A Bestial Vigil

December 1, 2015 in Coeur d'Alene Issues, Homosexuality, Politics, Thankfulness, Tradition

I recently wrote another Letter to the Editor which the Coeur d’Alene Press was kind enough to publish on page C2 of Tuesday’s paper. For those who don’t get the paper, here it is in pixels:

Well it’s Thanksgiving season and that always makes me more than usually happy and grateful to live here in America. We have a glorious heritage. President George Washington remarked in his first Thanksgiving Proclamation:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor… therefore, I do recommend and assign [a day] to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country…

Washington recognized our dependence as a people on the Creator of all and called upon us as Americans “to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue…” Virtue, Washington believed, is essential for our survival as a people and for securing the continued blessings of Almighty God.

It is for this reason that I read with much concern the article in the Coeur d’Alene Press reporting that our mayor and at least one member of our City Council attended a candlelight vigil to remember and honor transgendered people who have been murdered. While these murders are certainly tragic, the action by our city officials, by the Human Rights Educations Institute, and by Heather Seman, the leader of Community United Methodist Church, to glorify and laud the supposed “courage” of those in the transgendered community is appalling. They would like us to believe that the transgendered are the new martyrs, the heroes whom we are to extol and whose virtues we are to imitate.

But are they really? Is transgressing sexual mores really a display of courage? Or is it not rather a display of profound confusion, weakness, and sin? After all, if it is a sign of courage then why limit ourselves to the transgendered community? Why doesn’t the HREI sponsor a vigil honoring all those who’ve been killed for practicing bestiality? The bestial man killed by a local farmer because he just couldn’t suppress his longing for the farmer’s lambs. The bestial woman trampled to death by the bull with which she was attempting to mate. Are such people worthy of remembrance; are we to praise their virtue and courage?

In his Farewell Address, President Washington reminded us that “religion and morality are indispensable” to a free republic. A people who do not treasure virtue, self-control, and the moral law of God are a people doomed to destruction. Transgressing sexual mores is no more an expression of courage than murdering those who do is. We do not praise the “courage” of the thief, the “courage” of the adulterer, or the “courage” of the child abuser. Instead we condemn their violation of the moral law and their lack of virtue. Candlelight vigils should be reserved for those who truly deserve them – those who embrace virtue despite others’ opposition, those who give their lives to keep others safe, and those who restrain their passions and desires in order to honor their Creator.

Why Kneel in Worship?

January 11, 2015 in Bible - NT - Revelation, Bible - OT - 1 Kings, Bible - OT - Psalms, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Meditations, Rome, Tradition, Worship
1 Kings 8:54 (NKJV)
54 And so it was, when Solomon had finished praying all this prayer and supplication to the LORD, that he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven.
In its public worship, every church has traditions. Whether it is a tradition of spontaneity or a tradition of regularity, traditions are unavoidable. They are an inescapable part of human life. It is important, therefore, that we regularly evaluate our traditions to make sure that they reflect and not undermine biblical principles.
Among the traditions we have as a congregation, one of them is kneeling when we confess our sins. In just a moment I will invite you to kneel with me as we confess our sins to God. Many people, visitors especially, find this practice uncomfortable or objectionable – in fact, many have refused to return and worship here because we kneel during our service. The preaching is fine; the music is acceptable; the fellowship seems sweet – but why do you kneel?
This question often causes me to scratch my head and wonder what in the world is happening in the church today. What is it about kneeling that bothers us? Some say it reminds them too much of Roman Catholic worship. But, of course, if we were to reject whatever the Roman church practices, then we’d have to eliminate Scripture reading, prayer, and public singing as well. So I’m not sure that’s the real issue. I think the real issue is deeper.
Kneeling is an act of humility; it is to bow before another and acknowledge that that other is greater than I, more important than I, and hence worthy of my respect and honor or even my adoration. It is also sometimes a visible expression of wrongdoing, a plea for mercy as it were. Hence, there are times when kneeling is inappropriate. Mordecai refused to kneel before Haman; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused to kneel before Nebuchadnezzar’s statue; God reserved 7,000 in Israel who would not kneel to Baal. There are times when kneeling is compromise and sin.

But there are other times when kneeling is glorious: all Israel bowed the knee to King David; a leper kneeled before Jesus begging to be healed; a man kneels before his beloved and asks for her hand in marriage. In such situations, how can one do anything but kneel? So what about worship? We have entered into the presence of Almighty God, the Creator of Heaven and earth, the High and Holy One – the One whose glory fills heaven and earth; the One whose power governs all that occurs; the One whose love compelled Him to send His only-begotten Son to rescue His people from sin and Satan and death – how could we imagine that to kneel before this One is unfitting or inappropriate? Uncomfortable at first? Maybe. But profoundly wise and biblical.
So in our passage today, we see that Solomon – the Son of David, the King of Israel, and the wisest of men – kneeled before God to make supplication and prayer. And Psalm 95 summons us, O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our God our Maker! And note that this isn’t a summons to private but to public kneeling – O come, let us kneel ­– let all of us together bow before God for He is worthy! And so the four living creatures and the 24 elders in the book of Revelation fall down before the Lamband they sing a new song saying, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!

So this morning, as we consider that we have entered into the presence of Almighty God, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.

Against the Church

July 24, 2014 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Church History, Ecclesiology, Quotations, Rome, Tradition, Word of God

“No one willingly says that the church is wrong, and yet it is necessary to say that it is wrong if it teaches anything besides or against God’s Word.”

Martin Luther, Galatians, p. 59.

The Church is our Mother and to be treated with respect and honor. But the Church is to honor the Word of our Father. When the Church fails to do so, then the disciple must follow the Father for the sake of the Mother. This is how Luther conceived his calling. Unfortunately many modern self-proclaimed “reformers” do not have a proper respect for their Mother and make themselves the sole arbiters of truth rather than the Word. Luther writes earlier in his commentary:

“Since the church is such a soft and tender thing, and so soon overthrown, we must be quick to watch against these people with their mad ideas. When they have given two sermons or have read a few pages of the Holy Scriptures, they reckon they are in control of all learners and teachers and are answerable to no human authority. You can find many such people today, bold and impudent persons who because they have not been tried by temptations have never learned to fear God, nor had any taste or feeling of grace. Because they are empty of the Holy Spirit, they teach what they like best and such things as are plausible and pleasant to the common people. Then the uneducated multitude, longing to hear news, soon joins them.” p. 47

The Public Reading of Scripture

January 12, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 Timothy, Bible - NT - James, Bible - NT - Revelation, Lord's Day, Meditations, Tradition, Word of God, Worship
1 Timothy 4:13 (NASB95)
13
Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.
In its public worship, every church has traditions. Whether it is a tradition of spontaneity or a tradition of regularity, traditions are unavoidable. They are an inescapable part of human life. It is important, therefore, that we learn to distinguish between our traditions and God’s commands so that we are able to evaluate our traditions in light of His commands. Nothing is more deadly than imagining that we don’t have traditions – for this is the first step to subverting the Word of God with our traditions.
Among the traditions which we have as a congregation, one of them is reading various passages from the Word of God each Lord’s Day. Apart from the sermon text, we read Old and New Testament passages. Why do this?
The passage today answers this question. For while many of our traditions are simply applications of biblical principles, the public reading of the Word of God is the implementation of a biblical tradition. Paul exhorts Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture.” Likewise, John in the book of Revelation pronounces his blessing on the one who was to read in worship the book he was composing. Reading portions of the Word of God each Lord’s Day is not simply a church tradition – it is an apostolic tradition.
Given that Paul places such a premium on reading the Word of God in our public assembly, how ought we to approach it? First, how ought we to read the Word of God? The Scriptures give us a number of principles. We ought to read with reverence and awe for it is the Word of the Living God, the God who is a consuming fire. We ought to read in a language that God’s people can understand – for when Ezra read to the people of God in the Old Testament he translated to give the sense (Neh 8:8). We ought to read with joy – for the Word is life itself, giving us wisdom and direction for our lives. Finally, we ought to read with discretion – giving due attention to the tone of the passage – whether it is pronouncing doom upon the unrepentant or comfort to the afflicted; tone matters.
Second, how ought we to listen to the Word of God? We are told in Nehemiah 8:3 that “all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” And this is our first and primary obligation. We should be straining our ears to hear the Word of the living God. Our ears should be attentive to His message; all our being should be focused on God’s revelation of Himself. Taking every thought captive, let us hear what the reading is announcing to us today.
And, having heard, let us not be like the man who looks at his face in a mirror and immediately forgets what sort of person he is. No, rather let us not only give ear to the Word but as God uses it to poke and prod us, let us give heed to in in the alteration of our attitudes and actions.

This reminds us that we often fail to give heed God’s Word as we ought. Our attention is often distracted when it is read. Our own opinions often intrude. Our heart often refuses to obey when we have heard. Let us then draw near to God and ask Him to cleanse us of our faults.

Church Calendar

December 12, 2010 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Church History, Liturgy, Meditations, Tradition

Colossians 3:17 (NKJV)
17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Last week we insisted that as we enter into the Advent season, the beginning of the Christian calendar, it is imperative for us to remember the distinction between the Word of God and the traditions of men. But given that the observance of the Christian calendar is not a matter of necessity, why have our elders decided to emphasize it? Why have we decided, among the myriad of things that we could emphasize, to emphasize this? Aren’t there bigger fish to fry? Isn’t this perhaps putting an unnecessary stumbling block in front of God’s people? Aren’t we straining at gnats and swallowing camels?

As we consider these questions, I would like us to meditate on the meaning of calendars. What do calendars do? They measure time, they organize our lives, they shape us and mold us as creatures made in the image of God.

“Solomon reminds us that there is a season for all things. That is, that timing
is an important feature of wisdom. God tells us that the whole sky that we walk
under was created so that man could understand the season and timing of things.
Then God descended upon Sinai and gave Israel a calendar of holidays as part of
its heritage… which the gospel writer John shows pointed to Jesus. Even Jesus
himself tells us that he comes during an acceptable season. Seasons, timing,
memory. memorial, history, heritage, and holy days are all a central concern to
our God and concern for God’s people. For he divides times, and we are made in
that image.” (Troy Martin)

This centrality of time, the centrality of calendars, was made evident in the French Revolution. For one of the first things that the revolutionaries endeavored to accomplish was to change the calendar, to reorient it – not around the birth of Christ but around the beginning of the French Revolution since that was the most important thing in history.

So what does this all have to do with the Christian calendar? Consider for a moment what the Christian calendar does. First, it dates all things in history from the birth of Christ declaring in no uncertain terms that Jesus is the center of history. Second, it not only dates all things from Christ’s birth, it also orients the entire year around the life of Christ. Advent – awaiting his birth; Christmas – celebrating His birth; Epiphany – celebrating his revelation as Messiah to the Magi and in his baptism; Lent – remembering his suffering; Passion week – remembering his final week of challenge, betrayal, death, burial, and glorious resurrection; Ascension – celebrating his enthronement at God’s right hand as King of kings and Lord of lords; Pentecost – celebrating the outpouring of the Spirit by our Risen and Exalted Lord. Between Pentecost and Advent? Celebrating the work of Christ by the power of His Spirit throughout the course of history.

In other words, the Christian calendar is a reminder that “Christ marks our time, Christ marks our calendar. It is wisdom to know the season of things, and Christ is our wisdom, …” (TM)

Why is this important? Precisely this: our calendars always reflect the god we worship. In the ancient world, it was the lives and doings of the gods that structured time. In the Muslim world, it is the actions of Muhammed and the operations of the heavens that govern the world. In the Western world, a world that still clings to the vestiges of a Christian heritage but is now apostatizing, rejecting that heritage, what gods do we worship? We worship the god of self.

Our schedules are dominated by us. Our thoughts about time are filled with
thoughts about our own time, our own work, our own busy schedule. And should we ever have a holiday, we understand it only as a personal vacation. So today’s
exhortation is an invitation, to remember who marks your steps and determines
your times. You were bought with a price, you do not belong to yourself. Neither
does your time.
(Troy Martin)

So whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Reminded that we have failed to do so, let us kneel and confess our sins to God.

Traditions of Men

December 12, 2010 in Bible - NT - Matthew, Liturgy, Meditations, Tradition

Matthew 15:1-6 (NKJV)
1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” 3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— 6 then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.

The passage before us in Matthew is no doubt familiar, highlighting the tension between Jesus and the religious rulers of the day. As we see, one of the central controversies that divided Jesus and the Pharisees was the issue of authority: By what standard do we declare something to be right or wrong? Whose Word has the authority to bind the conscience and to direct the lives of God’s people? In our passage Jesus insists that in all things we must maintain a fundamental distinction between those things that are human traditions and those that are commandments of God. When we fail to make the distinction between these two things we inevitably run the danger, which the Pharisees failed to avoid, of substituting human traditions for the Word of God or of imagining that our own traditions have equal weight with the Word of God.

Traditions are not inherently bad. In fact, traditions are inevitable. They are one of those things that we cannot avoid. And when we try to avoid having traditions we simply end up with a new tradition – namely, not having traditions. Traditions are not the problem.

The problem arises when we don’t make a distinction between our traditions and God’s commands and we soon become incapable of differentiating them. This then leads us to the point where our traditions take precedence over the Word of God and we find ourselves incapable of seeing the way in which our traditions actually undermine the Word of God. This was the situation of the Pharisees. So much did they laud their traditions, that they could no longer see the way in which their traditions were making the Word of God of no effect – substituting spiritual sounding “This money is Corban, dedicated to God’s service” for the down to earth support of their parents who were in need and hungry.

This morning we have instituted a few changes in our liturgy. It is always good on such occasions to understand why we have done so. Among the various reasons one of the central ones is reinforcing the distinction between the Word of God and our traditions. We are firmly convinced that our basic order of worship is reflective of biblical principles laid out in the Old Testament sacrificial system. We are just as firmly convinced that the details of our worship, while also reflective of biblical principles, are nowhere absolutely commanded in the Word of God. They are our own local traditions – the methods by which we implement biblical principles. As a means of ruffling feathers and making sure that we don’t get so set in our ways that we imagine all the little details of our liturgy are found in Deuteronomy somewhere, we periodically change the liturgy.

And so, as we come into the presence of our Lord this day, let us remember to draw the distinction between the commandments of God and the traditions of men – and let us confess to our Lord that we have too often failed to make this distinction. We will have a time of silent prayer followed by our responsive confession.

The Public Reading of Scripture

June 16, 2009 in Liturgy, Meditations, Tradition, Word of God

1 Timothy 4:13 (NASB95)
13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.

As we mentioned a couple weeks ago in a call to worship, traditions are unavoidable. Every church has traditions. The important element in traditions is recalling the distinction between our traditions and the Word of God and constantly subjecting our traditions to the Word of God.

Among the traditions which we have as a congregation, one of them is reading various passages from the Word of God each Lord’s Day. Apart from the sermon text, we read Old and New Testament passages. Why do this?

The passage today answers this question. For while many of our traditions are simply applications of biblical principles, the public reading of the Word of God is the implementation of a biblical tradition. Paul exhorts Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture.” Likewise, John in the book of Revelation pronounces his blessing on the one who was to read in worship the book he was composing. Reading portions of the Word of God each Lord’s Day is not simply a church tradition – it is one that has apostolic precedent.

Given that Paul places such a premium on reading the Word of God in our public assembly, how ought we to approach this activity? First, how ought the Word of God to be read? The Scriptures give us a number of principles. It ought to be read with reverence and awe for it is the Word of the Living God, the God who is a consuming fire. It ought to be read in a language that God’s people can understand – for when Ezra read the Word to the people of God in the Old Testament he translated to give the sense so that the people could understand the reading (Neh 8:8). It ought to be read with joy – for the Word is life itself, giving us wisdom and direction for our lives. Finally, it ought to be read with discretion – giving due attention to the tone of the passage – whether it is pronouncing doom upon the unrepentant or comfort to the afflicted; tone matters.

Second, what ought we to do who are listening to the Word of God? What should characterize the listeners? We are told in Nehemiah 8:3 that “all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” And this is our first and primary obligation. We should be straining our ears to hear the Words of the living God. Our ears should be attentive to His message; all our being should be focused on God’s revelation of Himself. Taking every thought captive, let us hear what the reading is announcing to us today.

And, having heard, let us not be like the man who looks at his face in a mirror and immediately forgets what sort of person he is. No, rather let us not only give ear to the Word but as God uses it to poke and prod us, let us give heed to in in the alteration of our attitudes and actions.

This reminds us that we often fail to give heed God’s Word as we ought. Our attention is often distracted when it is read. Our own opinions often intrude. Our heart often refuses to obey when we have heard. Let us then draw near to God and ask Him to cleanse us of our faults.

The Tradition of Anti-Traditionalism

June 1, 2009 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Holy Spirit, Meditations, Tradition, Word of God

1 Corinthians 11:2
Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.

Our culture has institutionalized the tradition of anti-traditionalism. Yesterday’s clothes are outmoded; yesterday’s ideas are prehistoric. Each new generation is expected to originate something totally new. Beanie babies have come and gone; Tickle me Elmos have lost their flare; and Cabbage Patch dolls are a long forgotten craze.

Unfortunately the Church has imbibed much of this cultural food. A couple weeks ago Steve was kind enough to pass along a Religion piece from the Wall Street Journal on the experience of one Trinity Church in Connecticut. Trinity was founded by folks who were dissatisfied with the traditions in the churches and who wanted something new, something hip, something relevant. But now, ten years later, they’ve found that they have their own traditions. The Journal remarks that “these churches were founded by people in rebellion against established institutions. Ten years down the road, they have become the establishment.” Consequently, the pastor of Trinity has decided to step down. “You don’t want to become ossified,” he says. “You have to keep thinking freshly on how to do church.”

Contrast this way of thinking with Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians in our text today: “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.” Paul praises the Corinthians not for their novelty but for their faithfulness to that which they had been taught. Paul, and the rest of the Word of God, teaches us to value a godly inheritance – to take what is given in one generation and prize it and pass it down to the next generation. To tell our children and grandchildren the wonderful works of God so that they in turn can tell their children and grandchildren.

Popular culture, by design, rejects this idea–it plans for obsolescence. Who could imagine making special note in one’s will of your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Collection? Or your Garth Brooks CD collection? The idea seems absurd because these things are not meant to be handed down. Products and performers in pop culture are expected to have their day in the sun and then disappear, to be replaced by another. For this reason, it is critical that our worship not reflect the pop culture mentality, not reflect an opposition to a godly inheritance.

One way that Classical Protestants have endeavored to cultivate a love for godly inheritance is to focus on those traditions in the history of the Church which highlight and exalt Christ, that celebrate the course of His life. Among these is Pentecost Sunday, the day on which we celebrate that Christ poured out His Spirit upon the Church to equip her for her worldwide mission of discipling the nations and bringing all men to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

It is because of Pentecost that the disciples were emboldened to preach the Word of God despite opposition. It is because of Pentecost that we have the New Testament. It is because of Pentecost that our fathers and mothers throughout history have endured torture and death for the glory of Christ. It is because of Pentecost that teachers continue to instruct God’s people. It is because of Pentecost that the Gospel has spread throughout the earth. And it is because of Pentecost that in years to come all the rulers and citizens of the nations shall come and bow before Messiah and acknowledge His greatness. So what better thing to do than to celebrate such an event?

Traditions are not bad; traditions are inevitable. It is when our traditions undermine or distract from what is biblically important that our traditions are destructive. The Pharisees were wrong not because they had traditions but because their traditions obscured and undermined the Word of God. Likewise, many traditions within Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy obscure and undermine the Word of God rather than clarify and exalt it. But the traditions of modern evangelicalism are also destructive – the tradition of anti-traditionalism, the constant tumult, the overthrowing of older generations because younger ones always know better – what do these things have to do with the Word of God?

As we gather to worship, therefore, let us do so with joy, celebrating the great work of the Spirit of God who was poured out upon the Church at Pentecost. And the first thing the Spirit does in bringing us into the presence of our thrice holy God is awaken in us a sense of our own sin – in particular, our sin of obscuring and undermining the Word of God through our traditions. Let us kneel and confess our sins to Him.

Changing the Liturgy

December 8, 2008 in Liturgy, Meditations, Tradition

Matthew 15:1-6 (NKJV)1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” 3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— 6 then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.

The passage before us in Matthew should be very familiar. We have recently explored Mark’s telling of this same event. But Matthew’s emphasis falls differently thank Mark’s – Matthew wants to make sure that his readers always keep before them an essential distinction – there are those things that are human traditions and there are those that are commandments of God. When we fail to make the distinction between these two things we inevitably run the danger, which the Pharisees failed to avoid, of substituting human traditions for the Word of God or of imagining that our own traditions have equal weight with the Word of God.

Traditions are not inherently bad. In fact, traditions are inevitable. They are one of those things that we cannot avoid. And when we try to avoid having traditions we simply end up with a new tradition – namely, not having traditions. Traditions then are not the problem.

The problem arises when we don’t make a distinction between our traditions and God’s commands and we soon become incapable of differentiating them. This then leads us to the point where our traditions take precedence over the Word of God and we find ourselves incapable of seeing the way in which our traditions actually undermine the Word of God. This was the situation of the Pharisees. So much did they laud their traditions, that they could no longer see the way in which their traditions were making the Word of God of no effect.

This morning we have instituted a change in our call to worship and it is always good on such occasions to understand why we have done so. Among the various reasons – which would include the beginning of the Advent season this Lord’s Day – one of the central ones is reinforcing the distinction between the Word of God and our traditions. We are firmly convinced that our basic order of worship is reflective of biblical principles. We are just as firmly convinced that the details of our worship, while also reflective of biblical principles, are nowhere absolutely commanded in the Word of God. They are our own local traditions. And so, as a means of ruffling feathers and making sure that we don’t get so set in our ways that we imagine all the little details of our liturgy are found in Deuteronomy somewhere, we periodically change the liturgy.

And so, as we come into the presence of our Lord this day, let us remember to draw the distinction between the commandments of God and the traditions of men – and let us confess to our Lord that we have too often failed to make this distinction.