Friday, January 19, 2018

WHICH CHURCH?

Which Church?

As a new arrival from Canada to Australia and as a recent convert to Christianity I set out to find a suitable church to start to attend. I must admit that I didn’t know too much about Denominations. I had become a Christian about maybe two years before I left the snowy Canadian winters for sunny Queensland. In Canada I had visited various churches not really being aware of which each Denomination was. I simply wanted to be a Christian without a label. I started attending what was called “a non-Denominational” church. Someone asked my which church I attended. When I told them that it was a non-Denominational church the response was, “So, you are a non-Denominationalist?” You can’t win! Every Christian has a label, or at least every other Christian has a label for you. Therefore, I suggest that you don’t worry so much about labels but concern yourself about attending a church in which God’s Word is highly honoured and taught.

On my first Sunday morning in Australia I attended a church that was more interested in the voices and visions that they may (may not!) have heard and seen, than the actual Word of God written. The next Sunday morning saw me in a Chinese church! The service was conducted in Cantonese with an English translator. God’s Word was highly honoured but I thought they were translating what was being spoken in Chinese solely for my benefit! Therefore, I thought I’d do that church a big favour by not attending again so that they could get on with things in their own language!

The following Sunday I found myself in church full of Dutch people. The service was conducted fully in English. Before the service began I was given a hymn-book at the front of which contained what is known as The Heidelberg Catechism. A Catechism, if you don’t know, is “a summary of the principles of Christian religion in the form of questions and answers, used for the instruction of Christians.[1] The Heidelberg Catechism begins with,

Lord’s Day 1

Q & A 1 

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death? 
A. That I am not my own,1
but belong— body and soul,
in life and in death—2 to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.3 He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,4 and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.5 He also watches over me in such a way6 that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven;7 in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.8 Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life9 and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.10 
1 1 Cor. 6:19-20
2 Rom. 14:7-
3 1 Cor. 3:23; Titus 2:14
4 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:2
5 John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:1-11
6 John 6:39-40; 10:27-30; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:5
7 Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18
8 Rom. 8:28
9 Rom. 8:15-16; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14
10 Rom. 8:1-17

I asked one of the elders if I could take a copy of their hymnbook (containing the Catechism) home with me to study and that I’d bring it back the following Sunday. My request was granted and I studied the Heidelberg Catechism cover to cover! Like a good Berean, for the whole week I checked everything therein again and again against Scripture. This church used the New International Version of which I had a copy.

I attended that church each Sunday morning thereafter and eventually got baptised there and became a member. The Bible was faithfully expounded from the pulpit each Sunday as we worshipped God.

Not only do I hold The Heidelberg Catechism in high esteem for teaching what the Scriptures say in an easy to understand and pastoral way, but I would endorse also The Westminster Larger Catechism and the more easily digestible Westminster Shorter Catechism. These are wonderful teaching aids in that they succinctly summarise what the Bible says about each question asked. Westminster Shorter Catechism Q & A 1, What is the chief end of man? Ans. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. (1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 11:36).

So, the layman should find a reliable version of the Bible. He/she should read and study the Bible. He/she should find a church that honours and expounds the Bible. He/she should check out against the Bible the things that the church is teaching. He/she should utilise The Heidelberg and Westminster Shorter Catechism (find them on-line) to help him/her to get an easy and helpful handle on the basic things the Bible is teaching. Should the layman do these things diligently, not only will he/she simply believe that Jesus is Lord. He/she will be honouring and serving Him as his/her Lord.

“May the grace of the LORD Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”[2]


[1] Internet.
[2] 2 Corinthians 13:14 New International Version (NIV).

Thursday, January 18, 2018

PARTS & PLACES OF WORSHIP


PARTS AND PLACES OF WORSHIP
(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 21, paras 5 & 6)

Introduction

Jesus says in John 4:24: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” What does it mean to worship God “in spirit and truth”? Well, simply put, it means that worship is a) Spiritual, (i.e., because God is Spirit); and b) Worship is regulated by, and restricted to, what God says about how we must worship Him. Therefore, if we were to add a) and b) together we might say: To worship God in spirit and truth is to engage God inwardly while making sure our outward actions comply with the instructions given in His written revelation.

In Jesus’ day the scribes and Pharisees, for example, were guilty spiritually-dead worship. Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees: “‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’’” Luke 7:6&7.

Their worship was simply an outward expression with no inward emotion behind it. It’s the kind of worship a robot could produce. But even their outward expression was not regulated by the truth, i.e., God’s Word. For, they were following the commandments of men instead of the commandments of God. Which is to say that they were not worshipping God in spirit and truth.

Now, if we keep in mind who God is and who we are we won’t go too far wrong when it comes to worship. God is Spirit and He made us in His own image. By definition, we are soul-spirits who have bodies. Therefore, our bodies are the instruments God has given us for outwardly expressing our inward emotions.

Think about it: as fallen creatures we have to work hard to hide our emotions. Our bodily actions, facial expressions in particular, tend to reveal what’s going on emotionally within us. So, when it comes to worshipping God, if we are to worship God in spirit and truth, we must make sure that our body is truly expressing what our spirit is feeling and emitting. Which is to say that our worship must be spiritual, i.e., inward as well as outward. And that which is outward must be governed and regulated by what God says it ought to be, and not by what some man or group of men have commanded. 

God has given clear instruction in His Word how He desires to be worshipped. We’ll look at some of these instructions in the following.

Parts of Worship

The main parts or elements of worshipping God at the corporate level include: Scripture reading, preaching, hearing the Word read and preached, singing psalms, and the administration of the two sacraments. Worship will also at times include: religious oaths and vows, and solemn fastings and thanksgivings on special occasions. These parts of religious worship have been spelled out in God’s Word and are therefore regulated by Scripture. Which is to say that we are not left to our own devices when it comes to how God wishes to be worshipped by us.

Now, when the saints are gathered for worship, when the Scriptures are read, they ought to be read with Godly reverence. After all, the Scriptures are God’s Word, having been written by the Holy Spirit who moved the spirits of men to write the Scriptures. To be sure, having been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, these men were not robots. These forty-odd men over the space fifteen hundred years or so, didn’t fall into trances and write. No, they were spiritually engaged in what they were doing, and wrote what they wanted to write. But it just so happened that they wrote exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted them to write. Their inward thoughts were outwardly expressed in writing.

Therefore, the public reading of God’s Holy Word ought to reflect the emotions or spirit of the passage. Which is to say that the tone of voice used ought to suit the portion being read. As someone once said: “Try not to smile when you say the word ‘Hell.’”

Now, the same principle applies to the hearer of God’s Word. He ought to hear it with the appropriate emotion. He ought to listen intently with Godly fear.

One can only wonder what it would have been like to have been in the synagogue mentioned in Luke 4 where Jesus was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah and began to read. Jesus would have put the accent on all the right words without a hint of false emotion. Who better to have read their own work than the person who wrote it? God’s Word is spiritual; therefore, it must be read and heard in the proper spirit. It ought to be read and listened to conscientiously. Therefore we must seek to be obedient to it emotionally.

And, if there are any commands or prohibitions, we must seek obedience here too. All of this is summed up where James says: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James 1:22. The doing of God’s Word begins as an impulse in your own spirit. God’s Word is spiritual; therefore, you must be connected to it spiritually and emotionally before you’ll express it in, by, and through your bodily actions.

The same principle applies to preaching God’s Word. The emotion of the sermon must reflect the verse, passage, or doctrine being expounded. It goes without saying that the preacher must labour hard to give the true sense of the passage.

When Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue He proceeded to preach from it, giving the true sense of the passage. The whole gist of His sermon was summed up in the words: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:21. What was the passage He read? “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”

How would you have responded to these gracious words? How do you respond in their hearing, even now? If you are spiritually alive to God’s Word, you should be like Mary who said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Luke 1:46&47.

When God’s Word is read and preached you should hear it with your understanding in faith and reverence. Understand what God’s Word is saying. Believe what God’s Word is saying. And revere or respect it for what it is and what it says. God’s Word is Truth. (John 17:17)

Now, another part of the worship of God is the singing of psalms with grace in the heart. The Apostle Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

Let’s first note the bit about “singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Thus we see that there is an inward, internal aspect to singing psalms. It’s not just a noise that comes from the voice box through the lips. Singing psalms has to do with grace in the heart.

Therefore singing psalms is a spiritual activity in which the impulse of your heart is being expressed through words and music. Therefore the emotion you are feeling ought to reflect the words sung (and vice versa). Therefore the tune must match the emotion being expressed by the words.

When you read the Book of one hundred and fifty Old Testament Psalms your spirit is stirred to a variety of emotions. To my knowledge none of the original tunes to these hundred and fifty Psalms has survived. But the actual word ‘psalm’ apparently means striking or touching strings or parts of a musical instrument. In other words a psalm has to do with singing to God with musical accompaniment.

The Psalms themselves teach that we are to sing praises to God with musical accompaniment. Psalm 33:2&3, for example: “Praise the LORD with the harp; make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; play skilfully with a shout of joy.”

Now, we need to consider what the Apostle means where he says that we are to be “…teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” What does Paul mean by “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”? Let’s let John Calvin have a go at explaining that one for us: “Under these three terms [Paul] includes all kinds of songs. They are commonly distinguished in this way – that is psalm is that, in the singing of which some musical instrument besides the tongue is made use of: a hymn is properly a song of praise, whether it be sung simply with the voice or otherwise; while an ode contains not mere praises, but exhortations and other matters. He would have songs of Christians however, to be spiritual, not made up of frivolities and worthless trifles.” (John Calvin on Colossians 3:16).

There are those congregations who we refer to as ‘exclusive psalmodists.’ By this we mean that they exclude from their worship services every song not included in the hundred and fifty Old Testament psalms. Which is to say that they restrict themselves to singing only those hundred and fifty psalms – nothing else.

And most, I think, believe that these hundred and fifty Old Testament psalms ought to be sung unaccompanied by any musical instrument. We much prefer this than those congregations who never sing any of the hundred and fifty Old Testament psalms. However, we believe that the church today is not restricted to the hundred and fifty Old Testament psalms, as we see testified in, for example, the Book of Revelation where we see a picture of Heaven.

The Apostle John says in Revelation 14:2b&3: “And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne… and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.”

And notice some of the words of what they are singing in Heaven. In Revelation 15:2-4 John saw saints “…standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and marvellous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested.”

To be sure, some lines from this song are found in some of the Psalms, but read through the Book of Revelation and you’ll see the saints singing songs other than the hundred and fifty Old Testament Psalms. (See Revelation 5:9&10 as another example).

With all due respect to our ‘exclusive psalmodist’ brethren, we believe with Calvin (quoted above) that psalms and hymns and spiritual songs includes, not only the hundred and fifty Old Testament psalms, but also that which (like a sound sermon!), expounds the Scriptures or some portion thereof – with musical accompaniment! Therefore with David the psalmist of old, we will seek to “…play skilfully with a shout of joy.” Psalm 33:3.

But again, because it is God’s Word we sing, and God’s Word is spiritual, and we are worshipping God in song, we ought to do so in spirit and truth. Therefore, done properly our spirits engage God, who is Spirit, when we worship Him in song.

O to have been present with the disciples and Jesus after He had instituted the Lord’s Supper: “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Matthew 26:30.  O to have heard the Royal voice of Jesus sing praises to God! The Lord made a promise to sing praises to God. For He says in Psalm 22:25: “My praise shall be of You in the great assembly.”

One of the other parts of the corporate worship of God is the two Sacraments. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper will from time to time be administered. These two Sacraments instituted by Christ are also spiritual. Therefore their due administration ought to be received worthily. For like all other aspects of the worship of God they are designed not only to glorify God but also to edify the saints.

And as well as the periodical celebration of these two sacraments there will be times when people will swear oaths and make vows during the worship service. The swearing of oaths and taking vows occur at such times as when people become Communicant Members, or men become Elders or Deacons etc.

And also on special occasions solemn fastings and thanksgivings may be proclaimed. I’m sure we would see more of solemn fastings and thanksgivings during times of war or natural disaster. The idea would be that of God’s people humbling themselves before Him and humbly petitioning Him to have some tragedy averted, or to give thanks to Him for having averted some disaster or other.

All of these things, which we have looked at above, are parts of the corporate worship of God.

Places of Worship

Unlike Old Testament times there are no places on earth any more spiritual or holy than any other places. Which is to say that under the Gospel, prayer or worship is not made any more acceptable by any place in which it is performed.

In Old Testament times God is the God who dwelt between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the holy city because God, as it were, dwelt there. Therefore the people of God had to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem for feasts four times a year because that’s where the Temple of God was.

Now, the prophet Daniel was one of those living in captivity, far from Jerusalem. In Daniel 6:10 we read: “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his window opened toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.”

Again, Daniel prayed facing toward Jerusalem because that was where God was. But where is God now that the Word has become flesh? Where is God now that Immanuel has arrived? Is Jerusalem any more holy than Hobart or Glasgow or Winnipeg or Brisbane - now that the Gospel is sounding forth into all the nations?

What did Jesus say to His disciples at the end of His Great Commission sermon? “…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20. So, where is the Spirit of God, i.e., the Spirit of Christ now? Does He dwell in the Temple at Jerusalem?

The Temple was destroyed in 70AD, just as Jesus said it would. Therefore God no longer dwells between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies. The veil was rent when Jesus died on the cross.

What is the great refrain of God’s covenant? What is His one great summary promise to those who worship Him in spirit and truth? The Apostle Paul summarises it in 2 Corinthians 6:16: “For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them, I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

Where then is the temple of the living God now? Is it still in Jerusalem? No! It is wherever God is worshipped in spirit and truth. God dwells by His Spirit in the hearts of His people throughout all the earth. Therefore God doesn’t dwell in a church building.

Therefore those who go into empty church buildings to get close to God could get just as close were they to stay at home! Indeed God is to be worshipped in the home because He is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and truth. Therefore we don’t need to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem or anywhere else. We are to worship God in spirit and truth daily, privately with our families. We are to worship God in spirit and truth daily, privately by ourselves. And we are to worship God in spirit and truth corporately and publicly. This we do on the Lord’s Day and at such other times when His providences calls us to it.

The LORD through His prophet Malachi spoke of all men everywhere worshipping God: “‘For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations,’ says the LORD of hosts.”

And the Apostle Paul underlines this in 1 Timothy 2:8: “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting…”

As Jesus said to the Woman at the Well: “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.” John 4:21. Which is to say that the worship of the Father will take place everywhere the Gospel goes.

Therefore we worship God in spirit and truth everywhere, privately as individuals, privately as families, and publicly as congregations.

Jesus exhorts us to private worship by ourselves where He says in Matthew 6:6: “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

And when it comes to families worshipping God in spirit and truth we read these words in Deuteronomy 6:6&7: “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” Individual and family worship is exampled by Cornelius who was “…a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.” Acts 10:2.

And why ought we to worship God privately as individuals and with our families daily? As Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11. You need to pray to God daily for your daily bread!

Now, when it comes to corporate or public worship the writer to the Hebrews says: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so the much more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24&25.

“O for a thousand tongues, to sing My great Redeemer’s praise. / The glories of my God and King. The triumphs of His grace.”

Conclusion

Jesus said to the Woman at the Well: “But the hour is coming, and now is, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”

Are you one of those the Father is seeking? Is your worship of God inward as well as outward? Are you seeking to worship God the way He is seeking to be worshipped?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

THE BIBLE

The Bible (a continuation of Jesus For the Layman)

If we are going to listen only to God and not to dead people and/or demons spelling out sentences on Ouija boards, then which version of the Bible ought we to use? Yes, I suppose it might be easier if we could hear voices and see visions, but we believe those ways of God revealing Himself are long gone, especially since He has given us the sixty-six books of the Bible.

Like the Triune God, the Bible is one but many. The many books are one book. And, reflecting the two natures of Christ, who is 100% God and 100% Man, the Bible is 100% written by God and 100% written by men: “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”[1] This was no automatic writing. These men wrote what they wanted to write and. As it happens, they wrote what the Holy Spirit wanted them to write. If you have ever got 10/10 in an exam so did the writers of each of the sixty-six book that make up the Bible.

Now, it goes without saying that not everyone believes that the Bible is the Word of God, i.e., His revelation to human beings. This is something that only the Holy Spirit can convince you of. I can’t! The Spirit always works with the Word. That is how God speaks to us. God does not speak to us by upturned whisky glasses on a Ouija Boards. Rather, God speaks to us by His Spirit working with His Word. But again, not everyone believes that the Bible is the actual Word of God insripturated.

I heard a song on the car radio on a recent Sunday morning while en route to church. I had just listened to a mediocre sermon about love. Then the station started playing, what they call, “Christian Rock Music,” most of which I do not like. So, I switched to the station whose music I do like. The one where they play all the oldies. Anyway, the song on my Oldies Station was an annoying put-down of the Bible. It is called It Ain’t Necessarily So” which has been done by various artists over the years since George and Ira Gershwin wrote it for their Porgy and Bess opera in 1935. In the opera the song is sung by the character Sportin’ Life, a seedy drug dealer, who tells us about his doubt about some statements in the Bible.

It ain’t necessarily so
It ain’t necessarily so
De things dat yo’ liable to read in de Bible
It ain’t necessarily so.[2]

            Now, I remember someone asking me if I believed all that Jonah in the belly of a whale stuff. It was a great question to ask me at that time. I had just begun to study the Bible for myself. I had tried to read it a couple of times before but had got stuck at Leviticus after I had read through Genesis then Exodus when I was sixteen or so. The next time I don’t even think I made it through Genesis. Anyway, in my early thirties I managed, with great difficulty, to read the entire Bible that the Masonic Lodge had presented me. I had the King James’ Version (KJV) of the Bible in one hand and a dictionary in the other! I found ye olde English contained therein really hard to understand. I mentioned already that my dad’s favourite version of the Bible was the King James’ Version. He thought that it was the most beautiful, noble and poetic of all the versions of the Bible. My brother Stuart wrote the following to me:

Faither so often quoted Isaiah, freely from memory, as we drove to somewhere for lunch up Loch Lomondside. I have his marked Bibles from which he delivered readings to the congregation at Jamestown Parish Church, with me and Mum sitting half-way up on the left while he did in all humility take his place at the lectern and read... I loved him for that, oh, how I loved him for that.[3]

Regardless of what my dad thought of the King James Version of the Bible, I found the archaisms that it’s full of, hard to understand. So, the moral of the tale is that you should try to get a version of the Bible that has been written in your own language. I’ve dipped into Scottish Gaelic, Scots (Lallans), French, Koine Greek and ancient Hebrew versions. However, even though I’ve read cover to cover the New International Version and large chunks of other versions (e.g., the English Standard Version), I must admit that my default version is the New King James Version. However, you will notice that so far I have been mainly quoting from the NIV and the New Living Translation. This is simply to keep things in line with the title of this book, Jesus For the Layman.

Meanwhile, back to Jonah and the whale. Well, for a start the original language of the Hebrew portion of the Bible (i.e., the Old Testament) doesn’t say that a whale swallowed Jonah. Rather it was a great fish. But, be that as it may, who could believe such a thing could occur? Who could believe that a fish could vomit up a human being onto some beach and then that human being could walk around call on a whole city (Nineveh) to repent so as to avoid God’s impending judgment upon that city? Well, do I believe what the Bible says about Jonah being swallowed by a fish? Yes! And so does Jesus. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”[4] But what does Sportin’ Life, the seedy drug dealer, in the Porgie and Bess opera have to say about Jonah (and David and Moses for that matter)?

Li’l David was small but oh my
Li’l David was small but oh my
He fought big Goliath who lay down and dieth
Li’l David was small but oh my
Oh Jonah he lived in de whale
Oh Jonah he lived in de whale
For he made his home in dat fish’s abdomen
Oh Jonah he lived in de whale
Li’l Moses was found in a stream
Li’l Moses was found in a stream
He floated on water ‘til ole Pharaoh’s daughter
She fished him she says from that stream
It ain’t necessarily so
It ain’t necessarily so.

I think I’d much rather believe God speaking in Scripture than some singer in an opera. At least I can check out the Bible for myself. That’s why a good version that you can understand is essential. Scholars debate which is the best and most accurate translation of the original texts into English. But for the sake of keeping it simple, I would recommend the New International Version as a place for the layman to start.

Now, remember that I said that I cannot convince you that the Bible is the actual Word of God. Only God Himself can do that. Indeed, only God Himself can convince you that He exists. He does use means, such as people and events. However, from the Book of Isaiah from which my dad so often quoted so “freely and from memory” which is to say, in the words of my dad’s favourite version the Bible, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Or, as the easier to understand New Living Translation renders the Hebrew into modern English, “Look to God’s instructions and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark.[5]

One of the best ways of understanding the Bible is to take everything back to the beginning. In the Vale of Leven when I was growing up there were two movie theatres (or picture hooses as we called them). You could come in half way through a film and wait for the “second showing.” The same movie would be shown again. However, if you start watching a movie half way through, then you’re left trying to guess what happened beforehand. This is what a lot of people do with the Bible. Like fish-gut at the bottom of a tackle box, they get into some real tangles. Jonah and the Whale is one of them. However, like everything else in the Bible, take it back to the start. Where did evil come from? Take it back to Genesis. Where did death come from? Take it back to Genesis. Where did lying come from? Take it back to Genesis. I’m sure you’re getting the picture. Where did the sun, the moon, the earth and stars come from? Take it back to Genesis. Where did you and I (and fish and whales) come from? Take it back to Genesis. What does the opening verse of the Bible say? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). The point I make is that if God can create all of creation and all therein out of nothing, then Jonah in the belly of a fish is easy for Him, as is the virgin birth, the resurrection and all the other miracles listed in the Bible. God speaks and things that are not become things that are. Nothing is too hard for God. So, don’t listen anyone who does not speak according to Scripture. And if they do, then check it out for yourself. Be like the Bereans. “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.[6] But don’t be like Sportin’ Life, the drug dealer. Don’t believe him when he says,

Dey tell all you chillun de debble’s a villain
But ‘taint necessarily so
To get into Hebben don’ snap for a sebben
Live clean, don’ have no fault
Oh I takes dat gospel whenever it’s pos’ble
But wid a grain of salt
Methus’lah lived nine hundred years
Methus’lah lived nine hundred years
But who calls dat livin’ when no gal’ll give in
To no man what’s nine hundred years
I'm preachin’ dis sermon to show
It ain’t nessa, ain’t nessa
Ain’t nessa, ain’t nessa
It ain’t necessarily so.

Like me, as you read the lyrics of It Ain’t Necessarily So you no doubt found the language a little bit difficult to understand; “Chillun”, “debble”, “Hebben” and “sebben” etc. The point I make is therefore why struggle through a version of the Bible written in archaic language when there are more contemporary English versions?

“Gin ye confess wi your mouth at Jesus is Lord, an trew in your hairt at God raised him frae the deid, ye will be saufed.” Romans 10:9, The New Testament in Scots.

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the LORD Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Romans 10:9, King James Version (KJV).

“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” New King James Version (NKJV).

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is LORD,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Roman 10:9, New International Version (NIV).

            The idea then, is that you, as a layman, find a version that easy for you to understand. Stick to the New International Version (NIV) or the new King James Version (NKJV), and yes, there are other good versions. But keep in mind that there are some not so good versions too!


[1] 2 Peter 1:21-22 NIV.
[2] George & Ira Gershwin, Porgie and Bess, 1935.
[3] Stuart in an email to me dated 27 March 2016.
[4] Matthew 12:40 NIV.
[5] Isaiah 8:20.
[6] Acts 17:11 NIV.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

RELIGIOUS WORSHIP


RELIGIOUS WORSHIP
(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 21, paras 1-4)

Introduction

Face to face with the man He had formed from the dust of the ground, God breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils. To be sure, we don’t know how God would have appeared when He brought Adam into being. But we do know that the very first time Adam opened his eyes he would have been looking into the very face of God. As a newly hatched duckling follows the first object it sees, God would have been imprinted on Adam.

Man is fearfully and wonderfully made and is designed to worship and serve his Creator. But, along came the subtle slivery serpent in the Garden. And speaking with forked tongue he managed to deceive Eve. Then through this Adam foolishly broke the covenant God had made with man, (Genesis 3:17; Hosea 6:7).

The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:2 refers to the serpent, the devil, as “…the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience…” And in 2 Corinthians 4:4 he refers to him as “…the god of this age…” Therefore, when Adam - as mankind’s representative before God - disobediently broke God’s covenant, he did so by forming a new covenant with Satan, who had set himself up as god. For the spirit of Adam, when he disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, was of the same spirit as the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, i.e., the devil. So we see then that mankind in Adam, in the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:25, “…exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…”

Though the devil is a creature he is ‘the god of this age,’ he is the father of lies. So, when man worships and serves sticks and stones and things made of his own hands, and even creaturely things made by God, man is essentially worshipping and serving Satan. Therefore, though people might not even acknowledge there is such a creature as Satan, by worshipping and serving things other than the Creator, they are demonstrating that they are of the same evil spirit as the devil.

The devil invited the replacement Adam, the new Man, Jesus Christ, to fall down and worship him! Why wouldn’t Jesus worship the devil? Every other man was a servant of Satan. But what did Jesus say to the devil? Matthew 4:10, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only shall you serve.’”

Therefore, religious worship and service is to be given only to God.

The Obligation of Worship

The light of nature, i.e., General Revelation, declares to all mankind that there is a God. For the things that God has made (including man himself), proclaim to all that the Creator is. The LORD is the “I AM” – He alone is the eternal One.

It says in Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Psalm 19:1-4.

Everyone knows that the LORD God is the Creator. No one is ignorant of the fact that the LORD God is. Therefore everyone is obligated to worship and serve the Creator simply because He is the Creator. As the Apostle puts it in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…”

But the trouble is, as we’ve already noted, is that all men have become ‘sons of disobedience.’ Which is to say that we “…suppress the truth in unrighteousness…” Romans 1:18b. So, even though we have been made in the image and likeness of God, and even though we have the work of His law written on our heart, and even though all creation including our own soul testifies of the Creator, we will not worship and serve Him. Why? Because we are sons of disobedience, we suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

We worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. The light of nature shows that there is a God and that He is Lord and Sovereign over all. And it shows that He is good and that He does good to all. And in light of this God therefore ought to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted and served with all the heart, soul, strength and might.

However the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself. For not only is it written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only shall you serve,’ but God has also written down how we should worship and serve Him. Therefore the light of General Revelation is not enough to show us how the LORD God is to be worshipped and served.

This is where God’s Special Revelation comes in. For God will be worshipped and served only in the way He has laid down in Scripture. And He will not therefore be worshipped and served according to the imaginations of men. Nor will He be worshipped and served according to the suggestions of Satan, or by any visible forms or representations. He will be worshipped and served only according to His written Word alone.

So, we see then that Jesus wasn’t talking only to Satan when He said to him, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only shall you serve.’ He was also talking to all whom Satan represents. For Satan, by definition, is the leader of all the ‘sons of disobedience.’ For he is the spirit who works through them. In a word, he is their god. Therefore whether a man worships the sun, the moon, or the stars, sticks, stones, objects of his own making, sex, drugs, alcohol, football teams, pop stars, movie stars, self, in the final analysis, Satan is behind all false worship.

Therefore from the atheist to the pantheist and everyone in between, the devil is the god that this age worships and serves. But, though the serpent was biting at the heel of Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus crushed his head at Golgotha, which is the ‘Place of the Skull’ (Gen. 3:15; Matt. 27:33). Therefore just as God defeated Satan when He redeemed His people from bondage in Egypt by defeating all the false gods with the Ten Plagues, so He defeated the ‘god of this age,’ even the devil when He redeemed His people from their bondage to sin, self, and Satan. Therefore, since all the nations are obligated to worship the true and living God, God has sent His written Word out into all the nations to teach the nations how to properly do so.

The Gospel that is still sounding forth throughout all the ends of the earth reveals the true object of our worship – God in Jesus Christ, who is our Lord and Saviour. For the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, John 1:14a. Thus all men everywhere are obligated to worship and serve the Creator and Redeemer of the world. As the Apostle Paul says to the Athenians, “Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:30&31.
The obligation to worship God is upon all men everywhere.

The Object of Worship

When Paul and Barnabas were spreading the Gospel among the nations, because of some of the miracles the Lord was doing through them, some people started to say, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Acts 14:11b. “But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out, saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.’ And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.” Acts 14:14-18.

So, we see then that the Apostles were proclaiming the true object of worship, i.e., the living God who made heaven the earth, the sea, and all that is in them. And they are proclaiming the fact that God is good and does good in that He gives rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. Therefore the Apostles are calling the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them as witnesses of the living God and His goodness toward them. They are calling on the fruitful seasons, the times when their hearts were filled with food and gladness as testimony to the Creator.

But even so, those who heard them still wanted to worship the creature not the Creator. For they wanted to make sacrifices to Barnabas and Paul! Thus they continued to suppress the truth in unrighteousness, lest they repent and believe in the Gospel. But again, as Jesus says, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only shall you serve.’

Religious worship is to be given only to God. He alone is to be the object of our worship. And since God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we must worship and serve Him alone. Therefore we must not worship men, be they others or self. And we most definitely must not worship that old devil, Satan.

Nor are we to worship angels. John on the Isle of Patmos was ready to worship an angel. Perhaps he thought the angel was Jesus, we don’t know. But John in Revelation 19:10 says, “And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!’”

So we have saints such as the Apostles Paul and Barnabas telling us not to worship men but to worship only God. And we have an angel telling us not to worship angels but to worship only God. And we have the Lord Jesus Christ telling us, and the devil himself, to worship only God.

As Joshua said to the LORD’s people long ago, “‘And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.’” Joshua 24:15.

Joshua, as you know, was the commander of the army of the LORD at the time of the kingdom conquests. There was an incident recorded in Joshua 5, where he was confronted by a Man armed with a loaded sword. This Man was claiming to be the Commander of the Lord’s army. It turns out that this Man with the sword was none other than the preincarnate Christ. Therefore this was a temporary appearance of the Word who would permanently become flesh in the fullness of the time, (Malachi 3:1; Galatians 4:4).

The point I make is that Christ has been the Mediator between God and men right from the rebellion in the Garden. He is the Son that kings and judges were to kiss, i.e., pay homage to, in Psalm 2: “Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.” Psalm 2:10-12.

Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” John 14:6&7. Jesus claims to be the Son of the Father. And He is claiming that if you have seen Him you have seen the Father. Therefore He alone is the Mediator between God and men. As the Apostle says in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus…”

Therefore those who pray to, and worship, dead people, such as the Mary, and those who pray to, and worship angels, are being disobedient to the clear teaching of Scripture. For God has written down how He wishes to be worshipped and served.

Since the Fall He is not to be worshipped without a mediator. Jesus Christ alone is Mediator. Therefore the object of our worship is God in Jesus Christ.

The Observance of Worship

There is a startling statement made about worship in ‘Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words’ that stops you in your tracks. It says under ‘Worship & Worshipping’: “The Worship of God is nowhere defined in Scripture.” It goes on to says, “Broadly it may be regarded as the direct acknowledgment of God, of His nature, attributes, ways, claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deed done in acknowledgment.”

Could this be why there is so much chaos in worship services in some churches nowadays? Is it perhaps because some people don’t believe God has written down in Scripture what worship of God is, and, how He wishes to be worshipped? Is this perhaps why some people worship statues of Mary and other saints, and pray to her and other dead people? Is this why some churches just get together and have coffee, cake and a chat instead of what has been known for centuries as a ‘worship service’? Surely you can see from what we’ve looked at already that worship is defined in Scripture. Worship is a coming before God in faith, repentance and humility with no other mediation than Jesus Christ.

Perhaps worship as defined in Scripture can best be described by our understanding of prayer. In prayer we acknowledge that God is Triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore when we pray to God, we pray to the Father who represents the Trinity, through the Son who is Mediator between God and men, by the Spirit who is our Helper.

Prayer is a major part of religious worship. And if you were to apply the principle of prayer to all religious worship, whether personal and private individual, family, or corporate worship, you’d see the Biblical definition of worship emerge.

Worship is time set aside in which we consciously and humbly acknowledge that God alone is Lord and Sovereign over everything. And during this time we humbly acknowledge that He is good, and does good to everyone. Worship is a time when we consciously come before Him in reverential fear. Worship is the times when we consciously acknowledge our love for Him. Worship is when we consciously praise Him, and call upon Him.

To worship God is to consciously trust Him and serve Him with all our heart, soul, and might. Therefore worship is defined as those times we set aside and consciously engage with God. And prayer best defines and describes the actual act or observance of religious worship.

Do we consciously pray every single moment of every single day? No? Then religious worship consists of those set times when we consciously engage God. To be sure to worship is also to serve God, but we should again take note of what Jesus says to the devil: ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only shall you serve.’ Matt. 4:10. The word ‘worship’ in that sentence means to kiss, to do reverence to, or homage to, by kissing the hand, by prostration, or bowing one’s self in adoration. Therefore worship may best be described as a moment of humble prayer before God. Thus the Biblical definition of religious worship.

And notice Jesus says that we are also to ‘serve’ God. Yes, as already stated, we serve God even when we worship Him. But surely serving God includes those times when we are not consciously engaging God in acts of worship. Therefore we observe religious worship when we engage with God. Religious worship ends when we go about our ordinary daily business. However, God has set aside one day in every seven especially for worship. But we serve God by eating and drinking, and doing all things, including worship, to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

So, as we continue to define worship in terms of prayer, keep in mind that we are always and only to pray in accordance with God’s will, with the help of the Spirit. God has revealed His will in the Scriptures. To be sure we don’t always know if it is God’s will that He will, for instance, heal a sick person we are praying for, but we do know that it is His will that we pray for the sick. But we also know that it is not His will that we pray for the dead or to the dead, such as Mary.

And we also know that we ought to pray with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance. For we see all of this exampled in the Scriptures. Simply apply all of this to religious worship and you will see how it too ought to be observed.

And, of course, if we are praying out loud in company we ought to pray in a language known to the others. Otherwise those who are present won’t be able to understand unless there is an interpreter (1 Corinthians 14).

Now, on the subject of prayer, prayer is to be made for lawful or legitimate things. You ought not to pray for things God has forbidden. For that would be to pray against His revealed will. But prayer is to be made for all kinds of people living, and even those yet to be born, such as future grand children and future generations.

But again we are not to pray for dead people, because their abode is fixed. Just ask the dead Rich Man who looked up from his torments and saw Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. You cannot help those who are dead and neither can those who are dead help you (Luke 16:26).

Scripture also mentions that we are not to pray for those who are known to have sinned the ‘sin leading to death’ as mentioned in 1 John 5:16. It’s difficult to know what that sin leading to death is. And it is even more difficult to know infallibly who may have sinned it. Therefore when we pray that God will heal certain people and convert them, we simply need to qualify our prayer with the words, “If it be Your will.”

Conclusion

We’ve seen something of the fact that all men everywhere are obligated to engage in religious worship. And we’ve seen that God alone is to be the object of our religious worship. And we’ve seen that God has laid out in His Word how we are to observe religious worship. I would urge you therefore to search the Scriptures to make sure that you understand what God requires of you.

May you be found to be one of those whom Jesus said God was looking for. For He said to the Woman at the Well in John 4:21-24, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”