Lord’s Day Worship x2 (Lloyd-Jones)

Preaching and Preachers (Deluxe, 40th Anniversary Edition) In the history of Reformed churches, the Lord’s Day practice has been to gather for corporate worship twice, usually morning and evening.  True, there is no command in Scripture to worship twice on the Lord’s Day.  However, I would say that a person needs a good biblical reason not to come twice if his or her church has two worship services on the Lord’s Day.

D. Martyn Lloyd Jones said it even more boldly.  At one point in his Preaching and Preachers he wrote that from time to time the Lord brings a special blessing upon a worship service and sermon.  That is, there are times in a church’s life where a service and sermon are blessed in such a way that people know the Lord was there.  It’s something awesome, something to pray for, something for which to be very thankful!  Here’s Lloyd-Jones:

So I say to these ‘once-ers’, if you do not come to every service you may live to find a day when people will tell you of an amazing occurrence in a service on a Sunday night or on a Sunday morning——and you were not there, you missed it. In other words, we should create a spirit of expectation in the people and show them the danger of missing some wonderful ‘times of refreshing…from the presence of the Lord’ (Acts 3:19).

That should be followed by a question: why is it that any Christian should not long for as much of this as he can possibly get?  Surely this is quite unnatural.  It is certainly un-scriptural.  Take the way in which the Psalmist in Psalm 84 expresses his misery and sorrow because he could not go up with the others to the House of the Lord. ‘How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts!’ ‘My soul longeth, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.’  He thinks then of those who are having the privilege: ‘Blessed are they that dwell in thy house; they will be still praising thee.’ He thinks of them with envy because he cannot be with them. Nothing is comparable to being in the House of God.  ‘A day in thy courts is better than a thousand…’  Surely this ought to be instinctive in the true Christian. There is something seriously wrong spiritually with anyone who claims to be a Christian who does not desire to have all that can be obtained from the ministry of the Church.

You can find Lloyd-Jones’ quote on page 154 of Preaching and Preachers.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Pietism, Subjectivism, and Christian Worship (Clark)

The pietist movement and subjectivism are two things – among others – that have corroded, watered down, and weakened Christian worship in our day.  When all the emphasis is on the self, feelings, experiences, and emotions, you know you’re in the realm of pietism and subjectivism.

In this type of worship, the objective truths of Scripture – sin and salvation – are only alluded to (if at all) and the enraptured feelings of the inner self are front and center.  Rather than asking what God wants us to do in worship, many simply do what makes them feel a religious “high.”  Unfortunately this is even prevalent in many Reformed and Presbyterian churches which historically have placed the objective truths front and center. I like what Scott Clark said about this topic.

“Perhaps the most outstanding example…of the subjective turn in Reformed piety is in public worship.  It would not be hard to find a Reformed congregation today in which the Sunday (or Saturday night) liturgy begins with twenty-five minutes of Scripture songs sung consecutively, each song blending into the next, perhaps augmented by a Power Point or video presentation.  In this increasingly popular liturgy, the singing is followed by a dramatic presentation which, in turn, is followed by congregational announcements, most of which focus on the various cell-group programs.  Increasingly, the sermon is a brief, colorfully illustrated, emotionally touching collection of anecdotes, in which the hearer is not so much directed to the law and the gospel, but, in one way or another, to one’s self.”

“Anxious to intensify the religious experience of parishioners or to make the church accessible to the nonchurched, many Reformed congregations have turned to new measures, to drama, dance lessons, and even a service arranged thematically by the name of the local professional sports franchise.  Such practices are rather more indebted to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century revival practices than they are to Geneva, Heidelberg, or Westminster Abbey.  Such practices are also symptoms of the synthesis of Reformed worship with the emerging modern culture in which, as Philip Rieff noted, hospital and theater replace the church” (p. 73).

 R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2008).

(This is a re-post from October, 2011.)

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

Quarterly (!?!?) Celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Calvin)

The Letters of John Calvin (4 vols.) I’m one of those Presbyterian pastors who believes that celebration of the Lord’s Supper should be done frequently.  In the church I served before, we celebrated Holy Communion once per month.  In the church I serve now, we celebrate it weekly.  To be honest, I’ve never heard anyone who is accustomed to celebrating the Lord’s Supper frequently say, “We should celebrate it less frequently; it’s becoming too ordinary.”  In fact, the opposite is true.  I have heard someone who was ill for around a month say when he made it back to church that he really missed taking the Lord’s Supper!

Each Lord’s Day here we hear a brief explanation of the Lord’s Supper from a different angle.  One Sunday we’ll hear about how Christ was our substitute as he died on the cross for us.  Another Sunday we’ll focus on how his blood cleanses us from all sin.  The next we’ll hear that although Christ is in heaven, we feed on him by the power of the Holy Spirit through the faith he’s given to us.  At a different time we’ll hear the fact that God loves us so much that he gave his only Son to die and save us.  And so on.  It’s a gospel celebration each Lord’s Day; the sacrament echoes the preaching of the Word!

I recently ran across a paragraph of Calvin’s where he talked about this very subject (I mentioned this letter yesterday).  The authorities made the decision to celebrate the Supper quarterly (four times per year).  Calvin, since he was no maverick, submitted to the authority even though he was much more in favor of  frequent use of the Lord’s Supper.  Don’t miss the last sentence of the quote!

In one thing we differ, but the difference is not an innovation. We celebrate the Lord’s supper four times a year, and you thrice. Now would to God, messeigneurs [lords], that both you and we had a more frequent use of it. For we see in the Acts of the Apostles by Saint Luke that in the primitive church they communicated much oftener. And that custom continued in the ancient church during a long space of time, till the abomination of the mass was devised by Satan, and was the cause why people communicated but once or twice a year. Wherefore we must confess that it is a defect in us not to follow the example of the Apostles. 

Jules Bonnet, Letters of John Calvin, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 162–163.

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

Churches Have a Certain Latitude of Diversity (Calvin)

The Letters of John Calvin (4 vols.)In the early part of 1555, some important men of Berne, Switzerland heard that John Calvin was causing problems in the church by being something of a maverick in the areas of ceremonies, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and other aspects of church life and liturgy.  When Calvin found out that these men were upset with him, he wrote a letter to clear up the situation.  In the letter he calmly but clearly showed that the accusations were false, and that he was not innovative in the areas of ceremonies, baptism, and so forth.  It’s an excellent letter that shows how Calvin was not a rogue, disobedient Reformer, but one who very much submitted to authority and sought the peace of the church.

Below are two parts of the letter that caught my attention.  In these two parts he explains how he has not been innovative in ceremonies and celebrations.  I especially like the first two sentences of this first paragraph:

Respecting ceremonies, because they are things indifferent, the churches have a certain latitude of diversity. And when one has well weighed the matter, it may be sometimes considered useful not to have too rigid a uniformity respecting them, in order to shew that faith and Christianity do not consist in that. Nevertheless those who have informed you that, from curiosity or other motives, I have introduced a new mode, have not made a correct statement. My brother Master William Farel is present here, who can moreover bear witness, that before my arrival at Geneva, the manner of celebrating the Lord’s supper, baptism, marriage, and the festivals, was such as it is at present, without my having changed any thing. So that it is impossible on these points to attribute to me any thing that has originated with me.

…I am reproached with having created a new feast on the Wednesday. In this I am sadly wronged. For the magistracy of Geneva have indeed, by my exhortation, set apart one day in the week to offer up extraordinary prayers, as necessity and the exigencies of the times should require it. And on that day we pray for you and the other churches who are in need of it. But we carry on our usual labours on that day; and besides we have not so constantly established a certain day as not to select now one, now another, just as the magistrates shall deem proper for their convenience. But a more serious charge is involved in the rumour that they have diligently spread about, of my intentions to transfer the Lord’s Day to the Friday. The truth is, that, for my part, I have never shown the least sign of lusting after such innovations, but very much the contrary.

 Jules Bonnet, Letters of John Calvin, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 162–165.

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

Sunday Sickness?!? (Morbus Sabbaticus)

Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations From time to time I read and utilize sermon illustration books.  Sometimes the illustrations aren’t good or helpful.  Sometimes they are helpful.  Other times they just make me think.  Here’s a humorous one that stuck out this morning in my studies:

“Morbus Sabbaticus,” better known as “Sunday sickness,” is a disease peculiar to some church members. The symptoms vary, but these are generally observed:

1. It never lasts more than twenty-four hours.
2. It never interferes with the appetite.
3. It never affects the eyes. The Sunday newspapers can be read with no pain. Television seems to help the eyes.
4. No physician is ever called.
5. After a few “attacks,” at weekly intervals, it may become chronic … even terminal.

No symptoms are usually felt on Saturday. The patient sleeps well and wakes feeling well. He eats a hearty Sunday breakfast, then the attack comes until services are over for the morning. The patient feels better and eats a solid dinner.  After dinner, he takes a nap, then watches one or two football games on TV. He may take a walk before supper, and stop and chat with neighbors. If there are church services scheduled for Sunday evening, he will have another short attack. Invariably, he wakes up Monday morning and rushes off to work feeling refreshed. The symptoms may not recur until the following Sunday, unless another service is scheduled at the church during the week.

This illustration is based on true stories!

(This is a repost from January, 2017)
Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Modalism and Modern Worship (Horton)

 One of the many blessings of a liturgy shaped by biblical truths and phrases is that it gets in you.  If a liturgy is full of biblical truth, it teaches the truth.  Both kids and adults learn good theology from a good liturgy.  On the other hand, if a liturgy doesn’t closely follow Scripture or biblical truths, the opposite happens: people absorb not-so-good theology or even unbiblical theology that is very man-centered.  And, of course, every church has a liturgy!  The only question is: how biblical is it?  Michael Horton explains one aspect of liturgy in the following section of his 2017 publication, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit.

It is in the public service – the weekly gathering of the communion of saints – where this [Trinitarian] faith is won or lost.  Whatever is received, done, or said there shapes our personal relationship with the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.  In the fourth century Basil of Caesarea revised the liturgy then in widespread use to more intentionally inculcate a full Trinitarianism, calling pastors ‘to keep the Spirit undivided from the Father and the Son, preserving, both in confession of faith and in the doxology, the doctrine taught them at their baptism.’  One example was Basil’s introduction of what we know as the Gloria Patri: ‘Glory be to the Father, and do the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,’ which stirred no small controversy among those who denied the appropriateness of worshiping the Spirit.  It is not only a creedal rule that the Holy Spirit is to be ‘worshiped and glorified’ together with the Father and the Son; these liturgies lead us to invoke the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.

However, in many churches today prayers and songs have been stripped of Trinitarian references that had in earlier generations been woven into the warp and woof of worship.  Not surprisingly, the result is often extemporaneous prayers that reflect our default setting of modalism.  Even in doctrinally orthodox circles, one hears prayers that are confusing, as if the persons of the Trinity were interchangeable – perhaps even the same person.  At least it seems that the person being addressed shifts back and forth without any specification.  Sometimes the Father is thanked for coming into the world to save us, for dying for our sins, for indwelling us, or as the one who will return again.  Very frequently, prayers conclude with ‘in your name, amen.’  In whose name?  Scripture teaches us to pray to the Father in the name of Christ: it is not the Father or the Spirit but the Son who is our mediator.

Some contemporary praise choruses reflect and reinforce this confusion of the persons, with praises directed to the Father for specific acts of the Son or to the Son for specific acts that the Scripture attributes to the Spirit, and so forth.  For example. in the popular chorus, ‘You Alone,’ believers are led to pray as if they were Arians: ‘You alone are Father / and You alone are good / You alone are Savior / and You alone are God.’

[However], worship songs are intended not merely to facilitate personal expression of one’s feelings, but to sing the truth deeply into our hearts: ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,’ Paul exhorts, ‘teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God’ (Col 3:16)….

Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, p. 23-24.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015