Your favorite theologian has a favorite theologian. I don't care who you look up to or love to read, if they were born in the 20th century, they stand in the shadow of one man.
Bavinck was a Dutch theologian in the late 1800's and early 1900's. His works have only been translated into English and been made available in recent years. His 4 volume Reformed Dogmatics may be the best systematic theology ever written.
I was looking for something the other day in the fourth volume and came across this passage on the nature, extent, and purpose of Church Discipline. Bavinck's 6 pages on the subject are clearer and more precise than many large books on the topic. You can read the excerpt by clicking here.
Editor’s Note: This is the meditation I wrote for our Maundy Thursday service.
Hail, King of the Jews
There were many traveling rabbi’s in Israel. Some were more interesting than others. But this man who had come from Galilee had captured the attention of so many. From the way he had come on the scene, being baptized by the equally enigmatic John the Baptizer; to the way he often spoke of the Kingdom. Now there was a politically charged word, Kingdom. Many people had heard of the miracles he had done in the northern part of the country. Then, he had marched steadily toward Jerusalem. He may have been the real deal. Then the way he rode into town, to the chants of Hosanna! “YHWH, save us Now!” We really thought the Romans were done for. But then instead of chasing the Romans out of town, he chased our people out of the temple. He chided Jews, not Romans. How should we be expected to say –
Hail, King of the Jews
The soldiers taunted Jesus as they fitted him with a crown of thorns. They mockingly added a robe of royal scarlet to the spectacle. Finally, they gave him a weed as a scepter. As the Roman foot soldiers mocked their made-up King, they took turns snatching his scepter, his symbol of authority and hitting him with it. They spat on him, spurning his power, jeering at his lowliness. They covered his head with a sack and demanded he tell them who struck him. With each wound, with each blow, with each piece of the soldiers fake royal trappings they sneered. They curled their lips and let out a sadistic smile. They danced and let off steam. They looked at this Galilean rube, this Jewish pretender, and howled with a certain amount of sick, violent joy-
Hail! King of the Jews
God’s world had been plunged into sin by Adam. Soon after the flood, God chooses Abraham and tells him that his family, those who come after him will be a part of God’s rescue plan for the world. But all too soon, we find that the people of Israel are a part of the problem. They too are infected with Adam’s curse. Instead of being the solution, they turn to nationalistic pride. The devolve from a light to the gentiles into guardians of a secret God. And then, in the midst of this problem, steps a prophet. A voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way. Hope rises; maybe Rome will finally be thrown out. Maybe the exile will end. Then someone comes. He enters Jerusalem just a few days earlier to pomp and messianic cries only he fails to do what the Jews expected. He didn’t overthrow Pilate! He couldn’t even save himself. How in the world should the people of Israel be expected to say with any faith-
Hail, King of the Jews?
Pilate was absolutely baffled. In front of him stood a man from the countryside to the north, the sticks. This man had somehow angered the Jewish people to the point that they turned him over to Rome. The Jews hated Pilate. They hated Rome. And now, they had given this man over to him to be punished as a revolutionary. The Romans had already decided to remind the Jews of who was in charge while they were all gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. They had planned a public execution of three failed insurgents. These terrorist had stolen Imperial property and murdered Roman officials, and one was so crazy, he was certainly a danger to the Jewish population as well – this Barrabas. So there this man stood. Clearly exhausted, and with blood seeming to ooze out of his pores as well as his wounds. Pilate had just asked this man if he was truly the King of the Jews. The man’s response, “You have said so yourself”. What? What sort of insolence was this? How could anyone look at this man and say –
Hail! King of the Jews?
But now, as Jesus is being crucified, he is there nailed to an old rugged tree fashioned into the shape of a T. He is suspended between earth and heaven, struggling for each breath. He feels the breath of God, hot and angry on him. The agony of hell meeting earth in his body at that moment drowns out the crowds. The wrath he feels from heaven blots out the thoughts of the crude sign that says in three languages the crime for which he is being punished. Here on a Roman torture device hangs the King of Israel. The Second Adam. The True Israel. And he is not ultimately feeling the brunt of Rome, but the wrath of God for our sin. He focuses on the pain in his wrists as the nails etch your name and mine physically onto his body. He bears the condemnation we deserve and all the while focuses on the joy set before him. That joy was no abstract thought. That joy was no celestial place. No, that joy, the joy the kept him on the cross was you. It was me. It was his beloved, his church. And so this evening church, look to the cross.
Look and Hail, King of the Jews.
Well, fall is here. Football season is in full swing and I am finishing up my fall reading list. This fall I am centering my reading on the topic of leadership. Here are the books I hope to read this fall:
Rescuing Ambition, Dave Harvey – A reformed perspective on redeeming ambition: Yes, Please!
Leading Cross-Culturally, Sherwood Lingenfelter – The subtitle of this book says it all. “Covenant Relationships for Effective Christian Leadership”
The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne – This book has been getting great reviews and comes highly recommended.
The Archer and the Arrow, Phillip Jensen and Paul Grimmond – This book is from the same publisher/series as The Trellis and the Vine. If one is good, will two be better?
The Shepherd Leader, Timothy Witmer – This book was on sale/recommended by Westminster Seminary’s bookstore. It fits the topic, we’ll see what it’s about. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni – This is not a Christian book, but Lencioni is a leadership guru of sorts. I have read a lot about this book and am eager to actually read it.
Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, Patrick Lencioni – This is another by Lencioni. I purchased it as an ebook and will be the first book I have read completely on an e-reader.
Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender – Love Allender and this book shouldn’t disappoint.
In addition to these books (which I will cross-out and review when I finish them), I am going to attempt another project beginning this fall. Inspired by the hokie movie Julia and Julia, I am going to begin reading through the works of Justin Martyr and blogging through my thoughts. I have never read any of Justin Martyr’s works, so this should be fun. Look for weekly post marked Justin and Justin as part of this series.
Though the summer is still hot, the calendar is approaching September and approaching the football season. This time of year, everyone is an optimist. Every team has a shot. My team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, got rid of their coach, general manager, and just about every veteran on the team; but hey, there is still hope. Even with my ironclad devotion to the Tampa Bucs, I am also terribly fascinated by another character in the NFL. Bill Belichick. His sense of fashion is classic. He often wears a hoodie that he has cut the sleeves off of as he patrols the New England sidelines. This outfit is so closely tied to his persona that he is often referred to simply as “The Hoodie.” He is the only head coach not to be a part of the NFL Head Coaches Association. The only one. (Incidentally this is why his name doesn’t show up on Madden.) He is also famous for his clandestine demeanor. He has been proven to bend the rules (to say the least) and is often vague with his injury reports (Tom Brady showed up every week of 2007 with a phantom shoulder injury). Bet even more intriguing than all of this is his personal philosophy that works its way out in press conferences. When asked about Tom Brady’s injury, he gave a certain response. When his team won every regular season game, every playoff game and lost the Superbowl, he gave the same response.
It is what it is.
What an interesting phrase. It has become a pop-culture phenomenon. It rears its head in all kinds of places. Sports stars, starlets, and fortune cookies; the phrase has taken on a life of its own and has even been brought to life in Christian circles.
The problem with the phrase, especially as it applies to Christianity, is that it is patently anti-christian. It is fatalism. It is paganism. It shows itself in other religions. In Islam, it is Kismet. In traditional Japanese religion it is Shikata ga na. Douglas McCollam of Slate magazine sites the first western use of the phrase to John Locke in An Essay concerning Human Understanding. [On a tangent regarding John Locke the scarier character when compared to Ben. Conniving as Ben is, he is still haunted by his bad decisions. John is not. What is the difference? For John, “It is what it is”.]
As it relates to Christianity we are determinists, that is to say that we do believe that God has ordained all that has come to pass, but the beauty of the Gospel is that we are not fatalist. We can look in the face of both the concentration camps of the Nazis and the firebombing of Dresden by the allies and see evil. And though God has set those things in order, they are not ok. They are not permissible.
We have bought into a revisionist sovereignty. If it happens, God is ok with it. Just because God allows something, doesn’t mean it pleases Him in a moral sense.
Too often we as Christians use “It is what it is” to justify things. It is a way of saying love it or leave it, but you can’t leave it. We use the phrase as a way to say go with the flow. This idea, this philosophy ignores the cross. The way things are are not how they are going to be. We live in a time, after the cross, where we can identify evil and even minor injustice and see Christ change them with the power of the cross. However if we simply allow them to be, they will continue
Instead of focusing on what is, we need to focus on what can be.
So having set the table, its time to dig into the steak.
Our services of worship have gone down hill. If we were to point fingers, and I don’t intend to; we could point to Finney and Darby, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that what passes as worship music today is failing.
And it is not that it is not good music. In fact the opposite is the case. Never have more people been in the full employment (or support) of the church in the area of music.
There are more professional and professional caliber musicians serving the church with less theological music being written. We have substituted musical excellence for excellent music.
What I mean by that is that we have sacrificed content for style. Our music is good. It is popular. There is little difference between U2 and some of our more popular worship groups. That is no slam on U2, it is a compliment.
The problem is that we have focused so hard on the style and attracting people to worship that we have abandoned that which is just outside our range of vision, God.
A few weeks ago, everyone was scarred that the half of the world’s population was going to die of Swine Flu. Surgical masks in hand, people braved mass-transit. Armed with super-mega-antibiotics people took to the streets hoping not to be victimized by this pig-faced killer. But it was a lot of hype and not a lot of fall out. It was more bacon and less epidemic and apocalypse. Am I guilty of the same thing? Am I making a pandemic out of a minor issue? Is this Swine Flu or simply a strain of Flu called H1N1?
Lets take a look. The following are the top songs from the Christian section of iTunes by downloads. The first is “God in Me” by Mary Mary. Here are the lyrics:
Seriously, I can’t make this up. But lets be fair the next song was by famous worship leader David Crowder. It’s called How He Loves.
This is much better, but there is still some significant problems. Did you catch the line about heaven meeting earth like a sloppy wet kiss. I’m sorry, is this the transcendent God of the universe or Brad Pitt in a romantic comedy?
The third most downloaded song is Matthew West’s “The Motions”:
OK. At this point I need to stop.
I don’t want to sound negative and like everything is awful and bad. I am not trying to say that everything that doesn’t meet my select standard of theology fails.
What I do want to point out is the extreme lack of any kind of theology whatsoever. It is not as if I object to these songs out of my theological vantage point. They have no theological vantage point.
It is also not that I object to these songs because they sound too much like God is my girlfriend. There is theological justification of that style of worship as made clear in the book of Song of Songs.
Here is the point that I am making, and to be pointed that I am putting to you Rich: The music behind these songs is relatively good. The problem is theological. We have to abandon notions of musical excellence until we can recapture the transcendence and a healthy dose of the immanence of God.
We have sacrificed our theology on the altar of music.
Links to the conversation thus far:
As we embark on this conversation, it may be helpful to be clear and narrow in our scope. When anyone brings up the topic of worship, hackles go up and some people immediately take a defensive position. Rich and I want this discussion to be specific rather than vague.
Scotty Smith, a Presbyterian pastor from Tennessee, spoke at a workshop at the Gospel Coalition Confrence this past April. He was careful to distinguish between “services of worship” and “worship services”. This was a helpful distinction, but still lacks a bit of clarity. For the purpose of these blogs and this one in particular, let us set the terms Services of Worship and Worshipful services. Services of Worship are the time we spend on Sunday morning gathered together with our local bodies to express our Worship to the Covenant Lord. Worshipful service is any good and profitable thing we do which brings glory to that same Lord. These themes flow from the pages of scripture from start to finish.
While in Eden our forefathers experienced both services of worship (when they walked with God in the cool of the day) and worshipful services as they carried out the commands of the Cultural Mandate (sometimes called the Covenant of Eden or Covenant of works). They were not simply prohibited from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but they were positively commanded to be fruitful and multiply and push the borders of the garden outwards (Gen 1:28-30).
Later as redemptive history moved on, we find Moses and the people of Israel at the foot of the mountain. Here they are given the Ten Commandments by Charlton Heston. These Ten Commandments deal essentially with services of worship and worshipful service. The first four commands instruct Israel in her behavior towards God (or her services of worship). The next six commands deal with the way the people are to treat one another in everything from sexuality to business. Here God is dealing with their worshipful services.
Later still, Christ meets a Samaritan woman by a well. After a lengthy discussion she tries to bait him into declaring one place of services of worship illegitimate and another approved. Jesus masterfully navigates this complex and culturally loaded issue and declares that a time is coming where worshipers will offer services of worship all over the world and offer them in “Spirit and Truth”.
Paul and the writer of Hebrews pick these themes up as well. Paul speaks of our worshipful services in Romans when he calls us to present our bodies as living sacrifices. The author of Hebrews weaves the tow themes together seamlessly. He speaks of the excellencies of coming to heavenly Jerusalem as opposed to Sinai then urges us to offer acceptable services of worship. (Hebrews 12:18-29) He then launches into a treatment of our worshipful service, tying them together in chapter 13:15-16.
The scriptures even give us a peak into the world that is to come. Revelation continues the dance between services of worship with worship service, giving us pictures of both celestial services of worship and new earthly worshipful service.
So where does that leave us, to be more specific, where does this leave this series of blogs. Rich and I will be focusing on services of worship. We both understand the importance and biblical significance of worshipful services, but are not seeking to address it here. We want to deal with those specific activities that are practiced on Sunday mornings, the world over. The Church has put an emphasis on these since the earliest times. From the Hebrews author urging members not to neglect coming together, to the significance of the mass in the middle ages to the importance the reformers put on the Sunday service to the very models of ministry taught and used today, Sunday morning services of worship are a centerpiece to modern Christianity and we are seeking to address what goes on in them.