17. A Primer on Worship and Reformation by Wilson.
18. Foxes’ Book of Martyrs by Foxe
19. Frankenstein by Shelley
20. The Silver Chair by Lewis
Archives For September 2008
17. A Primer on Worship and Reformation by Wilson.
“Assuredly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:3)
Jesus says here that the requirement for entrance in the Kingdom is to be born again. Just as he told Nicodemus on another occasion, he tells his disciples here that they must find some way to become little kids again. And this means that we must ultimately find some way to go back into our mother’s womb (as Nicodemus suggested), or we must find some way to die and come back into the world again. Of course it is the latter provision that Jesus has brought into the world in his own death and resurrection. The way we all become children is by being joined to his re-birth in the resurrection. When Jesus came out of the tomb on that first Easter morning, he did so as a child, alive again for the first time. And by the working of the Holy Spirit we are joined to that new life, that child-like existence. If we have been raised to a newness of life, as Paul says in Romans, that means we’ve been raised as newborn babies, infants. And that’s the only way in, Jesus says. And that’s the only way to rejoice at this table. This feast is for kids. This table is for little children. This is the feast of the new covenant, the feast of new life, the table of eternal life. It’s no accident that stories dream of lands and gifts where you never grow up, whether it’s the fountain of youth or neverland. But that gift is found here in the life of Jesus who burst out of the tomb and conquered death as a little child. But not only as a little child, but also as a little child who can never grow old, a child who cannot die, a child who only has life before him, a child who has eternity to play, to dance, to rejoice. So come you children of the new Israel. You are not old; you are all young. You are all little children. And you are called to come and rejoice. Eat and drink in the kingdom of your Father; rejoice in the newness of life that is yours forever. For if you eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, you shall never die. The life you have in him is the life of endless youth, the vigor and joy of a little child. So come and rejoice as children of God. And really if wanted to do this right, we should insist on bibs and high chairs for everyone.
Jesus says, “But whoever cause one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck , and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mt. 18:6)
Jesus gives us a terrifying warning in these words. He says it would be better to end up dead on the bottom of a lake than to lead our children astray. One of the striking things about this verse is that Jesus assumes that our little ones already believe in him. The job of Christian parents, according to this passage, is not so much convincing children to believe but rather protecting and feeding and nurturing the faith that they already have. But in God’s kindness many of us are seeking to be faithful in this, and happily our children are participating with us in worship, learning to sing and pray and feast with us every Lord’s Day. But the warning does not therefore become meaningless for us. In fact in some ways it is only heightened. We who affirm that these little ones do love Jesus, trust in him, and are growing up in this faith; we of all people have no excuse. We of all people must not cause our children to stumble. If this service of worship, these words being read and sung, these prayers, these gifts of bread and wine, and the blessing of God upon us and our families, if these things are our life, if they are all that we are, if the blessing of God and our life in him is more important than anything else, that must come out in our words, our actions, and our demeanor. This calls for a certain gravitas, a certain heavy joy, an exuberance and fear and glory that we are called before the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. In churches where the kids are shipped off to children’s church and kept away from the table of the Lord, for all the problems of those practices at least they are actively creating a sense of mystery, a sense of reverence. If our welcoming of our children results in their stumbling it would have been better to be drowned, Jesus says. And fathers you are held responsible in particular for creating this kind of culture in your homes. What’s dad’s favorite day of the week? How do you know? What’s dad’s favorite thing to do? What’s most important to him? You can tell by the way his face lights up, you can see it in his eyes, you can hear it in his voice. Fathers, do not welcome your children here in such a way that in 10 or 15 or 20 years they would have been better off as orphans.
First, I think his point is well taken that whatever the second commandment means must be compatible with both a.) the rest of the Old Covenant law and b.) be evaluated again through the lens of the New Covenant. So this means that whatever the second commandment forbids it does not forbid the building of the tabernacle or temple of Solomon. In keeping with this, it does not forbid weaving artistic renditions of cherubim on the curtains of the tabernacle. It does not forbid the creation of the gold cherubim that are attached to the lid of the ark of the covenant. And it does not forbid the making of other statuary or images in the temple later on (lions, bulls, and other animals and garden imagery). The fact that all these things are “man made” is not a problem. In fact, arguably, it is the “man made”-ness of them that adds to the worship that is offered in them. They are human acts of obedience. At the same time, and St. John points this out, these artistic and architectural places of worship were “according to the pattern shown on the mountain.” They were not made up, dreamed up, etc. The Spirit that filled Bezalel and Aholiab was not a Spirit of “making stuff up.” It was a Spirit of following directions, obediently interpreting instructions, and creatively turning them into glorious realities according to the intentions of Yahweh.
Secondly, in this regard, St. John points out that there was some level of honor (veneration) offered these places of worship not because Israel worshiped gold, curtains, or cherubim, but because that was where God’s presence dwelt in a heightened way. But it’s here that I think St. John and the Orthodox who follow St. John overstate their case. St. John says that Israel “venerated” the tabernacle and all of its furniture and utensils. Now, if by “venerate” we mean that they took great care with all the house of God, and did not treat it as common, then yes, absolutely. The fact that particular Levitical families were tasked with the break down, set up, and transportation of particular pieces of the tabernacle is part of that. Furthermore, we know that the tabernacle was guarded carefully, and Joe Israelite was not welcome to just “drop in” to pay the Lord of Hosts a visit. And of course the Most Holy Place was honored and venerated in the sense that only the High Priest was welcome to enter once a year and incense was offered before the veil on a regular basis. Of course the blood of sacrifices was sprinkled and smeared and poured in various places in the tabernacle and on various pieces of furniture as acts of worship. We might even add the fact that at least during the wilderness wanderings after the people had sinned with the golden calf, Moses moved the tabernacle outside the camp of Israel, and each Israelite worshiped from a distance from the entrances of their tents (Ex. 33:10). The word for “worship” literally means “bow down,” and the implication seems to be that they bowed down toward the tabernacle when they saw Moses enter the tabernacle and the glory cloud of Yahweh descend to commune with Moses. Likewise, we know that much later, Solomon will refer to those who “pray toward” the temple throughout Israel and even in exile. Of course these sorts of honor and veneration are directed to God and not gold, silver, altars, curtains, or artistically rendered cherubim or lions or anything else. It is clear in those instances that the honor is for the presence of the Lord. But -and this is a big but- to extrapolate from this that it is right, fitting, and beneficial to make a common practice of kissing, bowing, and offering incense to a myriad of icons scattered throughout a sanctuary or even one’s own home is to make a fairly significant leap. If the icons are supposed to be memorials, witnesses of the faith of the saints, and regular reminders of our Lord and the fullness of the gospel, then all well and good, but to justify the kind of adoration of images that takes place in popular Orthodoxy with the justification that the tabernacle was “venerated all around by the whole of Israel” does not follow. St. John goes on, “What were the cherubim? Were they not right in front of the people? And the ark and the lamp stand and the table and the gold jar and the rod, looking towards which the people bowed down in veneration?” (70) But this is a vast overstatement. In fact, central to the tabernacle set up was the fact that these things were not right in front of the people. This was a central characteristic of the old covenant, that God dwelt with his people, but he did so with a certain degree of distance and privacy. I grant that St. John does offer a helpful corrective to some interpretations of the second commandment. Agreed. But his case does not actually defend the popular practice of bowing down to, kissing, and offering incense before particular objects. They took great care with the tabernacle, and they certainly appear to have bowed toward and prayed toward the entire house as the place where God’s Spirit Presence dwelt, but this leads us to consider the fulfillments of the tabernacle and temple in the New Covenant. To what do these places of God’s presence correspond in the New Covenant?
Thus, the second area that St. John brings into the discussion is that the impact of the New Covenant. He cites the fourth commandment as an example of such an instance where the incarnation has transformed this commandment into something new and glorious in the Christian era. He asks if his most vehement opponents want to return to requiring circumcision, seventh day sabbatarianism, as well as keeping cleanliness and food laws. This question – how has the New Covenant changed or transformed the second commandment (if at all) – is a very reasonable question. And the Orthodox insistence that the incarnation must be taken into serious consideration along with the many references to having seen Christ in the flesh is also fully understandable. But perhaps the greatest glaring absence, given all the other controversies surrounding the early church, is an address of these issues in the pages of the New Testament. St. John claims that the veneration of icons comes from the unwritten tradition of the apostles, but that is the very problem with unwritten tradition. Says who?
Lastly, one of my most significant beefs with John and those traditions which practice the veneration of icons is the insistence that Christians are not tempted by idolatry any more. John repeatedly insists that the second commandment was for Israelites who had particular temptations with regard to idolatry, but now in the New Covenant era, that temptation has been done away with. But the Apostles clearly did not think so. The council of Jerusalem specifically mentions abstaining from things polluted by idols. The exhortations of Paul in the Corinthian letters address the dynamics of remaining free of idolatry without countenancing demons or causing weaker brothers to stumble. Paul does not say that now that you’re all Christians that’s not a temptation any more. In fact, while he insists that idols are nothing to fear, he does say that we are to have no fellowship with them. He rejoices in the Thessalonians for turning from idols to serve the living and true God. St. John the Evangelist specifically urges his readers as “little children” to keep themselves from idols (1 Jn. 5:21). And given a number of indicators, it appears that John was addressing Jews in particular, not merely heathen gentiles who might feel a pull to return to the pantheon of their popular culture. To the churches of Pergamos and Thyatira, Jesus holds this against them that they like Israel of old have indulged in idolatry. Far from distancing Christians from this temptation, Jesus addresses this particular problem and tells them that they are acting just like Israel of old. Not only is it possible to fall into this sin, the early Christian Church did. Similarly, Revelation 9 references those who did not turn from “idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see not hear nor walk.”
It will not do to wave your hand and say that there is no idolatry involved in the veneration of icons. And it does not suddenly make it all go away, when you point out that this veneration is not of images of Jupiter, Baal, or Athena. Great, but we know from Scripture that idolatry also occurs under numerous guises. Paul says that covetousness is idolatry and elsewhere tells the Corinthians to flee the idolatry that is bound up in sexual immorality. It won’t do to say that Paul was talking about temple prostitutes, but the prostitute you’re seeing is not affiliated with any particular cult. O great, I’m sure Paul would understand. Similarly, St. John of Damascus and many other Orthodox tracts I’ve looked at seem to be wholly oblivious to the possibility that certain actions may be idolatrous. Yes, I know that no one officially “worships” images. But where are all the pastoral safeguards? Where are the tracts and books written to the faithful Orthodox warning them of these temptations, urging them to flee, and specific instructions indicating what sort of liturgical practices would tend toward that sin? Instead of that sort of pastoral sensitivity and apostolic realization of the very real dangers here, there are hand waving dismissals that this is something completely different, and that was the Old Covenant, and those were pagan gentiles who worshiped demons. We’re exempt from that error because our pictures are of Jesus and the saints. But that’s one of the reasons I often bring up the bronze serpent. St. John of Damascus mentions it briefly in defense of looking toward something man made in order to look to God for grace and healing (and that’s a reasonable point to be made), but what about the rest of the story (2 Kgs. 18:4)? Where are the Hezekiahs of Orthodoxy? Would Hezekiah be viewed as an evil iconoclast, disrupting the unwritten and unbroken traditions of the fathers? Or would he be praised for his faithfulness and courage? I strongly suspect it would be the former.
My wife pointed out this morning that in many ways the Frankenstein creature is far more human than his creator, Victor Frankenstein. The creature longs for human society, friendship, community, virtue, etc. Victor on the other hand is this reclusive scientist bent on knowledge and glory, and then even after his experiment goes horribly wrong, he continues his isolationism, fleeing company, fleeing society and friendship.
She pointed out in particular the contrast between their loves. Victor has this beautiful woman, Elizabeth, patiently waiting for him at home and yet is slow to pursue her. It is his creature who so wants a female companion, an Eve, because he knows it is not good for him to be alone. Victor is the monster, and the monster is depicted as being far more human. Victor is mechanical, scientific, driven, but the creature has emotions, seeks virtue, and would love to have a wife and experience real love and friendship.
Just finished Pastor Douglas Wilson’s forthcoming book A Primer on Worship and Reformation: Recovering the High Church Puritan.
As the title suggests, this is a short, accessible introduction to the practice and importance of Covenant Renewal Worship. This is the sort of book you want to hand to visitors at church and have a stout little pile of sitting on the literature table. At the same time, even though it’s short and an intentionally simple presentation of the vision for a recovery of robust Puritan worship, there’s enough meat here for any famished evangelical to begin bulking up on.
And that leads us to the subtitle: “Recovering the High Church Puritan.” In the opening chapters Pastor Wilson introduces the idea of reforming evangelical worship using the Puritans as fathers in the faith who are examples of what we are striving for. In the first place that means recovering a more historically grounded picture of who the Puritans actually were and what they were actually striving to accomplish. While they are popularly maligned for being sour cranks and finicky prudes, history suggests that they were by and large neither of these and quite the opposite in fact. But more to the point of the book, Pastor Wilson designates “High Church Puritans” as those who were simultaneously seeking to be obedient to the Scriptures on the one hand and patient lovers of Mother Kirk on the other. He describes this as the twin virtues of obedience and kindness. And this is an important point to stress since many of the folks who will be most attracted to this book will be people who are already starving for something with a little substance. And when you’re starving, you don’t always think clearly and act with a thoughtful kindness towards those around you. But the last thing we want is a bunch of cranky reformers. It won’t do to thrash all your neighbors in the name of reformation and go out and start a new church in the name of obedience. Sectarians beware.
But the simple point of this book is that worship drives the world. Our culture is in the shambles it is in because of the worship that is being offered in Christian churches throughout our land. We need reformation, revival, renewal, or whatever you want to call it, and that will not happen until Christians begin to do it. And this means we need to go back to the Scriptures and love them, sing them, learn them, feast on them, and most importantly submit to them, particularly when it comes to how we approach the Triune God of heaven. Pastor Wilson presents the basic outline of what has come to be called ‘Covenant Renewal Worship’ which follows the general pattern of covenant renewal in the Old Testament, was figured in the levitical sacrifices, and finds its fulfillment in the spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving which Christians offer in their worship. This pattern, as it turns out (and not surprisingly), is basically the way Christians have worshiped for the last two thousand years and flourished particularly during those ages in which the Church had the greatest influence for good in culture and society.
Pastor Wilson urges his readers to recover the centrality of word and sacrament, considers the historic exegetical methods of typological study of Scripture, and he says that the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper is one of the central ways that God transforms his people into the image of Christ. He closes with chapters on singing the Psalms, celebrating the Sabbath, and covenant succession. In places it can feel like too much is being covered in too short of space, but again, this is a primer and merely meant to introduce someone to these practices and customs which have made up the culture of the churches of the Reformation for centuries. And it is the last chapter on children that is arguably one of the greatest reasons for pressing these themes and continuing to make them accessible to the broader evangelical church. Short of winning the hearts and minds of our children with the culture of a robust Christian faith, reformation will continue to be a word that people say and have no actual experience of. We will know that God has blessed us with reformation when the vast majority of Christians today see their grandchildren walking with the Lord, wielding the Psalms as the weapons they are, and rejoicing in Sabbath living with their children and neighbors. And by the grace of God, worshiping faithfully each Lord’s Day is the way God has promised to bless us with that glory.
Frankenstein’s creature explains his realization of his monstrosity: “I was, besides, endued with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as man. I was more agile than they and could subsist upon a coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame; my stature far exceeded theirs. When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?” (Frankenstein, Penguin Classics, 150)
The creature’s realization of his individuality, his overwhelming uniqueness is the realization of his monstrosity. To be utterly different and unrelated is to be a monster, an outcast. It is in fact our relatedness to others that establishes our identity, and that identity is already bound up with others. And then there are all of the characteristics that we share with one another. The Disney-MTV Gospel proclaims the glory of difference, the salvation of isolation and autonomy, and is it any wonder then that this comes to its fullest expression in people that embrace increasingly monstrous expressions. To be completely different, to be completely unique, one must become completely other, completely severed from the human race. One must become a monster to become a pure individualist.
When I say evangelism, I mean evangelism for everyone, evangelism for dummies. There are Evangelists like Pastors and Elders in the church, but every Christian is commissioned to be Christ to the world.
What is the gospel?
The gospel is the good news of a dead king. The word “gospel” first appears in 1 Samuel 4:17, when the messenger arrives to tell Eli about the death of his sons. The word “messenger” is the substantive form of the word. The word is also used several times to describe the news of Saul’s death (1 Sam 31:9, 2 Sam 1:20, 4:10, 1 Chr. 10:9). The passage with the most prolific use of the word is in 2 Samuel 18 in conjunction with the death of Absalom. Some form of the word is used seven times in 2 Samuel 18:19-31. The six or eight other uses of the word throughout the prophets regularly have a context of false or tyrannical kings or rulers being driven away or destroyed (Ps. 68:11-12, Is. 40:9, 15-24, 41:25-27, 60:3,6,10, 61:1, Nah. 1:15). And the death and destruction of these old powers always assumes the establishment of a new king, a new Lord. But the story of EUANGELION also takes on a new character in the story of Jesus when Jesus Himself dies. As is shown throughout the gospels, Jesus is becoming Israel for Israel, keeping the law, living faithfully what Israel could not. But even more than that, Jesus has become the failed monarchy, the dying king, in order to be raised back up to life again, in order that the Kingdom might never die, in order that the Kingdom might never be without a King.
The Gift of Other People
The other important element in Laundromat Evangelism is godly attitude toward other people. God likes other people; it’s bound up in his own being as Trinity. Does the Father ever need “alone time?” So God said it was not good for man to be alone, and this is not merely a statement about marriage (Gen. 2:18). Even though this is in the context of marriage, the principle is that two are better than one (Eccl. 4:9-12). All things being equal, it is better to be with people than not. And this is presupposed by the greatest commandments (Lk. 10:27). There must be God and neighbor in order for us to carry out those commands. But these other people are not merely decorations; they are helpers (Gen. 2:18). The wise man says that there is a better reward when two work together on a project; woe to the one who is alone when he falls (Eccl. 4:10). Other people even keep us warm. They are comfort, courage, and strength against enemies (Eccl. 4:12). And this is why it is important to ask, “Who is my Neighbor?” A significant part of the story of the Good Samaritan is the answer to the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ The answer comes in the form of a story that reveals that your neighbor is the person right in front of you. Jesus says, ‘go and do likewise.’ You need to love and be loved by these particular people: God has given you your siblings, your roommates, your parents, your elders, your co-workers, your neighbors. These other people are God’s good gifts to you (Eph. 4:4-12). Do not act, speak, or think as though it would be better to be alone, to be free of these other people, free of their opinions, free of their challenges, free of their input. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). It is not good to be alone: through the neighbors that God has given you, God’s image is being revealed and perfected in you.
Compassion for the Lost
Part of emulating Christ, is learning to feel the way that he does. One feeling Christ gets when he sees piles of confused people is compassion. And when he feels compassionate for these people he doesn’t shrug his shoulders and wish he could help. Christ heals (Mt. 14:14), feeds (15:32), forgives (18:27), cleanses (Mk. 1:41), teaches (Mk. 6:34), frees (9:22), raises the dead (Mk.7:13), and celebrates repentance (Lk. 15:20) out of compassion. The good news that Jesus brings Israel in the power of the Spirit includes good news for the poor, freedom for prisoners, forgiveness of debts, comfort to those who mourn, bestowing beauty, joy, and clothing, and rebuilding ruins (Is. 61:1-4).
Believe the Gospel. Jesus is King; live like you belong here.
Like people. God loves the world, and give His Son for it. Expect the blessing of God in other people, saved and lost. They’re made in God’s image; they’re neat.
Have compassion for those in need. Be their friends. Love them even while they are still sinners just like God did for you.
Evangelism is living like the gospel is true even when you’re doing your laundry. And it is.
“‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?’ Peter said to Him, ‘From strangers.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are free.’” (Mt. 17:25-26)
At least part of what Jesus is implying here is that since the disciples are “sons” they don’t really owe the tax. The principle here is that sons are privileged; they are not outsiders. They are favorites; they are accepted, welcomed, and treated as princes. And that is what occurs here at the table of the Lord. You are sons and daughters of the king; you are all accepted in the Son as sons. And you are accepted as you are. You are accepted freely. You are welcomed here as part of the royal family. And there are at least two responses to this declaration that are unacceptable. First, you may not look down your row or in front of you or behind you and silently judge whether or not you think others should be welcomed to this table. The gospel is the declaration that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. So those sinners in your family, those sinners down the row, those are sinners that Christ bled and died for. This body was broken for sinners; this blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. And this leads to the second, do not think that you have ever gone beyond the grace of God. Do not think that your sins are too great for God, do not give up in despair over sins that you just don’t seem to be able to overcome. Don’t come to this table resigned to just deal with the status quo. Jesus is the Lord of this table, and it is his Spirit that feeds you on the flesh and blood of Jesus. You are eating and drinking the power of God to deliver from sin. You are feasting upon the perfect sacrifice, that once for all offering that completely satisfied the justice of God. And more than that, as you feast upon this well-beloved Son of the Father, you are more and more joined to Him. You are in Christ, his blood flows through your veins, his face is in your face, his words are your words. And this is the way that God has decided to remake you, remake your family, and completely renovate the entire world. It’s with the simple question: do you believe? Do you believe that crucified man is the salvation of the world? Do you believe that his blood was shed for your sins and the sins of many? Then come and rejoice. You are beloved sons, and the sons are free. Your sins are forgiven. You are clean. You owe God nothing but deep thanksgiving and gratitude. Some come and rejoice and give thanks.
In the sermon text this morning, Jesus will be questioned regarding the temple tax which has its origins in the “atonement tax” of Exodus 30. God discouraged the practice of counting fighting men by requiring that payment be made if such an action were to take place. At least part of this regulation would discourage kings and rulers from counting their fighting men, thinking that their strength resided in the armies at their disposal. If you’re going to count your armies, God requires a sacrifice, atonement, and offering of worship. Think of David who was not content with the peace that God had bestowed, and feeling the need to know his strength in numbers was a great sin. And people do this all the time. People count their money and check their balances, counting meticulously in order to know how secure they are, how strong they are. Maybe you think your strength is in your accomplishments, and so you regularly recount your degrees, your qualifications, your expertise, and you rest secure with your portfolio as your strength. Or maybe it’s your family, your children, your spouse, and you think that you are secure because you have them, and you consider how they will provide for you, how they are your qualifications. Or maybe you think you’re strong because you are a homeschooling family. Or maybe you think you’re family is secure because you send your kids to Christian school. You think you’re strong because you have health insurance; or you think you’re mighty because all your children were homebirths. Of course all of these decisions, all of these realities are part of life, and they are all part of the freedom bestowed upon us in Christ. But the question is: are they your strength? Are they your armies? Are they your security? Are they your might and glory? Not all. They are gifts of our King, they are opportunities, talents, decisions that must be made in wisdom. But we serve the Lord of Hosts. Yahweh is the Lord of Armies. He is the God of battles. He fights for us. He defends us. He is our glory and our strength and our might. We will not put our trust in horses or chariots. We will not put our trust in stocks and bonds. We will not put our trust in presidents or vice-presidents or supreme court justices. We do not put our trust in Reformed Theology or in our liturgy. We trust in the Lord our God, the Lord of Hosts, Yahweh of Armies is his name. And having found our strength in him, we find that he has bestowed great gifts, great opportunities upon us, and so we offer those up as offerings, we offer them up as sacrifices of praise. They are not our strength, but they are gifts from the One who is strong, and therefore we offer them up to the Lord.