Ordinary Disciple-Making

The Command: Make Disciples

If we are going to study evangelism and discipleship, then we need to be sure it’s actually an obligation. Why study it, if it’s not something required of us? Making disciples is in fact a command.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

The entire “evangelism & discipleship” course is comprehended in this text.

Notice exactly what is contained in the Great Commission. Jesus doesn’t just tell us a goal. He doesn’t just say “make disciples” and nothing else; he doesn’t give us the goal, and then leave us to decide how to achieve that goal. No. He actually tells us how. So if you want disciple-making according to Jesus, here it is. He says “make disciples.” That’s the goal. And he tells the disciples how to achieve that goal.

  • Goal: make disciples
  • How to achieve it: 1. Baptize 2. Teach everything.

How do you make disciples? Baptizing and teaching everything. That’s it! It’s doesn’t get simpler than that. And we see exactly this in the book of Acts. We see the inspired, inerrant, authoritative record of how the Apostles understood the Great Commission and their obedience to it. And it’s what Jesus said: Word and Sacrament. We see disciple-making in more detail in Acts 2:

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2:41-42

Peter preached the Word, and baptism followed faith and repentance. Then, they devoted themselves to more of the Word, and the other sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. This is obedience to the Great Commission.

Again, not complicated. The picture is simple. Making disciples may be hard work, but it’s not hard to understand. If disciplemaking is complicated, then it’s because we have made it that way. That’s not by Christ’s design.

What does disciple-making look like? What does obedience to the Great Commission look like? It looks like what the Apostle’s did in the book of Acts. It’s ordinary “means of grace” ministry.

To quickly apply this: if our method of making disciples doesn’t look like that [Acts 2:41-42], then we’re doing it wrong.

Hence, our Westminster Shorter Catechism asks:

Q. 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.  (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 2:41-42)

Notice the proof texts! The texts we have studied. The Catechism has simply formulated what the Scripture says. This is what making disciples looks like in Scripture. It’s what Jesus commanded, it’s what the Apostles carried out.

You see, God in his Word has not just given us a mission: make disciples. He has also given us the means of making disciples; the instruments to carry out the mission. We don’t need, nor are we at liberty to, invent our own means for making disciples. As if God has left us unequipped to accomplish the mission. We are not at liberty to ignore his means in favor of “new measures.” As if we are wiser than God. “Thanks, Lord Jesus, but we have a better way.” The Lord Jesus has not just given us optional tools, but he has ordained, commanded that we use these outward and ordinary means.

*Side note: this should be really encouraging to you who are studying evangelism and discipleship. If Scripture actually prescribes something, then we are actually limited in what we need to study. The subject has been simplified, for us.

The Lord Jesus has ordained the means to make disciples. And these means are consistent with the theology of Scripture. That should make sense: God will not contradict who he is and what he has said. And so, as we look at and discuss methods of evangelism and discipleship, we must remember that they must never contradict the doctrine and practice of Scripture. That’s why our Standards formulate both doctrine and practice (such as the Shorter Catechism, above). Theology must drive methodology.

God has ordained the means of making disciples. There is a divinely established relationship between the salvation of sinners and the outward means. They are not identical (that’s Rome), but they are distinct. Meaning, God is not dependent on the means. Case in point: the thief on the cross was saved by faith, apart from baptism. They are the ordinary means, but not necessary (i.e. God is not bound by them, grace is not attached to them).

However, if you think the inward grace and the outward means are separate (like most evangelicals), obviously that will result in a different methodology. Evangelicalism has effectively replaced the ordinary means with other rituals.

[A] lack of belief in the divine nature of the Church, the ordinary means of grace, and the pastoral office, lead to the belief that these things could be safely abandoned or ignored when they don’t seem to be working. This led Finney to seek better methods in the form of specially designed meetings and methods that, in Finney’s estimation, were more effective in producing converts and advancing the Gospel. Special revival meetings and other novelties were continually needed to advance the Gospel. Because the Church has so little life and power, and no divine mandate for her traditional methods, new excitements must therefore be continually sought.

—Dahlfred, Karl . Theology Drives Methodology: Conversion in the Theology of Charles Finney and John Nevin (p. 109).  . Kindle Edition.

We’ll look briefly at one of these ordinary and outward means: the Word. This is the primary ordinance, which defines the others.

Again, from our Shorter Catechism:

Q. 89. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?

A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.  (Neh 8:8-9; Acts 20:32; Rom 10:14-17; 2 Tim 3:15-17)

Just like Jesus said: teach the Word. And just as the Apostles did: the Word was preached and 3,000 were convinced and converted, then they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching.

What does the catechism mean by “effectual to salvation”? Effectual means it actually gives the effect, it actually achieves the result for which it’s designed: salvation. The instrument will actually work. How then, do the instruments work? How are the outward and ordinary means made effective? The Holy Spirit makes them work. See, they don’t work on their own (as Rome says). Neither does grace ordinarily come apart from them (evangelicalism). The effect comes from the work of the Spirit of God.

It’s God the Holy Spirit that makes the Word work. Without him, there will be no effect, no salvation. The Holy Spirit works by and with the Word, as our Confession says. Notice, that especially the preaching of the Word is made an effectual means of salvation. Preaching has priority over reading. Preaching happens in church, on the Lord’s Day. The vast majority of the emphasis is placed on preaching, in the New Testament. Also, it’s simply a historical fact that the public preaching of the Word has always been a part of the Christian life, while personal Bible reading has not. What percentage of believers throughout history have even possessed a personal copy of God’s Word? When was the printing press invented?

To quickly apply this: an method of discipleship that puts all the emphasis on personal Bible reading and study is not only out of touch with the Westminster Standards (following Scripture), but with church history as well.

The Holy Spirit makes the Word effective in convincing, persuading, changing the minds of the sinner. Of converting them, turning them away from sin and towards Christ. After they have been “evangelized,” the Word is continually made effective to build them up in holiness, sanctifying them. That’s the rest of the Christian life (discipleship). The Holy Spirit makes the Word of God effective as the primary means of making disciples.

That’s just a taste, as we will go more in depth later on.

Another Reformed Creed says the same thing:

In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this very joyful message to the people he wishes and at the time he wishes. By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. For how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching? And how shall they preach unless they have been sent? (Rom. 10:14-15).

Canons of Dort 1.3

If you want God-given results, you must use the God-given means. As G.I. Williamson says, “What we need, then, is not only to seek eternal life, but to seek it in the right way.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism: For Study Classes, Kindle Location 3184). As I told my high school students: seek God’s grace in God’s way.

And now to you: seek the salvation of sinners, but seek it in the right way. Offer God’s grace to sinners in God’s way. Make disciples of Jesus, and do it Jesus’ way.

As Francis Schaeffer famously said: “we must do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.”

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Collision between the Spiritual and Civil Laws on Marriage

James Bannerman discusses the relationship between the church and the state, arguing that if they are not cooperating with each other, even if the state attempts neutrality toward religion, the result would be harmful for both institutions. A powerful example he uses is marriage. Note how profound is his case, though writing in 1868. His insight may be helpful for the church’s thinking about either the redefining of marriage stateside or the efforts to legalize no-fault divorce in the Philippines.

III. In the third place, I would refer to the law of marriage as another of those cases which illustrate the general position, that the civil and religious elements are so connected together in human society, that where they do not meet and unite in friendship and mutual co-operation, they must inevitably tend to the serious or fatal injury of one or the other.

Marriage is one of those institutions which, although not of grace but of nature, is yet adopted into the system of Christianity, and regulated by the rules which Christianity has laid down. The law of marriage has its origin in nature, and not in revelation; and yet the duties and rights connected with it, together with their exact nature and limits, are matters with which revelation deals. In so far as these involve moral or religious duties, we are to seek in the Bible for the code of law by which they are prescribed and determined. But marriage is, in another sense, a civil matter, coming under the province of the ordinary magistrate, and necessarily requiring to be dealt with in the way of civil enactment. There are civil rights intimately connected with it, in such a manner that the state cannot avoid the duty of legislating in regard to it, and regulating them by positive statutes and rules. In short, the institution of marriage is to be viewed in two lights,—either as a moral observance, falling to be regulated by the law of Scripture, or as a civil observance, falling to be regulated by the law of the state. And with this twofold character which it sustains, and this twofold legislation to which in every civilised and constituted society professing Christianity it is subjected, how, it may be asked, is a collision between the spiritual and the civil enactments on the subject—fraught, as it inevitably would be, with deadly consequence to the peace, if not the existence, of human society—to be avoided or prevented? If the state recognise the Bible as the Word of God, and the law of the Bible as the law of God, then it will take that law as the guiding principle for its own legislation, and make the enactments of the magistrate in regard to marriage coincident with the enactments of Scripture. But if the state do not recognise the Bible as the Word of God, there can be no security that its regulations shall not come into conflict with the regulations of Scripture as regards the institution of marriage, in such a manner as to put in peril not only the peace and purity of domestic life, but also through these the highest and holiest interests of human society. The ordinance of the family lies at the very foundation of civil society. It is the unit of combination around which the wider and more public relations of civil life associate themselves. Destroy or unhinge the domestic ordinances, unloose or unsettle the family bond, and no tie will be left holy enough or strong enough to bind up the broken and disjointed elements of human life. And yet, unless there be on the part of the state a distinct acknowledgment of the Word of God as the law to which its own laws must be conformed, there can be no security against the danger of the enactments of civil society on this vital point running counter to the appointment of God. The degrees of relationship or consanguinity within which marriage is valid or invalid,—the terms on which it is to be contracted or dissolved,—the rights which it confers on children, and the claims of succession,—all these are questions that fall to be determined both by the law of Scripture and the laws of the state, and any difference or conflict in regard to which must tend to unsettle the very foundation of human society. From the very nature and necessity of the case, if the state is not here at one with religion, it must be a difference deeply, if not fundamentally, injurious to the one or the other.

—James Bannerman, The Church of Christ (1868) loc. 2361-2393

Note especially that if the state does not align marriage law with the law of Scripture, there can be no security for marriage. Consequently, human life as we know it is in danger. Bannerman asserts, back in 1868, that the very foundation of human society will be destabilized. And that is exactly what we see happening before our eyes, today. The church has seen this coming, and yet it’s coming true.

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Worship is Participatory

I’ve noticed something interesting: people don’t seem to know how to “do church.” What I mean is, in Sunday morning worship service, they don’t know how to act, behave, what attitude they are to come to church with. They aren’t engaged, they are not active. Rather, I should say, they are active in all the wrong ways.

All the kids literally run around the church and talk loudly. And this continues without correction. No, they are not just “being kids.” You know how I know? Because their parents are just as distracted and just as loud in their personal conversations during all parts of the service. And the older children are playing games on their cellphones, with the volume up!

In short, hardly anyone actively participates in the public worship of God. It’s been going on for years.

How do you go that long without correction, without teaching, without training? This is, in fact, a violation of the 4th Commandment, which implicitly forbids “all careless, negligent, and unprofitable performing” of the duty of corporate worship on the Lord’s Day (WLC Q/A 119).

I wonder if Roman Catholicism is the reason. In Roman Catholic worship, participation isn’t necessary, or even considered. It’s the performance of the priest that matters, regardless of the people’s lack of involvement. The priest worships, the choir sings. The people just have to physically be in the vicinity. A common sight are people gathered in the parking lot, not even mentally present in what’s going on. But they’re there! So check that off. “Check out (mentally), check off (the duty).”

Perhaps no one knows how to behave in church because they brought their Roman Catholic theology with them? Regardless if that’s the direct cause or not, we certainly need Reformation theology to be taught. Then we can lead people into Reformed worship, which is congregational and entirely participatory.

The Reformation and Participatory Worship

Contrary to Rome, the congregation must be active in the public worship of God. Attending worship is far from a passive attendance. Here’s a very brief view of the transition in worship participation because of the theology of the Protestant Reformers. The following quotes are from Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship.

In Roman Catholic worship,

Singers were those involved in church vocation (including cantors) who sang from the “choir,” a space between the congregation and the altar that was often separated from the laypeople by a screen. The congregation did not sing the Introit or any other portion of the service. (loc. 321)

This “choir”, where singing is done without participation of the whole congregation, has it’s place in the Roman Catholic context. It might sound strange that the people would not sing, but it actually fits if the worship is being done by someone else on the people’s behalf. So if that theology changes, the participation must change with it. Martin Luther made some important changes:

Luther did not want his worship to be interpreted as a propitiatory sacrifice offered to God by a priest on behalf of the people. . .

Luther understood worship as God’s gift to the people. Through the liturgy, God’s people could praise him for grace already completed in Christ’s finished work of salvation. This concept of the liturgy being God’s provision for the people to respond to grace, rather than for the priest to obtain their forgiveness, radically changed the way key worship elements were practiced. . .

Luther wanted the worship service to be a participatory experience, in keeping with his understanding of church being a community of faithful people praising God for his salvation. Two key changes resulted that are not obvious from only observing the order of the worship elements. First, the music was no longer the exclusive domain of those in sacred orders. (loc. 448-457)

So, because of Christ’s sufficient work, and consequently the complete removal of a human priesthood, worship becomes congregational. No longer is worship done on behalf of the people. It’s not a work done in their place, vicariously. All believer’s are priests, having access to the throne of grace. And that is why, for Luther, the congregation now participates in the singing! See, there is a theological reason for congregational song in corporate worship. Likewise, John Calvin made changes:

. . . commitment to the priesthood of believers is evident not only in the language Calvin used to involve the laity, but also in his encouragement of their participation in the worship service. The people sing in Calvin’s liturgy. And, as we will see, Calvin fought for their right to do so. Additionally, the people have special access to the privileges of their faith. Before he faced undesired strictures at Geneva, Calvin stood in front of the pulpit—among the people of Strasbourg—for all of the service prior to the reading and proclamation of the Word. During his ministry in Geneva, Calvin’s famous chair—common in size and style—was not used simply to carry him to the pulpit when he was feeble and old. The chair sat beneath the pulpit—among the people and on their level, as a statement of the preacher’s identification with the congregation prior to his acting as God’s representative in leading worship. (loc. 579)

That note about the chair is significant. The pastor was not a “priest” who was elevated from the people. Since all have equal access to God through the true High Priest, Jesus Christ, all are on equal footing. So, all the people join together in singing every part of the service. And John Calvin sat and stood with the people. Perhaps that is something to consider in our context, where certain special chairs are placed up and behind the pulpit, removed from the congregation. Might that contradict our theology?

The point is, with the change in theology came the necessary change in worship practice. Worship was recognized to be participatory. And this Reformation theology and participatory worship is reflected most clearly in the works of the Westminster Assembly.

The Westminster Assembly and Participatory Worship

The Directory for the Public Worship of God, under the heading “Of the Assembling of the Congregation, and their Behaviour in the Publick Worship of God,” says:

The publick worship being begun, the people are wholly to attend upon it, forbearing to read any thing, except what the minister is then reading or citing; and abstaining much more from all private whisperings, conferences, salutations, or doing reverence to any person present, or coming in; as also from all gazing, sleeping, and other indecent behaviour, which may disturb the minister or people, or hinder themselves or others in the service of God.

If any, through necessity, be hindered from being present at the beginning, they ought not, when they come into the congregation, to betake themselves to their private devotions, but reverently to compose themselves to join with the assembly in that ordinance of God which is then in hand.

During corporate worship, what should the be the focus of the people? The worship. And any who arrive late (another chronic problem) are to enter into the worship currently underway, whatever part it may be. What’s ironic is pastors and other “leaders” are just as guilty of not participating in the ordinances along with the people, until it’s “their turn.” Around here, usually it’s because they are in fact “doing reverence to any person present, or coming in.” They are entertaining some special person who happens to be visiting (and therefore keeping them from participating in worship, also), or waiting for them to arrive.

Clearly, the sole focus during corporate worship is to be the worship of God. No reading anything on your own (if only cell phones and Facebook were a thing back then . . .). It’s astonishing what people will do privately during all parts of the worship service. Forget “whisperings.” Most of the children have conversations at full volume, and are rarely corrected, even by their own parents.

All the people, the minister and the congregation, are to be worshiping God, together. And anything that disturbs or hinders the service of God needs to be corrected and avoided.

Indeed, even the parts of worship that appear passive are actually active. Like listening. Of course, that’s a common misunderstanding: talking is active, listening is passive. That’s simply untrue. Our Westminster Larger Catechism says:

Q. 160. What is required of those that hear the word preached?
A. It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.

Our Confession of Faith concisely expresses it as “conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence” (21.5).

Even for the most seemly inactive part of corporate worship, listening to preaching, we can see that’s it’s actually not. The congregation must be actively participating. It takes effort to be engaged.

The Larger Catechism also addresses the time of receiving the Lord’s Supper:

Q. 174. What is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper in the time of the administration of it?
A. It is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, that, during the time of the administration of it, with all holy reverence and attention they wait upon God in that ordinance, diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.

The Directory for Worship, under the heading “Of the Singing of Psalms” says:

It is the duty of Christians to praise God publickly, by singing of psalms together in the congregation, and also privately in the family.

In singing of psalms, the voice is to be tunably and gravely ordered; but the chief care must be to sing with understanding, and with grace in the heart, making melody unto the Lord.

That the whole congregation may join herein, every one that can read is to have a psalm book. . .

Again, participation. The congregation is to sing together, and everyone is to actually understand what they are singing, not merely a mindless recital of words. That requires thinking, and interpreting.

To summarize: worship is participatory. The singing is congregational singing. Even while listening or receiving the sacrament, the whole congregation is to be actively engaged in it. There is no place for performance or vicarious worship. That belongs back in Rome, where it came from. Reformed worship, worship based on the theology of the Protestant Reformation, is participatory.

So if we claim to be Reformed or Presbyterian, and if we subscribe to creeds such as those quoted above, then why is our corporate worship not consistently congregational? Why are so many in attendance actively disengaged, why are distractions abundant, and why do the majority of those in attendance seem to have no problem with it?

A Simple Solution

I know for a fact that we are not doomed to a situation of worship ignorance in the “Presbyterian” church. I know of another local church with a very disciplined congregation. Ironically, it’s about 50 times as large, and so has that much more potential to be unruly and chaotic! But it is not. Distraction is extremely limited. People sing together, people listen together. They are actively engaged in the worship service. They know why they are there. Do you know why they know? It’s quite simple: they were taught. The painful irony is that they aren’t Reformed or Presbyterian. Yet their participatory worship better reflects our theology better than our worship does! How embarrassing. They were simply taught what the purpose for gathering is. They were told how to behave, they were told to be engaged, and to actively listen. They were trained and measures were taken to minimize distraction. It was made explicit what the priority is. Ultimately, whose fault is it if the people don’t know what do to in corporate worship? Yes, you know the answer.

If our theology is not Roman, then neither should our worship practice be. And when we are right smack in the middle of a Roman Catholic country, we might want to point that out. Our worship practice must follow from our theology. Yet, if our worship practice is not that inherited from the Reformation, then perhaps our churches don’t believe what they claim to. Either way, Reformation is needed: a recovery of Reformation theology, and a recovery of acceptable worship.

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Q/A: Worship, Individual and Corporate

Question:

 What is “worship”? And is it different for corporate setting—church and individual, daily living?

Answer:

Excellent question, and so important. In fact, this really makes Reformed/Presbyterianism stand out.

First, let’s define worship. We “worship and glorify [God] accordingly, by thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honoring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing of him” (WLC Q/A 104). And what is the way in which we worship God? Our Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 21, “Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day” says:

1. . . . the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped 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.

First things first: the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is what he says is acceptable. So whatever worship is, it’s not our idea. It’s not what pleases us, but what pleases him. No inventions or innovations. Whatever is not prescribed is forbidden. This rule is called the “Regulative Principle of Worship.”

So, since we know that Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) is the rule for worship, how do we worship? The Confession lists the elements of worship:

3. Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, is by God required of all men: and, that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son, by the help of his Spirit, according to his will, with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; and, if vocal, in a known tongue.

4. Prayer is to be made for things lawful; and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter: but not for the dead, nor for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death.

5. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God . . .

What constitutes worship? What are the essential parts of worship? Prayer, the reading, preaching, hearing of the Word, singing of psalms, and the (2) sacraments instituted by Christ. That’s worship. This is what Scripture says is worship, for the church. There’s overlap. Singing to God certainly is a form of prayer. The rest of the elements could even be categorized as the Word: read, preached, heard, sung, and made visible in the sacraments. Either way, these are what make up the ordinary worship of God.

Notice, worship is not reduced to music! In fact, music is at best an implication. Singing is clearly there. Yet, it is commonly assumed that the “music time” before the sermon is “worship.” Not so. What’s even worse is that label “praise and worship.” I was asked recently if a church had “praise and worship.” You’re probably thinking, “what a question!” However, that phrase was used to mean “contemporary” style music and songs. What a reduction! Music is not worship. The above elements are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God. Hence, the appropriate label of “worship service” to the whole of the church’s gathering on the Lord’s Day, with every stage included.

Now, if you would like an exposition of worship, read the Westminster Larger Catechism: for the Regulative Principle of Worship, read Q/A 107-110; Prayer, Q/A 178-196; the Word, Q/A 154-160 Sacraments, Q/A 161-177.

Second, where does worship take place?

6. Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed: but God is to be worshiped everywhere, in spirit and truth; as, in private families daily, and in secret, each one by himself; so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or willfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by his Word or providence, calleth thereunto.

God is to be worshiped everywhere! Does that mean everything we do is worship? No. It says everywhere, not everything. Remember, God defines what is worship, and we already covered that. But, isn’t all of life worship? I’ve talked like that. The answer is no, if this is the sense you’re taking the term “worship.” I’ll quickly point out that this was a development in the Protestant Reformation: every vocation glorifies God. The Reformers recognized that Scripture doesn’t distinguish between “sacred” and “secular” as the Church of Rome did. The farmer can glorify God in his vocation just as much as the monk living the “separated life.” All service, in whatever sphere, is service to the Lord. All of life, all we do, we do unto the glory of God. However, a common misunderstanding is that there’s therefore no difference between corporate worship and our common affairs. That simply does not follow. Both glorify God, but they are not the same things. And Reformation theology did not say they were, either.

So, “God is to be worshiped everywhere.” What does “everywhere” mean? Privately, family, and corporately. Now, finally we come to the second part of the original question: is there a difference between individual and corporate worship? The answer is a definite yes. “More solemnly” in public assemblies (with the local church). An important note: individual, or even family worship, cannot substitute for corporate worship. The assembly of the church for worship is “not carelessly or willfully to be neglected, or forsaken.” When is the time of the public assembly? That’s section 7 and 8 of this chapter in the Confession: Sunday, the Lord’s Day.

Continuing on with the difference between corporate and private worship, there are differences pertaining to the acts of worship themselves. God blesses the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word of God (WLC Q/A 155). That happens in corporate worship, not private (whereas reading occurs in both [hopefully]). Not everyone is allowed to preach the Word, either. The sacraments, baptism and Lord’s Supper, are not private acts but church ordinances, only to be administered by one called to the ministry of Word and sacrament. The church, the corporate body, must be present for the administration of the sacraments. The Lord’s Supper is not to be given “to none who are not then present in the congregation;” likewise, “Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest, or any other, alone” (WCF 29.3-4).

So those are some things unique to corporate worship, whereas prayer, the reading and hearing of the Word, and singing of psalms can take place in family or private worship.

All things are done to the glory of God, but that’s not the same as “worship,” as defined by our standards. God has ordained specifically what “worship” is, and it’s clearly not every activity under the sun. God has ordained the acts of worship. Likewise, some of the elements of worship are exclusive to the public assembly (corporate worship).

Understand that, from the Reformed perspective, the center of gravity in the Christian life is with corporate worship. Corporate worship, the public assembly, is the most important thing you do, every week. That’s completely contrary to the typical way of thinking, today. The Western church has whole-sale acclimated to the individualistic atmosphere, so that your life as a Christian centers on your individual acts of piety: personal Bible reading, personal Bible study, personal prayer, “quiet time.” But think historically, for a minute: when was private Bible reading made possible? For the first 1,400 years of the Church, there wasn’t even a printing press. Was God not providing for the spiritual nourishment of his people? Could Christians not worship God in the most significant way? Au contraire. He was, and they could, by the outward and ordinary means: the Word, prayer, and sacraments, in corporate worship.

There is a three-layered answer to the question. First, daily living doesn’t qualify as worship, because God has specifically ordained certain acts to be acceptable worship; they are “holy” or set apart for that purpose (along with the “holy” day set apart for that purpose: Sunday). Secondly, worship can (and must!) take place everywhere: privately, family, and corporately. But, thirdly, there is a distinction between corporate worship and private or family worship. As I used to say: public worship is not the same as your private devotions. Worship is to happen corporately, in family, and personally, but they are not equal.

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Q/A: The Need for Reformation?

Question:

When you say “the need for reformation”, or any other Reformed/Presbyterian person says that, what exactly does that mean?

Answer:

Aahhh “reformation.” What I mean is renovating the church according to the Bible alone. Every dimension of the church would fall under that, obviously, including church government and especially worship. The Protestant Reformation was a reformation of worship, purging it of all the innovations of Rome and returning it to biblical simplicity. And “reformation” means not creating something brand new, but returning the church to what it was from the time of the apostles. The other four solas would be included too: faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, God’s glory alone.

In other words, returning the church to what made Protestantism “Protestant.” The irony is, the majority of “Protestantism” has moved back to Rome in many ways, especially in the doctrine of salvation and practices of worship. So, they’re not actually Protestant by conviction, but by convenience (just like Roman Catholics who are just because their parents are). Having left the doctrine that fueled the Protestant Reformation, they are not really Protestant, just non-Roman Catholic.

So in our context, Scripture quite obviously doesn’t have the final say about anything. That’s a problem at large for all Christians and churches, and they should all reform. But it is especially a problem for people/churches who claim to be Reformed/Presbyterian, because they’re saying one thing but doing another. They have Reformation theology written down and claim to uphold it, but it doesn’t make a difference on the ground. So, it’s a matter of integrity. I can respect a liberal Protestant or Roman Catholic who is honest about what they are. I have trouble respecting someone who says they’re “Reformed/Presbyterian” but acts and talks like a liberal or Roman Catholic.

Take, for example, a certain seminary of a so-called “Presbyterian” denomination, up north. I have been told that when you walk into the seminary, you see engravings of Calvin and the reformers, and you see parts of the Westminster Standards on the wall. But the teaching at the seminary is indistinguishable from the non-Reformed seminary across the street. And that is symbolic of everything we have witnessed about the “Presbyterian” churches down here.

So, “reformation” would mean churches reforming according to the Word of God. What’s added to that for these name-only Presbyterian churches is pointing out that we already have the meaning of “reformation” written down in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, and need to align with it, check what we’re doing, and get rid of all the garbage that clearly contradicts what we claim to believe.
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The Double-Edge of Worship & Conscience

Here’s something I read recently that directly applies to our context:

When the elders of the church call the people of God to worship, they are necessarily and unavoidably binding the conscience of worshipers (because Christians are forbidden to forsake the worship of God). This is not a problem if the church is worshiping biblically because the elders of the church are binding consciences according to the Word of God, as they are called to do in the Great Commission. But imagine a worship service that involves something without biblical warrant . . . If a believer finds this practice objectionable, what can he or she do? Either one must not participate (which sinfully breaks a divine command to worship God with the rest of the saints assembled) or one must participate (which sinfully violates one’s conscience).

—D.G. Hart & John Muether, With Reverence and Awe pg. 84-85

Say the church adds something to worship (let’s assume the church has the marks of a true church). They do something that Christ has not commanded in his Word. Well, it’s not acceptable worship.

Here’s the dilemma, the tight spot that this puts the congregation in.

On the one hand, the church (the pastor and/or elders) has bound consciences of the congregation where Scripture has not. They are telling the congregation to worship God this way, when God himself has not said to! They are overstepping their place, which is merely to say what the Bible says (ministerial authority). But they have introduced an innovation, and something manmade is now being forced on the people. With the best and most sincere intentions, no doubt.

So what should the Christian do? Well, since God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men (WCF 20.2), then the Christian should refuse to participate. If your conscience is bound by Scripture, then you can’t contradict or add to Scripture. To participate would be to violate your conscience, and sin against God, by making men lords of the conscience.

But here comes the other side of this dilemma. God’s Word clearly commands that we assemble for corporate worship. We are not at liberty to neglect the public worship of God, with his people, on the Lord’s Day.

So, wouldn’t leaving or not going to corporate worship be sinful? Remember, this is assuming the church is actually a true church, bearing the marks of the true church. They have just innovated with worship, but have not ceased to be a true church. So, to not be there to worship on the Lord’s Day would in fact be wrong.

See the burden that is placed on the people? Either way, it’s like you can’t win. On the one hand, you are going against your conscience by participating in a practice that God has not prescribed. Yet, to not worship with the church would be sin, because God commands that we worship him with the corporate body. Now we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

What’s the solution?

The only way in which a church can worship God and protect liberty of conscience is to observe the regulative principle, that is, to worship as God has commanded. Properly observed, it liberates worshipers from the tyranny of churches that impose on their people elements of public worship that have no biblical warrant. When churches engage in unbiblical practices (whether for the sake of tradition or innovation), they usurp the lordship of Christ, and automatically bind in an illegitimate fashion the consciences of believers. The sad and nearly inevitable result is the outbreak of controversy and disharmony in the church.

—Hart & Muether, pg. 85

What a responsibility the elders of the church have, then. This is merely one reason why the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) is so vital: it protects liberty of conscience.

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Two Churches, pt. 3

In a day when it is a scandal to say anything is “false,” I got a breath of fresh air from a Reformed confession of faith. The typical sentiment you hear is, “Oh, we shouldn’t judge.” Well, Scripture tells us otherwise. And the Church has recognized this fact since the beginning. Here is just one more example of that.

Because of length, my thoughts on this will be divided into separate posts. See part 1 and part 2. Now, part 3.

The False Church

Church #2, all sects that call themselves “the church.” Notice the label in the first phrase of this part of article 29, of the Belgic Confession of Faith:

As for the false church,
it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances

than to the Word of God;

it does not want to subject itself

to the yoke of Christ;

it does not administer the sacraments

as Christ commanded in his Word;

it rather adds to them or subtracts from them

as it pleases;

it bases itself on humans,

more than on Jesus Christ;

it persecutes those

who live holy lives according to the Word of God
and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry.

Here we have the marks of a false church. Usurping authority over the Word, not subjected to Christ, altering the sacraments, based on humans, and persecuting those who obey the Word and rebuke the false church. That’s a lot.

Now, a quick question: which big “church” in the world does this description fit? One that places more authority in itself and its sacraments than the Word of God? Hhmmm, perhaps that “church” that alone has the authority to decide what the “Word of God” is, in the first place? It is that church that operates by sola ecclesia: the church is the only authority of faith and life. Yes, it’s obvious that the Belgic Confession is speaking of the Church of Rome. What does this mean? Can we really say that such a large, old, and revered institution, that claims to be the (only!) church, is not? Yes. The Belgic Confession unambiguously says that a “church” that has these marks is a false church. I wonder how many Christians today would be willing to say (or even think) those words. Despite having the clear teaching of Scripture, believers are too timid to discern what is false and then to call it false.

Not only does the Church of Rome bear the marks of a false church, but other groups that claim to be “the church.” That’s part of the beauty of this chapter in the Belgic Confession: instead of labeling one sect as false, it instead provides the marks that can be applied to any sect. So any that fit this description can be labeled. Run some of the cults through this grid, and see the result. One thing they all have in common is giving “more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God.” Such as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Iglesia ni Cristo, Moonies, all clearly state an authority higher than the Word of God. They have no problem with adding to Scripture (continuing revelation in some form is characteristic). Ironically, Rome does the exact same thing. The “church” will always overrule the Word of God.

A further mark of a false church is: “it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases.” Once again, the Church of Rome is the perfect example, with the “popish mass.” Indeed, Calvin stated that Rome in fact does not administer the Lord’s Supper at all! Because of all the extra ceremony added to it, but also subtracting that the sacrament is a sign. Rome asserts that the bread and wine become the thing they were supposed to represent. On top of that, only the wafer is given to the people; they are denied the cup. The priest drinks the wine, but doesn’t receive the wafer. Even more, the Church of Rome adds five more sacraments, which are not commanded by Christ in his Word. To the opposite extreme, the Quakers refuse to observe the sacraments at all. And I think that any “church” that administers baptism, believing you cannot be saved without it, also fails to administer the sacraments as Christ commanded. Many cults add to baptism, in that way.

The Belgic Confession also said of the false church: “it bases itself on humans, more than on Jesus Christ.” That’s a brilliant statement. Christ the head and founder has been replaced. Naturally, instead of being ruled by the pure Word of God, the false church will be according to mere human authority. And as Jesus said, you can’t have two masters, it’s one or the other. Here’s where we look at liberal Protestantism. Just because a church is not Roman Catholic, or a cult, and calls itself “Protestant”, does not mean it’s a true church. Check the marks, always. What is the mark of liberalism? It’s exactly what the Belgic Confession says: “it bases itself on humans, more than on Jesus Christ.” The whole liberal enterprise was to make Christianity agreeable to autonomous man. Human reason is the highest authority, so that the Bible in it’s entirety cannot be accepted. Anything in Scripture that does not meet man’s standard is tossed. They have reduced themselves to a mere human organization. The cultural and historical situation, human traditions, human values, human reason, “scientific” consensus, are the basis for liberal faith and practice. If you would like an example of this, go to the website of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and read their commentaries on their statement of faith (they’re free to download). Liberal Protestantism may call itself Christian, or “the church”, but they are in fact a totally different religion, and undoubtedly a false church.

Finally, a false church will persecute those who rebuke it. We’ve seen a bit of this recently, following the formal debate between Dr. James White and Joe Ventilacion of Iglesia ni Cristo (INC).

The Belgic Confession expounds: “it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry.” Look at the Reformation in Scotland and England for plenty of evidence for this statement. Those who resisted and refused to submit to the usurpation of authority by the Church of Rome, or the king or queen, over Christ and his Word were burned at the stake. I think this statement on persecution carries even greater significance considering its chief author, Guido de Bräs, was martyred.

Notice what the Belgic Confession has joined together: “those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it [the false church] for its faults, greed, and idolatry.” What is implicit, is those who live holy lives, according to the Word of God, will be rebuking the false church! Interesting, no? How could they do that, by what authority? What the Belgic Confession said previously: it is based on the Word of God. Possessing and living by the truth, they recognize error. Furthermore, they say something. I think what is implied is that those who live holy lives according to the Word of God are obligated to rebuke the false church. Indeed, how would the true church be persecuted unless it spoke the truth in opposition to the false church.

Who is willing to call out “faults, greed, and idolatry” in our day? Even in comfortable contexts, where you definitely won’t be burned at the stake! The only negative consequence is that people won’t like you, and might slander you on Twitter or Facebook. Yet, that’s enough for the timid person to keep his mouth shut.

Oh, and there’s this unwritten law that you’re not allowed to disagree or say someone is wrong. That’s considered hate. Common sentiments that come from this culture of niceness include: “Oh, let’s not focus on the negative. Let’s just focus on the positive.” Sadly, many Christians have unwittingly absorbed this way of thinking. But, it is not doing justice to Scripture. If there is such a thing as truth, then by necessity (logical consequence) there is falsehood. And the Bible labels sin! We are to identify what is wrong. How can there be repentance? Or how can we keep ourselves from these things, if we turn a blind eye? How can we exhort others to separate themselves from a sinful, greedy, and idolatrous “church”, if we stay silent? How can the elect within false churches be called out to repentance and faith, unless the Gospel is preached and error condemned? Is sin not to be repented of? Doesn’t that include the sins of usurping authority over the Word, not submitting to Christ, altering the sacraments, being based on humans, and persecuting Christians? Did Jesus not atone for those sins?

“Oh, but they are sincere. They are worshiping in their way. That’s their practice.” I’ll apply the words of Dr. Greg Bahnsen: “Oh barf.” What a petty, unbiblical justification, and downplaying of sin. Christians, even pastors, have spoken this way! Excuse me, but who is the authority? Christ, speaking in his Word. Christ, the head of the church, gets to decide what way we worship, and what our practice should be. It’s non-negotiable. This is a no “agree-to-disagree” zone. But in this relativistic time, sincerity covers a multitude of sins. Perhaps sincerity is justification in the court of public opinion, but not in the real court before the Supreme Judge.

Another familiar sentiment is “let’s just focus on what we have in common.” Oh, how ecumenical. The implication is, we should never focus on our differences. Well, I beg to differ. Let us indeed give credit where it is due, it would be unjust to ignore what is right and true, no  matter who does it. But to only do that is half the job. We ought to distinguish.

An illustration may be helpful. Jollibee and McDonald’s are not the same. Am I “judgmental” for saying so? We openly talk about the differences. McDo’s fries are different (as in better) than Jollibee fries. But nobody beats Jollibee’s spicy fried chicken. We openly distinguish. There’s McDo and then there’s not-McDo. McDo has a clear menu, so you can automatically tell when your eating not-McDo. If someone gives you a burger from Jollibee, but tells you it’s from McDo, you would be right to label it “false McDo.” What’s the point? In a matters of so much more gravity, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, within which we can offer acceptable worship to our King, and receive Christ and his benefits, should we not practice the same level of discernment that we do in every other area of life? We discriminate every day. Should we not do the same about the most important matters?

I especially love the closing sentence of this article of the Belgic Confession: “These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.” Yes indeed, it’s not difficult to tell. There’s no use claiming ignorance. None can pretend to not recognize the true church and the false church, according to the Word of God. It requires knowing the standard: God’s Word. It requires us to be diligent and careful. But it can be done, and should be done. Every believer in Jesus Christ must discern what is the true church, in contrast with the false church.

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