Hymnal Musings and the Sabbath

Dear Church Family,

I collect hymnals. Or, perhaps I should say, I used to collect hymnals. It used to be that I couldn’t go to a garage sale or used book sale without finding a hymnal that I didn’t have, purchasing it, and taking it home with me. My penchant for hymnals is based on a personal love of singing the rich hymns of the Christian faith, as well as a curiosity with regard to the hymnody of various traditions. Eventually, my hymnal collection got out of hand and I had to whittle it down to only those that were actually useful; out of necessity, I had to become a bit more utilitarian in that regard.

Hymnal Musings

Anyway, one of the things that is interesting to do when examining hymnals is to look at the index in the back. Often, there are several: a Scripture index, title and first line index, author/composer index, tune index, meter index, and a subject index. It’s this last one that is usually the most revealing as to the nature of the theology of a particular church or church tradition. [By the way, there’s a helpful website where you may access these indexes and sort them according to each one: http://trinityhymnalindex.wordpress.com/.]

The red Trinity Hymnal (Revised Edition), published in 1990 and which we use in our church, is my favorite (the original Trinity Hymnal, published in 1961 is typically referred to as “the blue Trinity Hymnal”). I’ve known a lot of hymnals, but the red Trinity Hymnal is my favorite for several reasons: familiarity, content (both in hymnody and confession), structure and organization, diversity, sing-ability, etc. One of the unique aspects of our hymnal is the subject index (it’s actually called “Topics”). Just about every hymnal has a topical index, but I don’t think that I have found one as thorough and detailed as that in the Trinity Hymnal.

Just a quick perusal of the topics listed in this index is revealing. It’s like taking a stroll down the systematic theology of the Christian faith. And, while many of the topics listed are common to many other hymnals, there are some significant differences. For instance, the red Trinity Hymnal topical index contains certain entries which you typically won’t find in others: Covenant of grace, Covenant people, Decrees of God, Election, Family worship, Foreordination, God’s work of providence, Imprecatory Psalms, Israel, Law of God, Lord’s Day, Means of Grace, Ordinations, Original sin, Reformation day, Sabbath, Sacraments, Suffering, Tribulations, Wrath of God, Zion. These, I have gleaned from just a quick perusal.

The Sabbath

You may think I’m strange, but I like to peruse the indexes of our hymnal, find and learn hymns with which I am unfamiliar. Just now, I did just that. I looked up “Sabbath” and under the topic it reads, “see Lord’s Day,” but there is one hymn listed there under the topic of Sabbath: “540 – A Few More Years Shall Roll.” Though I’m unfamiliar with this hymn, a quick check of the tune name (Leominster) in the tune index reveals that there are four hymns in the hymnal with the same tune. And, at least one of them is familiar to me, “461 – Not What My Hands Have Done.”

So, as a result of my perusing the topical index, I found a new (to me), easily sing-able hymn about the Sabbath. I looked up the topic of ‘Sabbath’ in our hymnal this week because this past Sunday we discussed Sabbath keeping in the adult Sunday school class; I was curious as to how many hymns are in our hymnal related to this topic. You can find more hymns under ‘Lord’s Day’ in the hymnal, but let me share with you the four verses of “540 – A Few More Years Shall Roll.” It’s a beautiful description of how Sunday – the Christian Sabbath, the Lord’s Day – entails both an embracing of the present rest which we have in Christ and teaches us to anticipate the future, eternal rest which we will be ours at Christ’s return.

540 – A Few More Years Shall Roll

A few more years shall roll, A few more seasons come,
And we shall be with those that rest Asleep within the tomb:
Then, O my Lord, prepare My soul for that great day;
O wash me in thy precious blood, And take my sins away.

A few more storms shall beat On this wild rocky shore,
And we shall be where tempests cease, And surges swell no more:
Then, O my Lord, prepare My soul for that calm day;
O wash me in thy precious blood, And take my sins away.

A few more sabbaths here Shall cheer us on our way,
And we shall reach the endless rest, Th'eternal sabbath day:
Then, O my Lord, prepare My soul for that sweet day;
O wash me in thy precious blood, And take my sins away.

'Tis but a little while, And he shall come again
Who died that we might live, who lives That we with him may reign:
Then, O my Lord, prepare My soul for that glad day;
O wash me in thy precious blood, And take my sins away.

I love this line from the third verse: “A few more Sabbaths here shall cheer us on our way.” It makes me think of Psalm 118:24 (“This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it”). We often apply this verse to every day; however, in the context, “the day which the LORD has made” refers to the day which marked the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt – the day of the 10th and final plague when God struck down all the first born male children of the Egyptians, but passed over the Israelites who marked their doors with the blood of the lamb. The day which the LORD has made is the day of salvation.

We may also rightly apply Psalm 118:24 to the Sabbath Day, the Lord’s Day, the day in which we worship our Savior and celebrate His being raised because of our justification! It is the day which He has made! It is the day in which we ought to rejoice! It is the day that cheers us on our way!

Thanks for coming along with me on this hymnal exploration which has led us to a reflection on the beauty and blessing of the Sabbath. I look forward to worshipping with you again this coming Lord’s Day!

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

The Order of Worship

Dear Church Family,

As part of our study of what it means to be a member of the church, in the adult Sunday School class we are examining what it means to support the work and worship of the church. Specifically, we are be examining what makes the worship of a Reformed church distinct – as she seeks to order her worship according God’s Word.

This idea of worshipping God as He commanded (or prescribed) for us to worship Him in Scripture, is what we refer to as the “regulative principle of worship.” That is to say, God regulates how we are to worship Him in His Word. So, our worship includes elements of worship which God commands for us to employ: reading of Scripture, preaching, hearing, singing, sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s supper), oaths, vows, fastings, thanksgivings, giving and receiving offerings).

A Biblical Order of Worship?

When it comes to the order in which all of these elements are employed in our worship, however, we have no mandate in Scripture. In fact, there are several very different examples of orders of worship which we find in the Bible. Therefore, in making decisions concerning the ordering of the service, we typically rely upon the general principles in the Word, theological implications, historical precedents in the church, and contextual considerations.

Two of the major principles which help to undergird our order of worship at Providence Presbyterian Church are (1) the concept of the worship service as a “covenant renewal” and (2) the concept and employment of three “phases” in worship.

Covenant Renewal

At Providence Presbyterian Church, our order of worship is based on the idea that the corporate worship service is a service of “covenant renewal.” By “covenant renewal,” we do not mean covenant re-enactment as is the case in the Roman Catholic view. Rather, we mean that both God and His people interact and relate to one another based on the act of redemption which was accomplished once and for all on the cross of Calvary in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

In much the same way that the Israelites were called to renew covenant with God (e.g. Nehemiah 8-9) based on God’s previous covenants mediated through Abraham, Moses, and David, so we renew the New Covenant when we worship each week on the Lord’s Day. There are, however, some major differences. For one, we look back to the one sacrifice of Christ, as they looked forward to His coming. We no longer sacrifice animals as they did, because we have seen and celebrate the one true Sacrifice. And, since that sacrificial system has been abrogated with the coming of Christ, we worship in spirit and in truth.

There is much that could be said here, but basically, the idea of the corporate worship service of the church as “covenant renewal” means we are shaped by the form and structure of our corporate interaction with the One True God. If God’s mercies are indeed new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), we are reminded each Lord’s day of His lovingkindness and compassion. As we confess our sins and God’s covenant is renewed, we also are reminded of the call of obedience to His covenant stipulations. We are reminded that we are set apart for His holy use – in worship on the Lord’s Day, and in our lives throughout the week. This, by the way, is one of the reasons (among several) for which we partake of communion each Lord’s Day: the Lord’s Supper serves as a physical sign and seal of the renewing of the covenant.

‘Phases’ of Worship

In keeping with the regulative principle of worship and the concept of covenant renewal, our order of service follows three general phases:

(1) Isaiah: Just as Isaiah (and several other prophets) were confronted with the majesty and glory of God as they were given access to the very thrown room of heaven (Isaiah 6; Revelation 4-5), worship begins with God’s initiative and call to enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise (Psalm 100). Through the call to worship, invocation, and song, God’s people are ushered from their earthly lives to spiritually enter together into God’s presence.

(2) Moses/Ezra: Just as God’s covenant people throughout redemptive history were called to remember God’s Law, confess and repent of their sins, and then be assured of their forgiveness through the mercy of God (Exodus 20; Nehemiah 8-9), the church is confronted with God’s call to holiness, their failings, their need for confession and repentance, and assurance that they are forgiven through the mercy and work of Christ.

(3) Emmaus: On the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), the resurrected Christ appeared to two of the disciples. Jesus explained from the Scriptures (Moses with all the prophets) the things concerning Himself and then broke bread and dined with them. Likewise, in the preaching of the Word and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, God’s people hear from Christ and feed upon Him – they are reminded of the glorious truths of the gospel in both word and sacrament, and then sent out into the world to bear witness to their Savior.

Conclusion

As was said at the beginning, there is no set order of worship in Scripture; however, these ‘phases’ of worship do help to reinforce the concept of “covenant renewal.” None of these phases or elements are set in stone, but as the pastor and elders of the church plan and lead the service, these are simple guide rails which aid us in both honoring God and receiving His blessing each and every week.

Hopefully, understanding these things help us to be better worshippers. At the same time, it isn’t necessary to understand all of these principles to benefit from them. That’s the beauty of worshipping God using the elements of Scripture and in the manner which He has commanded. When we worship God from sincere and thankful hearts, in accordance with His Word, God effects the result: He receives glory and we receive blessing!

I look forward to worshipping with you, yet again, this coming Lord’s Day.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Reformed Worship

Dear Church Family,

This coming Sunday, we will resume our normal Sunday School classes for all ages at 9:30 am. In the adult Sunday School class, we will be examining what it means to support the work and worship of the church. Specifically, we will be examining what makes the worship of a Reformed church distinct – as she seeks to order her worship according God’s Word.

Along the lines of this topic – what makes the worship of Reformed churches distinct – I commend to you a short article by W. Robert Godfrey published earlier this year called “Worship: Evangelical or Reformed.” Dr. Godfrey is the president of Westminster Theological Seminary in California and a minister in the United Reformed Churches (URC). The article may be found online here: http://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=193.

In his article, Godfrey makes two points:

1. God doesn’t just observe, but speaks in public worship.

Often, a well-meaning description is applied to God’s involvement in the corporate worship of the church: “In worship, there is an audience of one: God.” While this does help to remind us of the dangers of an overemphasis on the vertical aspects of worship (between God’s people) to the detriment of the horizontal aspects of worship (between God and His people), there is a danger in thinking of God as the audience of our worship.

Those who sit in an audience are typically passive observers. All is done on stage with or without the audience. The audience may weep, the audience may cheer, but the audience has very little to say about the performance. In contrast, God is not merely the audience of our worship. God is the director and recipient of our worship! When the calls to worship are given, Scriptures are read, assurances of pardon pronounced, sermons preached, sacraments administered, and benedictions pronounced – God is speaking to His people! He is very much engaged in our corporate worship.

2. God speaks to His people through the ordained minister in public worship.

Connected to this idea of God’s personal directing and leading in worship, is the principle that God does so through ordained ministers of the gospel, called by God through the congregation. In the Old Testament, God directed and lead His people in worship through priests, kings, and prophets. In the New Testament, God directed and lead His people in worship through the Apostles, pastors, elders, and teachers. Today, God continues to direct and lead His people in worship through pastors and elders – men who have been trained, examined, set apart, and ordained for these tasks. These men sometimes even speak on behalf of the congregation to God, as in the pastoral prayer.

This basic principle is described in the “Introduction” of the New Trinity Hymnal which we use in our congregation. The Introduction gives instructions for worship to the three main roles in worship: the pastor, the accompanist, and the congregation. Here is just the first paragraph from the section entitled “To the Pastor” from the Introduction to the New Trinity Hymnal:

“God has called you to be a worship leader. You are a preacher, administrator, educator and counselor. But all of those tasks merge into one when you stand before your flock to lead them into God’s presence. Worship is the highest calling, and guiding a congregation through worship is one of your greatest privileges. What happens in corporate worship is a foretaste of and preparation for eternity as we join with all the saints surrounding the Lamb’s throne to sing his glory!”

3. God regulates how He is to be worshipped in the Scriptures.

In his article, Godfrey limits his description of what makes worship in Reformed churches distinct from the worship of evangelical churches to the two previous points. Of course, there may be many others that we could add, but one foundational one that deserves mention is the regulative principle of worship (RPW). The RPW is summarized in our confession: “…the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture” (WCF 21:1).

The RPW states that the acceptable way of worshipping God is limited by His own will as prescribed in the Holy Scripture. It stand in stark contrast to the “normative principle of worship” which states that God may be worshipped in any way not proscribed (or forbidden) in the Holy Scripture (all is allowed unless it is expressly forbidden). The Reformed doctrine of worship (the RPW) finds its roots in God’s command concerning not only who may be worshipped (the first commandment, Exodus 20:3), but also His command concerning how He may be worshipped (the second commandment, Exodus 20:4-6).

More could be added with regard to the biblical basis for the RPW, but the maintenance of this RPW is important for several reasons. First, we are seeking to be obedient to our Creator and Redeemer as we seek to worship Him as He has commanded us in His Word. Second, we are guarded against following the imaginations and devices of men which inevitably lead us to idolatry. Third, we are freed from having our consciences bound to the whims and opinions of those who lead us in worship.

Conclusion

These are just some of the major elements which make the worship of Reformed churches distinct from that of many evangelical churches; however, these distinctions ought not to be thought of as merely distinctions of preference or of history. Rather, these distinctions are biblical – rooted in God’s word. It is ironic that many evangelical churches often look to the Scriptures for how to vote or how to reflect or influence the culture around them (something which God’s Word does not do) and yet do not look to the Scriptures for how to worship Him (something which God’s Word does do).

Though there are major distinctions between the worship of Reformed and evangelical churches, let us not become arrogant or critical. Let us first seek to worship Him sincerely (from a heart of thankfulness) and obediently (according to His Word). Then as we interact and converse with our brothers and sisters in Christ from other churches, let us explain why we worship the way we do. And, let us do so with humility and gratitude to our Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the One who calls us to ascribe glory to His name and to worship Him in holy array! (Psalm 29:2)

I look forward to worshipping with you again this coming Lord’s Day – the first of the New Year!

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

A Glorious Kingdom

Dear Church Family,

There are some words and concepts that are distinct to the Christian faith. Words and concepts that are important and even essential to the proper understanding of what we believe at followers of Christ. Words like justification, propitiation, gospel, covenant, kingdom, etc. Unfortunately, though there may actually be a distinct and proper definition of such words and concepts, quite often the Biblical definition is lost over time. This usually happens in one of two very different ways: neglect or over-use.

In less deliberate, more liberal theological circles, words and concepts (proper theology) are often confused through neglect. In more deliberate, more conservative theological circles, words and concepts (proper theology) are often confused through over-use. Both dangers must be guarded against.

Take for instance, the use of the word ‘covenant.’ PCA pastor and author, Richard Phillips writes:

“There is a fine line between the use and the overuse of a word. The same is true with public figures. When someone is getting exposure, we are excited for them. But when they are over-exposed we are embarrassed for them. In my view, the word covenant has crossed that line in Christian circles. As such, one often hears it applied in dubious ways. We have gone from covenant people and covenant children to covenant schools and covenant businesses. I recently was given a bag of covenant coffee beans, which, by the way, I received as an effectual means of grace. Today, if you want to express a zeal to be distinctively Christian, and especially if you are Reformed-leaning, you are very likely to apply the word covenant to your activity or group or product. In the process, the word has begun to lose definition and take on little more than a vague nimbus.”

Obviously, Phillips is being sarcastic when he says that he received a bag of covenant coffee beans as an effectual means of grace. But, his sarcasm is not unfounded. Many are confused by the misuse and over-application of the term covenant.

‘Kingdom’ Confusion

However, I want to use Phillips’ observation concerning the dubious use of the word ‘covenant’ as a stepping off point to consider the often dubious use of the word ‘kingdom’ in Christian circles. We have gone from ‘the kingdom of God/Heaven’ and ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ to ‘kingdom values’ and ‘a kingdom work-ethic.’ I once heard a religious leader speaking at a YMCA event rip Jesus’ words from Luke 10:9 out of context and declare that the “kingdom of God is in the heart of all people.” Christians rightfully pray for God’s kingdom and the work of God’s kingdom. After all, in the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come.” But what do we really mean?

I suspect that many of us have a very nebulous understanding of kingdom. Personally, I tend to think that this is an historically recent confusion. Centuries ago, if you were to ask someone living under the rule of king what was meant by the term ‘kingdom,’ they would have simply responded, “It’s the realm where our king rules.” And by that, they would have meant a real group of people (subjects of the king) and a real parcel of land (owned by the king).

Of course, to confuse an earthly kingdom with the kingdom of God would be wrong. Jesus made this clear when He declared to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36).

But if the kingdom of God is not to be equated with any military power or political kingdom of this world, how are we to understand this term?

The Visible Church

The simple answer is this: the visible church is the present manifestation of the kingdom of God on this earth. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way: “The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” (WCF 25:2, emphasis added)

The Church is that institution to which Christ has given the keys of the Kingdom (Matthew 16:19). The Church is that institution to which Christ has given the offices for the work of service and building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:8-16). The Church is that institution to which Christ has entrusted the preaching of His Word (Romans 10:14-17) where His sheep hear His voice (John 10:16). The Church is that institution where the Good Shepherd cares for His flock through the shepherding of the elders (1 Peter 5:1-5). The Church is that institution where God pours out His grace upon His people through the ministry of the Word, the sacraments, and prayer (Acts 2:42). And, the Church is that institution where God works powerfully to get glory for Himself and for His Son, Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Conclusion

As we look to the final verse in our series this coming Sunday, we will be examining the glorious kingdom of God – the Church: “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:7). Isaiah prophesies that the kingdom of God – the Church – will be marked by a never-ending increase, a David reign, the pillars of justice and righteousness, and divine jealousy. We who were once strangers to the covenants of promise have been brought near by the blood of Christ! (Ephesians 2:11-13).

Jesus began His earthly ministry with these words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Those who heed the words of Christ, repent of their sins and trust in Him alone as Savior and King, have Him as their covenant head – the head of the body, the church (Colossians 1:18). At Christmas, we rejoice – not simply because Jesus was born, but because He was born a king: the King of kings, and Lord of lords. We rejoice at Christmas because Jesus’ birth is the sign that “the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come”! (Revelation 12:10).

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch