Monday, January 31, 2011

What is Going On?

A Great Book on the
 problems facing
 the Church in America
Looking around the Church today a lot is going on; history lessons, motivational speeches, moralistic legalism, and outrageous stunts to "draw the unchurched."  A lot of it is what Michael Horton of the White Horse gang refers to as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  And Jesus is often completely absent.

Jesus is at the center of worship.  If anything else takes center stage, then it is not a Christian worship service.  Jesus death on the cross for my sins is the heart of Christianity.  Worship is not to entertain, it is not there for self-esteem either.  When we gather together for worship, we are to lift up Jesus, and announce the forgiveness of sins.  People in Churches today are missing Jesus, because He is not preached there and His gifts are absent.  Take a look at the "churches" in the videos linked at the end of this post  - simply unbelievable. 

I have personally attended Church for years where charismatic gifts were emphasized.  I often left feeling empty - because I did not experience some awesome mind-blowing spiritual high.  I have attended Evangelical services that were very entertaining - one time Miss America showed up along with a local sports team mascot in the same service.  I exclaimed "this is better than TV," now that's entertainment! This same Church once had an end times sermon with a last days "expert."  I had already grown skeptical of the obsession with end times in the Church and determined to see how Scriptural this sermon was.  If I remember correctly there were one or two Bible verses pulled out and used - I left more skeptical than ever.  

True worship focuses on the Cross of Christ - Jesus death and resurrection for our sins.  He is lifted up as God's Word is preached, the forgiveness of sins is announced, and communion is received.  I need to hear that my sins are forgiven - I am a sinner desperately in need of forgiveness.  When I receive the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine, I know that Jesus death is for me - I'm the one he died for, not the person sitting next to me.  His blood covers my sins.  Just a tacked on altar call is not enough. Just a token mention of Jesus does not cut it.  The service revolves around Jesus and focuses on His gift of forgiveness.

I will post more on the good news of the gospel (salvation by grace alone, a gift given by God, completely apart from any works whatsoever - even faith is a gift given by God) and how this relates to a proper distinction of  law and gospel - Luther said without a proper understanding of the distinction between law and gospel the Bible is a closed book and cannot be understood.

Gene Veith's Book 
was instrumental in
pointing me toward
true worship

Here are some examples of the crazy things going on in Churches today.  If you can discern the message in these videos linked below you may need substance abuse counseling: 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Heaven on Earth - What is Worship?

One of the things that has really changed for me of the past couple years is my understanding of worship.  Until recently I had never really questioned what should be included or what should happen during worship.  When I went to a Church, just about anything was acceptable to me and any music that mentioned God or how I am serving God was just fine.  I uncritically accepted whatever - occasionally something would bother me or I would question what I heard.  This changed when I really began questioning what should happen at Church.  Does it really matter?  Does God care what we do? What should worship music look like?

How do we know if God cares what happens during a Church service?  Looking at Scripture, we can see that God had a specific way He was to be worshipped from Genesis on.  Abel's sacrifice was acceptable, Cain's was not.  The People of God when they worshipped in the desert while awaiting Moses' return from the mountain (with the 10 Commandments) determined to worship the God who brought them out of Egypt by creating a golden calf to represent Him - and they were punished for worshipping in a way that God did not ordain.  They did not claim to be worshipping another god - they were using the worship practices of the culture from which they came to worship the true and living God.  Sacrifices throughout Scripture were only to be offered where and how God had ordained, and ultimately only in the temple in Jerusalem - God was not pleased with sacrifices offered elsewhere, even when they were offered to Him.

What did God give to the Church as a model for worship?  Is there any indication in Scripture of what we should be doing during a worship service?

Over the next few posts I am going to take a look at worship:

1) Jesus at the center of worship
2) God's gifts to us - what the New Testament says we should be doing
3) Music - what should worship or Church music look like
4) Where is the Church today?

Some of the main sources I have been reading regarding the Scriptural foundation of worship, and what Christian worship has looked like for the past 2000 years is Heaven on Earth by Arthur A. Just, and the online radio show White Horse Inn along with another radio show that is available on demand - Issues Etc. (see their link in my sidebar).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Solas of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura- Jesus Speaks!

Understanding the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is one of the best things that ever happened to my understanding of God's mercy and gifts to us.  First, Sola Scriptura does not mean "just the Bible and me."  This is the idea that many people have regarding this truth.  But if you really read the Bible and believe what God has revealed there, then it is apparent that it is not just "the Bible and me," it is much more.  Also, we stand on the shoulders of over 2000 years of Christians who have gone before us - they have taught, discerned, established creeds and confessions (or summaries of Christian doctrine) that hold true to Scripture - they have done a lot of heavy lifting for us, we don't have to reinvent the wheel of Biblical orthodox theology with every generation.  As a matter of fact, we are more likely to make all the same heretical errors that past generations did if we neglect the teachings of the Church fathers.

What Sola Scriptura does teach us is that the Bible alone is our final authority for truth.  The Scriptures are a truly amazing revelation of God - He speaks to us through His Word.  He uses His Word to draw us to Himself.  Through His Word we can hear the very voice of Jesus speaking to us.  Using His Word, God confirms and strengthens our faith as we hear from Him.   As Luther said, all of Scripture points to Christ, and as God's anointed Messiah is revealed through His Word He draws us and redeems us.  I thought I had  a high view of Scripture until now - God's Word preached, taught, or studied is the very voice of God.  Wow.  So when someone says "God told me this" or "I feel like God..."  I now think where is it in Scripture?  You feel?  So what?  I don't want to hear about a preacher's family or his personal opinion or some secret knowledge he thinks God told him, or about how to have my best life - I want to hear the voice of God, His Word telling me about Christ crucified for my sins.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Christ Crucified for Our Sins

Jesus died on the cross for my sins.  He took all of my sin, guilt, and shame on Himself.  He conquered sin, death, and the devil.  This is the focus of my life as a Christian, and when it is not, the mercy given through the blood of Christ covers that as well.  His mercy and grace covers my sins in the good times, and my sins in the bad times.  His grace sustains me when I am focused on the cross, and when I betray Him and commit sins great and small.  This focus on Jesus is where I should always be - it was Christ's will for my life when I was first baptized back in 1981.  My journey through Christianity has brought me from the Disciples of Christ, through Charismatic/Evangelicalism, and Calvinism - finally arriving at the Lutheran Church at the feet of Jesus.  More specifically, the focus on Christ on the cross for our sins, as Luther rediscovered and articulated has brought me so much peace and renewal.  My walk is NOT about me, it is about Jesus on the cross for me.  He has saved me from my sin, sustains me with His grace given through the Word of God preached and taught, my baptism into Christ, and the Lord's Supper. 

I want to use this blog to explore Christian spirituality and the truths of Scripture.  My journey to Luther is just beginning, as I am now in a Lutheran Church taking the membership classes, however, I feel like I have been slowly persuaded over the past 2 years as I have listened to Issues Etc., attended Lutheran Churches, and read numerous Lutheran books.  Some of my fears of "sacramentalism" have been laid to rest as I have come to understand the focus on Jesus on the cross, Scripture, and properly viewing the Sacraments in the light of both the cross and Scripture.  And the peace and assurance I have in Jesus now is so much greater - since I am no longer continuously looking inward, but now look outward to a real event, Jesus death on the cross for my sins given to me in God's mercy in grace.  My heart is fickle and sinful - but I know Christ is holding on to me, it's not even possible for me to hold on to God.  All I can do is receive His gifts of forgiveness and mercy.