A Worship Conversation

April 24th, 2015 No Comments

In the medieval Church, there was a sharp distinction between the worshiping clergy and the spectators found in the laity. The “action~ was up front, behind what was called the rood screen, and the people of God assembled to watch—well, mostly to listen. They were permitted to be in the presence of something big—they were “around” when the mystery happened. But for all intents and purposes, they were shut out, and the experts did the heavy lifting. The Protestant emphasis on the priesthood of all believers changed all that for centuries.

But unfortunately, a very similar sharp division has been creeping back in recent decades—now in the form of professional entertainers up front, and the audience out in the seats. Many who attend church do not expect to be asked to “do” anything. This did not happen all at once; it happened by degrees, but it has gotten to the point where some congregations don’t even sing much anymore.

In the approach taken to worship by CREC churches, the worship service is an active conversation between God and His people. It is a dialogue—not a monologue.

We are all part of the body, and we all have something to do. The service is initiated from the front by the minister. He is there in his role as a “deputy spokesman” on the Lord’s behalf. He is authorized to do this by his ordination, and he is faithful to his ordination to the extent that he sticks to the Scriptures like white on rice. In this role, he summons the people to worship at the beginning, and he declares the benediction at the end. He reads the text for the sermon as the very words of God, and he preaches the sermon as the very oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11). After the confession of sin, he announces the assurance of pardon in the name of Jesus, and so on.

The people of God respond to all this actively. They sing the psalms and hymns and say amen after them. They say the Creed. They respond to the Scripture reading with “Thanks be to God.” They lift their hands in the Gloria Patri. They deliver a corporate charge or blessing after a baptism. They eat the bread and drink the wine weekly. In short, in worship, the body of Christ is called to be a conversationalist. One of the first things that visitors to our congregations notice is that there is so much for them to do. This is intentional. The whole body is called to work together, and worship is that work.These responses are usually prepared for our congregations in a printed bulletin, and because of this, those who are used to a more spontaneous, “go-with-the-flow” style of worship sometimes react to such a prepared liturgy as “kind of Catholic.” Actually, within limits, it is one of the most Protestant things we do. And in a sort of double irony, the spectator approach favored by many pop-evangelical churches is actually drifting back toward a very old error indeed.

Published by Canon Press

Weekly Communion

April 15th, 2015 No Comments

Our practice of weekly communion comes out of our understanding of covenant renewal worship. The natural procession moves from confession to consecration, and from consecration to communion. We want this progression to occur every time we worship God.

The heart of biblical worship is organized around Word and sacrament. But we do not understand this as a fortuitous “pairing,” as though

Word and sacrament were like salt and pepper, or ham and eggs. Rather, we see it as one thing leading naturally to another—it is more like cooking and eating. With this understanding, we would see a liturgical service without a sermon as an example of an ecclesiastical “raw foods” movement. The food is not prepared as it ought to be. And traditions that have robust preaching, but no opportunity to commune with the Lord in His Supper, are akin to watching cooking shows with a master chef. You learn things, but don’t get to eat anything.

And so it is that our services culminate every week with an observance of the Supper. Understood the right way, this does not in any way minimize the importance of biblically-grounded exegetical sermons. A worship service is not a zero sum game, where more time for the Supper is less time for the sermon. They are not~ in competition,any more than Cooking or eating are in a competition. We are seeking to structure our services in such a way as to honor the sermons, which we do by eating and drinking them.

Our practice of weekly communion is related to another feature of our lives together. Our communion marks us as disciples, and so we also practice church discipline.

Some in our Reformed tradition have wondered about weekly communion because to them it “seems Catholic.” But at the time of the Reformation, it was the Reformers who were pressing for much more frequent communion, which they accomplished with varying degrees of success. For example, John Calvin strongly urged weekly communion, and we are finally in a position to honor and follow his counsel.

Canon Press Published this article.

Spinners No Longer

April 13th, 2015 No Comments

In the world, people often get what they want by demanding, begging, cajoling, manipulating, and coercing everyone around them. The way to win is to knock everyone else off the top of the mountain and become the “King of the Hill.”

One of the more subtle ways we do this is by what has become known as “spin.” We tell people the truth, but shade things just enough so that we come out looking like the hero in the story. Or we explain things in such a way that we are just a little bit less evil than the other people in the story. The goal is to spin the story in such a way that we come out looking better than we think we might look if we came right out and told the actual truth.

Spin is what Adam sought to do in the garden when God came looking for him after he had eaten the forbidden fruit. “Where are you Adam?” God called. Adam, clothed in leaves, hiding in the bushes, fearing what God would think, say and then do, said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” And Adam, who had already begun setting up the spin, said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” And Bam! Spin begins and we have been using it to get what we want ever since.

But it should not be this way with us. We are Christians, we are redeemed from our spin. We are spinners no longer. We speak the truth in love. We say things that are meant to edify, and to help others become more like Jesus. We lay down our lives for one another and work diligently and hard (for it is hard work) to say only what builds one another up.

Canon Press Published this article.

Covenant Renewal Worship

April 13th, 2015 No Comments

While the structure of a typical CREC worship service has a lot in common with what visitors might call a “traditional worship service”–enough so as to simply be a variation on such services—there are certain elements about it that stand out, and which probably, will draw some questions. The first is the common practice of identifying our worship services with the phrase “covenant renewal.” By this we do not mean that our covenant with God has only a set amount of time on it and that it might expire like a lease if we do not “renew it. Our covenant with God is eternal and will not expire. But it is also alive, and is designed to grow and flourish. As sexual communion renews marriage, or as a meat renews the body, so also the worship of God renews our covenant with Him.

The second element of covenant renewal that calls for explanation is the pattern or structure of worship. Our services are “bookended” by the opening and closing. When the minister declares the “call to worship,” the service is convened or established. At the conclusion of the service, when he commissions the congregation, and then gives the benediction, the people of God are sent out into the world to be salt and light, having been renewed in their walk with God. read more…

Liturgical Worship

April 9th, 2015 No Comments

Many worship services in modern churches tend to be informal. The model is often that of a concert or entertainment event, with a very “come as you are” attitude toward visitors.

Consequently, when someone joins one of our churches Sunday morning for worship, often the most obvious difference in our worship approach (which is evident to them in the first five minutes) is the concern for reverence and dignity, and what comes across as “formality.” The more common approach has often been called “seeker sensitive,” and some might be excused for thinking that our approach is actually closer to “seeker hostile.”

Probably the biggest issue for someone who is unaccustomed to this kind of worship is the question of insincerity. Many of us have been taught that if it is “scripted,” then it must be insincere. If our worship services have a “bulletin” with all the elements of the worship service laid out beforehand, then what has happened to the possibility of the Spirit leading us in the course of the service? If a service is hypocritical and insincere, then that is obviously not the Holy Spirit’s work—on that we certainly can agree. read more…

Grace Agenda 2015

April 8th, 2015 No Comments

Grace Agenda 2015

He Who Doubts

April 7th, 2015 No Comments

But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).

The context of this passage is talking about eating meat offered to idols (14:1-22). And Paul’s overall point is that there is nothing wrong with eating meat that has been offered to idols, because idols don’t really exist. Well, idols exist, but the things they pretend to represent, other gods, don’t really exist. And because the gods don’t exist, the idols have no real power, and thus food used to worship nothing is not evil in itself. But that’s the logical side of things.

In real life, people who have spent their whole lives worshipping those false gods, have a difficult time understanding and believing that they don’t really exist and thus that the rituals really had no effect in the world. Food that had been part of worshiping false gods, at the time real gods, but now false and none existent, still has taint on it. Sometimes, it is difficult to get past what you grew up believing.

This means that there are a number of Christians out there who are still stuck believing that what they formerly believed, as non-Christians, has an element of real truth in the world, and is thus still dangerous, even sinful. To participate in something that turned out to be so evil, must, in some sense still be evil. read more…

Matthew 7:24-27

April 1st, 2015 No Comments

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

Welcome To Our Congregation

April 1st, 2015 No Comments

We are glad you decided to join us, and we hope have felt welcome. We are a member congregation the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC). We have been receiving new folks here long enough to know that there are some questions that come up frequently. Some of these distinctives grounded in our denomination’s confessional commitments, and others are more culturally-driven—that is, by means of an unwritten set of shared assumptions. If you join together with us, you should be able to sort through those distinctions at some point. For now, we just wanted to let you know of some of the things you are likely to encounter here—and perhaps give a word or two of explanation why.

As you read, please keep in mind that our churches do not worship in lockstep. Not everything described here applies to every CREC congregation, and that’s fine, too. That’s another thing you can expect.

The fact that we have identified these things that you may have questions about does not mean that we believe these to be the most important things about our faith and worship—it is just that, for visitors, they are perhaps the most obvious things about it. So Here we go.

This is the first of a series of short pieces that describe our denomination and the things we do on Sunday Morning.

Dabble In It For A Few Minutes

March 18th, 2015 Comments Off

Psalm 119:11 says, “Your Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you.” What does it mean to hide God’s work in our heart? I believe that whatever it means, hiding God’s work in our hearts will result in our ability to obey commands like “Rejoice all the time” Phil. 4:4 or “pray without ceasing” and “in everything give thanks to God” (1 Thess. 5:16). How does a guy go to work and still obey God in these areas? Or how can a man meditate on God’s word day and night (Psa. 1:2)? And this meditation results in blessing from God.

Here’s how I think it works.

First, you need to know that God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but he does expect us to be changing and growing. On the other hand, we are perfect in Christ, so we need to trust in Christ and rest in him. If we are striving to be perfect, it shows that we don’t get it. God wants us to struggle to let go, not struggle to be more uptight and stressed. The way up is down.

Second, most of us have compartmentalized lives. We think Bible study is something we do at 7:00 a.m. But the Bible talks about Bible study as something we do all the time. It doesn’t even use those words. It talks about meditation, about singing, about hiding in our hearts. We need to come up with a whole new paradigm for what how we handle the word of God. We need to live in the Word, not just dabble in it for a few minutes each day. read more…

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