Friday, 11 December 2009

Majoring on Minors

I had the privilege of preaching at the Tenth Anniversary Thanksgiving Service for the decade of service to the innocent victims of terrorism held on 22nd November 2009 when more than 200 worshippers attended the service on what was a very wet autumnal Sabbath.

But the single most important Person to be present at the service was the risen Lord Jesus Christ. His presence with us was evident from the rapt attention that was paid to the Gospel. The stillness and hush throughout the service were real, and the closeness of eternity was apparent to all.

The theme of the service and sermon was "Reconciliation." This was developed from Rom.5:10, 11, and the teaching of the Apostle Paul was developed and also contrasted with the perverted understanding that abounds within the 'peace and reconciliation industry' that has been created for the civil servants in Northern Ireland. The entire message had an evangelistic thrust, and the congregation was urged to be reconciled to God, thus demonstrating true biblical reconciliation.

Given the presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ at the service, I am sure that readers will be amazed to learn that the comments from professing Christians were strange - to say the least. "You looked well, you did well, your voice kept up, there was a good attendance, the church building looked beautiful, it was very warm in the church, it was too long;" then the more 'spiritual' commented very negatively on that fact I wore my Geneva gowns, and used of both Psalms and hymns in the service.

The former comments were easily enough taken when expressed by non-Christians; but when Christians, from the reformed churches, criticised the wearing of the Geneva gown in a service of reformed worship, one was left wondering what historical awareness these people possessed. The critic did not seem to know that the Reformers, Huguenots, Puritans, Covenanters and other reformed ministers all wore their Geneva gowns, thus distinguishing them from 'preachers' from Roman-type churches.

The criticism of non-exclusive Psalm-singing was also a bit rich, especially when these criticisms were accompanied by the authoritative historical statement that hymns were only about 100 years old! Amazing! Even Calvin, whom the reformed churches revere, is believed to have written the hymn, "We greet Thee who my great Redeemer art." He also used the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed which were put into verse and set to music. Hymns stretch back to that time, as a quick and cursory glance through any good church hymn book will reveal. It is very sad that those who purport to promote a certain type of reformed worship do not even know the facts of the matter, and use historical inaccuracies to promote, what in their view, is biblical truth!

These criticisms were the only things that these people could say about the service, and the 'sectarian' nature of the comments is nauseating. It appears that they do not have any deep spiritual discernment when these were the only things they could say about that God-honouring service. When minor issues become the dominant issues, and take on major importance, there is a serious problem within the churches, and the need for reformation is a crying and increasingly necessity.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Psalms in Worship - a 'no-go' area

As I visit different churches of various denominations, I discover a variety of worship types, as if all these churches were reading different Bibles. Most, if not all, have adopted the practice of conditioning the worshippers before the service with either live music, or by the use of piped music. Most, if not all, now use modern worship songs. Most, if not all, no longer sing the Psalms, nor do they sing the Paraphrases with any degree of regularity.

But what is perhaps most perplexing is the cessation in many 'reformed' congregations of Psalm singing. Indeed, some 'reformed' churches do not even know the Psalms, and find singing them a real challenge. Some elders within these 'reformed' churches hardly recognise the Psalms as part of God's Word.

What a move away from the rich reformation tradition that these churches once embraced in their better days! I am not advocating exclusive Psalmody, since this practice has neither biblical nor historical warrant. But I am advocating the singing of Psalms as an integral part of the diet of weekly worship. As Calvin himself preached, there is nothing better than the Psalms in the worship of God - not meaning that there is nothing but the Psalms to be used in the worship of Almighty God.

Congregations in the reformed, or biblical, tradition are being weaned away from a solid theological understanding of worship, and are being subjected to modernism gone wild. Yes, there are some excellent modern hymns that we can use in the reverent worship of the Lord; but there is much spiritual gush and slush that is being introduced, why? To attract the young people.

Yet, and here's the interesting bit, I have heard young Christians who belong to a church that I know, and whom I would have said were into this modern stuff, complaining that they get nothing out of the services. The preaching is excellent, but the context in which that preaching is done is counter-productive. We hear the Cross of Jesus Christ preached in the context of virtual rock rhythm, accompanied by a heavy drum beat and African drums.

We need to get back to basics again - for the glory of God and the good of future generations. We need hymns that are biblically faithful and that teach sound doctrine. What we don't need is endlessly repeating verses of choruses, and all that stuff that goes with it.

May God teach the church before it is too late that reverence adorns His House!