Category Archives: Worship

Primitive Christian Worship


Although I disagree with a few strands of his overall theology, I appreciate what Ethelbert Stauffer writes about corporate Christian worship in his New Testament Theology [(Macmillan: 1955), 201]:

The worship of the primitive Church at every point took it back to the coming of Christ, the Christ-event. So it is the good news of the gospel that constitutes the real centre of her services of worship. The Word of Jesus Christ must have its course, said Luther, in the German Mass. It must dwell amongst us richly, declared Paul (Col. 3.16; cf. 1.27). So it came about that the prophecies and histories of the OT were read and expounded; the sermon set forth the mighty acts of God in the fulness of time (Acts 13.15 ff.); the correspondence of the apostles, new and old alike, the epistles, which are very much like sermons when read to the congregations, these were read and so, with their message, their thanksgivings and doxologies, helped to bring out the full meaning of Christian worship.

But Christian worship was ‘also’, most certainly, a service to the world. Yet the primitive Church did not serve mankind in solemn rites and cultic practices, in pious instructions and edifying spirituality. Christian worship rooted men out of their self-centred individualism into an extra nos — away from all that is subjective — up to that which is simply objective. This was its service to humanity. It summoned the nations to worship the crucified.

A Vision for Worship in the Local Church

John Jefferson Davis is professor of systematic theology and Christian ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In his new book, Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence (IVP Academic, 2010), Davis shares his vision for the local church that is built around a simple mission: (1) worship God well, (2) love one another, and (3) engage in mission. His book focuses on (1), but (1) is set in the context of (2) and (3). According to Davis, the faithful church is:

  • Committed to doctrinal orthodoxy and biblical authority.
  • Reformed in its soteriology.
  • Trinitarian in its theology.
  • Charismatic in its practice, affirming the gifts and anticipating the active presence of the Spirit in worship.
  • Counter-cultural in its posture, on one hand confronting scientific materialism (modernism), on the other hand confronting digital virtualism (postmodernism). The church is not a place that we control (contra modernism) and it is not a place to be entertained (contra postmodernism).
  • Missional in its vision, acting locally and “partnering with its brothers and sisters in the faith in the global church” which will also serve to protect the church from “identifying itself too closely with America and its global economic and military hegemony” (32).
  • Neo-monastical in its stress on sexual purity over licentiousness, humble obedience and submission over autonomy, and a life of simplicity in light of consumer-driven materialism.
  • It places God-centered doxology as its highest priority. “The fundamental issue is the recovery of the centrality and reality of God in the worship and life of the evangelical church generally: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead; Jesus is still alive today, and is present here with us in the power of the Spirit to enjoy communion with his people” (12).
  • It stresses the real presence of Christ when the church gathers and frequently celebrates the Lord’s Supper; “a more meaningful and frequent experience of the Lord’s Supper in the life of the evangelical church involves the rediscovery of a central reality in the worship of the New Testament and the early church: the real personal presence of the risen Christ who meets his people in joyful fellowship around the table” (114).
  • It focuses weekly on the main things. “One basic reason why frequent Communion, rightly administered, can be a powerful means of spiritual formation is that it focuses the church’s attention on the core realities of the Christian faith: the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection and the return of Jesus Christ. No Christian doctrines are more fundamental than these for the Christian faith. Week by week the church is reminded in the Eucharist that ‘Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again’” (166).

Davis cannot focus on all these features and he doesn’t try. The book centers on the final three bullets.

Rarely will you find a more pointed critique of the modern church communicated within such a compelling, full-scale vision for correction. And Davis’s understanding of technology, and the influence of technology on the church, is impressive (note the Google homepage analogy to the real presence on page 162).

Worship and the Reality of God was a rare book that I found hard to put down. Here’s what Douglas Groothuis wrote:

Professor Davis recaptures what has been lost in most contemporary worship: a theologically rich understanding of the presence of God in our midst during congregational worship and of how we should rightly respond to this incomparable Reality. This is a book to reawaken the heart and mind to true worship, and as such, it is desperately needed.

Worship and idolatry

tss-well-done.jpgSunday morning, Rick Gamache delivered an excellent sermon on worship in light of idolatry (Worship God!: The Heart of the Right Response; 10/28/07). His main text was Philippians 1:18-23 (esp. v. 21).

Here are a few scattered highlights from my notebook …

  • God does not make worshipers, each of us already worships. If we follow a trail of where we spend our time, money, energy and affection and we will be led to the throne of what we worship.
  • “Pleasure is the measure of our treasure” – Jon Bloom
  • Tragically here is what we often find enthroned: unworthy idols like money, status, reputation, career, promotions, relationships, children, s-ex, possessions, hobbies, books, leisure, education and even ourselves!
  • Evil is forsaking living water for broken cisterns; seeking to be satisfied in something or someone other than God Himself (Jer. 2:12-13).
  • Worship is not a Sunday thing, it’s a way of life.
  • God and idolatry are at war for our worship.
  • Our worship of God is intended to bring us pleasure! “For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant” (Ps. 147:1). God’s demand for our worship is a demand for us to be happy and to experience our greatest pleasures! If we are not worshiping God, it’s to our detriment.
  • The essence of worship is to find our deepest satisfaction in Jesus Christ alone — in this life, and even in the face of greatest loss and personal death (Phil. 1:18-23). We can be content in the loss of all things only if we treasure Christ above all else (Phil. 3:8). Further, to say that death is gain — because we long for greater intimacy with Christ — shows that Christ is the supreme object of our hearts. This is worship.
  • So if my circumstances never change, can I be satisfied? Even if my child continues in rebellion, my health never improves, I never get married, etc., can I be satisfied in Christ? (This is a question of worship).
  • God does not need our worship, nor does our worship add anything to Him (Acts 17:24-25).
  • Thinking that our worship gives God something He didn’t already possess is man-centered legalism that kills worship. We come to worship God to receive from Him. “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps. 116:12-13). This lifting of the cup is a call for God to fill us (see also Heb. 11:6).
  • This worship is not man-centered, it’s radically God-centered. In Psalm 73, where did Asaph’s thinking radically shift from saying God has forgotten about His people (vv. 3-13) to where Asaph breaks out in praise of God’s sufficiency (vv. 25-26)? The change came when Asaph met God in worship (v. 17).
  • We need to recognize, like Asaph, that “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (v. 26). Our hearts are weak and frail and prone to idolatry.
  • In the end we need to pray for the filling of the Holy Spirit to see more of the glory of Christ. A prayer our Father gladly answers (John 16:14; Luke 11:13)!

These are only my scattered notes to whet your appetite for the whole sermon. You can download the mp3 or listen below. Excellent sermon worthy of your precious time!


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Related: Rick Gamache sermon jam (audio)

Related: Seeing the glories of the Cross requires a deeper understanding of God’s holiness and the depth of personal sin.

Related: Spiritual questions to ask your children

Related: Depression, Worldliness and the Presence of God (sermon on Psalm 73).

How Great Your Name

“How Great Your Name,” a new song by Will Pavone


HT: Bob Kauflin via Tommy

Bonhoeffer, the Psalms and Nazi Germany

tss-bonhoeffer.jpgDietrich Bonhoeffer lived and died in Nazi Germany. You can imagine the delight of the Nazis when, in 1940, Bonhoeffer published a book – Das Gebetbuch der Bibel – calling Christians to recapture the importance of the Psalms. A Christian pastor publishing a German book highlighting the importance of the Hebrew Scriptures was about as welcomed by the Nazis as a swastika flag burning demonstration. They threatened Bonhoeffer with a fine and then retracted it. Three years later he was arrested for his anti-Nazi sentiments and hung in 1945. You know the story.

The English translation of this German book is known to us as The Prayerbook of the Bible. Although his arguments can sometimes be over-stated, this short work presses us to see the importance of the Psalms in the Christian community. Not surprising, it remains one of Bonhoeffer’s beloved classics.

But why, in light of the bubbling anti-Semitism, did Bonhoeffer risk his life to draw Christians to the Psalms?

The Psalms + the Lord’s Prayer

First, Bonhoeffer noticed a parallel between the themes of the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms. And there are striking parallels. He learned this from Martin Luther who wrote of the Psalms “it runs through the Lord’s Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer runs through it, so that it is possible to understand one on the basis of the other and to being them into joyful harmony.”

Here is what Jesus taught His disciples to pray (Matt. 6:9-13):

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”

Because these parallel themes run through the Psalms, Bonhoeffer concludes the Psalms too find their origin in Christ. If the Lord’s Prayer is from Christ, we can be certain these similar themes in the Psalms are from Christ, too. There is a deeply Christological understanding of the Psalms for Bonhoeffer. The Psalms are the voice of Christ modeling prayer and worship for His people in the presence of the Father.

The inspired prayers

Whether or not we fully embrace his Christological thesis, we are led to an important question about the composition of the Psalms.

“Now there is in the Holy Scriptures one book that differs from all other books of the Bible in that it contains only prayers. That book is the Psalms. At first it is something very astonishing that there is a prayerbook in the Bible. The Holy Scriptures are, to be sure, God’s Word to us. But prayers are human words. How then do they come to be in the Bible? Let us make no mistake: the Bible is God’s Word, even in the Psalms. Then are the prayers to God really God’s own Word? That seems difficult for us to understand. We grasp it only when we consider that we can learn true prayer only from Jesus Christ, and that it is, therefore, the word of the Son of God, who lives with us human beings, to God the Father who lives in eternity. Jesus Christ has brought before God every need, every joy, every thanksgiving, and every hope of humankind. In Jesus’ mouth the human word becomes again a human word” (5:156-157).

Track his argument here. Are prayers not the spontaneous expressions of a human heart towards God? If so, why are they here written and included in Scripture? If the prayers of David merely originated in the heart of David, why are they preserved in Scripture?

Bonhoeffer responds that the Psalms are preserved in Scripture because these prayer/songs are inspired by God. Or to put it another way, God wrote these prayer/songs to Himself! God – by the inspiration of the Spirit through the pen of the Psalmists – leaves us a pattern of prayer and song that brings us back to the model of Lord’s Prayer. See that? So the Psalms in prayer and praise model the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer.

This leads Bonhoeffer to a further conclusion: prayer is not merely waiting for spontaneous thoughts to emanate from our hearts.

“We must ask how we can understand the Psalms as God’s Word, and only then can we pray them with Jesus Christ. Thus it does not matter whether the Psalms express exactly what we feel in our hearts at the moment we pray. Perhaps it is precisely the case that we must pray against our own heart in order to pray rightly. It is not just that for which we ourselves want to pray that is important, but that for which God wants us to pray. If we were dependent on ourselves alone, we would probably often pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. But God wants it otherwise. Not the poverty of our heart, but the richness of God’s Word, ought to determine our prayer” (5:157).

The Psalms are God’s prayers as inspired by God. As children learning to talk from the language of their parents, the Psalms are teaching saints the language of prayer (5:155). It does not first matter whether the Psalms seem to be what we would pray for any more than we would naturally pray “hallowed be your name” or “lead us not into temptation.” Our prayers do not rest upon the impulse of our hearts, but the richness of Scripture.

The point is we are not limited in prayer until we feel ready to pray. We can learn to pray.

“Teach us to pray”

This returns to the beginning of the book. Bonhoeffer begins with the disciple’s request, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).

“’To learn to pray’ sounds contradictory to us. Either the heart is so overflowing that it begins to pray by itself, we say, or it will never learn to pray. But this is a dangerous error, which is certainly very widespread among Christians today, to imagine that it is natural for the heart to pray. We then confuse wishing, hoping, sighing, lamenting, rejoicing – all of which the heart can certainly do on its own – with praying. But in doing so we confuse earth and heaven, human beings and God. Praying certainly does not mean simply pouring out one’s heart. It means, rather finding the way to and speaking with God, whether the heart is full or empty. No one can do that on one’s own. For that one needs Jesus Christ” (5:155).

We need to learn how to pray. The disciples request was answered by Jesus showing them how to pray and what to pray. He models for His disciples the very words to speak – a prayer that certainly would not have naturally emanated from our hearts. The Psalms therefore lay a pattern that touches our prayer and worship lives. These are the inspired prayer/songs of God. They are the words God has chosen to be worshipped with and pleaded by.

For Bonhoeffer, encouraging Christians to pray and sing the Psalms was a worthy exchange for his comforts in Nazi Germany. “Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure is lost to the Christian church,” Bonhoeffer wrote. “With its recovery will come unexpected power” (5:162).

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The above quotes were taken from volume five of the Works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Fortress Press has packaged The Prayerbook of the Bible with Life Together – a thought-provoking book on the value of small groups and Christian community.

Athanasius on “The Divine Songs”

tss-athanasius.jpgAmong all the books [of Scripture], the Psalter has certainly a very special grace, a choiceness of quality well worthy to be pondered; for, besides the characteristics which it shares with others, it has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul.

It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed, and seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given.

Elsewhere in the Bible you read only that the Law commands this or that to be done, you listen to the Prophets to learn about the Saviour’s coming, or you turn to the historical books to learn the doings of the kings and holy men; but in the Psalter, besides all these things, you learn about yourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries. Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill. Prohibitions of evil-doing are plentiful in Scripture, but only the Psalter tells you how to obey these orders and abstain from sin.

Read the rest of this entry

Trueman: Where’d the Psalms go?

tsslogo.jpgIt is quite obvious in Scripture that Psalms are to be sung in the corporate life of the church (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). Scripture assumes continuity between the life of the Psalmist before the Cross, and the life of the Christian after the Cross. Yet, this emphasis on relating to the Psalmist – not to mention the direct singing of the Psalms – seems to be largely missing from the contemporary church. I wonder why?

Let me make my own confession. As a non-denominational reformed Christian, I’ve never sung from a Psalter. In fact I’ve never held a Psalter in my hands. In my circles, I would have a hard time finding people who even know what a Psalter is! (One close friend suggested it must be something like a salt shaker!)

I am thankful that Scripture calls us to sing Psalms, and also opens the door to hymns and various other spiritual songs. I am deeply grateful for the corporate freedom to sing a variety of worship songs.

But a big question in my mind over the past year is, simply, why have the Psalms been disconnected from the corporate expression of the church? In the past I have suggested that perhaps part of the reason Puritan spirituality seems so foreign to us today is because the Puritans used the Psalms to interpret their life experiences. But this does not get us closer to a contemporary answer.

Recently I read Carl Trueman’s collections of essays, The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Christian Focus: 2004). These essays provoked stimulating thoughts in a number of areas. Trueman is the Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death) of the contemporary church and if you want a great read, Wages of Spin is it. (Catchy title, isn’t it?)

In his chapter “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” Trueman also takes note of the disappearance of the Psalms in corporate worship. While I am no closer to an answer, I have benefited from his insights:

Having experienced — and generally appreciated — worship across the whole evangelical spectrum, from Charismatic to Reformed — I am myself less concerned here with the form of worship than I am with its content. Thus, I would like to make just one observation: the psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, have almost entirely dropped from view in the contemporary Western evangelical scene. I am not certain about why this should be, but I have an instinctive feel that it has more than a little to do with the fact that a high proportion of the psalter is taken up with lamentation, with feeling sad, unhappy, tormented, and broken. In modern Western culture, these are simply not emotions which have much credibility: sure, people still feel these things, but to admit that they are a normal part of one’s everyday life is tantamount to admitting that one has failed in today’s health, wealth, and happiness society. And, of course, if one does admit to them, one must neither accept them nor take any personal responsibility for them: one must blame one’s parents, sue one’s employer, pop a pill, or check into a clinic in order to have such dysfunctional emotions soothed and one’s self-image restored.

Now, one would not expect the world to have much time for the weakness of the psalmists’ cries. It is very disturbing, however, when these cries of lamentation disappear from the language and worship of the church. Perhaps the Western church feels no need to lament — but then it is sadly deluded about how healthy it really is in terms of numbers, influence and spiritual maturity. Perhaps — and this is more likely — it has drunk so deeply at the well of modern Western materialism that it simply does not know what to do with such cries and regards them as little short of embarrassing. Yet the human condition is a poor one — and Christians who are aware of the deceitfulness of the human heart and are looking for a better country should know this. A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably I creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party — a theologically incorrect and a pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals. Has an unconscious belief that Christianity is — or at least should be — all about health, wealth, and happiness silently corrupted the content of our worship? Few Christians in areas where the church has been strongest over recent decades — China, Africa, Eastern Europe – would regard uninterrupted emotional highs as normal Christian experience. Indeed, the biblical portraits of believers give no room to such a notion. Look at Abraham, Joseph, David, Jeremiah, and the detailed account of the psalmists’ experiences. Much agony, much lamentation, occasional despair — and joy, when it manifests itself — is very different from the frothy triumphalism that has infected so much of our modern Western Christianity. In the psalms, God has given the church a language which allows it to express even the deepest agonies of the human soul in the context of worship. Does our contemporary language of worship reflect the horizon of expectation regarding the believer’s experience which the psalter proposes as normative? If not, why not? Is it because the comfortable values of Western middle-class consumerism have silently infiltrated the church and made us consider such cries irrelevant, embarrassing, and signs of abject failure?

I did once suggest at a church meeting that the psalms should take a higher priority in evangelical worship than they generally do — and was told in no uncertain terms by one indignant person that such a view betrayed a heart that had no interest in evangelism. On the contrary, I believe it is the exclusion of the experiences and expectations of the psalmists from our worship — and thus from our horizons of expectation — which has in a large part crippled the evangelistic efforts of the church in the West and turned us all into spiritual pixies. By excluding the cries of loneliness, dispossession, and desolation from its worship, the church has effectively silenced and excluded the voices of those who are themselves lonely, dispossessed, and desolate, both inside and outside the church. By so doing, it has implicitly endorsed the banal aspirations of consumerism, generated an insipid, trivial and unrealistically triumphalist Christianity, and confirmed its impeccable credentials as a club for the complacent. In the last year, I have asked three very different evangelical audiences what miserable Christians can sing in church. On each occasion my question has elicited uproarious laughter, as if the idea of a broken-hearted, lonely, or despairing Christian was so absurd as to be comical — and yet I posed the question in all seriousness. Is it any wonder that British evangelicalism, from the Reformed to the Charismatic, is almost entirely a comfortable, middle-class phenomenon?

- Carl R. Trueman, The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Christian Focus: 2004) pp. 158-160.

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BoT > Session 6 > Derek Thomas on John Calvin

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Session 6 – (Thurs. 10:45 AM)
“Meditation and the Future Life: The Goal of Holiness in Calvin’s Institutes”
Derek Thomas

GRANTHAM, PA – Thomas began his final session with some background and advice to reading Calvin’s Institutes. He recommended using a guide to help get through them for the first time. [I would agree having been greatly helped by T.H.L. Parker’s, Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought (Westminster/John Knox: 1995)]. Thomas cautioned against using the Institutes as ones introduction to John Calvin but rather recommended readers begin with Calvin’s rich sermons. Sermons on the Beatitudes (Banner of Truth: 2006) was presented as a particularly marvelous and fresh exposition although the cover image is one of the most awful images of Calvin, he said. “I’ve seen bad images of Calvin but this one takes the biscuit.”

Thomas highly recommends others read Calvin’s chapter on prayer in the Institutes. The chapter is one of the longest (see 3.20.1-52, pp. 1:850-920). Why, he asked, is Calvin’s teaching on prayer not better known? Calvin’s treatment on prayer is marvelous and all should read it.

Thomas then began his final message with three Scripture readings: Romans 8:1-11, Ephesians 4:17-24, Colossians 3:1-4. It’s important to note that Calvin’s teaching on mortification ends with this chapter: “Meditation on the Future Life” (3.9.1-6, pp. 1:712-719).

Calvin and the Puritans

Our love for the Puritans is a love of their experiential exposition of Scripture. We are drawn to the most obscure language of John Owen and endure the Ramist subdivisions of Owen’s subplot because he and other Puritans speak to our hearts. Today we long for God’s Word to be addressed not only to our mind and intellect but also to our hearts and affections. We long to have the question: So what? What is the purpose of the passage? What is it calling me to do and feel? The Puritans redress the mistakes of our day.

Calvin intimidates readers more than the Puritans because we think that Calvin does not speak to the heart as the Puritans. This is to buy into a division between Calvin and the Calvinists. The Puritans – all of them – knew, read and loved John Calvin. All the Puritans read Calvin’s Institutes, commentaries and sermons. Perhaps the best way to dismantle this error of separating Calvin from the Calvinists is to plumb the depths of book 3 in the Institutes because here Calvin teaches us that the heart is more important than all else.

Reformed Spirituality

For Calvin, piety was fundamental and the Institutes are a deliberate contrast to the medieval theology of Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas. Calvin’s Institutes are a Summa Pietas (sum of all piety) rather than a Summa Theologica (sum of all theology). For Calvin, his theology is a theology of the heart, addressing the totality of anthropology. If we don’t see this in the Reformers it shows a serious misunderstanding on our part.

The Reformers produced a Reformed spirituality! Reformed faith, by design, encompasses the totality of life including piety and the spiritual. Our theology informs our doctrine, prayers, understanding God’s means of grace, the imperatives of Scripture, preaching, corporate gatherings and liturgy. Their theology informed their spirituality. For Calvin and the Reformers there is a decided shape to spirituality and piety. There is a union with Christ first and then communion with Christ (as we saw earlier)!

So where did J.I. Packer get the title of his bestselling book, Knowing God? From the Institutes of course! Having sold over 1,000,000 copies, what makes it such a popular work? Because, who does not want to know God? This is Calvin’s intent in the Institutes. For Calvin piety in the sense of having a right relationship with God – in knowing Him, giving heartfelt worship, believing, offering filial prayers, etc. – is exactly what the Institutes are all about! Calvin says, “I call ‘piety’ that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces” (1.2.1, p. 1:41).

Future Together

For Calvin’s faculty psychology the mind is hugely important. “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding” (Ps. 32:9). Calvin says the mind, yes, but also the heart, too! We are to be like newlyweds in their continual talking over their future together. They are thinking about the house and kids they want in the future. In book 3, Calvin says we need to be like newlyweds longing, ever more in love with Christ by which we have been drawn into union and anticipating our future together with Him.

But sin, the world and Satan all seek to draw us away from this anticipation. These are the enemies that prevent this love from blossoming. So we are required, with resolve and effort, to maintain and grow in this love. This resolve and effort comes, for Calvin, in the act of meditation on the future life. For Calvin, like that of the Puritans, they were following a line of sanctification with medieval roots. We live in this world but we anticipate the world to come.

Meditating on the Future Life

What shape does this anticipation take in Calvin?

1. Renovation of the Mind. Not only do we need a renovation in what we think but a renovation in how we think. In his book, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (7:260-497), Puritan John Owen asks: What is it you think about then you are not thinking? When your mind is in the default/neutral position, what is it you think about? We force our thoughts to Christian thoughts. Calvin says nearly the same thing as Owen (did Owen read Calvin’s Institutes?).

Colossians 3:1-4 is very significant here.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Calvin says Paul calls us to we are called to “assiduity” (or diligent effort) in our thinking of the things above. Calvin warns us of stopping at the resurrection of Christ. Christ was crucified, buried, raised and now is seated in heaven. Calvin’s thoughts follow redemptive history.

We have made too little of the ascension of Christ. By Christ’s being brought into heaven, we have been brought into heaven. We are with Him! This means the ascension of Christ is critical to meditation. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).

This renovation of our minds includes repentance and a rigorous discipline of our minds. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6).

2. Detachment from the present world. Like Augustine, Calvin warns against an improper love for the present world. It is dangerous to set our affections on the things of the world because it brings us into bondage and prevents services. But by nature we are slaves to this world. This world is a shadow and a vapor passing away. Even in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were meant to enjoy the provisions of the garden to see the beauty of the Creator of the beauty, to see the One Who is Beauty Himself. Sin, as Calvin says, turns our hearts into idol factories. We tease ourselves by thinking this world is all there is.

We see in our day the idolatry of health and exercise as though we can live to be 350 years old. Is this not a reflection that even Christians have set their minds on the things of this earth?

As this conference comes to a conclusion many of us have our bags packed and we are ready to leave to the airport to go home. Calvin says this is how we should live our lives on this earth. We should have our bags packed and on our way home. If this earth is not our homeland what is this life but an exile? Calvin has “gobs” of things to say on the proper value of enjoying Christian liberties in this life. But heaven is our home. Calvin says, “no one has made progress in the school of Christ who does not joyfully await the day of death and final resurrection” (3.9.5, p. 1:718). Calvin calls us to know how to die well.

For Calvin, meditation is not mindless humming but a cognitive discourse on the Word of God. Imagine a preacher in your head expounding, applying and reminding us not to set our roots deeply in this world.

Trails are the primary means God uses to detach us from this world. For the Christian, our crosses are ladders by which the mind and heart ascend into heaven. The Christian is a marcher on the way to glory.

We should maintain a proper contempt for this world. Calvin asks: Where will true and lasting joy be found? Not in this world or the relationships of this world. The greatest joy in this world will pale to the bursting joy of heaven when we shall see Jesus in His glory and splendor (1 John 3:2)!

3. Heaven as our ultimate destiny. There are three tenses to our salvation – we are saved, we are being saved and we will be saved. Only in glory will we be fully saved from the remnants of corruption and freed from the temptations of Satan.

The real world is the unseen world. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). The Cherubim and Seraphim and archangels … this is the real world for Calvin. The privilege of being in Christ is that trouble does not shake us. We feel pain but Christ is always the rock beneath our feet and the security that cannot be taken away. In times of our greatest physical weakness we see beyond the groanings of this world to see with the eye of faith what cannot be shaken.

Psalter and Reformed Spirituality

So how do we meditate on the future life? The discipline of meditation is seen in the realities portrayed of this life in the Psalms. The Psalms are crucial to define the nature of the spirituality of the Christian life. Here we see the anatomy of all parts of the soul. This is why Calvin was adamant in commissioning a Psalter for his congregations to sing from. The Psalms are realistic. If the Psalmist is angry he says it. The Psalms range through a full spectrum of emotion and this displays the contours of our Christian lives. If we don’t sing the Psalms we miss the shape and identity of Reformed spirituality! If we do not sing of the brokenness of this world we will not anticipate the world to come.

And nothing portrays the anticipation of the future life more than prayer. The Psalms are prayers. Prayer is being drawn into heaven. The Holy Spirit groans to enables our voices to carry into heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. Romans 8:26 is central for Calvin’s understanding of the Spirit. The Spirit is given to enable us to pray. The Spirit works for us and with us to bring our feeble voices into the presence of the Father in heaven! If you read the prayers of Calvin you will notice how many of them are eschatological in nature.

Thomas closed his session by reading some of these precious prayers of Calvin. I close with a personal favorite:

“Grant, Almighty God, that as we now carry about us this mortal body, yea, and nourish through sin a thousand deaths within us; O grant that we may ever by faith direct our eyes toward heaven, and to that incomprehensible power, which is to be manifested at the last day by Jesus Christ our Lord, so that in the midst of death we may hope that thou wilt be our Redeemer, and enjoy that redemption which he completed when he rose from the dead, and not doubt that the fruit which he then brought forth by his Spirit will come also to us when Christ himself shall come to judge the world; and may we thus walk in the fear of thy name, that we may be really gathered among his members, to be make partakers of that glory which by his death he has procured for us. Amen”

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Related: For more posts and pictures from the 2007 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference check out the complete TSS conference index.

Pic4: Edwards on the affections and praise

tsr

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