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Crisis Not Christ

The latest podcast from Mortification of Spin does a good job in explaining Presbyterian/Reformed distinctives on the covenantal nature of children of believers. If you have questions on issues such as infant baptism, give it a listen.

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A Fiery Non-Gospel

The October 2018 issue of New Horizons magazine (a publication of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) has an article on “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and why it is inappropriate for Christian worship. The article is interesting, informative, well-measure, and worth your time to read.

 

Spiritual Worship

In the context of a discussion on church renewal, I once heard someone make the claim that it is better to sing contemporary worship songs than the psalms, because the former would be more accessible or familiar for potential visitors in a worship service. While the motivation for making such a statement is well-intended, it is neither wise nor biblical. Leaving aside for a moment the argument about exclusive psalmody, it should be beyond question that the command to sing psalms is repeated numerous times in Scripture (Psalm 95:2; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; James 5:13). Again, leaving aside the question of exclusive psalmody, those churches which practice exclusive hymnody (or exclusive song-ody) should sincerely ask themselves why they do not sing any psalms, at all, ever.

Mark Jones, in this book God Is, has some insightful things to say about the nature of God that are related to this, and how all this is practical when it comes to the worship of God:

The truth is, then, that God is spirit. But far from being simply a metaphysical declaration about God’s essence, it gets us to the heart of the Christian faith: that God dwells in the hearts of his people, enabling them to offer worship that is acceptable. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). If our worship is not saturated with truth, then we can hardly claim to be worshiping God in the Spirit, for the Spirit works according to the truth.

Thus, the more our human words replace God’s words in corporate worship, the more we are corporately quenching the Holy Spirit. That is not to say that we cannot use human words, such as in our hymn singing. But certainly the Bible should be read corporately, and our prayers should be suffused with Scripture. Exclusive psalmody is not, in my mind, biblically demanded, but excluding the Psalms altogether from our singing is a greater crime than only singing the Psalms. After all, the Psalms give us perhaps the grandest view of God in all his Word, which drives us back again to the Spirit-filled, Word-infused worship appropriate to the nature of our God. (p. 42, emphasis added)

To sing the psalms, therefore, is a way to worship God in spirit and in truth.

 

 

At the 2017 General Synod Meeting, Rev. Matt Miller gave his testimony regarding “Family Worship.” A motion was made following the talk that it be transcribed and distributed to ministers and churches of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. This has now been made available, and is posted below. This is also available at https://arpnews.org/family-devotions/

“Family Devotions in the Life of the Church”
Thursday Morning of the 213th Stated Meeting of the General Synod
Rev. Matthew Miller
June 8, 2017

It’s my privilege this morning to give a quick testimony about family worship, about family devotions, in the life of the church. I’d like to thank Moderator Lee Shelnutt for this invitation and opportunity.

It’s been said that the goal of all theological thinking is to distinguish without separating, and to unite without confounding. You can think of how that played out in 451 A.D. in the Council of Chalcedon–to distinguish the human and divine natures of Christ without separating them; to see his two natures united in his one person without being confounded. You can think of how that has played out in the last 500 years in the relationship between justification and sanctification–to distinguish them without separating them, lest it be thought you could be justified without in any way being sanctified; but also to avoid the Roman error of uniting them to the point of confounding them, so that justification becomes sanctification, and sanctification becomes justification.
You can think of how this is at the root of all ancient heresies, and even of the heresies of modern Western thought–you can think of the separation of faith and science, not just distinct but now entirely separated. Or the modern way of uniting to the point of confounding–male and female, now seen by our culture as interchangeable. A goal in all theological thinking, though, is to distinguish without separating and to unite without confounding.

I think this holds true not only in theological thinking but in Christian praxis as well. And if there’s one place where we desperately need to distinguish without separating, and to unite without confounding, it’s in the relationship between the church and the home.

Here we’ve experienced over the last century or more a distinction that has strayed into a complete separation, and this has played out even in our history of our governing documents, as you saw in the report of the Committee on Worship’s report that was submitted and you approved. It tells the story of how the Westminster divines gave us not only a “Directory of Public Worship” but also a “Directory of Private and Family Worship.” But over the centuries and especially about a hundred years ago, that “Directory of Family Worship” began to lose a place of privilege, and then lose its place altogether in our governing documents. And so you have approved a recommendation that the Moderator appoint a committee to retrieve or compose anew a “Directory of Private and Family Worship.”

This distinction of church and home straying into a separation describes the common practice in modern youth ministry, which says, “Leave the spiritual care of your children and youth to us, the professionals. You parents can bring your children and drop them off and let the professionals take care of them for you. You just outsource this task to the church.” And so we’ve built the big youth buildings, we’ve invested in the fancy vans, we’ve made it a lot fun. But the data is now coming back and the data is not encouraging–this separation of the church from the home, and of the home from the church, has resulted in losing a generation. In fact, the data shows that there is no correlation between a young person’s involvement in a youth group and whether he or she continues to walk with the Lord into adulthood.

When I became the pastor of Greenville ARP in 2008 we had a graying congregation, but we had some new young people who had joined the congregation just before I came. There were about 8 people in the Young Adults Class, and just a few children coming forward during the children’s sermon. And by the grace of God, that began to change over the years. That Young Adults Class grew from eight to more than sixty now, and we started a second Young Adults Class because the first one was, well, no longer truly young! And today we have 97 non-communicant covenant children on our role. And nearly all of them are truly involved in the life and ministry of the church.

So in 2013 our Session embarked on a journey of asking a question, and that one big question was, “How can we better transmit the faith to the next generation?” We began this journey knowing from this data, and from much of our own experience, that the old way (which is historically quite a ‘new way’) of outsourcing the transmission of the faith to “the professionals” simply wasn’t working.

That journey led us to Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, who has been at the forefront of helping the church and the home remain distinct but no longer be separated, and to be united without being confounded. And we, as a Session, read his book, which I commend to you: Family Ministry Field Guide (2011, coauthored with Mark Devries). And then we engaged him in some consulting.

Dr. Jones came down from Louisville and spent a weekend with our church training us in how to have family devotions–or, as he put it, “faith talks.” And before he did that, he conducted a survey of our parents and of our families to find out how many of our families were doing family devotions, how frequently they were doing them. And of those that weren’t, what were their big impediments, what were their barriers that they had to overcome to begin this practice. So when he arrived he had a thirty-page report that was tailor-made for our church.

When we finished our time with Dr. Jones, we had three big realizations, or steps, that we realized we needed to take going forward to help our parents, most of whom – and here I include myself – did not grow up with family devotions. Such a lost practice! So we identified three big steps we needed to take to help our families at Greenville ARP.

The first realization was that if we wanted to help our families be able to take this step toward establishing family devotions, we had to deal with a big problem of ‘busyness’ in our church. Our families were simply overcommitted. Mealtimes weren’t happening anymore. And so we recognized that we needed to clear the ground first.

So we did a sermon series called “Rhythms of Rest” in 2013 that culminated in a weekend retreat at Bonclarken where that was the main theme. We talked about day and night, six days of work and Sabbath, and the need to regain margin in our lives. We needed to say to a dad, a mom, to a whole family, “If you are too busy, if you are doing so many things that you do not have time for personal and family devotions, you can be sure of one thing: you are doing more than God has called you to do. Because God would never call you to do so many things that you would be left with no time to spend with Him personally and as a family.” So we began with teaching to try to clear the ground.

The second step was realizing the parents’ sense of inadequacy, and trying to meet that with resourcing. We gave to every family a book called Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God (2010), by Marty Machowski. The book literally provides ten-minute family devotions that can be done, just following the script. Then we gathered the husbands and fathers together once a month at a man’s home for what we called “Husbands and Fathers Night.” And we made sure that “Husbands and Fathers Night” did not begin until the father had helped put the kids down, so that mom didn’t resent “Husbands and Fathers Night”! So we said, “Arrive between 8:15 and 8:45. Whenever you put the kids down, come right after that.” And once a month we’d ask together, “How’s it going in this attempt to lead devotions in your home?” And it led to some wonderful conversations.

After doing that book, this last year we’ve been walking through Jeff Kingswood’s From the Mouths of Little Ones: A Study in the Catechism (for Very Little People) (2008). That’s a book walking children through the catechism, and once a week one of our staff members, Derek Wells, composed a weekly e-blast to all our families setting up the chapters and devotions for each week, and just encouraging them to press on in this good work of leading their families in regular family devotions.

We sought to meet the problem of inadequacy with resourcing and with structure that actually brings the fathers together for accountability.

The third problem, though – which really was a big one – was simply the problem of intimidation. Many of our parents, having never grown up with this, were as intimidated about gathering their families together for a devotion as if you were to say to them, “Come up here and address the whole court of the General Synod!” And we wondered, “What do we do about this?” Because for a while we had D-Groups on every Sunday night – when parents would come and drop their 6th-12th grade kids off at 6PM, the young people would have two hours for dinner and teaching that was age-specific and gender-specific. Parents would pick them up at 8 o’clock. The first thing that we did after Timothy Paul Jones came was to start setting aside one Sunday evening a month to not have D-Groups and encourage parents to lead a devotion in their home that night.
What we found was that once per month we weren’t having D-Groups, and only maybe a handful of parents were having family devotions in their home that night. So what do we do? We’re providing them the time. We’re giving them the resources. What’s the problem?

The problem was that sense of intimidation. So our own Derek Wells was talking to Marty Machowski on the phone and Marty Machowski said, “You just gotta kick that door down and here’s the way to do it.” So, instead of having once a month that we’d let the kids be home on Sunday evening with their families, we said, “You parents come here for Sundayevening with your family. Park your car, and all of you come in.” And so what we do is have a time of teaching, talk about how to have a family devotion, talk about some of the things that are barriers, and then say, “Now, for the next twenty minutes, parents take your kids and go find a classroom, go find a spot in the church, and go do a family devotion together. This is what you’re going to study, then you’re going to pray, and then you’re going to come back and we’ll talk about how it went together.”
So we actually had, in a sense, to force them to do it. They were willing to go along with that and we’ve seen tremendous fruit from that. As they began to practice family devotions in the church, they could then take it home, having gotten over that sense of intimidation to do it there.

These have been some significant steps we’ve taken at Greenville ARP that have been very exciting and really helpful. We have a long way to go–this is a long process of moving toward what we call a “Family Equipping Ministry” model for the children’s and youth ministry at Greenville ARP. We’re beginning to see some fruit, most of it is like the mustard seed growing into the tree, we won’t see the full fruit of it for a long time to come.
But here’s what my prayer has been, and I think a lot of the church shares this prayer. From our group of children and youth, I’d love to see at least one pastor, at least one missionary, and at least one bona fide theologian come from this group who go on to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in these significant ways. But most of all – truly most of all – what I’m hoping is that we see a generation of young men and women, many of whom, maybe most of whom, are called into marriage and into the sacred task of childrearing, who will recognize that this seemingly small, seemingly insignificant task is actually a huge calling on their lives. And my prayer is that they will be practicing family devotions in their home, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in their homes and in their hearts, and when their kids ask them, “Why do we do this?” they will say, “Well, because the Scriptures say that we are to bring you to the Lord, and worship him together, and . . . it’s what my mom and dad did with me. ” That’s our #1 goal.

And maybe also that we’d have a pastor who comes out of this group of young people, and not only in his preaching and in his teaching and in his ministry to the church is he talking about how we grow up in Christ, but he’s also modeling it in his home as the kids see the symmetry there between church and home, as they experience the two being distinct, but not separated.

And maybe there will be a missionary who goes on the field and not only preaches the Gospel but also teaches another nation how to raise up their children in the Lord, that one generation might recount the deeds of the LORD to the next generation.

And also there might be a theologian that comes out of the group who says, “We do family ministry in our home because it’s about distinguishing without separating, and about uniting without confounding.”
May the long-term fruit of this work be great, and may we be patient in the process.

 

Last month, our family went on a short vacation to Branson, Missouri. On the way back home, we stopped in the small town of Mansfield, Missouri, because I wanted the girls to see the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum located there. This is where Laura settled as an adult, and it is where she wrote the famous Little House on the Prairie books during her later years. You can take a tour of her home (in some ways a little house of its own), and the museum contains many interesting items: handwritten manuscripts, an old typewriter (who remembers those things?), and photographs of her family. The museum even has her father’s old violin (“Pa’s fiddle”), a recurring fixture in many of her books.
The website for the museum calls Pa’s fiddle “a kind of time machine.” Why do we hold onto such old things? It is because they remind us of the past. They remind of us the way things used to be. Those memories, whether good or bad, are a part of who we are, and those old things aren’t just pieces of junk in a museum gathering dust – they help connect us to those memories.
In the Bible, we are told of the importance of remembering. In the book of Exodus, God hears the groaning of the Israelites and remembers His covenant promises (Exodus 2:24; 6:5). Later, Israel is told, “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place” (Exodus 13:3). In the book of Ecclesiastes, we are told to remember our Creator in the days of youth (12:1) and before the day of our death (12:6-7). In the New Testament, Paul tells the Ephesians to remember there was a time when they were separated from God and without hope, but solely by the grace of God they have been brought into fellowship with Him through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:11-13). Paul exhorts Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8). Notice how the incarnation of our Lord (“descendant of David”) and His resurrection (“risen from the dead”) are both mentioned in a verse about the gospel. It is good to remember these things.
But there are also things that God does not remember. We must not think that God’s “remembering” is the same as ours, for God is omniscient and knows all things. His remembering of His covenant promises is a picture drawn for us to know that He is faithful and trustworthy and always keeps His promises to us. God not only remembers His covenant promises – He also “forgets” our sins. Again, this does not mean God is forgetful in the sense that we might forget where we left our car keys or we might forget an important appointment. God’s “forgetfulness” is meant to emphasize the full forgiveness of sins that He offers to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12; 10:17).
Last week, we celebrated the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Whenever we come to the Lord’s Table, we are called to remember the meal and remember all that the Lord has done for us. He says, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). Through this covenant meal, the Lord strengthens our faith. Believers are “by faith, made partakers of His body and blood, with all His benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 96).
Pa’s fiddle was a big deal to Laura Ingalls Wilder; the Lord’s Supper should be a much bigger deal for us! God gives us ironclad promises in His word; but He confirms and seals and shows us the truth of those promises through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Here is Christ crucified for us, here is forgiveness, and here is nourishment for our souls. Let us remember these things.

Gospel Glory and Gospel Grace

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but here is a link to the morning sermon from this past Lord’s Day at Brighton ARP Church. The sermon text is from Philippians 4:20-23, and it is the concluding sermon from the book of Philippians (which we began back in January).

“Gospel Glory and Gospel Grace”

Recently, my oldest daughter and I watched a short cartoon about a great hero of the Christian faith. Eric Liddell, born in China to Scottish missionaries, became a great athlete in the early 20th century (he ran so fast that he earned the nickname, “The Flying Scotsman”). He was selected to compete in the 100-meter race (his best event) in the 1924 Olympics, but he refused to participate because it would have required him to run on a Sunday. He later agreed to compete in the 400-meter race (which was run on a different day of the week), winning a gold medal in the event, and also setting a world record in the process. He also competed in the 200-meter race, winning a bronze medal. Eric Liddell’s story is depicted in the 1981 award-winning film Chariots of Fire.

Was Eric Liddell right for refusing to race on a Sunday? Considering that he was Scottish (I am not certain whether he was actually Presbyterian), that should come as no surprise, as he would have had a high view of the Christian Sabbath, or Lord’s Day. For Eric Liddell, honoring God was more important than running in a race, even if that race was the most important race in the world. There is, of course, an important lesson in that for us: in a day and a culture that places little emphasis on Sunday and the importance of worship. Honoring God is to be our priority, not what the world would consider to be most important.

But there are other aspects of Eric Liddell’s life that you may not know. One is the anger that was directed at him when it was announced that he refused to race in the Olympics on a Sunday. He was called a traitor to his country. The British newspapers denounced him. Yet, he still considered it best to honor God (today, he is considered to be one of Scotland’s greatest athletes and a national hero). One unusual aspect about Liddell was his running style. He would run with his head thrown back and mouth wide open, which was often ridiculed by others (his running style was described as “ugly” and was sometimes laughed at by fellow runners). Another interesting story is that on the day he won the 400 meters, he was handed a folded piece of paper prior to the race. On it were written words from 1 Samuel 2:30 – “Those who honor Me, I will honor.” Liddell would later say that he was profoundly moved when he read the note, as he was unaware that anyone other than his coach supported his decision not to race on Sunday.

A year after the Olympics were over, Eric Liddell returned to China, where he served as a missionary like his parents. He was born in China, and China would be the place where he would die. In 1943, during World War II, Eric Liddell was placed in an internment camp by the Japanese (who had invaded China and were occupying the country at that time). He died of an inoperable brain tumor in that camp in 1945, five months before the camp was liberated. Today, his grave is marked by a headstone with words from Isaiah 40:31 – “They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary.”

Very few people are gifted to be Olympic athletes. Not many are called to be missionaries. But all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are called to honor Him. Sometimes that means enduring the ridicule of others. It may even mean being considered a “traitor” by the world around us. But to honor God is more important than what others may think of us. To know Jesus Christ is better than all the fame or riches that the world may offer. Therefore, let us honor Him above all else.