Otherworldly Worship

Dear Church Family,

In our sermon this past Sunday from Hebrews 12:18-29, we considered the importance of worship – the importance of showing gratitude by offering to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28-29). In the sermon, I recommended the book With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by D.G. Hart and John Muether. Here is a portion of what I shared on Sunday from that book:

…reverence is not obviously attractive or appealing. It is hard and uncomfortable. It doesn’t create a relaxed or welcoming atmosphere. Above all it is not celebrative as that word has come to be used. Reverent worship is not an effective way of persuading the world that Christians are capable of having a good time. That is because modern culture cannot see God as frightening.  So seeker-sensitive worship has replaced a consuming fire with an affirming and empowering God, one who accepts whatever we do. It has substituted the meeting of felt needs for the demands of his law. (128)

 

If you’re interested in further reading on the topic and importance of worship, here are some additional resources that I recommend:

(1) With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by D.G. Hart and John Muether

- From the back cover: “Drawing on Scripture and Reformed confessions and catechisms, the authors answer such questions as these: When are we to worship? How does the regulative principle guide our worship? How does the dialogical principle shape our worship? How do we worship with reverence and joy? What is the place of the means of grace? How do the elements of worship differ from the circumstances? And finally, the authors tackle ‘the most divisive issue,’ music.

(2) Corporate Worship: Principles & Elements of Worship at Providence Presbyterian Church, PCA (Midland, TX) By Peter M. Dietsch.

- This is a short booklet that is available on our church’s website for free download (in pdf or Kindle format). It speaks specifically to why we worship the way we do at our church. It also contains detailed examinations concerning the biblical and theological basis for the elements of our worship service. Relatively short and intended to be an easily accessible resource for better understanding our worship service at our church.

(3) Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship edited by Philip Ryken, Derek Thomas, and Ligon Duncan III.

- This is my go-to book to recommend to people who wish to understand Reformed and Presbyterian Worship. It contains eighteen chapters written by different authors that cover topics such as the Bible and Worship, Elements of Biblical Worship, Preparing for Biblical Worship, and Worship, History, and Culture.

(4) Leading in Worship by Terry Johnson

- Primarily a resource for those who plan and lead worship, this book is a helpful guide from which I have greatly benefitted.

(5) A Royal ‘Waste’ of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World by Marva Dawn

- This book is more of a theology of worship about how worship shapes both the community of the church and individual Christians.

The author of this last book emphasizes the other-worldliness of worship, and reminds us of what worship of our Triune God is truly about. Also, it is in keeping with the theme of our sermon from this past Sunday and how in our worship, the world is eclipsed as we come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. So, let me conclude this list of recommendations with a quotation from the opening chapter of Marva Dawn’s book:

To worship the LORD is – in the world’s eyes – a waste of time. It is, indeed, a royal waste of time, but a waste nonetheless. By engaging in it, we don’t accomplish anything useful in our society’s terms.

Worship ought not to be construed in a utilitarian way. Its purpose is not to gain numbers nor for our churches to be seen as successful. Rather, the entire reason for our worship is that God deserves it. Moreover, it isn’t even useful for earning points with God, for what we do in worship won’t change one whit how God feels about us. We will always still be helpless sinners caught in our endless inability to be what we should be or to make ourselves better – and God will always still be merciful, compassionate, and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and ready to forgive us as we come to him.

Worship is a royal waste of time, but indeed it is royal, for it immerses us in the regal splendor of the King of the cosmos. The churches’ worship provides opportunities for us to enjoy God’s presence in corporate ways that take us out of time and into the eternal purposes of God’s kingdom. As a result, we shall be changed - but not because of anything we do. God, on whom we are centered and to whom we submit, will transform us by his Revelation of himself.

To understand worship as a royal waste of time is good for us because that frees us to enter into the poverty of Christ. We worship a triune God who chose to rescue the world he created by means of the way of humility. God sent his Son into the world to empty himself in the obedience of a slave, humbling himself to suffer throughout his entire life and to die the worst of deaths on our behalf. He did not come to be ‘solving the world’s problems in any sense that the world could understand.’ Worship of such a God immerses us in such a way of life, empowered by a Spirit who does not equip us with means of power or control, accomplishment or success, but with the ability and humility to waste time in love of the neighbor. (1-2)

 

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

Esau's Worldly Sorrow

Dear Church Family,

After the sermon this past Sunday from Hebrews 12:4-17, someone asked me the following question: “Why was Esau rejected by God and found no place for repentance, even though he sought for it with tears?” Here’s the verses (along with the preceding verse to provide some context):

15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;  16 that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.  17 For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears. (Hebrews 12:15-17)

 

This is a reference to an event that takes place at the end of Genesis 25, where we read of how Esau was famished, having just come in from the field. He asked his brother Jacob for some stew, but Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” So, giving in to the god of his stomach (Philippians 3:18-19), Esau sold his birthright as the firstborn son to his younger twin brother for a single meal.

Basically, the writer of Hebrews is here calling for believers to help guard others in the church from falling away from the faith and becoming like Esau. He’s also calling for believers to guard the body of Christ from the ‘root of bitterness’ that might spring up from such a person. This is similar to Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 5:4-7 where he warns that a little leaven (the sin of an immoral person) might leaven the whole lump (spread to others in the church).

Hebrews 12:17, however, provides a theological interpretation (and warning!) of what happened to Esau after he sold his birthright for a single meal. Later, in Genesis 27, Jacob tricks his father Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn that was intended for Esau (something that was actually in accordance with God’s plan all along: for the older brother to serve the younger (Genesis 25:23)). After Isaac blessed Jacob, Esau became embittered and pleaded with his father to bless him, but no blessing remained (Genesis 27:34-41).

Interpreting and Applying Hebrews 12:17

Speaking of this episode, the writer of Hebrews says, “even afterwards, when he [Esau] desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears” (Hebrews 12:17). At this point, it might help to ask and answer two questions with regard to this verse:

1. Why could Esau find no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears?

The answer to this question can best be found, I think, in how the Apostle Paul differentiates between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow: “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Worldly sorrow doesn’t lead to repentance; it only leads to death. Worldly sorrow does not lead to true repentance because it is not a mourning over one’s sin, but simply a mourning over one’s loss. Worldly sorrow may seem very real, and even be ‘full of tears’ yet it is not a grieving over one’s sin as an offense to God, but is instead full of self-pity. Worldly sorrow is that which Esau displayed.

On the other hand, godly sorrow (which is according to the will of God) produces true repentance that leads to salvation. According to 2 Corinthians 7:11, godly sorrow is marked by a seeking to vindicate oneself, indignation over one’s sin, fear of God’s judgment, a longing and zeal to be restored to fellowship, and an avenging (or putting right) one’s sin. This is true repentance “whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience” (WSC 87). Esau displayed none of these characteristics of a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.

2. Is there no place for repentance for those who have previously rejected Christ?

The recipients of the epistle to the Hebrews were in danger of turning away from faith in Jesus Christ and the blessings of the new covenant. Thus, the writer of Hebrews exhorts them time and again to not drift or fall away from the faith; he warns them of the very real danger of apostasy (Hebrews 2:1-3; 3:12; 6:4-8; 10:35-39; 13:9). Hebrews 12:17 is in keeping with this warning of the dangers of apostasy. Commenting on this verse, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes writes, “These Hebrew Christians will be guilty of a much greater act of profanity if, disheartened by the difficulties of the contest, they barter not an earthly but a heavenly birthright for a short period of worldly ease and prosperity.”

So, we must not take anything away from these warnings concerning the danger of apostasy. We must not think lightly of the riches of God’s kindness and tolerance and patience; we must recognize that the kindness of God leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). Every Christian must heed and take seriously the warnings about apostasy in this letter – the warnings about the eternal consequences of denying Christ and falling away from the faith.

At the same time, we also know that all those whom God has appointed to eternal life will repent of their sins and believe (Acts 13:48). And so, because we do not know the end from the beginning – as the Lord does (Isaiah 46:9-10) – we ought to pray and hope for the salvation of those who have rejected Christ. We ought to pray that the Lord would be merciful and gracious to them and remove the scales from their eyes.

As John Calvin comments on Hebrews 12:17, he helpfully and directly addresses the question at hand:

Now as he denounces the same danger on all the despisers of God’s grace, it may be asked, whether no hope of pardon remains, when God’s grace has been treated with contempt and his kingdom less esteemed than the world? To this I answer, that pardon is not expressly denied to such, but that they are warned to take heed, lest the same thing should happen to them also.

 

Conclusion

As we saw in the sermon on Sunday, this warning about the apostasy of Esau is actually part of a series of “y’all admonitions” (Hebrews 12:12-17) in which the writer of Hebrews is exhorting believers to watch out for one another. In the larger context of this chapter, this watching out for one another is said to be one of the primary ways in which the Lord disciplines His sons in the community of faith, in the church (Hebrews 12:4-11).

I will sometimes joke with my children, admonishing them by quoting a non-existent verse from the Bible: “Remember what third Peter, chapter 1, verse 1 says: ‘Don’t be lazy!’”

Hebrews 12:15-17, however, is very real and it’s no joke: Don’t be like Esau, and see to it that no one else becomes like Esau!

May the Lord use others in the body of Christ – as we keep watch and guard one another – to discipline us as we strive against sin (Hebrews 12:4), pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

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

Toward a Y'all Hermeneutic

Dear Church Family,

Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘hermeneutic’ as ‘a method or principle of interpretation.’ Seminaries teach courses on biblical hermeneutics or how to interpret the Bible. But everyone – whether they’ve studied or not – has a hermeneutic, or method of interpreting the Bible. And, a person’s hermeneutic is often informed by many things: past experiences, socio-economic context, culture, etc. Yet, the goal is that as we continually read and study the Scriptures, our hermeneutic will become more and more informed by Scripture itself.

In my own personal experience, I have found that many Christians have a hermeneutic that is individualistic rather than corporate – as if the Bible is speaking only to “you” (as an individual Christian) rather than to “y’all” (as the Church of Jesus Christ). Of course, we must make personal applications for ourselves as individuals as we read God’s Word; however, by and large, the Scriptures were written not to believers as individuals, but to believers as God’s household.

So, in an effort to help us avoid what comedian Brian Regan calls “the me monster” and to help us form a better “y’all hermeneutic,” let’s look at just one passage from God’s Word. Philippians 2:12-13 is often interpreted with a “you hermeneutic” when it actually calls for a “y’all hermeneutic.” Here’s the passage:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

 

Unfortunately, the end of verse 12 is often quoted out of context as a caveat to the assurance of salvation. If you’ve been around the church for any length of time, you may have heard someone say something like this: “Yes, it’s true, you can have assurance of your salvation, but remember, you must ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’”

Well, here’s where a proper “y’all hermeneutic” is helpful. While the word “salvation” is singular, every instance of the word “you” in this passage is not singular, but plural. The Apostle Paul is not saying, “Each one of you is on your own. Everyone has his or her own salvation to work out.” No, he’s emphasizing the corporate nature of the one gift of salvation: “You, the people of God, the Church – all y’all – have been given this gift by the work of Christ – this gift of salvation – in which you all are participating. Therefore, work it out together. Work it out together with fear and trembling – with awe and wonder – because God is the One who is at work in y’all.”

The idea of “working it out” is sort of like when you make a pie crust and you knead the lump of dough, working it out onto the counter until it is a perfect circle for the crust. So, Paul is admonishing the church to remember that they are all called to work out the benefits of salvation to all members of the church, to lovingly serve one another in peace and in unity: work out all y’alls’ salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in y’all, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

So, rather than a call to become introspective and think only about ourselves, this is actually a command to be more concerned about the interests of others in the church.

The Context of Philippians

This insight that we gain from a “y’all hermeneutic” fits in the overall context of the entire book of Philippians. In the first chapter, Paul has already encouraged them to “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). Later in chapter 2, he will go on to commend Timothy to them because he is uniquely and genuinely concerned for their welfare (Philippians 2:20). In chapter 3, he teaches them to follow his and others in the church as examples of how to walk in the Christian faith (Philippians 3:17). And, in chapter 4, he urges two women in the church who are in conflict with one another to “live in harmony in the Lord” (Philippians 4:2) and he acknowledges the service of Epaphroditus to himself on behalf of the church in Philippi as “an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).

The Immediate Context

This idea of “working out all y’alls’ salvation with fear and trembling” as a call to pursue peace and unity among God’s household of faith also fits in the immediate context of Philippians 2:12-13, as well. In the opening verses of this chapter, Paul says,

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. (Philippians 2:1-3).

 

And then, immediately following, he explains what it means to “work out y’alls’ salvation with fear and trembling”:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. (Philippians 2:14-16).

 

Conclusion

We’ve considered just one passage of Scripture where a “y’all hermeneutic” helps us to better understand and apply God’s Word for our lives, but a basic “y’all hermeneutic” will help us throughout our study of God’s Word. In the sermon this coming Sunday, we will be considering God’s call to submit to His Fatherly discipline (Hebrews 12:4-17). But, we’ll miss the entire point if we don’t approach this passage with a proper “y’all hermeneutic.” When we do, we will see that God disciplines us as sons in the household of faith – in the church – as we “pursue peace with all men” (Hebrews 12:14).

As O. Palmer Robertson writes, the book of Hebrews “stresses the mutual unity of the members of the community of the saved with one another. Since the wilderness journey toward the promises of God involves a collective pilgrimage, each member must preserve a collective consciousness” (God’s People in the Wilderness: The Church in Hebrews, 60).

I look forward to worshipping with y’all on Sunday!

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

The Gospel in a Consumeristic Age

Dear Church Family,

In the sermon this past Sunday, I mentioned “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (MTD). You can read more about it through the hyperlink to the Wikipedia article. For our purposes on Sunday, however, we talked about just one of the tenets of MTD: “the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”

It strikes me that this tenet is a result of and reinforced by most all of the marketing strategies that we encounter in our present-day Western culture: in order to get people to buy their products, marketers attempt to convince potential buyers that their product will make us happy and make us feel good about ourselves. This sort of marketing strategy has unfortunately become so common and second-nature to us that we often fail to see it. Even worse, this marketing strategy has infiltrated our churches such that the gospel of Jesus Christ is packaged and presented as just another commodity on the open market that will meet this therapeutic goal.

As I was thinking on these things, I was reminded of an article that I read years ago by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson entitled, “Jesus Is Not a Brand: Why it is dangerous to make evangelism another form of marketing.” I encourage you to read the article, but at this point I would like to summarize and interact with his main points.

Understanding Our Consumeristic Culture

Wigg-Stevenson defines marketing as “all the activities that help organizations identify and shape the wants of target consumers and then try to satisfy those consumers better than competitors do.” And his main premise is this: “Marketing has problems if it makes the consumer pant for the dead opposite of what you are trying to sell.”

If the prime directives for the church are to be disciples of Jesus Christ and then to make disciples of Jesus Christ of all the nations, then the question that we, as a church, must ask ourselves is this: How do we ensure that the ways in which we present the truth claims of Jesus Christ are commensurate with the message that we are trying to communicate? “Marketing is not a values-neutral language” writes Wigg-Stevenson, and since many people have been shaped by marketing strategists such that they will naturally filter what Christians say through consumerist eyes, we must be careful to not portray Jesus and the gospel as “just another brand.”

Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.” Specifically, McLuhan had in mind that the means of communication usually overwhelm and often displace the actual content of the message. In other words, how you communicate something is just as important, if not more important, than what you are trying to communicate.

So, what’s the answer? Well, to use another term coined by Marshall McLuhan, we can’t change the ways in which our “global village” operates. Wigg-Stevenson puts it this way, “All communication will be perceived as marketing. All self-presentation, even church advertising, will be perceived as branding. And all outreach will be viewed as sales. There is nothing we can do to change this context.”

Yet, Wigg-Stevenson suggests a two-fold answer to the dilemma of a marketing-saturated world: First, we must recognize “the attributes and values of consumerism.” Second, “the church can then intentionally develop practices of discipleship that cut against them, so that we will not unwittingly bow to the altar of Brand Jesus.”

Interestingly, we find that this is precisely the methodology which was employed by Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament. As Jesus pressed His Disciples to come to grips with who He really was, He forced them past the false interpretations of the world (some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets) to embrace Him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16). When Paul stood before the elite of Athens in the Areopagus to declare the “new teaching” that he was proclaiming, he began with statements that showed that he understood their false beliefs, but then he immediately cut against their polytheistic world-view to declare that there indeed is one true God, the Lord of heaven and earth, who created man in His image and who will one day “judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed” (Acts 17:19-34).

Combatting the Assumptions of Our Consumeristic Culture

Yet, the question remains: How, in our culture, do we intentionally develop practices of discipleship that cut against the attributes and values of consumerism? Wigg-Stevenson describes four key ways in which the “spirituality of consumerism” conflicts with the Christian life:

1. Self-creation: “I am what I buy” vs. the Lordship of Christ. Often, preaching and evangelism focuses on the benefits of becoming a Christian (which is actually very much like the sales-pitches that one finds in the market place). We present Christ this way because we recognize that everyone is in search of meaning in their lives. Instead of becoming salesmen, however, we ought to present the Gospel not as a ticket to heaven, but as a doorway into the whole story of God – that we belong, all that we are and will be, to God.

2. Discontent: Discontent vs. the sufficiency of Christ. Marketers know that if their product meets all one’s needs and makes one content, then the consumer will not need to come back for more. So, planned obsolescence is built into every product. This puts consumers on a perpetual quest for comfort and happiness-inducing products that don’t do what they say, and in the end, can’t bring contentment at all. Through a persevering commitment to the life of a disciple of Christ, however, we learn that life in Him is about becoming satisfied with just one thing: the Lord who gives us strength (Philippians 4:11-13). God calls us to diligently pursue rest in Christ such that we may learn that only His love will satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.

3. Relativism: Brand relativism vs. the supremacy of Christ. If we were to honestly compare competing brands of like items, we would recognize that quality is based on the criteria of the consumer. Whether a sports car is better than a sedan is based, not upon something in the car, but upon the criteria by which you judge that car. In the Christian life, however, Jesus is objectively superior, regardless. Jesus’ value is not relative. One of the places that we see this most evident is as we celebrate the Lord’s supper, celebrating His matchless worth as our Redeemer and Lord. When Jesus says, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19), He is calling us to recognize His objective worth, and how His worth makes us worthy.

4. Fragmentation: Fragmentation vs. unity in Christ. Among contemporary church growth philosophies, targeting niche groups of people (based on age, race, socio-economic status, family status, etc.) is common. Gravitating toward those who are similar to oneself will naturally happen, but in the church, we ought to do everything possible to reach all peoples, and to incorporate all peoples into as much of the life of the church as possible. We know that “there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). Union with Christ is therefore universal.

A Biblical Counter-Consumerist Strategy

Again, I encourage you to read this very interesting and thought-provoking article; however, here are my own thoughts and applications. Three things that we ought to emphasize as a church in defiance of the wisdom of the age.

First, we must emphasize the ordinary means of grace of the Word, sacraments, and prayer. These are the means that God has given to His church for the gathering and perfecting of the saints (WCF 25.3). Though they hold less outward glory, yet in them God provides more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy of the value of Christ.

Second, we must emphasize the importance of the Christian community as the only community that will last. “You can’t take it with you” is an obviously true cliché, but often we don’t live like it. Jesus calls us to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). As the manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth, investment in His people, the church, is an investment with eternal rewards.

Third, and finally, we must emphasize that the Christian life is one in which God calls us to die to ourselves. In contrast to the false notion that “the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself,” the life of faith is marked by the daily taking up of one’s cross and following Jesus (Luke 9:23-24). If a person has experienced the glories of rebirth then “you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). In contrast to the call of the world to live for ourselves, God calls us to pour out our lives for Him (Philippians 2:17).

Conclusion

In a marketing-saturated culture, we are bombarded daily with savvy pitches and empty promises to fulfill and satisfy us. But, God has highly exalted His Son. The name of our Lord is not a name to be blasphemed and marketed as just another brand among other similar products. God has bestowed on Him the name which is above every name. May we all, corporately and individually, seek to ensure that our methodologies match the value of our King. In this way, we will glorify the name of Jesus, as King of kings, and Lord of lords.

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