Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Reformation Gave Us a Seat at the Table

Next to justification, there was no issue more fiercely debated during the Reformation than the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Although the Reformers did not always agree among themselves as to the meaning of the Supper, they were unified in their opposition to the Roman Catholic notion of transubstantiation. Using categories from Aristotle, Catholic theologians taught that the substance of the bread and wine were changed, while the accidents remained the same. Thus the elements were transubstantiated into the actual body and blood of Christ, but still retained the outer appearance of bread and wine.

According to Catholic teaching, when Jesus held up the bread and said “this is my body” he meant “this loaf of bread is my actual, real physical flesh.” The Reformers all agreed in deriding this view as nonsensical (the seventeenth century preacher John Tillotson was the first to speculate that there was a connection between the Latin phrase hoc est corpus meum [“this is my body”] and the magician’s formula hocus pocus). Protestants have argued that Jesus was employing a figure of speech in the Upper Room. Just as “I am the good Shepherd” did not mean Jesus tended little animals that go baa-baa, and “I am the gate” did not mean Jesus swung on hinges, and “whoever believes in me…out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” did not mean that the disciples would rupture a valve with H20, so “this is my body” did not mean “this loaf is my Aristotellian defined flesh and bone” (cf. 1 Cor. 10:4).

Luther and his followers rejected transubstantiation, but they did not completely reject a real physical presence of Christ. In affirming consubstantiation, Lutherans have argued that though the bread remains real bread and the wine real wine, nevertheless the physical presence of Christ is there also, “in, with, and under” the elements.

A third view of the Lord’s Supper, called the memorial view, is often attributed to Ulrich Zwingli, though it’s not clear this captures the fullness of his thought. In this view, communion is simply a feast of remembrance. There is nothing mystical and no real presence to fuss about. The bread and wine remain plain old bread and wine. They serve as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice, a memorial to his death for our sins.

The fourth view—and in my mind the correct view–is normally associated with John Calvin. Calvin believed the Supper was a feast of remembrance, but he believed it was a feast of communion too. He believed in a real presence, a real spiritual presence whereby we feast on Christ by faith and experience his presence through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, by faith, we “share in his true body and blood” (Q/A 79).

No one doubts that the Lord’s Supper is, at least in part, a memorial. We remember the Last Supper and remember Christ’s death (1 Cor. 11:23, 26). And as we remember his passion in the past, we proclaim his death until he comes again in the future. But the Lord’s Supper is more than mere mental cognition. 1 Corinthians 10:16 says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the body of Christ?” When we drink the cup and eat the break, we participate in, and have fellowship with, the body and blood of Christ. We are joined to him and experience a deep, spiritual koinonia with him. We gain spiritual nourishment from him (John 6:53-57) and unite as believers around him (1 Cor. 10:17). Christ is truly present with us at the Table.

A Meal, Not a Sacrifice
As important as it is to understand the significance of the Lord’s Supper, it’s just as important that we understand it is a supper we are celebrating. The sacramental feast is a meal, not a sacrifice. The last sentence in the previous paragraph is essential, not only because of the first clause (about Christ’s presence), but also because of the last word. In celebrating Communion, we come to a table, not to an altar. Among all the critical rediscoveries during the Reformation, it is easy to overlook the importance of recovering the Lord’s Supper as a covenantal meal (not a re-presenting of Christ’s atoning death) with all the elements (bread and cup) distributed to every believer (no longer withholding the cup from the laity). The Lord’s Supper acts as a family table where we can enjoy fellowship with each other and with our Host, partaking of the rich feast of blessings purchased for us at the cross.

I fear that in too many churches the Lord’s Supper is either celebrated so infrequently as to be forgotten or celebrated with such thoughtless monotony that churchgoers endure it rather than enjoy it. The Lord’s Supper is meant to nourish and strengthen us. The Lord knows our faith is weak. That’s why he’s given us sacraments to see, taste, and touch. As surely as you can see the bread and cup, so surely does God love you through Christ. As surely as you chew the food and drain the drink, so surely has Christ died for you. Here at the Table the faith becomes sight. The simple bread and cup give assurance that Christ came for you, Christ died for you, Christ is coming again for you. Whenever we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we not only re-proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again (1 Cor. 11:26), we re-convince ourselves of God’s provision on the cross.

Don’t discount God’s preferred visual aids—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—and jump right to video, drama, and props to get people’s attention. What a mistake to think these “signs and seals” will be anywhere as effective as the ones instituted by Christ himself. Pastors who ignore the sacraments or never instruct the congregation to understanding and appreciate them are robbing God’s people of tremendous encouragement in their Christian walk. What a blessing to hear the gospel, and eat it too.

Of course, this eating and drinking must be undertaken in faith for it to be effectual. The elements themselves do not save us. But when we eat and drink them in faith we can be assured that we receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. More than that, we get a picture of our union with Christ. As we eat the bread and drink the cup, we have communion with him, not by dragging Christ down from heaven, but by experiencing his presence through the Holy Spirit. Let us not come to the Lord’s Supper with drudgery and low expectations. If you shed a tear at the Table, let it not be out of boredom but out of gratitude and sheer wonder and delight. “While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast, each of us cries, with thankful tongue, ‘Lord, why was I a guest?'”

Friday, October 23, 2015

Why You Shouldn’t Use Liturgy in Your Worship

by Dr. Page Brooks

Liturgical worship is coming back into style nowadays, though it has been around for centuries. Some people love it; some people hate it. We started using liturgy in our church several years ago. Here’s why you shouldn’t use it.

The Connections to the Ancient Church
Many people associate the use of liturgy with the Roman Catholic Church. Actually, the Romans were not the first to use liturgy. Liturgy developed in the Early Church, possibly having been influenced by liturgy from Jewish backgrounds. Using liturgy gives a sense of connection to something more than the local church. Liturgy allows a local church to feel connected to the universal church that consists of all true believers through the ages. Today, churches pride themselves on being independent, creating new things, and trying to “start movements.” Liturgy reminds us that we are already part of a greater movement of God’s kingdom on earth. If you don’t want to be reminded that we are part of a greater movement and have connections to the church through the ages, then don’t use liturgy.

The Emphasis on the Church as a Family
The word “liturgy” comes from the Latin and Greek words meaning “the work of the people,” or “the work of public service.” Liturgy partly developed as a way to include ALL people together in worship. This idea stands in stark contrast to today’s worship where the emphasis is on the worship leader, preacher, or person giving a testimony. Contemporary worship is all about keeping people entertained and then coming back for more each week. Liturgy, on the other hand, allows the focus to be for all the people of the church to participate together in prayers, responses, and worship. If you don’t want people participating together, then don’t use liturgy.

The Leveling of the Worship Ground
Contemporary worship elevates those with certain talents, beauty, and abilities. Because common liturgy is used each Sunday, people come to know what to expect and understand the movements of the worship. Liturgy has the effect of leveling the worship ground. It doesn’t matter how talented or not you are, how much you can read or not, or even if you can sing or not. When liturgy is used, EVERY person participates in the worship, not just those on stage. If you don’t want everyone participating in worship, then don’t use liturgy.

The De-emphasis on the Individual
Worship today tends to emphasize the tastes of the individual. Regretfully, music choice centers on what sounds good. Sermon topics revolve around the felt needs of the congregation. While sometimes these issues are important to keep in mind, our culture emphasizes individual empowerment. Liturgy reminds us that the world does not revolve around us, especially worship. Instead, God has ordained worship to belong to Him as the chief audience. Liturgy allows us to be participants in the worship event that centers upon God. If you want to keep empowering postmodern individualism in worship, then don’t use liturgy.

The Celebration of Scripture
It occurred to me one day when I was looking at all the scripture readings and scriptural prayers in the liturgy…Romans Catholics have more scriptures readings in their worship than most Protestant churches! Liturgy is a celebration of Scripture. In fact, most liturgy is simply Scripture that is re-arranged for the flow of the worship service. If you don’t want more scripture in your worship, then don’t use liturgy.

The Establishment of a Routine
Whether church leaders like to admit it or not, all churches get into a routine. Even in the most Protestant, independent, contemporary churches, a routine is established. In essence, a “liturgy” is formed anyway because a regular and expected flow has developed. In following established liturgical patterns that the church has used through the centuries, churches can borrow from the rich tradition that has formed believer’s spiritual lives for centuries instead of having to reinvent worship for today. If you really prefer to do it on your own, then don’t use liturgy.

The use of liturgy has been life changing for our worship. While we use liturgy in our church, we are never a slave to it. Rather, liturgy acts as a guide to lead us into proper times of worship, rather than depending upon the emotional whims of the day. At the same time, it also allows us to be lead by the Spirit during appropriate times. Our worship is not dull and life-less. Rather, liturgy has enlivened us to be Spirit-led but also be grounded in a flow that is anchored in something more than ourselves. Liturgy allows the ground at the cross to truly be level as we come to worship Christ.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Biblical View of Self-Esteem

CHRISTIANS who propagate these “self-esteem” teachings make a feeble show at finding self-esteem principles and practices in the Bible. While admitting that it was the unbelieving psychologists from whom they took their lead, they have made every attempt possible to scrape up some Biblical support. The Scriptures are ransacked and verses are twisted in order to give some sort of Biblical credence to the theory. But the Bible is used not to discover what God has to say or what to believe; rather, the viewpoint was already bought and brought to the Bible when the Biblical search began.
That methodology is always dangerous. Yet it has been the stock-in-trade of Christians who are psychologists: A pagan system is adopted; then the Bible is said to support it. First it was Freud’s view of the “id”1 that was supposed to approximate the Bible’s teaching on original sin. Then, since Jung made religious statements now and then, he was said to be “close” to Christianity. (Of course, that his thinking confessedly is based on such “religious” views as those found in the Tibetan Book of the Dead was rarely mentioned.) Next, Carl Rogers’ views on listening and acceptance were readily likened to Biblical ideas (even though statements in Proverbs 18 and elsewhere oppose Rogerian thought and practice in both areas). Then Skinner’s behaviorism was equated with scriptural statements about reward and punishment (without taking notice of the fact that the latter are conditioned by God’s eternal reward-and-punishment program, and thereby are entirely different). Now, as the latest fad, it is self-worth dogma that is said to be similar or identical to Biblical doctrine.
This penchant for “finding” the latest psychological ideas in the Scriptures is dangerous for several reasons:
1. The extra-Biblical view is given Biblical authority in the eyes of many Christians. To answer the question “how can so many Christians be led into the acceptance of psychological self-esteem views?,” the reason is that these views are given a Biblical cast and are supported by Biblical passages that have been wrenched out of place and made to do service that they were never intended to do. Unfortunately, many Christians are deceived into thinking that the Bible really does teach such things.
2. God is misrepresented. This, of course, is the most dangerous fact of all. That Christian psychologists (very few of whom take the time to become competent in serious exegesis) can use the Word of the living God in such a cavalier fashion as they sometimes do, and that undiscerning Christians so readily accept their interpretations, is both frightening and appalling. Passages are distorted and misused with abandon; the Scriptures are made to say what the interpreter wants them to say; and the Bible, as if it were made of wax, is shaped to fit the latest fad. There is a certain lack of reverence for God Himself evidenced in this process.
3. Any system that proposes to solve human problems apart from the Bible and the power of the Holy Spirit (as all of these pagan systems, including the self-worth system, do) is automatically condemned by Scripture itself. Neither Adler nor Maslow professed Christian faith. Nor does their system in any way depend upon the message of salvation. Love, joy, peace, etc., are discussed as if they were not the fruit of the Spirit but merely the fruit of right views of one’s self which anyone can attain without the Bible or the work of the Spirit in his heart.
For these reasons the self-worth system with its claimed Biblical correspondences must be rejected. It does not come from the Bible; Christians called the Bible into service long after the system was developed by others who had no intention of basing their system on God’s Word. Any resemblance between Biblical teaching and the teaching of the self-worth originators is either contrived or coincidental.
But, because Christians have attempted to make a Biblical case for this unbiblical substitute for God’s way of helping men, we must take a hard look at the principal passage that has been forced into service. Matthew 22:39b. We shall also have occasion to look at the parallel passage in Luke 10:25-37.
“ ‘Master, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ ”—Matthew 22:36-40
For purposes of our discussion, the most important verse is Matthew 22:39b: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” This is probably the verse most quoted by advocates of self-worth, self-esteem teaching. Trobisch, for instance, called it a “command to love yourself,” and says: Self-love is thus the prerequisite and the criterion for our conduct towards our neighbor.
That is an astonishing statement! Trobisch is telling us not only that Jesus commanded us to love ourselves, but that we cannot love our neighbor properly unless we first learn to love ourselves, because the criterion, or standard, by which we determine how to love a neighbor is how we love ourselves!
He has the temerity to say, “This [the finding of modern psychology that man must acquire a love for himself] sheds new light on the command which Jesus emphasized as ranking in importance next to loving God.” In other words, Trobisch thinks that until modern psychologists unearthed the truth elsewhere, this important Biblical command—in this very important new aspect—lay buried and was not adequately understood! For nearly 2000 years the church was in the dark!
In truth, the verse says nothing of the sort. Consider the facts. First, there is no command here (or anywhere else in the Bible) to love yourself. Does that surprise you? To hear self-image leaders talk, you would think the Bible contained little else. But in fact there is no command here or elsewhere in Scripture to love yourself.
Christ made it perfectly clear that He was talking about two, and only two, commandments. In verses 39 and 40, He speaks of the “second” commandment and “these two commandments.” There is no third commandment. All of Scripture can be hung on two pegs: Love God, love neighbor. Yet the self-esteem people make three commandments out of Christ’s two! There is absolutely no excuse for treating the Scriptures in this manner.
As if such distortion of plain scriptural teaching were not enough, they go further and make the first two commandments depend upon the supposed “third.” According to the Adler/Maslow hierarchy, lower-level needs must be satisfied before higher-level needs can be. This means that level 4 (self-esteem) needs must be met before level 5 (self-actualizing) needs can be. Or, to put it in terms of the verse that is being forced into the Adler/Maslow system, you cannot love your neighbor (a level 5 activity) until you first learn to love yourself (a level 4 activity). That is why Trobisch maintains “Self-love is thus the prerequisite” for loving your neighbor. He goes on to say:
You cannot love your neighbor, you cannot love God, unless you first love yourself...Without self-love there can be no love for others.
This way of thinking is not confined to Walter Trobisch. Remember Crabb’s statement of the case:
In order to be well-adjusted, you must reach the stage of self-actualization. In order to reach that stage you must pass through the other four stages first...
Now listen to Philip Captain:
Actually our ability to love God and to love our neighbor is limited by our ability to love ourselves. We cannot love God more than we love our neighbor and we cannot love our neighbor more than we love ourselves.
Captain has even refined the hierarchy with a twist of his own: Love for God is dependent on love for neighbor, which in turn is dependent on love for self.
In each of these constructions the writer is thoroughly convinced that love for God and neighbor is contingent on love for one’s self. But in the Biblical passage not only is there no third commandment, but neither is any dependent relationship set up between the two commandments. Both of these self-esteem claims are brought to the text to reshape it; then, in its reshaped form, the text is forced into the system.
Jesus actually presupposes a love of self in this passage. He says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The command is to love your neighbor as you already love yourself. The verse could be translated [from the Greek] literally, “You must love your neighbor as you are loving yourself.”
That same self-love that is presupposed by Jesus is likewise presupposed in Paul’s argument in Ephesians 5:28-29, where he urges husbands to love their wives “as you love [are loving] your own body.” He goes on to say:
For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.—Ephesians 5:29
In other words, Paul’s entire argument turns on the fact that we already exhibit love for ourselves.
Luke 10:29
Comparing Luke 10:29 with Matthew 22:36-40, an important contextual addition appears. Luke tells us, “But he [the lawyer whose words occasioned the discussion], willing [wishing] to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? Whereupon Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan.
What was the lawyer’s problem? Was he suffering from a loss of self-esteem? Quite the contrary. Luke says that “he wanted to justify himself.” That is to say, the question he raised, “Who is my neighbor?” was not really asked for information but to stump Jesus. And notice that he wanted to stump Him so that he could justify his own sinful ways. It was asked, therefore, out of self-interest. He liked himself the way he was and did not want to give of his time or money to his neighbor. He wished to remain all wrapped up in himself.
The parable of the Good Samaritan certainly was not designed to foster a higher self-interest, but just the opposite. The very point of the parable is that one must love his neighbor—i.e. anyone in need—as himself. He must look after the needs of others and even put himself out for others. Jesus did not say that in order to engage in such high-level activity as the Samaritan did, one must first come to a place where all his own needs at lower levels were satisfied. What of the priest and the Levite? Were they deprived? Did they have low self-esteem? Of course not. They probably considered themselves far better than the Samaritan. Their problem was the same as the lawyer’s: They loved themselves so much that they would not put themselves out for anyone else.
Trobisch tells us that our love for ourselves is the “criterion” as well as the prerequisite for loving others. He explains this by saying, “It is the measuring stick for loving others which Jesus gives us.”  What he is claiming is that when Jesus said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” He meant “Do the same things for others that you do for yourself.” But that couldn’t be right for several reasons. First, the criteria for loving others are the Ten Commandments that Jesus was here summarizing in two:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”—Luke 10:27
By saying that all the books of the Bible (the Law and the Prophets) could be summed up in those two commandments, He was also pointing to the Scriptures as the outworking of the commandments in everyday life. In effect, then, Jesus was saying that the criteria for loving God and others are to be found in the Bible—not in us.
Clearly we must love our neighbors as the Bible commands, and not by doing the same things for them that we do for ourselves. Out of self-love we do not only good things, but all sorts of injurious and sinful things to ourselves: We commit adultery, we lie, we steal, we eat too much, we commit suicide, etc. Things we do for ourselves, then, are not the criteria for loving others.
What then do Jesus’ words “as yourself” mean? There is no thought of criteria in them, since, plainly, the criteria were to be found in the Ten Commandments and their outworking in all of Scripture. The thought has to do with intensity, fervency, and amount of love. Notice carefully that Jesus says the second commandment is just like the first (Mat 22:39). In what respects are the two alike? First, they both speak of love; they are both commands to love. But that cannot be the primary likeness to which Jesus was pointing; it is too obvious to make a point of. There is a second way in which the two commandments are alike. Jesus’ command to love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (v 37) means with all you are and all you have. It means to love God genuinely and sincerely, fervently and wholeheartedly. It is in this respect that the two commandments are “just alike.” When you are commanded to love your neighbor “as yourself,” it means to love him just as wholeheartedly as you love yourself!
We already have a fervent, dedicated, genuine, and sincere love for ourselves. With sinners, this love is almost always excessive. Now, says Jesus, extend the same amount of love toward your neighbor: Love him “as yourself.” The argument is precisely the same as the argument that Paul makes for a husband loving his wife “just as” he already loves his own body. How is that to be done? In the same fervent, nourishing, and cherishing attitude with which a man cares for himself (not necessarily by doing the same things to his wife that he does to himself).
It is plain that Matthew 22, supposedly the strongest passage supporting self-worth, is actually aimed directly at the movement itself. Any serious consideration of this passage completely repudiates the kind of self-love teaching we see today.
To sum up, we must love our neighbors as ourselves. But Matthew 22:39 contains no commandment to love one’s self, since we need not be concerned about learning to love ourselves if we truly love God and our neighbors. Since the fulfillment of these two commandments is the fulfillment of all, we will always do the right things for ourselves. Love, in the Bible, is a matter of giving: “God so loved the world, that he gave” (Joh 3:16); “He loved me and gave...” (Gal 2:20); “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself” (Eph 5:25). Because it is more blessed to give than to receive, the self-love proponents (who advocate getting from others and giving to self before giving to God and others) take away a rich blessing from those who follow their unbiblical emphasis. There is no need for concern about how to love one’s self, for so long as one seeks first to love God and his neighbor in a Biblical fashion, all proper self-concern will appear as a by-product. That is why the Bible never commands us to love ourselves. Since the Bible is silent on the matter, we should be too.
1 id – in psychoanalysis, that part of the psyche which is regarded as the reservoir of the instinctual drives; it is dominated by the drive for selfish pleasure, or lust. The Bible teaches that the psuche (Greek: soul) can attain its highest end and secure eternal blessedness if the true believer in Christ makes right use of the aids offered by God: reading and meditating on the Word of God, hearing Biblical preaching in a Biblical church, prayer, and fellowship with mature believers.
From Jay Adams’ Biblical View of Self-Esteem

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Gleanings 10-1-15

"We've wrapped our definitions of worship around music instead of truth."
"Mature Christians are easily edified."
"When we choose preferences over truth we've adopted the attitude of 'my way is Yahweh.'"
"With God, it is possible that Artistry can accompany humility and not be shut down by it."
"When are we going to stop trying to make worship relevant to the people instead of depending upon the Holy Spirit to make people relevant to the worship of God." --Harold Best

To call a Christian a theist is roughly equivalent to calling the space shuttle Atlantis a glider. —R.C. Sproul

“We do not know all that we are, nor are we exactly what we know.” --Jacques Paliard

To “contemplate” God is to enjoy him, to relish him, to rest satisfied in him, to rejoice in him, to be filled up to joy inexpressible because of who he is and all that he has done for sinners in and through Jesus. To practice our "religion" is to be enthralled with God’s beauty and mesmerized by his majesty and filled up with fullness of joy and pleasures that never lose their capacity to satisfy, all of which overflows in love for and service to others so that they in turn might likewise come to sense and savor the sweetness of God, to enable men and women to see, know, and be ravished by the beauty of God! --Sam Storms