The [Non-scientific] Focus of the Creation Week (LeFebvre)

 I’ve been enjoying Michael LeFebvre’s book, The Liturgy of Creation.  It’s a study of the festivals, feasts, and calendar dates of OT Israel and how those things can help us read and understand the creation week in Genesis 1-3.  I’m not quite finished with it, but so far it has been thought-provoking and insightful.

One part that stuck out to me was LeFebvre’s note that often when people approach the creation week with spectacles of science they miss a main emphasis: the seventh day.  It is rather ironic: in trying to squeeze scientific data from the text (which wasn’t written from a scientific worldview) the person misses one of the main points of the text: the Sabbath rest of God.

The true beauty of the creation week is its invitation to sabbath rest.  This message of rest is both the demonstratable emphasis of the text and the one major theme of the passage on which the church’s voice has been unified through history.  From centuries past, there have been many different views on the nature of the creation days.  Some church fathers regarded them as metaphorical days and some as actual creation events.  The church has long allowed for a variety of opinions regarding the nature of the events described in the creation week.  But the focus of the text that has been consistently upheld by the church throughout her history is its message about the sabbath day.  Unfortunately, modern fascination to find science in the creation week tends to distract readers from its emphasis on the sabbath day.  The allure of worship rather than science ought to be our focus in the study of the creation week.

Robert Godfrey writes, ‘It is surely ironic that many people today who most insistently claim that it is obvious that the days of Genesis 1 are ordinary twenty-four-hour days miss the most important point about the days, namely, that one day in seven is holy to the Lord.’  There is actually a good reason why apologetic ministries tend to overlook the sabbath day focus of the creation week.  By nature, the agenda of an apologetic ministry is defined by the crisis it exists to address. Today the threat that ‘secular science’ poses to Genesis is aimed only at God’s creative work in the six days when ‘stuff happened.’  Thus, the major creation apologists – from all perspectives – generally focus on the six days and give little or no attention to the seventh.  This is understandable, but it dangerously skews the church’s attention away from the text’s internal emphasis, which is to labor in anticipation of the weekly sabbath.

Michael LeFebvre, The Liturgy of Creation, p. 132-133.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Center Point of Religious Life: Corporate Christian Worship (Bavinck)

 In Kampen on November 28, 1889, Herman Bavinck gave a lecture to seminary students at the theological school there.  The lecture was called “Eloquence” and it was all about Christian preaching.  Due to demand, Bavinck wrote this lecture out and it was later published.  Just recently it has been translated into English and made available in the book called Herman Bavinck on Preaching and Preachers (translated and edited by James Eglinton).  There are other selections in this book as well, such as an article by Bavinck called “The Sermon and the Service” and one of his few surviving written sermons called “The World-Conquering Power of Faith.”  Anyway, it’s an outstanding resource and I very much enjoyed it.  If you’re a preacher, I highly recommend it.  If you’re not, I’d say: get one for your pastor!  Below are a few paragraphs I underlined that I’d like to share.  It’s from the foreword to “Eloquence.”  (Note: the (brackets) are mine and are added for clarification.)

These new circumstances (e.g. secularization, a waning of the knowledge of the truth, ignorance of the Bible and catechism) place a costly obligation on the church and call its ministers to an ever more faithful care for the office entrusted to them, especially in the ministry of the word. In content and form, the church’s gatherings may not be inferior to the [secular] meetings that call to the people day and night.  The church’s gatherings are and, by virtue of the divine institution, must remain the center point of the religious life, the source of spiritual power, the inspiration for the work everyone is called to do, by the sweat of his brow, each weekday.

Whatever influence there may be from the word in print or spoken that reaches us from elsewhere, it cannot be compared with the blessing there is for heart and life, family and society, in the word spoken to us in the gatherings of the congregation.  Here alone do we find the ministry of God’s Word and the sealing of his covenant. Here, Christ himself lives in our midst and works by his spirit, here we taste the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the principle of eternal life. The Sabbath is the best of days; no other day is like it. And the church is the meeting of God with his people; no other gathering can take its place to compensate for its loss.

I agree!  These are helpful words for us to remember today since such a high view of corporate worship is not the norm.  May God give his all people this kind of outlook on weekly corporate worship and preaching.

Herman Bavinck, “Eloquence”, in Herman Bavinck on Preaching and Preachers (edited and translated by J. Eglinton), p. 18-19.

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

Sabbath: The First Day of the Week

The Marrow of Theology Why has the Christian church historically called Sunday “the Lord’s Day” or “The Christian Sabbath?”  Why do we meet for worship on the first day of the week, and rest on it?  William Ames explains this well in his Marrow of Theology (II.XV.27-29):

“Divine not human authority has now changed the last day of the week to the first day – only he can change the day of the Sabbath who is the Lord of the sabbath, namely, Christ (Mt. 12:8).  Therefore, the first day… is properly called the Lord’s Day.  Even though the Lord’s Day is granted to have been of apostolic institution, yet the authority on which it rests is nonetheless divine, for the apostles were guided by the Spirit in holy practices just as they were in propounding the doctrine of the gospel by word of mouth and writing.”

Ames goes on to give nine points to defend the divine institution of the Lord’s Day as the first day of the week.  I’ll summarize the nine points here:

1) Christ was no less faithful than Moses in ordering his whole house (the church of God) in all things generally necessary and useful (Heb. 3:2, 6).  No Christian can reasonably deny that the observance of the day is useful and in some way necessary for the churches of Christ.

2) Christ himself often appeared upon this very day to the disciples gathered in one place after the resurrection (Jn. 20:19, 26).

3) The Holy Spirit came upon them this very day (Acts 2:4).

4) In the practice of the churches in the apostles’ time when mention is made of the observance of the first day (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2), it isn’t remembered as a recent ordinance but as something long accepted by the disciples of Christ.

5) All things the apostles delivered to the churches were from Christ (1 Cor. 11:23).

6) The placing of the holy sabbath of the Jews on the seventh day was abrogated by the death of Christ.

7) It does not make sense to say that there were several years between Christ’s death and the observance of the first day, because it would be like saying there were only nine commandments during this time.

8) The reason for the change by the consent of all is the resurrection of Christ which itself is a confirmation.  On this day the creation of anew world, or world to come (Heb 2:5), wherein all things are made new (2 Cor. 5:17) are completed, and God in Christ’s rising from the dead ceased and rested from his greatest work.  Just as it was in the beginning, so it is also right that the very day wherein Christ rested from his labors should be hallowed (cf Ps. 118:24 and Mt. 21:42).

9) It was also most appropriate that the day of worship in the NT should be ordained by him who ordained the worship itself and from whom all blessing and grace is to be expected in worship.

These are some helpful points!  Sometimes we may doubt the “first day sabbath” principle because there isn’t one or two clear texts that teach it.  However, when considering the Bible’s bigger picture and the flow of redemptive history centered around Christ, it does make biblical sense to call the first day of the week the Lord’s Day, the day of rest and worship.  After all, the people of God received a new calendar after God rescued them from Egypt (Ex. 12), so it surely makes sense that his people would get a new calendar after the New Exodus: rescue from sin and hell!

shane lems
hammond, wi

The Sabbath As A Bulwark Against Satan’s Kingdom

Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary God gave his people the Sabbath for their good.  It was a day on which they could rest their bodies from physical labor and refresh their hearts and minds by remembering his works of creation and redemption (Ex. 20:8-13, Deut. 5:12-15).  J. G. Vos asks a good question – and answers it well in his commentary on the 4th commandment:

Q: Why does Satan, with  his servants, try so hard to break down and destroy the Sabbath day?

A: Satan, with his agents and citizens of his kingdom, is engaged in an age-long warfare against God and God’s kingdom.  God’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, and it is defended and propagated by spiritual weapons and methods.  The real extension of God’s kingdom depends on people’s being converted to Christ, repenting of their sins, and loving and serving God sincerely and loyally.  These things depend chiefly upon the preaching of the gospel and the public and private exercises of God’s worship, such as Bible study, the sacraments, and prayer.  These divine ordinances can find but little time on weekdays; they are largely dependent on the Sabbath day for an adequate amount of time and attention.

Satan of course understands this, and he realizes that if he can break down the Sabbath, then the preaching of the gospel and the ordinances of divine worship will be neglected – if the preaching of the gospel and the ordinances of worship are neglected, then God’s kingdom cannot prosper – if God’s kingdom cannot prosper, then Satan’s kingdom will not be interfered with – and if Satan’s kingdom is not interfered with, then Satan will have a clear track to accomplish his wicked purposes in the world.  So we see that the Sabbath, far from being an arbitrary or unreasonable command of God, is calculated to accomplish a great purpose and to form a real bulwark against Satan’s kingdom and the floods of iniquity.”

J. G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, p. 338-9.

shane lems

On Neglecting Public Worship

(This is a re-post from November 2012.)

In 1781 John Newton wrote a letter to the members of his church in London.  One of the main reasons he wrote this letter was to address a burden he was facing as a pastor: his parishioners were not coming to worship services.  This is something that pastors still face today.  Some Christians miss worship services for valid reasons (illness, emergencies, etc.).  But many Christians simply neglect worship services.  In other words, they don’t really have a good, biblical reason for not assembling with the saints.  In the following paragraphs, I’ve summarized and edited Newton’s letter in which he pastorally addresses this problem.  (Note the lines on entertainment.)

“The only cause of grief that you have given me is that so many of those to whom I earnestly desire to be useful refuse me the pleasure of seeing them at church every Sunday.  I’m not troubled because the pews are empty.  If a large congregation could satisfy me, then I would already be satisfied (the pews are full).  But I must grieve because I see so few of my own parishioners in the full pews.  God has not been pleased to place me elsewhere, he saw fit to fix me among you.  This appointment gives you a preference in my regard and it makes me studiously attentive to promote your best welfare.”

“If I am a servant of God, a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ, if I speak the truth in love – how can I not be pained at the thought that many to whom the word of salvation is sent refuse to hear it and reject the counsel of God against themselves (Acts 13:26, Luke 7:30)!  Most of you agree with me that Scripture is God’s revelation. But do not some of you act inconsistently with your acknowledged principles?  Your business and entertainment indispose you for due observation of our church services.  You have other things to do, so you miss many sermons.”

“I have done my best to avoid whatever might give you needless offense.  I knew that if I would be faithful to Scripture and my conscience, that some of my hearers would be displeased.  But, though I was constrained to risk your displeasure, I have been careful not to needlessly provoke you, or to lay any unnecessary difficulties in your way.”

So that I may not weary my hearers by the length of my sermons, I carefully endeavor not to exceed forty-five minutes.  Many people can give their attention to trivial entertainment for several hours without weariness, but their patience is quickly exhausted under a sermon where the principles of Scripture are applied to the conscience.”

“I am not a polished orator nor do I wish to capture your attention by the elegance of my words.  If I had the ability to use elegant words and capture your attention with them, I would not do it.  I speak to the unlearned and the wise, so my principal aim is to be understood.  Yet I hope that I am not wrongly charged with speaking nonsense, with flippancy, carelessness, or disrespect.  But alas! There are too many hearers who seem more desirous of entertainment than of real benefit from a Christian sermon!”

“My heart longs for your salvation; but whether you will hear or whether you will not, I must take your consciences to witness that I have been faithful to you.  If after this warning any of you should finally perish, I am innocent of your blood (Acts 20:26).”

“You know the difficulty of my situation and will assist me with your prayers.  I trust likewise you will assist me with your conduct, and that your lives and godly speech will constrain the ungodly to acknowledge that the doctrines of grace which I preach – when rightly  understood and embraced – make a person peaceful, content, loving, and full of humility.”

This is obviously the summary of a longer letter.  Here’s who needs to read this letter today: 1) those of you who neglect regularly assembling with the saints and 2) those of you – pastors and elders perhaps – who wish to lovingly admonish Christians who neglect the assembly.

Newton’s pastoral heart comes out in this letter.  He is straightforward, blunt, and biblical.  At the same time, it is very evident that he simply wants his parishioners to hear the sermons for their own Christian good and growth in godliness.  Newton certainly wasn’t a legalist looking to make people proud of their church attendance.  He was writing in the spirit of 1 Peter 5:1-4 – as an undershepherd who loved Christ’s sheep.  Or, in other words, this letter is a pastoral commentary on Hebrews 10:24-25.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Sunday and the Small Church

Product DetailsNOTE: This is a slightly edited repost from May 26, 2009.

Here’s some great stuff from Preaching and Worship in the Small Church by Willimon and Wilson (Nashville: Abigdon, 1980).  In this section (chapter three), Willimon and Wilson write about the primary activity of the small church: Sunday worship.

The authors first lament the fact that many things have taken the focus off Lord’s Day worship in American churches.  Sunday school, Wednesday night prayer services, youth groups, ladies’ groups, mens’ groups, singles’ groups, college groups, endless committee meetings, social-action programs, and so forth threaten the “centrality of Sunday” (p. 39).  “Sunday worship became the victim of the ‘full-program church’ mentality.” 

In the past, a shorthand definition of a Christian was: “He goes to church on Sunday.”  Now that person is “quickly informed that that was only a small part of the Christian life.  ‘What you do outside the church is more important than what you do inside the church,’ was how the slogan went.”  All the other programs and events and meetings and groups “conspired to convince people that worship was only one small part of the full program.”

“Such thinking had an undeniable appeal to the pragmatic, utilitarian, work-oriented society, such as we have in the United States.  Time spent in worship tends to be thought of as idle time – unused time.  We are a nation of doers and achievers.  How can ‘acts’ of worship compete in importance alongside activities such as Christian education, counseling, youth programs, board meetings, Bible study groups, and charitable work?  The ‘active’ church with its doors always open, meetings in progress every night of the week, newsletters recruiting participants for a host of activities, insuring that every person is kept busy throughout the week (provided that person truly wishes to be an ‘active’ church member) has become the paradigm for any church that aspires to greatness” (p. 40).  “Even the worship services of those [busy] churches frequently have a breathless, hurried, distracted quality” (p. 42).

The authors continue the discussion by explaining the fact that doesn’t seem obvious: small churches don’t (can’t!) usually have those programs, events, committees, and so forth, but that is good news.  Because they lack these programs, the authors argue, “small churches celebrate Sunday in a fashion that puts many of their larger sister churches to shame” (p. 41). 

“Congregational worship is a reliable barometer of the life of the small church.  Here the church family will celebrate its victories, lament its defeats, act out its deepest needs.  The small church will often express an intense sense of ownership of its Sunday worship practices.”  Often, Willimon and Wilson note, many small church parishioners will violently react to radical change in Sunday service.   They say well that this should be viewed as a positive thing: it shows that the saints there value the Divine service above other church programs and activities.

This is a great word for those of us who are members of smaller churches (quite a few of us I’m guessing).  It is tempting to emulate the large church down the street and literally “get busy” with all sorts of programs.  The problem with this is, as the above notes well reflect, that the busyness displaces the Divine service on Sunday.  The church gets spread out so thinly that it is like a beehive with the saints all buzzing past each other.  The only time they actually stop doing something is during the pastor’s prayer and brief sermon on Sunday morning, around 30 minutes total.  The rest of the service is filled with activity, swirled in with the activity during the week.  The 30 minutes of “rest” or quietness becomes a footnote in the life of the saint: every second of the remainder of the week has a full calendar screaming: “Get to work!”

I’ve benefited from Lord’s Day worship in a small church.  Sunday is different.  We don’t have programs and activities.  We stop.  We think.  We sing.  We pray.  We hear Scripture.  We rest.  We sit still and be quiet, learning how to receive from God as listeners.  We are fed by Jesus.  We teach our kids to quit fussing around (which we ourselves ironically do all week!); we practice the cycle of God’s time.  This goes against the grain of our nature and culture, but as Willimon and Wilson say, this is a great way for a small church to recover their own unique sense of mission and restore their biblical self-image.  When we in small churches “boldly claim the fundamental significance of Sunday for [our] congregational life,” we will be a great light of “rest” to the darkness of the busy world around us.  And above that, we’ll be reminded that we’re pilgrims who depend on God’s word to live each day of our lives.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

The 7th Day Sabbath: Buried in Christ’s Grave

I’ve been reading through Joseph Pipa’s helpful book, The Lord’s Day, and I ran across this amazing quote by Geerhardus Vos.  I’ve read it before, but I forgot its depth.  While there are a handful of biblical arguments against a Christian seventh day Sabbath, I believe the argument from redemptive history is one of the most helpful ones.  Here’s Vos:

Inasmuch as the Old Covenant was still looking forward to the performance of the Messianic work, naturally the days of labour to it come first, the day of rest falls at the end of the week. We, under the New Covenant, look back upon the accomplished work of Christ. We, therefore, first celebrate the rest in principle procured by Christ, although the Sabbath also still remains a sign looking forward to the final eschatological rest. The Old Testament people of God had to typify in their life the future developments of redemption. Consequently the precedence of labour and the consequence of rest had to find expression in their calendar.”

“The New Testament Church has no such typical function to perform, for the types have been fulfilled. But is has a great historic event to commemorate, the performance of the work of Christ and the entrance of Him and of His people through Him upon the state of never-ending rest. We do not sufficiently realize the profound sense the early Church had of the epoch-making significance of the appearance, and especially of the resurrection of the Messiah. The latter was to them nothing less than the bringing in of a new, the second, creation. And they felt that this ought to find expression in the placing of the Sabbath with reference to the other days of the week. Believers knew themselves in a measure partakers of the Sabbath-fulfillment. If the one creation required on sequence, then the other required another. It has been strikingly observed, that our Lord died on the eve of that Jewish Sabbath, at the end of one of these typical weeks of labour by which His work and its consummation were prefigured. And Christ entered upon His rest, the rest of His new, eternal life on the first day of the week, so that the Jewish Sabbath comes to lie between, was, as it were, disposed of, buried in His grave” (p. 158).

The first Adam worked towards rest (the Covenant of Works); the last Adam worked so we can rest (the Covenant of Grace).  God’s people got a new calendar after the great redemptive event of the Exodus in the Old Covenant era (Ex. 12), so God’s people have a new calendar after the great redemptive event of the New Covenant era – Christ’s death and resurrection.  Now Christians rest on the first day of the week, the day of Christ’s resurrection.  

Lord willing I’ll come back to this theme in a few days.  For now, let me recommend Vos book as well as Joseph Pipa’s book (both named above).

shane lems