Nearness to God and Public Worship (Nye)

There are times in the Christian life when it seems like God is far away, when it doesn’t feel like the Lord is near. We know Jesus promised to be with us always, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem that way. To be sure, God’s people throughout history have experienced this. More than a few Psalms contain prayers of anguish like those in Psalm 13:1, “How long, LORD, will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (NIV).

Sometimes we don’t know why the Lord seems far away. Sometimes the Lord seems far away because we’ve wandered from him or sinned against him. Whatever the case, when God seems distant we certainly need to pray to him, read his Word, and keep doing our Christian best to trust and obey him through it. When God seems distant, we must also continue to regularly join the other people of God in public worship. We cannot expect to experience the presence and nearness of God if we forsake the assembly where he speaks to his people! Skipping out on worship during those times in life when God feels far away will only make things worse. Here’s how Chris Nye explained this:

“If we desire to live close to God, we cannot ignore His family…. ‘Going to church’ is not the best description of what we’re actually doing. We are joining with brothers and sisters from all walks of life to hear God’s word, worship His great name, and practice humility together. We may fancy ourselves a better person than the pastor, but hopefully in attending church regularly the Spirit would work that pride out. We may not love the music, but in time He will teach us what the American church must learn: worship, by its very nature, is not about us at all.”

“Church attendance grows us, humbles us, and shapes us because we hear God’s word, worship, and partake in His supper…. Missing church isn’t just missing a sermon, it is missing an opportunity to rehear the gospel in a variety of formats, whether it be through music, prayer, preaching, communion, or a neighbor.”

Chris Nye, Distant God, p 131-132.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54105

Preaching: “So Weighty A Service”

One of the major and most important things that the Westminster Assembly (1643-1653) did for the Church of England was reforming the pastoral ministry. During the first part of the 17th Century in many areas of England there was a shortage of good biblical preaching. In fact, there was a shortage of preaching in general. It’s a bigger discussion, but suffice it to say that preaching and the pastoral ministry in were quite weak and lacking during these years in England. The Westminster Assembly addressed this situation and worked to strengthen the pastoral ministry and the preaching in England.

The Westminster Standards, of course, addressed preaching more than a few times. For one example, WLC says that “the Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners…” (etc. Q/A 155). Preaching was also discussed in more detail in the Assembly’s “Directory for the Publick Worship of God.” Here’s one section of the part of the DPW that addresses preaching. As a pastor in a Presbyterian church, I appreciate these words and give an “amen” to them. I believe these words will be fitting and helpful for pastors in other Christian churches as well:

Preaching of the word, being the power of God unto salvation, and one of the greatest and most excellent works belonging to the ministry of the gospel, should be so performed, that the workman need not be ashamed, but may save himself, and those that hear him.

It is presupposed, (according to the rules for ordination,) that the minister of Christ is in some good measure gifted for so weighty a service, by his skill in the original languages, and in such arts and sciences as are handmaid unto divinity; by his Knowledge in the whole body of theology, but most of all in the holy scriptures, having his senses and heart exercised in them above the common sort of believers; and by the illumination of God’s Spirit, and other gifts of edification, which (together with reading and studying of the word) he ought still to seek by prayer, and an humble heart, resolving to admit and receive any truth not yet attained, whenever God shall make it known unto him. All which he is to make use of, and improve, in his private preparations, before he deliver in public what he hath provided (i.e. prepared).

 Westminster Assembly, The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition (Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1851), 485–486.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Responsibility of the Preacher (Kuyper)

I appreciate how Abraham Kuyper discussed the call of the gospel and the pastor’s duty in proclaiming that call:

This “calling” is a summons. It is not merely the calling of one to tell him something, but a call implying the command to come; or a beseeching call, as when St. Paul prays: “As tho God did beseech you, be ye reconciled to God”; or as in the Proverbs: “My son, give Me thine heart.”

God sends this call forth by the preachers of the Word: not by the independent preaching of irresponsible men, but by those whom He Himself sends forth; men especially endowed, hence whose calling is not their own, but His. They are the ministers of the Word, royal ambassadors, in the name of the King of Kings demanding our heart, life, and person; yet whose value and honor depend exclusively upon their divine mission and commission. As the value of an echo depends upon the correct returning of the word received, so does their value, honor, and significance depend solely upon the correctness wherewith they call, as an echo of the Word of God. He who calls correctly fills the highest conceivable office on earth; for he calls kings and emperors, standing above them. But he who calls incorrectly or not at all is like a sounding brass; as a minister of the Word he is worthless and without honor, True to the pure Word, he is all; without it, he is nothing. Such is the responsibility of the preacher.

Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1900), 341.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Preacher Who Does Not Preach God’s Word (Luther)

In a Christmas Day sermon in 1521 Martin Luther preached on the advent story in Luke 2. Luther touched on many points in this sermon, including the message of the angels and the reality that Christ is the fulfillment of so many Old Testaments promises and prophecies. At one point when Luther was talking about the gospel in this sermon he reflected on preachers or messengers of the gospel. Below is one section of his reflection. There’s a warning for us today in these words. There’s also a reminder how the church before the Reformation had very little light of the gospel shining in it:

There is no more terrible plague, misfortune or cause for distress upon earth than a preacher who does not preach God’s Word; of whom, alas, the world today is full; and yet they think they are pious and do good when indeed their whole work is nothing but murdering souls, blaspheming God and setting up idolatry, so that it would be much better for them if they were robbers, murderers, and the worst scoundrels, for then they would know that they are doing wickedly. But now they go along under spiritual names and show, as priest, bishop, pope, and are at the same time ravening wolves in sheeps’ clothing, and it would be well if no one ever heard their preaching.

Martin Luther, “Christmas Day (Luke 2:1–14),” in Luther’s Church Postil…, ed. and trans. John Nicholas Lenker, vol. I, The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther (Minneapolis, MN: Lutherans in All Lands Co., 1905), 153–154.

We can certainly thank God for the Reformation!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

I Know More Than My Pastor (Ridgley)

It does happen sometimes when a regular member of the church has more doctrinal or biblical knowledge than his or her pastor. For example, sometimes seminary professors are regular members of a church. For another example, sometimes church members take Bible or theology classes and have spent more time studying a certain book or topic than his or her pastor. However, sometimes people only think they know more than their pastor. I appreciate how Thomas Ridgely discussed this in volume 2 of his Body of Divnity. [This quote is found under Ridgley’s explanation of Q/A 155 of the Westminster Larger Catechism: “How is the Word made effectual to salvation? I’ve edited the quote very slightly for readability.]

It is objected by some that they know as much as ministers can teach them; at least, that they know enough (although they don’t practice it perfectly). This objection sometimes savors of pride and self-conceit, in those who suppose themselves to understand more of the doctrines of the gospel than they really do.

It can hardly be said concerning the greatest number of professing Christians, that they either know as much as they ought, or that it is not possible for them to make advances in knowledge by a diligent attendance on an able and faithful ministry. However, that we may give the utmost scope to the objection, we will admit that some Christians know more than many ministers who are less skilful than others in the word of truth.

But it must be observed that there are other ends of hearing the word besides the gaining of knowledge, namely, 1) the bringing of the doctrines of the gospel to our remembrance, and 2) their being impressed on our affections; and for attaining these ends, the wisest and best of men have not thought it below them to attend upon the ministry of those who knew less than themselves. Our Savior was an hearer of the word before he entered on his public ministry; and though it might, I think, truly be said of him, that though he was but twelve years old, he knew more than the doctors, in the midst of whom he sat in the temple, yet ‘he heard and asked them questions.’ And David, though he professes himself to have ‘more understanding than all his teachers;’ yet was glad to embrace all opportunities to go up into the house of the Lord; this being God’s appointed means for a believer’s making advances in grace.

 Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, vol. 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 444.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015