Friday, November 27, 2009

Van Til and 2012

What does Van Til have to do with the new movie 2012? See what David Strain has to day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Westminster Shorter Catechism Audio: Questions 41-50

Listen to Questions 41-50

Q. 41. Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?
A. The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments.

Q. 42. What is the sum of the ten commandments?
A. The sum of the ten commandments is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.

Q. 43. What is the preface to the ten commandments?
A. The preface to the ten commandments is in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Q. 44. What doth the preface to the ten commandments teach us?
A. The preface to the ten commandments teacheth us that because God is the Lord, and our God, and redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments.

Q. 45. Which is the first commandment?
A. The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Q. 46. What is required in the first commandment?
A. The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly.

Q. 47. What is forbidden in the first commandment?
A. The first commandment forbiddeth the denying, or not worshiping and glorifying the true God as God, and our God; and the giving of that worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone.

Q. 48. What are we specially taught by these words before me in the first commandment?
A. These words before me in the first commandment teach us that God, who seeth all things, taketh notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other god.

Q. 49. Which is the second commandment?
A. The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Q. 50. What is required in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word.

Questions 31-40 < > Questions 51-60

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Being a Pulpiteer not a Puppeteer, or Finiding One's Voice in the Pulpit

In addition to his blog DeYoung, Restless and Reformed, Kevin DeYoung has begun blogging over at 9Marks. In a recent post he talks about a subject that I have sensed myself struggling with for over a year now--learning to be yourself in the pulpit instead of consciously or unconsciously channeling someone else.

As I have been learning to preach, I think this has been the hardest thing to learn (which I haven't yet). It is not learning to study in the original languages, biblical theology, systematic theology, or even speaking in front of a congregation that has been difficult for me, but presenting what I find in my voice according to my personality. DeYoung frames my struggle (and the struggle of most young pastors) well:
One of the hardest things for any preacher to learn, especially young preachers, is to simply be yourself. Don’t put on someone else’s passion or humor or learning. And don’t take off your own personality because one of your heroes doesn’t share it exactly. Go ahead and learn from the best. But your congregation needs to hear you on Sunday, not an impression of the preacher you wish you were.
I am glad to hear that he feels that he is growing into his own skin. I look forward to that day myself, when I, "Let [my] person constantly be refined by the Spirit of God, and let the truth of God’s word shine through [my] own personality."

Read his entire post here, and then think of some ways to encourage your pastor!

Tim Keller and Confusion Over "Commissioning" (Not Ordaining) Deaconesses

*You can also find an update here.

Back in the summer at the General Assembly for the PCA, there was a discussion held between Ligon Duncan and Tim Keller concerning the role of women and the diaconate. You can listen to the first installment of the discussion here, and to the second installment here. The discussion was a follow up to articles that Duncan and Keller had published last year in the PCA periodical By Faith Magazine. Duncan's article, "The Case for Our Current Policy on Female Deacons" can be read here. Keller's article, "The Case for Commissioning (Not Ordaining) Deaconesses" can be read here.

Keller believes that a woman in the church can do anything that a non-ordained man can do, therefore, he says that at his church Redeemer PCA, they have non-ordained women who serve on the diaconate. He says he does not believe in ordaining, but commissioning. In an article titled "Women and Ministry, Redeemer Presbyterian Church," Keller summarizes what takes place at Redeemer PCA:
In a nutshell, our position is this: whatever a non-ruling elder male can do in the church, a woman can do. We do not believe that I Timothy 2:11 or I Cor.14:35-36 precludes women teaching the Bible to men or speaking publicly. To "teach with authority" (I Tim.2:11) refers to disciplinary authority over the doctrine of someone. For example, when an elder says to a member: "You are telling everyone that they must be circumcised in order to be saved--that is a destructive, non-Biblical teaching which is hurting people spiritually. You must desist from it or you will have to leave the church." That is "teaching authority"--it belongs only to the elders. Thus, women at Redeemer will be free to use all the gifts, privately and publicly. There are no restrictions on ministry at all. There is a restriction on the office of elder... The Deaconesses will be women elected by the congregation who will do discipling, counseling, and shepherding in the church, particularly among the women. Spiritual maturity is the qualification. They will probably also exercise a teaching ministry in the church, depending on their gifts.
Keller says that women will be commissioned not ordained and therefore, the only service from which they are restricted is the office of elder. So he is fine with them "discipling, counseling, shepherding and teaching." It may be "particularly among women" but not exclusively. The result of Keller's position is that the waters are muddied and Presbyterian doctrine and practice concerning women and the office of deacon have become confused.

This confusion can be seen in how the roles between men and women have been equated in the diaconte. When one looks at the description of the diaconate at Redeemer's website, there is no distinction between male and female deacons in how they become a deacon/deaconess, "The Diaconate, a group of men and women nominated, elected and appointed by the Redeemer members . . ." Further confusion is created by the fact that the men and women nominated to office go through the same training. And to add even more confusion, the director of the diaconate is a woman.

The egalitarianism has not only introduced women into roles that are not biblical and confessional, it is also keeping men from theirs. In an attempt to keep men and women deacons on an egalitarian level, not only are the women not ordained, but neither are the men. At Redeemer, therefore, there is no biblical office of deacon since there is no one ordained to that office. All the deacons/deaconesses are commissioned.

Keller has spoken out against those who desire to maintain the PCA's understanding of women in office, claiming that their fear that commissioning will lead to ordaining is unfounded. Yet, by reducing the office of deacon to something it is not by not ordaining any of them, he has in effect already moved things in the direction of egalitarianism, which, many believe will eventually encroach on the office of elder, as well.

All this confusion seems to have even affected the Teaching Elders at Redeemer, and the PCA confessionalists may have been proven right. This week a video has been making its way around the blogosphere that seriously calls Keller's position and practice into question. In the video, there is a woman named Deb who is ordained as a deaconess. Wes White provides a detailed analysis of the video over at Johannes Weslianus and shows that it follows the procedure for ordaining someone to office in the PCA Book of Church Order. It gives the appearance that Keller may not being forthright.

Well, yesterday over at Green Baggins, Bob Mattes posted a response that he received directly from Keller, in which he tries to clarify the confusion surrounding this video and the apparent ordination of a deaconess. Keller responds by saying the ordination of a woman deaconess "is not our practice," that they do not "ask our congregation to obey and submit to them," and that it would not be their practice in the future. Keller chalks it up to a mistake made by a "newer minister."

Yet, with this being a mistake and out of line with normal practice, I am surprised that there didn't seem to be any negative reaction. No elders provide a correction to what happens. None of the other persons that are being installed seem surprised by the mistake. Deb herself does not question what the minister is leading her to do when he asks her to confirm her ordination vows. And no one in the congregation seems to question what is happening. In fact, when the congregation is charged to "acknowledge and receive Deb" and to promise to yield "all that honor and encouragement and obedience in the Lord to which the Word of God and the constitution of this church entitles them," no one is looking around, no one seems puzzled, and there is a clear, unqualified affirmation from the congregation.

My point is not to suggest that Keller is lying or covering up some secret cabal, or to maliciously draw attention to the minister's mistake. My point here is that clear water becomes muddied when something is added that shouldn't be there. Keller and Redeemer's novel understanding and practice concerning the diaconate has not helped to instruct the body on a proper understanding of polity and doing things in good order, instead it has created a context in which a woman can be ordained (by mistake) and no one seems to blink. And this raises the question, what if there is a time when it is not a mistake? Will they go right along with it like they seemed to this time? When the shepherds try to bend the lines, it is the sheep who pay the price.

It is always important that the Church establishes her order based on the scripture. If there are some with differing opinions about what the scripture teaches, then there is a proper place to have that discussion. But once the Church speaks, then it is incumbent on the officers to instruct the congregations and align their practices with those standards. If one finds that the decision of the Church goes against his conscience, then he is free to disagree and has the liberty to serve in a Church in which he does not have to go against conscience. But if he chooses to stay, then it is best for everyone that the decision of the Church be maintained with as much clarity as is possible. Let us pray that amidst this confusion that clarity will prevail.

*Read on to an update of this post here.

2009 Reformation Sunday Sermons

Last month I had the privilege to fill the pulpit for Covenant OPC in New Bern, NC on Reformation Sunday. So for my two sermons I chose to look at the two foundational principles of the Reformation: the formal principle and the material principle. The formal principle of the Reformation, or sola scriptura, teaches that the scripture alone is the sole authority for the faith and practice of the church, while the material principle, or sola fide, teaches that the justification of a sinner before a holy God is received by faith alone.

These principles are not extra biblical ideas that have been used for understanding the Bible, rather they come from the Bible itself. And one place where you see these two principles working hand in hand is in the first chapter of Leviticus.

For the morning service, I preached on Leviticus 1.1-3 & John 1.14-18 "Sola Scriptura: The Formal Principle of the Reformation." You can listen to it here.

For the evening service, I preached on Leviticus 1.1-9 & Romans 3.21-26 "Sola Fide: The Material Principle of the Reformation." You can listen to it here.

The main content of the sermons comes from sermons I preached last year while in Leviticus 1-7, but they have new arrangements to fit the special occasion.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Monergism Books Thanksgiving Giveaway

Five minutes could win you a prize! The guys over at Monergism Books are doing a survey to get some helpful feedback on their online bookstore. To entice you to complete the survey, they are giving away three prizes on Nov. 30. If you fill out the survey, you automatically get entered for the drawing--it's that simple.

First prize is the complete set of Calvin's commentaries with bonus copy of his Institutes. Second prize is J.C. Ryle's, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. Third prize is D.A. Carson's commentary, The Gospel According to John from the Pillar Commentary set.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Charlie Dennison On The Rhetoric Of The Bible

What is the relationship of preaching and rhetoric? In Homiletics, or the study of preaching, what principles should drive the way the preacher communicates the scripture? Many have taught that in Homiletics, the preacher should borrow the standards, or principles, of classical rhetoric and apply them to the preaching task. But this raises an important question: just how sufficient is the Bible? Do we have to go outside the Bible in order to learn how to effectively communicate the Bible? Is the effective communication of God's word dependent on man's communication theories and devices? Or, is the scripture sufficient for not only providing us the right content for sermons, but also the means by which that content will be effectively communicated?

Charlie Dennison offers his perspective in his lecture "The Bible and Rhetoric," "I don't think the Bible is interested in [the science of public communication]." What we find in the Bible is God's sovereign, preserved speech, in which he discloses himself to his people that they might by his grace partake with him in a transcendent bond of perpetual fellowship. Preaching, therefore, is communicating not ideas that we hope lead to good morals and ethics (classic rhetoric) but a person and an event by which this perpetual bond will come about. Therefore,
Because the event of God's self-disclosure is central to biblical or Hebraic reality, rhetoric within the Christian context could never be summarized by the traditional categories of classical rhetoric. . . . Biblical reality must first of all be proclamation. Proclamation not of an idea, but of an event. Not of a thought in someone's head to be argued for or defended, but an event most certainly having taken place.
The rhetoric of the Bible is not about getting people to believe ideas, it is about proclaiming the certainty of an event that centers in the event of God's self disclosure--principally his final revelation of his ultimate saving act as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Central and foundational to this self revelation of God is a covenantal dimension that is lost and nonexistent in classical rhetoric as it treats persons as if they exist in a vacuum of the here and now. Yet, the rhetoric of the scripture is inherently covenantal an intrudes itself upon the listener with a completely different way of thinking, so that the consciousness of the audience is to be drawn into the event--because covenantally the audience was there and must learn to find their lives there in the event of the intrusive saving act of God, especially as it is realized in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ--to which all of the Bible points. So that now, although I am separated from the historical event of Jesus by almost two thousand years, covenantally I can say with the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2.20, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Was not Paul himself absent from the crucifixion and resurrection historically just as I was? Yes, but not covenantally and redemptively. By faith both Paul and I (and all who receive and rest Christ by faith) are united and bound up with Christ and his story. The Bible is the history of God's event and action of redeeming a people for his glory through Christ--all the Bible is Christ's story--all the Bible is your story.

The rhetoric of the Bible is to get you to find yourself there and then to live by faith in light of it. The rhetoric of sermons, therefore, should be the same as the rhetoric of the scripture. This is not a baptized version of classical rhetoric, for it is classical rhetoric's opposite.

Classical rhetoric keeps the audience outside of the text--which is the complete opposite intention of the text. It leaves the audience in a position to read about what happened in the past and how others lived in those events. The audience is left outside looking in, with no other action to take than from a supposed position of neutrality to either accept what happened and try to emulate or not emulate the persons involved and discover principles that can be practiced, or, to reject what happened and not care. Classical rhetoric does not allow the audience to connect with the Bible's rhetorical intention, which is to covenantally draw the audience into the story--into the life of Christ himself, and to live by faith in Christ.

This does not mean that the pastor is not responsible to still communicate clearly and accurately; it does not mean that the pastor is not responsible to communicate passionately; it does not mean that the sermon is not supposed to have movement and can just be running commentary and rambling on about historical details or cultural insights. Sermons should have a main idea that is developed, that is unified, that is clearly set forth, that has movement that drives to a climax and conclusion. But not because secular philosophers and communication experts say it, but because this is what we see in the redemptive-historical pattern of the revelation of God. And the purpose is not to teach ideas to merely persuade persons to action--but to proclaim the event of revelation itself and draw the audience into the event to strengthen their faith that they may walk in the confidence of the gospel. And that communication should be shaped not by the clever and eloquent techniques and devices of sophists, but by the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A gospel shaped proclamation (humiliation that leads to exaltation because of union with Christ in his humiliation and exaltation) of the gospel is the Bible's rhetoric for effectively drawing the Christian into the gospel into order to believe it and live by it. Not only is the gospel to be proclaimed in the content of what is said--but in the manner in which it is presented. The pastor should be so bound up with Christ and find his life hidden in Christ, that even his method of argumentation, his rhetoric, preaches Christ.

Dennison closes with this summary of the Bible's rhetoric,
[The Bible] co-opts rhetoric and transforms it into an extension of the biblically declared saving work of God, where the event of God's accomplishment dominates all ideas about that event. The Bible, therefore, intends its presentation to bring the hearer into the direct and spiritual contact with God's saving act. . . . The message and the method in the Bible's rhetoric are so intertwined that in the end, the method itself communicates the message. The world's rhetoric, for all its artistry and scientific precision, in the end, by contrast, too often comes off only transparently contrived, but anemic, if not vacuous.
This lecture is a must listen for everyone, pastor and lay person alike. For not only does it speak to the rhetoric that should be used by the minister in the pulpit, it speaks to the rhetoric that the congregation should expect to hear from the minister. Ultimately, it will transform how we read and understand the Bible itself.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Singing God's Words - The New Book of Psalms for Worship

In addition to the 1973 edition of The Book of Psalms for Singing comes the new Book of Psalms for Worship. Crown & Covenant Publications of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America have produced a new Psalter. They have updated the language and have used modern English to make it easier to understand. Included in this updated version is fresh translation work from the original Hebrew in addition to consulting updated English translations--which means that when one sings these Psalter selections, one is singing the very words of scripture--this is a translation, not a paraphrase. They have updated some archaic expressions, and have also switched certain words to provide a more up to date word that better expresses the intended meaning. You can go here to see some examples.

In addition to changing and updating the language, they have also updated the appearance. They have given it a new page lay out with a uniform presentation of the music and font. The now identify the Psalm selection with the first line of the Psalm in addition to the number. They have used a larger font for the Psalm number and selection letter for easier identification and navigation of the Psalter.

They have also updated the tunes used for singing the Psalms. Some of the Psalms have retained the same tune, but many of the Psalms have been given new tunes. Some of the new tunes are traditional hymns tunes that are readily recognizable, some are new tunes that were written specifically for the Psalter, while others have been borrowed from other cultures. These changes are not for the sake of being contemporary, but an attempt to help the worshiper understand the Psalm by using a tune that reinforces the setting and meaning of the Psalm. (I am particularly interested in this improvement since one of my beef's with the old Psalter is that many of the tunes did not match the Psalm.) A complete chart noting the changes in words and tunes can be found here. If you want to hear the new musical arrangements, a complete library index of the tunes (MIDI files) and Psalm selections can be heard here.

However, in all the updates and changes, my favorite improvement is that they have taken steps to help the worshiper see the broader connection that each Psalm has with the rest of scripture by including a New Testament reference that goes along with the theme of the Psalm. This NT reference is to help the worshiper have a more Christ-centered experience of singing the Psalms by helping the worshiper understand the Psalm as Christian scripture in light of its fulfillment in connection with the person and work of Jesus Christ (see Luke 24.27 & 44):
It is deemed important to help the singer associate and appreciate the presence of Christ and the Gospel of the kingdom in the Psalms. Though these are old songs, they are new in Jesus Christ; promise followed by fulfillment.
They hope for this new Psalter to encourage Psalm singing again in the Church and in the home. When we sing the Psalms, we are singing God's truth and learning true theology, which serves to nourish us and form us in the image of our savior. Jesus, himself, sung the Psalms and by them he learned prayer and he learned the nature of his own calling. Jesus saw himself in the Psalms (his life and experiences) and he found his voice in them. And when we sing them, we who are united to him by baptism and faith, find our own lives, experiences and words hidden in the one of whom the Psalms speak, and who continues to speak through them.

If you are interested but don't want to buy it without seeing it, you can sign up for a free Psalter sample kit first. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Old Wine in New Wineskins: Giving Traditional Hymns Modern Tunes

In the previous post, I talked about the value and necessity of the Church in utilizing Reformed hymnody and psalmody in worship and pointed out the danger of the recent trend to leave them behind. But, some of you may be thinking, what about giving the old traditional hymns and psalms new modern tunes and arrangements? Isn't that the best of both worlds?

Well, let me direct your attention to Psalm 96.6-9:
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
o tremble before him, all the earth!
As we read in Psalm 96.6-9, we find that the worship that the church is commanded to offer God ("ascribe" is a command), is to be reflective of the splendor, majesty and glory that is due to God because he is a God of splendor, majesty and glory. Our worship is to be biblical. The words can be scriptural (psalmody) or interpretations of scripture (hymnody), but they should never be unbiblical or false interpretations of scripture. But beyond that, biblical worship is concerned with more than just the words, but also the mode by which those words are sung. This means that sound words can be sung and offered to God in an unbiblical way--esepcially, if the worship offered does not reflect his splendor, majesty and glory.

Paul Jones comments that there is a problem today with the influence of the music of pop culture in the Church. The result is that it is leading the Church to become dominated by the spirit of the age rather than the spirit of Christ. The way I would put it is that it is leading the church to offer up worship that has biblical content in a worldly wrapper. The result is that the worldly wrapper colors the biblical content so that the worship is no longer biblical. In other words, as Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman, et. al., have taught, you cannot separate the message from the medium. One of the problems with trying to breathe new life into the old hymns with modern tunes and arrangements is that it tends to borrow from the world in order to engage in an other worldly activity. The end result is that old hymns with new tunes often end up being no better than jettisoning the old hymns to begin with, for the mode changes the meaning, which means the hymns get jettisoned anyway.

Let me offer up an example. Below you will find two video presentations of the song "Arise, My Soul, Arise," which was originally penned by Charles Wesley in the 18th century. Both are using the same basic lyrics, though the second does add its own chorus. The lyrics are:
Arise, my soul, arise,
Shake off thy guilty fears:
The bleeding Sacrifice
In my behalf appears:
Before the Throne my Surety stands,
My name is written on his hands.

He ever lives above,
For me to intercede,
His all-redeeming love,
His precious blood to plead;
His blood atoned for ev'ry race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds he bears,
Received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers,
They strongly plead for me;
Forgive him, O forgive, they cry,
Nor let that ransomed sinner die!

My God is reconciled;
His pard'ning voice I hear;
He owns me for his child,
I can no longer fear;
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And "Father, Abba, Father!" cry.
Listen to both and see which one you think better reflects the splendor, majesty, and glory of God as commanded in Psalm 96. Which seems more fitting to be sung to and before the face of a heavenly, divine, Lord?

The Value of Reformed Hymnody and Psalmody

In his lecture "Music, Singing, and the Protestant Reformation," Paul Jones provides an excellent history and introduction to the importance of the Reformation and the recovery and development of congregational singing in worship. With the Reformation came the recovery of reading and studying the Bible in the original languages. From their studies, the Reformers, like Martin Luther and John Calvin, were able to see the errors propagated by the Roman Catholic Church in doctrine and worship. Their reading of scripture and recovery of the truth led them to protest those false teachings and practices, especially in worship. In the 1000 years prior to the Reformation, the congregation would not participate in worship through song. Singing was reserved for the clergy and choirs. But with the influence of Luther and Calvin, congregational singing once again became an essential element of worship.

Martin Luther did much in recovering and developing congregational hymnody. One of the problems in the Roman Catholic Church was the use of Latin in the worship services. The Bible they used was the Latin Vulgate and the entire liturgy was performed in Latin. Most of the laity did not know Latin (in fact many of the clergy didn't either), so they had very little understanding of what was taking place in the service. And if they did know Latin, they still were not able to read the Bible for themselves, for the Bible was not made available in the pew, but was reserved for the clergy and scholars alone. Luther changed all of this.

He facilitated the witting participation of the congregation in worship with three radical changes. First, he began conducting worship in the German language so the congregation could understand and participate in the worship liturgy. Second, he translated the Bible into the German language. This way the congregation could read the Bible in their own language. This translation into the common tongue, combined with the use of the Gutenberg printing press, facilitated many acquiring a Bible they could read and understand. But what about the persons who could not read and did not have anyone to read to them? Well, third, he produced hymns in German. The hymns were Luther's way to teach doctrine to his people in a way that they could easily remember, since he noted that people recall the words to songs much more readily than the words from a sermon.

John Calvin also contributed much to congregational participation in worship through singing. Though Calvin was not a musician like Luther, he nonetheless viewed music and singing as one of the most excellent gifts of the Holy Spirit. Calvin wanted the people to sing--especially the canonical psalms. So Calvin developed French psalmody by utilizing French poets and artists (like Clément Marot, Loys Bourgeois, and Guillaume Franc) to collaborate with him on the development of a Psalter. In 1562, the Genevan (or Hueguenot) Psalter was completed and published. Because Calvin understood the Bible's command that all the congregation praise God through singing, he gave the French speaking Protestants metrical psalms that they could sing in the worship God. Very quickly, the Genevan Psalter was translated into German, Dutch, English and other languages so that congregations of many different cultures, ethnicities and languages had biblical songs to sing in their own language, which they could understand.

The point here is that in recovering biblical Christian doctrine and biblical Christian worship, there was a recovery and development of public, corporate worship where all the congregation participated in praising God through singing. Luther and Calvin understanding this importance gave the Protestant Christians biblical church music for them (and us) to sing. Part of what it means to be a child of the Reformation, then, is to understand the musical heritage that we inherit in the hymnody and psalmody of the Reformers. A heritage that has been preserved and passed down to us in Hymn Books and Psalters.

Yet, there is a trend today to move away from our Protestant and Reformation heritage. In the last couple of decades, there has been a movement to replace hymnals and Psalters with movie screens and power point. Psalm singing has almost disappeared completely, while the songs that are sung in many churches are no longer the historic hymns of our faith that teach us biblical doctrine. These songs are being replaced with trite praise choruses that focus more on one's existential experience of God in order to have a spiritual experience, than in communicating the truth of God's word back to him as a reflection of his truth and glory. There is also a trend to utilize more "special music" where special choirs, worship teams, ensembles and soloists do so much of the singing that the congregation is being sung to, as much as, if not more than, it itself participates in the singing.

Are these trends a good development for the church's worship and life? Is this going to nourish us and enrich our worship of God? Jones thinks not,
There is something wrong with throwing out the hymnals and Psalters. You see, people died for our right to hold song books in our hands, and to read them, and to have them in our homes, and places of worship, to teach them to our children and to share them with each other. This move to be unencumbered by hymnals will prove to be a disastrous one for the spiritual health of the church. We think we're freeing ourselves to worship better, but what we're actually doing is impoverishing our worship now, and for our children and grandchildren in the future. It only takes one generation for a hymn to disappear from use.
Although many are making these changes with good motives and intentions, by forgetting the past and not thinking about what we are doing (why we do it, how we do it, if we should do it, etc.) in the present, we unwittingly can lead the church into repeating the errors of the past and developing our own novel traditions that distort true, biblical worship today. The answer obviously is found in scripture. We must take the time to think biblically about our worship. And according to Jones, the Reformation's teaching on music, singing and worship promotes and reinforces just that,
If the Reformers have taught us anything by their example, it is that we must take time to examine our ways and methods, that we must measure them by the principles of scripture, that we must ensure the biblical models are followed when it comes to worshiping the one who created us for that very purpose. They have taught us to go to the Bible . . . it gives us guiding principles that can be applied and are instructive for us.
Reformed hymnody and psalmody are valuable and essential for the Church today because they teach us our heritage, they help us to learn and remember scripture and doctrine, and they protect us from falling into the snare of idolatrous worship as the Church did long ago, and from which the Reformation freed us. To quote from Jones one more time,
Singing Psalms and hymns, writing new ones, holding these collections of prayers and doctrinal teaching in our hands--these privileges are our birthright as children of the Reformation. This is our music; we must value it, treasure it, teach it and share it, and above all, sing it, for God's glory and our enrichment as his children.
The Catholic leaders during the time of the Reformation claimed that they could have stopped the spread and influence of "Luther's heresy" if it wasn't for the hymnody that caused it to spread like wildfire throughout Europe. It was Reformation hymnody and psalmody that played a key role in the recovery and propagation of the light of the true gospel. If we give up our Hymnals and Psalters, we will lose our hymns and our psalms, we will give up our identities as Reformed Protestants, and we risk developing spiritual anemia--and the Protest may soon be over. For as surely as Reformation hymnody and psalmody played a role in the recovery and spread of the true Christian faith for past generations, it certainly also plays a crucial role in guarding and preserving it for future generations to come.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Westminster Shorter Catechism Audio: Questions 31-40

Listen to Questions 31-40

Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

Q. 32. What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?
A. They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.

Q. 33. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

Q. 34. What is adoption?
A. Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of, the sons of God.

Q. 35. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

Q. 36. What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption and sanctification?
A. The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption and sanctification, are, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.

Q. 37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.

Q. 38. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?
A. At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.

Q. 39. What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A. The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will.

Q. 40. What did God at first reveal to man for the rule of his obedience?
A. The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience was the moral law.

Questions 21-30 < > Questions 41-50

Westminster Shorter Catechism Audio: Questions 21-30

Listen to Questions 21-30

Q. 21. Who is the redeemer of God’s elect?
A. The only redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever.

Q. 22. How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
A. Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.

Q. 23. What offices doth Christ execute as our redeemer?
A. Christ, as our redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.

Q. 24. How doth Christ execute the office of a prophet?
A. Christ executeth the office of a prophet, in revealing to us, by his word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation.

Q. 25. How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?
A. Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God; and in making continual intercession for us.

Q. 26. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.

Q. 27. Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?
A. Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.

Q. 28. Wherein consisteth Christ’s exaltation?
A. Christ’s exaltation consisteth in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and in coming to judge the world at the last day.

Q. 29. How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit.

Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.

Questions 11-20 < > Questions 31-40

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Does "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" Need A New Tune?

At this year's Reformation Heritage Conference held by Grace Presbyterian Church in Douglasville, GA, the speaker Paul S. Jones weighed in. While talking about Luther's hymn, he commented that it was the battle hymn of the Reformation, and was sung by the Huguenots in Paris during the St. Batholomew's Day Massacre. He noted that it is a hymn that immediately reminds astute Protestants of their heritage having been sung for 500 years to the same tune. And then he opined concerning the idea of giving it a new tune:
And let me just state up front my opinion that it does not need a new [tune]. Honestly, I sometimes wonder at the audacity we have to have to think we can improve on a tune that martyrs and saints have sung for 500 years. A tune that has galvanized Protestants together in the truths of scripture, that people have sung while burning at the stake, and while waiting for the guillotine to drop. Has it needed our help to last that long, or do we just refashion it or dumb it down to make it somehow valid for use today? I mean, really.

You can hear this lecture and all four of the lectures here:
  • Session 1: "Music, Singing, & the Protestant Reformation"
  • Session 2: "Martin Luther & Reformation Hymnody"
  • Session 3: "John Calvin & the Recovery of Psalm Singing"
  • Session 4: "Hymnody in a Post-Hymnody World"

[HT: David Strain]

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cassiodorus on the Psalms

From The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship:
The psalms make our vigils pleasant when in the silence of night the choirs hymn their praise. the human voice bursts into melody, and with words skilfully set to music it leads us back to Him from whom divine eloquence has come for the salvation of the human race. . . . From Him we have both obtained our saving religion and have come to know the revealed mysteries of the holy Trinity. So the psalms rightly unite the undivided glory of Father, son, and Holy Spirit, so that their praise is proved to be perfect.

Truly they are vessels of truth, for they contain so many virtues, they are suffused with so many odours of heaven, and they are thronged with so many celestial treasures. They are the water-jugs containing the heavenly wine and keeping it ever fresh and undiluted. Their marvelous sweetness does not grow bitter with worldly corruptions, but retains its worth and is continually enhanced with the grace of the purest sweetness. They are a most abundant store, the fecundity of which cannot be exhausted, although so many peoples of the earth drink of it.

What a wondrous sweetness flows from them when sung! . . . But we are not to sing like parrots and larks which seek to imitate men's words but are known to be utterly unaware of what they sing. True, a charming song delights our minds, but does not impel them to fruitful tears; it soothes the ears but does not direct its hearers to heavenly things. But we are pricked at heart if we can heed what our lips can say.

Westminster Shorter Catechism Audio: Questions 11-20

Listen to Questions 11-20

Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

Q. 12. What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?
A. When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.

Q. 13. Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?
A. Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.

Q. 14. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

Q. 15. What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?
A. The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created was their eating the forbidden fruit.

Q. 16. Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?
A. The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.

Q. 17. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.

Q. 18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.

Q. 19. What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.

Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A. God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a redeemer.

Questions 1-10 < > Questions 21-30

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Congregational Reformation - Shepherding the Flock

We've all heard of the Protestant Reformation, especially given all the attention it has received lately since this past Saturday was the 492nd anniversary of its beginning. One of the hallmarks of the Reformed branch of the Reformation is the idea of semper reformanda, which is the conviction that the church should constantly be seeking to bring itself into alignment with the teachings of scripture. The Reformation is a reformation that should never end.

So what does this look like in the every day life of a local church? What is involved? What does it take? What practical steps should a pastor and session take to faithfully shepherd their flock into increasing conformity to the word of God?

Over at Letters From Mississippi, David Strain shares 11 recommendations "based on sometimes painful experience and the sanctifying process of still trying to live out these lessons once learned." Here is a summary:
  1. It must be truth led.
  2. It is a long term venture/ministry.
  3. It is a must to understand that it is an emotional issue, not just cerebral.
  4. It is wholly dependent on pastoral visitation.
  5. It requires humility, consistency, and teachability.
  6. It requires loving attention to the older members of the congregation.
  7. It must be done in a Presbyterian fashion--the session must work together.
  8. It requires patience and maturity.
  9. It must be pursued trusting God to accomplish his ends through his ordinary means of grace.
  10. It must be centered on preaching Christ.
  11. It must be founded on genuine love, fellowship and the congregation's shared life together.
Pastor Strain provides a wealth of wisdom that will benefit every pastor, elder and church member. It is worth serious consideration. You can read the entire post here.

Classic Luther Movie Free on Internet

This past Saturday was October 31, and was the 492nd anniversary of the day a monk and a mallet set things in motion to radically alter Christianity and the western world. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, fed up with the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church on the issue of indulgences, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church, All Saints' Church, in Wittenberg, Germany. Little did he know that his little document would come to be one of the most read documents in western civilization, nor that the course of history would change with the Protestant Reformation that would soon over take Europe.

October 31 is now known as Reformation Day. I have a tradition every year on or around Reformation Day to watch one of the movies made about Martin Luther. The first is a black and white classic produced in 1953, while the second is a more recent production from 2003. This year, however, since all of our things are in storage, I didn't have mine to watch.

Well, I found the 1953 edition online for free. If you have never watched it, then you need to take the time. This film does a good job of providing a helpful overview of the major events of Luther's life and the start of the Reformation, beginning with his leaving law school to become a monk (1507), to his nailing of the 95 Theses (1517), to his "Here I Stand" speech at the Diet of Worms (1521), to the reading of the Augsburg Confession before Emperor Charles V (1530).

So grab some popcorn and enjoy a good movie that will entertain, as well as, teach you things you ought to know. You can watch it below, or you can find it at Retrovision Internet TV.

A Pilgrim's Redress Podcast at iTunes

On Friday I decided to begin a podcast through the blog. The first project will be to provide audio recordings of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The three basic ways to receive the broadcast:

1. Through this blog, however, doing it this way will only allow you to hear it.

2. Through subscribing to the blog using a reader, which will allow you to listen while also being able to read the posted text. Look in the right hand pane at the "Blog Updates" section and click on "Subscribe in a Reader." You will find many different readers from which to choose; for example, Google Reader is one of the options. If you want that option, then simply select the "Google" button, and then pick if you want it to go to your Google Home page or Google Reader.

3. Through subscribing to the podcast at iTunes, which will also provide the option to see the text as you listen--but more importantly, it will allow you to download the audio onto your iPod so you can listen to it on the go. The easiest way to do this is to go here and subscribe. You can also go into your iTunes and select "Advanced" at the top; then select "Subscribe to Podcast" and paste this URL: Or you can simply go to the iTunes store and do a search on "A Pilgrim's Redress."

In the future, I also hope to provide other recordings that will aid in the memorization and review of other helppful material. I open to suggestions, so let me know!