Phillips has resigned from Vision Forum. He has cancelled his public speaking engagements as well. Doug has been one of the most influential voices in the home-schooling movement, and what some refer to as the patriarchy movement. One can hardly find a home-schooling family that doesn’t have one or a thousand items produced from Vision Forum. At this stage, the Christian Church has an opportunity to grieve over his sin, and trust that Doug’s elders are taking proper steps to restore the brokenness caused by Phillips’ sin. But we have also to accept his repentance as a genuine expression of a man who is deeply committed to his Lord.
I should add that unlike the half-hearted letters of public apologies we have become accustomed to in this politically-correct age, Phillips’ letter puts those to shame. May God bring daily repentance and restoration to Doug Phillips and special comfort to those whom he has deeply offended and grieved–his wife and children.
I believe that every public sin is reason for self-examination. Here are some questions for us to ponder as men:
How committed are we to our wives? What are we doing to foster a greater relationship with our wives?
How do we relate to other women?
How quickly do we deal with our sins? How often do we repent?
What do we do when we are found out? Self-pity? Self-justification?
What are we doing to prevent a similar situation from happening? What kind of accountability do we have? Do we think we are too strong, and therefore not in need of accountability?
What are we doing to protect ourselves from pornography and other images that defile our minds?
Doug Phillips’ Letter of Resignation:
With thanksgiving to God for His mercy and love, I have stepped down from the office of president at Vision Forum Ministries and have discontinued my speaking responsibilities. There has been serious sin in my life for which God has graciously brought me to repentance. I have confessed my sin to my wife and family, my local church, and the board of Vision Forum Ministries. I engaged in a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman. While we did not “know” each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate.
There are no words to describe the magnitude of shame I feel, or grief from the injury I caused my beloved bride and children, both of whom have responded to my repentance with what seems a supernatural love and forgiveness. I thought too highly of myself and behaved without proper accountability. I have acted grievously before the Lord, in a destructive manner hypocritical of life messages I hold dear, inappropriate for a leader, abusive of the trust that I was given, and hurtful to family and friends. My church leadership came alongside me with love and admonition, providing counsel, strong direction and accountability. Where I have directly wronged others, I confessed and repented. I am still in the process of trying to seek reconciliation privately with people I have injured, and to be aware of ways in which my own selfishness has hurt family and friends. I am most sensitive to the fact that my actions have dishonored the living God and been shameful to the name of Jesus Christ, my only hope and Savior.
This is a time when my repentance needs to be proven, and I need to lead a quiet life focusing on my family and serving as a foot soldier, not a ministry leader. Though I am broken over my failures, I am grateful to be able to spend more time with my family, nurturing my wife and children and preparing my older sons and daughters for life. So, for these reasons I want to let my friends know that I have stepped down as a board member and as president of Vision Forum Ministries. The Board will be making provision for the management of the ministry during this time. To the friends of this ministry, I ask for your forgiveness, and hope that you will pray for the Phillips family at this time, and for the men who will be responsible for shepherding the work of Vision Forum Ministries in the future. Doug Phillips
The question of baptism and its recipients is truly a matter of grace and not of works. It was my Calvinism that led me away from credo-baptism. I knew–though it took me a while to act on it–that grace was more than a mere soteriological category. Grace was everything and in every act of God for us. The question of an infant’s ability never crossed my mind as a barrier to accepting covenant baptism. The question of God’s grace was the key that unlocked the baptismal font.
Baptism is a heavenly Pentecost. The Spirit is poured, not we who pour ourselves. Everything is of grace; Gratia sunt omnia. God identifies us as His own from the beginning as He did with creation and then He christens us with His spirit. Baptism is the divine hovering. Baptism is gracious because through it God re-enacts the creation of the world. In baptism we are a new creation. a God has copyrighted the world. He labels, gifts, and graces. Man does not have that capacity; man does not create in and of himself, therefore man cannot change his own identity. We are imitators, but yet only capable of imitating because God graces us with His artistic gifts.
In the beginning, the world is first identified by the Triune God (Gen. 1) and then it is called to praise that God (Ps. 19). We are first identity-less (dark and void), and then God fills us with His Spirit (light and life). Baptism is all of grace. We were void and empty. God looked at us (Ezk. 16) and washed us and clothed us with fine clothing (Ps. 45).
Infant baptism is of grace because it is the re-enacting of creation. Creation begins in darkness– as in a womb– and is washed. It is like our God to destroy nations with fire and to create new ones with a few drops of water.
Thanks to Jonathan Bonomo for this last comment (back)
Have you ever been in the middle of a phone call or a conversation with someone else and been interrupted by your children? I have many times, and I am certain I have not always responded the right way. To say parenting is difficult is a profound understatement. As I mentioned in my little booklet, The Trinitarian Father, being a parent requires that you embody many roles at the same time. Paul Tripp summarized this when he says that parenting demands spontaneity:
Parenting is all about living by the principle of prepared spontaneity. You don’t really know what’s going to happen next. You don’t really know when you’ll have enforce a command, intervene in an argument, confront a wrong, holdout for a better way, remind someone of a truth, call for forgiveness, lead someone to confession, point to Jesus, restore peace, hold someone accountable, explain a wisdom principle, give a hug of love, laugh in the face of adversity, help someone complete a task, mediate an argument, stop with someone and pray, assist someone to see their heart, or talk once again about what it means to live together in a community of love. a
We are not just speaking of making up rules as we go, but of a prepared spontaneity. This demands wisdom; wisdom that at times is not available in a handy “how to” book. Wisdom that needs to be gained in community; a community that struggles together with you and is not afraid to consider and learn from their mistakes.
What is easier? To ground a child after an act of disobedience or to speak and nurture a child after the act? What is easier? To separate two children after a dispute and send them to their separate rooms or to engage them each and teach them how to confess sin and find reconciliation? Parenting is hard because dealing with the consequences of our children’s sin is time consuming.
Instead of dealing with each issue the easy way, and instead of treating each sin as an interruption, the ways of God demand that we change our attitude about these things and realize that parenting “is never an interruption.” b We should look at our roles as parents as roles that demand constant interruption. When children rebel that history of rebellion is filled with fathers and mothers (mainly fathers) who did not use wisdom when their plans were interrupted, but who rather chose the easy way out.
We need to be spontaneous in our parenting, but not spontaneous to apply easy-fix answers, but spontaneous enough to be interrupted regularly, and then choose the strategy of long-term discipleship.
Many of us grew up in theological backgrounds where the psalms were known, but not sung. These theological backgrounds are anomalies throughout the history of the Church. E.F. Harrison observed that “Psalmody was a part of the synagogue service that naturally passed over into the life of the church.” Calvin Stapert speaks of the fathers’ “enthusiastic promotion of psalm-singing” which he says, “reached an unprecedented peak in the fourth century.” James McKinnon speaks of “an unprecedented wave of enthusiasm” for the psalms in the second half of the fourth century. Hughes Oliphint Old argued that Calvin appealed to the church historians (e.g. Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen) as well as the church fathers (e.g. Augustine, Basil, Chrysostom) for the singing of psalms. While the Reformers did not advocate the exclusive singing of Psalms they did express “a partiality for Psalms and hymns drawn from Scripture.” a
The Reformer Martin Luther urged that Psalms be sung by congregations so that “the Word of God may be among the people also in the form of music b.“ By the end of the 19th century, however, most hymnals produced had limited psalms to a couple of well-known pieces like Old One-Hundredth. Beyond that, scriptural references had all but disappeared. Terry Johnson summarized the state of psalmlessness:
This eclipse of psalmody in the late nineteenth century is quite unprecedented. The psalms, as we have seen, have been the dominant form of church song beginning with the Church Fathers, all through the Middle Ages, during the Reformation and Post-Reformation eras, and into the modern era. By the beginning of the twentieth century the church had lost the voice through which it had expressed its sung praise for more than 1800 years. c
Though the last hundred years were not psalm-friendly, we have seen in the last 30 years a kind of revival of psalmody in the modern church, especially in the Reformed tradition. New hymnals, like the Cantus Christi, and many others are including old and new psalms ( metrical and chants).
So why should we sing the psalms? Aren’t the 19th century hymns and contemporary songs sufficient to fulfill the worship demands of the modern congregation?
The answer is a resounding no!
There are ten reasons I believe congregations should begin to sing psalms once again:
First, Psalm-singing is an explicit biblical command (Ps. 27:6). The Scriptures encourage us to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). To have the word of Christ dwell in you richly means to invest in the rich beauty of the Psalter. How can we sing what we do not know? Is there a better way to internalize the word than to sing it?
Second, Psalm-singing was the ancient practice of the Church and it continued for 1,800 years. We honor our forefathers and our history when we sing their songs.
Third, Calvin observed that the psalms are “An Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that it is not represented here as a mirror.” The psalms are satisfying to the human being. We are homos adorans; worship beings. God is not against emotions, he is against emotionalism. The Psalter is an emotional book. It provides comfort for the people of God at different stages of life. As a minister I have never once walked into a hospital room and been asked to read a text from Leviticus or Romans, but rather every time I have been asked to read a psalm (most often Psalm 23). The psalms reach deep inside our humanity in time of pain.
Fourth, singing the psalms builds our Christian piety. It is nurturing to our souls. It is God’s devotional book; God’s hymnal. Singing the psalms restores the joy of our salvation. Ask me what book of the Bible I would take to a desert island, and I will not hesitate to say “The Psalms.”
Fifth, the psalms are ultimately made for the body. You may sing the psalms on your own, but they reach their culmination when sung together. They are meant to be roared (Ps. 47:1), because they were written by the Lion of Judah. When we sing together we are both being edified and edifying one another. “We sing because in singing we join together in common breath and melody in a manner that no other medium can duplicate…We become an assembly unified in purpose and thought. And by our singing, we hear God’s Word for us, and the world hears it loud and clear.” d
Sixth, we should sing the Psalms because they re-shape us; they re-orient our attention. We are a people constantly being sanctified by the Spirit of God, and the Spirit has specifically inspired 150 psalms for our sanctification. How should we pray? How should we ask? How should we lament? The Psalms helps us to answer these questions, and thus shape us more and more after the image of Christ.
Seventh, by singing the Psalms we are worshiping the Spirit. The Spirit hovers, shapes, re-makes in the Bible. He is the music of God in the world. In an age when the Third Person of the Trinity has become the source of theological confusion, the Psalms keeps us focused on His role and purposes in history.
Eighth, we should sing the Psalms because our current songs are often cheap and shallow. The Psalms are rich and full of substance. If we wonder why the evangelical community is so powerless, one reason for this is its trivialized worship. Modern worship is often a pietistic exercise, which is manifested in poorly constructed and pessimistic theology. But the Psalms teaches us that God is full of mercy and powerful over all His enemies (Ps. 2). The Psalms are political statements. They are direct attacks on those who challenge the supremacy of King Jesus.
Ninth, the Psalms should be sung because our children need them. Our little ones need to know the God they worship in profound ways from their earliest days. We become what we worship, and so our children will become what we sing.
Tenth, you should sing the Psalms because the world needs them. The world does not need a weak Gospel. She sees plenty of it already. She needs to hear a Gospel of a God who delights in praise, who will not allow evil to go unpunished, and who prepares a table for us.
This may all sound daunting and strange. But I’d encourage you to take that first step. What first may appear to be strange may become a wonderful journey into praise and thanksgiving to the God from whom all blessings flow.
For more information on how to sing the psalms, or for resources, please contact me at email@example.com.
See Terry Johnson’sThe History of Psalm Singing in the Church; I depended heavily on that article for the quotes on this paragraph (back)
Luther, Martin. Tischreden. No. 2545. Quoted in F. Blume et al., Protestant Church Music (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1974 (back)