Wednesday 21 March 2012

The Westminster Larger Catechism: Rediscovering one of the 'Crown Jewels' of the Church

The Westminster Larger Catechism is probably one of the best summaries of the Christian faith in the English language. Unfortunately, it is not as well known as it should be. It is my desire that people rediscover and use what is one of the 'crown jewels of the church'. Though it was written in English by the Westminster Assembly, it was first published in 1648, it is not the property of the English speaking world. Other church documents such as the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed are the inheritance of the whole church.

What is the format of the Westminster Larger Catechism? It was written in a question and answer format to specifically catechise (instruct in the faith) adults or more mature Christians. It has 196 questions and the structure is in two parts. Following a brief introduction to establish that the source of our authority and theology is the written scriptures (questions 1-5), the first part deals with 'what man ought to believe concerning God'. This section teaches the doctrine of God, God's decrees, providence, Creation, the Fall of man, Christ the mediator, adoption, justification and much more. Questions 65 introduces an often neglected doctrine which is that of 'union and communion with Christ'. This truth forms a consistent thread to hold together all the benefits of Christ's redemption such as regeneration, justification, adoption and sanctification.

The second part of the catechism (questions 91 to 196) teach a thorough exposition of each of the Ten Commandments (probably the best exposition of the Decalogue I have found), and an important section on the doctrine of the church's ordinances, which are the Word, the sacraments and prayer. The Catechism concludes with a focus on public and private devotions as the Lord's Prayer is expounded.

While it is helpful to read the Larger Catechism, it is most effective when it is taught, especially by ordained Christian ministers and elders. If you have an adult Sunday School or Bible class, why not use the Westminster Larger Catechism to instruct the saints. May we all pray for the content of the material contained therein, to be recovered in the church to help strengthen the cause of the gospel, so that the Triune God is all the more glorified through the church.

Friday 2 March 2012

What role should Music and Musical Instruments have in the Church?

Sometimes, It can feel like many of the questions that I ask on my blog seem to be going against contemporary streams in the modern church. However, our constant measuring rod for the church is not our personal preferences, ideas or plans, but everything must be brought to the bar of Scripture. Listen to what Paul wrote to the church at Rome: 'For what does the Scripture say?' (4:3). I have travelled widely overseas in the work of the gospel and it seems like there is an invasion of musical instruments into the church. Beatles style 'rock n'roll' bands seems to be the flavour of the month but we have to ask if this is part of the church's ministry.

Do we ever read of the apostles been instructed to use dramas or music to draw the crowds, so that Peter could stand up to give a quick gospel message? Do we ever read of Timothy being told by Paul to use Greek or Roman entertainment methods to keep the young people? What does the scripture say concerning these things? Musical instruments are not mentioned as a means of grace in the church, but preaching is. Once I heard a saying: 'When candles go up in the church, then preaching goes down'. I agree, but I think that I could also say: 'When the music band and PA goes up in the church, preaching goes down!'. Let us all examine these matters in the light of scripture. By the way if someone points us to Psalm 150 and the array of instruments in the ceremonial worship under the law, just ask them a simple question. Are these for the New Testament church? According to 1 Chronicles 16: 37-42, the instruments were at the giving of sacrifices. The supreme sacrifice has now been offered through Jesus Christ, who declared on the cross "It is finished" (John 19:30). Since then, these instruments are not required in the sense of Psalm 150. The church has moved forward! Instruments may help congregational singing but they must never take over the church's worship.

Listen to John Calvin's wise pastoral advice from his Institutes of Christian Religion,Book 3:10:32 on 'Church Singing': 'We should be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the words'. Wise counsel and this is much needed for our generation in 2012.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16.