Emmylou and the Covenant

It is interesting how listening to the dulcet tones of Emmylou Harris can make a man consider the nature of the promises of God, but one thing it highlights is that condescending blessing that God gives to mankind and through it all those who have been given ears to hear can even gain a greater knowledge of the truth in His divine plan for all eternity. Yet this understanding really and honestly knows the limitation of such things which calls the people of God to a clearer revelation.

There is much in the Christian life which leads the people of God along the kind of bread trail that Hansel and Gretel followed (and obviously to a better end than they met in the original fairy tale). These crumbs of common grace remind us of the honorable way that God has called His people to give thanks in everything for what the LORD has provided. One can be a Christian and give thanks for the work of unregenerate men to give joy to the heart of the believer. It is often the way in which God ironically condemns the wicked men in using his labor to benefit His people. The winepresser who gave the wine to the Psalmist may have been wicked, yet his work still brought joy to the heart of God’s king. It really is amazing sometimes how God makes plain the teachings of Holy Scripture through the most mundane and rote of situations to His glory. This is of course one of the blessings of the New Covenant and Regulative Worship, but that is for another day.

This is kind of an indirect line to consider the perfection of the covenant which has been secured through the pactum salutis and via that rock-solid agreement for the sinner’s place in the Kingdom of God, but it is one of the many ways through which God can even make a modest graduate of that school on the Allegheny understand God’s merciful work through the finished work of His Son.

It is also in the midst of considering these wonderful things that one is called in praise to humbly deliver themselves into an almost euphoric thanksgiving for the manner in which the Trinity conceived to consider the clay in the Potter’s Hand for the grace of salvation. Not to go back into a rut, but this is one of the blessings of singing the Psalms prepared from the foundation of the World. They are literally the given declarations of God for the people of God from their own mouths throughout the generations. It is striking the way folks kick against the goads in this respect to this in our day. It really is strange the way this happened over the last several generations. To go back even further it almost makes one laugh to think how blindingly arrogant Isaac Watts must have been to think he could improve the Psalms for corporate worship. Yet that kind of thinking was hardly new then or new today.

On another note I often receive some flack from certain corners for listening to the heavier end of the musical range, yet one of the things that calls me back to it is the way in which it speaks to the nature of fallen man in a real, and gritty sort of way. There is little pretension in its calls for help and deliverance and while it seeks these answers in all the wrong places it further grounds the truth that all men have fallen short of the glory of God almighty and are in need of the free offer of the Gospel found alone in the precious blood and perfect life of Jesus Christ. These cries for assistance from the fleshly things of the world go a long way to reminding this gross sinner of the amazing mercy that the creator of Heaven and Earth has unfairly poured out upon me. Who am I that the Holy One above all should regenerate my heart and call me by that sweet voice of the Holy Spirit and bring me through His adopting love into the family of God? What a wretched sinner I be! Yet it is in the midst of these things that the Covenant of Grace has its greatest peace.

An illustration of this can be found in the aforementioned Psalter. Hear Asaph’s plea from Psalm 74:

For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness. Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: thou driedst up mighty rivers.The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun. Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter. Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached, O Lord, and that the foolish people have blasphemed thy name. O deliver not the soul of thy turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked: forget not the congregation of thy poor for ever. Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty. O let not the oppressed return ashamed: let the poor and needy praise thy name.

I have highlighted two sentences from this Psalm to meditate a bit on for a moment. Firstly Asaph says, “For God is my King of old” in response to his earlier pleas in this Psalm for the LORD not to forsake His people. Notice how he comforts himself with both the sovereignty and the eternality of God. Likewise his whole hope and the very ground of his own salvation is in this truth. Secondly Asaph calls upon the covenant in confidence that God shall respond to this plea. He knows that his only recourse in the midst of wicked men and the machinations of the evil one is to flee to the covenant and its attending promises. Sometimes in Reformed theology the word covenant can become wooden and lose the sweetness of its flame, developing into a cog in an argument instead of retaining its mystical beauty. It really is an amazing grace that the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth has called us into union with Him through the bond of love made between the First and Second persons of the Trinity. Who is man that you are mindful of him? The son of man that you would visit him with these manifold blessings?

To kind of close out these late night ramblings I guess the main point of all of this was to show, yet again, the many ways through which God has not only reminded me of the dark heart of man (and myself) through this gift of song, but also the interesting ways God uses the common benevolences of this fallen world in the service of calling to mind His covenant faithfulness and how all these things work together in the service of its Creator.

Be Watchful Over Idolatry

As part of my morning devotions I read one psalm, two chapters from the Old Testament, and two chapters from the New Testament (which are very nicely laid out for me by an app I use on my tablet). While I do not always have the time or the will every now and then I read something that moves my fancy to do a little more digging. This morning while going through Joshua 23 I saw this in verse 6:

“Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside to therefrom to the right hand or to the left.”

The last clause is a common expression found in the Scriptures that refer to either adding things to what God has given (the Pharisee response) or to take away from what God has granted (the Saducee response). I wanted to share Matthew Henry’s comments on this passage for your own edification and consideration. What Henry notes from this passage is not something that we often consider in our day-to-day life, but is often the avenue that the evil one uses to cause us to either add or subtract from God ‘s gracious gift in His Word.

From Matthew Henry’s commentary on Joshua 23:6:

(1.) To be very courageous (v. 6): “God fighteth for you against your enemies, do you therefore behave yourselves valiantly for him. Keep and do with a firm resolutionall that is written in the book of the law.” He presses upon them no more than what they were already bound to. “Keep with care, do with diligence, and eye what is written with sincerity.”

(2.) To be very cautious: “Take heed of missing it, either on the right hand or on the left, for there are errors and extremes on both hands. Take heed of running either into a profane neglect of any of God’s institutions or into a superstitious addition of any of your own inventions.” They must especially take heed of all approaches towards idolatry, the sin to which they were first inclined and would be most tempted, v. 7. [1.] They must not acquaint themselves with idolaters, nor come among them to visit them or be present at any of their feasts or entertainments, for they could not contract any intimacy nor keep up any conversation with them, without danger of infection. [2.] They must not show the least respect to any idol, nor make mention of the name of their gods, but endeavour to bury the remembrance of them in perpetual oblivion, that the worship of them may never be revived. “Let the very name of them be forgotten. Look upon idols as filthy detestable things, not to be named without the utmost loathing and detestation.” The Jews would not suffer their children to name swine’s flesh, because it was forbidden, lest the name of it should occasion their desiring it; but, if they had occasion to speak of it, they must call it that strange thing. It is a pity that among Christians the names of the heathen gods are so commonly used, and made so familiar as they are, especially in plays and poems: let those names which have been set up in rivalship with God be for ever loathed and lost. [3.] They must not countenance others in showing respect to them. They must not only not swear by them themselves, but they must not cause others to swear by them, which supposes that they must not make any covenants with idolaters, because they, in the confirming of their covenants, would swear by their idols; never let Israelites admit such an oath. [4.] They must take heed of these occasions of idolatry, lest by degrees they should arrive at the highest step of it, which was serving false gods, and bowing down to them, against the letter of the second commandment.

Christ Wins Yesterday, Today, and Forever

In one of my previous postings I noted that it can be a naive reaction to the troubles we face as believers in a fallen world to lazily say, despite whatever takes place, that our response to those quandaries does not really matter because in the end we all know that Jesus wins. (Rev. 19). While it is true that this take can be used in a way to hide ourselves from the harder questions of the Christian life it does not change the fact that it is an accurate statement. One of the standard beliefs of the Reformed faith is that Jesus Christ is not absent from the activities of the world in the time between the First and Second Advent. He is a currently reigning monarch who mediatorially rules over His kingdom in every area of life, not just over the Church, but over Nations as Nations as well. In this post I want to talk about why this doctrine is an important part of the testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ and why it would be wise for Reformed bodies to become reacquainted with this unfortunately forgotten truth.

To back up a bit in the historical record it might be worthwhile to understand how we came, in the United States especially, to demure from this teaching. The founding fathers of the mainline Presbyterian church in the colonies were heavily influenced by the political theory of John Locke, the subtle, but important change in understanding of where moral principles should be derived that was being imported from the Scottish universities, particularly in regards to the civil magistrate, and this was most especially born out in the writings of men like John Witherspoon who was instrumental in the reworking of the training of ministers at the College of New Jersey. He instituted a way of understanding moral philosophy that was grounded in the kind of small “r” republicanism and Scottish Common Sense Realism (neither of which in themselves are “at fault”, to be sure) that also was a part of the education of so many of the later signers of the Declaration of Independence. Witherspoon’s own personal background is important in this regard. He had grown up in Scotland, of an evangelical faith in contrast with the moderate party of the Church of Scotland and had personally been affected by the political battles (being imprisoned after the Battle of Falkirk). However, Witherspoon’s position as President of the aforementioned College of New Jersey and his instruction to the majority of ministers who were in attendance at the convocation called by this young church were foundational for the decisions that led to the changes to the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 23 and some (though inconsistently not all) of the portions of the Catechisms in 1789. While there is a lot more than can be said here and Witherspoon is most certainly not the only source of the “blame” and it would undoubtedly benefit from a more careful examination, this should suffice for background in this short post. To summarize a bit what this paragraph is for we are to understand what led to this change in conception of the Mediatorial reign of Christ was both a philosophical and an excitable political situation which caught the mainline Presbyterian church in its wake. It should not be surprising that there was a change in the application of Christ’s Kingly reign in the new American context that was in league with the 1st Amendment of the new American constitution.

Another place to look for this change in understanding is how certain passages, in the Old Testament especially, were read and applied. The duties of the Government to Christ as expressed in the 1646 reading of the Westminster Confession as given in places like Psalm 2, Psalm 8, Isaiah 49:23, and others were fairly common place in the Presbyterian world until the 18th Century. In comparison if you go and examine commentaries and sermons on these and like passages written in America in the period following the founding of the United States you will notice an understated shift from a specific application to a more general statement concerning the duties of the leaders of nations in regards to both the Church and Christ Himself. The authorities go from being Foster Fathers, to absentee dads who are best home once or twice a month and Nursing Mothers to moms who drop their kids off at boarding school for the year and leave their training to the wisdom of others. It is in this change where you can see how the Mediatorial Reign of Christ over the Nations is of a much better pedigree to work in concert with the Church for the betterment of the Sheep (and all men for that matter) than to let all governments off the hook for its directive to humble themselves before the right and true King.

This biblical doctrine teaches that individual countries are required by the Word of God to recognize Christ as King in their foundational documents and therefore rule their people in light of what Jesus has called good and wise. (Psalm 2:8, 9:15, Rom 13:1-9, 1 Tim. 2:2, etc…). When one looks at the Scriptural wisdom of what is right versus what the world calls righteous it can hardly be overstated that common sense shows which is better. This is why it is important to rightly understand what Natural Law is and what it teaches even the blind sinner. Natural Law is nothing more and nothing less than the inscriptureated law of God written on the hearts of all men. There is no conflict between what is given in the Word of God and what is publicized in general revelation. (Rom. 2). Those leaders who have access to the Bible have a responsibility before God to rule according to that Wisdom and those in power who for whatever providential reason do not have in their possession this Word shall be judged by what nature itself reveals, ignorance is no excuse for the magistrate.

A new appreciation for this doctrine can only benefit the people of God, especially as we see the fruits of the poor decision to open our nation up to a principled pluralism and the wake that it has given to us. Now some will point to the failures of the State churches in Europe as a sign that the position I have outlined above is no sure thing either, yet the fact that the nations of the Continent and the UK are the moral cesspools that they are is in fact more proof of this doctrine. When a nation forsakes its covenant duties one should not be surprised to see the judgment of God poured out upon it. (Isaiah 1:4). What needs to take place is not an Anabaptist retirement to the hills, but a loud and constant proclamation of warning and condemnation upon our nation’s leaders and the Presidents and Prime Ministers of all countries to heed the commands of the Bible and submit their knee to Christ Almighty. Despite their attempts to hide their face from God and ignore His precepts all who do not side with the Reign of the Lamb of God shall receive the same fate as the evil one Satan himself.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The cornucopia of world-ending, culture-defining, this is our last chance, sandwich board-esque, chest-pounding articles to come out the past few months in the Christian world if stacked one upon the other may-or-may not reach the ionosphere. Apocalyptic writing is always popular. People like to believe that they are the final generation; there is a certain “enjoyment” in that. Jesus Christ, Paul, and Peter of course warn about this kind of thinking repeatedly in their respective teaching. Even a cursory look at American church history (if not all of church history) will show that every generation not only is sure that its group is the most vile and sinful to ever grace (no pun intended) this green Earth, but that unless something drastic is done immediately the eschaton shall be fresh upon them. Now I will admit there is an argument to be made that it may actually be true in our case, just for abortion on demand alone (did you know that the United States, China, and North Korea are the only countries with no federal restrictions on abortion up to birth? Sounds like a good group of which to be a part, but I digress). This being said I do think a bit of a deep breath may be warranted and not just that kind of deep breath which you take after a long rant only to start another long rant soon after, but an actual almost “Zen” like deep breath that calls on the church-at-large to really sit-down, reassess where we are, how we got to this point, and where we plan on going from here. For as will become apparent the solution to which I will point is neither sexy or flashy, nor does it come with a hip and with it (is that how the kids say it?) cool mnemonic device to wow audiences, and it likely may not even “grow” our churches.

There has always been a lot of money to be made on the talk-circuit warning the church with banalities and red-meat that audiences keenly lap up in a race to bring certainty to their confirmation bias. Again this is not to say that there is not a definite seriousness to the situation we face in the West (which is really just a loss of culturally influence and humblebragging, especially in comparison to the real, honest-to-goodness persecution going on with our brothers in the East). Folks are always hard pressed to tell people things they either do not want to hear or do not actually want to be true. As a part of the aforementioned deep breath I think a bit of reminding what the long game is, and I do not mean a “Jesus wins in the end” kind of naive vibe, may do us some good as we think about how to handle the situation on the ground in our spheres of influence. (Not to get all Kuyperian on you).

One of the hallmarks of the Christian Faith is that everything is built upon the fulfillment of promises and the truth is except for a few unique times in redemptive history the people to whom the promises are made do not get to see, in their earthly lives, the tangible end of those same promises. That being said God in His mercy does give His people signs through which to rest and trust that are more than just empty tokens that one may redeem at the end of the day like one does at Chuck-E-Cheese or Dave and Busters. They are really and truly a foretaste of the consummation and exaltation of the assurances of God Almighty; whether they are in the Sacraments themselves, the Sabbath Day, or other ordinances of the LORD’s giving you can rest comfortably in the grace that they give. It is genuinely a sign of a generation not being faithful to God when they start seeking the promises in things and manners which God has not provided in His Word (and this is not directly another comment on Holy Days, but it certainly could be applied that way if one would like).

Jesus when dealing with some Pharisees in Mark 8 laments this kind of sign-seeking in the things not given quite strongly, or as Abraham tells the Rich Man in Luke 16 when he wants someone to go and warn his brothers about what awaits them, he is calmly yet strongly told that they have Moses and the Prophets, which sufficiently teach these things. In both of these cases the answers that the men are seeking are already in plain view, if only they would look for them and this is the heart of the issue we face today in thinking about our contemporary problems. They are a manifestation of a multi-generational sign-seeking in worldly and unbiblical forms which have cast aside the basic promises and practices of Holy Scripture in favor of a “new way”. I was struck again this morning as I was reading through Joshua 11 in my Bible reading plan of a particular verse that shows the opposite of this kind of re-inventing the wheel every generation. In that chapter of God’s Word the people are engaged in continuing their fight against the people of Canaan. After completing the conquest of Hazor verse 15 says this:

As the Lord commanded Moses his servant, so did Moses command Joshua, and so did Joshua; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses.

What is being said in this verse is neither unique nor groundbreaking. I am fairly confident that you could go through every book in the Bible and find a similar, if not exact, quotation. This kind of humble receiving of the testimony and witness of our Fathers in the faith is really and truly always a counter-cultural act. Probably the most hipster thing to do is to strip away all the dross that has built up in the church and return back to the former things, and by former I do not mean 1950’s suburban white Christianity or even 1647 Westminster, England. Merely going back to the way things were is neither right nor safe, mostly because those things were never as they are popularly conceived. This is ironically partly what the Pharisees themselves were engaged in. Even when the Apostle Paul calls Timothy back to the testimony that he has received we are not to apply that command as woodenly as some would like. I do not know about you, but as someone with Covenanter sympathies I rather sheepishly would not want to be running from vale to vale skirting the death squads ca. 1675. What I have in mind goes back much further than that, and this in itself is not a call to some blind Biblicism, but a return to the pilgrim faith envisioned by the New Testament.

This kind of thinking goes back somewhat to something that has become a sort of theme for me. Simplicity. A Simplicity that is not simplistic, but is not complicated either. Maybe this is the Marine in me, or the backwoods sensibility which my Grandaddy drilled into me by his example, but a large part of the problem we have in the church today comes from the fact that things are made way too complicated. Biblical faith and life is not rocket science. I am a big fan of folks like Wendell Berry and other modern Agrarians for precisely this reason. The contemporary world in which we reside thrives on layers and layers of bureaucracy and administration, mostly to hide the fact that there really is not a need for it. There is a good motive for why we do not have a New Testament book of Leviticus, just as there is a providential purpose in the early church following the pattern of the Synagogue and not the Temple and it ties into this whole concept of simplicity. This is why the New Covenant is a better covenant. All the intricate and detailed requirements of old covenant life are replaced with the uncomplicated blessings of the new. It boggles the mind why there is so much movement today to go back to those days (Acts 15) when all that is required is that we live our lives in light of the liberty won by Christ. That we faithfully teach our children what Christ taught Paul and Paul taught Timothy.

So in closing this long-winded and rambling bombast I probably should leave you with some specifics as it is easy to just prattle on about problems without actually saying anything constructive or positive which may actually lead to some beneficial changes. As I noted at the beginning there is a lot of money to be made in complaining and even in offering fresh solutions to the same old generational promises, which is why I will again promote the kinds of things offered unto us in the Holy Scriptures:

  • Rest and Trust in the promises of Christ freely offered in the Gospel. (2 Thess 2:13-17).
  • Rest and Trust in the Covenantal blessing of our Union with Christ. (John 10:28-29).
  • Rest and Trust in the Word given by God Almighty. (1 Peter 1:24).
  • Rest and Trust in the providential love of your Heavenly Father. (Matt 6:30).
  • Rest and Trust in the sufficiency of the Ordinances provided By Jesus Christ. (Lev. 18:4).
  • Rest and Trust in the 1-in-7 pattern of the Christian Life. (Acts 20:7).
  • Rest and Trust in the simple gift of private worship each day in Christ. (1 Thess 5:16-18)
  • Rest and Trust in the daily blessings of family worship. (Eph. 4:6).
  • Rest and Trust in the gathering together of the saints. (Heb. 10:25).
  • Rest and Trust in the promise of the Second Advent. (Matt. 24:46).

The Corporate Testimony of the Worship of Christ

It seems as if I have kind of pigeon-holed myself into writing about worship all the time, yet pursuant to other things I guess it could be worse. It was in the midst of working on the sermon for this coming Lord’s Day that I was struck by something (not hard enough some would say) that regards the central work of the congregation in praising the name of the LORD God in regular, corporate, public worship that I thought to jot done and think through a bit if you will bear with me in this.

David in Psalm 9 begins with a clause that declares he will give thanks in praise for the way in which God has delivered God’s enemies out of the land of Israel. The likely context for this psalm is the victories of 2 Samuel 5 over the Jebusites who inhabited what would become the holiest city in Israel and the home of the temple of God, Jerusalem, and the Philistines who had gained a foothold in the land through the defeat of Saul. David makes abundantly clear in the following verses that this was by the LORD’s hand, and His alone. It is in response to this glorious day that the following directive for the people of God comes from the Psalm writer.

This command of Psalm 9:11 for all of Israel to join publicly to proclaim in worship together the goodness and majesty of the creator of the Heavens and the Earth is interesting. David goes from praising God Himself to calling upon all the people to give thanks for God’s merciful provision. It is worthwhile to notice that David wants all of the people to share in rejoicing, for it is clear that he understands that is not for David that these things were accomplished, or even for Israel per se, but it was so that the glory of the LORD might be shown to triumph over those who thought themselves to be much bigger in their britches than they actually were.

One of the ways in which we understand David is that he was a type of who was to come. This call to corporate thanksgiving praising the name of the LORD God is likewise given by the God-man who fulfilled this typology, Jesus Christ. In the well-known passage in John 4 where Jesus explains to the woman at the well that in the days to come that the people will no longer need to go the temple in Jerusalem, but shall worship in Spirit and in Truth no matter their present location, because of course Jesus Christ is the “Temple” in the New Covenant, and wherever His people are present for worship there He is also, our savior is underlining this importance that His Church gather with one another for adoration of the Holy. Like other teachings of Christ when we implicitly or explicitly (whatever the case may be) deny it by our actions and our intentions, we only do damage to our spiritual health. It is a wise thing to heed the counsel of the Lord.

There is a prevalent attitude in the church today that says, “Well I can miss this week, and just go next time” that is antithetical to the biblical witness of the importance of regular, public worship with brothers and sisters in Christ in the Lord. My concern is that what should be treated as anything but common is far too often used as a common thing, which can just be skipped like one might receive an excused absence for missing a Lions Meeting. This belies a man-centered rather than a Christ-centered understanding of worship. Instead of looking at your time together with the saints as your spiritual sacrifice of praise in humble reliance on God’s promise, you ask, “Well what is in it for me?”, or make the mistake of thinking that you can receive the blessings of this event in solitary me-time, either in nature or on the golf course, and even thinking “well there are 52/53 of these every year God won’t mind if I miss one”. However, a biblical understanding of worship sees every Lord’s Day corporate gathering as an extraordinary event where the people of God come into the presence of the Almighty and through His blessed gift of the means of grace grow spiritually in their understanding of His attributes and the thorough and perfect nature of the sacrifice of the Son of God for the sins of His sheep. This is something that we cannot receive in any other way than through the ordinances that God has graciously given to us. To use the old phrase we should not and we cannot look this gift horse in the mouth.

It is part and parcel that to show a regular appreciation for the gift of the worship of Christ that we treat every Lord’s Day with the same gusto and excitement that is culturally common for a few days out of the year. This is at the heart of the 4th Commandment, especially as Christ re-affirms this blessing to the believer in the New Covenant. One of the many condemnations that Israel is given by the prophets is that because of their forgetfulness of the regular observance of the Sabbath Day and the ordinances of public worship given by God’s command they have forsaken the covenant and it shows by their lack of attention to the worship of the LORD. In fact their wickedness and love of sin was born directly out of their unwillingness to worship God in His way and instead seeking blessing from the false gods of Canaan and Egypt.

I mentioned previously we belie the nature of our fallen hearts when we disdain a Lord’s Day that has not been declared “more holy” by the design of men. As the somewhat popular slogan puts it, “Every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday”. In the New Covenant we show our indebtedness, not in a haughty or conceited way, but by humbly professing our love and faith through the regular remembrance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ every Lord’s Day and understanding that this is a vital and central part of the Christian Faith.

We live in a culture that is becoming more and more openly anti-Christian and this is mostly the fault of the church and its failure to keep holy those things that God has called holy much like Israel did 2,500 years ago. We would be wise to heed the warnings of Holy Scripture on this front. In all seriousness what could be more counter-cultural than a re-appropriation of the biblical forms of worship and especially a regular and humble reliance on regulating our life around the 1-in-7 observance of God’s calendar rather than the tempo of the unbelieving culture surrounding the Church of Jesus Christ? It would be quite a testimony to the world around you that you do not allow the things of this life to get in the way of praising the name of God on His Day while the world around you whittles away with the fleshly things that are passing away.

In closing, what I hope to accomplish in continuing to harp on this subject is that the Presbyterians especially (and everyone else is welcome to do so as well) would sit down and think seriously about whether or not going outside our tradition and the received testimony of our forefathers has been beneficial to the spiritual life of the church and the individuals therein. I would of course submit that it has not given the things that were promised and hoped for when a different set of tracks were chosen. My hope is that we would turn back from the outward pomp and circumstance of the calendar and re-embrace the simple, profound, and inwardly beautiful blessing of the regular observance of the Lord’s Day and its worship as the every week demonstration of our reliance upon the incarnation, the perfect life of obedience, the perfect substitutionary death, the resurrection and acceptance of that sacrifice, and the forever reign of Christ.

NASCAR vs. Ultra-Marathons

By Rev. Benjamin P. Glaser

It is not often you get two blog posts out of me in one month, let alone two in a four hour period, but I am feeling extra grumpy tonight (or is it cranky? I forget, part of being an old-fogey I guess…anyway).

A central part of the discussion between those of us who posit the biblical, linear pattern of 1-in-7 in accordance with the Fourth commandment, in contrast to the majority of the church which lives in a calendar year (or a circular pattern if you will), is that we believe that the Christian life, as wisely pointed out by the apostle Paul (2 Tim 4:7), is a race, not one, which as the title of the post illustrates, that exists in a closed-circuit with four corners over a set amount laps or miles (depending on how big the track is, no one wants to sit through 500 laps at Chicagoland, even I am not that big of a sadist), but a life which is one long, arduous race in a linear fashion from beginning to end. Now this variance, linear vs. circular, may not seem like that big of a difference, but I hope to show in the next few paragraphs that these two ways of looking at the being of the believer have profound effects on the regular worship and life of the Christian regardless of what phase the moon is in.

First, the Wilderness pattern had an end point in mind. Again, this seems like a strange place to go in the midst of talking about the Christian life. Why do I always talk about the Old Testament? And some say I have the gall to talk concerning their falling into Jewish practices! But again, I digress. The Exodus event begins in Egypt and ends in the Promised Land. There are a ton of things that happen (mostly bad) in the midst of those forty plus years, yet the constant reality (as pointed out by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10) is that Christ is leading and providing for them, despite (graciously!) their failings and sin. They are given manna each day to eat, plenty of water to drink, and cared for spiritually through the gift of the tabernacle and the Levites, who make sure (most of the time) to follow exactly what God has commanded through Christ in the law (moral, ceremonial, and judicial) for them to do in order to provide for the people of God in their day of need, both spiritually and physically. This includes the observation of the Sabbath, which predates the giving of the law on the Mountain. (c.f. – Ex. 16 and 19) and is a consistent and regular reminder of the need of the people to rest in the promise of God.

Second, both the apostle Paul (Heb. 11:13) and the apostle Peter (1 Peter 1:1 and 2:11) speak of Christians as pilgrims and sojourners on the way. Usually what are pilgrims in the act of doing? They are not taking laps around the track, for sure, but are actively on their way somewhere, wherever that “somewhere” might be. Now, where are Christians “headed”, well home of course. We follow a similar Wilderness pattern wandering our way, falling and sinning, requiring the constant intercession of our Mediator of that better covenant (1 John 2:1-2) with the glorious leadership of our King Jesus lighting our path through the work of the Holy Spirit and the revelation He has blessedly given to us in His Word. Just as Christ provided manna in the Wilderness for His people to eat, He continues to do so through the feeding of His Sheep in the preaching and teaching of the Word in regular, Sabbath worship (Heb. 4:9) as well as through private and family worship, and the partaking of the ordinances of the New Covenant at the times called for in His Word.

Thinking more about this dichotomy between circular and linear concepts of time and how they apply to the Christian life you can see which one follows the Biblical pattern more closely. There is never a time during a journey where you are in less need of food and water just as in the life of the Believer there is no point in the year when you are in need of less dependence and focus upon the attributes and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact the 1-in-7 paradigm through worshiping and resting on the day in which the Lord rose from the dead brings even more focus upon the reality of our sins, our requirement of a savior and His alien righteousness, and the need we have to die to self and live to Christ.

I know I received a bit (a lot) of grief in previous writings on hammering the inanity of the season of “Ordinary Time” (and I am aware of what that phrase actually means in context), but the beautiful thing about understanding the Christian life not as a circle where I have to wait for the right time of year, but as a long race from point A to point B is that there is no such thing as a Lord’s Day which is less important than any other. Each one is as vital to the spiritual life of the believer as the next. The reality is, whether or not supporters of the Church Calendar want to admit it or not, there cannot be one Christian Sabbath that is more holy than another. April 5, 2015 is not superior, either ontologically or economically, or more vital to the sanctification of the lover of Christ than July 19, 2015. Both are central to the needs of the believer. Our enemy does not work on the same pattern the wider Church does. He is constantly on the attack, constantly seeking out weak points upon which to cause us to fall to the left or to the right and the only source of peace in the midst of that spiritual warfare is in the Lord Jesus Christ and in the blessed resting in His times and seasons and through His ordinances of Word, Sacrament, and Sabbath Rest.

In closing, this post is more a thought driver than anything else. It is not meant to be an exhaustive defense (that might come later), but a starting point to consider the long term effects that relying on the arbitrary dates of the calendar rather than an undeviating focus upon the end goal of the Christian life and the means God has provided to see us through this pilgrimage of faith from beginning to end.

Christians You Are Not Jews

Before I begin into the content of this post I am fairly confident that anyone who might read this is aware of my position on extra-biblical holy days (I’m agin’ ’em). You are also likely already attentive to the fact I do not take exception to the position of the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapters 1 and 21 as well as the attending Catechism questions surrounding the Second and Fourth Commandments. These are of course part of my vows as an officer of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. I am also aware that the Directory of Worship of the ARP allows for such things, against what the Confession of Faith explicitly teaches. It is what it is. So there really should not be much surprise as to what comes next and what I am going to say. I think we are all aware at this point that I am just not interested in letting others have fun and do things that I do not like, for whatever pharisaical grumpy reason I have invented this week. ;) So get the eye-rolling out of the way and others are welcome to continue reading.

Christians You Are Not Jews

One of the reasons why I happen to be so adamantly against the invention, however meek and ancient they might be, of new ways to worship God in the New Covenant age is because they all strike at the very sufficiency of the revelation of God for His People. Implicitly what is being said in these things is that there is need of spiritual and emotional uplifting that, for whatever reason, our Heavenly Father has not provided in His Word. Or that the people of God need these additions and/or word pictures to assist in their education in the things of God. In other words the means of Grace and the ordinances provided through the Holy Scriptures must be augmented by various and sundry worship-related imaginations of His creatures, saying through these actions (whether intentionally or not, motive is not really at issue here) that sometimes the pottery needs to help out the Potter. Now, some may take offense at this, and I can understand that, to some degree. No one likes being told they are performing an action that God may or may not particularly welcome. We all want to believe in our heart of hearts that God approves.

But I digress.

Christians You Are Not Jews

To go back over something right quick for the purpose of review in the midst of this post I think would be wise. What is it that the reformed Presbyterians confess concerning the appropriation of Jewish festivals in the New Covenant era? Well seeing that WCF 1.10 says that the supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be judged is through the Holy Spirit speaking through the Bible and the Bible explicitly says that the old covenant ceremonies are fulfilled and abrogated in Christ (Read the whole book of Hebrews for more) I think we can rest comfortably in the truth that it is not prudent for Christians in this age, especially for those claiming the name Presbyterian, to be involved in old covenant works, for whatever apparent wisdom they might hold. (Col. 2:20-23).

You are probably wondering at this point what was the impetus for this post. Well one of the things that makes an appearance this time of year, in growing numbers, even in confessionally Reformed circles, is the observation of the Passover Seder. Now a few things need to be said at the outset: 1) The Seder that folks are celebrating in the 21st Century has little-to-no relation to the Seder that Jesus Christ would have celebrated in the 1st Century, 2) The use of the Seder cannot be found (at least positively) in the letters of the Apostles, 3) The Lord’s Supper is not the Passover Seder. There is no good, biblical reason for this to take place in the New Covenant church. As was mentioned before if God Almighty had intended for us to continue Exodus 12 in called meetings of the Church in this age he would have commanded it in His Word, yet  the Bible gives us the opposite impression. This has to give those who do such things a little bit of pause. It is as if Galatians 2:11-16 is absent. Why having been freed from the law would we want to go back under the shadows? Now, those who celebrate this Seder would certainly (unless you happen to be in the Worldwide Church of God and/or other groups who actively teach that the Old Covenant festivals are still to be followed) certainly try and say that they are doing no such thing, that they are merely doing these things for educational or fellowship purposes. But are these allowable under the New Covenant?

Many would point to Romans 14 and say I am being a “legalist” in positing that folks should not be observing this. However, Romans 14 teaches the exact opposite. Paul in this chapter is presenting the people at Rome with a way to deal with the Jews who have become New Covenant believers. How are they to deal with their want to continue celebrating these events? Well, they are to bear with them until they are ready to give them up and the Gentiles are to not condemn them in their infant faith. The Apostle frankly would be aghast that people 2,000 years later would use Romans 14 as a defense to adopt not only Old Covenant festivals but to create new ones out of thin air. And really the appropriation of the Seder is just a symptom of a much larger problem concerning worship and the lack of discernment in confessionally Reformed circles.

The simple question that is before us is why do folks feel the need to do these things? I think for large measure it is because they have lost confidence in the simple, regular life of prayer, praise, and Scripture reading, whether they be in private, family, or public worship on the Lord’s Day. They see all of these works which take up time and allow for all kinds of eye catching symbolism and they also seem to be quite “spiritual”, especially when we do not appreciate the sublime beauty of Reformed and Biblical worship, especially as defended in our confessional documents.

The Sabbath Day is enough. Biblical prayer is enough. God’s Word is enough!

Christians You Are Not Jews

As Presbyterians continue to move further and further away from the moorings of the Confession on these (and other) issues it should not surprise us to see more than just the Jewish elements of old covenant worship make their ways into the life of the church. If there is not already there should be a syllogism that says, what you believe, you worship and how you worship says something about what you believe. We have already seen over the past decade the way in which the Judaizing elements concerning the doctrine of Justification that Paul warns so vociferously against in the book of Galatians taking their hold in confessional circles. Church history testifies that this is the case as well, one need only look at Rome and the way in which it slowly, but surely, re-adopted a whole litany of old covenant relics (no pun intended) which further informed its doctrine of salvation, to the great detriment of millions and millions of Christian men and women.

So in closing, the purpose of this post was once again to call Presbyterians, confessional ones particularly, to stop with the adoption of extra-biblical holy days, but especially with the re-appropriation of Old Covenant types and shadows, regardless of whatever “good” motive may lie behind it. Be confident in the Biblical forms of Worship. Be certain that God Almighty in His perfect wisdom has given you all that you need to not only thrive, but survive in this fallen world; resting always in the mighty grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.