Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Listen in Order to Love

Dr. John Kleinig has a 14-week course on Christian Spirituality freely available here.  In lecture 7a, while teaching on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, he refers to the first word (shema; hear, listen) as the most important noting it is an imperative verb.  This is followed by the waw-consecutive perfect "you shall love the Lord … "  He mentions that in these cases the waw-consecutive perfect can be imperatives or commands, so that the translation is as found in most English translations hear … love, but the more common force of the grammar indicates purpose, result, or consequence resulting in the translation hear … in order that you may love.  This puts an entirely different light on the passage.

Previously, believers looked at this passage as needing to work with the greatest fervency that can be mustered knowing that it will never be enough because we certainly fail because of the old man still working in us.  This new way of viewing the passage frees us because the emphasis for empowerment is God.  We are on a continuously learning path of life if we remain close to his word and receive from him.  Ours then is to accept what is freely given, walk in it, and pass it along to another so they might do the same.  The love, then, becomes the natural outgrowth of this process causing the fervency and desire to increase.  It is not manufactured by artificial or contrived stimulation but results from a life of obedience in the Lord.

Jesus taught this was the greatest commandment, but the second like it also mentions love—this time to our neighbor.  Since he put these together, we can deduce that the same thought is in view: if we listen to the voice of God through hearing and reading his word, it results in our love for those around us.  The Sanhedrin's problem was that the members had mostly closed their ears and minds to what God was telling his people through this special revelation.

Later in the Upper Room, Jesus would give his disciples a new commandment:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  (John 13:34-35)
Seen in the light of what we have reviewed, Jesus is not so much heaping on the demand for greater exertion or deliberation in the command to love but rather adding himself as the supreme example to follow—what I have done and will do, you do also—then reinforced what he said earlier by explicitly teaching:
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  These things I command you, so that you will love one another.  (John 15:12-17)
And there at the end Jesus comes full circle with a repetition of what was given through Moses to Israel: listen so that you will love.

A common plight in liberal churches is performing acts of "love" in order to gain merit in God's sight and somehow outweigh the lifetime of bad.  Sadly, a great preponderance of evangelical Christians do the very same.  Believing in Christ as their ticket to heaven, they try to gain a special sanctification status or build their heavenly treasure trove to overflowing, when in reality none of it is of ourselves.  All we have materially and spiritually is from the Father who blesses us for Christ's sake.  We live out what has been richly bestowed in the Beloved.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Having Been Baptized, Walk in Newness of Life

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  You have renounced sin, and have become dead to it, and were buried with Christ; how is it possible then that you should allow this same sin?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  The very sacrament of baptism has taught you to flee from sin, for baptism carries in it the representation of our Lord's death, for in it you have shared both in the death and in the resurrection of Christ.  It becomes you therefore to lead a new life, as it were, and one suited to Him in whose resurrection you have partaken.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans" on Romans 6:3-4

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How Great God's Love for Us!

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die.  For we reflect, that when we were yet transgressors, and suffering under the infection of impiety, the Lord Christ endured that death, which was inflicted on our behalf; and hence we learn the depth of His lovingkindness, because for a just man it might be that some might face death, but He, through the excess of His love, welcomed the death which was in behalf of sinners.

And he goes on to say, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  God then makes manifest the greatness of His love toward us, in the death of Christ happened not for such as had been just, but for such as were yet transgressors.  For now we have been justified by faith in Him, but, when He undertook that death for us, we were still subject to every kind of sin.  The words, at the right time, mean at the fit time, in due time, and this he also says in his epistle to the Galatians, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons."

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  Having entered that accursed death for the ungodly and transgressors, it is evident that He will free from the future punishment those that believe in Him.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans" on Romans 5:7-9

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Apologist Barred from James MacDonald's Elephant Room 2

Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio, Fighting for the Faith, etc. today posted that his "entrance to the Elephant Room had been revoked" and was told to leave immediately or "be arrested for trespassing."  He goes on to point out the irony of the situation as the Purpose Statement is designed to be inclusive of those who disagree, yet he was met and stopped by both security and an elder of the host church.

For those who are unaware, Rosebrough is a Christian apologist who critiques ministries and sermons according to the Word of God and reports the findings—both good and bad.  If possible he travels to a venue to experience what is happening in order to get the full context.  Assuming that Rosebrough had properly registered and not crashed the venue, what in the world is going on here?  Why deny someone at the door?  Certainly, James MacDonald has the right to deny entrance to anyone, but refusal should have been at registration time.

The larger question though is: what's up with James MacDonald?  Once a committed Bible teacher intent on the truth of the gospel, MacDonald has taken unnerving steps away from theologically-conservative ties (resigning from The Gospel Coalition) toward accepting heretics in the name of Christian unity, notably by inviting anti-Trinitarian T. D. Jakes to be a part of the Elephant Room conversations and taking part.  In addition one might question his recent participation in the Code Orange Revival (receiving from Chris Rosebrough the richly deserved designation 2012 Heresy Olympics) which featured speakers who elevated themselves, Elevation Church, and pastor Steven Furtick rather than the Lord Jesus Christ.  (Matt Chandler also spoke, but he remained faithful to the biblical gospel.  Check out his message here.)

It appears that James MacDonald is trying to avoid those who wish to move him back to sound doctrine and practice.  Either that or he is covering for those joining in the Elephant Room sessions.

Update: Chris Rosebrough gives details about the incident for an interview on Issues, Etc.

Faith, Grace, and Promise Are Fulfilled in Christ

[T]he God of all, foreseeing as God that he would hereafter gather together one people of Gentiles and Jews and extend to them salvation through faith, represented both in the patriarch Abraham.  And thus then he calls him the father of the Gentiles, having shown that he had acquired, before his circumcision, the righteousness which is of faith, and after his circumcision, had not walked under the Mosaic Law but continued under the guidance of the same faith; in order that both Jews and Greeks, looking to him, might equally aim at his faith, neither the one anxious for his circumcision, neither the other his uncircumcision, for it is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, but faith which the holy Scripture speaks of as righteousness.

Having thus shown faith was both older and more excellent than the Law, he now also shows that the Law was subsequent to the promise given to Abraham, in order thereby to make it manifest that grace was itself also prior to the Law: of this it was that the promises were given to Abraham.  For the promise was that "in his seed all the nations should be blessed," which promise received its accomplishment in Christ.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans"

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Christ, Our Mercy Seat

The mercy seat was of gold leaf, situated on the ark; on either side it had the carvings of the cherubim.  From there God's benevolence was revealed to the high priest as he ministered.  The divine apostle, then, teaches that Christ the Lord is the true mercy seat: the old one had the function of a type of the latter.… Whereas the old mercy seat was without blood, insofar as it was lifeless, and drops of the blood of the victim fell on it, Christ the Lord is God and mercy seat, high priest and lamb, and with his own blood worked our salvation, requiring from us only faith.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans"

Monday, January 23, 2012

Losing Sight of Discipleship

I have often lamented at the lack of discipleship in the church, especially in view of Christ's command to do that very thing in Matthew 28:19-20.  Thomas O'Loughlin raises the same question and points fingers at the early church for initially "dropping the ball."

A far more interesting question is why Christians abandoned the notion of mentoring new members  and the notion of there being need for an apprenticeship?… [A]s Christianity became more and more an accepted part of society, the notion that one needed an apprenticeship became less and less obvious—and what training there was became something that was more and more in the hands of religious experts rather than a common task of every member of the church.

Thomas O'Laughlin, The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians,
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 21.

Of course, the fix is not to blame those who lived 1800 years ago for our inaction.  Our call is to again be about the Father's business and make disciples.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Reward of Lawlessness Is Its Penalty

Lawlessness is related to impiety: just as [the impious] exchanged God's truth for a lie, so they turned the lawful enjoyment of desire to unlawful.  Receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.  Ignominy is the ultimate penalty for this passion: what no enemy ever attempted to commit against them they embraced with complete enthusiasm; and the penalty no judge ever awarded against them they inflicted on themselves.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans"

Saturday, January 21, 2012

God's Righteousness Is Revealed through the Gospel

[Paul] means God's righteousness is revealed through the Gospel, not only the righteousness provided to us but also that shown openly in the very mystery of the divine plan.  That is to say, it was not in power that he arranged our salvation, nor did he overthrow death's sway by command and direction; rather, he tempered justice with mercy.  The only-begotten Word of God in person put on the nature of Adam, preserved it innocent of any sin and offered it for our sake, and by paying the debt of nature he canceled the indebtedness common to all human beings.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans"

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Faith Completes What the Law Cannot Achieve

[Paul] neither extols the Law unduly, owing to Jews' impudence, nor does he provide the impious heretics with an occasion of criticism.  Instead he shows it giving the necessary instruction and proposing the teaching of righteousness, though unable to achieve this on account of the weakness of those on whom the law was imposed.  Then he teaches that faith put into effect the aim of the Law: what the latter was willing but unable to achieve, faith brought to completion through the grace of the all-holy Spirit.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans"*

* Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul, Vol 1, (trans. Robert C. Hill; Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox, 2001), 43.

Glory of the Incarnation

While the mystery of the divine Incarnation is something awesome and worthy of the deepest adoration by those who sincerely believe, manifestly instructing us as it does in God's lovingkindness, those who are beset by the gloom of unbelief and are yet to receive the illumination of light for the mind ridicule that which even the throngs of the angels fail to praise worthily in song.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans"

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Is Jesus Greater Than Religion?

There is a viral YouTube video that identifies concerns and is worth watching because it addresses some of what has gone wrong in the name of Christ.  The downside is that the author has done so by creating a false dichotomy between Jesus and Religion.

There are two good responses I know of that help to balance out the discussion.  The first is from Jonathan Fisk of Worldview Everlasting:

The second comes from Chris Rosebrough of Fighting for the Faith.  Here is the program segment addressing the video: Fighting for the Faith - Jan 13, 2012 (approx 10 minutes).  The full episode can be found here.

Our Offerings: Exaltation or Excrement?

Man-made religious systems suffer from an ever-increasing depraved sense of what the being worshiped wants or needs with regard to offerings and sacrifices.  Arnobius addressed this problem as he attacked the sacrificial practice of the pagans.  Finally, he engages them with a reversal of roles.
Lo, if dogs—for a case must be imagined, in order that things may be seen more clearly—if dogs, I say, and asses, and along with them water-wagtails, if the twittering swallows, and pigs also, having acquired some of the feelings of men, were to think and suppose that you were gods, and to propose to offer sacrifices in your honor, not of other things and substances, but of those with which they are wont to be nourished and supported, according to their natural inclination,—we ask you to say whether you would consider this an honor, or rather a most outrageous affront, when the swallows slew and consecrated flies to you, the water-wagtails ants; when the asses put hay upon your altars, and poured out libations of chaff; when the dogs placed bones, and burned human excrement* at your shrines; when, lastly, the pigs poured out before you a horrid mess, taken from their frightful hog-pools and filthy maws?
The Case against the Pagans, Book VII, 17.1

The apologist wants to help these worshipers understand that just as animals might bring something pleasing to themselves but disgusting to humankind, the pagans' reaction would be anger and revulsion.  This is only logical since the true intent of the sacrifice is to please self, not the supposed recipient who would consider the offering unpalatable and noxious.
Would you not in this case, then, be inflamed with rage that your greatness was treated with contumely, and account it an atrocious wrong that you were greeted with filth?  But, you reply, you honor the gods with the carcasses of bulls, and by the slaughter of other living creatures.  And in what respect does this differ from that, since these sacrifices, also, if they are not yet, will nevertheless soon be, dung, and will become rotten after a very short time has passed?  Finally, cease to place fire upon† your altars, then indeed you will see that consecrated flesh of bulls, with which you magnify the honor of the gods, swelling and heaving with worms, tainting and corrupting the atmosphere, and infecting the neighboring districts with unwholesome smells.
The Case against the Pagans, Book VII, 17.2

If the gods to whom this supposed feast of meats and foods turned the tables and insisted the worshiper eat first, the truth of the slop and refuse offered would be manifest as the worshiper runs for cover and repents for daring to be so careless.
Now, if the gods were to enjoin you to turn these things your own account, to prepare luncheons and dinners from them‡ in the usual way; you would flee to a distance, and, execrating the smell, would beg pardon from the gods, and bind yourselves by oath never again to offer such sacrifices to them.
The Case against the Pagans, Book VII, 17.3

How has the Lord's people fared in this regard?  Before giving the Law, God made definite statements concerning sacrifices.§  Then on Sinai, he specified exacting requirements to Moses in the Levitical code for offerings to be considered acceptable.  Failure to adhere could and did have devastating results as in the fate of Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10:1-2).  Even seemingly minor infractions tangentially related incurred God's discipline (2 Sam 6:6-7; 1 Chr 13:9-10) in order to reinforce that God's things are to be regarded as holy.  After these strict and striking examples, the elect maintained proper reverence for a certain amount of time, though the fervor waned.  The latent sin nature worked and worshipers grew lax and began to divert from what they had been taught.  Eventually, apathy set in.  The people either sought after other gods or approached the true God with unsuitable sacrifices.

God exposes the hypocrisy shown by the latter who know the truth but are apathetic.  Through the prophet Malachi (1:6-8) he speaks:
A son honors his father, and a servant his master.  If then I am a father, where is my honor?  And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name.  But you say, “How have we despised your name?”  By offering polluted food upon my altar.  But you say, “How have we polluted you?”  By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised.  When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil?  And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.”
Someone will remark, “Surely Christians do a better job of this.  We have the abiding Holy Spirit.”  Such is not the case.  Notable examples of Christians acting in unholy ways have resulted in death and sickness (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor 11:29-20; 1 John 5:16).  The lack of similar instances serves more to demonstrate the Father's tender mercies than any idea of increasing levels of goodness in the elect.

Care is be exercised when seeking the Lord's presence in worshiping him.  God holds his name in high esteem.  What is practiced, whether or not planned and performed in sincerity, must accord with those things revealed about himself.  This takes humble, yet dedicated, effort, but not doing so reveals that we have no regard for who he is.  To that end I leave the final remarks—again given to Malachi (1:9-14):
For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering.  For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.  But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised.  But you say, “What a weariness this is,” and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering!  Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD.  Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished.  For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.

* Compare Arnobius' satirical device to the divine commands in Exodus 29:13-14.
† Lit., “under,” i.e., under the sacrifices on your altars.
‡ I.e., from the putrefying carcasses.
§ See Job 42:8.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Genuine Preaching Is Hard Work

There are preachers who imagine that preaching is easy for them—and the longer they are in the ministry, the easier preaching becomes.  They believe that if only they are careful to preach nothing but the pure Word of God—without adding any heresy—that must be enough.  Such preachers have given in to a horrible and very dangerous error.  Mere pious talk without any purpose or logical order is not genuine preaching.

Rather, only the Holy Spirit through His Word inspires genuine preaching.  Accordingly, a genuine sermon comes about only after all the spiritual and intellectual energy of a truly believing preacher has been applied to the utmost, after passionate prayer, after all earthly cares have been chased from his mind, and after the preacher has been freed from all vain desires.  This is a difficult task.

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible,
(trans. Christian C. Tiews; St Louis: Concordia, 2010), 272

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Locust Kings

Tomorrow morning, the study I lead will take up the prophet Joel.  As I was studying, I came across interesting commentary for chapter 1, verse 4:
What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten.
Both Jerome and Theodore of Mopsuestia equate the four locusts with four distinct kings that came against national Israel: Tiglath-Pileser, Shalmaneser, Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar.  That seems reasonable.  My prior instruction on this passage led me to think that this passage described the destruction under the last king mentioned.

Lessons Learned from Origen

Newcomers to my blog quickly discover my penchant for interacting with the Church Fathers in any matter of Bible and theology.  This is purposeful as most in my sphere of influence and association know there was a church 1500-2000 years ago but discard any material from that era as irrelevant.  My desire is to demonstrate the practicality and applicability of those godly people in their circumstance and bring it to the present.  Thankfully, I am not alone in this quest.  From Benedictine College in Kansas comes this all-too-short post by Dr. Jamie Blosser on a few lessons we can learn from Origen's defense of the faith against Celsus.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Law Works Condemnation and Contrition; The Gospel Works Love

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:17

The Law has only one single function: to lead people to the knowledge of their sins.  It has no power to renew [people].  That power is vested solely in the Gospel.  Only faith is active through love.  We, however, do not become spiritually active through "love" [when that means] through sorrow over our sins.

On the contrary, as long as we are still uninformed concerning the fact that God has become our reconciled God and Father through Christ, we hate Him.  An unconverted person who claims to love God is stating falsehood and is guilty of miserable hypocrisy—even though he may not be aware of it.  That person is making a false claim because only faith in the Gospel regenerates a person.  Accordingly, a person cannot love God as long as he is still without faith.  To demand of a poor sinner that he must be alarmed because of his sins and that he must feel sorry for them—out of a love for God—that is a terrible way of turning Law and Gospel completely backwards.

No, this is what the Bible's teaching really states: Sinners should come to Jesus just as they are, even if they have to acknowledge: "I have only hatred for God in my heart.  O God, what should I do?  What can I do to be saved?"

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible,
(trans. Christian C. Tiews; St Louis: Concordia, 2010), 260

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Peter Bender on Christian Service

Peter Bender, Sussex, WI, was interviewed on Issues, Etc., 30 Dec 2011 and offered the following advice for unemployed individuals and the church at-large in response:
There is more to employment than simply earning a paycheck. … God has given us a work to do, which is to say: God has given us love to give.  So the Christian who finds him- or herself out of work because of a downturn in the economy or so forth still has been given a faith and salvation in Christ, and therefore the call to live in love exists there.  And so I would encourage the worker, on the one hand, to pray that God would give them suitable employment by which they can continue to care for their family, and in the meantime to engage in work that's of benefit to someone. … This is also then where, I think, unfortunately, Western society and culture has taken charity away from the church, and the church has willingly let that happen and abdicated it, so that the care for the poor or the care for the unemployed or the care for downtrodden, which used to be so much a part of the church's organized efforts for her own within the congregation and then those they were very closely connected with in their community, has been taken over by government agencies and so forth.  That's unfortunate.  I'd like to see … the recapturing of the church's work of mercy for those who are downtrodden, the out-of-work, and so forth.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Who Is the Superior In Worship: God or Me?

Imagine being in your assembly's gathering place for a typical worship meeting. As things progress, what is happening?  What is the expectation for decorum?  Is practiced liturgy in keeping with stated polity?  Now that you have a mental picture, ask yourself this: To whom is the attention given and why?  The average person in the pew would likely answer this last question as all being given to God because he is the only one worthy.  While this is a correct answer, it too often reflects the practice of the church as worded but not as enacted.  One can readily look at a worship meeting and ascertain that though the stated purpose of the gathering is to exalt the Lord, everything happening between beginning and end are geared toward the preacher, musician(s), or pew-sitter.  Message, music, and mood are set for the greatest interest of people, not God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and Jesus Christ, his son, who died and rose for humanity's sin.

Let's examine more closely one facet I want to accentuate.  When we come together to worship and are going about the customary acts with like-minded believers, what are we seeking to convey concerning God?  Is what we do a response to his awesome glory and might, or are we instead seeking to somehow build up the Lord, lifting him up so that he is in some manner more worthy or glorious by virtue of our participation?  The latter attitude has become the modern norm against which Arnobius taught as he considered similar conduct of pagan worship:
But all this conceding and ascribing of honor about which we are speaking are met with among men alone, whom their natural weakness and love of standing higher teaches to delight in arrogance, and in being preferred above others.  But, I ask, where is there room for honor among the gods, or what greater exaltation is found to be given to them by piling up sacrifices?  Do they become more venerable, more powerful, when cattle are sacrificed to them?  Is there anything added to them from this?  Or do they begin to be more truly gods, their divinity being increased?  And yet I consider it almost an insult, nay, an insult altogether, when it is said that a god is honored by a man, and exalted by the offering of some gift.  For if honor increases and augments the grandeur of him to whom it is given, it follows that a deity becomes greater by means of the man from whom he has received the gift, and the honor conferred on him; and thus the matter is brought to this issue, that the god who is exalted by human honors is the inferior, while, on the other hand, the man who increases the power of a deity is his superior.
The Case against the Pagans, Book VII, cap. 14

He points out that “mutual admiration societies” are common among humans but unnecessary in regard to deities.  Men dole out honor for good performance and encouragement with the hope of return.  If gods are indeed made more stately, honored or revered by the worshiper's act, then the worshiper must be considered the superior in the relationship.  As the writer of Hebrews relates Melchizedek's blessing of Abraham: “It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.” (Heb 7:7)

The question may be raised about the following example from Psalm 103:
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,

bless his holy name!

Isn't David calling for man to bless God, exalting himself above his maker?  In this and other cases, a blessing is being given in response to what the superior has bestowed on the inferior, as noted by the subsequent verses:
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
David calls for returning the blessing that was first received.  These and other acts of divine unmerited favor are recounted as suitable offerings of praise.

We see that the biblical response runs counter to the model espoused by the pagan worshipers.  Kings, psalmists, prophets, and apostles bowed in abject humility before the Lord of glory realizing the they had nothing that could in any way add to the awesome splendor and grandeur of a holy, majestic God.  These words and actions demonstrated an understanding of the Creator-Creation relationship—not one of reciprocation but of complete dependence.  Today's assemblies need to follow the same example by setting aside any mission/purpose statements, programs, and practices that detract from God and his word.

How do we know if these things detract?  Do a self-appraisal.

What is the purpose of the teaching?  An eloquent speaker does not make a faithful teacher.  This past Sunday we had a guest preacher who was somewhat dry in delivery but solid in content.*  Which is more prized in your gatherings?

What is the content of the teaching?  Practical application can be good and useful, but when application becomes the thesis, biblical context becomes lost.  Contextual, expository teaching retains context and puts application in its proper place.

Who is the subject of the teaching and music?  More times than not, when I point out portions of a song or message are unbiblical because it dwells on me rather than the Lord, people look at me like I belong in a carnival sideshow.  Christ said that scripture points to him.  If all things are "from him and through him and to him" (Rom 11:26), should not the subject of the presentation be about him and not me?

What ambience is being manufactured for the gathering?  A gathering's program of events will be governed by formal or informal liturgical traditions.†  Who or what is receiving the prominent place during the gathering: Is it the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the participants, or perhaps those who are just sitting in the pews?  Is this a performance directed to an audience, or a time for God's glorification?

What are the assembly's plan for the future?  A plan may or may not have an immediate affect on the gatherings, but certainly changes will be made to align with short-term and long-term goals.  Are those plans to exalt Christ or "make a name for ourselves?"  (Gen 11:4)  What is at the root?  How is the plan being demonstrated in the worship?

These are but a few ideas.  More could be asked.  These factors need to be appraised regularly.  Error creeps in slowly, and correction is painful.  In the end, God must be exalted as the only one worthy to receive it.  As obvious as this statement seems, many church groups state that God is prominent but in effect receives little more than a sidebar mention in the overall meeting.

How is your local church doing?

* The message was on judgment using the Christ's separation of the sheep and goats (Matt 25:31-46) as the text.  It has been several years since I last heard a sermon on this theme—long overdue.

† All regular church gatherings have a liturgy of some sort.  Those who adamantly state they have none will quickly reprimand any who might dare change the normal course of events.  Just try it once.