Friday, February 24, 2012

On Praise Bands

1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship. Christian worship is not a concert. In a concert (a particular “form of performance”), we often expect to be overwhelmed by sound, particularly in certain styles of music. In a concert, we come to expect that weird sort of sensory deprivation that happens from sensory overload, when the pounding of the bass on our chest and the wash of music over the crowd leaves us with the rush of a certain aural vertigo. And there’s nothing wrong with concerts! It’s just that Christian worship is not a concert. Christian worship is a collective, communal, congregational practice–and the gathered sound and harmony of a congregation singing as one is integral to the practice of worship. It is a way of “performing” the reality that, in Christ, we are one body. But that requires that we actually be able to hear ourselves, and hear our sisters and brothers singing alongside us. When the amped sound of the praise band overwhelms congregational voices, we can’t hear ourselves sing–so we lose that communal aspect of the congregation and are encouraged to effectively become “private,” passive worshipers.

2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship. In other forms of musical performance, musicians and bands will want to improvise and “be creative,” offering new renditions and exhibiting their virtuosity with all sorts of different trills and pauses and improvisations on the received tune. Again, that can be a delightful aspect of a concert, but in Christian worship it just means that we, the congregation, can’t sing along. And so your virtuosity gives rise to our passivity; your creativity simply encourages our silence. And while you may be worshiping with your creativity, the same creativity actually shuts down congregational song.

3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship. I know it’s generally not your fault that we’ve put you at the front of the church. And I know you want to model worship for us to imitate. But because we’ve encouraged you to basically import forms of performance from the concert venue into the sanctuary, we might not realize that we’ve also unwittingly encouraged a sense that you are the center of attention. And when your performance becomes a display of your virtuosity–even with the best of intentions–it’s difficult to counter the temptation to make the praise band the focus of our attention. When the praise band goes into long riffs that you might intend as “offerings to God,” we the congregation become utterly passive, and because we’ve adopted habits of relating to music from the Grammys and the concert venue, we unwittingly make you the center of attention. I wonder if there might be some intentional reflection on placement (to the side? leading from behind?) and performance that might help us counter these habits we bring with us to worship.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Trinity

For a word which never appears in the Bible, the teaching of the Trinity is one of the most important teachings of the Bible. Among my evangelical colleagues, I don't know of any, Arminian, Reformed, or Anabaptist who deny this doctrine. Understanding it and explaining it clearly is another matter. That is where we are always in need of help.

Of course, we have a great starting point - the Creeds. In our case (Anglican) we have three creeds to help us - the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. Further the first article in our confessional statement, the Articles of Religion begins with the Holy Trinity.

The Articles say this: "There is one living and true God. His existence is everlasting, without beginning or end. He is the Creator and Preserver of all things whether seen or unseen. In the unity of this one true God there are three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who are one in being, power and eternity."

One God and three Persons. There is really no analogy which does justice to this statement. There is no religion which comes close to this understanding of God, and there is no way of discovering this doctrine without its being revealed to us.

My church history teacher made the point that there is no heresy today which is not anticipated by the ancient heresies, which the Creeds have addressed. These heresies concerned the Trinity and the person of Jesus Christ.

A glorious God and a glorious teaching.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Total Depravity

Total Depravity

A 19th-century American joke about the woman who, when asked what she thought of the doctrine of total depravity, replied that it was a very good doctrine if people would only live up to it.

It doesn’t go without saying that we are sinners, under God’s condemnation and in need of his forgiveness.

The same God who commands that the good news of salvation be shouted with a loud voice from the top of a mountain (Isa 40.9) also commands that the bad news of his people’s sins be preached and preached out loud with a voice ‘like a trumpet’ (Isa 58.1)

Isaiah 58:1 (ESV)

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.

The doctrine of sin needs to be preached, not presupposed.

“Although traditional Christianity is true, its truth saws against the grain of much in contemporary culture and therefore needs constant sharpening. Christianity’s major doctrines need regular restatement so that people may believe them, or believe them anew. Its classic awareness’s need to be evoked so that people may have them, or have them again. Recalling and confessing our sin is like taking out the garbage: once is not enough.” Cornelius Plantinga

Genesis 6:5 (ESV)

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Genesis 6:11 (ESV)
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.

Isaiah 1:4-6 (ESV)
4 Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, of spring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. 5 Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. 6 From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.

Jeremiah 17:1 (ESV)
“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars,

Psalms 51:5 (ESV)
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Mark 7:21-23 (ESV)
21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Romans 3:10-12 (ESV)
10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Doesn’t mean we are as sinful as they could possibly be or that there is no such thing as virtuous action apart from the saving work of God’s Spirit, or that fallen humanity is bereft of all conscience

Calvin argued that Adam’s fall had such a devastating effect on the image of God in humanity that ‘nothing remains after the ruin except what is confused, mutilated, and disease-ridden.’

A Very Practical Doctrine

1. Depravity and watchfulness:
Reign of sin is broken, nevertheless we are utterly dependent upon God for both our fotgiveness and our sanctification.

In the Lord's Prayer we ask for forgiveness every day.

And even though we have ‘crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5.24) there remains for us the urgent, ongoing command to ‘put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” (Col 3.5; Romans 8.13)

2. Depravity and compassion:
We too are but dust (Psalm 103.14). We are by nature companions in a miserable, helpless condition;

3. Depravity and culture
Fallen culture is capable of great works – of beauty, truth and wisdom, it does remind us that on all these works of human hands – even the most magnificent – there will be the stains and smudges of human sin.

4. Depravity and Evangelism
All conversion is a miracle. John 3.1-8 – plus against distortion of message – 2 Cor 4.2-6

Depravity and doxology
Humbling doctrine. That our salvation depends on grace, not works.