Tag Archives: worship

Permanent Pentecost (Part II)

The Holy Spirit movement has many virtues for which we can give God thanks.  The first of them is its very God-centeredness, something that is easy to get away from even while mouthing such coined cliches as “sovereignty”.  Closely related is its emphasis upon praising God in everything, as the Scripture enjoins, rather than practicing mere patience in adversity.  Attempts at real worship, especially via Bible quotations in song and prayer, is another.  We are tempted to identify worship with theological orations or even week-day work.  The Holy Spirit movement stresses the importance of Body life, in contrast to the rugged individualism that tends to intrigue us Calvinists.

Many long-neglected doctrines of Scripture are currently coming into their own.  One of them is our identification with Christ.  We are usually satisfied to limit atonement to the idea of substitution.  Similarly, we have been prone to think of salvation primarily in terms of justification: “Christ died to pay for my sins; that I might be forgiven,” forgetting that Christ is a “double cure” who also makes me a new person and keeps me from sinning.  This “new” idea also has been the subject of repeated articles in [Christian magazines], plus the reminder that Christ is our sanctification as well as our justification (I Cor. 1:30), rather than the regenerate man showing his gratitude to God for being saved.  Another example of our innate tendency to autonomism.  The hardest thing for all of us to “lick” is not sin or Satan, but sheer self.

But basic to all these is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit Himself, which has never come into its own the way that it should have.  Abraham Kuyper, writing 1900 years after Pentecost, lamented that fact as the rationale for his monumental book on the subject.  And the brilliant Princeton Professor B. B. Warfield, in that same book, says that Kuyper has by no means said the last word.  The Apostles’ Creed confesses nothing about the Holy Spirit except the bare fact of His existence.  (On this count as well as others we ought to make more use of the Nicene Creed in divine worship; like other heirlooms in the back of the Psalter Hymnal, it gathers honored dust.)  The more used Heidelberg Catechism devotes only one question out of one hundred and twenty-nine to the person and work of the Holy Spirit per se, and says nothing about His role in Creation, in my personal conception, nor his inspiration of the Sacred Scriptures.  Even more amazing is the common ignorance as to His very Being.  Many otherwise orthodox minsters are practical tri-theists, thinking of God today in essentially Old Testament concepts.  This is evident in the criticism against current Holy Spirit “over-emphasis” on the score that it neglects the first two persons of the trinity.  But Christ Himself said that He reveals only what the Father first gave to Him (John 16:13) — to say nothing of the fact that the three are more inseparable and indivisible in the New Testament than ever before (John 14:9). What is more, the New Testament Holy Spirit is not the “same” Person that He was in the Old (John 7:39).  Every Christian child knows that the Second Person of the Trinity is not identical with the Son of God as we know Him in the New.  In very related fashion, the Third Person of the Trinity has become “incarnate” in the New, has become the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the two have become wonderfully one. (II For. 3:17)  Illustrations of this union may be found in the “change” that is made in a beam of light when it passes through a colored glass, assuming inseparably the tint.  Or compare the “difference” in a girl who, upon wedlock, is no longer Miss Jones, but has become Mrs. Smith.

Take it on the personal testimony of this garden-variety missionary and run-of-the-mill Christian, when this concept of Christ’s indwelling via His very own Spirit takes possession of a person’s thinking, feeling, and believing — believe me, then for the first time you really begin to realize what the Bible is talking about when it says that we actually died with Christ long ago, and now we are a brand new person in Him. Gone is all the struggle, the self-effort, the “confession/obsession” (except to confess Christ constantly as Lord), the resolutions to “witness” more instead of letting the Light shine through and letting the Spirit take over the tongue, in understandable English.

Without it, it is perfectly possible to be living chronologically long after Pentecost (as Acts 19:1-7 sadly demonstrates) and still be operating spiritually way back in the Old Testament, wandering around in the wilderness of the world after the fashion of the Israelites, getting nowhere, when Canaan and its “rest” are so near at hand, attainable in this present life.  These things all happened, says Paul, for an admonition to us upon whom the end of the ages has come.  Let us take heed, then, that we do not deny Christ’s Spirit.  He Himself said that every sin is forgivable except that.  (Matt. 12:32))

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Christian Hebrews

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…                    Hebrews 10:24, 25

Some of the most lovely passages in the Bible are found in the book of Hebrews, written to Jewish Christians.  The most famous chapter, of course, is the well-known roll call of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, listing some of the Old Testament believers who trusted in Christ, “Seeing we are surrounded with so great a cloud of witnesses … let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and perfecto of our faith.”  (12:1)

The unknown author of this beautiful book constantly emphasizes how much better off we are in the New Testament than even such outstanding saints as Moses, Abraham, and others.  They lived in the shadows, and we have the full light of God that shines in the face of Jesus Christ.  Their worship consisted of sacrifices of dumb animals, but Christ, the true Passover Lamb, has been once sacrificed for us.  They could approach God only through the priesthood, and even the high priest was admitted into the symbolic presence of God only once in a whole year, but we can come boldly unto the throne of grace at any time, knowing we shall receive mercy and find grace for every need.

One thing that Hebrews repeatedly warns us New Testament believers against is slipping back into the formalism of the Old Testament.  It is something all of us have to beware of.  We like to have something between us and the holy God.  We are fond of things.  And so our worship gradually becomes more elaborate, liturgical, and with pictures of Jesus in church, thoughtlessly sung doxologies, etc.  Be careful that your service of God today is sincere.

Getting Together

Let us consider how to stir up one another … not neglecting to meet together.      Hebrews 10:24, 25

When Hebrews talks about meeting together it is not talking only about going to church.  Hebrews is saying that the greatness of salvation cannot be experienced in isolation.  No Christian is an island.

Jesus had this in mind when He said that wherever two or three Christians get together, He is present (Matthew 18:20).  When believers get together it is as if Jesus says, “This is me!”  Christ does not merely join us when we meet for worship or fellowship; He is automatically there — in us.

Ephesians 1:22, 23 (NIV) says: “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

Christ is what makes a Christian home beautiful; He makes the Christian family one with Him.  Where is that “two or three” more real than in the union of a believing husband and wife, possibly with one or more children?  The book of Romans tells us that many of the early Christians had house churches (see 16:5).  Some of the most meaningful events and thoughts recorded in the Bible were born out of this family-type fellowship as saints, drawn together in Christ, promoted oneness in Him.  Is your home today like a church?  Is your family a body of Christ?

We Are Saints

He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.      Hebrews 10:14

It is impossible to make progress in the Christian race unless a person realizes that he or she is a saint in Christ.  Can you imagine cheerleaders encouraging a team yelling, “Let’s go, losers”?

Possibly we get the wrong impression of ourselves because many of the songs we sing in worship services emphasize human sin.  For many of us, worship can become a time of telling God how good He is and how bad we are.  Hebrews 10:14 however, tells us that Christians have been made holy.  In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul lists many types of sinners and then says: “Such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (v. 11). We must be careful not to overlook Gods work of grace by calling attention to our sins all of the time.

Failing to recognize God’s complete salvation may also cause Christians to offend and confuse prospective converts.  What appeal does becoming a Christian have if a person doesn’t change or show any joy?

Perhaps we should address each other as “saints.”  Then, however, people would say we were being presumptuous and proud.  On the other hand, we must not take pride in humility.  Let us never call unclean what the Lord our God has hallowed.

Soul Versus Spirit

The word of God …. [pierces] to the division of soul and spirit.      Hebrews 4:12

People have long disagreed as to whether human beings are just body and soul or body, soul, and spirit.

Whatever the case, there is clearly a difference between what is related to the human soul and what is truly spiritual.  More important, the Bible doesn’t begin to make the distinction between body and soul that we do.  The word it uses for flesh is psych, and the “sins of the flesh” are mental/emotional things such as anger, jealousy, hatred, and selfish ambition.

What we are to remember is that some of the “spiritual” things we do can in fact be fleshly and sensual.  Listening to Handel’s Messiah may be just as sensual and fleshly as drinking beer in front of the television set.  I have often attended this oratorio myself to experience sensual enjoyment — I wasn’t always worshiping God.  And in worship services, the “inspiration” we get from stirring songs or rousing sermons can be just as sensual and self-centered as the inspiration we get from a football game.

Our so-called service to God and others can also be very fleshly, motivated by mere habit, duty, esteem, or any other selfish action.  Studying the Word of God, however, can help us understand ourselves and why we do things.  Those who live close to God through His Word live in truly spiritual service.

The Beginning of Public Worship

At that time men began to call upon the name of the Lord.       Genesis 4:26

Sometimes silence says more than words which are actually spoken.  This is true also in the Bible.  Genesis records the names of five descendants of Cain and then it stops.  That is the last you hear of him or them.  It is just as though that family ceased to exist.

Meanwhile, the Almighty God who can raise the dead and create men from the ground, gave Eve a son to take Abel’s place.  She called him Seth, which means substitute.  From this point on, the only people the Bible ever mentions are the children of Seth.  It is just as though nobody else mattered.  This was God’s family.  This was the true human race.

Very little is told us about the members of this new family tree, but one thing that is said about them is highly important.  They “called upon the name of the Lord.”

Obviously this means that they said their prayers as individuals.  These people had personal devotions, even as you and I ought to.  Any one who is too busy to have a daily “quiet time” is indeed too busy.

But individual worship had been going on already for some time before this. The first children of Adam and Eve worshipped God by means of sacrifices.  (Genesis 4:3,4)  But in the days of Seth something new was introduced into the worship of God.  People began to join one another in united or public worship.

Benjamin Franklin said of political affairs that if people do not hang together they will certainly be hanged separately, and this is surely true of spiritual exercises.  Satan has an easy time picking off a “loner.”  The person who does not care for the assembly of God’s people here upon earth will not be part of it in heaven.