Doctrine: The Key To Worship

Bible And WorshipHaving begun my Christian life in Charismatic circles, I learned to think of worship in terms of my emotional responses to praise music or to my private prayer and Bible reading. If I felt fluttery feelings, I believed I’d experienced good worship. If such feelings eluded me, I concluded that I’d failed in worship.

Emotions certainly play a part in worshiping the Lord. I love Him, which naturally means  a level of emotional engagement with Him. I’d go so far as to argue that an absence of passion in  prayer, praise and Bible reading amounts to nothing more than dead orthodoxy. Such dispassionate religion hardly exemplifies the sort of worship that Jesus described as pleasing to God.

23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” ~~John 4:23-24 (ESV)

Yes, by all means worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ in spirit should (and in fact, must involve our emotions! But unless something informs those emotions, we have no ability to worship Him correctly. Even worse, we have no assurance that we’re actually worshiping the true God. Therefore, in order to worship Him in spirit and in truth, we need to make doctrine the key to our worship.

I  care about doctrine because it helps me know the Lord. Not a Jesus fashioned as I think he should be, or one who adapts himself to current culture…though I admit that believing in such a compliant and flexible Jesus appeals to me. Truthfully, I wouldn’t mind tweaking the Bible here and there, making it just a little more comfortable, nor would I object to receiving extra-biblical revelations. But Scripture, studied in context and with a dependence on the Holy Spirit leads me to see Jesus as He actually is.

Do I  claim to know Him perfectly? No. In fact, I have only begun understanding the great doctrines of the Christian faith, partly because I  spent years in Christian groups that emphasized  experiential spirituality, partly because the days before the Internet made study materials less accessible to me (due to my disability and my finances), and mostly because I didn’t mind “going with the flow” of whatever my church went after at any given season. The fluttery feelings satisfied me.

Following the crowd and swallowing the Kool-Aid proved easier than learning to distinguish good doctrine from bad. Also, the non-resistance ensured my acceptance with peers and those in leadership. Quite often, people commented on my raised hand and heavenward gaze with admiration. My emotionally charged worship showed them an impressive example of spirituality.

Sadly, it also demonstrated that I worshiped the acclaim of my church more than I worshiped the Lord.

Now, as I read and study the Bible in context  (rather than scanning through it until something gave me spiritual goose bumps), the Lord reveals Himself. I watch His holiness in dealing with Israel, and His humility during His Incarnation. Currently, He teaches me the interrelationship between keeping His  commandments and loving other believers as I study 1 John.The doctrine of human depravity keeps me dependent on  Him, and the doctrine of His sovereignty strengthens my trust in Him. Scripture’s great doctrines show me His perspectives on relationships, sin, faith, money and just about everything else in life.

Most importantly, Scripture teaches me (for the word “doctrine” means nothing more than “teaching”) of Christ’s preeminence in all creation. He is not a god who suits himself to my fancy. Quite the contrary, He is the holy yet gracious King Who allows me the privilege of serving Him for all eternity. The doctrines of the Bible display His  majesty, drawing me to praise and worship Him in thrilled anticipation of being physically in His glorious presence.

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My Mother-in-law

Pink RosebudJohn’s mom passed away yesterday afternoon, at just about the time I published my blog post. John and I had spent about four hours over there (she’d been staying with family members who took excellent care of her), but John needed to come home to rest.

During the last moments I was in the room, John read Romans 5 to her and prayed over her, thanking God for giving him such a wonderful mother.  She couldn’t respond, but I trust that she heard him. It was a sweet moment to witness, and I thank the Lord and John for letting me be there.

She’d been ill for a while, so it wasn’t unexpected. Many of my absences from blogging occurred because I joined John in visiting her. He went over almost every day this past three weeks; I went less often, but was there Saturday and yesterday. I count it a privilege to have been there this weekend.

She loved my digital art, and pink was her favorite color, so I’ve illustrated this post with a rosebud I drew for one of the birthday or Mother’s Day cards I’d made for her. Hopefully, that will honor  her memory.

My mother-in-law loved people, and loved having fun. She’d look for any excuse to meet people for lunch, preferably at The Cheesecake Factory. She considered shopping a recreational activity, and loved hunting for bargains. I’ll miss making her laugh and watching her enjoy Big Band music. Thanks for all your prayers. Please pray for John.

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Saturday Sampler: August 20–August27

Rose SamplerAlthough Amy Spreeman wrote The Six Hallmarks of a NAR Church for Pirate Christian Radio’s blog, The Berean Examiner, back in June, I just came across it this week. Amy provides clear characteristics of this unbiblical movement that’s infiltrating evangelical churches, giving Bible-believing Christians tools for discernment.

Joel James continues his series on The Cripplegate blog by writing The flawed theory of “social” missions and 8 biblical objections to social-work as ministry.He rightfully questions whether or not this approach to ministry obscures the true Gospel message, while conceding that missionaries in closed countries may needed to enter those countries as humanitarian workers (I personally know several missionaries who have had to do so). Joel’s concluding post, Acts and answers: what is the mission of missions, redirects us to positive ways of fulfilling the Great Commission.

In a sobering but necessary blog post for her blog, The End Time, Elizabeth Prata discusses The Drumbeat Warning of Divine Judgment on the USA. Like Elizabeth, I believe the Lord is definitely judging our country, and persecution isn’t very far away.

I’m not sure whether or not I completely agree with 7 Dangers of Embracing Mere Therapeutic Forgiveness by Mike Leake of Borrowed Light, but I definitely like his premise that we forgive out of obedience to God rather than for our own psychological benefit. Should we forgive those who don’t repent?  That’s where I question his line of reasoning.  But I’m glad his article gives me food for thought.

You Are Not the Bride of Christ writes Ryan of A Small Work. He lists several reasons for rejecting the concept that individual Christians can (or should) think of the Lord Jesus Christ in romantic terms. Praise God for this wonderful essay!

Michelle Lesley reminds us, in Weeping with Those Who Weep, that somehow saying the right things can be the wrong thing to to do.

 

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Uncomplicating The Old Testament

Lady Reading BibleHave you heard sermons that use Old Testament stories as allegories to Christian life? How about Bible Study groups that do so? I remember attending a women’s Bible Study group back in the early 1980s, in which we used Alan Redpath’s book, Victorious Christian Living as a study guide for the book of Joshua. (For reasons you’ll understand momentarily, I do not recommended the book.)

According to Redpath, the book of Joshua illustrates the progression from salvation (crossing the Red Sea with Moses) to sanctification (possessing the Promised Land).
For instance, Redpath compared Joshua’s victory over the five Amorite kings in Joshua 10:16-27 to our triumph over various sins as  Christians. As Joshua executed the king, so Christians must slay our sins (never mind that Jesus already put sin to death through His death on the cross, as Colossians 2:14 explains). By minimizing Joshua 10:16-27 into an allegory, Redpath soothed our post-Vietnam War sensibilities as he assigned us an unscriptural responsibility for our own sanctification.

I sympathize with the desire to allegorize this passage, as well as other Old Testament passages. Many of the stories are brutal. And God’s  commands to destroy men, women and even children belonging to heathen nations disturb us. But do our ruffled sensibilities give authors like Redpath license to reduce the Old Testament to mere allegories?

The answer, as I’ve said so many times, lies in the context. The Bible consists of several literary genres, to be sure, but each of those genres refer back to its main purpose of chronicling the the history of God’s dealings with His people. That history ultimately reveals His character, compelling us to see both His loving compassion toward repentant sinners and His wrath toward those who violate His holy standards. Both the Old and New Testaments show His love and His judgment.

As a result, Christians must approach the Bible in general, and the Old Testament in particular, remembering its historical context. Joshua literally led the children of Israel into the physical land that God had promised to Abraham centuries earlier, and God commanded the Israelites to literally annihilate the heathen idolaters who desecrated His land. We don’t enjoy those facts, but our distaste for them certainty doesn’t give us the right to allegorize them!

The Old Testament certainly has lessons that the Lord expects Christians to apply, as Paul asserts in 1 Corinthians 10:6, but it is really (as I said a moment ago) an historical book, not a series of analogies. Through the various accounts, we see man’s depravity, and we also see the Lord’s patient determination to have a holy people. Therefore, we see that Joshua killed Canaan’s inhabitants, not to symbolize a Christian response to sin, but because God didn’t want them to lead Israel into idolatry.

Redpath, and teachers like him, encourage us to liken ourselves to Joshua. Scripture, on the other hand, simply presents Joshua as the historical leader who led Israel into the Land that God gave to Abraham. Reading the entire Old Testament has the  value of revealing the Lord’s character through His relationship with Israel (and Judah), and consequently we shouldn’t fabricate analogies out of every story. The New Testament writers tell us when Old Testament events serve as allegories, and we can leave it there as we appreciate the Lord’s wonders in the narrative.

 

 
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The Limitless One Limits Himself

God In A BoxSo often,  in objection to the fact that the Lord has  chosen to reveal Himself exclusively through the Bible in our age, many professing Christians have asked me the same question: Why would an infinite God limit Himself to a Book? Usually, the insinuation is that I’m attempting to limit God. Several times, it seeming as though my questioner wanted me to feel ashamed for my narrow expectations.

That question, regardless of the motives behind it, reminds me of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple:

But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built! ~~2 Chronicles 6:18 (ESV)

Solomon recognized the absurdity of believing that the Creator of the heavens and the earth could physically reside in the comparatively miniscule structure that had just been built for Him. So it was a wonderous moment when God accepted the Temple as His place of prayer:

Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice.”  ~~2 Chronicles 7:12 (ESV)

But then, the Lord’s willingness to inhabit Solomon’s Temple wasn’t the only time He voluntarily limited Himself. God also accepted the limitations of a human body, which He still inhabits in its resurrected state. Without ceasing to be infinite, He graciously condescends to limit Himself to our smallness. He sees our limitations, and lovingly adapts to them while continuing to retain a glory that we won’t be able to comprehend until He raises us up in our resurrection bodies.

Similarly, even though the Bible certainly doesn’t tell us everything there is to know about God, it gives us everything we need to know in this present time. He chooses to reveal Himself through Scripture, knowing that none of us will ever be able to fully plumb its depths, no matter how often or how carefully we read it. After my almost 47 years of reading it daily and studying it more than most professing Christians do, I’m only now beginning to understand what He is saying through it.

As a matter of fact, God’s Word supplies such an abundance of ways for us to know Who He is, how He sees things and what His will is, that we simply don’t need any further revelation. Consider, for example, the apostle Paul’s proclamation to Timothy:

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.~~2 Timothy 3:14-17 (ESV)

People who accuse me of “limiting” God by my insistence on the sufficiency of Scripture often really mean that they don’t want the Bible to limit  them. That’s essentially what I meant when I embraced things like Charismatic theology and “Christian” psychology. Of course,  I wouldn’t have admitted as much back then, but in truth I actually did want alternatives to Scripture. I didn’t always like what I read in its pages. I wanted a “bigger” God Who would say  what I wanted to hear.

Yes, God is greater than the Bible. I don’t think any of us can begin to comprehend His majesty or His magnitude. But we can appreciate His graciousness to give us Scripture, through which He provides enough revelation of Himself to occupy us until He takes us home.

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Christ Makes His Choices

IMG_0356Someone I love died angry.  I’d witnessed to her, very imperfectly, over many years, always fearing that my unchristlike behavior nullified everything I’d told her about Jesus. Admittedly, I don’t really know what happened between her and the Lord during her final moments on earth, but every conversation I had with her showed a rejection of fundamental Biblical truth.  So it haunts me to know that she died angry.

Sometimes I struggle with temptation to blame myself.  I think I should have told her the Gospel more often and more accurately. I should have acted less hypocritically and demonstrated more of Christ’s love. Well, yes, I did fail in how I represented Christ, and I pray I’ll learn from my sins in witnessing to her.

But my blunders, as serious as they were, did not keep her from turning to Christ. And this very point leads me to resume my discussion on T.U.L.I.P. (or the five points of Calvinism) by introducing the doctrine of Irresistible Grace.

The doctrine of Irresistible Grace teaches that those whom God elects for salvation will not refuse His call. As with the doctrine of Unconditional Election, this teaches that regeneration is accomplished solely by God, adding only the nuance that His call is always effectual. In other words, mere human beings simply don’t have the ability to resist His sovereign decree appointing them to salvation.

I feel a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of explaining this doctrine (and therefore have procrastinated in writing this blog post) because so many Scriptures support it that I can hardly decide which to present. Obviously, I must obey the limitations of time, space and copyright laws when it comes to making a case from the Word of God, leaving me frustrated at the certainty of giving inadequate evidence. And yet, anyone who seriously wants to find Biblical affirmation of Irresistible Grace can easily Google it.

So today I’ll only introduce this doctrine by commenting on Jesus’ own remarks about how people come to Him. In thinking about Irresistible Grace, my mind instantly goes to His statement in John’s gospel:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. ~~~John 6:44 (ESV)

Well, that little proclamation certainly squashes human pride! I mean, Jesus actually says here that we lack the ability to become Christians without the Father’s direct intervention. We can’t make our own decision whether or not to follow Christ, according to His own words. Yet, if the Father draws someone, Jesus promises to raise that person  up.

Jesus strengthens the idea of election without our participation in His last discourse before His crucifixion:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. ~~John 15:16 (ESV)

We love the part of this   verse assuring us that the Father will give us whatever we ask in Jesus’ Name, but we can’t appropriate that promise without also appropriating the pronouncement that we did not choose Him. Again, that concept humbles us, taking away all possibility of congratulating ourselves for “accepting” Him. But it also highlights the implicit idea that, upon His choosing of us,  we came.

My loved one, had the Lord elected her to salvation, could never have rejected Him. And perhaps, despite her anger that  last day, something transpired between her and the Lord that I don’t know about. If that sweet lady was one of God’s elect, nothing could have prevented her from accepting His call. Not even her own will.

 

 
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