Is Your Sunday Worship Driven by the Holy Spirit or an Entrepreneurial Spirit? (weekend repost)

“The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But 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.”

Read the rest of the post here: Is Your Sunday Worship Driven by the Holy Spirit or an Entrepreneurial Spirit?

Is Your Sunday Worship Driven by the Holy Spirit or an Entrepreneurial Spirit?

“The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But 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.”

CHAPTER XXI. Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath-day, The Westminster Confession of Faith, Edinburgh edition.

What are the limitations of acceptable worship to God? In other words, what is allowable and not allowable when we go before the Lord in corporate worship. This question has been answered by many in the past under what has been called the “regulative principle.”

As a Christian who comes from a stream of the conservative Bible Church movement, there have been some who have decried the use of creeds such as the above Westminster Confession, instead desiring to have “no creed but the Bible.” Those of my Christian brethren that are creedal would respond that the place of confessions such as the WCF does not supersede or have any authority apart from Scripture, but organizes, categorizes, and systematizes the great biblical themes of Scripture for ease of learning and memorization. For this, I am grateful and can appreciate the beauty of such statements.

The issue of what is allowable and what is not is a good example of why such statements can be a help and benefit to the church. Today the evangelical church is awash with self-made men and ministries that are part vaudeville acts and entrepreneurial businesses. Whereas God does give us liberty in many areas regarding how He would have His Church worship, we are not given a blank check to conduct worship in any way we see fit as if God does not care so long as we are sincere. Freedom in some things does not equate to freedom in all things.

If the Lord was detailed in His prescription for Israel, it doesn’t make any sense that the Church of the New Testament was given absolutely no parameters. And although many godly men have disagreements over specific areas of worship, the point is that they are seeking to know God’s desire and not simply worshipping according to popularity or emotional responses by the congregation.

Covid-19 has pushed a lot of churches, pastors, and elders to re-examine their ecclesiology. Some started the shut-down of their churches by touting that online church is the same as in-person services, but simply an online version. But as things have dragged on, I have noticed that some of those same voices are now worried that people are not going to come back, and they are now trying to convince their congregation that online church is not the same! Of course, it is not the same.

The same is true for the ordinances. How can the Lord’s Supper be given via video? Doesn’t it represent the gathered Body of Christ? How can that be represented when we are not gathered? Some pastors have gone so far as to suggest that at-home communion include substitutes of grape soda pop or another fruit juice, and snack foods for the bread if nothing else is available!

These are not small things, dear brethren. Many in Church history have died over the sacredness of the Lord’s Table and the proper use of it. And more importantly, these things involve the worship of our God. When I hear or see the flippant and worldly worship of our God, I am reminded of God’s judgment upon Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire upon the altar. I am reminded of God striking Uzzah dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant. I think of God’s judgment of Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Spirit. God takes worship seriously! So should we.

Whether you subscribe to a creedal statement or not, it cannot be denied that we must worship God according to His desire, not our own.

Praying for True Revival

Restore us, O God of our salvation, And cause Your indignation toward us to cease. Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not Yourself revive us again, That Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your lovingkindness, O Lord, And grant us Your salvation.

(Psalm 85:4–7, NASB95) 

What is true biblical revival? Where does revival come from and what needs to precede true revival in order for heartfelt change to occur in each person? And what about the broader culture? How does a revival in the Church spread to a revival in society? All of these questions are answered in these verses, leading us to seek the only true source of life–God Himself! 

Although verse 4 is a cry for restoration, restoration was not enough for Israel. They knew that their disobedience betrayed an ugly truth about their spiritual state. They were spiritually dead. They needed to be brought back to life; they needed revival.

When the Bible refers to “revival” we need to know that it is not simply whipping up some experience in the church. It’s not a tent meeting. It isn’t where the Holy Spirit shows up with a special outpouring in a new and fresh way like being slain in the Spirit, or some other ecstatic experience. These aren’t even biblical practices. So, what is a revival?

Walter Chantry helps us to understand it a little better when he writes, 

“There have been outstanding periods in the history of the church when the intensified activity of the Holy Spirit has amazed her. Such times are known as revivals. True revivals do not result from some special work of the Spirit of God different from his normal gracious influences! Rather they are the effect of an increased measure of precisely the same power and grace which operate at every time and in every place that the church has been found since Pentecost. In revival times the Spirit’s work remains what it has ever been since Pentecost, namely, the work of inwardly convincing the unconverted by the Word, inwardly regenerating sinners by the Wordinwardly teaching and sanctifying saints by the Word, and inwardly prompting worship of Father and Son by the Word.[i]

What I want you to see in Chantry’s definition and as seen in Psalm 85:4-7 is that revival, as biblically defined, is a mighty work of God, and not of man. Just like forgiveness, which must come from God’s mercy, so too revival is a result of the mercy of God, or else we would never have it.

Secondly, I want you to see that revival is an inward work of God that results in soul-work—reviving of a person who is dead in their trespasses and sins, bringing them to new life. They are vivified, they are born again. So, when a church wants to see revival, it must recognize that it is speaking of two related but different matters—either it recognizes that it is spiritually dead and filled with many unbelievers who think that they are believers and need new life, or it is speaking of evangelism outside of the church. Often true revival of the church will have the effect of spreading out to the community around it when those newborn Christians begin to live and speak for the glory of God.

With these things in mind, let us turn tour attention to Psalm 85:6-7. Again, “revive” refers to being made alive, to recover life. This verb in Hebrew is in the piel form, which means that God must put into action what the psalmist is asking. To say it differently, just like normal human life finds its origins in God, so too God must bring revival. If God does not bring it about, it will not happen.

There is an amazing picture of revival found in Ezekiel 37:1-14. I’ll leave you to read the passage for yourself. But in it the prophet Ezekiel is shown an old battlefield where there are probably hundreds of human skeletons lying about on the ground. These bones have been here for a long time because they no longer have flesh on them and are bleached out from being exposed to the sun. The Lord asks Ezekiel if these bones can once again become alive. The prophet wisely says that it depends upon God, who alone knows. After all, unless God raises dead bones, they will remain dead. 

Then God tells the prophet to speak to the bones….

Notice a few things about this biblical illustration:

  • The question of whether the bones could be made alive again was not dependent upon the response of the bones, but God-v. 3.
  • Although it was ridiculous, the means that God chose to “activate” these dry bones was the Word of God as spoken by his servant Ezekiel-vv. 4-10.
  • Also notice in those words of prophecy that the power for life comes not from the bones, nor from the prophet, but from God alone who can cause these dry bones to live-v. 5.
  • Finally note that this whole scenario was set by God to show Ezekiel that God alone revives the spiritually dead.

Every time that God saves a person, he revives their dead souls. But that isn’t what we mean by revival—a soul saved here and there. That happens all the time. Revival is the accelerated work of God, whereby a small stream of people saved join together to become a torrent of saved souls. When this happens, the work of God is the same, but He acts in a wider and broader way with more people.

But with an increasing work of God in revival, there is more than just increased activity of the Spirit bringing about saving faith—there is a sudden influx of new Christians whose changed hearts are producing changed lives and then changing society around them. 

We need to keep ever before us that when the gospel message changes a heart, it will change a life, and that means changed actions. This makes sense because our allegiances and loyalties are radically altered from darkness to light and from the evil one to Christ. When God changes a heart, he changes a whole life.

In the New Testament, as the gospel swept through the world, people were changed. These changes weren’t a fad, or even popular among unbelievers. These new Christians were despised and rejected of men, like their Savior. They had to survive wave after wave of persecution from the unbelieving world around them.

But they did it. 

And as Psalm 85:6 says, if God will bring about revival, it will bring about the result that his people will rejoice in him. You see, rejoicing will not come until revival in the heart has occurred. Revival will not happen until God does his cleansing and saving work in us. 

[i] Chantry, Walter, Signs of the Apostles: Observations on Pentacostalism Old and New. Banner of Truth, 1976, 129-30. Italics in the original.

The Glorious Trinity

I’ll never forget the day that I was teaching a lesson during the Sunday school hour at church on our doctrinal statement. Our church required that every prospective member go through twelve lessons to cover what we believe. I was on lesson two, on the doctrine of the Trinity. Each lesson began with the IFCA Doctrinal statement. The lesson began: “Doctrinal Statement:  We believe in one Triune God eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; co-eternal in being, co-identical in nature, co-equal in power and glory, and having the same attributes and perfections (Deut 6:4; 2Cor 13:14).”

It was not unusual for current members to attend this class to refresh their understanding of what we believe, and it was always good to see the interaction between newer attendees who were considering membership and long-time members who loved the church. In this particular class we had in attendance a couple of long-time members that preceded my coming as their pastor.

As I explained the lesson on the Trinity, one of the older members objected to something I said regarding my explanation of the distinction of Persons and the unity of Being and how some have used illustrations that actually taught heresy. She explained to me that she had been a long-time Sunday school teacher to our children and that she had explained the Trinity in terms that I had just said were invalid, of which she took offense. It was at this moment that this former Sunday school teacher grew quiet and then expressed her confusion because she didn’t intend to teach unbiblical ideas of God, and yet she had. 

What’s the big deal? Aren’t doctrines like the Trinity best left up to high-tower scholars locked up in libraries with their books? I mean, what does deep theological discussion have to do with evangelization, discipleship, and helping the single mom who is struggling to pay her bills and raise her kids? As a matter of fact, it makes a world of difference to all of these things, and more. This is because, when we evangelize, we must point people to the Savior-God. But how can we do so unless we know who He is and how He has worked righteousness on our behalf? Salvation is trinitarian! And discipleship requires teaching the Christian not only about holy living, but about the Holy God of the Bible, who is Trinity! And the struggling mom, why does it matter to her? Because if she is to find hope in this life, she must know that the God of the Universe cares for her—but to know that fact she must come to an understanding of the wonderous beauty of this God—who has revealed himself in the complexities of the Trinity. 

But even beyond all of these practical reasons for understanding this doctrine is this truth: if we have been redeemed by the God of the Bible, then we need to understand and know Him as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. He is not like us. He is Creator and we are creature. So, we may struggle and we may unable to understand the mystery at times, but we push forward to grasp his magnificence because as Christians, we long to see Him as He is, not as we make Him out to be.

As Kenneth Daughters, president of Emmaus Bible College has written:

“When the average Christian is asked about the Trinity, he is content to quote a brief definition. Were he challenged to contemplate the meaning of the Trinity, he would quickly struggle. Few Christians have ever taken the time or trouble to think deeply on the subject. To most it is as abstract as a complicated mathematical expression. How sad! Actually, the Trinity is God’s highest revelation of himself. Far from being a subject that is too deep to be relevant, God intended for man to order his world in light of it. All forms of unity and diversity in the universe find their source in the nature of God as triune.

It is impossible to adequately understand God without understanding him as triune. To try to relate to God as a mono-personal being is to ignore his revelation to us and to deny his beauty. Some consider the concept of the Trinity too difficult to comprehend, so they operate in a functional denial of God’s Trinitarian nature. Others attempt to understand the Trinity but fall short conceiving him in a modalistic or tritheistic form. Not only have they failed to understand God and relate to him properly but they also have no basis for accurately balancing the unity and diversity all about them.” 

Kenneth Daughters, “The Trinity and the Christian” in Understanding the Trinity, ed. John H. Fish III, 2003, (ECS Ministries: Dubuque, IA), 363.

Understanding the glorious doctrine of the Trinity is not meant to be first and foremost, utilitarian. We do not stare into the majestic beauty of the Trinity to find out what to “do.” In many ways, popular preaching and popular Christianity has become a self-help system that seeks to make you a better you. But the doctrine of the Trinity demands that we stop looking into our cellphone cameras and gaze upon the ineffable God who has revealed Himself in Scripture as Triune. 

Consider the ramifications of the Trinity for a moment. If Christ is not God, then our worship is idolatry. If the three Persons are three gods, then we are not monotheists, but polytheists, and the Scriptures are not true, for they tell us that there is only one God. And what if Jesus is only an exalted creature, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim? Then we are still lost in our sins because a creature cannot atone for the sins of men!

Athanasius, the great Bishop of the Church in Alexandria (295-373 A.D.), was called the “black dwarf” by his enemies who longed to see him forever banished from the face of the earth. His crime? He defended the deity of Christ against the attacks of Arius, who claimed that Jesus Christ was only an exalted creature, and not God. For his stand, Athanasius was exiled from his church five times during a period of about fifty years. At times it seemed like it was Athanasius against the world. But the stakes were too high, and he would not give in while he still had life and breath in him. The Arians, according to Athanasius, had slid into heresy in at least two ways. First, they had lowered the Person of Christ to the position of a mere creature, and thus denied the deity of Christ, thereby denigrating the Trinity. Second, they had elevated the humanity of Christ so that they justified the worship of Christ while still claiming that He was not God, which if true was an act of blasphemous idolatry. In effect, the Arian attack against the Trinity was an attack against God himself. No Christian should stand for this. 

John Calvin wrote, “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.” May we understand and know the true nature of God so as to defend the biblical doctrine of the glorious Trinity and may our knowledge drive us to the profound worship of  “the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1Tim 1:17, ESV)

This article was originally published in the VOICE magazine (Sept/Oct 2019). Used by permission.