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

The Seven Adverbs of Pastoral Duty (DPW)

 (This is a re-post from June 2012)

Aside from writing the magnificent confession and catechisms, the Westminster divines also wrote a directory for public worship (DPW) which was approved in 1645.  One section of this directory that has always stuck out for me is where it explains the duties of the pastor in simple, clear, biblical terms.  Here are the seven points – which I’ve summarized and edited.

“The servant of Christ is to perform his ministry…”

1) Painstakingly, not doing the work of the Lord negligently.

2) Plainly, so that the uneducated may understand – delivering the truth not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, lest the cross of Christ be made of no effect; not using unknown languages, strange phrases, and rhythmic sounds or words; citing non-biblical texts and authors sparingly, even if they are so elegant.

3) Faithfully, looking to the honor of Christ and the conversion, edification, and salvation of the people; not seeking his own gain or glory; keeping nothing back which promotes these holy ends; not showing favoritism but pointing out the sins both of the lowly and the mighty.

4) Wisely, explaining all doctrine, encouragement, and rebuke in a manner that is clear; respecting the situation of the congregation, not mixing his own intense enthusaism for something or bitterness.

5) Seriously, in a manner fitting for God’s Word, avoiding all gestures, expressions, and words that may lead people to despise the ministry.

6) Lovingly, so that the people may see and know that he genuinely desires to do them good.

7) Truthfully, as taught by God’s Word and persuaded in his own heart that it is true; publicly and privately living according to the truth in order to be a godly example to the flock; watching over his own life and doctrine as well as that of the congregation, with the goal that the truth of God be preserved, souls converted, and that he himself may receive blessing from his labors in this life and in the one to come.

Allow me a few comments on these seven adverbs describing the ministry. First, these seven points are based on Scripture.  They also lead the pastor and his congregation back to Scripture.  Second, these words describe the pastor as a servant – a servant of Christ primarily but also his church.  This means that neither culture, desire for popularity, personal preferences, nor “itching ears” drive the pastoral ministry.  Third, these seven points fight against the current notion that a successful pastor is one who is likable, trendy, “twitterable,” and amusing.  In other words, they call the pastor to Christian maturity, piety, and wisdom and away from Western culture’s fixation on youth, looks, fame, and entertainment.

A pastor’s duty and goal, therefore, is to serve Christ by faithfully explaining his Word (law and gospel) to his people – for their Christian good and his glory.  Perhaps we can apply John 3:30 to the pastoral ministry: he must increase, but I must decrease.

By the way, you can find this part of the DPW in the appendix of Westminster Confession of Faith (but I’m sure it’s also online and in other books).  I strongly encourage pastors to read it!

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

Church: A Waste of Time? (Bavinck)

Herman Bavinck on Preaching and Preachers Bavinck, Herman cover image Herman Bavinck wrote the following words around 1890 in Holland, but they are quite relevant to our situation in the United States in the year 2019:

Humility, as is rightly said, is the garment that always suits us… Humility must be our home and traveling and wedding and mourning garment.  In order to cultivate this Christian humility, it is good and necessary to pay attention to many things in which we fall short and that can keep us from boasting.

Think only of the sermon in the church service.  The era of the powerful pulpit is no more.  Churchgoing is gradually declining, not only among the moderns but also among the orthodox in most places.  Interest in the church and desire to listen to a sermon is declining. There are now thousands who are estranged from the church, who never darken its doors, and their number increases by the day.  Many who have been called orthodox have permanently given up the practice of going to church twice on Sunday; once is more than enough for them.  For many, being in church for so long, sometimes two whole hours, is even viewed as a waste of time.  In our busy, calculating age, people think that this time could have been better, much better, used…

This aversion to the church should certainly be accounted for, in large part, in relation to the spirit that dominates in our time, under the influence of which one has formed a wholly wrong concept of ‘going to church.’ We live in an era of grandiose activity, an era of steam and power.  It hastens and turns and pushes everything forward.  We do not think about rest, silence, or calm.  Whoever does not follow suit simply belongs to the past or is trampled underfoot.  Time is money, and money is the soul of trade.  ‘What do I get from it? How is it useful?’ These are the questions of the day. Feverish excitement and stressed overwork are the hallmarks of all business. The silence of the holy and the calm of the eternal are all to sorely missed.

‘More haste, less speed’ [Festina lente] is an old proverb.  It is a rivalry, a competition to be the fastest.  This spirit has also left its mark on Christians.  Despite their confession of an ancient faith, they are also children of the era.  An industrious, active Christianity is now appearing.  Sitting in silence under the word, which should have been their strength, has fallen from their thoughts…  Now there is something else to do.  …We no longer have the time or desire to go to church twice on the day of rest, sometimes to spend an hour listening to a sermon from the mouth of a teacher they have heard so often.  What could be exciting or useful there…?

Herman Bavinck, Preaching & Preachers, p. 57-59.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

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