Wednesday, April 26, 2017

From Which Well Are We Drinking?

Allen Cagle has posted a good piece, Should We Sing That Song? [HT: Glenn Chatfield], on gauging the appropriateness of a song for corporate worship. I have mentioned elements of the major points in the past, but I wish to consider “Association and History” (given little attention in the selection process) by using two songs that have recently become popular in corporate worship.

O Come to the Altar Resurrecting
Are you hurting and broken within
Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin
Jesus is calling
Have you come to the end of yourself
Do you thirst for a drink from the well
Jesus is calling

O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ

Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today there’s no reason to wait
Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes a new life is born
Jesus is calling

(Chorus x2)

Oh what a Savior
Isn’t He wonderful
Sing alleluia, Christ is risen
Bow down before Him
For He is Lord of all
Sing alleluia, Christ is risen

(Chorus x2)

Bear your cross as you wait for the crown
Tell the world of the treasure you've found
The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now
The Savior knelt to wash our feet
Now at his feet we bow

The one who wore our sin and shame
Now robed in majesty
The radiance of perfect love
Now shines for all to see

(Chorus x2)
Your name, Your name is victory
All praise will rise to Christ our king

The fear that held us now gives way
To him who is our peace
His final breath upon the cross
Is now alive in me


(Bridge x3)
By Your spirit I will rise
From the ashes of defeat
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me
In Your name I come alive
To declare your victory
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me

The tomb where soldiers watched in vain
Was borrowed for three days
His body there would not remain
Our God has robbed the grave
Our God has robbed the grave

(Chorus x2)


The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me

Setting aside the gratuitous repetition, what do we learn? In the left column we are presented a song asking if we are hurting, overwhelmed, or thirsting for satisfaction after bad decisions made in life. In other words, we are told that we need a good therapist. In order to be that therapist, Jesus shed blood and rose again, and when we feel bad for doing something wrong, there is a Father who wants to hug us and make us feel better. In other words, we are offered a warm, cozy feeling with the encouragement to offer worship and praise for feeling better. Oh, and we are asked to tell others they can feel better, too.

The right column the songwriter at least attempts to show a humbled, yet glorified Savior, but in questionable language. Jesus’ crown was rightly changed from thorns to glory, but He never washed our feet: The song is improperly placing us in the Upper Room account. Moving on, He indeed took our sin and shame and is now robed in majesty; however, the radiance of love is not in His exaltation, but rather His humiliation and the cross, even as the apostle Paul wrote:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Ro 5:8)
In addition, the bridge teaches a confusion of justification and sanctification by equating them in a gradual process akin to Eastern Orthodox theosis. Resurrection does not happen in stages: one is either alive or dead. Again from the apostle Paul:
And you were dead in your transgressions and sins…. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). (Ep 2:1, 5)
Those in Christ are alive now, not being made alive. The process of spiritual enlivening is not prolonged or elongated, but an instantaneous and certain change from one state to another.

Songs communicate a message, and within the church the message must be true to Scripture. It is incumbent on the lyricist(s) to correctly convey what God reveals in His Word.

Why these two?

Some may wonder why I use these two songs in presenting my case. They come from the same source, Elevation Church, whose head pastor is Steven Furtick. That’s right, the Earl of Eisegesis himself is the teaching source for those writing this music. In fact, Furtick is listed on both songs as a lyricist. We can see how this is yet another example, along with Hillsong United, of bad lyrics derived from bad teaching, but dressed in catchy music and salted with enough correct wording to make it palatable.

The music and teaching of these havens of heterodoxy need to be avoided.  They make mockery of the gospel of the Lord Jesus and change the message of the cross in order to glorify the Christian—here by using the “rising from the ashes” phraseology like the mythical phoenix. No such thing is promised to the believer, but it fits the template of spiritual power and triumphalism being promoted by Steven Furtick and Brian Houston.

Christians are not the exalted ones. We are the despised and rejected, because our Lord was deemed so; and we are not greater than He.
Yet for Your sake we are killed all day long;
    We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. (Ps 44:22)
By singing music that comes from these sources, we are affirming a theology that is antithetical to all our Lord and Savior accomplished in Himself. These teachers and their followers present a distorted picture of what Christ accomplished on the cross for our behalf.

Lighten up, will you?

I am certain some will consider my comments to be overly harsh, especially for “Resurrecting,” since I already acknowledged some correct content. Had the songwriters used biblical concepts throughout, there would be no issue; but as certainly as someone would grow sick or die if drinking from a poisoned well, so would those suffer who imbibe at the fount of a corrupt teacher or network. Discernment is needed when choosing worship resources.

Brethren, too often we offer trifles by trying to enter where we do not belong, labor where we have no work, and exalt what is to remain abased. Instead of salving guilty consciences or engaging in self-glory, perhaps lyricists (and their consumers, the congregants) should keep their eyes on the One of whom all Scripture speaks and remember with David:
They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house,
    And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.
For with You is the fountain of life;
    In Your light we see light. (Ps 36:8–9)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday of Easter

Duccio di Buoninsegna, “Christ Taking Leave of His Disciples
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace to you.” And having said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Therefore Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:19–23)

As He gives the Spirit, Christ says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” even though only one who is by nature God has the power and authority to forgive sinners for their sins. After all, who could rightly grant pardon to others for their transgression of the divine law, except the one who gave that law? You may, if you wish, see the point of my statement from human affairs. Who has the authority to alter the decrees of earthly kings, and who tries to set aside the orders issued by decree and will of the rulers except someone who is invested with royal honor and glory? Only such a person cannot be accused of breaking the law. Wise is the saying, “Whoever says to the king, ‘You are a law-breaker,’ is insolent.”* In what way, then, and in what sense did the Savior clothe His disciples with an honor that belongs to the divine nature alone? The Word, who is in the Father, could not miss the mark of what is fitting; He was quite right to do this. He thought it was fitting that they who already had the divine and royal Spirit within them also have the authority to forgive and retain the sins of whomever they want, since the Holy Spirit dwelling in them forgives and retains sins according to His own will, even though the deed may be accomplished through human beings.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John

*  Job 34:18

Friday, April 14, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Easter Sunday

But after the Sabbath, at the dawning toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, a great earthquake occurred; for an angel of the Lord, having come down out of heaven, came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards were shaken for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here! For He is risen, just as He said. Come; see the place where the Lord was lying.” (Mt 28:1–6)

Our Lord is one and the same Son of God and Son of man. According to both natures, divinity and flesh, He shows signs, now of His greatness, now of His humility. This is why in the present passage, though it is a man who was crucified, buried, and shut in the tomb, whom a stone holds back in opposition, nevertheless the things that are done outside show Him to be the Son of God: the sun takes flight, darkness falls, the earth quakes, the curtain is torn, the rocks split, the dead are raised, there are services of angels, which even from the beginning of His birth proved that He was God. … The guards are completely terrified with fear. They lie there stupefied like dead men, and yet the angels console not them but the women: “Do not be afraid.” Let them be afraid, he says. Panic persists in those in whom abides unbelief. But as for you, since you are seeking the crucified Jesus, hear this: He has been resurrected and has fulfilled His promises.

Jerome, Commentary on Matthew

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Learning from the Great Preachers

This morning, Pastor Christopher Jackson had a series of tweets on Twitter (@revcjackson) that I slightly edited for posting here.

Reading the great preachers of the past (Chrysostom, Nazianzus, and Luther, in particular), I’m struck by a few things. (Oh yea, should add Walther in there too.)
  1. Their preaching is guileless and straightforward. No cutting edge sermon forms. No gimmicks. No Fordean* manipulation of the congregation. They often just jump into the text, even going verse by verse to explain the text. Illustrations are there (Luther is one of the best at illustrations, actually!), but these illustrations are ministerial rather than magisterial. They serve the exposition of the text, which in turn governs the very outline and arc of the sermon. (Again, verse by verse is common!) This also makes sense given the preaching demand they had. Preaching a couple times a day, one doesn’t have time for slick intros, etc.
  2. They weren’t afraid to repeat themselves. They seemed to understand that the apprehension of truth requires hearing it again and again. This also goes for some of their illustrations. I keep finding Luther using the “God is a doctor making us well” illustration.
  3. They weren’t as strict as modern exegetes in their hermeneutical approach. They were faithful expositors, mind you. In fact, I think in some ways more faithful than many modern exegetes. But they weren’t tied to modern methods, which I think have a way of atomizing the Scriptures. (Which is the very opposite of the Sola Scriptura principle, btw.) This occurred to me when I was in seminary choir, btw. Singing Bach and other great composers, I realized that they were making exegetical connections within the Scriptures that were at the same time incredibly illuminating but also questionable if sticking to modern exegetical methods, strictly. God is an artist. I’m siding with Bach on these matters.
  4. They didn’t follow, any of them, not even Walther, a strict Law/Gospel outline. Even Walther would at times end his sermons with scathing Law, and yet, despite that, the Gospel predominates.
  5. They weren’t afraid of moral exhortation. Sometimes it wasn’t even related to the text at hand. My favorite example was a Chrysostom sermon I read recently. In it he laid out pretty simply the meaning of the text, and then he just goes on to say: “Some of you are usurers. This is not how Christians treat others. Cut it out.”  I gather by this that he became aware of an issue in the congregation and felt beholden to address it. Which leads to the final observation:
  6. They were aware of the spiritual needs of the people, and they addressed them. Preachers need to be in their shut-ins homes, in the nursing homes, in the prisons, aware of what’s going on in people’s lives. Even aware of what’s going on at the bar down the street. (This inspired several Luther sermons!)
*  A reference to the Radical Lutheranism of Gerhard Førde.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Palm Sunday

The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:

          ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
          The King of Israel!” (Jn 12:12–13)

As, therefore, He has promised to give very much to those who do now bring forth fruit, according to the gift of His grace, but not according to the changeableness of “knowledge;” for the Lord remains the same, and the same Father is revealed; thus, therefore, has the one and the same Lord granted, by means of His advent, a greater gift of grace to those of a later period, than what He had granted to those under the Old Testament dispensation. For they indeed used to hear, by means of [His] servants, that the King would come, and they rejoiced to a certain extent, inasmuch as they hoped for His coming. But those who have beheld Him actually present, and have obtained liberty, and been made partakers of His gifts, possess a greater amount of grace, and a higher degree of exultation, rejoicing because of the King’s arrival: as also David says, “My soul shall rejoice in the Lord; it shall delight in His salvation” (Ps 35:9). And for this reason, upon His entrance into Jerusalem, all those who were in the way recognized David their king in His sorrow of soul, and spread their garments for Him, and ornamented the way with green boughs, crying out with great joy and gladness, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” But to the envious wicked stewards, who circumvented those under them, and ruled over those that had no great intelligence, and for this reason were unwilling that the king should come, and who said to Him, “Do You hear what these say?” the Lord replied, “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?” (Ps 8:3)—thus pointing out that what had been declared by David concerning the Son of God, was accomplished in His own person, thus indicating that they were indeed ignorant of the meaning of the Scripture and the dispensation of God. It was He Himself who was announced by the prophets as Christ, whose name is praised in all the earth, and who perfects praise to His Father from the mouth of babes and nursing infants; therefore also His glory has been raised above the heavens.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.11.3

Friday, March 31, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (Jn 11:25–27)

When Christ sees that she did not understand the truth about Him, He clarifies the matter and says, “I am the life,” meaning “You do not need to look for Me somewhere else or to hope that after a long time your brother will have a resurrection. I, who call people to this, am here.” The Son is life by nature, who calls all things into being and who raises everyone by His own power, not simply raising them but raising them to life. That is why He joins “life” to the word resurrection. We must note that the Lord calls Himself “life,” not just “living one,” as some godlessly dare to say about Him. There is a difference between “life” and “living one.” A “living one” is capable of receiving life, but “life” causes living, just as wisdom causes a wise person. The one receives; the other gives.

Cyril of Alexandria, Fragment #11

Friday, March 24, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him. (Jn 9:35–38)

The Lord had given sight to a man blind from his birth; the Lord of nature had removed a defect of nature. Because this blind man had been born for the glory of God, that God’s work might be made manifest in the work of Christ, the Lord did not delay till the man had given evidence of his faith by a confession of it. But though he did not know at the time Who it was that had bestowed the great gift of eyesight, yet afterwards he earned a knowledge of the faith. For it was not the dispelling of his blindness that won him eternal life. And so, when the man was already healed and had suffered ejection from the synagogue, the Lord put to him the question, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” This was to save him from the thought that he had lost everything, being excluded from the synagogue. It gave him the certainty that confession of the true faith had restored him to immortality. When the man, his soul still unenlightened, made answer, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” The Lord’s reply was, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” For His goal was to remove the ignorance of the man whose sight he had restored, and whom He was now enriching with the knowledge of so glorious a faith. Does the Lord demand from this man, as from others, who prayed Him to heal them, a confession of faith as the price of their recovery? Emphatically not. For the blind man could already see when he was thus addressed. The Lord asked the question in order to receive the answer, “Lord, I believe.” The faith which spoke in that answer was to receive not sight, but life.

Hilary of Poitier, On the Trinity 6.48

Friday, March 17, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday in Lent

Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (Jn 4:10–14)

Let then this much suffice concerning those outcasts; and now let us return to the divine Scriptures, and let us drink waters out of our own cisterns and out of our own springing wells. We drink of living water, springing up into everlasting life; but the Savior spoke this of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive. For observe what He says: He that believes on Me (not simply this, but), as the Scripture has said (thus He has sent you back to the Old Testament), out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water, not rivers perceived by sense, and merely watering the earth with its thorns and trees, but bringing souls to the light. And in another place He says: But the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of living water springing up into everlasting life—a new kind of water living and springing up, springing up unto them who are worthy.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 16.11

Jesus shows the incomparable difference that there is between spiritual water and earthly perceptible water by saying, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again.” But those who have their fill of my water, He says, not only will be raised beyond ever thirsting again but also will have in themselves a spring that is able to nourish them to eternal life. The one who gives greater gifts is greater, He says, than the one who has less, and the one who is inferior will not come away with the same glory as the one who conquers.

Next we must realize that the Savior here calls the grace of the Holy Spirit “water.” If anyone should become a participant of it, they will then have a supply of divine knowledge springing up in them so that they no longer need admonition from others. Instead they will be sufficient and capable to exhort with ease those who thirst for the divine and heavenly word. These were the saints, prophets, and apostles during their lives while they were still living here on earth, and the heirs of their service, concerning whom it is written, “Draw water with joy from the springs of salvation.” [Is 12:3]

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John 4.14

Friday, March 10, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday in Lent

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17)

Many of the more careless sort of persons, using the lovingkindness of God to increase the magnitude of their sins and the excess of their disregard, speak in this way, “There is no hell, there is no future punishment, God forgives us all sins.” To stop those mouths a wise man says, “Do not say, His mercy is great, He will be pacified for the multitude of my sins; for mercy and wrath come from Him, and His indignation rests upon sinners” (Ecclus. 5:6): and again, “As His mercy is great, so is His correction also.” (Ecclus. 16:12) “Where then,” says one, “is His lovingkindness, if we shall receive for our sins according to our desserts?” That we shall indeed receive “according to our desserts,” hear both the Prophet and Paul declare. One says, “You will repay every man according to his works” (Ps 62:12 LXX), and the other, “He will render to each according to his deeds.” (Ro 2:6) And yet we may see that even so the lovingkindness of God is great. In dividing our existence into two periods, the present life and that which is to come, and making the first to be an appointment of trial, the second a place of crowning, even in this He has shown great lovingkindness.

“How and in what way?” Because when we had committed many and grievous sins, and had not ceased from youth to extreme old age to defile our souls with ten thousand evil deeds, for none of these sins did He demand from us a reckoning, but granted us remission of them by the washing of Regeneration and freely gave us Righteousness and Sanctification. “What then,” says one, “if a man who from his earliest age has been deemed worthy of the mysteries, after this commits ten thousand sins?” Such a one deserves a severer punishment. For we do not pay the same penalties for the same sins, if we do wrong after Initiation. And this Paul declares, saying, “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb 10:28–29) Such a one then is worthy of severer punishment. Yet even for him God has opened doors of repentance and has granted him many means for the washing away his transgressions, if he will. Think then what proofs of lovingkindness these are. By Grace to remit sins, and not to punish him who after grace has sinned and deserves punishment, but to give him a season and appointed space for his clearing. For all these reasons Christ said to Nicodemus, “God sent not His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world.”

For there are two Advents of Christ, that which has been, and that which is to be, and the two are not for the same purpose. The first came to pass not that He might search into our actions, but that He might remit; the object of the second will be not to remit, but to inquire. Therefore of the first He says, “I came not to condemn the world, but to save the world;” but of the second, “When the Son shall have come in the glory of His Father, He shall set the sheep on His right hand, and the goats on His left.” (Mt 15:31, 46) And they shall go, these into life, and the other into eternal punishment. Yet His former coming was for judgment, according to the rule of justice. Why? Because before His coming there was a law of nature, and the prophets, and moreover a written Law, and doctrine, and ten thousand promises, and manifestations of signs, and chastisements, and acts of vengeance, and many other things which might have set men right, and it followed that for all these things He would demand account. But, because He is merciful, He for a while pardons instead of making inquiry. For had He done so, all would at once have been hurried to perdition. For “all,” it says, “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Ro 3:23) Do you see the unspeakable excess of His lovingkindness?

John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John 28.1

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Correction and Apology

Every now and then I send out a post that needed more editing than I initially gave. One such occurrence came on March 1st (The Downcast Soul) in which my response came out as a polemic against the women’s event and those in charge. (My wife and others pointed this out to me.) In my desire to get the post out, I failed to include wording that would have shown my true target, which was the mishandling and misapplication of God and His Word that has become pervasive in the American church scene. I have corrected my original post accordingly (though not as soon as I would have liked as this was my earliest convenience).

In addition, I have already had communication with those who posted on the event referenced in my post, explaining my intent, but damage has already been done. I apologize for my great error and the hurt it caused.