Calvinist Influence on Worship in England

Calvin_HeaderTo what extent, if any, should Anglican and Reformed models of worship overlap? As to their differences – first, what are they; and secondly, are they material or formal? And if the differences are real – it seems fairly clear that on something as fundamental as the Regulative Principle of Worship, the two streams diverge – how should we handle influences and reactions?

As the 42nd PCA GA approaches, this question will grow slightly more important as different pockets within the denomination come into contact with each other. Some of these intersections will create snark:

And others will strive to mingle, as noted in this article from a largely appreciative perspective, “Thoughts Concerning the Influence of the Anglican Tradition on Contemporary Reformed Liturgical Practice.

My own opinion is both neophyte and (reactionary) cautious. Continue reading

Our Idol is the Worship “Experience”

AlexMcDonaldAlex McDonald is a pianist. But not just any pianist: he made his orchestral debut at 11, earned a Doctorate in Musical Art at Juilliard, recently competed in the 14th Van Cliburn International Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, and is younger than I am! World magazine interviewed Alex McDonald, where he made a staggering point about worship. I hope to come back and revisit this idea in greater detail, but for now, consider his suggestion all of our arguments about music styles in the “worship wars” are just a smokescreen for the idolatry in our hearts.

What role do you think church music should play in one’s experience of worship?

In modern churches, we have a graven image of what the experience of God ought to be like, and we want our music to simulate that experience in us. It could be an organ or a praise team—either can create a God experience that may not have any of God in it at all. But people will feel like they’ve worshipped. Continue reading

Dear Pastor: Do New Covenant Believers Tithe?

Dear Pastor,
I have given in the past, but now I have questions about tithing. I would like to know more about tithing and was hoping that at some point you could visit with me about it….or address it from the pulpit.


R.C. Sproul marvels:

Recently, I read an article that gave an astonishing statistic that I find difficult to believe is accurate. It declared that of all of the people in America who identify themselves as evangelical Christians, only four percent of them return a tithe to God. If that statistic is accurate, it means that ninety-six percent of professing evangelical Christians regularly, systematically, habitually, and impenitently rob God of what belongs to Him. It also means that ninety-six percent of us are for this reason exposing ourselves to a divine curse upon our lives. Whether this percentage is accurate, one thing is certain — it is clear that the overwhelming majority of professing evangelical Christians do not tithe.

What is the tithe, and does it still apply today?

The Bible has many instructions regarding the tithe. The tithe is a concept of 1 out of 10. Sproul again: “We are required to give ten percent of our gross annual income or gain. If a shepherd’s flock produced ten new lambs, the requirement was that one of those lambs be offered to God. This offering is from the top. It is not an offering that is given after other expenses are met or after other taxes have been paid.”

Generally, the tithe was to be given to the Lord’s servants, the Levites (Numbers 18:21ff). In the Old Testament, many alms for the poor were above and beyond the tithe (e.g. Exod. 23:10-11; Lev. 19:9-10; 25:35-37; Deut. 15:7-11; 24:12-15). The tithe had many purposes, including: to support the priesthood (Num. 18:21-32; Deut. 14:28-29); to honor God in sacrifice and feasts (Lev. 27:31; Num. 18:26-28; Deut. 14:22-26); and to feed the aliens, widows and orphans (Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12).

Some people argue that the tithe is no longer applicable in the New Testament era, as this was only for the Old Covenant era. Continue reading

Christianity vs Evangelicalism

Maybe you saw this linked from The Gospel Coalition, but if you haven’t read President of Asbury Dr. Timothy C. Tennent’s fall convocation entitled, “The Clarion Call to Watered Down Evangelicalism: Our Mission to ‘theologically educate,’” well then you should go read it now.

Tennent starts off by noting, “Tragically, Niebuhr’s devastating critique [of liberalism] is on the brink of being equally applicable to contemporary, evangelical Christianity.” From there, he turns both barrels on the current state of evangelicalism in America today. Here are some of the heavier quotes:

If liberalism is guilty of demythologizing the miraculous, we have surely been guilty of trivializing it. If liberalism is guilty of turning all theological statements into anthropological ones, surely we must be found guilty of making Christianity just another face of the multi-headed Hydra of American, market-driven consumerism. If liberalism can be charged with making the church a gentler, kindler version of the Kiwanis club, we must be willing to accept the charge that we have managed to reinvent the gospel, turning it into a privatized subset of one’s individual faith journey. I realize that there are powerful, faithful churches in every tradition who are already modeling the very future this message envisions, but we must also allow our prophetic imagination to enable us to see what threatens to engulf us.

Continue reading

Just In Case You Missed ‘Em

With the overwhelming influx of information available, discerning readers must become selective in what they give their time to read. Just in case you missed ’em, here are some links I found valuable, and hope you will also.

NYT: The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries
Being the husband of an amazing teacher, this issue strikes close to home. Why does the entertainment business (pro sports, musicians, Hollywood) command multi-billion dollar industries, but our most formative is nearly broke? I think R.C. Sproul once argued that educators’ compensation reveals a culture’s priorities.

Ligonier: What about “Church is boring?”
When we come into the presence of the Almighty, we come as embodied souls, and there is nothing boring about meeting with the Ancient of Days.

Michael Gerson critiques Ron Paul’s Libertarianism Continue reading

Hymns vs. Contemporary Worship

Sometimes we can think that the issue of the older hymns vs. more contemporary songs (often praise choruses) is overblown. Music is subjective, so they say, and how can anyone say one is better than the other? Isn’t it personal opinion?

I’ve said elsewhere that not all hymns are created equal (I’ve never been in a garden alone with Jesus), and that there is some absolutely phenomenal new stuff coming out in contemporary songs. But despite these caveats: no, music isn’t wholly subjective and beyond critique.McLuhan Mug Remember Marshall McLuhan?

The medium is the message.

Dr. Lester Ruth is especially helpful for driving this point home. Dr. Ruth is now at Duke (formerly Lily May Jarvis Professor of Christian Worship at Asbury Theological Seminary), and he has tried to show conclusively the differences between song forms. He examined the top contemporary songs from CCLI for 13 years for language on how these songs spoke about the Trinity, the atonement, God’s divine saving work, and other doctrines unique to Christianity. Here are some of his findings: Continue reading

Ancient Hymns for A Future Faith

Why Young People Are Returning To Old Hymn Texts

by Kevin Twit

Not too long ago I saw a sign in an antique store: “My grandmother saved it, my mother threw it away, and now I’m buying it back!” That little sign captures the story of church music in the last fifty years… For many, the church’s hymn tradition has become a treasured resource; students around the country are scouting out used bookstores for antique hymnals, searching for gems that have fallen out of use and yet resonate with their faith and longing to connect with God in a deeper way… we still need hymns in a postmodern world! Here are several reasons why: Continue reading

Finding Tunes for the Text

Dear Zion,

Last time we saw that what we sing to God in our lyrics and musical text is the most important thing for selecting music in worship services. In fact, what we sing even takes precedence over how we sing, or in other words, the tune, arrangement, and harmony. We can all agree that the music should reflect the mood and substance of our songs, but what other guidelines should churches consider when thinking about the musical tune of the text?
Continue reading

Selecting Music for the Glory of God

Dear Zion,

Last month in this column we saw that there is nothing more important than God’s glory. Everything we do is to be done for His glory (I Corinthians 10:31). So if this is true, how should we think about our worship services, especially the songs that we sing? How should God’s glory affect our worship music?

First of all, we should note that, if the singing portion of our worship services (and we do much more in worship than just sing!) is for God’s glory, then that means it is not for us or about us (Psalm 115:1)! It’s about our Triune God! We come to “worship Him in the beauty of His holiness” (Psalm 29:2). So often, it easy to find ourselves thinking, “This song doesn’t speak to me,” or “I don’t care for the style of this song.” But the problem with both of those thoughts is that the subject is me and not God! Biblical worship is about pleasing the Lord of Hosts and doing His will, not about pleasing myself and having my way (Matthew 26:39; Romans 12:1-2). If you ever think to yourself that you simply cannot worship God because of a distaste for the music that is being sung, ask yourself this: am I here to worship God for His glory, or am I here for my personal preferences and my glory?

So if we recognize that God is supreme in worship and that we come to please Him, what does that tell us about the kinds of songs we ought to sing? A principle that all Christians must learn to become emphatic about is that our songs must have biblically faithful lyrics. Above all, we must be careful that what we say or sing in our worship services falls in line with God’s Word and brings glory to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It might seem like nearly all songs today – whether hymns or Christian pop played on the radio – are quite biblical or spiritual in their lyrics. But we must be cautious. Scripture warns us over and over again that simply using spiritual sounding language is no guarantee that it is pleasing to God (Jeremiah 6:14; Matthew 7:22-23). Jesus warned His disciples not to be like the hypocrites that offered pious sounding words in their worship (Matthew 6:5-7). Going through hymnals, it is often amazing to see what songs have been included, and yet – based on their words – these songs have no business being used in worship. The same can be said of some contemporary songs as well.

One sure fire way to make sure our lyrics are pleasing to God is by using words that the Holy Spirit inspired. We can sing the words of Scripture! The Apostle Paul encourages us to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). When we sing “The Lord’s My Shepherd” or “All Creatures That On Earth Do Dwell,” we are singing Psalms 23 and 100 set to verse and music. Psalm singing has a long pedigree in Christian – and especially Reformed – churches and to the extent that we can sing God’s Word back to Him, it roots Christ in our hearts and glorifies Him. Even when we sing songs that are not direct quotations of Scripture, it is important that the lyrics, theme, and general message reflect biblical truth.

But what about the musical tune? Scripture may give guidelines on the what of our singing (the lyrics), but our Bibles don’t come with melodies or four part harmonies. What about the how of singing (the tune/arrangement)? Much could be said on this topic, but we can certainly all agree that the music should 1) correspond to and, 2) enhance the lyrics. Probably all of us can agree that Psalm 23 should not be accompanied by heavy metal rock ‘n’ roll, and that Psalm 2 should not be sung to the tune of “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.” When a melody and arrangement matches the energy and direction of the lyrics, even those of us who aren’t very musical recognize a happy harmony exists between tune and text. We will consider this concept further in future articles.

Praying with you for Christ to be glorified in our singing and in our lives,
Pastor Brian