Friday 20 April 2012

New Testament Worship is Reverent

The matter of the attitude and the approach of the people of God to the Triune God in worship, needs to be raised. Too often those leading in worship are flippant, jokey and crowd pleasing. This behavior has no place in the house of God. Why? It is because God's inerrant word demands reverence and awe during public and family worship and our personal devotions. Let us look at Hebrews 12: 28-29:

Thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

This single verse is worthy of meditation and enquiry. Here are five points:

1. Here the Bible teaches us that we are to offer (the people of God together) acceptable worship. In sum, there is a regulative principle in the New Testament scriptures for the church to follow.

2. If there is an acceptable way to worship God, then by deduction there is therefore an unacceptable way to worship the Triune God.

3. This means that, just because worship is labelled as Christian, it does not automatically follow that is is acceptable in the sight of God.

4. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews marks out two aspects of worship which must be adhered to. Our worship must be conducted with 'reverence and awe'.

5. A failure to conduct worship with 'reverence and awe' reveals a serious problem. Namely, it is a failure to understand the true character of the true God who is a 'consuming fire'. Therefore, flippant and irreverent worship breaks the Third Commandment. God will not bless that which is in rebellion to him.

If you are ever responsible for leading worship for the people of God, please consider your attitude and words in worship very carefully. The people of God need to have their minds filled with the majesty of their mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, the glory of the Triune God and the attributes of God. Let us examine ourselves to ensure that we are faithful ambassadors of the sovereign God: The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (For further reading on this matter, study the Book of Hebrews).

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Beware of MTD religion!

I write this blog article from the USA, where I have been preaching. Some good Presbyterian Christian's have introduced me here to a new term that they use to explain many sections of the professing church which offer a diet of 'moralistic, therapeutic deism'. I have abbreviated this MTD for short. When I heard this phrase I thought that is exactly what it is.

Recently, an elder in the USA introduced me to the ministry of an outwardly successful preacher called Joel Osteen. I am from the UK and I was not familiar with this TV preacher who operates from Houston, Texas and his church has in excess of 15,000 people. His latest bestselling book is called 'Every Day a Friday: How to be happier seven days a week'. As I listened to him preach it appeared to me that his message was like a children's bed time story, one of those which always ends up saying '... and they lived happily ever after'. His false smile betrayed his spiritually deceptive message of propsperity, materialism and greed with a sugar-coated appeal to Christianity. He could have been a Hindu or Buddhist but he certainly is not Christian. What I want to bring in to question is this: can such a religion be legimately permitted to be called Christian?

The UK, as well as the USA is filled with so much confusion in the professing church so that people can use the word church, claim to be Christian, quote Bible verses, smile and appear nice, and yet be total enemies of the cross of Christ (Philippians 3:18-19). They offer moralistic therapy in the name of God, but they never mention sin, judgment upon sin, the need for repentance before a God who is holy and the gospel proper. We simply need to compare our New Testament with these MTD preachers, such as Joel Osteen and many others. We will then quickly realize that though they are called a church, they are in fact not a Christian church, though they claim to be a Christian they are in fact not representing true Christianity ( a goat religion), and though they use Bible verses they do not represent the God of the Bible. In the same way, neither is a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness representing Christ but I think MTD religion is even more deceptive.

What do we do? Firstly, we need to wake up to the very subtle deception of MTD religion that masquerades as Christianity. Secondly, we need to warn people who fall prey to these false gospels. Thirdly, we need to realize that there always will be false prophets. Let us close by listening to the apostle Peter in his Second Epistle.

'But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed . And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep'.2 Peter 2:1-3.

Peter could have written this yesterday in that it is so applicable in out time. MTD religion is not Christian and let us beware and let us pray.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Recovering the Joy of Family Worship

Through the history of the church, spanning back to the days of Deuteronomy and probably before then, family worship has been essential to the covenant people of God. Why? God Almighty has three authority structures that he has instituted for his glory; they are the church, the family and the state (Romans chapter 13, Ephesians chapters 1 and 5, Genesis chapter 1-2). It is always problematic when we confuse the three of these spheres of God's authority and the outworking of his decrees. A family is not the church, the church is not called to run the politics of a nation, a church is not to overtly intrude into family life, and so on. Church history is littered with historic mistakes where confusion exists concerning this matter. For example house church structures commonly confuse the difference between the church and the family to the detriment of both. State church institutions commonly blur the distinction between church and state. Let us be aware of this.

However, this blog is aimed at stirring our thinking regarding the recovery of the joy of family worship. Listen to Deuteronomy 6:4-9: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates".

What should be the ingredients of family worship? What should be the best time for family worship? Commonly, a time after the main meal of the day is a good time. The giving of thanks for our food by the head of the household should be normal as the Bible requires this: 'Foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer' (1 Timothy 4:3-5).

The ingredients of our family worship includes:

The Reading of the Bible
Going through the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechism: often we would do one question per night.
Singing a psalm and or a hymn
Praying together and for each other
Explaining spiritual truth

This is a marvellous way for a family to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), seven days per week. Family worship is not a substitute for worship in the church, it does not replace personal devotions but it is a valuable part of Christian doctrine in action.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Is an Independent Pattern of Church Government agreeable with Scripture?

This subject can be contentious but we cannot side-step this matter. We cannot avoid the subject just because feelings run high but all things must be tested at the bar of Scripture. An independent church constitution implies that no authority exists outside of the single local congregation. It teaches that the single congregation is in immediate submission to Christ and his teaching, however this matter is in need of fresh examination. For example when an independent church comes to appoint elders, a new minister or to make a major decision such as buying a new building, how is that decision made? Either an elder or minister will exert autocratic authority or the congregation will vote. Thus the authority of Christ can quickly slide into congregational authority with a democratic consensus that prevails, even when a decision may rage against biblical doctrine or sound wisdom.

Several questions need to be considered. Did the New Testament church display such independency? Can the reality of sin (in all of us) prefer an independent form of government because it most easily supports the purpose of certain individuals? Is it valid to appoint elders and ministers only on the grounds of the agreement of a local congregation? Is an anti-institutional or anti-denominational spirit the driving force towards independency?

These are searching questions but the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22, 4:15, 5:23, Colossians 1:18), therefore we must have liberty to ask questions concerning the constitution of the church. Much of independency arose in the English church as a reaction against Anglican episcopacy. While we agree that episcopal hierarchy is unbiblical, does the Bible warrant wholesale independent church government? The answer is no!

There were formal relationships and lines of authority between the authorised ministers and elders in different congregations. Here are several New Testament passages that teach the biblical nature and advantages of such a connectional form of church government.

1. In Acts Chapter 15 a conference was held in Jerusalem to settle a challenging doctrinal matter. The action agreed upon settled the issue and it was carried out collegially by all. James spoke to summarise the matter: 'The it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas' (15:22). An independent local church could never have settled this doctrinal dispute or taken the action that they did.

2. In Acts 15:22 the phrase 'the whole church' does not refer to a single local congregation but all the New Testament churches. The isolation of a single church would have been unthinkable to the apostles.

3. Elders were not appointed and examined in isolation from other churches. In Titus 1:5, we read that Titus was sent by Paul to Crete to 'put what remained into order, and appoint elders'. The problem often lies when the final course of appeal is the church members. What happens when there is an impasse? What court of appeal exists outside of a church when it is independent? What checks and balances exist?

4. There needs to be the relationship between the general and the particular. 1 Corinthians 10:17 'Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread'.

I always feel that these blog posts are all too short but my main aim is to get people thinking. Next post, Lord willing we will examine John Calvin's understanding of the work of reformation which included the reformation of church government. A church truly reformed regulates it's doctrine, worship and church government from scripture alone.