Sunday Ticket and Christ’s Church

Does Sabbath rest include ceasing from various leisurely activities?  Our confessions do not prohibit modest leisure or recreation.  Modest leisure may be appropriate as long as it does not remove or hinder fellowship, worship, and avoids worldly commerce.  Christians should remain separate from worldly pursuits—remember the Lord sanctified the day.[1]  The more commerce done on the Lord’s Day, the more Christians have to work on Sunday.  The Sabbath consists in performing holy works.  In order to do or receive them, we must avoid things that hinder or omit worship.  In this hyper-stimulated culture, we face many obstacles to sanctifying the Sabbath.  Sunday is the second busiest shopping day in America—ask anyone in the restaurant business and he will tell you that Christians pack the house on Sunday.[2]  One cannot do his religious duty at the mall or in front of a big screen, much less, dare I say, at a NFL game.  Will the NFL game conflict with your religions duty, acts of necessity, and mercy?  That is for you to decide, but if the church officers have called two worship services on Sunday, I don’t know how you will get around your commitment to Christ and his Church if the Dallas Cowboys are playing next year in January?  Better to be more committed to Christ’s church than to America’s Team.

If you need a place to worship this Lord’s Day, our service begins at 10:30am and I have NFL rewind so you can watch the game with me on Monday.

[1] Think of the day like your tithe, all your money belongs to the Lord, but a certain amount is specially given to the church for the Lord.  Every day belongs to the Lord and you serve him daily, however, Sunday is a special day because the Lord set it apart for a special purpose.

[2]Most restaurants classify them as the most difficult patrons and poorest tippers.  The worst of the bunch slip tacky tracks with less than 15% in place of a good tip.  Non-Christians with tenure, therefore, often refuse to work on Sunday resulting in Christians to fill the gap, see Clark, Recovering, 324.


Janus and the Everlasting Sabbath

Janus was the god of beginnings and transitions in the ancient Roman pantheon.  Most often, he is depicted as having two faces on his head, facing opposite directions: one face looks into the future the other into the past.  So, what do Janus and the Sabbath have to do with one another?  Well, nothing really, but then again the Sabbath does function as a Janus, looking to the past and the creation in the Garden of Eden and to the future and the new creation.

For instance, the future grounded the Fourth Commandment in Deuteronomy 5:12–15.  The Sabbath in Deuteronomy looks to the future as it appeals to redemption (from Egypt).  It is important to understand that Deuteronomy’s context presumes sin, bondage, and lack of true rest as Israel remembers their slavery.  While they were not free from sin and bondage, they looked to a future deliverer to come. Deuteronomy points forward to the resurrection and ultimate rest in Christ (Acts 1:6; 3:17–26; Heb. 4:1–13).  The Sabbath then functions as a sign of the resurrected Messiah.  It was a sign of one who would fulfill the covenant of works to obtain and restore rest by his perfect life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Colossians 2:17 explains how the Old Testament promises were fulfilled in Christ, “ These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”  Christians now have the substance of Deuteronomy 5.  Therefore, instead of looking forward like Israel before the cross, we now look back to the resurrection that followed the cross.  The Old Testament fathers participated in the “shadow of the things to come,” which nurtured their hope in the future reality as they longed for the coming King of Kings.  Our King has come and conquered sin, death, and the devil to release us from bondage.  So, look to that release from bondage and find rest.

Does this mean then that there is no longer a Sabbath here on earth?[1]  No, there remains a Sabbath rest for God’s pilgrims, because the Sabbath also looks back to creation.  The Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20:11 looks to the past at creation to ground the Sabbath (see later post).  Men are still sabbatical creatures called to image a God who worked and rested.  We too are to work and rest just like our sabbatical Creator in whose image we are made.  All men therefore must obey creational law (i.e. Ex. 20:11).

The Sabbath as a Janus still looks to the past.  Christians on this side of the cross do a double take back.  We look to creation to ground the Sabbath and we look to the cross.  So, does the Sabbath still function as a Janus for the New Testament believer?  Yes, for after looking backwards, we also look forward for the Sabbath to come and the consummation of all things—the new heaven and earth and our resurrected bodies.

This Sunday, we will rest on the Lord’s Day letting the Holy Spirit renew us into the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29).  This Sunday, we will rest on the Lord’s Day to become more and more like Christ.  This Sunday, Lord willing, we will rest knowing that God’s work will not be complete in this life, so we will continue to look forward reminded by the gospel that we do not work to rest.  We have rest in the Grace of Christ, so we have restful peace on the Sabbath.  We rest to love God and neighbor the other six days a week.  Heidelberg 103 therefore speaks of God’s sanctifying work on the Sabbath as he renews believers after his Son’s image,

In the second place, that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works, allow the Lord to work in me by his Spirit, and thus begin in this life the everlasting Sabbath.

[1]I assume a Sunday Sabbath for the Christian.  Those who oppose Sunday argue it is a human ordinance, and not a divine command.  The Reformed church follows not just explicit commands, but the pattern set by Christ and the Apostles (Acts 20:7 breaking break on the first day of the week; 1 Cor. 16:1 setting aside offerings on the first day of the week; Rev. 1:10 calls the first day, the “Lord’s Day”).

Give Me God’s Hymnbook on the Sabbath

Interested in the singing of Psalms in corporate worship? I for one love the Psalter. I l am thankful that the Church Order of my federation, article 39, states, “The 150 Psalms shall have the principal place in the singing of the churches.” We do sing other texts in this church plant. Nevertheless, God’s Hymnbook takes the chief place in our singing.  Notice I did not say “takes chief place in our worship,” because the entire service is worship not just the singing.

Anywho, Westminster Seminary California has just posted another book review of mine on the topic of Psalm singing, Sing a New Song by Joel Beeke and Anthony Selvaggio. This book would be a good primer for those interested in the “worship wars” as they relate to psalmody.  The book is not limited to exclusive psalmody per se, as it is more an argument for using inspired text in worship. If you are in Missoula and have never sung from a Psalter then come check us out this Lord’s Day at 1:00pm.  We will sing Psalm 23, 51:10–12, and 65.  We will also sing Habakkuk 2:20.  If you want to know more about Psalm singing, then check out my book review click here.

Cyprian and the Reformed Church circa 258

Saint Cyprian

Image of Saint Cyprian

Belgic Confession Article 28 on the communion of the saints in the church states, “We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and outside of it there is no salvation.”  We confess that outside of the visible church there is no salvation.  This idea was not new with the reformed, Cyprian, the Father of the Church so called, stated the same in the 3rd c.e., “apart from the church there is no salvation.”[1]  Us reformed folk following the ancient church believe that the work of Christ in his church does not happen in isolation.  We believe that there are spiritual advantage found in, “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) that are not found in private devotion.  For this reason the letter to the Hebrews commands the laity to “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (13:17).  At this point American Evangelicals cry “foul,” leaning on a faulty understanding of our doctrine of the priesthood of believers, asking, “Am I not my own priest?  Why do I need a minister to stand before me?”  The correct understanding of the priesthood of all believers simply means that we no longer need a human mediator, for Christ is our only high priest.  It is by his one sacrifice on the cross that we are redeemed.  It is because He ever lives that we have an intercessor before the Father.  All members now have the same standing in Christ.  However, we must not forget that there are different functions within the body of the church (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-28).  Everyone now participates in the worship service (Eph. 5:15-21), but certain men are called to lead the service that all things are “done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40).  As redemptive history gave the three offices of prophet, priest, and king, those offices, fulfilled in Christ, continue today in the life of the church through the three offices of the church that salvation may come to God’s people every Lord’s Day.

[1] Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church, 5.429.

Proofs for the Regulative Principle of Worship: A Missoula Need (Part 3)

The second proof for the RPW comes from the doctrine of Christian liberty. This doctrine teaches that if the Bible does not teach or command a certain practice the church is forbidden to add its own rites and ceremonies because man’s conscience must be free from human inventions. God freed men’s conscience from the doctrines and commands of other men, therefore, the church is forbidden to teach or command anything the Bible does not. Continue reading

Proofs for the Regulative Principle of Worship: A Missoula Need (Part 2)

The first proof for the RPW comes from the doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture (Ps 119; 2Tim 3:16). This doctrine carries a positive and a negative statement. The positive statement, “the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory…is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequences may be deduced from Scripture.” With creaturely knowledge, only the Bible gives us the specifics on how to glorify the Creator. This, however, is not enough the creature must not add “at any time…whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men,” to what the creator has given. No creaturely innovations for worshipping the creator are allowed because innovations infer that the Bible, the Creator’s Word, is lacking and imperfect in leading his church in worship, hence the sufficiency of Scripture. Belgic confession 32 is clear on this point as well, “Therefore we reject all human inventions, and all which man would introduce into the worship of God, thereby to bind and compel the conscience in any manner.” This confession is unambiguous, human inventions may not be introduced into the worship of God, and the reason segues into the next point, to bind and compel conscience. Stay tuned to learn about Worship and Christian liberty, an important doctrine for the Reformed. Continue reading

Reformed Worship: The Elements and the Circumstances

Reformed took great caution with the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW).  They only applied it to worship.  Those areas that God had authoritatively addressed, all other areas of life were considered adiaphora (Greek: indifferent things). If the RPW controlled all areas, life would get difficult to resemble Phariseeism against our freedom found in Christ.  Freedom, nevertheless, is controlled by God’s holy rule.  All other areas of life are “ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word.”  General rules of Scripture influence private Christian piety.  The Christian life is one of wisdom; the RPW only reigns in corporate worship.

What about the things in worship that are unique to a certain culture or time?  There are objects in worship that seem neutral with no biblical evidence for or against like amplification.  Can the church use amplification when doing so is not commanded in Scripture?  Should the church worship in a house or out in a field?  These are a few issues in worship not clarified in Scripture.  The question is begged, “How can the church actually follow the RPW, when there are so many things found in worship not found in Scripture” and “ Should worship rid all 21st amenities to only resemble the culture and time of the 1st C.E.?” The distinction between circumstances and essences has the answer, Westminster Confession 1.6:

There are some circumstances about the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be obeyed.

Reformed Christians agree that not everything connected with worship is worship.  For instance the shape of buildings, the length of service, sitting and other non-religious activities have no religious significance.  These are circumstances; Dr. Clark notes that anything that culture or wisdom can potentially change without affecting worship is a circumstance.[1] Some things found in worship are just natural without any moral cultic overtones.  Some things, Dr. Clark explains, are physical circumstances that aid worship, which occur alongside other civil and religious actions done by men and are not part of worship.  They do not contribute moral goodness or badness to the agent in performance. Some physical circumstances, however, become moral because God sanctifies it. For example, the seventh day of the week became the Lord’s Day because he sanctified. Elements are those things that God has given spiritual significance to like prayer and the reading of Scripture.  Circumstances are physical man-made things that surround worship like time or place. The RPW does allow practices as amplification to aid worship as long as the church realizes that these are only physical circumstances that could be taken away without affecting biblical worship.  A pastor could remove the microphone and remain biblical, however, for example he could not remove the sermon and remain biblical.  The church, therefore, may employ 21st amenities (i.e. microphone), while recognizing them as mere circumstances that help and are not worship.

[1] Clark, “Recovering the Reformed Confession,” 230.