Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Getting the Gospel and Growing Up in the New Year

If there is one thing that distinguishes Christians from any other belief system or religious framework in the world, it is found in their belief, or faith, in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians know that they deserve condemnation for sin and eternal damnation in Hell but have instead received forgiveness of their sin—salvation— and have instead inherited eternal life in Heaven. This transaction as it were was only possible through the substitutionary death and resurrection of the perfect and holy Son of God, Jesus Christ, who absorbed in Himself the eternal penalty that was due unto us. The fear of death and the influence of sin no longer has power over us, rather we are now indwelt by the Holy Spirit who gives us new inclinations and new desires that honor and glorify the Father.

Well what about after that moment of salvation? As it pertains to the individual, what is it that they should be seeking to do while living their life on this side of eternity?

The answer is given to us by the apostles.

They want us to grow up.

The moment of salvation that we experience as Christians is indeed a moment. Meaning, salvation is not an ongoing process—you are either saved or you are not saved. Sanctification on the other hand is an ongoing process and is not a moment in time only. What this then means is that there is work to do in our lives as a part of our sanctification process—though powered by God Himself (Phil 2:13).

Put another way, it is not enough for Christians to memorize and teach John 3:16.

It is not enough for pastors just to preach John 3:16 either. The Apostle Paul had a clear conscience because he “did not shrink from declaring . . . the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) (emphasis mine). Belief in the gospel of Christ is the end of the life of slavery to sin, but it is the very beginning of the life of freedom found in the Christian life.

What the men and women of God need is a constant saturation of the full counsel of the Word of God in order to become more and more sanctified unto Him, being stable in the faith, holding deep convictions, and living holy and blameless lives.

Listen, the natural output of a life that is indwelled and powered by the Holy Spirit of God is a life that, indeed, puts out or generates the fruit of the Holy Spirit of God and this can only happen by nourishing our spirits with the Holy Spirit’s own written Word.

A.W. Tozer once said, “The Holy Spirit never enters a man and then lets him live like the world. You can be sure of that.”

This is because the works of the Spirit are against the works of the flesh as the Apostle Paul details in Romans 8.

Our salvation is our greatest need. After that, however, our next greatest need is our sanctification and there are several reasons for this.

If the only spiritual truth we know—as Christians—pertains to the basics of repentance from sin, faith towards God, baptism, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment, then the Bible tells us we are immature and “unskilled in the word of righteousness” and tantamount to children surviving on milk (Heb 5:13).

This is okay if you were saved yesterday by the way.

For those who have been Christians for years and years . . . we need to stop and consider: do we know the Word of God well? I mean, do we really know it? Do we grasp its truths and can we navigate it quickly in order to enrich our own soul or help disciple another? Are we able to think on our feet and give an answer to those who ask questions or ask for the reason we have hope in our life?

I remember sitting in a men’s group once and one of the men was asking for prayer as he was barely keeping a job, his marriage was falling apart and was headed for a divorce, he had no hope for anything and didn’t know what to do. When asked, he admitted he was struggling with sin and confessed he wasn’t in the Word. This was evidenced by his complete inability to know which direction to turn to find the book of Romans when he was asked to do so.

Friends, how acquainted are we with God’s Word?

In the book of Hebrews, the author gives us some startling insights into the various levels of Christian maturity—and the implications thereof—being especially pointed with those who have been saved for a long time and yet had little more knowledge of God’s truths than when they first believed.

The author was about to get into a helpful and fascinating discourse on the priesthood of Melchizedek and how it tied into Jesus’ priestly ministry, but then had to pause . . .

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:11–14)

The word “dull” in verse 11 is a translation of the transliterated Greek word nothros, which means lazy or sluggish. What this tells us then is that this is a self-inflicted problem.

Becoming disinterested in divine truth is a problem of infinite proportions and is in fact a self-perpetuating one. The desire for the Word of God comes from reading it. The only way we have ever desired to read it in the first place is by the initial prompting of the Holy Spirit, so when we suppress that, we are actively engaging in an effort that is at odds with God’s will and thus causes us to become dull and desensitized along the way. It’s a self-licking ice cream cone kind of problem.

These people had been Christians long enough to where they should have amassed a much greater amount of knowledge and attained a higher level of understanding, thus being equipped to teach others themselves.

The most immediate context in this Hebrews passage however highlights their inability to comprehend grander and more glorious truths, like the priesthood of Melchizedek and Jesus Christ. Their ignorance hamstrung their further development. It was so bad that they needed to be reminded of some of the basic truths or “principles of the oracles of God” (vs. 12) all over again.

The writer goes on to explain the ramifications of this self-inflicted problem. He says they need milk—evidenced by the fact that they were unskilled in the Word and apparently lacked the marks, or fruit, of spiritual maturity. In other words, this is not just a ‘level of knowledge’ issue alone.

He said they don’t need solid food as that is only for the spiritually mature. The real wakeup call comes when he effectively states that their powers of discernment are weak at best. This means that in practice they make poor, even sinful, choices in life because of their biblical ignorance.

To be clear, the apostle Peter tells us to long for the milk of the word like newborn infants, but that is precisely the metaphor he intends to use for the reason of establishing the basics from which Christians ought to grow. This is obvious when he follows up with: “that by it you may grow up” (1 Pet 2:2).

This picture of a baby craving milk works in two ways. As far as desire is concerned, we ought to crave the Word like milk. As far as the actual baby is concerned, we ought to grow up and mature. The desire never goes away, though—what better way to illustrate that than with a helpless newborn baby?

There is another aspect to the milk illustration, which concerns the level of maturity of the believer. While our desire for the Word ought to be as rigorous and of a necessity for life as the baby’s is for milk, we ought to look for more and more weight and meat in our diet as we grow up in order to develop from the status of a spiritual baby. Even still, our desire for that meat is as the baby’s for milk. That never changes.

The apostle Paul writes also to the Corinthian congregation:

“I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way” (1 Cor 3:1–3)?

By not growing up from basic gospel truth, they proved to be “people of the flesh.” He used that expression three different times in just three verses(!).

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he spends time explaining the necessity and reason for having gifted preachers and teachers in every church:

“He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (4:11–16) (emphasis mine).

We all know that children are easy targets for deception. This is why they are so blithely led to believe in Santa Clause. They are easy to manipulate and con into doing things they otherwise wouldn’t have thought up themselves. This is why you could pay them a nickel to do almost anything—they have no sense of real value.

It is precisely because of the nature of the immaturity that is inherent in young kids that parents must be their protectors, discerners, and teachers. Who else is there to do this? Who else can teach them the truth? Parents are their shepherds.

It is the same way in the church of God. God has given the church leaders and has given those leaders gifts. These gifts are for the maturing of the flock, so that the flock will not run after the shiniest object, the sweetest candy, or the easiest path. These are the packages that heresy and false teaching come beautifully wrapped in. Even Satan himself masquerades as something he is not—an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14).

We need the Word of God in order to be protected from the enemy of God. Knowing the gospel message is not enough to protect us from the wiles of the devil. Though we will not be snatched from God’s hand, we could still suffer from sinful choices that come as a result of being ill-prepared for his poisonous darts.

Friends, don’t stop learning. Nothing is unnecessary knowledge if it is in the pages of Holy Scripture. Everything in the Old Testament and New Testament is there for our edification and learning in order to grow us up in maturity and into the fullness of the stature of Christ.

We desperately need the solid food of God’s Word. We need to learn the full counsel of God. We need our powers of discernment to be sharpened if we are to have any hope of honoring and obeying God in this evil world that is actively trying to desensitize us to it.

The saving gospel of Christ is the starting point of our spiritual growth and understanding. This is why Paul writes to the Romans: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification” (6:22) (emphasis mine).

We need sanctification because it protects us from sinning against God.

Psalm 119 is a stunning and epic poem—the longest recorded psalm in the Bible—that was probably written by the likes of either David, Daniel, or Ezra. In it, the author wisely declares: “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (vs. 11) (emphasis mine). Just prior to this he writes, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word” (vs. 9).

Then he expresses his longing for God’s word—almost as a baby does for life’s sustenance—“With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments” (vs. 10)!

The entirety of Psalm 119 is weighted with these longings and expressions of the greatness of the Word of God, its implications, its effect, and its wonder, and how much the writer longs for it.

All throughout Scripture, the Word of God is seen as a means to protect us and preserve us. The longing of it—and consequently the obedience of it—is a mark of a true Christian, so let the implication of that sink in. If need be, ask God in prayer for a new desire to read and study for the sake of your spiritual growth and to become more like Jesus Christ.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).

Let us act upon the exhortation of Hebrews 6:1 and “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity.”

Happy New Year, friends!

Ben

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Puritans and the Separatists: American Evangelicalism's Founding Fathers

Thomas Jefferson’s memorial in Washington, D.C. is one of the most visited attractions by tourists who visit that historic city. We rightly remember with great thankfulness that it was men like Jefferson who established our nation under the principles and convictions that God was the Creator and all were created by him and endowed with unalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Jefferson was honest enough to acknowledge the Creator as the “Almighty God” and the “Holy Author of our religion” even going so far as to recognize His “supreme will.” Yet, Thomas Jefferson and other men like him who helped establish the laws that govern our Constitutional Democracy were not in fact creating a Christian nation in actuality, rather they were creating a form of government that protected all religious practice even while acknowledging “one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.” It is precisely this code of morality that the true pioneers of evangelicalism in America had the highest privilege to preach in its infant country. These men are who we know as both the Puritans and the Separatists and it was through their ministries and subsequent revivals that laid the foundation of America’s ethical and moral code—the Word of God.

             So who exactly were the Puritans and the Separatists? They both came from England. In 1531, King Henry VIII established the Church of England in order to break away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church—mainly for selfish reasons. This new English—Anglican—Church was England’s newly established state church with the king now as the Supreme Head. As we would imagine, this proved to bring about further power struggles between England and other nations who remained loyal to the papacy. Truth be told, crown-claiming and land-grabbing was usually an ulterior motive to their support of the Pope’s claim to the English. Regardless, this new state church now became a new target for those within.

            What the Protestant reformers were to the Roman Catholic Church, the Puritans were to the Anglican Church. Reformers like Martin Luther, for instance, did not set out to split the church, or start a new one—he worked to reform the current one according to the Bible. So it was with the Puritans, fittingly named for those within the Anglican Church who wanted to purify the church according to the Bible. Not only did they oppose “the use of saints’ days, clerical absolution, the sign of the Cross, the custom of having godparents in baptism, kneeling for Communion,” etc., but their emphasis was on the sovereignty of God as Calvin had taught it, the infallibity of the Scriptures, ongoing reformation in the church and in the individual, and a “theology intended to soften the heart and enlighten the conscience” as historian Earle E. Cairns has documented.

            Not everyone in the Anglican Church, however, felt that a purification of it alone was good enough. Some Puritans took this reformation to a level that demanded reform in its ecclesiastical government, but this included its ties to the secular government as well. They were opposed to the state church concept. Wanting a break from state rule and oversight, they advocated an independent and self-ruled style of church government. In a word, they came to be known as Separatists, or Separatist Puritans.

            The Separatists can really be credited with the form of denominationalism that we know today, that is, a denomination that governs itself free from the oversight of the state. Further, it would be a denomination that was not hierarchical like the Episcopalian form of government.

            This growing sentiment in the Anglican Church was threatening to the English monarchy as the state church concept could be and often was a critical and politically strategic matter of power and control. To the crown’s perspective, the Separatists were almost viewed as treasonous dissenters. In reality, “the major point of difference [for] . . . the Separatist Puritans was the idea of the church covenant by which the Separatists bound themselves in loyalty to Christ and one another apart from a state church.” This is why we hear the terminology around “covenanting together” still today—reminiscent of and based on the new covenant of the blood of Jesus Christ.

            As was often the case at this point in history, “persecution of opposing religious beliefs became standard practice” as historian Robert V. Remini notes. This persecution actually drove many Separatists to Holland in 1608, but the way of life there was not ideal, leaving them wanting something better. They later received permission from the London Company to settle in Virginia and so departed Holland, sailing aboard the Mayflower—but they never made it.

Instead, they happened to land at Plymouth on Cape Cod on November 21, 1620. Before they departed the ship, though, the voyagers all signed what is known as the Mayflower Compact outlining their understanding of how everyone would operate as under a self-governed people. This Mayflower Compact, though political in nature, was an extension of their covenanting together as a body of believers. The seeds of American government were starting to take root already, even before their boots hit the sandy shores of the east coast.

            The non-Separatist Puritans back home in England had a bit more of a straightforward commute to the New World. With permission from King Charles I, the Puritans formed a joint-stock company in England called the Massachusetts Bay Company where they were also afforded the opportunity to establish a satellite colony of this new company in America, namely what John Smith had earlier dubbed the New England. So began what has come to be known as the Great Migration where over 1,000 Puritans departed for the new colony and continued to grow.

With a healthy amount of these Calvinistic theologians who opted for a Congregationalist approach to church government, the churches that then followed were established in that way. It was from this breeding ground that the likes of Jonathon Edwards rose up to prominence in the next century where the Lord used him in a mighty way to convict people of their inherited sin in Adam, inform them of their sure judgment in Hell, and so offer them the free gift of the gospel of Jesus Christ by faith alone and in repentance of sin. His ministry was so effective that it contributed largely to the Great Awakening in America during an incredibly critical time. Biographer George M. Marsden notes that “there was no denial that many persons’ lives were being changed in ways that . . . seemed to meet sober tests for spiritual transformation.”

While Jonathan Edwards preached the Word of God in the pulpit, the likes of George Washington was trying to maintain the freedom of the American colonies. Thomas Jefferson was a young chap in this culture of Puritan preaching and undoubtedly influenced if even to a shallow social and political level. The great evangelist, George Whitefield, was about the same age as Edwards and also contributed mightily to the Great Awakening. Benjamin Franklin—not known for having an affinity for God or anything religious—was yet entranced by the passion of Whitefield. Rumor has it that someone asked Franklin why he ever went to listen to Whitefield since he didn’t believe a word he preached, to which Franklin replied, “But he believes what he preaches!”

Benjamin Franklin attested of George Whitefield in his own auto-biography: “It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants; from being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious; so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”

It is helpful to trace these overlapping lives of the Lord’s faithful preachers and America’s greatest statesmen because we see that there is no questioning whether the secular politicians were influenced by the preaching of the Puritans and other evangelists. The need for a single moral code to help shape the new and evolving governmental documents was a fact of life. They were self-evident truths.

As imperfect our documents are—they are in fact man-made and sometimes require amendments—that govern the United States of America today, they were first written down in pen by men who were under the direct influence of sound theological preachers who helped ensure that the entire social construct of the world in which they lived was operating under a biblical world-view. We can trace this lineage of biblical faithfulness back to the Puritans—whether Separatist or not—and remember that their impact on our American beginnings are uncontested and continue to remind all who call on the name of the Lord to this very day as to the power of the Word of God preached.


In His Sovereign Grip,
 
Ben

 

 

Bibliography

“Benjamin Franklin on Rev. George Whitefield, 1739,” National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox, accessed November 12, 2016, http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/becomingamer/ideas/text2/franklinwhitefield.pdf.

 

Boyd, Gregory A. The Myth of a Christian Nation. Michigan: Zondervan, 2005.

 

Cairns, Earle E. Christianity through the Centuries. Michigan: Zondervan, 1996.

 

French, Allen. Charles I and the Puritan Upheaval: A Study of the Causes of the Great Migration. Michigan: Allen & Unwin, 1955.

 

“George Whitefield: Methodist Evangelist,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, accessed November 12, 2016, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/whitefield.

 

Hall, Timothy L. Separating Church and State: Roger Williams and Religious Liberty. Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1998.

 

Marsden, George M. Jonathan Edwards: A Life.

 

“Quotations on the Jefferson Memorial,” Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., accessed November 11, 2016, https://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/quotations-jefferson-memorial.

 

Remini, Robert V. A Short History of the United States. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.

 

“Short History of Anglicanism,” The Church of England, accessed November 11, 2016, https://www.churchofengland.org/our-faith/being-an-anglican/anglican.aspx.

 

“What Was the Great Puritan Migration?” Reference, accessed November 12, 2016, https://www.reference.com/history/great-puritan-migration-17fa833f4278595f.


 

 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Worship Leaders, Step Back and Remember: You Are Expendable

In an age of self-promoting, hipster-ridden, people-pleasing Sunday morning concerts, complete with light shows and multi-media graphics, it is an odd thing to suggest that the Instrumental Worship Leader ought to be a simple medium by which people can follow along in song—one who is not actually needed in order to realize worship in a church. In other words, the man leading the music is expendable. He is a servant at the service of another—a Master who has already left instructions about what acceptable worship looks like.

In case you missed Part 5, find it here: You Are A Type Of Pastor

Nothing new is needed in order to incite people to worship, indeed there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc 1:9). Nothing particularly creative is needed in order to interest people towards God, indeed only God can draw people to Himself (John 6:44). Dear friends and fellow musicians in God’s church, we are servants of God with gifts to use for the edification of the church and there are times that we will be unappreciated, criticized, and even replaced by fickle churches who want something that stimulates them more.

We have to realize that while we can try and maintain a legitimate repertoire of old and new hymns and songs, we will not make everyone happy and in fact we should not be trying, per se, to make everyone happy; rather, we should be trying to encourage and exhort everyone to a higher view of God that is rooted in a deep knowledge of Scripture. This should be the goal of the entire pastoral staff, ultimately. As much as it pertains to us—the musicians—we must be ever so careful to play music that naturally complements the words we sing, rather than chanting phrases that complements our jam sessions. We must be diligent to teach our churches why we sing and why we sing together.

With all of that said, we need to remember that if we are really sold out for being a faithful minister of music for the glory of God, then there could be consequences. For millennia, faithful men of God in preaching and teaching roles have been ousted for remaining unmoved in their conviction to preach the true Gospel, not skipping over such topics like the wrath of God, the sovereignty of God, the exclusivity of Christ, etc.

We remember people like Jonathan Edwards who was voted out of his church after 23 years of faithful ministry because he maintained that only those who professed the Christian faith should be allowed to take communion. He was right and yet he was still voted out by a majority of about 90% (!). The controversy at that time was massive. His careful concern to not desecrate the Lord’s Table was looked down upon with great disdain even though the Apostle Paul warned that eating the bread and drinking the wine in an unworthy manner would be eating and drinking judgment on oneself (1 Cor 11:27–29).

If Jonathan Edwards could be forced to step down due to his biblical position and conviction of the reverence of God in the church through the Lord’s Table, then we must also realize that there is a real possibility that we, as modern church musicians (and oh how shifty is our taste in music), will be asked to step down because we maintain a biblical conviction to draw lines at songs and bands that we feel are insufficient expressions of worship and reverence to God, be it in the lyrics, or in the music itself.

You may be replaced because you simply aren’t drawing the crowds that other churches are. You may be replaced because enough people in the church have voiced their opinion on what “better worship” looks like, thus concerning the church leadership as to whether or not they are about to lose some of their congregants.

No matter what, we must be patient with people and help them see why it is we sing what we sing and why it is we sound different than the church down the street and why it matters. We do not come to church to be get entertained, but to give expression in our worship with singing as our worship is really seen in our life that walks according to the Spirit rather than according to the flesh (Gal 5; Rom 8).

I have found that this is a very, very difficult thing to get across to a church unless the entire church leadership is on board with a united stance on the theology of worship. Where no official position is held, then anything is subject to change based on the loudest, or most convincing critic. Of course, with criticism always comes the threat of people leaving, so the church leaders are faced with a seemingly difficult situation as they either let the congregant go, or the Instrumental Worship Leader go if enough people voice their complaints. To be sure, these situations do not have to be difficult if the leaders all have a conviction on what biblical worship is as well as have a conviction on what the biblical use of music is. Notice how I separated those two topics. While they do overlap, they are not synonymous terms. Furthermore, if the church leadership does not actively teach the theology of worship and music, then the church will be more apt to complain.

No matter the umbrella of leadership that you find yourself in, you have to be willing to be traded out for the next newest thing when the time comes. Wherever you are serving you are serving as unto the Lord and not as people-pleasers for eye-service as Paul told the Ephesians (6:5–7).

You can only do so much in your position as you are not primarily responsible for leading the church. When there comes a point that your conviction of biblical worship differs significantly from the leaders in the church, then it will probably result in you moving on, rather than them. God is sovereign over these things and will always work together everything for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).

I remember when I was sat down by our church leadership with the concern that worship was at the lowest point ever, people were complaining, people were leaving, and the quality of the music was not very good anymore. I received this list in a few seconds and needless to say it was very bothersome to me, but not for what you might think.

I was mostly bothered that our leadership was actually moved by the fact that people were leaving over matters of musical taste and then considering that to be indicative of a ministry problem. This gets right back to how important it is to define worship. It is one’s adoration and obedience to Christ in their life, not their preference in church music.

Our church at that time had seen a massive decline in our band size because of graduating college seniors who made up the bulk. This practically changed overnight in the spring and we suddenly sounded a lot different. Well, people hear the sudden difference and realize it is not going to change anytime soon and grow complacent, thus becoming critical. This really requires a tactful, teacher-spirit on the part of the leadership to help people understand how the composition of the band has no bearing on the acceptability of one’s song sung to God while encouraging them to be patient for the minor details and not to be derailed by them as they are inconsequential.

Unfortunately, too many times leaders succumb to the temptation to validate these criticisms. They see people leave for petty, illegitimate reasons and instead of trust God for the size of their congregation, what do they do? They turn to the musicians and formulate a plan to draw people in with better music. Such it was with our church. Though we declared every Sunday that we were an expositional church, we were suddenly adopting seeker-sensitive methodologies to attract a younger crowd.

Do we not tire of this charade anymore? Do we not grow weary of the senseless, programmatic approach to the ministry that usurps the role of the Holy Spirit of God? Friends, whether we realize it or not, we prove that we understand little of the power of the Word of God preached that draws the true elect church to a place of fellowship—people of all ages—when we think that music is the key to a successful ministry. We have to rid ourselves of the immature notion that we can draw people in with music to hear the sound preaching. We’re kidding ourselves. This improperly elevates music and inappropriately lowers the authority of God in our lives.

“No one can come to me,” Jesus said, “unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

It came to a point where I had to say I wasn’t their man for the job if they were going that direction. I felt they did not hold to a biblical theology of worship, or ecclesiology for that matter, and that there wasn’t a real, genuine problem, rather an opportunity to teach the church more about these things to take the wind out of the sails of the critical voices. To no avail, the leadership had decided to continue on with their new plan and asked me to step down, which I agreed. When it comes to a point like that it doesn’t do any good to stay and cause a scene. If you really do care for the people of God, then you will do whatever you can to minimize the wake of conflict.

In hindsight, the Lord has only blessed our family by bringing us to the next place he would have use serve at and grow at—one that has a deep love for sound doctrine and a consistent application of it.

Look, if we are servants, then we are expendable, yet never outside of God’s sovereign plan. He ordains these things to teach us, grow us, and mold us, while bringing glory to Himself. I am already amazed at how much I would be missing out on with new friends and opportunities to grow and serve had this frustrating experience not happened and I am extremely thankful for it.

The prophet Jeremiah once said, “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (10:23).

Fellow musicians, let’s also remember what the Apostle Paul said, namely, “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Rom 12:3). We are not rock stars, just musicians. The church does not revolve around us, but the glory of the only living God and His Son, Jesus Christ. We are not irreplaceable personalities, but servants that are moved by God to serve wherever he would have us.

When it comes to the music ministries we have been given by the mercy of God, let’s have a heart that cries what the expatriated Jews did in Psalm 137:

“If I forget you, O [God], let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set [God] above my highest joy!” (5–6).

In His Sovereign Grip,

Ben

Friday, December 18, 2015

Worship Leaders, Step Back and Remember: You Are A Type of Pastor

Extremely unique is the responsibility that the Instrumental Worship Leaders (IWL’s) have. Unlike the preaching and teaching pastor who speaks forth to a congregation that only listens and perhaps takes some notes, the worship leader actually puts words into their mouths. This is a massive responsibility that should never be taken lightly.

In case you missed Part 4, find it here: Lyrics Are Paramount

Keith Getty has often said that “we are what we sing,” meaning that we end up believing whatever it is we keep singing about. As we have discussed in a recent post regarding the lyrical content of our songs, the selection that we make is no meaningless task. Simply put, our music should reflect what it is we know about God, i.e. who He is and what He has done. In fact, whether we realize it or not, our music will reflect what we believe about God—be it correct, or incorrect—and to what level we grasp a particular truth will be manifested in our songs.

Generally speaking, IWL’s will find themselves operating in one of two paradigms when it comes to song selection: 1) They select the song based on its overall thought, statement, and lyrical content, and then considers the musical accompaniment that enhances it; or 2) They select the song based on the overall sound and feel of the music—period. In our modern world today, it is all too obvious that most churches operate under the second principle. This practically leaves them at the mercy of the latest “worship” album being generated by young musicians in their early to late twenties who have virtually no theological training, or firm grasp of the timeless doctrines of the Christian faith that are taken from the Word of God. It is a vicious cycle that continues to degenerate, rather than mature since the model is based on emulating youth, rather than theologically proven wisdom.

To be clear, youth does not necessitate bad theology, but as a general axiomatic principle, maturity grows with age, so the younger someone is the more prone they are to the trappings of their immaturity if not well-trained. It is no wonder that the Apostle Paul told his dear—and quite young—apprentice, Timothy, to “let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4:12). He was to be even more diligent in his youth to be an example to everyone as to what a godly, faithful youth looked like. All of this is to say that the youth-dominant—or youth-targeting—music that dominates the albums being emulated in our churches around America are not exactly a bunch of Timothy’s, meaning they are not theologically minded-pastors. This is not so much a criticism as it is an observation, which demands our attention as to what we do with it. Put another way, it is not to say that there is necessarily bad theology in a bulk of the music being sold, rather there is very little of it—and this is a problem.

It is notable that when the Apostle Paul told the Colossian church to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (3:16) in this familiar and oft-quoted passage, that he preceded it with the instruction to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” He told the exact same thing to the Ephesian church in 5:18–19. John MacArthur has rightly said that our worship will be as high as our theology is deep. The deeper we understand the Word of God, the more it will be reflected in our lives and in our songs.

This goes right back to what Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4 in regards to what worship would look like—it would be in spirit and in truth (v. 23). It is also why he told this Gentile woman, “you worship what you do not know; we [the Jews] worship what we know” (v.22) (emphasis mine). Again, make no mistake, this is not relegated to music alone. In fact, it is largely targeting the life of the individual and their obedience; their holiness. Yet, it affects everything that falls under the worship umbrella. Truth is knowable, definitive, and absolute. It goes without saying that it should be a hallmark of any song that we offer up to our mighty and holy God.

It is also important to understand how the Word of God impacts our volition, or our will. When the word of Christ dwells in us richly, it does not sit stagnant—that wouldn’t be very rich. No, we understand from Hebrews 4:12 that the “word of God is living and active,” so we can expect it to have an effect on the soul in which it resides.

Listen to the beautiful way in which the prophet Isaiah wrote in regards to the effect of the word of the LORD:

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (55:10–11).

The outcome? Verse 12 continues: “You shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

The more we are saturated with the word of God, the more we have reason to praise Him with all reverence and awe and, in fact, the more natural it will be for our mouths and lips to articulate those things. Our Lord Himself said of both good and evil people in Luke 6:45 that it is, “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” It is no wonder that both Isaiah and Colossians attribute the work of the Word of God to high and acceptable praise and worship. This is what the Holy Spirit does in a redeemed life.

Consider the commendation of Hebrews 13:15: “Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” For our lips to be fruitful in offering this sacrifice of confessing His Name, then our hearts must be full of—yes, richly indwelt by—the word of Christ.

The takeaway from all of this is two-fold. First, The IWL must constantly be devoting himself to the study of the Bible. I cannot emphasize this enough. This alone would revolutionize the way most churches approach the congregational time of singing. Far too often—and I mean painfully so—the first available kid who can play a guitar and sing is given this weighty task and many times he couldn’t tell you where any given book of the Bible is even located. From my own personal observations, this is usually because the church wants to save money by not hiring on a full-time music minister. That has been the prevailing shift in the last ten years. The theological importance of singing truth as a congregation is usually not appreciated, thus not prioritized, as it should be by the leaders who make the scheduling decisions.

By the way, I was one of those kids once. From the beginning, I have wanted to understand what worship really is, biblically, and how music is a part of that. I was (and still am) passionate about doing music right before my Lord and Savior. My disposition notwithstanding, I was theologically immature and unable to practice the best discernment in song selection as I am today. Churches would be doing themselves and the Lord Jesus Christ a great service to place the responsibility of the music of the church into the hands of a doctrinally sound and theologically mature leader who also possesses the exceptional ability to play and/or direct music.

This takes us to our second point in that the IWL must select songs that are theologically rich so that it contributes to a higher exaltation of God as well as the edification and maturity of the saints who sing the songs. They will start learning and believing what it is they are singing, so we are indeed a type of pastor as we contribute to the shepherding of people into the truth of the Word of God. The song selection goes hand in hand with the preaching and teaching ministry of the church—they both teach. The music aspect has its own special benefit, in that it makes these truths that are being sung more memorable.

Keith Getty said on one occasion that if the sermon on Sunday is a really good one, then people typically remember the last song . . . If the sermon was a really poor sermon, people still remember the last song! In either case, we leave a memorable impression on people with our music, so it would be a shame if they left with an impression of showmanship, rather than the melody line running through their heads that carries along a precious truth or praise about God. Music aids memory. It is extremely practical and entirely useful. Professional jingle writers make a lot of money for simply creating a memorable sound byte that ties people’s minds to a product. Again, music aids memory.

A fantastic example of this is when God had Moses write the law down in the form of a song in Deuteronomy 31. God’s reason?

“Write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel . . . this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring)” (19–21) (emphasis mine). In other words, the song would be memorable and teachable to all generations so that the kids would pick it up and be able to sing it. The song would be a witness against them, if need be, as it was the actual reminder of the Law of God to be obeyed.

Friends, every part of the congregational worship service is to be focused on glorifying and exalting our triune God which will in fact spiritually benefit and edify the saints involved. The musicians and their leaders are simply servants who provide a service that helps to meet that end. They are not there to act as a marketing gimmick to fill the seats. They are not there to take votes on what style everyone wants. They are not even there to meet people where they are at. That misses the entire purpose for gathering. They are simply there to play music so that everyone can sing to God! The whole church gathers in order to hear from God’s Word and sing God’s praises. They meet together to worship God from where they are at. While true worship has a spiritually beneficial impact on the soul and mind, the target of our music is not to achieve an experiential, or emotional, end that someone thinks they need. No; rather, if you are offering your sacrifice with a pure and humble heart before God in reverence and awe, then you will simply experience the camaraderie of worshiping God with others of a like mind, knowing that you are honoring God with acceptable worshipthe right spirit and grounded in truth.

Fellow musicians, do not cave into the pressures of having your ministry dictated by complaints. Be a teacher. Shepherd your team and as much of the church as you can to understand biblical worship and how music then fits into that. Remain diligent to study Scripture so that when you speak it is obvious what your time is spent reading and when you select songs they will be ones that reflect the knowledge and reverence of the most Holy God. This will make you more valuable to the work God is doing in His Church on earth. We will not be giving an account to our congregation, elders, or family when we stand before God—we will give an account to God alone. May we be men of conviction that take the opportunity, through our musical talent, to raise the thoughts of men and women to the highest of heights, where God is seated in the heavens on His throne.

As John the Baptist rightly said: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).

In Christ Alone,

Ben

Part 6: You Are Expendable 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Is Spanking Really In The Bible?


What does biblical discipline look like in a parent-child context? If spanking is a part of it, then when exactly? When are words enough?

Thankfully, the Bible answers these questions for us.

Let’s first settle the question about “the rod”tbX in the Hebrew language, which is transliterated to Shebet. Each time we come across “rod” in the following verses, it is using this word, which means exactly what we would think it means: a rod, shaft, or club. You can do many things with the rod as we will see.

Understanding “the rod” is a simple thing to do as the Bible does not merely allude to it once or twice, but speaks in various places and in various ways as to the necessity of using a rod when necessary.

One of the first instances in Scripture where we see “the rod” being spoken of in a disciplinary sense is actually back in 2 Samuel during the time of King David when God was making His covenant with David, known simply as the Davidic Covenant. While God tells David about all that He is going to do through David’s lineage in a positive way, He also speaks to what He will do when Israel sins. Pay close attention:

“When your days are fulfilled and you [David] lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him” (7:12–15), (emphasis mine).

Notice first of all that parental discipline with a rod is assumed, revealed in how God uses that as his prime example for inflicting pain on His children when they commit iniquity. Psalm 89 reiterates this, saying, “I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes” (v. 32).

Significantly: Who was the immediate king after David?—Solomon—the very man who wrote the majority of the book of Proverbs, in which our wisdom of godly parenting and discipline is found.

Later on in the book of Isaiah, we see what exactly “the rod” was for Israel when they sinned: “Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him” (5–6), (emphasis mine).

The warning for this kind of punishment went back even further than David—it went back to Moses himself: “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God . . . The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young” (Deut 28:1, 49–50).

God’s point to David was clear: I will be a father to them and I will discipline them when they sin, but my steadfast love will not depart from them. A parent who loves their children, disciplines in a way that at times will be painful—and oh how fleeting is that momentary sting?—in order to teach them of the ultimate reality that unchecked sin leads to eternal pain, even eternal death.

What may be helpful for us is to remember that “the rod” was also something that gently guided, as was often the case for shepherds. Their shepherd’s staff had an open curve at the end that they could use for both physically manhandling and gently guiding. We all know Psalm 23 where David said, “the LORD is my shepherd . . . thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (vss.1,  4).

Gentle guidance notwithstanding, Proverbs 13:24 says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (emphasis mine). The latter half could also be translated as “he who loves him disciplines him early.” Indeed, a necessary component.

Additionally, Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.”

Sometimes people may be tempted to think that all of these verses pertaining to disciplining with the rod are simply ways of expressing how parents, like shepherds, used the rod of correction only to guide their children verbally, but not to correct, physically. While the guiding aspect is a necessary part of parenting, it is not to the exclusion of the actual “strike” that we call a spanking:

“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol” (Prov 23:13–14). The statement is clear. Even in 26:3 we see that there is “a whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools.”

Isaiah 28:27 also refers to the use of a rod for a blow which is quite revealing: “Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin, but dill is beaten out with a stick, and cumin with a rod.” We can clearly see what the use and intent of the rod was here.

That Hebrew word for “strike” is hkn, which means to be stricken, or smitten; to give a blow, or to beat. It is even used for clapping and applause. The sense is clear—it is a physical action that involves a type of hit. The biblical parenting context demands the backside, which rules out uncalled-for abuse, or sporadic "hitting" as is so misconstrued today.

Thus, spanking is not a recent invention of unloving disciplinarians, rather it is a specific tool meant to chasten our kids out of love so as to preserve them from death—something that has been the case for thousands and thousands of years.

Keep in mind that the entire book of Proverbs is essentially predicated on passing true wisdom from one generation to the next. It is written to ensure that the reader does not become a fool, but becomes wise, which will only happen where there is a fear of the LORD: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7). Parenting is all about raising little fools to be wise men and women of God. Folly is bound up in their hearts, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away (22:15). Will we become the fools and despise Proverb’s wisdom by calling spanking an option that we choose not to exercise?

“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered” (28:26). Being that this wisdom is found in the fear of the Lord, what does it reveal about us if we refuse to believe the wisdom that God has delivered here?

Let’s end in Proverbs 29 as we address some final aspects of biblical discipline. It is important to know that spanking in itself is not a magic pill. If you improperly spank, i.e. act inconsistent with discipline, act angry and seek revenge, etc., then you will probably be guilty of provoking your kids to anger and you will not have taught them a thing.

In 29:15, we see a critical dually-operating system of discipline that cannot be ignored. In fact, this corrects many false notions of effective parenting all at the same time. Notice my emphasis:

“The rod and reproof give wisdom . . .”

“The rod” refers to the spanking and “reproof” is a verbal reprimand, correction, or admonition. You see, it is both of these things that, when used in a loving way, seeks the positive edification of the child and will reap the fruit of righteousness later in life.

The second part of this verse cannot be overlooked either:

“. . . but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”

Where the rod and the reproof are overlooked, rebellious behavior—fueled by the internal sin-nature that we inherit from Adam—will have its way in the child. We cannot simply laugh our way through temper tantrums and defiant behavior as we play the victim that has the tougher lot in life with our kids. God gave us our specific kids to love, instruct, and discipline, and we would be downplaying our responsibilities, indeed the very reason for our existence, if we thought otherwise.

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, sums up parenting in a single verse: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (6:4). To the Colossians he wrote: “Do not provoke your children lest they become discouraged.”

Brow-beating, abusive behavior, belittling, humiliation, annoyed anger, and the like are not characteristics of godly people in general, let alone parents. It is significant to remember that even in a culture that had family-owned slaves, the Apostle reminded them that Christians were to be fair and just to them as well (Col 4:1). Everyone was to be treated graciously. There was never an allowance for abuse. Any type of correction that is done to our children is to always be controlled, temporary, and above all—loving.

In His Sovereign Grip,


Ben