Archive for the 'Children in worship' Category

True Worship according to Hughs Oliphant Old

April 25, 2009

We worship God because God created us to worship him. Worship is at the center of our existence, at the heart of our reason for being. God created us to be his image—an image that would reflect his glory. In fact the whole creation was brought into existence to reflect the divine glory. The psalmist tells us that “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19.1) The apostle Paul in the prayer with which he begins the epistle to the Ephesians makes it clear that God created us to praise him.

Ephesians 1.3-6

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace… (Eph. 1:3-6)

This prayer says much about the worship of the earliest Christians. It shows the consciousness that the first Christians has of the ultimate significance of their worship. They understood themselves to have been destined and appointed to live to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:12). When the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” it gives witness to this same basic principle; God created us to worship him…Worship must above all serve the glory of God.—Hughes Oliphant Old


What is a Catechism?

February 19, 2009


You’ve probably heard the word before but almost certainly it was said with a sneer: ‘Catechism.’ In our day and age, the word usually conjures up a dreary scene where innocent little children are taught to mindlessly recite church dogma, without really understanding what that dogma means. The teacher force feeds the children knowledge that is outdated, outmoded thus stifling the child’s natural ability to discover answers to life’s questions on his or her own. According to this view, those who promote the catechetical teaching love to follow tradition more than they do free enquiry. The only problem is, this view of the catechetical teaching is a distortion of the truth.

So, what is catechism?

The word means ‘to instruct’ and is put forward in the New Testament as a proper means of teaching others the gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 14.19, Paul says he ‘would rather speak five words with my mind so that I may even teach others than ten thousand words in a tongue.’ In the original Greek in which Paul wrote, the word which is here translated ‘teach’ has the same root word as ‘catechism.’ Simon Kistemaker, a scholar of the Greek New Testament, explains:

The Greek verb katecheo (I teach) actually means that a teacher utters words that are directed to listeners who are seated at his feet. In the early church, the verb connoted a question-and-answer method that we associate with the term catechism (1 Corinthians, New Testament Commentary, Baker Academic, pp. 496-97)

The point is, Paul would rather speak a few meaningful words that people who are listening may understand, than speak ten thousand meaningless words that no one who is listening may comprehend. A few sensible words are better than ocean of senseless words because the sensible, meaningful words may teach people the truth. And how is the teaching accomplished? Through the simple method of the teacher asking questions and the pupil providing answers.

The first question of one of the great Protestant catechisms asks, ‘What is man’s primary purpose?’ (I’m using a modern version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in this instance). The answer is, ‘Man’s primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.’

Who was taught by the catechitical method? Lots of people, including the first two or three generations of Protestants and Reformers. In fact, many of the great leaders of the Protestant Reformation wrote catechisms so that their people would have a firm grasp on the content of their faith. But catechisms were used in the church long before the Reformation of the 16th century.

The early church used catechisms to instruct the people. The writer of the gospel of Luke says that Theophilus, for whom the gospel of Luke was written, had been instructed according to the catechetical method. Luke writes, ‘it seemed good to me…to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things that you have been taught.’ The last word of that quote is familiar to us, it is katecheo (I teach). Theophilus, says Luke, has been catechized. Other places in the New Testament that speak of instruction are Acts 18.25; 21.21, 24; Romans 2.18; 1 Corinthians 14.19; and Galatians 6.6. All these instances may not refer to catechism. But in Galatians 6.6, Paul does seem to speak of teaching in the sense of catechetical instruction, that is, imparting the content of faith through the simple method of questions and answers.

William Hendriksen observed, ‘The church that neglects catechetical instruction has itself to blame for its waning strength.’

Bound for Glory

February 17, 2009

book-bound-for-glory1R.C. Sproul Jr., author of Bound for Glory, says that the family’s chief aim is “to seek ye first the kingdom of [God’s] dear son” and offers a practical plan for husbands and wives to support each other and their children in this endeavor.  Nobody who intends to get somewhere drives around without a clear destination in mind.  Bound for Glory offers a destination for Christian families; to present themselves back to God as faithful members of the covenant with God.

R.C. Sproul, Jr. is pastor of Saint Peter Presbyterian Church, and Founder, Chairman, and Teacher of the Highlands Study Center in Bristol, Virginia, USA. He is R.C. Sproul’s son.

Click here to view more info.

Hospitality—Christian Style

February 13, 2009

jesus-and-children1Little One

I’m studying Jesus’ treatment of children in Matthew’s gospel, particularly Matthew 18.2-6;19.13-15. Our Lord makes a remarkable statement in verses 5-6. He says, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.’

Jesus had been talking specifically about little children in verse two. He calls a child and puts the child in the middle of the group. But in verses 3 and 4 he turns the discussion to everyone who humbles himself like the child. Those who humble themselves this way are also ‘little ones.’

So, in verse 5 and 6, the little ones that Jesus refers to are all believers, those who are humble before their heavenly Father. Jesus says, ‘Those who receive one such child (a child of God, regardless of age) in my name receive me’ In other words, Christians who welcome other Christians are, in a real and deeper sense, welcoming Christ. Think about that!

Obviously, Jesus is not saying we should worship other Christians or pray to them or bow down before them. But, rather, we are to show them the kind of hospitality that we would show Christ, were Christ to show up at the doorstep of our home.


Turkish Hospitality

This reminds me of when my brother, Rich, travelled through Turkey nearly two decades ago. He returned to Canada with one story after another about the wonders of Turkish hospitality. Under the present political climate, it may be different. But prior to 9/11, the people of Turkey and, indeed, people throughout the Middle East were renowned for their amazing graciousness. One man welcomed Rich into his home, invited him to stay with his family for as long as my brother wished, and strongly encouraged Rich to come again anytime. The whole time he was under this man’s roof, Rich was treated as am honored guest. Now I realize that there are social, cultural, and religious reasons why Turks—who are Middle-Eastern and have an Islamic background—respond that way to guests. But what an example. These folks dedicated themselves to making the stranger feel welcomed. Their warmth was outstanding. Could you imagine how many people would be drawn to our congregation if they received Turkish hospitality from us? I know of a few people who made our congregation their home, in part, because of the kindness they received from those who greeted them for the first time.


The law

The law of the Bible includes rules about hospitality. The Old Testament says a great deal about how to be hospitable to others, family as well as strangers. A hospitable attitude and behaviour and nature are mandated. But obviously, no one can perfectly fulfill the demands of the law. We are sunk every time. We may have a reasonable facsimile of the right behaviour—but even that can’t be maintained for long! But how can we possibly have an attitude and nature that is so gracious to others that it perfectly fulfills the demand for hospitality which the law requires?  That’s where grace enters.



We can’t be perfectly hospitable—not with strangers, neighbours, and even loved ones. Our behaviour may be pretty good, but our thoughts and feelings…? Nope, resentment and bitterness and rivalry will eventually creep in and distort even our best efforts at being ‘nice’ to others.

Our Saviour is the only one who perfectly fulfilled the laws demand for lavishly hospitable behaviour, attitude, and nature. We trust in him, in his obedient submission to the law and righteous fulfillment of it. Thank you, Jesus.


Children in Worship–Part Three

February 5, 2009

kids-jumpingOur church is thinking about some big changes. One of the areas under consideration is worship. It’s being suggested that we combine our two services into one. Also, that we combine the various styles of music. And, finally, that we move the time of our children’s Sunday school to the hour before or after the worship service. If we did so, it would mean that our children would be in the sanctuary with us during the entire service. Chew on that thought for a moment. In this post, I’m going to focus on children in worship. Here is an outstanding short piece on children in worship.

Children in Worship–How will we cope?

If you are like me, then the first question is, ‘How will the poor parent of the child who stays in the sanctuary for the full service cope with the change?

That’s a very, very important question. How will parents of young children cope with their little one being by their side for an hour of worship. How will the child sit through four or five hymns, an anthem, offering, prayer, and a sermon?

A Fresh Perspective

It’s good to remember that not all churches have Sunday school. That is, there have always been churches where kids stay with mom and dad or grandma and grandpa (or another loving, caring adult) during the full worship service. These congregations have never dismissed the children. And, these congreagation don’t exist half way around the world, on another continent. They are right here in Canada. The reason I point this fact out is to give us some perspective. The way we have done things in the past is not the only possible way of doing things. There are alternatives that work well. We may be able to learn a thing or two from them. But in order to do so, personal humility is required.

Parenting from the Pew

book-parenting-in-the-pew1Also, there are resources that can help us re-think the situation. One book that Terri, my wife, has found particularly helpful has been Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman, the mother of two sons, now grown. She speaks from experience as she provides advice to parents with little children. Her advice is simple, solid, and practical. Along the way, she offers an extremely valuable insight. Worship is never easy, contrary to popular myth.

Worship is work, hard work. It is also rewarding work. To worship the Lord ‘in spirit and truth’ does not come easily, and it certainly does not come naturally to us. It is difficult to worship on the leftover energy of a long week and a late Saturday. The Sunday morning encounter is worthy of our best energy, not our least.

The Lord of life promises to accompany us in worship. we will come upon unexpected stores of energy when we remember that worship is a joyous privilege. His mighty energy will be at work in us to revitalize our weary spirits. We will find rest for our souls.

The King’s House

cross-and-crownWhen Terri prepares our children for Sunday morning, she begins the process Saturday night by laying out the outfits the children will wear the next day. They see her do this and usually ask what’s going on? She’s then able to explain that we all are getting ready for tomorrow. ‘What’s tomorrow?,’ they ask. ‘Oh, well,’ their mom replies, ‘That’s the day we go to the King’s house, to worship the King of Kings.’ This plants the seed in their mind. Sunday is no ordinary day. Great things await them.

This isn’t a fabrication. Terri is not spinning a tale of make-believe. Her remarks are based on the witness of Scripture. The Lord God is King and his people, who are sealed by the Holy Spirit, are the new temple of the Lord. Christ promised that whenever two or three are gathered together in his name, he will be there. So, in a very real way, when we gather in the sanctuary as the people whom God has redeemed through the shed blood of the Lamb, we are, in fact, in the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords. We are in the Kings house.

What an awesome and thrilling, humbling and mysterious thing we do when we come to worship him in our sanctuary. If we convey this to our children, they will slowly begin to appreciate being with you, in the pew, to worship their God, too.

The Covenant of Grace–Part One

February 4, 2009

sunriseWhen does a Christian become a Christian?

This question is worth pondering as we begin to consider a revision of our worship. At the Annual Congregational Meeting on January 25, we voted to begin a process that may ultimately lead to the complete overhaul of our Sunday morning worship service. So, a question like the one above will help to orientate the direction we take as a church. After all, conversion is at the heart of being a Christian, right?

Some say a Christian is converted when and if he confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes with his heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10.9). For a long time I was convinced that that answer won the gold star for being perfectly (that is, biblically) correct. At the time I was mostly hanging around a group of super-white-hot Baptists, who stressed believer’s baptism. Only adults can be saved, their line of reasoning went, because the Bible says you must confess your faith in Jesus with your mouth and believe in the resurrection with your heart—and clearly, only adults (anyone whose conscience is mature) have the capability to do those two things.

I love my Baptist friends, but…

I am grateful that since then God has widened my circle of Christian friends to include a richer cross-section of believers. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Baptist friends. They were the ones who shared the gospel with Terri and me. But I don’t believe their view of adult conversion and, consequently, infant Baptism is correct. Their view, to my mind, is not biblical. Or, more precisely, it is not based on the full scope of passages that deal with these matters of conversion and Baptism. The Baptist view of these matters is based on a selective reading of the relevant passages.

Now before you throw something hard at my head, let me make something clear. I’ve heard Baptists preach their views and I’ve read articles on the Baptist concept of adult conversion and infant Baptism…believe me, I’m aware of their arguments for their veiws. I’ve read the best stuff their best scholars and preachers have produced and I’m still not convinced they’re doctrine is correct.

The Rule of Faith

bible1I once heard John Piper, an extremely gifted Baptist scholar and preacher, say that when considering the proper interpretation of a biblical doctrine (that is, a teaching on a particular subject), we should bear in mind what the early church believed. It’s not the final authority, but it can shed some light where needed. (NOTE FROM ME: The tradition of the early church can never be our final and ultimate authority, only Scripture holds that rank. But a factor that may help to point us in the right direction is the tradition of the early church. This is what the early Reformers called the rule of faith. The rule of faith does not replace nor may it contradict Scripture. It is a secondary light that shines as a good but inferior light, to the greater, brighter, and truer light of Scripture.) What Piper said made sense. I would love to ask him, though, what he would make of the evidence of infant Baptism in the early church. The evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of infant Baptism. It’s very obvious that infant Baptism was  practiced regularly. So, what happened? Did the early church get it wrong from the start? Or did they get it right? I now believe they got it right. They were acting on a ‘quiet’ belief in the covenant of grace.

Many Early Reformers Championed Infant Baptism

Knox, the great Scottish Reformer

Knox, the great Scottish Reformer

The term, ‘covenant of grace’ wasn’t coined, as far as I know, until the Reformation. The early Reformers studied Scripture and saw the important part that the covenants played in the plan of salvation. They saw that the new covenant of Jesus Christ was based on God’s grace and they understood that the covenant of grace must be the foundation of their theology. Now let’s turn our thoughts back to the Christians of the early church. Although they may not have known the  exact term ‘the covenant of grace’ (frankly, I don’t know when it was coined), they were still operating with that gracious covenant in view when they baptized infants. They implicitly understood that all the members of a believer’s family were members of the covenant of grace, including the youngest, most vulnerable members, the newborns.

If you are interested in reading more about the important role that the rule of faith has played in the Protestant and Reformed faith, check out the book The Shape of Sola Scriptura by Keith Matthison.

Click here for three short but outstanding talks (in written form) on the covenant of grace. The first and second talks are particularly good.

Children in Worship–Part Two

February 4, 2009

2007-dec-400Where should children be on Sunday morning? This is a hot-button topic—not just in our congregation, but in a lot of congregations. It’s no secret; I firmly believe that children should be in the sanctuary, along with their parent, parents, guardian, grandparent (you get my drift), worshipping God with the rest of the congregation on a Sunday morning. Click here for an outstanding piece on coventant children.

 The Covenant of Grace

Children are as much a part of God’s covenant of grace as their parents and the rest of the Christian adults of our congregation. God has saved their parents; we should also trust that he has graciously saved the little ones too. The Bible talks about entire households being forgiven and washed in the waters of baptism—the sign that they are now part of God’s family (see Acts 16.35). In this context, the word ‘household’ obviously includes the male head of the family (in this case, the jailer), his wife, any extended family members living under the same roof, servants, and—yes!—the children.

Think: First Passover

The first Passover

The first Passover

Children are part of the covenant of grace, the covenant which God established to redeem his people from sin and save them from his wrath. Think of the first Passover. At the first Passover, God redeemed his people from slavery and saved them from the wrath of his judgment. It wasn’t simply the adult Israelites who were delivered from bondage; all the people of Israel were delivered—including babes in arms, toddlers, and all the other little nippers who constituted the smallest members of the nation. They were as much a part of the covenant as the big people. In fact, it was the little ones (and those up to age twenty at the time of the exodus) who entered the Promised Land. That fact should speak volumes to us. God cares about his covenant children!

If the children of believers are part of the covenant of grace, then the question remains: where should they be on Sunday morning. We all agree they should be in church. But where in church should they be? If it’s right and good that adults who have been transformed by the grace of God should be worshipping God, isn’t it also right and good for their children to be with them, worshipping God, too?

As members of the covenant of grace, children should be allowed to bring God their gift of praise and adoration along with the adult members of the church. Again, we should trust that the God who saved the adults also has saved their children. That’s how God worked through the covenants of the Old Testament, why do we believe and act as though he has changed his mode of operation just because we turn the page of our Bible from the Old to the New Testament?

No Minor Issue

It’s not a minor issue (pardon the pun). Where we place people says a great deal about our faith. By placing our children outside of corporate worship, are we sending out the right message? Children of a Christian parent are full members of the covenant of grace. Should our worship together not reflect that amazing truth?


Evangelistic Worship—Part Two

February 3, 2009

T. Keller

T. Keller

In a recent piece, I looked at what Tim Keller, lead pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC, has to say about lively, evangelistic worship. Click here to read his thoughts on worship. Why? Because I think his approach to worship is not only biblically faithful, but also very wise—which means, we can probably learn a lot from him.


In the second installment of the discussion, I want to look at Keller’s thoughts on historic worship (what I would call traditional worship). My comments will appear in italics below his thoughts.

Keller offered some tough criticism of contemporary worship. To prove he doesn’t have a bias, he now offers tough criticism of historic worship.

First, historic worship can be elitist. People who prefer historic worship may do so only because they view their style of worship as superior to the modern style.

Second, historic worship can be ethnocentric (that is, it may see the style of worship that was produced by one culture or one period of time as the only style that is truly Christian). For example, some people who advocate historic worship believe that only music composed for the organ is legitimately Christian.

My thoughts: An elitist or ethnocentric attitude cuts off and throws out some very rich branches of the Christian church. What about the Christian worship, Keller asks, growing out of the fertile soils of the churches in Asia, Africa, and Latin American? Obviously, if they are part of the genuine Body of Christ, then the same Spirit that works in us (in North America) also works in them (wherever they may be). What do these branches have to offer the wider church?

Personally, I never sing historic hymns at home for pleasure. But, by the same token, neither do I ever sing contemporary praise music at home for pleasure. My personal taste in music runs along different lines. But I am sensible enough to know that my personal taste should not be the standard by which we measure the value of our church music. Worship is not like the Pepsi Challenge—personal taste should have little or no bearing on what we say, sing, or do in worship. We should be operating by a completely different standard.

What the true standard is will be discussed in the next item I post.

The chief aim of The Chief Aim

February 3, 2009
Robert with son, Owen.

Robert with son, Owen.

The main reason for this blog is to discuss the future of our church in Port Elgin, Ontario. There’s a lot that is scheduled to happen over the next six months and we, as a congregation, need to be well-informed so that, when the time comes, we vote well. With that in mind, I plan to post short articles, longer pieces, links, and more that, I believe, will shed light on important topics that directly relate to our future as a church.

Remember the schedule ahead:

Beginning in February, three teams will be established, consisting of three to five people of the congregation. Each team will study one of the specific area of ministry (either worship, group, or service). After a period of investigation, each team will then be responsible for writing a proposal on how to proceed in the area of ministry they have studied. The three proposals will form the broader report, which the entire congregation will vote on. The timeline for this is short: the congregational meeting is scheduled for May, 2009 (a period of less than four months).

In May the congregation will hold a meeting to vote on the new vision.

This September would be start of the new plan, if it is passed. Before then, however, the leaders of the Bible and Life groups would require training, material to be studied would need to be chosen, and the general organization of all the groups would need to be worked-out, at least on paper. The lion’s share of all that work would need to be done between May (after the vote has been cast) and September (when the first groups start)–a length of time that is roughly three months in duration.

Keep this schedule in mind. A lot is packed into an incredibly short period of time.

Some of the questions to be explored in this blog:

What is our chief aim at Port Elgin United Church? What is the main purpose of the congregation? Why should we gather regularly? When we do gather together on Sunday, how should we worship? When we gather for fellowship, should we have a goal? And what about service? Who, what, how, and when are the basic questions we will attempt to answer.

This blog is here for the people of Port Elgin United Church to explore. We have some major decisions to make ahead of us. There will be a vote on a vision of the future of our congregation that will determine our life of faith for years to come.

I hope this blog will help you as you consider what’s at stake.

For the glory of God,

Rev. Robert Widdowson

Children in Worship–Part One

January 28, 2009
Let them eat cake

Let them eat cake

Here is the best piece on why children should remain with their family, and the rest of the congregation, during the worship service on Sunday morning. It is written by Kim Riddlebarger, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California, and visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California.

Folks in the pews of his church were wondering why noisy little munchkins were allowed to be in the worship service, so Rev. Riddlebarger offered this reply. It is worth reading.

The link is being made available on this blog because some people at our Annual Congregational Meeting for 2009 had some legitimate questions about children in worship. Why change a good thing? Why should children be subjected to the full worship service? Why not allow them to be in groups with other children of similar age and in a room other than the sanctuary where they can learn and worship according to their age and abilities?

Rev. Riddlebarger, who also co-hosts The White Horse Inn and runs The Riddleblog, explains with humour, compassion, and wisdom why children should remain in the sanctuary with the entire congregation.