Saturday, June 30, 2012

Reformation Solas in the Early Church - Part 4

Solus Christus

Take therefore first, as an indestructible foundation, the Cross, and build upon it the other articles of the faith.
Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lecture 13:38)

God is a great lover of man.  He did not hesitate to surrender His Son as prey in order to spare His servant.  He surrendered His only-begotten to purchase hard-hearted servants.  He paid the blood of His Son as the price.  O the philanthropy of the Master!  And do not tell me again, "I sinned a lot; how can I be saved?"  You cannot save yourself, but your Master can, and to such a great degree as to obliterate your sins.  Pay attention very carefully to the discourse.  He wipes out the sins so completely that not a single trace of them remains.
John Chrysostom (Homily 8 on Repentance and the Church TFOTC, pp. 116,117)

"Christ is Master by virtue of His own essence and Master by virtue of His incarnate life.  For He creates man from nothing, and through His own blood redeems him when dead in sin; and to those who believe in Him He has given His grace.  When Scripture says, 'He will reward every man according to his works' (Matt 16:27), do not imagine that works in themselves merit either hell or the kingdom.  On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself; and He is not a dealer bound by contract, but our Creator and Redeemer."
Mark the Ascetic (ca. 425), (On those who think that they are made righteous by works – in the Philokalia)

Part 4 of 4 beginning here.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Reformation Solas in the Early Church - Part 3

Sola Fide

Similarly we also, who by His will have been called in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, or our own wisdom or understanding or godliness, nor by such deeds as we have done in holiness of heart, but by that faith through which Almighty God has justified all men since the beginning of time.  Glory be to Him, forever and ever, Amen.
Clement of Rome (Letter to the Corinthians, par. 32)

Human beings can be saved from the ancient serpent in no other way than by believing in him who, when he was raised up from the earth on the tree of martyrdom in the likeness of sinful flesh, drew all things to himself and gave life to the dead.
Irenaeus (Against the Heresies, IV, 2, 7).

Indeed, this is the perfect and complete glorification of God, when one does not exult in his own righteousness, but recognizing oneself as lacking true righteousness to be justified by faith alone in Christ.
Basil the Great (Homily on Humility, PG 31.532; TFoTC vol. 9, p. 479)

They said that he who adhered to faith alone was cursed; but he, Paul, shows that he who adhered to faith alone is blessed.
John Chrysostom (First Corinthians, Homily 20, PG 61.164)

For you believe the faith; why then do you add other things, as if faith were not sufficient to justify?  You make yourselves captive, and you subject yourself to the law.
John Chrysostom (Epistle to Titus, Homily 3, PG 62.651)

"To declare His righteousness."  What is declaring of righteousness?  Like the declaring of His riches, not only for Him to be rich Himself, but also to make others rich, or of life, not only that He is Himself living, but also that He makes the dead to live; and of His power, not only that He is Himself powerful, but also that He makes the feeble powerful.  So also is the declaring of His righteousness not only that He is Himself righteous, but that He also makes them that are filled with the putrefying sores of sin suddenly righteous.  And it is to explain this, viz. what is "declaring," that he has added, "That He might be just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus."  Doubt not then: for it is not of works, but of faith: and shun not the righteousness of God, for it is a blessing in two ways; because it is easy, and also open to all men.  And be not abashed and shamefaced.  For if He Himself openly declares Himself to do so, and He, so to say, finds a delight and a pride therein, how do you come to be dejected and to hide your face at what your Master glories in?
John Chrysostom (Homilies on Romans 3)

Part 3 of 4 beginning here.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Reformation Solas in the Early Church - Part 2

Sola Gratia

But when the Lord Jesus came, He forgave all men that sin which none could escape, and blotted out the handwriting against us by the shedding of His own Blood.  This then is the Apostle's meaning; sin abounded by the Law, but grace abounded by Jesus; for after that the whole world became guilty, He took away the sin of the whole world, as John bore witness, saying: Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.  Wherefore let no man glory in works, for by his works no man shall be justified, for he that is just hath a free gift, for he is justified by the Bath.  It is faith then which delivers by the blood of Christ, for Blessed is the man to whom sin is remitted, and, pardon granted.
Ambrose (Letter 73, to Irenaeus, a layman)

After speaking of the wages of sin, in the case of blessings, he has not kept to the same order: for he does not say, the wages of your good deeds, but the gift of God: to show, that it was not of themselves that they were freed, nor was it a due they received, neither yet a return, nor a recompense of labors, but by grace all these things came about.  And so there was superiority for this cause also, in that He did not free them only, or change their condition for the better, but that He did it without any labor or trouble upon their part: and that He not only freed them, but also gave them more than before, and that through His Son.
John Chrysostom (Epistle to the Romans, Homily 12, Rom 6:23)

And he well said, "a righteousness of mine own," not that which I gained by labor and toil, but that which I found from grace. If then he who was so excellent is saved by grace, much more are you.  For since it was likely they would say that the righteousness which comes from toil is the greater, he shows that it is dung in comparison with the other. For otherwise I, who was so excellent in it, would not have cast it away, and run to the other.  But what is that other?  That which is from the faith of God, i.e. it too is given by God.  This is the righteousness of God; this is altogether a gift.  And the gifts of God far exceed those worthless good deeds, which are due to our own diligence.
John Chrysostom (Homily on Philippians 3)

Suppose someone should be caught in the act of adultery and the foulest crimes and then be thrown into prison.  Suppose, next, that judgment was going to be passed against him and that he would be condemned.  Suppose that just at that moment a letter should come from the Emperor setting free from any accounting or examination all those detained in prison.  If the prisoner should refuse to take advantage of the pardon, remain obstinate and choose to be brought to trial, to give an account, and to undergo punishment, he will not be able thereafter to avail himself of the Emperor's favor.  For when he made himself accountable to the court, examination, and sentence, he chose of his own accord to deprive himself of the imperial gift.  This is what happened in the case of the Jews.  Look how it is.  All human nature was taken in the foulest evils.  "All have sinned," says Paul.  They were locked, as it were, in a prison by the curse of their transgression of the Law.  The sentence of the judge was going to be passed against them.  A letter from the King came down from heaven.  Rather, the King himself came.  Without examination, without exacting an account, he set all men free from the chains of their sins.  All, then, who run to Christ are saved by his grace and profit from his gift.  But those who wish to find justification from the Law will also fall from grace.  They will not be able to enjoy the King's loving-kindness because they are striving to gain salvation by their own efforts; they will draw down on themselves the curse of the Law because by the works of the Law no flesh will find justification.
John Chrysostom (Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, Discourse I:6-II:1)

Part 2 of 4 beginning here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reformation Solas in the Early Church - Part 1

Just this past week I heard a broadcast in which the person interviewed said that Martin Luther was the first to articulate salvation by faith alone (and by inference all the Reformation solas).  That is simply not true.  The solas were part and parcel of the early church if one is willing to look.  Thankfully, Wil Weedon has done just that.  What I will present in four installments is his compilation of who and where the church fathers made these known.

Sola Scriptura

The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth.
Athanasius (Against the Heathen, I:3)

Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast.
John Chrysostom (Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church, p. 118, vol. 96 TFOTC)

Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words.
Gregory of Nyssa (On the Holy Trinity, NPNF, p. 327)

We are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.
Gregory of Nyssa (On the Soul and the Resurrection, NPNF II, V:439)

What is the mark of a faithful soul?  To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions.  For, if ‘all that is not of faith is sin' as the Apostle says, and ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,' everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin.
Basil the Great (The Morals, p. 204, vol 9 TFOTC).

We are not content simply because this is the tradition of the Fathers.  What is important is that the Fathers followed the meaning of the Scripture.
Basil the Great (On the Holy Spirit, Chapter 7, par. 16)

For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech.  Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless you receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures.  For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.
Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures, IV:17, in NPNF, Volume VII, p. 23.)

Neither dare one agree with catholic bishops if by chance they err in anything, but the result that their opinion is against the canonical Scriptures of God.
Augustine (De unitate ecclesiae, chp. 10)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Measure of a Ministry

Chris Rosebrough of Fighting for the Faith, Letter of Marque, and Pirate Christian Radio posted this status on Facebook this morning:
I'm beginning to believe that the only number that truly counts in ministry is NOT how many people show up on any given Sunday but how many saints you've buried who have died confessing the one true faith.
I do believe he's got it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What Is Your Local Church Proclaiming?

Larry Peters had a post on his blog that was rather good, but today it is gone.  Thankfully, I saved a copy.  Here is what I consider the meaty part.
For too many years we have been told to share our faith.  Our faith is not what our Lord calls us to share.  Our faith cannot be replicated either by action, reason, or argument.  We are not here to convince people by our faith to believe as we believe.  What we are called to share is the Word of God.  We are here to scatter the seed of the Word—in words and in actions.  It seems to me the problems in our church body stem less from people not getting out there than from a severe lack of confidence in the Word of God to do what God promises it will do.

We share about everything but the Word.  We host all sorts of self-interest groups.  We cater to a variety of tastes in music and worship.  We have Bible studies for those who want to listen and those who want to talk, for those who seek THE truth and those who are looking for MY truth.  We organize groups for people by age, interest, marital status, hobby, and need.  We have parking and handicap accessibility.  We have buildings that look like the mall and come complete with all the amenities.  What we lack is the courage and conviction to speak clearly and with confidence the Word of the Lord.  Jesus promises that where that Word is scattered, the Lord will bring forth the plant, the fruit, and gather the harvest (at the proper time).  But we have turned the scattering into a business proposition in which we market what we were called to preach and we preach everything people want to hear but that which the Lord has given us to say.

It would seem to me that the biggest problem we have in growing the Church is that we are too focused on the things we do and not focused enough on what God does.  We say over and over again the Word will not return to Him empty but will accomplish His purpose.  Then we adapt worship to fit personal taste and make our preaching and teaching fit the prevailing norms of communication technology.  We cast visions like seasoned fly fishermen and have professional missionals minding the business goals and keeping up the current stats.  But I am not so sure we actually speak clearly and faithfully the Word of the Lord—or if we do, whether that is central to what we do and who we are.

If there is a common malady affecting congregations, it is not getting out into the community but getting the Word out into the community.  All in all it does no matter how well known we are if we have nothing to say to those folks who know us.  It is not our caring that will save them or our winsome welcome but the Word spoken with courage, confidence, and conviction.  We do not need to see the results to know that God is at work when the words and deeds of His people proceed from and return to the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Following the Pattern of Sound Words

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  2 Timothy 1:13

It behooves those who preside over the churches, every day but especially on Lord’s days, to teach … words of piety and of right religion, gathering out of holy Scripture meditations and determinations of the truth, and not going beyond the limits now fixed, nor varying from the tradition of the God-bearing fathers.  And if any controversy in regard to Scripture shall have been raised, let them not interpret it otherwise than as the lights and doctors of the church in their writings have expounded it, and in those let them glory rather than in composing things out of their own heads, lest through their lack of skill they may have departed from what was fitting.  For through the doctrine of the aforesaid fathers, the people coming to the knowledge of what is good and desirable, as well as what is useless and to be rejected, will remodel their life for the better, and not be led by ignorance, but applying their minds to the doctrine, they will take heed that no evil befall them and work out their salvation in fear of impending punishment.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Code of Ethics for Pastors?

That's right: the National Association of Evangelicals has put forth a Code of Ethics for pastors, signed by prominent church leaders with an invitation for other church leaders to sign.  Why?  What has caused these men to abandon the sufficiency of Christ and the scriptures to do all that has been taught, manifested, and promised through divine revelation?  How is it that evangelicals think so little of the means of grace and discipleship our Lord Jesus taught to the twelve that they feel compelled to supplement the integrity of God's word and the working of the Holy Spirit with a statement that states what should be learned by anyone as the normal Christian life, much less one by one who is an overseer and elder of God's people.

Evangelicalism as a movement must be on its last legs to continually stoop to lower and lower standards.  This is a sign the abject failure of the past decades of varying theological philosophies and endeavors plied in God's name but not according to his word.  I thoroughly understand why men, women, and families have abandoned it for the Church of Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy.  Evangelicals have a culture that has swapped entertainment for worship and so diluted the Law and Gospel that pastors seem more like carnival sideshow barkers than proclaimers of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Do I sound upset?  I am.  This comes after listening to a series in which an otherwise good pastor forced what he wanted to say on scripture passages regardless of the context.  That fueled a fire, and this NAE thing really set me off.

How about we teach the Bible better?  Maybe that will help.

Christ, the Focal Point of Scripture

[T]he Jewish context in which the New Testament came to birth, significant though it was, was not what was distinctive or formative in the exegesis of the earliest believers.  At the heart of their biblical interpretation was a christology and a christocentric perspective.… The Old Testament contained certain specific messianic predictions.  But more than that, it was a "messianic prophecy" and "messianic doctrine" throughout when viewed from its intended and culminating focal point.  And from this christocentric perspective, the mission and future of God's "new people," who are made up of both Jews and Gentiles, was laid out.  As C. F. D. Moule has characterized the outlook of the earliest believers: "Upon Jesus converged the whole history of Israel in the past, and from him deployed the whole future of the People of God."

Richard Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Laying It Out Plainly

C.F.W. Walther began a lecture in September, 1885 with this paragraph:
Currently, anyone who insists that pure doctrine is a very important matter is immediately suspected of not having the right Christian spirit.  The very term "pure doctrine" is considered taboo and is outlawed.  Even contemporary theologians who regard themselves to be among the confessional Lutherans usually speak of pure doctrine only in scornful terms, treating it as the embodiment of "dead letter" theology.  If anyone holds fast to pure teaching and attempts to fight against any false doctrine, he is put down as a heartless and unloving fanatic. *
How much more so today.  Pure (i.e., unadulterated) doctrine is scorned by postmodernists because it posits a transcendent and knowable truth, thus inhibiting conversation with those who disagree over faith traditions.  My experience is that more is learned and exchanged among debating parties by making objective truth claims.  They can and will disagree.  So much the better.  Conversations work when a common bond already exists, but when worldviews collide, each must articulately and accurately state his or her position in order to gain ground.

Just recently, David Mason wrote an op-ed in the New York Times entitled "I'm a Mormon, Not a Christian." What a breath of fresh air! Instead of making the case that Mormons and Christians are somehow following the same path, he freely admits the truth.  No hiding behind the doublespeak that they are just another denomination.  I respect that, even though he is completely wrong and will suffer the consequences at the judgement seat of Christ.

Christians are called to do no less.  This is not a day to sit idly by and "make nice" just to get along.  If the Bible is true and God is God, we must stand on that truth.  If they are anything less, we should give up and never darken a church door again.

* Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, (trans. Christian C. Tiews; St Louis: Concordia, 2010), 393.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Christ's Work of Compassion

Compassion leads to action, but is not action.  It is identification and suffering with the afflicted.  The old saw “misery loves company” usually means we like to bring others down with us.  But we might turn it around a bit.  We might see the example of our Lord and recognize that compassion loves by joining misery.  "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15).

Compassion moves the compassionate to action eventually.  That action is often material aid, practical assistance, or comfort to relieve the afflicted, or the proclamation of law and then forgiveness and hope in Christ.  But even before the action there is the sympathy and identification.  Sometimes, maybe most times, those who are hurting need to hear and know that their hurt is valid and is also unjust.  Strangely, it is comforting to know that our mental anguish, our sense of frustration, and our anger are legitimate reactions to a sinful and unjust world.

What we are called to, and what our Lord displayed and engaged in, was not bleeding heart liberalism that knows what is best for the world, but true compassion.  He looked upon the crowd, harassed and helpless, and had compassion.  He feels their pain.  They are criminals.  They are liars.  They will kill Him.  But He recognizes that they are like sheep without a shepherd, and that isn’t right.… This leads to action.  He doesn’t simply cry in His beer.  They are like sheep without a shepherd, so, for them, He willingly becomes a Son forsaken by His Father.

Excerpted from David Petersen, "Praying for Pity's Sake," Gottesdienst, Vol 20:1

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bread in a Desolate Place

I am reading the current issue of Gottesdienst and have enjoyed a sermon written on Mark 8:1-9 by Pastor Larry Beane II of Gretna, LA, using as the opening text: "How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?" (v. 4)

In summary, he tells how this world is a desolate place because of sin, and only through Jesus' coming into this world can we hope for nourishment unto eternal life.
For the Lord Jesus Christ came to our desert, to be born among sinners, to be worshiped by sinners, to be baptized like a sinner, to be tempted by the devil in the stead of sinners, to be crucified for us poor, miserable sinners, to rise from the grave as a victory on behalf of sinners—all to save sinners.

And as Jesus preaches to sinners in the desolate place, He does something else for sinners. Moved by “compassion on the crowd” (v. 2), He offers them a different kind of bread. “Having given thanks, he broke [the pieces of bread] and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd” (v. 6).
He then ends with:
Our fainting flesh is infused with satisfaction in body and soul by means of the forgiveness of the cross, the satisfaction of the Lord’s blood, the sharing in the Lord’s body, the miraculous work of the Spirit in the Word—bringing us to a garden of life that has no end!

To the question, How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place? we have the answer, dear friends: the bread of life come down from heaven!  In Christ’s work, in Christ’s Word, in Christ's Sacraments, in Christ’s recreation of the world anew as a garden of life, and in Christ’s Communion that we share in this miraculous bread that is for us, a feast that never ends!

Thanks be to God, now and forever!  Amen.
What a glorious thought to know Christ is our satisfaction both here and eternally!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Replacing the Gospel with Life Skills

Pastor Larry Peters has posted on obesity and how preachers have wrongly replaced the message of Christ's redemptive work with life-skill tips.  Here is a portion:
My concern with the health craze is that when the Church takes up a cause, it becomes a spiritual cause, a cause of the Gospel. Living healthy is a good thing.  Losing excess weight is a good thing. But that is not why Jesus came into the world.  Your BMI is not what will get you in or keep you out of the kingdom of God.  I worry when causes, even noble and good causes, become associated with the Gospel in such way that the very word Gospel becomes diluted and its focus made more fuzzy.  It is diluted and fuzzy enough.  We don't need to help it along in that direction.  We have got some preachers preaching about sex lives and calling it Gospel, and now we have preachers preaching about weight loss and healthy living and calling it Gospel.  Everyone who takes up a cause, no matter how noble or good, and calls it Gospel, ends up diluting, confusing, and distorting the real Gospel.
His thesis is that the church needs to remain focused on its mission of making disciples and not get off track into these other areas.  From whom else will you hear the gospel but from a representative of Christ's church?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Unity of the Body

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

You were accorded one Spirit.  You make up one body.  You have been given one hope both of resurrection and of the kingdom of heaven.  He repeatedly put one to bind the Church together in harmony.  We have one Lord, he is saying, we enjoy one baptism, we offer one faith, one is the God and Father of us all.  It therefore becomes us as brethren to exhibit concord with one another—over all indicating lordship, through all providence, and in all indwelling.

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

Friday, June 8, 2012

Teaching One Another through Corporate Song

Songs of praise are a form of corporate teaching and preaching.  This has, I fear, been forgotten in many parts of the church today.  When modern Christians speak of praise, they, at least if they have been influenced by the charismatic movement, identify praise, by and large, with either thanksgiving or adoration, which are quite properly addressed to God and spoken to him.  Yet the psalms, the Scriptures as a whole,… hold that we speak to each other when we praise God.  We do not sing hallelujah to the Lord but to each other.  When we praise the Triune God, we address each other and tell one another how good he is.  Our song of praise, then, is the corporate proclamation of the gospel by the congregation in the very presence of the living God.

Dr. John Kleinig, "Singing with Grace in our Hearts," Teach Me Thy Way, O Lord, p. 111.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Phil Johnson Heresy Series

This morning I had the pleasure of listening to an audio presentation entitled The Gnostics delivered by Phil Johnson.  It is the second in a series on ancient church heresies (Judaizers, Arians #1, Arians #2, Pelagians, and Socinians being the remainder).  Though these heresies thrived in the early years of the church, they have not died out but are widely active today.  Cults dwell in one or more of these, and no group that purports to preach Christ and him crucified is exempt.

The teaching is practical.  Forewarned is forearmed.  My only disappointment is that the time spent for biblical refutation could have been longer.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Giving Honor According to My Terms

In two recent posts on worship I addressed questions that should be asked if innovations are being introduced, and then asking if God would even want them at all.  If a person or group would start making noise about appropriate worship practice for God's people, opposition will inevitably be voiced along these lines:
Look, you are insulting us without a reason.  We're not bringing in new worship practices because God needs them to continue or is overtly gladdened by their use.  We do this because he is worthy of the honor.  To illustrate and exalt his eminence, we add to worship, showing our reverence.
Does this or something similar sound familiar?  The argument is actually centuries old.  The quote is another paraphrase from Arnobius of Sicca against pagan worshipers (VII.30) as he argues against their use of incense and wine.  As in the last post, intent becomes the final criterion, but now there is an additional appeal to a spiritual truth: the object of worship is due all honor.  This is correct, but the worshiper does not determine the measure of appropriateness reflects his or her alleged reverential behavior.  There are at least four errors with this argument.

1st.  The subjective nature is designed to allow any new forms or elements deemed acceptable by the creator and whomever makes the final decision for use.  Those things so implemented eventually become sacred cows: nobody remembers the reason or purpose, but removal is anathema.  They last because "we've always done it that way."

2nd.  Arnobius brings forward the following:
And what greater insult can be inflicted upon the gods than if you believe that they become propitious on receiving wine, or, if you suppose that great honor is done to them, if you only throw and drop on the live coals a few drops of wine?… For you do what you see to be done, not that which you are assured should be done, inasmuch as with you a custom without reason prevails, more than a perception of the nature of circumstances based on a careful examination of the truth.  (VII.30)
Worshipers insult the object of devotion by believing an additional bit of innovation or previously unused sacrificial act will make a difference.  And that which was previously introduced is being continued without rationale, though they are intelligent individuals.  How much like many assemblies today where members follow the leadership or teachers without testing what is being asked against scripture.

3rd.  Worship is changed to fit individual desire, so that the object of worship is a god made in the image of the worshiper.  This deity is then purported to set the parameters for proper worship, coincidentally aligning perfectly with how the worshiper is thinking and feeling at the time.  Further more, the parameters are foisted on all worshipers under the guise of honor and reverence, implemented individually according to personal taste.  The group becomes an amalgam of idolators, each worshiping his own deity.

4th.  The type and degree of offerings and service are to personal taste.  Arnobius relates that pagans would customarily make supplication with, "Be honored by this humble wine offered."  He goes on to ask:
What kind of honor, then, is this, in which there is imposed on the deity a condition, as it were, not to ask more than has been given?  Or what is the greed of the god, who, if he were not verbally interdicted, would extend his desires too far, and rob his suppliant of his stores?… This is a wrong, not an honor.  For what if the deity shall wish for more, and shall not be content with what is brought!  Must he not be said to be especially insulted who is compelled to accept honor conditionally?… What is this but saying, "Be worshiped as much as I choose; receive as much dignity as I prescribe, as much honor as I decide and determine according to my word that you should have?" (VII.31)
How do we know when enough is enough?  Is it according to an arbitrary word?  No divine being is honored when the terms of worship are dictated this way.  The attempts are nothing more than the display of pride and overt disregard for what is prescribed as good and acceptable.  A god willing to accept such conditions is not worthy to be worshiped.

In assemblies around the world Christians regularly demonstrate their ignorance or disregard for right worship.  If the former is the true condition, good teaching will take care of matter: the fix is a proper teacher who rightly divides the word of God.  If the latter is the case, repentance by the elders is in order for leading people astray, along with sound teaching already mentioned.  The biblical doctrine of worship is quite large being intertwined with the fullness of who God is.  When we know God better, we worship better.  These things move along together.

Lastly, we can contrast and compare with scripture what has been done in the historical church in an effort to worship rightly.  What did the historical church enhance to keep focus on the Lord?  What did they diminish or squelch altogether as inappropriate?  What can be viewed as adiaphora? *  There is good information waiting to be mined.

* Latin for "indifferent," referring to elements of worship that can be kept or removed without affecting what is happening between God and his people as they gather together.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rhythm and Voice

Larry Peters at Pastoral Meanderings has a short piece on the elements of rhythm and voice in the context of sacred music.  Two comments stand out:
The successful hymn is one in which the text and tune work together in a seamless pattern—both, as it were, speaking the same language and message.  The least successful hymns are those which require a choice—text or tune—because they do not go together.  One of the problems in hymn-writing (both lyrics and music) is the difficulty in keeping the text and tune married, stanza upon stanza.

When the music makes it seem like the voice is secondary or peripheral to the song, we have problems with this music in service to the liturgy.
We don't use a formal liturgy at our assembly, but you get the idea.  I recommend reading the whole post.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Yes, but Does He Want It?

In a previous post, I related how Arnobius of Sicca, in The Case Against the Pagans, took task with pagans for their worship innovations by pointing out the logical inconsistencies of introducing new elements without explicit guidance from a divine being.  He continued by asking what benefit the deity gains in the use of new items.
Finally,… we ask for what cause, for what reason, that incense is put on the altars before the very images of the deities, and that, from its being burned, they are supposed to become friendly and gentle.  What do they acquire from this being done, or what reaches their minds, so that we should be right in judging that these things are rightly expended and are not consumed uselessly and in vain?  For as you should show why you give incense to the gods, so, too, it follows that you should demonstrate that the gods have some reason for not rejecting it with disdain, nay more, for desiring it so fondly.  (VII.27)
In other words, why do it?  What does a deity gain in this practice?  How do you know it is not done in vain?  These questions, along with those in my previous post, are important to ask for tweaks, adjustments, or novelties brought into an assembly's worship.  What are the  reasons given both for why something is added and why God would willingly and graciously receive it?  If both questions cannot be reasonably and rationally answered, the practice should not be implemented.
"We honor the gods with this," some one will perhaps say.  (VII.27)
Thus proving Solomon correct: there is nothing new under the sun.  Nowadays, this is stated as, "We just want to worship the Lord," or something similar.  Inexplicably, good intentions are to hold sway over clear teaching and practice.  King David had good intentions as well, but it cost the life of an innocent man (2 Sam 6:2-7).  If desire of the heart is the standard for worship, Nadab and Abihu would have lived out their years (Lev 10:1-2) and King Saul been blessed of the Lord (1 Sam 15:20-26).  In God's eyes, obedience trumps desire.
But we are not inquiring what your feeling is, but the gods’; nor do we ask what is done by you, but how much they value what is done to purchase their favor.  (VII.27)
The worshiper's intent is of no consequence.  What does a god (or especially the only true God) think of the invention?  Since there is nothing to go by, how can one be sure of offering the proper thing in the proper way?  Am I the final standard for what is pleasing?  Is any person?  What is pleasant to me may be utterly distasteful to God.  How do I know without his clear teaching?  Without clear direction, innovation can quickly become absurd.  Liturgical dance has been introduced in some circles during their worship time in an effort to be expressive through the arts.  Do we also allow pole dancing?  That seems absurd, but there is no logical reason not to go that direction now that the entire medium has been broached.  Worship has become individualistic and self-centered.

The next time someone wants to introduce something new or trendy ask, "Who is this for—the worshiper or the worshiped?"  Is it to express myself as an individual, make a name for ourselves as a group, or does the Lord ask for something we have overlooked before now?  It's the last one that means anything at all.