Category Archives: Worship

The Cleansing Fountain

 

Written by William Cowper in 1772, in many hymnbooks known as “There is a Fountain.”  The three verses sung here:

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
And when this feeble, faltering tongue 
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, 
I’ll sing His power to save.
Thou dying Lamb, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
‘Till all the ransomed church of God
Are Saved to sin no more.
The two leaders in the video are well known in Sacred Harp singing circles, David Lee of Hoboken, GA and Syble Wooten Adams of Adler, AL.
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Jesus as Lord

At least since early January I have been focused on The Lamb of God.  I have known what that means, and Who that is for most of my life, but it became especially real when, during his difficult and prolonged hospitalization, my brother William, one very challenging night, after I had read several specifically requested scriptures to him, fighting for breath, said to me, “You know, the focus of Heaven will be the Lamb of God.”  To share that desperate time, from our physical perspective, with someone who clings to the Lamb is awe inspiring and affirming: truly a witness.

From my pastor, Jeff Garrison’s sermon today, on the perfect Lamb of God, our Savior, Jesus the Christ:

Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt was a German pastor and theologian in the early decades of the twentieth century. He isn’t well known, but had a great influence on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth (who are better known). In one of his sermons, which has been collected in a book titled Action in Waiting, he says:

We do not gain much by just accepting that Christ died and rose again. Many people believe this, but nevertheless go to hell. This belief is of no help unless you and I experience Jesus as Lord. It is not the worst if some people are unable to believe that Christ rose from the dead – at least they still regard it as something tremendous, too tremendous to glibly confess. The sad thing is that so many people today claim to believe it, and yet it means so little to them. It has no effect in their lives.

Visible Catholicity

The Center for Baptist Renewal continues explaining its Evangelical Baptist Catholicity Manifesto, this time addressing consensual creeds.

We encourage the ongoing affirmation, confession, and catechetical use of the three ecumenical creeds and the scriptural insights of the seven ecumenical councils. We believe these confessional documents express well what Thomas Oden called the “consensual tradition”—the deposit of faith taught in Holy Scripture and received by the church throughout space and time.

Growing up in the Baptist tradition, I rarely heard the ecumenical creeds.  One of the things I appreciate about Presbyterian worship is repeating the Apostles’ Creed weekly.  I remember the first time my Roman Catholic friend visited church with me, afterward saying that it was joining in the Apostles’ Creed made her feel at home.

I agree with this:

[C]reedal and confessional adherence is one of the most ready-at-hand means of expressing visible catholicity: our unity with the broader body of Christ throughout space and time. The whole Church together confesses the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds and submits to the doctrinal pronouncements of the ecumenical councils. And, denominationally, Christians of similar convictions are united by confession and adherence to common beliefs, despite differences that may be found in tertiary issues.

And this:

In other context, Russell D. Moore has suggested that American Christians are “Americans best when they are not Americans first,” highlighting our ultimate allegiance to the kingdom of Christ. We would suggest a similar principle at work here: Baptists are Baptists best when they are not Baptists first.

Related to this, as a Seventh Day Baptist, I am best when I am not a Sabbath keeper first.

Read more here.

 

A Worship Service

My brother, William, like me, also belongs to a Presbyterian church.  Just as Seventh Day Baptist (the denomination in which we were raised) worship service structure differs among congregations, so does that in Presbyterian congregations.   William’s church observes communion every week.  I can not think of a better way to  worship.  Observing Communion reminds us why we are Christian.  It takes away our pride.  It unites us to each other in Christ.

A recent bulletin:

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My Broken, Contrite Heart You’ll not Despise

I found a new (to me) hymn this morning in Hymns of Grace.  Titled “I Plead For Grace,” it is an adaptation of Psalm 51 by Joseph Tyrpak, and is paired with a familiar hymn tune, Morecambe.  If you would like to sing it Mr. Fleischer’s piano rendition is a nice accompaniment.

The text:

I Plead For Grace
I plead for grace,O God of steadfast love;
By Your great mercy, all my sin remove.
Deeply ashamed for spurning You alone,
I stand condemned before your holy throne.
 
Though you want truth and purity within,
I am unclean, conceived with inborn sin.
Purge me with blood, and wash me white as snow.
Hide my transgressions; heal my broken soul.
 
Create in me a spotless heart, I pray.
Take not Your Spirit! Cast me not away!
Restore to me salvation’s joy anew,
Then I will teach the lost to turn to You.
 
Save me, O God with blood my hands are stained!
Open my lips to praise Your righteous name.
Though You reject a thoughtless sacrifice,
My broken, contrite heart You’ll not despise.
 
Lord, in Your goodness, build up Zion’s walls.
Let not my sin tear down Your glorious cause.
May You delight in ev’ry sacrifice,
Offered by sinners You have purified.
 
God can be just and sinners justify
For Jesus bled God’s wrath to satisfy.
My sins the spikes that nailed Christ to the tree—
God’s love and justice there for all to see.

Speaking the Truth in Worship

In 1674 Jodocus Van Lodenstein, a Dutch Reformed Pietist, first used the term “always reforming” in reference to the church.  He said “The church is reformed and always (in need of) being reformed according to the Word of God.”  Because of our wily and corrupt human nature it is still true today.  Those first reformers were concerned to return to what the Church was meant to be according to scripture, correcting false and corrupt doctrine and traditions.  We too need to guard against the siren call to adapt to the culture or indulge personal preferences.  We must remember “Sola Scriptura.”

In that spirit Jonathan Aigner suggests 95 more theses for the modern church door.  A few of them:

  • How to do worship is not fundamentally a question of preference, but meaning.
  • Theology, not taste, should determine how we worship.
  • Worship isn’t about declaring our attraction and affection for God, but declaring the character of God, and God’s creative and redemptive acts in human history.
  • Being a Christian should scare the hell out of us. If it doesn’t, we aren’t doing it right. Worship brings us together in our vulnerability.
  • The world around us is ugly, and mimicking the ugliness to make church relevant ends up making the church sad and irrelevant.
  • The church’s relevance is found in its divine Alternative to the ugliness of a fallen cosmos.

I had to read this next one a couple of times, but I agree with him.  My reading some of the Psalms in which the writer declares his innocence and righteousness come to mind:

  • Speaking the truth of the gospel will sometimes be a lie. Liturgy calls us to speak, sing, read, and pray words that we don’t believe. The discipline of choosing to speak the Truth over what is true in our lives at any given point will unquestionably make the truth we live closer to the Truth we speak.

Of course I agree with his comments on entertainment style music and singing in church worship.  For instance:

  • Music in worship isn’t supposed to be a vehicle for emotional manipulation or sensory gratification.
  • Music itself carries expressive potential, and it can support theological meaning well or poorly.
  • Music in worship should always serve the liturgy, instead of being either the main attraction or the “warm-up” act.
  • Singing in worship is a sacred discipline.
  • Through word and sacrament, worship should mold and shape the community of faith into the likeness of its Savior.