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.

Ugly Duckling Doctrine

The Reformation’s ‘deep’ view of sin is rather like the proverbial ugly duckling: initially unattractive and embarrassing, but secretly a thing of promise. It is a doctrine of promise because without it Christ is robbed of His saving glory, and the gospel loses its wonder. If sin is not much of a problem, Christ need not be much of a Savior, and we do not need much grace.

Only if I see my plight is so bad that I cannot fix it myself will I find true freedom in Christ, for only then will I stop depending on myself and depend on Him. Only then will I despair of my own efforts and look outside myself for hope.

Michael Reeves and Tim Chester, Why the Reformation Still Matters

God and Country

The Westminster Confession of Faith, which is the confessional document of Presbyterian churches (including ARP churches), states the following:

1. The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.

2. Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone; not to angels, saints, or any other creature: and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone.

21.1-2, emphasis added

Our worship will not be perfect in this life. There are times when we may become distracted in worship, or our devotion may not be what it should. There will also be disagreements about how some of the elements of worship are employed. Nevertheless, it should be without controversy to say that in reformed churches of the Presbyterian tradition, worship should be as biblical as possible. It is neither right nor wise to go beyond the elements of worship as given to us in Scripture.

As an example of what this may look like, take a look at this past week’s worship bulletin at Midlane Park ARP Church. Since the Lord’s Supper was part of the service this past week (we celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper once a month), the order of the service was slightly different than most weeks. However, this gives an example of what a typical reformed worship service of the Presbyterian tradition might look like (if you would like to listen to the sermon that was preached, you can find it here).

It saddened me greatly, however, when a friend recently sent me a link to a worship bulletin from this past week of a church that is of the reformed and Presbyterian tradition (including subscribing to the WCF). It can best be termed a “Patriotic service,” in which the country and the American flag were honored. If certain parts of the worship service did glorify God, I fear that the other parts served to greatly obscure that. This is a service that included, among other things, the Pledge of Allegiance, a flag ceremony, and the singing of songs where the attention is primarily directed to the nation rather than God. This probably not as blatant as the church in our city that once had the following on its sign in preparation for the upcoming worship service (July 4th fell on a Sunday that year): “Celebration of America Service This Sunday.” Celebration of America? Shouldn’t we celebrating God instead during corporate worship on the Lord’s Day?

You can look at a copy of the bulletin by clicking here. I have redacted names, but you should be able to see why this is so troubling.

“Why is it that so many people take no pains in religion? How is it that they can never find time for praying, Bible reading and hearing the Gospel? What is the secret of their continual string of excuses for neglecting means of grace? How is it that the very same men who are full of zeal about money, business, pleasure, or politics, will take no trouble about their souls? The answer to these questions is short and simple. These men are not in earnest about salvation. They have no sense of spiritual disease. They have no consciousness of requiring a Spiritual Physician. They do not feel that their souls are in danger of dying eternally. They see no use in taking trouble about religion. In darkness like this thousands live and die. Happy indeed are they who have found out their peril, and count all things loss if they may only win Christ, and be found in Him!”

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke

It is often suggested that the fourth commandment is the most openly violated and least observed of the commandments in the Decalogue. It should not be surprising to find this among the secular and unbelieving, who profess no interest in the public ordinances of Divine worship, nor in the holy rest offered to weary souls on the sacred day. Indeed, while all men are duty-bound as God’s creatures to render unto Him whatsoever worship or service He is pleased to require of them, the unregenerate lack genuine interest in spiritual things, and feel no inward compulsion to observe moral duties such as keeping the Sabbath day holy. Only the renewing work of the Holy Spirit in effectual calling can awaken such individuals from their spiritual indifference and implant within their souls the disposition and desire for holy things. But what ought to be both alarming and sad to those of confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian sensibilities is how many there are in the church today who profess faith in and allegiance unto our Lord Jesus Christ with all evident sincerity, and yet who appear almost as dismissive of the the duty of observing the fourth commandment as their secular and unbelieving neighbors, except perhaps in the matter of attendance in the public assembly of worship.

Geoffrey L. Willour

The Confessional Presbyterian, vol. 12, p. 195

Roman Reality

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Romans 5:6-11

Consider what the word of God tells us here. It describes us — every one of us — in very unflattering terms in our natural state before God. We were “helpless,” “ungodly,” “sinners,” “enemies.” The end of our natural course was not a pleasant one: the wrath of God. And there is nothing that helpless ungodly sinful enemies of God could ever do about that.

But then God did something beyond wonder — He sent His Son, Jesus Christ. And He has done what we never could do ourselves. He died for us. In Him the love of God is demonstrated toward us. He justifies us. He reconciles us. He saves us. This is true for all who are His, all whom He calls, all who look to Him and Him alone for salvation.

If this is something you have never considered, I would urge you to find a local biblical gospel-centered church and attend there. If the gospel is not preached there, if you do not hear about Christ and Him crucified, then keep searching for another church until you do. If you are in Louisville and do not have a church, then visit us at Midlane Park Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. But please do not remain an enemy of God, under His eternal wrath.

And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

1 John 5:11-12

When we gather for worship, who is our worship really for? Is it for God (as it should be), or is it for us?

In the adult Christian education hour (i.e., “Sunday School”) at Midlane Park, we are currently going through Roger Ellsworth’s book Opening Up Zechariah. In the chapter we studied this Lord’s Day, the author examines Zechariah 7, and asks the important question as to who our worship is really for.

Zechariah 7 brings us face to face with a troubling question: how much of what we call worship is for God, and how much is for us? How much of it is contrived to entertain ourselves rather than give glory to God?

The Jewish people who had been carried into captivity had begun observing certain feasts while in Babylon to commemorate and mourn the events associated with their exile (e.g., the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple). There were 4 solemn fasts that they observed for 70 years. Now that they had returned to Jerusalem, and now that the rebuilding project for the temple was in place, should they continue the fasts? They assumed their fasting had been a good thing, but they were surprised to learn that the Lord was not pleased with them. God had not commanded these fasts or sanctioned them, and they were really not for Him in the first place.

The Lord revealed his unhappiness by pointedly asking, ‘When you fasted and mourned … did you really fast for Me — for Me?’ (v. 5). With this question he was bringing these people to the unpleasant conclusion that these fasts, ostensibly created for him, were in fact created for themselves, so that they could feel good about how religious they were!

Does this sound familiar? Is this a motivation for much religious worship in our day? How much of our worship is fueled by our own desire to feel good religiously and to rely on what pleases us (whether it be novelty or tradition or nostalgia) in worship?

While we agree that worship is for the Lord, we often corrupt it by doing things we enjoy instead of being content to do the things that God enjoys. What does God enjoy? He has made it clear. He wants us to read and preach his Word, seek his face in prayer, and exalt him in praise.

The discussion questions at the end of the chapter include these two:

Identify some things in modern worship services that seem to be more for us than for God? Why does it matter if our services contain these things?

What does the Lord desire of his people in their worship? What can church leaders do to try to promote God-pleasing worship?

Those questions give us some important food for thought. We would do well not to dismiss them or to try to justify modern (or even traditional) innovations in worship. What matters is what God desires.