June, 2012

Worship – Real Wine in the Lord’s Supper

Wine is used as a potent symbol throughout the Scriptures. It is a sign of blessing. “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Ps 4:7; cf. Ps. 104:14-15a, Pr 3:9-10). By contrast the absence of wine was a symbol of sorrow and loss. “There is an outcry in the streets for a lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished” (Is 24:11; cf. Jer 48:33). Though there is sorrow and loss in this world, God in his great mercy sent a Redeemer who would swallow death forever and restore a right relationship between God and His people. “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged fine wine well refined” (Is 25:6). Wine is the symbol of joy, celebration, and a right relationship with God.

It is no happenstance that Jesus’ first miracle was turning water to wine (Jn 2), really good wine at that. Jesus turned the sorrow of a failed banquet into a joyous occasion. And the book of Revelation picks up where the Gospel of John leaves off; with a great wedding feast. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:6-10) will be a festive celebration where Jesus will once again provide the good wine. We will eat and drink in celebration of the consummation of the ages. What a banquet it will be!

The last time Jesus drank wine with his followers was when he instituted the Lord’s Supper. That is the Table we celebrate each week. It remembers the work of Christ. It celebrates the communion we have with the Father through Christ. It anticipates the return of Christ and that heavenly feast. It has been the practice of the Church since that meal to participate in this sacrament by eating the bread and drinking the cup. The bread was real bread and the cup was real wine. This is the Scriptural example given to us. We don’t eat a cheeseburger and drink a Coke. We use bread and wine. However, in 1880’s out of the Temperance Movement it became more common for Protestant churches to use grape juice instead of wine. In fact, Thomas Welch, of Welch’s grape juice, was a Methodist minister. He developed the process to make unfermented wine out of a desire to maintain the Scriptural practice of observing the Lord’s Supper but a fear of the power of wine. But should the Church want a symbol neutered of its power.

Scripture does warn of the dangers of alcohol. Wine can be abused (Pr 20:1). Wine can enslave (Ti 1:7). Wine can impoverish (Pr 21:17). But the problem in these verses is not necessarily the wine. It is the abuse of God’s good gift. This is the same with every good gift of God. Sex can be abused. Food can be abused. Material possessions can be abused. This is not reason to prohibit these good gifts but to use them as God intended. Every good thing God has given is potent. Abuse is possible. Our response should not be to minimize the potency but to channel it in biblical ways. We want a Gospel with power. We want to enjoy a Table that has zest.

We should embrace God’s good gift and use it the way he intended; as a sign of joy and celebration, to gladden the heart. RC Sproul wrote, “I agree with Calvin – real wine communicates to our taste buds both elements – pain and joy, sorrow and gladness – and somehow, in my opinion, grape juice just doesn’t do it. I think we lose something there because, in the worship of Israel, God associated certain truths with certain tastes” (Sproul, A Taste of Heaven, p. 70).


Worship – I Will Sing to the LORD!

Music plays an integral role in our worship. For some reason God made us in such a way that music can tap into parts of our being that mere words cannot. Robert Webber writes that music “releases an inner nonrational part of our being that words with their more rational and discursive meanings cannot unearth and set free to utter praise” (Webber, Worship Old and New p. 176). Martin Luther adds, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves highest praise. She is a mistress and governess of those human emotions which control men or more often overwhelm them” (Luther, Liturgy and Hymns). Music is a gracious gift from God that allows us to worship Him, praise His excellencies, and proclaim His Gospel in deeper and more profound ways. Music has the ability to transcend ourselves.

Music also serves to unify the body. The early church father John Chrysostom saw the church singing in corporate worship as an image of the mystery of fellowship in Christ:

“The [song] blended all voices together, and caused one single fully harmonious chant to arise; young and old, rich and poor, women and men, slaves and free, all sang one single melody…. All the inequalities of social life are here banished. Together we make up a single choir in perfect equality of rights and of expression whereby earth imitates heaven. Such is the noble character of the Church” (John Chyrsostom, Homilies 5).

Music in worship must assist the liturgy and move the whole congregation forward in our God glorifying work. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

That proclamation happens in many ways, not the least of which is in song. The admonition for us is to sing…really SING! The whole congregation must be involved in the worship of God. God wants His people to sing. When we gather to worship as God’s covenantal people, the people whom He has purchased with the blood of His own Son, we should sing His praises. We should pour out our hearts in song as an offering to Him. We should unite under the banner of Christ and declare His all surpassing glory!

Our worship through music is intended to facilitate this. We seek to use music that is beautiful and reflects the grandeur of His being. We seek to see our music informed by our theology and the ministry of the Word. We seek to include all people in our corporate singing. My prayer and hope is that our worship through music and song will transcend the limits of our rational self, unite us as one in Christ, and spur us along to glorify our great God! Let us sing to the LORD!

Worship – What is Liturgy?

There is a common misconception that there are “liturgical” and “non-liturgical” churches. All churches, however, are “liturgical.” The distinction actually exists in the manner of how that liturgy is expressed. Liturgy comes from the greek term leitourgia means the “work of the people.” Or in an ecclesial sense, it means the “public worship” of God. The work of the people is the particular structure the assembled people of God use to worship Him. When we think about liturgy, we are addressing the principles by which we order our worship.

A primary consideration for the worship of God is that worship is participatory. We can easily fall into the mindset of an entertainment culture. We show up at an auditorium shaped room and so conclude that we are here to passively receive entertainment. This is wrong. Worship is a re-enactment of the story of Scripture and we are the actors, all of us. The audience is composed of one person, God. The whole community participates in worship. Every element of the worship service is corporate in nature. Even the reading of Scripture and the Sermon involve the people in actively hearing the Word and responding to it. Liturgy means we offer our worship together and everyone is involved. Passivity in worship leads to dead ritual, regardless of the form.

Commonly understood, liturgy gives the idea of tradition. Liturgy points to “rooted-ness.” It taps into the rich history of the Church. Liturgy seeks to draw sustenance from the past, to find stability in anchoring to the bedrock of Scripture, and to pass on to future generations the faith which was handed off to us. Through the ages the people of God have used particular worship forms which have ushered them into the presence of God. We should seek to help our covenant children to stand on the shoulders of our faithful fathers and mothers and to see the threads of redemptive history woven throughout the tapestry of the ages. There are repetitive elements of worship, done week in and week out. This is a good thing. It helps to ingrain the elements of worship. Practiced over the generations this works its way into our core. It begins to define who we are. But repetition does not have to equal passionless rote exercises.

Is there a risk of exercising dead ritual? Of course, but this is a problem with any form of worship. Remember, every church has a liturgy. It isn’t the liturgy that makes the worship dead. Bad actors make a good play unwatchable. If liturgy is the work of the people, then the vibrancy of worship will largely depend upon the vibrancy of the spiritual life in the people, not in the form or structure of worship. But the form can be designed in such as way as to invite the whole community to participate and to acknowledge the importance of the deep roots of the Church. Worship is not an hour of passive reception. The children of the living God do not gather as His people to be entertained. The worship of God must be structured in such a manner that the people of God are invited to do the work.

Worship – The Prayer of Adoration and Invocation

To invoke means to call upon or make a plea. The Prayer of Adoration and Invocation is an important part of our worship in which we call upon God’s name, ask for His presence, vow our allegiance, and proclaim our adoration of His attributes and blessings.

The first aspect of this prayer is to name the God to whom our worship is addressed. We are calling on God’s name. In prayer, we should feel the freedom to approach God through Christ. We shouldn’t, however, feel the freedom to name God whatever we want. God is not your “buddy” and does respond to nicknames. We should use Scripture to address God (cf. Is 9:6). The name most often used is LORD. When LORD is spelled with all caps it denotes the use of the name Yahweh. This is the name God gave Moses in Ex. 3:14. When Lord is spelled without all caps, it denotes the word for a master or ruler. It is significant that when Jesus prayed in Mt. 11:25, he says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth…” This was a formulaic prayer that typically read, “I thank you, LORD, Lord of heaven and earth…” Jesus called the LORD, “Father.” This is a shocking paradigm shift to a Jew. In the invocation, we address God through Christ, as God’s adopted children. We call upon him both as LORD and as Father.

The second aspect of this prayer is that we ask Him to be present with us. Jesus promised that, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Mt. 18:20). The context of this passage is not marriage (no matter how lovely a sentiment it is that Jesus is in your marriage) but the Church. The invocation claims this promise and asks God to be present with the Church as we gather to worship Him.

The third aspect of this prayer is that we vow our allegiance to Him. JI Packer remarked that the beauty of the Gospel is in the personal pronouns. God is our Father. He is our God and we are His people. In the invocation, we acknowledge this by declaring our allegiance to Him. Our worship is not for us. It is not for those outside the church. It is not for anyone or anything apart from God. We worship for an audience of One.

The fourth aspect of this prayer is that we proclaim our adoration of His attributes and blessings. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus instructs us to pray, “hallowed be thine name.” In the invocation we hallow God’s name. We proclaim his divine attributes and celebrate those things which declare his sovereignty and majesty. We adore who God is and what God does. We declare why this is the God to our worship is addressed.

As we pray the invocation, in a real spiritual sense, we are asking God to transport us along the passage into the presence of the Divine.

Worship – The Prelude and Call to Worship

We are called by God to gather together to worship Him. This is the highest activity a human being can do. Our worship is a recapitulation of God’s deliverance of His people from slavery into freedom. God gathers His people out of the world and into His presence (Heb. 12:22-24). Our worship is for an audience of One.

As we gather together to worship, we should first begin to understand the magnitude of the hour. Sinclair Ferguson comments, “In worship, the veil that separates the world from the next world becomes very thin.” In worship we cross the threshold from the secular to the sacred, from the common to the uncommon, from the profane to the Holy. We should enter into this time with an appropriate demeanor. “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab. 2:20). Incidentally, this would be the biblical precedent for turning off your cell phone before church. The moments before the worship service begins are a time of silent preparation. The Prelude should not be a “I’ll do it if I’m on time” part of worship.

The Call to Worship is the formal beginning to the act of worship. The congregation stands because it is right that we stand before the majesty of our God. The early church used the greetings from Ruth 2:4, “The LORD be with you,” or from John 20:19, “Peace be with you.” Calvin suggested the use of Psalm 124:8, “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” The Westminster Directory of Publick Worship did not prescribe a set format or passage of Scripture, but encouraged ministers to “solemnly call the people to the worship of the great name of God.” There is no absolute pattern or format. We use a brief passage of Scripture in a responsive style. Words from Scripture are used to proclaim who God is and what God has done. The responsive format is used to engage the whole congregation in re-orienting our minds, affections, and volition to the centrality of the Triune God. The chief end of worship is to please God and to remind us that God alone matters.