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Turmoil over Christian worship in American churches, often called “the worship wars,” touches virtually all Protestant denominations to one degree or another today. Many argue that this is just a difference of opinion concerning style, similar to differences concerning worship style in the past.
Resolving this situation would certainly be easier if this were true. But a little thought shows the danger of calling everything “style” and leaving it there. The appropriateness of any form of worship must always be measured against Divine revelation - a principle stemming from the Protestant Reformation that goes back to the practices of the New Testament church.
Further, this evaluation must involve more than simply finding a verse or two that seems to justify a particular practice in worship. In other words, it must be more than “proof-texting.” It should also be more than reading our own interpretations into Scripture - which is an inappropriate use of logic coupled with imagination - speculative thinking that leaves us ignorant of what God is really trying to communicate to us through His Word.1 A reverent investigation will involve a serious consideration of what we can learn from Scripture about the kind of worship that is acceptable to God (Hebrews 12:18-29). It will also require some attention to the forces active in our culture that might steer us away from truly Christian worship if we let them.
From this perspective, the problem concerning the contemporary discussion of “style in worship” is not that style shouldn’t be a topic for discussion, but that describing all differences in worship as differences in “style” trivializes the subject of worship; making a discussion of the substance of true worship all but impossible.
Here we intend to investigate what Scripture teaches about the substance of Christian worship - an investigation that will take for granted that there will be differences in worship style between various Christian groups and churches - but that all who worship in a truly Christian manner will have certain characteristics in common.
The investigation we have suggested takes for granted that it is a good idea for us to spend some time thinking about Christian worship. That is definitely not the attitude of many who want to change to a “contemporary style.” For them, the issue is not so much a matter of thought as a matter of accustomization - and I will explain what I mean by that term.
Many believe that the issue is that people have become used to - accustomed to -a particular style of worship. They believe that people who do not favor contemporary worship do not want to change simply because they are comfortable with older ways; similar to the manner in which some did not want to change from horses to “horseless carriages” (automobiles) in the early 20th century. A resolution of differences over worship, in their view, simply requires that people become accustomed to new styles of worship. Once the new style has been in place for a while, everyone is expected to become comfortable with it just as they did with the older style and the controversy will die away. Further, in this view, all people should become accustomed to change so that they do not fall into the same "rut" again concerning styles of worship. All Christians must, in their view, become accustomed to change in worship or become irrelevant as time passes on and new styles emerge.2
If there is a rationale given for this kind of thinking, it is rarely one that looks back more than a couple of hundred years. The argument is often that people changed their style of worship during the evangelical revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries and so it is time to update worship again in our time. People who don’t want to change today are characterized as old-fashioned, narrow-minded, self-centered, and stubborn. Worse, these people are accused of killing the Church of Christ; as if the life of the Church is dependent upon culturally acceptable styles rather than upon the inner presence of the Spirit of Christ. Rarely, it seems, is it suggested that if the style of worship that originated in the 17th and 18th centuries has become unacceptable that we ought to re-examine worship from a Biblical perspective. The discussion is limited to a discussion of style, and that is often limited to a discussion of change. When Scripture is brought into the discussion, it is often done so with proof-texting.
On the other hand, those defending “traditional” worship often do so simply because they know of no other way to worship. This isn’t a legitimate approach either, because it ignores our responsibility to search Scripture for direction in all areas of Christian life.
Please keep in mind that we are not saying that there will not be changes in worship styles across time and place. We are taking for granted that there will be. We are not suggesting that there will not be new music written and used in Christian worship. What we are saying is that people who claim to live according to Scripture should be careful to do so in the area of worship as well as in other areas of life. In fact, since Jesus taught that acceptable worship is unique to Christians (John 4:23-24), it behooves us to examine the Scriptures to learn what kind of worship is truly acceptable to God. At one point the apostle Paul described a certain group by writing, “I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Romans 10:2). We are trying to avoid being guilty of the same kind of blunder. And to do so, we must have true knowledge concerning acceptable worship.
To accomplish this, we must be careful not to jump to conclusions on the basis of Biblical texts that only appear to support a particular interpretation of Scripture. One such passage relates Jesus’ words regarding cloth and wineskins,
. . . But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved. Matthew 9:16, 173When one examines these words, it becomes clear that Jesus is teaching about the relationship between the Old Covenant (the Mosaic covenant of our “Old Testament”) and New Covenant (the Gospel of the “New Testament”). The longest discussion of this relationship in the New Testament is provided in the book of Hebrews; although we find similar teachings in the words of Jesus and in other New Testament books.
Now, how shall we understand Jesus’ words? Do they define a principle that can be applied in every situation - or are they explanatory? If a principle, then they present an unambiguous rule of conduct such as the commandment not to steal. If explanatory, then we cannot use Jesus’ words to justify a specific course of action - we can only use Jesus’ words here to explain a course of action after we have shown that course of action to be clearly supported by Scripture.
In this case, Jesus’ words are explanatory. Jesus’ life and ministry, including His death and resurrection, were the context for His remarks, giving credibility to what He taught here. In fact, when He spoke these words, Jesus had already given sufficient evidence to make these words credible; as shown by Matthew, for example, in Matthew 9:1-8. To take these words as a general principle can lead to all kinds of outrageous and unrighteous conclusions.4 If you think about it, they can even be used by unbelievers to justify a full denial of the Gospel on the basis of “new insights” of contemporary, secular scholarship. Simply put, Jesus’ words help us to understand the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Beyond that, we need more information before we can apply them to any other specific change.
In fact, Jesus’ words here actually encourage caution concerning change rather than vice versa. The change Jesus speaks of came at a pivotal time in which the earthly life, death, and resurrection of our Lord took place and the Christian Church began. The Church Age continues until the bodily return of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the specific change that Jesus brought, and is described by His words concerning new wine and old wineskins, remains in effect until the bodily return of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1, 2). This is, for instance, the reason for the “canon of Vincent of Lerins,” a rule of faith and doctrine that encouraged faithfulness to “that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.”5 Vincent did not rule out a growth in our understanding of Christian Truth, but he did rule out the introduction of new truth, eliminating innovation; a point of view that was embraced by John Wesley and is shared by contemporary Methodist theologian Thomas Oden.6
Having said this, a desire to evaluate our worship is certainly not, in itself, a poor thing. In fact, an investigation of our forms of worship can be very helpful if we do so with proper motives and are careful to search the Scriptures diligently. Proper motives for such an investigation would include the desire to please God, the desire to fulfill His purposes in our lives, and the desire to see God glorified by our actions.
But there is something else we should take into consideration. In every time and culture there are certain assumptions that become a part of our thinking without our being aware of them - things that seem or feel right - assumptions which few question because just about everyone in that culture shares them. These are especially dangerous to right thinking because they affect our thinking without our being conscious of them. That is why we need to examine our selves and our culture. Otherwise, our thinking may be twisted even if our motives are pure.
It is important, in this respect, for us to recognize that there has been a deep-seated and persistent trend in American culture that resists thorough self-examination. There is an entrenched suspicion of education, in particular, and anything that seems related to formal education; so that, for example, many churches prefer uneducated pastors as “more spiritual” then educated pastors. The roots of this attitude go back to the Pietistic movement that followed the Protestant Reformation. It was promoted by the democratic values that emerged in the 18th century as people applied democratic values to religion - so that every person’s opinion came to be seen as just as valid as anyone else’s in religious as well as in political matters. It was solidified in the 19th century when many frontier preachers demonstrated a great deal of zeal but were unable, due to location and finances, to receive formal religious training. It was further solidified when seminaries in the United States and Europe turned to liberalism; making Bible school graduates who revered Scripture more attractive then many seminary-trained pastors who did not.
Once again, however, we face a situation where it is wrong to be guided by trends in society rather than by the Word of God. Jesus clearly embraced the Old Testament teaching that we are to love God with all of our faculties - including all of our mind (Mark12:28-30, Matthew 22:36-38, Luke 10:25-27, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, 10:12-13, cf. John 7:24). Paul was anxious for Christians to be filled “with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9, 10, 28, 2:1-3, cf. Romans 12:1. 2, Philippians 1:9, Ephesians 1:15-19, 4:14-24, 5:15-17, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, 22, Titus 1:1). Peter tells his readers, “gird up your minds for action” (1 Peter 1:13), in other words, prepare to labor - to do hard work - with your minds, so that you may live properly in the world we live in now. On the other hand, Peter ties ignorance to evil (1 Peter 1:14, 2:15), as do other Scriptures (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4:14, 17-20, Colossians 1:21, 2:8, 18, Philippians 3:18-19, Acts 17:30).
This does not mean that the average person cannot read and understand what Scripture teaches.7 It does mean that we should not expect to understand the teachings of Scripture without exerting some effort to do so, and that there is a place for individuals God has gifted to be scholars; those who are able to help others to understand the true teachings of God’s Word.
Care in interpreting Scripture is not merely the recognition that the Scriptures are not simplistic even when they are straightforward, it is an important gesture of respect to the awesomeness of the God who gave us this Scripture and respect for the importance of what God has to say to us. To say that Scripture is often straightforward is not to say that Scripture is trite. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” is Scripture’s way of alerting us to the need for reverence in approaching God’s Word (Psalms 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, 2:5, 9:10, 15:33, Job 28:28).
There is depth in the teaching of Scripture because it embodies the wisdom of God (Isaiah 55:8-13, 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16). Moreover, there is depth because the purposes for which Scripture was authored have been accomplished through the blood of Christ shed at the cross; and power that has been demonstrated in the resurrection and glorification of the crucified Christ (Romans 1:1-4).
So, the first false assumption that we must recognize is the one that maintains the Holy Spirit will communicate the Truth of Scripture to us immediately and directly without need for reflection or additional aids. God can and may do so in some instances, of course. But that is not the way God normally works in this age, and even when God does work in this manner, there is still the need to compare the knowledge we believe we have from the Lord with what God has revealed in Holy Scripture.8 Further, we always need to compare our understanding of Scripture with the way Scripture has been understood by reverent Christians throughout the ages.
The reason God requires us to work in concert with other Christians to determine what is true is more than just, as the saying goes, “two heads are better than one.” It is more than likely that God has done this so that we do not become prideful about knowing more than others. When even scholars are dependent upon other scholars - of their time and of the past - we are brought to recognize that the wisdom is God’s and not our own. We then are led to take our proper place alongside other Christians and under God - the proper place of creatures before their Creator. A “disciple” of Christ is, by definition, a humble learner; and Christian scholars are no less called to be Christian disciples (cf. James 3:1).
Several other assumptions strongly mold our thoughts and values in today’s world.9 There is a widespread belief that anything that succeeds is morally and ethically sound; where success is measured by popularity or wealth. This belief is called “American pragmatism.” The “Christianized” version of this belief is that anything that “succeeds” must have been blessed of God. The American philosopher/psychologist William James is, to some degree, responsible for the prevalence of this belief in American society. But, certainly throughout history, those groups that are successful tend to attribute their blessings to Divine approval of their actions. Certainly the Sadducees of Jesus’ day - who grew wealthy through political collaboration with the Romans and by turning Temple worship into a means of personal profit - interpreted their success as evidence of Divine blessing (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18, Luke 19:45, 46, John 2:14-17).
Perhaps the key Scripture in this regard is found in Jesus’ teaching concerning the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. The lesson of this story is not that wealth is bad and poverty is good. A consideration of the teaching of all of Scripture leads to the conclusion that both poverty and wealth present their own, unique temptations (Luke 8:14, 1 Timothy 6:9). Nor is this story told solely to give us some information about life after death - although most evangelical Christians would agree that it does provide some information that is helpful in this regard. The main point of this teaching is that no spiritual conclusions may be drawn from wealth or lack of wealth on the part of any individual (Luke 12:15-21).10
But there is another lesson here as well, which is that those who are guilty very often sense no guilt. Buoyed by their wealth, they arrogantly proceed as if they have nothing to worry about. The Christians Paul wrote to in 1st and 2nd Corinthians seem to have held this attitude. So this is not unique to our time, although it is characteristic of our time.
Another widely-held assumption of our time is that new ideas are always superior to older ones. This is seen, for example, in the viewpoint that most or all traditions are harmful. Most believe that the human race is on an “upward road” that makes all older thinking obsolete. The modern theory of evolution seems to lend credibility to this belief. Nevertheless, there is a Biblical precedent for this form of thinking as well. Paul encountered it when he preached to the Athenian philosophers on Mars Hill, as Luke notes, “all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). The alternative, of course, is to evaluate our traditions; to keep those which are sound and reject those that are harmful.
Finally, there is a widely-held assumption in our time that truth is felt rather than reasoned. The proof of whether something is true is not only whether it is accepted by many others, whether it brings success, and whether it seems “new,” but whether it “feels” right - in other words, whether it seems meaningful to us. This stems from a rejection of all authority outside ourselves and leads us back to the first assumption that we discussed - that God communicates to us directly rather than through others. Existentialism and post-modernism support this approach, although its prominence in Christian circles can be traced back to the writings of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), the “father” of 19th century liberal theology.
This belief is largely responsible for the hedonism that characterizes contemporary, American culture. If truth is felt and pleasure feels good, then pleasure must be truly good; in fact, the highest good. Life, therefore, becomes the pursuit of pleasure. And this, in turn, is the reason for the stubbornness of some of the problems that beset our culture. For example, we keep telling our young people that drug abuse is bad for them. But if drugs produce pleasure, and our culture is about the pursuit of pleasure, then we are, indirectly but surely, encouraging the use of drugs that produce pleasure. That logic may be lost to many adults but it is not lost to many young people.
What kind of worship would we engage in if we followed the assumptions we have just summarized? We would expect it to be, in some manner, anti-intellectual - a form of worship not guided by sound teaching and therefore, not doctrinal - but it would feel good. It would change constantly, following current trends to be “always new.” Successful worship, in this scheme, would be worship that includes the greatest number of people - Christian or not.
In drawing these conclusions, however, we must beware of one, additional unwarranted assumption: the assumption that true and acceptable worship is the exact opposite of worship that is built upon false assumptions; which would still define worship apart from God’s Word.
Therefore, let us, at this point, step back for a moment to take a look at this from a somewhat broader perspective. For while everything we have said here is true, it is nevertheless easily twisted to falsehood. Nothing that we have said should be taken as a blanket condemnation of emotions, wealth, innovation, success, popularity, or pleasure. That mistake has been made by many people in their misreading of Scripture over the centuries The point is not that anything about these is wrong in and of itself. Rather, the point is that when these assumptions are applied apart from devotion to God and His Word that they are more likely to destroy us than to bless us. Left to ourselves, all we have are our assumptions and what we reason to be true based upon those assumptions. We will never gain a different perspective unless God Himself teaches us what that perspective should be. And for this we must look to Holy Scripture.
One place to start is to try to discover what hinders the true worship of God. We observe that most people in the world do not claim to worship the God of the Bible. One of the most dramatic portions of Scripture that shows someone coming before the Lord in worship is found in Isaiah 6:1-7. Isaiah later wrote to the people of God in his time, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). Before this passage, Isaiah writes a brief but cogent definition of sin: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). The first Scripture shows that sin (iniquity) hinders fellowship with God - for which the only remedy is the cleansing that God provides. The second shows that sin is a common problem, and the third defines the very essence of sin. These teachings are supported by the teachings of Scripture about sin throughout the books of the Bible.
Some time ago, the expression, “Christ is the answer!” became popular. It was common to see this on signs and billboards, and in publications. Noting the prominence of this expression, someone asked, “If ‘Christ is the answer,’ what is the question?” A sarcastic response to be sure, but one that accurately mirrors the attitude of most people towards the Scripture’s teaching about sin. Salvation from sin through Jesus Christ is God’s answer to a need that the world (at large) doesn’t’ believe that it has; the answer to a question most people aren’t asking. The people of Isaiah’s day didn’t believe that they needed salvation (Isaiah 6:8-11, 58:1-14). The people of Jesus’ day didn’t believe that they needed salvation (John 8:21-59, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25). The people of our time believe that they don’t need salvation from sin.
Isaiah gives an excellent description of sin in Isaiah 53:6, but Scripture has much more to say. It teaches that sin is endemic to the human race, multi-faceted - and deadly. The world responds that its problems will go away when there is enough wealth to go around, enough education to permit people to act wisely to solve their problems, and enough human freedom for people to be empowered to “be themselves” without the hindrance of governments. When acknowledged that more is needed to solve human problems, the answer of some is to turn “out there” where “out there” is another race of beings on another planet which will be sophisticated enough to give us “the answers” to our problems. Contemporary science fiction is filled with advanced, spiritual beings; but seldom if ever are any of them the sovereign God of the universe, the God of Scripture; our Creator.
Sometimes sin isn’t brushed aside, it is simply marginalized. Jeremiah wrote of the religious leaders of his day, “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14, cf. Jeremiah 5:20-31). Jesus asked Simon Peter who would love the person who forgave a debt more, the person who was forgiven a greater debt, or the person who was forgiven a lesser debt. Peter answered that the one who was forgiven the greater debt would love more. Jesus agreed, for, “he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47).
Surely, the denial and cheapening of the concept of sin in our time is one reason for resistance to worship in our time. We aren’t thankful because we don’t realize the value of the forgiveness God offers to us. Too many of us approach God’s forgiveness as if it was owed to us rather than the precious gift that it is. One would think that the horrible events of our world would convince people of the reality of sin, but most of the time, people are only convinced of someone else’s sinfulness, not their own.
Historically, Methodist camp meetings in America often had a mourner’s bench where those who realized their sin would wait upon God for an assurance of salvation. I’m not encouraging a return to this practice, for in my reading of the Scripture, salvation is not something to be waited for, but to be claimed. Scripturally, the day for salvation is always “today” and the time for salvation is always “now.” But, this practice at least recognized the gravity of sin and the sacred value of salvation by God’s grace through Jesus Christ.
There are only two remedies I know for the world’s refusal to recognize sin. The first is the preaching of the cross in the presence of God. By spending time at the foot of the cross, and remembering that Christ’s blood was shed for our sins - that He took the curse for us - we gain some appreciation for the awesome gravity of sin (Galatians 3:13). When Isaiah came into the presence of God, his reaction was, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:5). The missing ingredient from Isaiah 6 that enables the cleansing of Isaiah from sin is found in Isaiah 53:1-12 - the blood of Christ shed at the cross.
The second remedy is a witness to Christ on the earth - the Church of Jesus Christ. But that witness is nullified if those outside the church see that those in the church don’t believe (cf. Jeremiah 5:30, 31, Ezekiel 33:30-32). As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:7, 8, “even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?” So, too, unbelievers will not learn the nature of sin and redemption if these are treated lightly by those who call themselves Christians (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:34).
Let us look at some passages that address the attitude of God’s people towards worship. The first is Psalm 122, a song written by David. It begins, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” A second passage is found in Luke 4:16. Here, Luke writes of Jesus, “And He came to Nazareth . . . and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath.” We remember, as we read this second passage, that we are to be, “fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 11: 2). These passages not only do not speak of coercion in attending worship, they speak of worship as a great privilege. It is common for God’s people to participate joyfully in public worship, as seen in Exodus 19, John 4:22-24, and Revelation 4, 5. What then, do we answer to people who find worship a “chore?”
When people need an inducement to come to worship, I believe we must question whether these people really “know the Lord;” whether they have come to grips with their own sins and the cost of their redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:17-21).
John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist Church. In Wesley’s time, the term “enthusiast” was used where we might use the words “religious fanatic.” Speaking of those who believe they stand in the grace of God when they do not, Wesley writes, “But the most common of all the enthusiasts of this kind, are those who imagine themselves Christians, and are not.”11 Wesley did not believe that salvation was far away or inaccessible to most people; he did believe that many did not avail themselves of the grace God truly offered by humbling themselves before God and living according to God’s Word. This is not to say that all who tire of worship are not Christians - sickness and fatigue can rob us of pleasure in worship. There is always some measure of discipline in attending worship regularly, to be sure. But if we leave it there we have not really addressed the issue. The normal posture of the redeemed is to long to worship their Creator and Redeemer publicly as well as privately, and to convey their love of Christ to others. And those who take no pleasure in public worship make the corresponding witness that there is nothing special in coming before the Lord.
This surely calls upon us to come to the Lord in truth if we have not already done so. Others of us have come to know the Lord but, in the words of Jesus, have “left your first love,” and need to “remember from where you have fallen, and repent” (Revelation 2:4, 5). True worship cannot begin on our terms, but with our humbling ourselves before our Lord.
The oldest conflict over worship on record began because Cain was comfortable with worshipping God his way and resistant to coming before the Lord on the Lord’s terms (Genesis 4:3-16). Cain chose to murder his brother rather than to come before God in an acceptable manner. Little wonder that most people in our world aren’t wanting to be told that their worship is inadequate or wrong! Sin is never more evident than when we come before the Lord, and apart from that, sin may not be evident at all to our eyes (1 Timothy 5:24, 25).
What about the person who worships God in an unacceptable manner due to ignorance? Doesn’t sincerity count? No doubt, sincerity does count. Certainly there is no true worship without the sincerity of the worshipper. How far one can push that, however, no one knows but God; for only God is wise enough and holy enough to make such judgments. It certainly precludes worshipping God through blatantly evil activities. And it certainly precludes worshipping God in the name of a false or lesser God. And there is certainly no salvation apart from Jesus Christ (Isaiah 45:20-25, John 4:22, 14:6, Acts 4:12).
We have been commanded to make Christ known to all people everywhere by a loving and faithful proclamation of God’s Holy Word, the Gospel. There is an urgency in this mission that the Lord has given to us. Therefore, we should trust in God’s mercy, but understand that it is far better to know and do God’s will than to presume upon His mercy for ignorance.
But we must also ask the question why any person who is sincere in honoring God would want to settle for anything less that the worship that is fully acceptable to God.
When God chose Saul to be the first king over Israel, he chose a person who fulfilled the desire of the people to have a king like the kings of the other nations around them (1 Samuel 8:4-22). The result was disastrous. Then God chose someone to rule over Israel who truly met God’s standards, “for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Samuel later explained, “The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:13, Acts 13:22). True worship is not offered by those who seek to be “like all other nations,” but by those who are, like David, “after God’s own heart.” -SMD
Note: We will continue this discussion in our next Mid-Watch Report, which will examine “The Characteristics of True Worship.”
1 See my article "Handling Scripture Wisely and Profitably: Reading From, not Into, the Scriptures." There is a place for imagination in studying Scripture, because imagination helps us to look from different perspectives in attempting to understand the actual meaning of specific Scriptures and their application to our lives. But it is an imagination bound by the teachings of Scripture, where we take our theory about what Scripture says and test our understanding against all of Scripture and by what reverent, knowledgeable, and orthodox Christian teachers have maintained Scripture teaches. In other words, imagination is an aid to help us begin to understand Scripture, not the end of our task in understanding it.
2 It is interesting to note, in passing, the place of the words “relevance” and “change” in evangelical sermons and writings today against the backdrop of the prominent usage of these words by liberal Christians during the 1960’s and 1970’s.
3 cf. Mark 2:21, 22, Luke 5:36-39
4 To take a general principle and draw specific conclusions from it is deductive reasoning. One of the common errors of our time is to take a legitimate starting point and draw inappropriate conclusions. Careful attention to the nature of the starting point of our thinking helps to guide us to appropriate conclusions. In this case, as with other cases involving Scripture, taking the time to understand the circumstances in which Jesus spoke, and the meaning of the words for Him, guides us when we seek to apply them in our lives today.
5 In Latin, “quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.” St. Vincent lived in the 5th century A.D. The quote and translation are taken from Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 1985), 256.
6 In the introduction to his systematic theology, Oden writes, “Some may think it mildly amusing that the only claim I make is that there is nothing whatever original in these pages. I present no revolutionary new ideas, no easy new way to salvation. The road is still narrow (Matt. 7:14). I do not have the gift of softening the sting of the Christian message, of making it seem light or easily borne or quickly assimilated into prevailing modern ideas . . . I do not wish to make a peace of bad conscience with disreputable ‘achievements of modernity’ or pretend to find a comfortable way of making Christianity tractably acceptable to modern assumptions . . . My only aim is to present classical Christian teaching of God on its own terms and not in diluted modern terms” (Thomas C. Oden, The Living God, Systematic Theology: Volume One, [San Francisco, HarperCollins, copyright 1987 by Thomas C. Oden], xiii).
7 In formal terms, the Scriptures are perspicuous, not esoteric. But while the message of some parts of Scripture is accessible to all (with the aid of the Holy Spirit), some of what Scripture has to say is, of necessity, more sophisticated; and therefore only accessible to those who are able to examine the Scriptures on a more sophisticated level historically, linguistically, and theologically.
8 In defining the Quaker way of arriving at Truth, Robert Barclay in his Theses maintained that God would communicate Truth directly to all people and that it would not contradict Scripture, but also steadfastly contended that it was wrong to compare one’s understanding with the teachings of Scripture. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, rejected this way of thinking with good reason (See Wesley’s “A Letter to a Person lately joined with the people called Quakers,” his journal entry for July 6th 1739, and a letter to Mr. John Smith written June 25, 1746 which may be found in The Works of John Wesley, Thomas Jackson editor, and other publications).
9 See the article "Examining our Assumptions."
10 The Mosaic covenant did tie the wealth and success of Israel to their obedience to the Lord. It must be noted first, however, that this is the Old Covenant that was made with Israel; it is not automatically a part of the New Covenant that encompasses all peoples. Secondly, except for Jesus Christ, no one who was a party to the Mosaic covenant could claim that they had kept it and, therefore, could lay claim to the blessings that this covenant envisions. The New Covenant envisions a complete fulfillment of these promises of God to His people only after the bodily return of Jesus Christ (John 16:33, 1 Peter 1:3-13). Blessings that God renders to His people during the final days of the earth, are, therefore, His merciful Providence, but may not be seen as standing in direct relationship to their obedience in the context of the Mosaic covenant.
11 John Wesley’s sermon, “The Nature of Enthusiasm,” is one of his “52 Standard Sermons” that defined the doctrinal standards of the Methodist Church. You will find Wesley's sermons published on the Internet, including this sermon, at the Wesley Center for Applied Theology.
The American Night Watch Mid-Watch Report is an occasional publication of The American Night Watch Christian ministry in support of Scriptural Christianity and Scriptural holiness.
"The American Night Watch" is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.
The American Night Watch Mid-Watch Report is copyright © 2002 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce this newsletter or the articles within in their entirety as long as the copies are not sold for profit and all copyrights are included, and to quote from the newsletter as long as the meaning of the text is not distorted.
Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
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This page was last updated January 18, 2002.