Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Laudamus Te; Benedicimus Te; Adoramus Te!

I love Sunday. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into house of our God,” but even more likely would I be the one saying “Let us go.”

My favorite place to be is church, preferably a beautiful church with high, vaulted ceilings and intense stained-glass images, one whose atmosphere is one of reverence and formality. Why? Because I believe those aesthetics represent the character of our God so much better than strictly functional surroundings—a view shared by war-weary king David (II Samuel 7). Certainly a casual glance at nature communicates the idea that beauty was important to God; confirming this notion, God’s instructions for the Temple construction concluded often with the words “for glory and for beauty” (Exodus 28).

While the Old Testament protocols are not part of our worship, we see that God does want us to think of Him in connection with “glory and beauty.” He wants us to have some impression of his majesty and worth, and so it hurts me to be inside an ugly church.

Liturgical worship is very special to me. I love its formal structure, its artful text, which, for the most part, is taken straight from the Bible. It’s an especially lovely experience when we sing the Matins service with its ancient canticles, the Venite and the Te Deum.

Of all the fragrant Matins text, the one bit that possesses my mind is this line from the Venite: "O come, let us worship Him!" My body shivers as I turn on the organ mixtures and play this sweeping line of music, which, set off from the rest of the text at the end, communicates the prophet-king’s compelling call for God’s people to worship with him. I’m not just playing the service—I am investing my spirit in the call to worship, for God has called me to Himself. I am irresistibly drawn to worship Him, and I must compel the redeemed to worship with me. In the space of that sanctuary, it’s as though I myself turn eagerly to my fellow believers and beg them to “kneel before the Lord Our Maker.” (How could we not—“for He is a great God; a great king above all gods; in His hand are all the deep places of the earth!”)

Half the thrill comes from knowing that even predating the Incarnation, God’s elect sang those very same words in formal, corporate worship. If it was fitting to sing this in the days before Christ, how much more to sing it now, illumined by the utter fulfillment of God’s promise? My prayers, my worship, mingle with those of other worshippers—no longer separated by time and space, but all in praise before our common Lord. “O come, let us worship Him!” This primitive, urgent cry sums up the only response appropriate to the love of our God . . . Who became our Savior.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Adventante Deo

By John Addington Symonds (1840–1893)

LIFT up your heads, gates of my heart, unfold
Your portals to salute the King of kings!
Behold Him come, borne on cherubic wings
Engrained with crimson eyes and grail of gold!
Before His path the thunder-clouds withhold
Their stormy pinions, and the desert sings:
He from His lips divine and forehead flings
Sunlight of peace unfathomed, bliss untold.
O soul, faint soul, disquieted how long!
Lift up thine eyes, for lo, thy Lord is near,
Lord of all loveliness and strength and song,
The Lord who brings heart-sadness better cheer,
Scattering those midnight dreams that dote on wrong,
urging with heaven’s pure rays love’s atmosphere!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Worship vs. Service, Part II by Dr. Paul Hunsicker

Once again, Dr. Paul Hunsicker pastors Christ Lutheran Church in Abbotsford, Wisconsin, and strange to say, he does exactly what a pastor should be doing in this age of apostasy—he rebukes false doctrine. It is with joy that I reprint this article for all of you.

Words of Faith # 51, For August 4, 2004

In what is presented as worship today, there is a great deal of idolatry in the form of man worship and self worship. Why do many people assemble in some places? Because of the entertainment factor and because of the self-satisfaction that is found in certain “worship” activities.

Listening to a variety of music which is played on Christian radio and then used within some worship contexts, we notice a disturbing number of times the word “I” is used. When “I” takes the place of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the vocabulary of songs, the song must be carefully analyzed and a determination made as to who is at the center of the song.

Having written that statement, I would encourage you to go to the Psalms for seeing and understanding the proper use of the word “I” within worship. The Psalms are filled with the word “I” being used to show the writer’s relationship to the God Who has provided a particular writer with some form of blessing or salvation. The Psalms demonstrate the proper use of the word “I” within the hymnody of the church.

Compare the Psalms with much of today’s Christian music and you will find a marked contrast. “I” in today’s “Christian” music points God to the person, the person’s work, the person’s activity, the person’s faith. This is a form of idolatry, the worship of man. When man holds up his/her accomplishments or attitudes or faith to God, expecting God to respond to what the human being has done, the realm of Christianity has been abandoned. This is the problem with most of the popular “Christian” lyrics today.

The music of the day is certainly upbeat and pleasant and even inspiring in a secular fashion. The problem is people simply enjoy the music, get caught up in singing a catchy tune, and do not pay attention to the idolatrous words which accompany the melody. They love singing something which pleases the ear while ignoring the damage done to the concept of faith in Jesus as the only Saviour from sin. The worshipper imagines that because they “feel good” about the tunes, what they did was pleasing and acceptable to God. Human, fallible, sin-infected emotions are usually wrong.

What constitutes Christian worship? When the entire activity, vocabulary, movement, motion, and whatever else goes on is all directed away from man and to God, and when those same activities, vocabulary, movements, motions, and whatever else opens man up to receive blessings from God, you have Christian worship.

Look carefully and analyze what you hear and read and sing. Reject everything which gives man any credit for anything to do with salvation and forgiveness. Hold on to everything which gives God all the glory and all the credit for a cross-established forgiveness and salvation. In that way you will always have the confidence of knowing that you are worshipping Him and not yourself.

The Christian should always want to say, “Soli Deo Gloria” (to God alone the glory).

Aesthetic Bliss

Last week the Master Singers of Milwaukee gave their second concert of the season, titled “The Seven Joys of Christmas.” This is the first time I have been part of a truly high-level performing group. We sang first in St. John’s Military Academy Chapel in Delafield, which was charged with thrilling acoustic capabilities. We opened the concert with a Mendelssohn motet, “Frohlocket, ihr Voelker, auf Erden,” written for choir in eight parts and well-suited to showcase our sound. What pure joy, to stand in the very midst of that great, gorgeous wall of sound, to be present at the birth of such beauty. I could feel my own high soprano blending perfectly with the fine tenor voices beside me; it was as if we had caught the updraft of the musical line; we soared and swung in that great height, carrying the audience with us.

I knew in that moment what a rare privilege it was to be a skilled artist, an apostle of the performing arts. I did not have to sit looking on; I stood there creating the sound that brought people joy. For this cause I was born.

We continued with traditional carols, mostly in English, but also in French, German, Russian and Haitian. We sang both well known and obscure compositions, including a medieval English carol, This is the Truth Sent from Above. I was glad above all else that the celebration of Christmas has so firmly entrenched itself in Western culture that we must needs sing the ancient truths of sin and redemption—without eliciting protest. Those old carols, both primitive and polished, presented God’s ineluctable truth in a glorious and lucid manner.

It amazes me that all that painstaking rehearsal culminates in an experience like this. Sometimes it seems as if the reality of music transcends the Fall of Adam. This reward exceeds all expectations; it is one of the greatest joys this world can offer.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Women in Church (or Anywhere Else, for That Matter)

It appalls me when men who claim to be Christians think nothing of making crude comments about a woman’s body and weight. Remarks such as these make it so obvious that a man’s eyes are going in the wrong direction. Have they forgotten Jesus’ teachings concerning lust? These remarks also reveal a basic attitude of disrespect toward women, not to mention a double standard of unreasonable expectations. Why do overweight men who indulge themselves somehow expect a woman to be uniformly beautiful and flawlessly thin, and why should the outward appearance be so important? I believe the men of our modern culture, even in Christian circles, hold a philosophy that values women only for the pleasure they give to men.

Scripture teaches that baptized believers are all equal in Christ, for “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus (Galations 3:27).” Christian men are told to “dwell with [their wives] according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (I Peter 3:7). Women are “weaker” in the sense that Dresden china is “weaker” than thick pottery. Most world religions make second-class citizens of women (especially Islam), but not Christianity. The founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, treated women with great respect; all who purport to follow Him must do likewise.

Christianity should permeate the culture with this attitude of respect, rather than adopting the culture of disrespect.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Defense of Proper Education for Those Who Minister in the Church, Part II

The modern evangelical Christian finds it more desirable that the ministerial candidate have a high emotion (i. e. a “heart for God”) than a solid intellectual foundation; I contend that we cannot sacrifice either.

To advocate such a view, one must ignore Jesus’ answer to the Pharisee who asked: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). God does not call us to apportion off parts of our inner being and say that one is more important than the other. God created humans not only with hearts but also with heads, and expects them to use both. We err when we equate mere emotion toward God with true devotion; proper feelings toward God arise from proper thoughts about God which, by definition, must be informed by holy Scripture.

I assert that it is impossible to have a proper emotional response to truth apart from a deep knowledge of that truth. To have a relationship with God, we must avoid thinking vaguely about Him and His ways—we must gain knowledge of sound doctrine from His Word. (II Timothy 2:15) The regenerate heart will leap at the sound of the Shepherd’s voice, and that voice may be heard distinctly through the study of sound doctrine. The Word has much to feed hungry minds, and in feeding the mind, will transform the heart. We make a grave mistake in eradicating the intellectual element from our glorious religion.

Let us please to recognize that spiritual sensitivity does not in and of itself qualify anyone for ministry. Ministry requires certain gifts and specifications recorded in Scripture (Timothy 3). The prophet-king David was certainly spiritually sensitive, yet he was not allowed to serve as a priest, or even to build the Temple. Women are not allowed to serve as ministers in the Church, although many of them may be spiritually sensitive (I Timothy 2:12).

Additionally, the “heart for God” is a quality not to be credited to an individual. It is evidence of God’s work in the heart of an elect believer. Proverbs 21:1 says that even “the king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” If salvation is of the Lord, how much more sanctification? I do not imply here that believers have no responsibility, for the Word has given many instructions, but simply that a human dare not take the credit for what God has accomplished in the life of a believer.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Worship vs. Service, Part I by Dr. Paul Hunsicker

Dr. Hunsicker pastors Christ Lutheran Church in Abbotsford, Wisconsin. He is a dear friend of mine who has taught me a great deal about theology. For years, he has kept up a column in the local newspaper seeking to answer the layman's question with sound theology. He has kindly given permission to reprint this article on Kirchenmusik. You can access more of his writing ("Words of Faith") on the church website.

What is the difference between worship and service?

This is an interesting question to consider in the midst of contemporary Christianity’s flirtation with all sorts of “stuff” which is labeled as worship. There is little worship of God going on in much of Christendom today. Much of what is popularly called worship is actually entertainment, Christian entertainment, but it is not worship.

The German Lutheran tradition has a word which clearly describes what worship is to be about. The word is “Gottesdienst.” It means, a time when God serves us. This meaning clearly relates to the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” The Commandment means, “Remember the Day of Rest (Sabbath) and keep it set aside for God’s use (holy).” Worship is to be a time when we stop our activities and let God work on us. Worship is a time when people rest and God works! This is “Gottesdienst.”

What happens in true worship? People recognize that they cannot save themselves. Worshippers recognize that they need God’s help and take time to let Him give them help through the hearing of His Word as it is sung and spoken in hymns and liturgy and through the reception of the Sacrament which is given for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith. Worship is God centered in that the entire time centers upon humble sinners gratefully receiving God’s blessings through Word and Sacrament.

Too much of today’s “worship” is actually man centered. People leave church “feeling” good because they have been entertained. They have spent time singing certain songs which make them feel good. And when that is the highlight of “worship” they are the ones who have been worshipped and entertained and the experience in church has had little or nothing to do with God working on them. They have worked on themselves. This is a man-centered experience. Man has been served by man. It is not “worship.”

When the activities of worship have pointed us to God’s activity on our behalf we have worshipped. When that worship makes us “feel good” because we have sung a hymn which glorifies God and also makes us “feel good,” the secondary aspect of “feeling good” is not a problem. But when “feeling good” becomes the primary reason for assembling in a church, we do not have worship of God, we do not have God serving us, we have entertainment, the worship of and service to man.

Our service takes place once we leave worship. When we have been fed on Word and Sacrament, when God has strengthened our faith and our relationship with Him as we rested from our labor and let Him work on us, we proceed into the world and work for Him. Then we live out our holiness, the fact that we are set aside for His use (Ephesians 2:10). We serve Him by sharing the faith He has strengthened in worship. We service Him by caring for our fellow man in His name. We serve Him living as examples of redeemed sinners who are thankful for our cross-established salvation. Worship is only worship when God and His blessings for us are at the center of the activity.

When we bring ourselves, our activity, and our songs to the forefront in an activity at our place of worship, we have asked God to reward us for our actions. This is, in effect, asking God to worship man. It is a form of idolatry, a form that is rampant in the church today.

Think about what you do when you worship. God must always be at the center. He must get the glory. We are to be at the receiving end of everything. And once we receive from God, then we serve Him Who has given us everything.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Defense of Proper Education for Those Who Minister in the Church, Part I

A saying popular among evangelicals is that “God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies those He calls.” Of course, no Biblical reference is given—because the teaching is not quite Biblical in its origin. I will not apologize for the assertion that if a man is not qualified, and does not seek to obtain proper qualifications for ministry, God has certainly not called that man. The man may not “feel” qualified, as Moses did not, and yet an objective observer can see that he was; indeed God had deliberately directed his life from its beginning so that he would be prepared for a specific role. Feelings, whether of adequacy or inferiority, have little bearing on reality.

Whenever I am disgusted by a poor preacher, I ask myself whether a man who cannot use his native language properly can understand the fine distinctions in doctrine that are so necessary to a proper teaching of the Word. “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing ye shall receive the greater condemnation.” We cannot embrace the teaching that “just anybody” can be a preacher.

The world stands in desperate need of Christian intellectuals; that is to say, men who stand “always ready” to give an answer to the objections of atheists and skeptics, to “give a reason for the hope that is in [them].” These are desperate days, and there is no room for an intellectually weak man who merely shovels out warm, fuzzy, highly subjective interpretations of scriptural texts. We need men who are willing to do the hard work and have sound answers ready for the tough questions.

The teaching of God’s Word must be held in high esteem and those who essay to teach it must be held highly accountable for their handling. The Word must be understood in its original intent, its absolutely objective meaning; must be handled seriously as a historic document inspired by a Holy God. It is a serious undertaking that requires the best linguistic and research skills developed by human civilization. Any careless, lighthearted approach is an insult to our God and the Christian faith, not to say damaging to Christ’s beloved flock.

Remember Christ’s test of Peter’s love for Him: “If you love Me, feed my sheep.” Sheep were not merely bumbling, clumsy creatures; they were and are the main form of wealth in the Middle East. When Christ calls his people sheep, He implies that they are precious to him in the same way sheep were valuable to their owners. We cannot make the mistake of thinking that any old fodder will do for these sheep. We may be sure that “hirelings” will give account to Christ along with the faithful pastors.