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Posts Tagged ‘elements of worship’


Another vacation means reading another volume in the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series of books. So far I’ve read the volumes on Newton, Luther, Bavink and Edwards. I enjoy these books tremendously as they interact not just with their theology but also their practice.

This summer I chose Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever written by Michael Horton. I had some hesitancy about this volume. I haven’t read any Horton in years having grown weary of polemical theology, and not finding his expressions of two-kingdom theology all that helpful. I always seemed to be left saying “And?” when he talked about it.

This book was a pleasant surprise. It was a little more weighted toward theology than some of the others, but that theology was a necessary background to understanding how Calvin viewed life in Christ. There was a good progression of thought throughout the book. There were no exceedingly long chapters. There were plenty of quotes from Calvin and others who have produced volumes on his life and thought to make Horton’s points. I found it to be an edifying and encouraging volume in this series.

As he notes, Calvin’s was a very different time. The Reformation had been spreading throughout Europe and nation-states were gaining some measure of independence from the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor. Like today there were many political and religious refugees in Europe, and many of them made their way to Geneva. In the religious reforms they were still in the process of sorting out how to implement what they believed. Calvin was one of the people working to bring the Protestants together as some differences seemed to be driving them apart.

Church was a central part of life with daily services part of many people’s routine or rhythm of life. It was a less distracted time, even if sin still found its way to manifest itself abundantly. As a result of this, some of how Calvin viewed the Christian life is anachronistic, or at least seems to be to us with personal devices, long commutes, mass media and more. Christian living, while personal, was far more public than we see today.

As one of the great figures in the Reformation we tend to think he was a parochial as we can be. There was no “Reformed tradition” or heritage for Calvin to draw upon. He drew upon the larger tradition of the Church, eastern and western. He was influenced, not only by Augustine, but also by Chrysostom, Cyprian, Irenaeus, and Bernard of Clairvoux among others. He interacted with Luther and Melanchthon to find common ground. He was not impressed with Zwingli. He spent time during his exile with Bucer and found that a great benefit. He influenced many of the next generation of leaders, like John Knox. Calvin was not an innovator but a man who lived as part of a theological community that exceeded his geography and time.

Horton begins where the Institutes begins: the knowledge of God and self. We were made to be in relationship with God and to reflect or reveal His glory as His image. So, to know God is to know ourselves in greater measure even if we see what we are not. Calvin was no fan of speculative theology. We cannot know God in the abstract, but know Him in Christ who came in the flesh to exegete the Father. We know God through His works, and so we recognize the divine drama or great Story of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Glorification. All of Scripture reveals this larger Story. We see some differences between how the Reformers and Roman Catholicism viewed general revelation and common grace. He saw our depravity going deeper so that no one was neutral when examining our world and/or doing theology. The pursuit of truth is distorted by our depravity. General revelation is not simply a “dimmer light but a different light than special revelation” because it does not speak of redemption.

Like Luther, Calvin was a theologian of the cross rather than a theologian of glory. God is known through Christ, and Him crucified. We do not seek to climb “ladders of speculation, merit and mystical experience” to gain union with God. Rather we are united to Christ crucified and resurrected for us to gain knowledge of God.

In this great drama there are actors and a plot. Here Horton explains that for Calvin the solas of the Reformation were a fabic, not independent statements. Similar to TULIP which was formulated long after Calvin’s death, they stand or fall together. Scripture is our final authority because it is God speaking to us about the Son through the inspiration and illumination of the Spirit. The great actor is the Triune God, not merely dogma but “the heart of reality in which we live and move and have our being.” The Incarnation of the Son reminds us that matter is good, not evil. That there is nothing inherently sinful about humanity itself despite its weakness and limitations. Our sinfulness is tied to being “in Adam” not simply being human. So Calvin did not hold to a Spirit-matter dualism as did medieval Rome and early Anabaptists. Rather, God made matter and uses it to His good purposes. One application of this is that the Spirit works thru the Word, contrary to the views of the Anabaptists and other fanatics.

The other actors in this are people, and so Horton moves quickly through Calvin’s anthropology. He is always contrasting this with the views of Rome expressed through the medieval church. This brings us to providence and grace as God works to redeem fallen humanity. Horton contrasts providence with the Stoic notion of fatalism. We see a God at work to redeem us, not a people who seek to redeem themselves. We see people who are lifted up by a Redeemer, not who lift themselves up by their bootstraps. We see people who are sought (and found) by God though they hide in the bushes, not people who seek after a God who hides. When we grasp both providence and grace, our circumstances are not punishment from a Judge but instruction from a Father who seeks to mold and shape us.

“Properly speaking, God is not angry with his elect, whose diseases he cures by afflictions as it were by medicines.”

From here, Horton proceeds to Christ the Mediator who came to us and for us. He uses a phrase that will be used often within the book, here with reference to His two natures: “distinction without separation”. This is a difficult formula to maintain but it was the heart of the Chalcedonian formula which made its way through Calvin’s theology. This formula, and how it is understood, was a key in the disagreements about the Lord’s Table that separated the Protestants. Horton’s comments on this are quite helpful.

As the Mediator, Jesus does not merely provide assistance to us but saves us to the uttermost. Yet, we live in the gap between inauguration and consummation, the already and not yet tension is at the heart of Calvin’s spirituality. Our salvation is received in union with Christ. We don’t receive His benefits so much as Christ Himself. He brings all those benefits with Him. They are distinct but without separation because we don’t have a divided Christ. Horton distinguishes these benefits in another chapter. They include effectual calling, justification, sanctification, and adoption. He always distinguishes the Protestant view from the Roman view, particularly as expressed in the Council of Trent.

With this heavier theology out of the way, Horton moves into life in the Body of Christ. Our Christian living is not a private thing, but one that is lived in the context of the Christian community. This is important for our individualistic society to hear so we can be freed from the shackles of a privatized faith. For Calvin it was corporate worship (Word, sacrament & prayer) that fed our personal worship (Word & prayer), and not the other way around. Corporate worship is where we learn how to read the Word and pray. We apply that in our personal and family worship. Community has precedence over individual. This is a radical statement today. Yet at we look at love and the fruit of the Spirit we see they all require others. The Trinity is an eternal community or fellowship of love. We have been made in God’s image to be a community or fellowship of love, not simply a periodic gathering of saved individuals.

This plays out in seeking grace in public worship, not medieval spirituality. We do not ascend to God, but Christ descended to us. We do not seek seclusion like the monks and nuns, but live in Christ in the midst of the world. Horton speaks of Calvin’s views of the preached Word, baptism, confession of sin (a good thing in worship!) and the Lord’s Table.

“The only way to serve God well is to serve our fellow believers. Since our good deeds cannot reach God anyway, he gives us instead other believers unto whom we can do good deeds. The one who wants to love God can do so by loving the believers.”

Horton continues with worship, discussing visual representations and music. These are some of Calvin’s more controversial views regarding worship today. While I want to keep the images of Christ out of our worship, I don’t want to keep the instruments out. I don’t see how they are part of the shadows and ceremonies. I see instruments in the heavenly visions of Revelation. If they are symbolic, what do they symbolize (it notes the singing, so….)? Music seems circumstantial to me. We don’t have any “authorized” tunes. So we waste our time, energy and breath arguing over such things. I’m sure God is more concerned with whether I strummed my guitar for him or myself, or if you listened to the instruments for his glory or simply your pleasure, than whether or not the corporate worship used instruments or not. But I digress.

Horton then brings us to Calvin’s view of prayer as the chief exercise of faith. Horton notes “true worship consists not in outward rights but in casting ourselves on the Father’s gracious care in Christ and by his Spirit.” He interacts with God’s providence and prayer so that prayer is one of the instrumental means of God’s providence. For Calvin prayer was “to the Father, in the Son and by the Spirit.” Our union with Christ also means that we do not pray alone but that Christ is praying not just for us, but with us. Our prayers are an echo of His prayers for us, we are following His lead because of the work of the Spirit in us resulting from our union.

You can’t talk exhaustively about Christian living without touching upon the Law of God. Horton brings in Calvin’s views in the tenth chapter. Like Luther, Calvin utilized a law and gospel distinction. “Calvin also appropriated Melanchton’s threefold use of the law.” The Law drives us to Jesus as He is presented to us in the Gospel. As justified people, the law shows us the pattern of holiness the Son wants to create in us by the Spirit. Law and gospel are distinct but not separate. Christians hear the law as the words of a Father, not a Judge; wisdom and guidance, not condemnation; and cry out to the same Father to help them walk in this way that pleases Him. Horton then summarizes Calvin’s view of these “house rules” expressed in the Ten Commandments.

Horton then addresses this new society, the church, as a theater of God’s fatherly care. Christian living includes finding a faithful church and making disciples. In church we are fed and guided by pastors and elders. We receive God’s hospitality from the deacons. Horton explains Calvin’s view of elements and circumstances regarding worship and how legalism turns circumstances into binding elements. License turns elements into circumstances. “Thus, the Reformer could see even among elements a ranking order, prizing unity over polity. Here we see a man of principle, to be sure, but among the principles was love. While wanting to obey everything that Christ commanded, he realized that not everything was equally clear or equally important.” And so my comments on music.

“Even when the church lies in ruins, we still love the heap of ruins.”

This new society exists, just as our original parents did, for a mission. For the creation mandate to be fulfilled, the Great Commission must be fulfilled. The church exists to make Christ as He is presented to us in the Gospel known, and to teach people to obey Him. The circumstances of the day meant that the Roman Catholic nations controlled the seas. But Geneva sent missionaries throughout Europe, many of whom died in France. The church brings Christ to the world.

We not only live in the church, but we live in the world. Here Horton explores Calvin’s view of the relationship of church and state, and Calvin’s understanding of the two kingdoms. There is discussion of moral law and its reflection in natural law. Christians don’t retreat from the world, nor do they think they can save the world (or creation) through “social justice”. This doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t seek justice within our spheres of influence, but we have realistic expectations, goals and agendas. It also makes no sense to focus on race relations in society unless we are addressing them in the church. We don’t focus on sins in one kingdom while ignoring them in God’s kingdom. (My thoughts there)

We offer our gifts and abilities to the world, and the church, in terms of our vocation. The sacred-secular distinction has minimized the value of a layperson’s work in the world. Work that helps others survive or flourish is valuable work, not merely legitimate work. Jobs have value not simply as opportunities for evangelism, but for loving others by providing goods that enrich life. This is a big part of Christian living.

Lastly Horton ends with contemplation of glorification. We are not escaping the material world, but longing for freedom from sin; ours and others against us. We live in the not yet with regard to sin. This is intended to shape our lives in the already.

Horton lays before us a very thorough look at Calvin’s understanding of the Christian life. We exist for God, and to enjoy God. This means we live before the face of God at home, at work and at church. We live before the face of God and experience His grace because of Christ our Mediator in whom we experience all God’s blessings. Christian living is not about trying to attain God’s grace, but receiving it so we can glorify & enjoy Him. This was a great addition to the series.

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"Fix your eyes upon Jesus..."

The length of worship services has been an issue for as long as the church as existed.  Paul preached so long at one evening gathering that a guy fell asleep and dropped out the window.  Most of us are used to people falling asleep on us.

Some shared an article from our cousins over the pond about the length of worship services.  The basic point of a bishop was that more people will come more regularly if the service is shorter.  At one point the Anglican service was about 50 minutes.  Knowing they celebrate the Table each Sunday, I find this hard to believe.

But the Bishop of Lichfield thinks that servies have become too long and too complicated.  As a result, non-regular church goers are increasingly confused and unwilling to show up.  One survey indicates that Anglican clergy are preaching for as long as 42 minutes and services have crept up to 90 minutes.  But it isn’t just the sermon that is longer.  They are singing and praying longer (perish the thought- discipline these hacks!).

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Yes, it has been since before my vacation that I’ve read any of Recovering the Reformed Confession. I’ve been quite busy since I’ve been back.  But I’m picking up with Recovering Reformed Worship.

Immediately he is lamenting the changes to worship liturgy in the last 30 years, including the loss of the Psalter.  He quotes D.G. Hart:

“… more congregations in the PCUSA are likely to follow the Genevan order of service than those in the OPC or PCA.”

My initial response is that the Genevan order of service isn’t getting them too far.  I’d rather keep Calvin’s theology than his order of service.

We actually utilize a fairly traditional liturgy or structure to our worship (Call to Worship, Invocation, Confession of Sin, Confession of Faith, Pastoral Prayer, Scripture Reading & Sermon, Benediction).  We want the heritage to inform us, but not enslave us.  Clark is alarmed that Calvin, the Heidelberg Reformers and others would not recognize our worship services.  Neither would the Apostles.  For that matter, they wouldn’t recognize the services of Calvin and the others either.

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Part of moving is sorting through all manner of stuff, some of it really old.  I was trying to organize my office at home this morning so my mind would be uncluttered enough to think (yes, there is a connection).  There was an old bulletin (I used that common term since it was a free/low style of worship), one from the church I used to pastor in 2006, one from a church I did pulpit supply for, and one from the church I now pastor.  Interesting to compare/contrast.

1991  Trinity Baptist Church (CBA) in Nashua, NH

  • Come and Worship (we sang 4 songs of various styles)
  • Come and Remember (Communion & 4 songs from the 60’s-80’s)
  • Come and Give (Offering while we sang Give Thanks)
  • Come and Listen (announcements)
  • Come and Learn (sermon)

This was a fairly simple liturgy.  It lacked any traditional structure that pointed to the gospel.  There was no confession of sin, assurance of pardon etc. except that which may have been mentioned in the preparation for the Supper.

2006 Cornerstone Community Church  Winter Haven, FL

  • Worship Begins (prelude, greeting, opening prayer and call to worship)
  • Songs of Adoration (a hymn,  a responsive reading, 3 modern/contemporary songs
  • Building Lives Through God’s Word (Old and New Testament Readings)
  • Preaching of the Word
  • Song of Response (a modern worship song)
  • Celebrating Christ by Joyful & Grateful Giving w/ response singing the Gloria Patri
  • Building Lives on Christ in the World (announcements , closing hymn and benediction)

There was not as obvious a gospel movement,  but it was more traditional in liturgy.  There was plenty of Scripture and a more conscious blend of music tied to the main message.  We tried to move people to mission as we dismissed them.

2009  Tampa Bay Presbyterian Church

  • Prelude, Welcome & Announcements, Greeting
  • Call to Worship (responsive), Opening Song & Invocation
  • God Cleanses Us from Our Sin (confession of sin, assurance of pardon, song of response, )
  • God Consecrates Us by His Word (affirmation of faith, Scripture reading, Psalm, Prayer, Offering, Preparatory Song by Ensemble, Sermon
  • God Commissions Us to Service (hymn & benediction)

They had a more clear gospel-centered flow.  I really liked their use of styles.

2009 Desert Springs Presbyterian Church  Tucson, AZ

  • Reflection, Prelude, Welcome & Announcements, singing of the Doxology
  • God’s Exaltation (Call to Worship, singing of a Psalm & hymn, Invocation)
  • God’s Reformation (Confession of Sin, Assurance of Forgiveness, Contemporary Hymn of Response, Confession of Faith)
  • God’s Grace (Congregational Prayer, Scripture Reading, Offering, Hymn of Preparation & Sermon)
  • Hymn of Celebration
  • Communion
  • God’s Blessing (Hymn of Hope, Charge & Benediction)

Again you see a clear flow thru the gospel to commission.

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As I begin preparation for my examination in theology, Bible, government and sacraments, I thought I would resume the process of putting my study notes on-line.   It’s been awhile since I put some material on the Westminster Confession of Faith up here.  So today I’m covering the chapters on Religious Worship & the Sabbath Day, and Lawful Oaths and Vows.  Some good things to consider (the same caveats apply- I’m not arguing with anyone: if I misrepresented a position let me know).

Chapter XXI: Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day

214. Explain the significance of the statement: “… the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture”.   Scripture provides us with the elements of worship, and also prohibits some other practices.  We are not to imagine that our understanding of acceptable worship is better than God’s.  There is freedom in how we carry out those elements of worship so they are culturally appropriate.

215. Given your understanding of this principle, what would you consider to be prohibited in worship (particularly those elements currently practiced in other churches)?  The use of crucifixes, patriotic music or services, pictures of “Jesus”, worshipping the elements of the Supper as if they were Christ himself, snake handling, women preaching.

216. What are the “elements” of worship?  Call to Worship, Prayer, Creeds (Confession of Faith), Confession of Sin, Songs of Worship, Scripture Reading & Preaching, Giving, Sacraments, Benediction

217. What is the function of preaching in worship? With what attitude should it be received?  It should exalt God, edify Christians and evangelize the lost by making known & applying the Scriptures expositionally with a focus on Christ’s work for us, in us and thru us.  It is to be heard in faith and love to be stored in our hearts and practiced in our lives.

218. Is the fourth commandment a perpetual part of the moral law? How do you sanctify the Lord’s Day?  Yes, in that we should rest & worship one day in seven.  I spend a day resting from my ordinary work, spending time with my family.  On the Lord’s Day we worship Him.

Chapter XXII: Of Lawful Oaths and Vows

219. What is a lawful oath? Why is an oath a part of religious worship? The person calls God as a witness to what he asserts or promises to do.  It is part of religious worship lest we use God’s name loosely or falsely.

220. What is a vow? What are some examples? When is it lawful to vow? A vow is like a promissory oath.  You may vow to give 25% of your income to the church for missions.  It must be made to God and done voluntarily.

221. Are there vows or oaths into which a Christian should not enter, either within or outside the church (for example, those related to secret societies, military service, or civic organizations)?  We are not to take vows which would lead us to sin by either omission or commission.

One of my exceptions is regarding the Lord’s Day/Sabbath.  I take a more Continental view (as opposed to the Puritan view) which was held by John Calvin.  It permits recreation since you are ceasing from your regular work to provide for your family.  In most things I tend to fall in line with Calvin.  I find him most consistent with Scripture.

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