Category Archives: Christian Living

Children in Church

One of the advantages of having your children with you during the worship service is that you will sing the same songs, pray the same prayers, and hear the same sermon preached. Sharing in this kind of worship is crucial to the inter-generational health of the church. There are many people who have written about the benefit of including children in worship. This article is not meant to rehearse those points. Instead, it is meant to discuss how you can ensure your child is able to participate in worship without distracting others from worship.

The first thing to note is that children must be taught to participate in worship at home. If you try to teach your children to worship God when you are at church, you will fail. Not only does your child quickly recognize that he has you in a hostage situation (that’s right, they think in those terms), you also will not be able to teach and direct them in the moment. What you will have is a recipe for a frustrated and maybe even exasperated parent. Just yesterday my youngest son who is 3 years old cried out when mom thought she had to be an emergency fill-in at the piano. That incident was a good reminder that we have more work to do with that little guy. But that training should not begin at church. Instead, train your children at home to prepare them to participate in corporate worship. Some suggestions:

Teach your children the songs of your church. It doesn’t matter if you are part of a church that sings contemporary songs, or one that has convictions of singing only psalms. Most of us will probably be somewhere in between. Wherever you are on the spectrum, make sure you are teaching your children the songs that are sung at your church. Pick the ones sung most often first and build a repertoire. If you are not a good singer, find the songs on YouTube or buy CDs with the songs on them. Children can learn songs quickly. Knowing the songs of the church will allow them to participate in the worship of the church.

Teach your children the prayers of your church. In the congregation I serve, we recite the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday. If your church has something similar, it is good for your children to know the Lord’s Prayer, or whatever else it may be. That means parents must teach them this prayer at home. It is true. They will probably be saying some words they do not completely understand. However, when your children are young complete comprehension is not the goal. Rather it is to teach them that they belong to the church. They must learn they are part of the body, and so they must see themselves participating in the body. Certainly that goal changes as they get older.

Teach your children to sit still without any external stimuli. Children are easily distracted in church. Some will hone their drawing skills. Others will be entertained with iPads. Parents are likely trying to achieve a measure of order through these devices. But there is a better way. As parents you must instill in your children the ability to listen. That means you must find opportunities at home to teach your children the skills they need to participate in worship.

For example, when you read the Bible together as a family, teach your children to sit still. That means no coloring or doodling, no iPad or iPhone to keep them quiet. Just sitting and listening. That is all. For the little ones do not make this time too long. Do so in short stints of 5 minutes or less. You may need to hold them on your lap. You may tell them that now is not the time to play but to listen. But you must require their compliance and accept nothing less than compliance. When your children are older you should be able to explain what you are trying to accomplish. That will give your children the skills to participate in worship. And then when your children hear something in the song or sermon or Bible reading and smile up at you knowingly, you smile at them, affirm them in their listening, and continue to lead them toward Christ at home.

By training giving your children the right knowledge and skills, you will give them opportunities to participate in the most important aspect of the life of the church: the worship of God. But to help your children see this benefit you must teach them at home first. And from the home they can be a welcome part of the life of the church.

Degrees of Sin and Punishment

The Bible teaches that there are degrees of sin and punishment. However, your average Christian tends to think, “All sins are equal in the eyes of God.” This is a common misconception about the nature of sin and judgment. If we examine God’s Word, however, we will gain a better understanding of our sin, God’s righteousness, and Christ’s love.

In the Old Testament, God’s Law makes it clear that some sins are more heinous than other offenses. For example, if a person sins knowingly against God, it is more offensive to God than if it was done unintentionally. The Law says, “You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them. But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people” (Numbers 15:29-30). We should take note that if a person sins with a high hand, he has committed a greater offense, and he will receive greater punishment. This is because sinning with a high hand is more displeasing to the Lord because of the deliberate nature of the offense.

In the New Testament, Jesus explains that greater degrees of sin will be met with greater degrees of punishment. The Lord says, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you” (Matthew 11:21-22). Although Jesus had given them greater reason to repent by performing many miracles, they had not repented; therefore, their rebellion was greater because it was in the face of greater light. The same is true for the city of Capernaum: “For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:23-24). The phrases “more bearable” and “more tolerable” in connection with the final judgment reveal degrees of punishment. In God’s courtroom, the punishment will fit the crime.

In addition, Jesus teaches how God holds us accountable for what we know. If we sin against knowledge, then we will receive greater condemnation. “And the servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:47-48).

None of this should be taken to mean that some sins are not serious. Every sin is a personal offense against a holy God. Every sin breaks God’s law (1 John 3:4) and invites God’s wrath (Romans 2:5). Even a single sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2)! “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). But if all sin is serious and there are degrees of sin and punishment, how do we strike the balance?

The Larger Catechism helps us to understand. How we need to be well-catechized in these days of theological confusion! On the one hand, the Catechism reads: “Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God, and against his righteous law, deserves his wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come; and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ” (Q. 152). On the other hand, the Catechism teaches us: “All transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others” (Q. 150). So the Catechism reminds us that all sin deserves God’s judgment, but some sins are more evil in God’s sight than others. This is a much more balanced statement than the common platitude: “All sins are equal in the eyes of God.”

So why does it matter that we affirm degrees of sin and punishment? One reason is that it promotes the righteousness of God. Righteousness calls for the punishment to fit the crime. God will punish the wicked in proportion to their crime. Hell will not be a cosmic overreaction. Although all the wicked will end up in an eternal hell, Scripture indicates that it will be more severe for those who committed greater offenses against God. All those who suffer in hell will receive their justly deserved punishment. If we placed a sign over heaven, it would read, “Grace Unknown,” but if we made one for hell, it would read, “Wrath Deserved.”

This teaching also enhances our pursuit of personal holiness. There is a temptation to excuse some of our more serious sins because we know we have many sins in our lives. Foolishly, we might think, “What difference does one more sin make when I have so many?” After all, we all sin in word, thought, and deed on a daily basis (James 3:2, Larger Catechism 149)! But we must remember that our sins against knowledge are more heinous than our other unintentional sins. We dare not excuse greater offenses because we are always falling short in lesser areas! “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). Let us declare war on all our sins! Great or small, we are called to put all our sin to death in the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5)!

Understanding the degrees of sin and punishment should turn our eyes to the greatness of our Savior’s love. When Jesus died on the cross, he died for all the sins of all his elect. Yes, he died for our unintentional sins, but he also bore God’s wrath for all the sins we committed with a high hand. What punishment he must have endured at our expense! We cannot even fathom the depths of his agony as he purchased us with the blood of the everlasting covenant! Although there are degrees of sin and punishment, there is no sin too great for God’s love, Christ’s sacrifice, and the Spirit’s power. “As there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent” (Westminster Confession 15.4).

Is the Main Thing Still the Main Thing?

There are times when a good thing becomes so inflated in a person’s thinking that it actually knocks him off balance. I am afraid this very thing is taking place in the Presbyterian Church in America around the issue of racial reconciliation. It is good to consider whether there is on-going guilt for racial sin in our denomination, but I think this endeavor has become a controlling impulse, distracting the PCA from its primary mission: to be faithful to the Scriptures, true to the reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission. Before I go any further, let me grant a few points:

  1. There are cultural differences in the PCA. Even those, such as myself, attempting to operate as “color blind”, have to acknowledge diversity among the people of the PCA. We should also admit these differences benefit the church.
  2. Racism does exist in the church. I have seen it with my own eyes in the PCA. I would not characterize it as frequent, or common in my almost 10 years in the deep south, but it does exist. That reality should not be surprising. Sinners sin, even after they are regenerated by the Spirit. Any sin is to be repented of and addressed with discipline if needed.
  3. Scripture identifies the church as made up of people from all tongues, tribes, and nations. There is a “unity in diversity” in the church of Jesus Christ. There should be no dividing wall or favoritism based on any criteria. We are one people, the people of God.

However, granting these points does not permit the church to turn from what is central in Scripture. God’s message of redemption is not primarily concerned with man being reconciled to man. That can happen without any hint of regeneration. Instead, Christ assumed human flesh so he could reconcile all his people to God. But what is happening in the PCA is a change of focus, manifest in how certain passages of Scripture are interpreted.

The PCA’s Report on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation uses Ephesians 2:11-19 to prove racial reconciliation as a biblical idea. The point is not whether or not that concept is good. I think the vast majority of PCA members would say so. The question is whether Scripture is being used correctly. The report speaks of the dividing wall of hostility and the uniting of races of all color in God’s people (RRER 2409:8-23). In using this text for this purpose, the report changes the emphasis of that passage into something it is not. Paul is not focused on the reconciliation between races in Ephesians 2. That may be an implication that can be derived from what he is saying, but it is not his point. Rather he is speaking of man being reconciled to God. The “dividing wall of hostility” is not between two races, cultures or ethnicities, but God and man. This passage does not even speak of race, but uses covenantal terms to describe all the world: Jew and Gentile.

There are two groups into which God divides men. The first is the Jews who received special status as God’s people in the Old Testament. With the coming of Christ, the Gentiles, who are excluded in the OT are grafted into the olive tree (Rom. 11:17). Interestingly, the Gentiles make up all the other people of the world, with all the different colors of skin that God created. It is true these are all united to each other by faith, but that is not what Paul has in view. Ephesians 2 explains how the Gentiles as well as the Jews are reconciled to God, not to each other. They are saved because God himself tears down the “dividing wall of hostility” between them and himself. Man’s relationship with man is not in view.

The fact there are cultural differences in the PCA does not mean the ordinary means of grace are not sufficient to overcome them. The presence of the sin of racism does not justify an elevation of this sin beyond all the others committed in the church. The inclusion of all tribes, tongues and nations in the PCA should be expected, because God promises that it will happen. These statements are not meant to offend or minimize anyone’s experience when it comes to race. They are simply meant to restore a measure of balance which is currently lacking.

So what is an alternative way of moving forward?

  1. Pray that God would bless the ministry of the church, both to its members and the world (Phil. 4:4-6);
  2. Welcome all people into our churches without showing favoritism (James 2:8-9);
  3. Preach the word in season and out of season, administer the sacraments, and pray (Rom. 10:14-15);
  4. Disciple men and women in what it means to live thankful lives before the Lord. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort. Lead them to repent of the sins of which they are guilty (2 Tim. 4:2);
  5. When any man in the congregation proves himself qualified, and they are elected by the congregation as elders and deacons, submit to their leadership joyfully (Heb. 13:17);
  6. Serve the Lord together (Rom. 12:9-11).

It may seem overly simplistic, but that is my understanding of how God promises to gather all tribes, tongues and nations to himself. The church’s ministry should be pre-occupied with God’s reconciling work in our lives. The church is to be pre-occupied with worshiping the Lord. This focus is what the church must lead with. Always. Nothing should replace this emphasis. When something does, even when that something is good and right in its proper place, the church suffers in the end.

PCA Study Committee Report » Recommendation #8

After a week of vacation and a week of study leave, it’s time to finish up the consideration of the recommendations made by the study committee on women’s roles in the worship of the church, which were adopted at the PCA’s 45th General Assembly. All that is left to consider is the eighth recommendation which reads:

That sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly consider how they can affirm and include underprivileged and underrepresented women in the PCA.

The language of the recommendation is structured in such a way that no action is required or suggested, except for the action of considering. The courts of the church are asked to reflect on a specific issue: affirming and including underprivileged and underrepresented women in the PCA. The first thing to be done in order to understand this recommendation is to clarify the meaning.The recommendation does not clarify where these people suffer from underprivilege and underrepresentation. However the rationale included in the report clarifies who is in view.

When the report speaks of the underrepresented, it refers to the racial emphasis that has become part of life in the PCA. When introducing the idea of reaching the nations in the ministry of the church the report states: “Unfortunately, the PCA, though it upholds the mandate to make disciples of the nations, has yet to see the demographics in diverse communities reflected in local churches.” (2463). In other words, underrepresentation is seen by the report as a lack racial representation of certain ethnic minorities within the church. Whatever ethnic groups are underrepresented should be affirmed and included in the church courts.

The report also clarifies who is in view when it comes to being underprivileged. Again, in the rationale provided by the committee, it cites Mary, the mother of Jesus, as an example of the underprivileged. When defining her place the report does so along class lines: “To use today’s language, her family was not middle class, yet she participated in the church in a unique, yet honorable and God-glorifying manner (cf. 1 Tim. 2:15).” (2463). From Mary’s unique place as the mother of Christ, the report concludes that women should be affirmed and included no matter what their income is: “The committee affirms, therefore, that even if women are in a lower tax bracket, they are to be embraced as valuable, of equal dignity and worth, and included in various ministries of the church.” (2463). The report is calling the church courts to affirm and include people based on their income.

It is difficult to know how to respond to this rationale and recommendation because it seems to be stating the obvious. It is true that the church should embrace all tribes and tongues and nations. God is Lord of them all and has sent the church to make disciples, baptize and teach them all to live in obedience to Christ their Savior (Cf. Matt. 28:19-20). It is true that the church is living in sin if it shows favoritism to the rich (Cf. Jam 2:2-4). So, it seems the report recommends to the church something that is properly basic. However, I think the recommendation itself has an unhealthy emphasis. Part of me wants to say that if we are speaking of the church it is impossible to speak of underrepresentation and underprivilege. I know that at times the church has sought to exclude those of different races or has shown favoritism to the rich, but those are not, in my experience, the sins that characterize our denomination.

To single out people in the church based on their ethnicity or income levels does something that Scripture explicitly works against. It breaks the church into groups of people rather than unite it as the body of Christ. Take for example, Gal. 3:28. This verse denies the very categories the report seeks to exhort us to recognize. In Galatians Paul says that in Christ’s view of his justified children there is neither Jew nor Greek (racial or ethnic divide), nor slave nor free (class division). To single out a specific group to affirm and include them seems to be contrary to that view of the body. We are in Christ. We are called Christians and there is no hyphenation in the body of Christ.

Therefore if the report felt the need to exhort the church on this point, I think it would have been better said that the church should enfold, include, love, labor for, seek to serve all its members, whether male or female, wherever, and in whatever circumstance they may be found. To divide the church into male and female, and introduce the categories of underrepresentation based on race or underprivilege based on income seems to be an unhealthy distinction not found in Scripture. We are Christians, the body of Christ. All members of the body should be loved, included and affirmed.

 

 

 

The Worship of God’s People

bell tower

Having considered worship through our work and family worship, I want to conclude with some brief thoughts about corporate worship. In our worship at work we, as individual members of Christ’s body, live out our faith before a watching world. In our worship at home we, as parents, are responsible to lead our families in worshiping God. Yet when we worship corporately, in church, we are called to gather by God as his body to express our joyful praise and be fed spiritually.

Now some may expect a presbyterian pastor to begin a discussion about the Regulative Principle of Worship at this time. This doctrine teaches that God’s specific commands regarding worship forms our understanding of what should be included in corporate worship. I certainly agree with that theological statement, but I should prefer to take another angle in discussing corporate worship today. I want to consider several reasons corporate worship is significant.

  1. God commands it. In a day where individualistic worship on a deer stand is seen as a viable alternative to church, it is important to reiterate that God’s people gather for worship. Hebrews 10:25 commands us not to neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some”. The book of Acts is replete with examples of believers coming together for worship (Cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7). This pattern serves as a stark contrast to today’s view where church attendance is one of the optional activities of our week, rather than that around which we build our week.
  2. It is the delight of God’s people. The believer’s relationship with God flows from God’s pre-existing relationship with them. The Christian knows of God’s love for him and is therefore glad to come together with his new family, filled with adopted sons and daughters of the Lord, in order to praise and thank him for his precious gift to them. That is why David sings, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Ps. 122:1). But what do our children see in us? Is corporate worship a joyful event for you, or is it something we simply do, or even worse, endure? The gathered worship of God’s people should be a joyful time when we come to delight ourselves in drawing near to God with the rest of the body of Christ.
  3. It is for our good. In corporate worship the ways that God shares his gracious gifts with his people are all present. Romans 10:14 stresses the importance of preaching, the central element of the worship service of any church worth its salt. Hebrews 10:24 describes links corporate assembly as one of the ways we stir each other up “to love and good works”.

With the Bible’s emphasis on corporate worship grounded in God’s command and the joy and upbuilding of his people, I would like to humbly suggest a change in our view of church. First, recognize corporate worship as the gift it is. God has given you a time to express your thanks to him and will feed your soul in the process. Second, if your church has morning and evening worship services, attend both. Do not satisfy yourself with worshiping God in his church 50% of the time. If you knew there was an ATM that dispensed $10,000 two times per day I am guessing you would make sure you were there on time each time.

To neglect the attendance of corporate worship makes a statement about how much you value it. So as God’s people, let us join with David’s joyful procession to the Lord’s house and take our families with us.

Worship at Home

father-son-1

This mini-series began by taking exception with the prevalent understanding of worship as that part of the church service in which we sing, or hear, moving and inspiring songs. But worship is the humbling of the creature before his Maker and Redeemer through faithful service to him as the only One deserving of such adoration. Because our worship is about the glory of God rather than our emotional experiences, worship is central in all of life. Last installment we looked at worship as it relates to the workplace. Today we will consider worship in our homes.

Family worship, is more complicated than workplace worship. We are usually not charged with the spiritual oversight of our co-workers or employees. Our worship in the workplace deals primarily with our expression of thanks to God in our daily employment. However, in our homes we are responsible for others. Parents are to raise their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4, ESV). Husbands are to sacrificially lead their wives toward purity “by the washing of water with the word,” (Eph. 5:26, ESV). Family worship is not an individual matter, but includes a corporate element.

This corporate aspect can create additional challenges, because man cannot change the heart of another person. Putting our confidence in a methodology shows a trusting of men to do the work he cannot do. Instead fathers must cultivate in themselves a trust and faithfulness toward God’s plan for family worship. He has not called you to profundity, and yet this is usually the cause of stumbling. Men often want to make spiritual leadership profound, and when they fail to do so, abandon the project in disappointment. But God does not call you to be profound. He simply calls you to be faithful.

That means that, in your role as father and husband, your most important task is to read and teach God’s word. Some rarely gifted individuals can make these lessons profound every time. However, what is more important is that your children hear the instruction of the Lord, which is found in the Bible. You are the prophet of your home, declaring: “Thus says the Lord…” and trusting that as the rain comes down from heaven, so shall God’s word not return void (Isaiah 55:10-11) but accomplish all that God purposes either for judgement or for mercy. The more you practice this discipline, the more familiar you will become with God’s promises and requirements, and the easier it will be to make applications to your own family. However, priority number one is to establish a habit of reading God’s word in your home.

Outside the home, attendance at the corporate worship services of your local congregation will also lead the souls in your family. Leading your family in sitting under the faithful preaching of the word will make a strong statement to your children. It says to your children, “The worship on God and the preaching of his word is the one thing our family will never neglect, no matter what everyone else may be doing.”

The reading of the word at home and the preaching of the word at church are not innovations given to us by man. They are instructions given by God to his people. To lead our families in worship, we must always be grounded not in our own profundity, but on the omniscient and good instructions that come to us from God himself in the Bible.

Worship at Work

wrench

The contemporary use of the word “worship” often refers exclusively to the time of singing during the corporate gathering of the church. The emotions that the words and music provoke cause the person participating to feel like they have worshiped. However, the question is whether that is really worship as defined in Scripture. Worship is properly considered not primarily from man’s perspective but from God’s. Our opinions about what we have done are far less significant than God’s. The question for the validity of worship should be approached around whether God would recognize what we are doing as worship.

Worship, rather than a feeling we get through music, is a humble serving of God in all of life. In worship, a person defers to the Lord and ascribes glory to him. This deference is seen in Abraham going to Mt. Mariah with Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice at the Lord’s command. Worship is an external expression by the creature of the glory, majesty, and rightful dominion of the Creator. It is a joyful rehearsal of his covenant promise of redemption. It is a recognition of the insignificance of our desires and a training ground in which we are conformed by the Spirit to the image of Christ. And it is not only reserved for the hour of corporate worship at your church. Worship is for all of life: work, home and church.

So how is worship expressed at work? In Romans 12:1-2 the apostle Paul commands the brothers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, which is their spiritual act of worship. This act of worship involves a lack of conformity to the world, and a transformation of the mind to know the will of God.

In its simplest paraphrase, Romans 12:1-2 commands the surrender of all we do to God by discerning and implementing his will through Spirit renewed minds. In other words, to worship at work is to live according to the first commandment. There are to be no other gods before the Lord in the Christian’s workplace. What the Christian does at work is what God, in his providence, called him to do. Behavior at work should be determined by the extent to which it honors God. According to God’s Moral Law, summarized in the 10 Commandments, workplace behavior should include:

  • Honoring authorities and treating subordinates with respect and fairness.
  • Refraining from sinful anger and hostility toward anyone at work.
  • Promoting proper propriety between those of the opposite sex.
  • Dealing with complete honesty with clients, employees, bosses, or suppliers.
  • Speaking the truth about our products, services and actions we have taken.
  • Being content with what God has provided and rejoice at the blessings given to others.

God says these things honor him. So if they are carried out in a spirit of love toward God and gratitude over the salvation he has purchased, then these will truly show the love of the Christ and be seen by God as a spiritual act of worship.