If He offers His gifts free of charge, why not take them?

The heart of man finds it difficult to believe that so great a treasure as the Holy Spirit is gotten by the mere hearing of faith. The hearer likes to reason like this: Forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death, the gift of the Holy Spirit, everlasting life are grand things. If you want to obtain these priceless benefits, you must engage in correspondingly great efforts.And the devil says, ‘Amen.’

We must learn that forgiveness of sins, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, are freely granted to us at the preaching of faith, in spite of our sinfulness. We are not to waste time thinking how unworthy we are of the blessings of God. We are to know that it pleased God to freely give us His unspeakable gifts. If He offers His gifts free of charge, why not take them? Why worry about our lack of worthiness? Why not accept gifts with joy and thanksgiving?

— Martin Luther Commentary on Galatians

Theology Thursday- Some thoughts on corporate worship music

I want to post here an article that an acquaintance of mine posted a few days ago  on his blog about music in the life of the church. This article provides a helpful summary of the Biblical data regarding music in the life of the church. This article will also help explain why I and the elders have chosen to sing the kinds of songs we do. I hope this generates great discussion around corporate worship in general as corporate worship entails much more than just music.

 

Music in Congregational Worship

Posted on May 15, 2012

 

In the Spring of 2010 I wrote out a few thoughts to share with our church regarding music in congregational worship. At the time I posted it on our church blog and then simply read the two pages to our congregation. Someone asked me earlier today about getting a copy of the article, so I’ve posted it here for any who may find it helpful.

A Few Thoughts on Music for our Congregation

Introduction

Yesterday I spent a few minutes discussing with our Newcomers Class why we use the type of music we do in our church. I tried to stress the importance of relying upon Scripture to answer this question. Too often in discussions regarding church music, Scripture is relegated to the back seat, while arguments regarding music theory and the historical roots of musical genres take the seat of honor.

I began by pointing out that when we go to our New Testament for instruction regarding worship in the church we find no passages specifically addressing musical style. This means that any conclusions we draw about musical style must be based on principles. Anytime we are working with principles as opposed to explicit Scriptural statement, we will have differences in application. We must be willing to work through the principles and seek to apply them in a Scripturally faithful manner, while recognizing and allowing for differences in application.

Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18-19

The two clearest passages regarding music in congregational worship in the New Testament are Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18-19. Paul is addressing churches in these letters and the commands to speak to “one another” and address “one another” in both passages indicate that he is specifically addressing congregational worship. A few observations can be made from the text (the main points are the textual observations, while the sub-points are the applications we are drawing to guide our congregation):

(1) The emphasis is on congregational singing. We are singing to “one another.”

(a) The evident musical emphasis of our worship services will not be on “special music,” but congregational singing.

(b) We should strive to sing music that is accessible to everyone. Any music that demands that you be a classically trained musician or a pop star in order to sing, we will try to avoid.  Further, we will seek to avoid songs with complex rhythms, wide ranges, etc.

(c) The emphasis then, is on the human voice singing. We want to cultivate a kind of simplicity in our singing that emphasizes our voices singing to one another, as opposed to an organ/praise band “blasting grace” from the platform.

(d) We want to sing accessible songs, congregationally.

(2) The result of the singing is that we are taught and admonished.

(a) We must be primarily concerned with the texts of the songs we sing. We want to sing the best songs available to us. We will strive to sing songs that are theologically oriented. We will strive to sings that are in whole or in part, the text of Scripture. We will strive to sing songs that speak of the character of God and the essence of the Gospel in greater proportion than we will sing songs that speak of our own Christian experience.

(b) We will strive to sing songs that are Christ-exalting, Scripturally faithful and Gospel-centered.

Summary

When we bring these two observations together, we start to see the goal a bit more clearly. We are looking for singable, accessible, doctrinally-rich, Gospel-centered songs. Historically, this has best been found in hymns. Therefore, the emphasis in our congregational singing is on singing hymns, both ancient and modern. Sometimes we may sing an old hymn of the faith, sometimes we may sing a hymn only recently written (e.g. yesterday morning in our worship service we sang “Come Thou Almighty King” and “O Great God”). In every case however, we are looking for songs that are congregationally accessible and Scripturally faithful.

The best way to describe the style in which we sing these hymns is generally conservative. We have found that this is the best way for us to arrive at unity across generational lines. In a time when church music is often a divisive issue in churches, our desire is to view this issue through the lens of our responsibility “to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

We also must be clear that these are the Scriptural reasons that we choose to use the music we do, in the generally conservative style that we do. We do not base these decisions in music theory, music history, quotes from musicians, or supposed effects of music on the human body. Scripture must drive us in our decisions in this area.

Finally, while this is the application the leadership of our church has settled upon for our assembly, we recognize that among both individuals and other churches there will be differences in application. This is not a problem. We are happy for the individuals in our church to search the Scriptures and through the leading of the Holy Spirit make applications for their families regarding their musical choices. There has historically been a broad spectrum of application on this matter amongst the members of our church and we are happy to maintain this. Paul’s instruction regarding debatable manners was to “let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). Nowhere in Scripture is the unity of the church described as being found in monolithic sameness. Unity is found in the Gospel, despite sometimes tremendous diversity in secondary matters. In God’s good providence He has seen fit that in this unity-despite-diversity, His glory is reflected through the church.

Omniscience, a Step Down from Sovereignty

Recently I have been reading through the book of Isaiah. Clearly, Isaiah is a prophetic book focusing on the judgement of Israel, Judah, and her oppressors. The book is filled with gloom and doom for the unrighteous including unfaithful Israel as well as hope and renewal for Israel and extending to the nations. In this book there are countless declarations from Yahweh about what will take place in the future. Repeatedly Yahweh uses the phrase, “I am the Lord.” Yahweh is constantly pitting His supremacy over the folly of idols and establishing Himself as the Supreme constant in the universe. It wasn’t until chapter 42 that something else hit me. Isaiah 42:5-9 says, “Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
6“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,

7 to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
8I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.
9Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
I tell you of them.”

I realized I had seen that formula before but had just passed over it. Yahweh is about to make a declaration and before He does he restates the doctrine of creation. I quickly counted over twenty different occasions where Yahweh makes a declaration and uses the doctrine of creation as a basis.

Until chapter 42 I had never made the connection. I didn’t understand why God would say I am the creator and now this is going to happen. Clearly understanding that Yahweh is creator is a worldview shifting doctrine but what is the connect between creation and declaration. Perhaps it is this, God is declaring to His hearers that what he is telling will take place in the future is certain not because He has omniscience and can see the future but because He is creator and He creates the future.  Perhaps the argument could go like this. “Israel, listen to me. Just as I created the earth and all that is in it, just as I hang the earth on nothing, just as I call into being time, space, and matter; so I tell you what will happen hereafter. I create light, darkness, time, space, earth, seasons, destinies, and all realities. I am Yahweh of Hosts who can turn back my word?”

This is what I mean by the title, “Omniscience, a step down from Sovereignty”. Too often we encounter situations and comfort ourselves with the thought, “God knows”. What I find more comforting and more biblical is the truth that, “God plans.”

If God is able to declare the future only because He has a gift of omniscience He is no longer Sovereign. He is no longer Sovereign because then God has to wait on “fate” or whatever it is that causes history to move then God can react accordingly and cause all things for His glory. This is a horrible understanding of God’s kingship. Our God reigns in the heavens. He does all that He pleases. Who can turn back His hand. This is our God. Yahweh of Hosts is His Name.

Is 45:7 I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the LORD, who does all these things.

Is 45:18 For thus says the LORD,who created the heavens
(he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
(he established it;
he did not create it empty,
he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the LORD, and there is no other.

Is 42:9 Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
I tell you of them.”

Is 14:27 For the LORD of hosts has purposed,
and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
and who will turn it back?

Is 48:11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.

Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
6“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,

7 to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
8I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.
9Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
I tell you of them.”

Incredible Promises for Repentant Sinners

I John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I John 2:1-2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Psalm 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Acts 3:19-20 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus…
Proverbs 1:23 If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you.
Revelation 3:19
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.

Invitation Hymn

Oh weary sinner lift your head
And gaze on Calvary
For Jesus bears your sins away
His death has set you free
No longer work and strive in vain
Your best will never do
But trust that Jesus righteousness
Has been applied to you
The peace and rest you’ve so long craved
Is found in Jesus Christ
His blood can heal your deepest wounds
His death has bought your life.
No guilt or wrath is left to fear
Death is now your slave
For when you meet he’ll bring you home
To see your Savior’s face
Rejoice oh sinner shout and sing
Christ set his love on you
Lay doubts and fears and guilt aside
He’s making all things new
Be sure and know these promises
God never will forsake
Christ died to bear the wrath of God
And rose to kill the grave

An Incredible Prayer

O Father of lights, with Whom is neither variableness nor shadow of turning, from Your hand receive we every gift, each one good and perfect. Naught have we of our own; nothing do we possess that we were not given. Our open hands know not for what they grasp, but discover themselves filled with goodness and blessing from Your bounty.

You are life; You have life in Yourself; You are the source of all living. Our being, frail and small, races ever toward dissolution. Our little existences, propped up moment-by-moment from without, depend incessantly upon You. Ceaselessly Your life-gift pours into us, else we would straight away unform, undo, and unbe. Without life from Your Life, we could neither stand, nor sense, nor say, nor even sin. Your Life is the light that ignites our own tiny sparks.

Made like beasts as to our bodies, we share their need for breath. Athirst, we cannot even weep without water. Hungered, we cannot thrive without food. Naked, we cannot abide without cover. Weary, we cannot mend without rest. Your eye, which sees the sparrow’s plight, perceives our want. Your bounty, which clothes the lilies, attends to our lack. From Your good hand receive we bread and breath, hearth and health.

Made within like You (splendid likeness!) we stand on display, images of Your self-disclosure, each a little lens to focus Your perfections in the eyes of our fellows. Like Your own dance, step-to-three, in eternal, transparent, intertwining compenetration, so do our meetings and partings, our greetings and doings, signify Your personhood. Not made for ourselves, we crave other eyes to peer through us into Your selfless self. Thus we yearn for love and trust and human care, for we are Your image. Before we know our need, You, Who hold counsel from eternity, have already encircled us with multiplied intimacies. Or ever we can speak their names, You grant us parents, brothers, and friends. Before we grasp their purpose, You bestow spouses and children. Delights these are indeed, but not private enjoyments. Lacking their eyes to focus upon You, our little lens would grow dark and our purpose remain empty. Our fulfillment lies in making You seen, in magnifying Your perfections for the eyes of others. We need Him Whom we image; we need also them to whom we image. Your infinite wisdom has foreseen and fore-granted our need in goodness and mercy.

Mirrors we are, made to reflect your person, but mirrors now shattered. Eager to see ourselves in ourselves, we did twist back upon ourselves and did burst the glass. We cannot paste ourselves back into place, for the broken facets of our visage now reflect a contorted mosaic. Is brokenness better than unbeing? Yet still we bend, and twist, and burst again the shards.

You might have swept us aside. In what desolate place should we lie, forever contemned, cast out as a danger? What need have You of broken glass?

But we are not rejected! For He, in Whose likeness we are, came finally to be in our likeness, too. The Original (without ceasing to be original) became image; the Countenance (without ceasing to be the countenance) became mirror. Into our brokenness this Firstborn mediates and radiates the one, flawless representation of Your invisible perfection. Made one of us, but unbroken, He shines as You meant us to shine, and more! For He is we unbroken, and He is You.

Into the vast, liquid expanse of Your brightness You gather all the broken bits of our shattered visage. To be forgiven is not to be ignored! For the sake of His infinite pain You take infinite pains with every still-reflecting splinter. What we could never repair, He refashions in Himself, and out of brokenness You create variegated vessels of glory, reflecting and refracting perfection in thousand-fold splendor.

Thus You are making us in Him. From You we receive the forgiveness of sins (so freely! so freely!), not so that we may escape the pains of brokenness, but so that Your countenance may be seen in its utter wholeness. When the glory of Your presence finally bursts upon every eye, our once-shattered fragments, now redeemed and fused and shaped by Your grace, will sparkle and glisten with the manifold perfection of Your being. Finite eyes that could never comprehend the Whole will behold in our multiplied facets each reflected aspect of Your goodness and greatness and glory.

O Lord Who fills all in all, we marvel at Your great gifts: life and breath, provision and relation, redemption and glorification. These gifts are not many, but one. You have made us for Yourself, to be Your possession, but You have given Yourself to us as our lot and portion. We rejoice, for in the end nothing satisfies us except You, and nothing fulfills us except to be Yours. This is the delight of our souls: to gaze upon You, to behold Your perfection, to lose ourselves so completely in You that we become more truly ourselves than we have ever been, and to know that You are God.

For Yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

By Dr. Kevin Bauder of Central Baptist Theological Seminary

A Prayer for a Friend

Heavenly Father,

I lift my friend to you. He is not seeing you clearly. He is focused on himself and his circumstances. He knows your word. In fact, he used to help others understand your word. Now in his pride he has turned away from your word. It is a curious thing that those who often are most proud are often most insecure. In his pride he will not lift his eyes to you but continues to look only to himself. I think he is bitter at you Lord. I think he is angry that his plans have not come to fruition the way he would have liked. He probably doubts your love for him. He probably feels there is no hope for him and so he continues in sin. Father, for the sake of your great name please break his heart. Show him the immeasurable depths of your steadfast love for him. Show him his sin and break him under the weight of it. Then speak this truth into his heart. “Jesus came to save sinners.” What a glorious truth. Help him to embrace you and let go of his stubborn pride. Let him find joy and solace in you. Restore him to the fold. Use him to spread your kingdom on this earth. I have full confidence that whatever I ask in your name I will receive. The only condition is that I believe. I believe Lord. Help my unbelief. For the sake of your name do this. Let your kingdom come and your will be done in my friend as it is in heaven. Amen