Archive for the 'Sermon' Category

The Truth–Part One

February 4, 2009
jesus-the-light

Jesus, the light of the world

We, who follow Christ as Lord and Saviour, are to be deeply rooted in God’s word. Jesus said that God’s word is truth and he prayed that believers would be sanctified in that truth (John 17.17). He also referred to himself as the truth (John 14.6).

The Rotten Melon

Yet in a postmodern world, where truth is kicked into the gutter like a rotten melon, many people have rejected the belief in the reality of an ultimate, objective, authoritative truth. A favourite way of putting it is, ‘You have your truth, I have mine.’ But to say such a thing is to misunderstand what truth is. Truth is about ultimate reality. It’s not a personalized, introspective thing: ‘You in your small corner with your private truth, and me in my small corner with my private truth.’ It is about the granite-hard, crystal-clear, bedrock foundation of reality. And Jesus said, quite extraordinarily, if you want to know this truth, you need to know him. “I am the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14.6).

Truthiness

A few years ago, a group of linguists (people who study language) voted ‘truthiness’ the best newly-coined-word-of-the-year for the English language. ‘Truthiness’ means a rough approximation, nothing too definite, of the truth. Sadly, that word sums up the mentality of our age. The postmodern world is comfortable with a murky, imprecise, or sloppy approximation of the Truth.

Preach the truth

That is why preaching God’s word is so vitally important. People are perishing because they do not know the truth. For this reason, it is urgent that the truth be proclaimed. It is our mandate. When God saved us from our dark enthrallment to sin, he dragged us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his Son, which is illuminated by the dazzling light of his truth. It is as we hear his word proclaimed and explained–and as we think over what this word is declaring–that our minds are renewed and we are given understanding. The veil is lifted. The darkness is driven out.

Just so you’re clear on what I am saying and what I’m not saying. God renews the believer’s mind and gives her understanding. The preacher doesn’t do the renewing or the giving of understanding. It is done by him alone. We–that is, anyone he spreads the good news–are simply servants.

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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.

Rebuilding the Worship Service from the Ground Up

February 3, 2009

2007-from-jan-to-nov-626

In a very real way, the proposal for a new way of doing church (the first stage of which was approved at this year’s Annual Congregational Meeting) means that we will be ‘rebuilding’ the church in three areas: worship, group, and service.

How will we ‘rebuild’ the Sunday morning worship service? If we think of the various things that make up the worship service (the hymns, prayers, sermon, etc) as ‘elements’ (or the basic building blocks of the worship service) then the question is: How do we know which elements should stay as part of the worship service and which ones should go?

 

What Standard will We Use?

But before we can answer that particular question, another more basic question needs to be answered. What will our standard be? It doesn’t take long to see that the ‘rebuilding’ process will include judgments about the elements (the hymns, prayers, sermon, etc) of worship. ruler2And judgment, in order to be both good and sound, requires a standard from which to work. We don’t want the decisions to be arbitrary, after all. A standard that everyone can agree on beforehand would mean that we would all have the same starting point and point of reference in common. A universal standard would clear up a lot of needless confusion. Imagine if every carpenter had his own standard of measurement. It would be bedlam at the lumber yard, at the work site, and at inspection time.

What should the standard be?

 

The Basic Standard

I would make the positive expression of the Bible the standard by which we measure the elements of worship. This is the most obvious and simplest standard. It works easily: if Scripture includes an element, then it’s right to include that element as part of worship. If it’s not mentioned in Scripture, then it has no right to be included in worship. The positive expression of the Bible is known as the Regulative Standard. It says, ‘Let the Bible stand as the standard that regulates the worship of God.’ This makes sense to me, since it is God’s word that clearly expresses what God’s intention for worship is.

book-worship-in-spirit-truthA book that I have found extremely helpful in this matter is Worship in Spirit and Truth by John Frame. It’s published by P & R Publishing. It is clear, simple, but very intelligent in its handling of the various elements of worship. Frame explains the value of the regulative standard and how a church can use it to build a worship service that glorifies God and is a pleasure to the worshipper. And aren’t those twin goals the chief aim of humankind?

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.