Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Testimonial vs. Transcendence

Reading a post on Tim Brister's blog today about some of his observations regarding the recent SBC Annual Meeting he attended. While I'm not a Southern Baptist and am not all that interested in what went on there, one of Tim's statements really captured very well some things I've been seeing in worship music for a while but haven't been able to express. Tim said:

"Many if not most of the songs were testimonial with very little transcendence, little about who God is and what He has done. Instead they were about who we are what we are going to do. I just like singing about Jesus more than I do me, and I would have liked to have been able to do that more..."
That's it! That's what's' been bugging me about so much of what we seem to use as worship music today. And I see this even in my own church to some extent. I often have a hard time singing some of the music because the words seem so...well, so "I'm-gonna-do-this-for-you-Lord" rather than "You-are-holy-and-righteous-and-sovereign-and-full-of-grace." So much focused on declaring what Christ has done for me and what I am purposing to do for Him, instead of declaring who He is and exalting Him for that. After all, isn't that what worship is? Raising our focus off of ourselves and placing it on the Exalted One, expressing back to Him praises and honor and glory for who He is?

Of course, there's a place for music, even worship music, that exults in the grace of God that He's manifested in our individual and corporate lives. If you take the Psalms as a prototypical hymnal, then you'll find many such songs praising and thanking Him for His marvelous works and mercy, and expressing devotion and commitment to Him by the psalmist. But you'll find mixed in many more references to the greatness and glory of our Lord and Savior, expressing praise for His transcendent majesty over and above His immanence. I'm just mainly looking for balance, and I, like Tim, am missing it.

There are plenty of contemporary Christian songs that are anthropologically focused, some of which express Biblical truths very well. But I'm not sure many of those belong in a worship set if our objective is to lift up our eyes unto the Holy One of Israel and declare His worthiness.

"Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created." Revelation 4:11

"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." Revelation 5:12

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"We proclaim Him..."

We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. - Colossians 1:28

This passage has come to my attention several times lately in a variety of ways. It's the central mission verse for the church in northern California that son Mike is interning at. And it was also in the text that our interim pastor preached on this morning, although since he's not an exegete or expositor he pretty much missed the point. But I see this statement by Paul as a succinct statement of mission and purpose for the church of Jesus Christ, one that is sorely needed today to bring us back to what the church is to be and why she exists.

Paul starts with what the church is to do: "We proclaim Him..." The proclamation of the person and work of Christ is the main focus of the work of the church. The heralding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in all of it's glory and scandal, is what those who would be ministers are to be about. Not communicating stories and anecdotes, not "sharing" feelings and personal experiences, not providing therapeutic self-help life-lessons. But rather declaring the truth of Christ, boldly and exclusively.

He then outlines some specifics of how that proclamation is to be carried out. First, it is to be done through admonition. The Greek is noutheteo, to put in mind, to caution, to reprove. The Gospel of Christ is serious business, literally life and death, and its communication must be done with a sense of warning, cautioning, putting the truth into men's minds so as to reprove from the path of sin and death. When we treat the message of Christ and the preaching office of the church as a thing to be played with, we fail to meet this standard.

Second, the proclamation of Christ is to be done through teaching. The Greek didasko refers to instruction via discourse. It implies the teaching and communication of the doctrines and truths of Christ, the essentials of the Christian faith. In other words, systematically catechizing the church in the truth that makes the church the church. The "faith once for all delivered to the saints," as Jude puts it. This is no feel-good superficial devotional type of Sunday school, but the solid meat of the Word inculcated to believers in Christ, so as to grow in the grace and knowledge of Him.

And how is this admonition and teaching to be performed? With all wisdom. It's to be done in a wise and understanding manner. And since God is the source of all wisdom, this means that it's to be done His way. Not subject to the latest marketing whims or seeker strategies or felt needs, but in the pattern and means that God has revealed in His Word.

So Paul has now described the what (proclaiming Christ) and the how (wise, God-honoring admonition and teaching). Next he explains the why, the purpose and objective of all this. "So that we may present every man complete in Christ." Notice the word "present." The picture is of the shepherd of the church bringing his flock to Christ as a father giving his daughter as a bride. Presenting a holy and sanctified church to her Lord and Master. And notice the extent of this purpose - "every man." That through the proclamation of Jesus Christ, God would gather His elect, and build them up to maturity and completeness. Or as Paul states here, "complete in Christ." No stragglers, no half-hearted disciples, no so-called "carnal Christians", but every one of Christ's chosen sheep fully grown and glorifying to Him.

Lord, make this the over-arching purpose of everyone who is privileged to lead and shepherd your church. Make this the single-minded obsession of all who minister to your people. Until you return and we can present every believer to you, complete in You.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Worthy to Suffer Shame for...

...and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. (Acts 5:40-41)

Peter and the other apostles were brought in before the Sanhedrin because they had been boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Christ all throughout Jerusalem, and people had been responding in droves. The apostles had been performing miraculous healings as God was bringing more and more people to Himself through their preaching. Finally the apostles are beaten and commanded by the Jewish rulers to stop preaching Jesus Christ, and then released. And their response to this treatment? Rejoicing. Not rejoicing that they had been released. Not rejoicing that their case and their cause had been vindicated, which it had not. No, they were filled with joy because they had been deemed worthy by Christ to suffer, and suffer shamefully, for His name.

I find this so far from what I think my response would be in this situation. Rejoicing? After being arrested for simply preaching and healing people, and then beaten and told to shut up? You must be kidding! Why, I'd be outraged. I'd be calling Jay Sekulow at the ACLJ, the Fox News crews, anyone I could find to seek justice against those tyrants. I'd demand vengeance and vindication. I know my rights and I'd want them. I'd...well, you get the picture. And I'll wager you'd respond the same.

But Peter and the others give us a far different model. They were joyful that their Lord had counted them worthy of being publicly shamed and disgraced on His behalf. They rejoiced that He had judged their faithfulness to Him and to His Gospel of sufficient authenticity and strength to suffer through such a trial. It wasn't the suffering that they rejoiced in, but instead in the knowledge that Christ had counted them worthy of such an honor. That He had given them an early "well done, good and faithful servants."

A couple of observations in bringing this passage into the 21st century American evangelical church. First observation is this: our public proclamation of the Gospel and its power and identification with the name of Jesus Christ is so weak as to rarely if ever be the cause of such persecution or shame. Oh sure, we think we are persecuted when some public institution won't let a group have a Bible study in their building, or when a nominally-Christian beauty pageant winner makes a vague moralist statement and is publicly lambasted for it. And our response is usually to seek justice or vindication, often in the legal system or the court of public opinion. But that is nothing at all like the situation we see here in Acts. Could that be due to the fact that we have such a diluted Gospel and such a wimpy witness that it hardly draws attention or opposition?

Second observation is a corollary to the first: do we also not see this kind of persecution and opposition because we as postmodern evangelicals are not counted worthy by Christ to suffer shame for His name? If we're not living as ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), if we aren't walking in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Ephesians 4:1), then how are we to be deemed worthy to suffer shame for His name? And if our Gospel that we weakly witness to is a stripped down, emotional, God-loves-you-and-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-life set of platitudes (as it so often is), then we cannot and should not be counted worthy by the Lord.

This is a challenging passage for me. I have to examine myself in both of these observations. Not just my potential response to a hypothetical situation, but my witness and my worthiness. And I also have to wonder, even if I came through this trial like Peter and the apostles, would I do what they did: "And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ." (Acts 5:42)

And would you?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Contend Earnestly for the Faith...

Haven't posted anything here for quite a while, haven't had much to say that would be edifying I guess. But I have started working on a brief study of the epistle of Jude, and I have to say it's a challenging little letter. And as I begin to take this letter apart a bit and bring it into the 21st century, I want to post some of the things I see in these potent 25 verses of Scripture. So stay tuned for whatever insights I find in this study.

Of course, the central idea of the letter is the command to "contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints." And I have to say, this command seems to be less and less popular in the church of Jesus Christ these days. Which is why the truth regarding those who would seek to distort and manipulate the Gospel of Christ contained in this short epistle is at least as important today as when it was written. We who are the called of God, the saints who have received the body of truth and doctrines that constitute the "faith once for all delivered", seem to be less and less willing to contend for it. And we do so at our own peril, as we are the ones entrusted with the truth of the Gospel and tasked with preserving and passing it on to future generations, until Christ returns to complete His redemptive work.

So like I said, stay tuned. Heady stuff this.