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The Standard That’s Ignored

September 22, 2012
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Church folks are typically the main ones to comment on PKs in the church. Everybody knows the preachers’ kids and boy are they watched closely with scrutiny! Ironically, the preacher’s kids comment on the church folks’ kids but for different reasons. Church folks talk about the unruly behavior displayed by the preacher’s kids; preacher’s kids talk about the freedom  and wild behavior displayed by the church folks’ kids. Obviously there’s a standard floating around in the church, yet no one identifies it. That standard is found nowhere else but in the Bible. Big surprise, right? Well, sadly enough I believe it is a huge surprise to most folks, mainly those within the body of Christ.

Pastors and commentaries tend to agree on the teaching and usefulness of 1 Timothy 3. Primarily, this chapter deals with pastors and deacons as the only two offices found in the church warranted by Scripture. Secondarily, this chapter describes how men in the church ought to govern themselves and their households. Oddly enough, far too many churches ignore the secondary application of 1 Timothy 3 to the detriment of their church and the health of their members. But why? I could provide several reasons as to why I think this is the case, but suffice it to say that I don’t believe most pastors truly want to call men and families to be just as faithful to the text as pastors are expected to be. What’s really sad about this is that when God raises up faithful men to be pastors, only then are they held to the qualities laid out in 1 Timothy 3 if at all. Meanwhile, the rest of the men and fathers get to slide on by. Let’s review this passage:

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to doAn overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Isn’t that an old-time saying often echoed in homes and businesses throughout our society? But why? Because there’s a standard. And this standard is presupposed and alluded to all day long without ever being clearly explained. The apostle Paul is not in that category. Here in this passage, Paul touches on something that preacher’s kids and church folks’ kids should know well: “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity.” If you’re a pastor, husband, or father, you should be held to this standard. The scary thing is that men are being given the title of pastor and their home is in disarray. Not only that, when churches search for a pastor, they hardly ever ask the wife and kids about how daddy manages the home.

So why do the preacher’s kids get a bad wrap and not the other parents kids?  I honestly don’t know. Who knows what might happen in churches if pastors who held to this standard held other pastors to this standard, and they held men to this standard. This isn’t nothing to ignore. A church must not call for pastors to only have one wife and be able to teach because God doesn’t just call them to that. Remember, these are the words of a holy God, Jesus is building his church, and believers are indwelt with the Spirit. We have every reason to be mindful and faithful to all of this chapter. On a side note, 1 Timothy 3 speaks to there only being two offices in the church, yet we find so many more offices/titles being doled out in the church today that at some point members ought to ask their leadership how they understand this chapter.

The standard floating around our church is that men are to manage their homes. The leadership holds men to this, and vice-versa. Parents teach their kids this so they can teach the coming generations. It’s about time we get faithful don’t you think.


Is Value Our Litmus Test?

September 18, 2012
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Ever had someone commend a ministry because it brought about great value to them or someone close to them? They may admit to that ministry being expendable in some circles, and not found in the Bible in secret circles, but if value is found they wouldn’t dare suggest it cease and desist. All because value is the sole reason for keeping or disposing of things in the church. Sort of reminds me of how our government thinks.

What if a mime ministry brings value to several people in the church, should it be kept? What if the visitor refreshments committee brings value despite the fact that your church almost never has visitors, should it be kept? What if the discipleship ministry sadly admits to the spiritual discipline failing within the church, should that ministry be kept?

I ask because I hold to the belief that the majority of ministries found in churches today cannot be found in the Bible, and therefore, ought not be present in the church today. Yes I know that scares almost all of you reading this. But I must ask what is the litmus test for the church on why we do what we do and who gets to say so. If God and the word of God is not our litmus test, and the true shepherd and head of the church, Jesus, doesn’t get the say so on what goes on in the church, then I’m left to wonder exactly who gets the say so and what our litmus test is.

And seeing how some of you might object to a juggling and clown ministry being of value, I assure you that the little ones would disagree thereby making that ministry a viable stapel in the church, right?


Missing The Point

September 18, 2012
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I was introduced to a Christian author who had reached a level of stardom with his recent published book. There were some friends at my church who spoke highly of this guy, his book, and the overall message. I even went through an indoctrination of this particular book. I’m referring to Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ book Love and Respect. Once introduced to the book I was under its spell. I was hooked. I bought the message and spread the message. Husbands, love your wives more so that she will respect you more. Wives, respect your husbands more so that he will love you more.

What truly lured me in was his message centered around Ephesians 5. Having watched his videos, he would read that passage and use an ample amount of examples. I felt as if Emerson was on point and was teaching me a huge revelation that I needed to heed. After all, his book has brought about conferences, book signings, and other great demands that eventually him creating a ministries website http://loveandrespect.com.

Then I had a change of heart. But what’s so funny about it is I never knew I had abandoned the logic of his popular book until recently hearing a person espouse the heart of the book. This is where my knowledge of God and the Bible stood up against the teaching of Dr. Emerson Eggerich.

Paul is crystal clear in Ephesians 5. “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”  Wives and husbands are to model Jesus Christ, our Lord. Submit to your husband as you would to your Lord. Love your wives just like Jesus loved his bride. Emerson presents us with something other than the model of Jesus, but a harmony that simply can’t be achieved on our own. Clearly having a counselor’s heart I think I know why he got off on the wrong biblical foot. Dealing with feuding couples, he researched how often men felt disrespected and women felt unloved, and presented them with a seemingly easy fix. Husband, if you’re feeling disrespect, go and love her more…that will compel her to respect you more.

Dr. Eggerich sought to comprise a helpful thing, but simply left out the main thing; Jesus. But the apostle Paul didn’t. “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” This is our starting point and our refuge. Christ is the head “from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (4:16). If marriage is solely about husbands and wives doing more and trying harder, then that marriage never had the gospel of God about Jesus as the its foundation.

So if you have the Love and Respect book, what should you do with it? Well that is up to you. But before you go referencing that book or buying it for someone, please highlight the good and bad of the doctor’s book and point folks to Jesus in Ephesians 5.


How You Livin’? (In Living Color)

September 13, 2012
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Okay so I confess….I was having a flashback moment today as I rode around my city on the same side of town that I grew up in. Driving past certain streets, businesses, apartments, and schools one used to frequent can do that to you. Then I was suddenly hit with some real hard truths. It’s the hard truth of ‘their’ take versus ‘his’ take. Let me explain.

Because folks tend to be very nice when speaking about you to strangers, they tend to share the nicest things and fondest memories of you. Families are notoriously guilty of this….I know! =). Good friends also fall into this pile. Add to that folks from your church, community, teachers that signed your yearbook, and neighborhood friends of the family. They can leave any stranger or news reporter with the impression that you were the nicest, generous kid that loved to help folks and see them smile in an altruistic sort of way.

And I’m not trying to debate whether that’s true or not. Frankly, it’s none of my business. Here’s where my mind ran off to while I was driving around. Is what your close family and friends saying about you the same thing God will say about you?

Romans 14 is one of those chapters few will read because they either don’t think they can understand it, find it difficult to see the relevancy, or just don’t read through entire bible books. But this phrase has forever had a grasp on my mind, and it applies here: for we will all stand before the tribunal of God.

So I’m left asking this question…how you livin’? In the end it matters not what your mama says, or your youth mentor, or folks you helped while growing up. God gets the final say so. Will he speak of you the same way those others do? Just remember that he sees your heart and knows the internal motives you have for doing things.


What You Talkin’ Bout Willis?

September 11, 2012
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I realize the pressure of the world is a daily combative opponent for the Christian. I really do. I also know that sin is crouching at your door and its desire is to conquer you all the more as the death and rising of Jesus has completely freed you from sin. That’s worth re-reading. I also understand that Satan is real and roaring around seeking to devour you. Let’s be honest, Satan gets blamed for a whole heck of a lot. But should he be?

What I’m referring to are the moments, days, weeks, seasons, and extended periods when it’s just you in the company of yourself sinning…do you still blame Satan? Do we have any reason to do so?

Here are two questions I ask myself: 1) are you willing to sacrifice whatever the price may be?; 2) are you willing to be made inconvenienced for Christ’s sake? I must admit that there are times I answer both questions with a flat-out no. And there are times I’m too ashamed to even deal with my answer. What about you? How would you answer? When will you face the truth? Why won’t you ask yourself hard questions?

In Mark’s gospel, chapter 7, we find something incredibly hard to read, study, meditate on, and believe, and I honestly can’t understand why. But it’s worth looking at today. “Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” (14-15). Whatever you talk about most of the time is what your heart craves! Jesus’ words are as clear as can be. Not only that, but what comes of your mouth indicates what your heart craves which indicates what you covet most. The masses may blame Satan, societies, neighborhoods, environments, science, families, and whatever else they can in Adam-like fashion point to as the reason, but they often forget to look within.

Throughout the Bible, the heart refers to core of a person. It entails the strength, mind, emotions, and will. This core is within all of us. From that precious newborn to the elderly grandfather destined to die any day now. There are no exceptions. Oddly enough, as much as we focus on the heart and its growth, Jesus says it’s the center of our defilement. Out of the heart the mouth speaks all sorts of things that defile us and mark us as wicked before a holy God.

Jesus reiterated this in verses 20-23, “what comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” It is here that Jesus gets especially specific. I’ll let you read those words again. I want to ask you this: what do you talk about most? Do you ever stop to consider what your predominant speech consist of?

Some people talk about education a lot. Some talk about what they would buy if they had the money. Some talk about material things a lot. Some talk about vacations and getting some form of consistent reprieves. Some talk about politics and who they will follow until the end of the earth. Some talk about their status and position in this world. If I could rephrase all of this, I’d say some talk about authority, envying, escaping, coveting, idolatry, and self. I’m talking about predominant speech here, not all of your speech. Do you as a follower of Christ talk about your sin and conforming to Christ more than you talk about whatever else consumes your daily life and struggles? Or do you somehow think that your life as a follower should only be discussed if the appropriate person asks you at the appropriate time on the appropriate day?

The truth of it all is that we’re always guilty and capable of making idols in our life on a daily basis. Even when we don’t recognize it. But Jesus tells us how we can – listen to what you constantly talk about. That’s where your heart is. That’s where your god lies. That’s where your defilement is found. Repent and trust Jesus. Confess your idols. Seek the kingdom.

Either you are truly a follower of Jesus or a follower of an idol. There is no gray area.


How Should We Worship?

September 8, 2012
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Worship is one of those buzz words used in our society that has lost its true meaning, while being inflated with other ‘modern’ preferred methods and means to describe it in a legalizing fashion. Worship has taken many shapes in churches nowadays. Some methods have sparked good in-house debates; some have been refuted. The one thing that’s rarely discussed is the difference between regulative principle versus normative principle.

I ran across what I consider to be an extremely thorough explanation of the regulative principle of worship. I find it thorough because the arguments are biblical and historical, and not solely pragmatic. So please enjoy this paper and feel free to comment…I’d love to read your thoughts.

The Scriptural Regulative Principle of Worship

G. I. Williamson

How are we to worship God? That is the question. And the answer is already implied in our firm adherence to the Bible as the inspired word of God — the only infallible rule of faith and practice. The remainder of my presentation will therefore be an attempt to demonstrate two things from the Scriptures: [1] The first is the fact that there is a regulative principle taught in the Bible, and [2] the second is what that principle means — and how it ought to be applied — today, in our churches.

In a paper on this subject a few years ago Professor Norman Shepherd referred to the already existent literature on the subject of the regulative principle. He correctly stated that this literature “abounds with references” to certain “Biblical examples.” “There is therefore” he said, “no need to discuss these examples in detail . . . .”(1) Well, I could agree with that statement in the context of a gathering of well-informed scholars. But my concern is not so much with the scholars as it is with the rank and file membership of our churches. Are they familiar with what the scripture says on this subject? It is my experience, after nearly forty years in the pastoral ministry, in four Reformed denominations, that they are not.(2) Without apology, therefore, I center my attention today on a few of these once well-known examples.

A. The Old Testament

We begin, then, by considering a few examples of what the Old Testament teaches.

[1] And the first is found in Genesis 4, where we read of the worship of Cain and Abel.

The passage tells us that Cain’s worship was rejected by God, while that of Abel was accepted. It also tells us that God’s reason for rejecting Cain and accepting Abel was not only a difference within the two brothers. It was not only the fact that something was wrong with the subjective attitude of Cain, as compared with the attitude of Abel. There was also a vital difference in the objective content of their worship. That is why God had respect not only to Abel but also to his offering.(3) Abel offered what God was pleased to accept, whereas Cain did not. The reason for this, in my view, is that Abel gave serious consideration to the revelation that God had given up to that time in history, while Cain treated it lightly. It is possible, of course, that God gave direct revelation to Abel. But I think it more likely that he acted on the basis of the same revelational data that we ourselves have in the first three chapters of Genesis. When God covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve with animal skins, it is self-evident that the animals must have first been killed for this purpose (Gen. 3:21). From this Abel could have deduced(4) that his only hope of acceptance with God was by the sacrifice of a dying substitute. But even if we take the view that Abel just happened to hit on ‘the right way of worship’ by intuition, it still leads to the same conclusion. For as soon as God accepted Abel and his sacrifice — while rejecting Cain and his offering — by that very fact He made it perfectly clear that the acceptable way of worship was the way of Abel. But even though Cain knew this, he wasn’t willing to worship God in that acceptable way. It is no exaggeration at all, then, to say that this was Cain’s downfall: he was not willing to limit himself to worship that had God’s approval.(5) We therefore see a clear principle: worship which is not sanctioned by God is forbidden.

[2] As a second example I would ask you to consider the second commandment.

This commandment reads: “You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” In the first commandment God declares himself to be the only true God, who alone ought to be worshipped. In the second He informs us of “the kind of worship with which he ought to be honored, that we may not dare to form any carnal conceptions of him.”(6) For as Calvin has said: “although Moses only speaks of idolatry [here], yet there is no doubt that by synecdoche, as in all the rest of the Law, he condemns all fictitious services which men in their ingenuity have invented.”(7)

[3] We find a third example in the construction of the tabernacle in the time of Moses.

And here let me say that it would be hard to think of a way to give greater weight to this regulative principle, than what we find in this account. Every student of the five books of Moses knows how detailed this revelation was. It is no exaggeration to say that every aspect of the construction of the tabernacle was prescribed by God, and that nothing was left to man’s imagination. Did not God say to Moses: “See that you make them” — and by them he means everything in the Tabernacle — “according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Ex. 25:40)? It is true, of course, that God made use of men in the construction of the Tabernacle. But it is not true, as is commonly assumed, that the Tabernacle was a product of the mere natural creative and artistic impulse of the people God used to construct it. No doubt these men did have natural creative talent. But that was not enough; the Bible is very clear about that. The things that went into the Tabernacle were produced (like the Bible itself) by a special divine inspiration: “See, I have chosen Bezaleel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts. . . . I have appointed Aholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded. . . . They are to make them just as I commanded you.” (Ex. 31:2-11) How remote this is from the argument so often heard, today, to the effect that art work by people in the Church is justified (and sanctified!) by the ‘art work’ in the Tabernacle of Moses! The truth is that there was no ‘art work’ in the Tabernacle, unless by ‘art work’ we mean a uniquely inspired and infallible kind; and that kind of art is no longer given.

What we have said about the Tabernacle is also true of the more elaborate Temple. Nothing was left to man’s innovation. When “David gave Solomon his son the pattern of the porch of the temple, its buildings, its storehouses, its upper rooms, its inner rooms, and the room of the mercy seat, and the plan of all that he had by the Spirit” (I Chron. 28:11), there was nothing in it of his own concoction. To the contrary, “all this, said David, have I been made to understand in writing from the hand of the Lord, even all the works of this pattern” (v. 19).

Now why was this so important? Why did everything have to conform to a pattern revealed (first to Moses, and later to David)? We believe the reason is self-evident: God may not be worshipped in any way that He has not commanded. As Calvin once said: “I am not unaware how difficult it is to persuade the world that God rejects and even abominates everything relating to His worship that is devised by human reason.”(8) But the fact is that “there is nothing more perilous to our salvation than a preposterous and perverse worship of God.”(9)

[4] We find another instructive example in Leviticus 10 — in the story of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron.

They died, we read, when “fire went out from the Lord and devoured them” (Lev. 10:2). But why did this dreadful thing happen? The Bible says it happened because they “offered strange fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded” (v. 1).(10) Now it does not say this happened because they were not sincere — or because they lacked ‘good intentions’; it doesn’t even say it happened because they did something God had expressly forbidden. No, what it says is that they did this without first making sure they had a warrant to do it. So, again we see that worship not commanded by God himself is, therefore, forbidden.

[5] And what about the Rebellion of Korah?

Moses and Aaron were appointed by the Lord to mediate between God and his people. But Korah — and those who followed him — abhorred this exclusive appointment.(11) They wanted to break out of this ‘narrow’ idea that there is only one right way — the way that God has appointed. So they rebelled against the restriction. But, again, the well known result demonstrates how offensive this was to Jehovah.

These are only a few examples of the many we find in the Old Testament Scriptures. But I think you can see that there is, indeed, a regulative principle for God’s Worship. Whenever men were not satisfied to worship God in the way that He had appointed — whenever they brought in their own inventions — He always made it perfectly clear that He did not accept it.

[6] Take King Saul, for example.

Saul had no authority from God to partake of the priestly office (I Sam. 13:11ff.). Yet he claimed that — because of the pressure of circumstance — he “felt compelled to offer the burnt offering” at Gilgal (v. 12). It may well be, for all we know, that he acted with what many today would call ‘the best of intentions’. Yet we are informed that God was offended. Samuel said Saul “acted foolishly” because he did not limit himself to what God had commanded (v. 13). Because of this, God took the kingdom from him in order to give it to David (v. 14). Does this not show, again, that this principle holds a place of the highest importance with the God of the Bible?

[7] And consider what happened to Uzzah.

When David first tried to bring the ark back to Jerusalem, the oxen suddenly stumbled. At that moment Uzzah put out his hand to steady the ark in order to keep it from falling. How very natural, we might be inclined to say, and what an innocent action. But the Bible says “God struck him down there for his irreverence” (II Sam. 6:7). The reason may not be appealing to us, but it is clearly stated in Scripture. Uzzah died because — as David explained later on — “we did not inquire of [God] about how to do it in the prescribed way” (I Chron. 15:13). It happened, in other words, because they failed to limit themselves to what God had expressly commanded.(12) But how different it was when “the Levites carried the ark of God . . . as Moses had commanded in accordance with the word of the Lord” (I Chron. 15:14). Again we see the same principle clearly revealed: the only thing that pleases God is what He has commanded.(13)

[8] And consider King Jeroboam.

When he became king his first concern was to consolidate his hold on the ten tribes that rebelled against the house of David. In order to do this the scripture says he “appointed ” or “instituted” worship of “his own choosing” (I Kings 12:32-33). For this reason a man of God from Judah was sent to denounce this unauthorized worship. And that is not all. Jeroboam was always spoken of, after that time, as the one who “caused Israel to sin” (as a corporate body) (I Kings 15:30). We hardly exaggerate, then, when we say that this was a major source of Israel’s ultimate downfall. Worship which had been appointed by God was replaced by a new form of worship. But because this worship was not commanded by God it was therefore rejected.

[9] And recall the sin of King Uzziah.

The Scripture says “he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar” (II Chron. 26:16). Azariah the high-priest courageously intervened to oppose Uzziah’s act of invented worship. And he was vindicated by the intervention of God, for the King was instantly smitten with leprosy, as a sign of God’s judgment. Again, it is clear that what is not commanded by God is an abomination to him.

[10] And then there is King Ahaz.

The Bible says Ahaz “burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations ” (II Chron. 28:3). The thing that probably makes us cringe, as we read this story, is the fact that they were killing helpless little children. But that was not the main reason why this practice was condemned by God, through Jeremiah the prophet. No, the primary reason — which is far more important — was stated in this way by the prophet: “they have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire — something I did not command nor did it enter my mind” (Jer. 7:31).(14) How could God make it any clearer? Worship which has not been commanded by God is therefore forbidden.

Here, then, is the uniform principle taught in the Old Testament Scriptures, summed up in these words of Moses: “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you” (Deut. 4:2).

B. The New Testament

But the question that we must now consider is this: is this also New Testament teaching?

[1] I begin with the words of our Lord Himself concerning Jewish tradition.

He denounced the Scribes and Pharisees because they had “a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe [their] own traditions” (Mark. 7:9). And because of this fact our Lord went on to say this concerning their worship: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain: their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Mark. 7:6-7, quoted from Jer. 29:13) No doubt they were offended by this, but that is not what matters. What matters is that God was offended and, according to Jesus, there were two reasons: first, there was a setting aside of what God had commanded, and second, there was a diligent observance of what God had not commanded at all, but was only from man-made tradition. So, even traditions — highly esteemed among men — are offensive to God unless they are what He has commanded.(15)

[2] The second example I want to consider is Christ and the Samaritan Woman.

No one ever expounded the regulative principle with greater force and clarity than Jesus did, in his meeting with the Samaritan woman (John 4:22-26). Here, as Calvin points out, our Lord “divides the subject into two parts. First, he condemns the forms of worshipping God which the Samaritans used as superstitious and false, and declares that the acceptable and lawful form was with the Jews. And he puts the reason for the difference that the Jews received assurance from the Word of God about his worship, whereas the Samaritans had no certainty from God’s lips. Secondly, he declares that the ceremonies observed by the Jews hitherto would soon be ended.” Concerning the first point — where our Lord said “you Samaritans worship what you do not know” — Calvin drew this conclusion: “all so-called good intentions are struck by this thunderbolt, which tells us that men can do nothing but err when they are guided by their own opinion without the Word or command of God.” He then goes on to the second point, saying: “we differ from the fathers only in the outward form [of worship], because in their worship of God [in Old Testament times] they were bound to ceremonies which were abolished by the coming of Christ.” So, if we ask what it means to worship God “in spirit and in truth,” this is the answer of Calvin: “it is to remove the coverings of the ancient ceremonies and retain simply what is spiritual in the worship . . . .” The trouble is that “since men are flesh . . . they delight in what corresponds to their natures. That is why they invent many things in the worship of God . . . [when] they should consider that they are dealing with God, who no more agrees with the flesh than fire does with water.” To worship God in spirit and in truth, in other words, is to worship God as He now commands us. And “it is simply unbearable,” as Calvin says, “that the rule laid down by Christ should be violated.”(16) Those who want to worship the true God acceptably must do so in spirit and in truth — because that, and only that, is what He has commanded.(17)

[3] Consider the Great Commission.

The regulative principle is clearly implied in these words of Jesus: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples . . . baptizing them . . . and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-20).(18) This, in our view, is exactly what the Apostles did. They taught what Christ had commanded them, not what He had commanded plus their own inventions. Knowing that all authority belonged to Him, they knew there was no place for their own innovations. In the words of Calvin, “he sends away the Apostles with this reservation, that they shall not bring forward their own inventions, but shall purely and faithfully deliver, from hand to hand (as we say), what he has entrusted to them.”(19) Now of course it can be argued that these words apply to the whole life of the Christian (and we do not object to that way of speaking). But even if that is so, the fact remains that nothing concerns God more than the worship He has commanded.

[4] Paul’s View of the Scriptures.

This principle is also clearly implied in Paul’s view of the Scriptures: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (II Tim. 3:16-17). It is not our contention that when Paul wrote these words he was thinking, specifically, about worship. But surely it is self-evident that the Apostle’s statement would not be true if there is any aspect of worship which is not clearly — and fully — revealed to us in the Bible.

There is no need to labor the point. But perhaps it will not be superfluous to briefly consider what the Apostles did in the Apostolic Church when this principle was disregarded, or threatened.

[5] Paul’s rebuke of the Galatians.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians there is a clear mention of unauthorized worship. “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Gal. 4:9-11). The people to whom Paul wrote this letter were probably observing the special days and seasons appointed by God in the Old Testament ceremonial system (Ex. 23:14-17, 34:18, etc.). But, if that is the case, it only makes the force of the Apostle’s objection all the stronger when applied to special days that God never commanded. When Christ came the Old Testament ceremonial system of worship was superseded. Included in this were the annual sacred days, and even the Jewish Sabbaths. For the Galatians to go on celebrating these days was to act as if they were still waiting for the advent of the Messiah. You can readily see the application. If the Apostle found it necessary to say this to people who continued to observe days which had once been commanded, but were now obsolete, what would he say to people, today, who observe special holy days that God never commanded?(20)

At this point — in order to avoid misunderstanding — we also need to take note of Paul’s teaching in Romans 14. Here the Apostle instructed the strong to be patient with the weak, because the weak did not yet understand the liberty they had in Jesus. As a matter of fact they were no longer under any obligation to observe even the special days that God had once appointed through Moses. But the problem was that some of the members of the Church in Rome did not yet understand this. And, as long as it was only a particular member of the Church who was afflicted with this lamentable weakness, Paul was willing to patiently bear with him. He was willing, in other words, to tolerate church membership for a person who felt constrained — by a misinformed conscience — to observe these days. In Galatians 4, however, the Apostle had a different concern in view. In this instance the Church as a whole had submitted itself to a yoke of bondage. The Galatian church, as a corporate body, had yielded to the demands of ‘the weak’ by observing these days. And when this happened the Apostle was quite uncompromising in his opposition. The reason is that it is wrong for the Church to include in its corporate worship anything that Christ has not commanded. It is one thing, in other words, to tolerate weakness in individual members. But it is something else again when this errant view is imposed on the whole congregation. Yet this is exactly what we see today in most Reformed Churches.

[6] Paul’s warning to the Colossians.

Consider also the Church of Colossae. To this Church the Apostle wrote: “Let no one act as your judge in regard to food or dank or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (2:16). He warned them not to be defrauded by those who sought to induce them to delight “in self-abasement and the worship of angels” (2:18). “These things,” says Paul “have, to be sure, the appearance(21) of wisdom in self-made religion.” But the reality is that these things are “of no value” (v. 23). Here again, we have an application of the principle which says ‘what is not commanded is therefore forbidden.’

[7] The Book of Hebrews.

The whole book of Hebrews is, among other things, an extended application of the regulative principle. It argues that the whole system of worship, commanded by God under the Mosaic administration of God’s covenant, is now obsolete (8:13). And what do we have in its place? The answer is that we have ‘the real thing’ — not the old “copies” of heavenly things, but — “the heavenly things themselves” (9:23). Whereas the people of God, in the time of Moses, came to an earthly mountain (12:18), we “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” and so on (12:22). The church today, in other words, is supposed to live in the realm of heavenly realities, and not any longer in the realm of shadowy symbols. What would we think of a mother who neglected her own real baby to go up to the attic to play with the dolls of her childhood? Yet that is exactly what we are seeing in many once-great Reformed denominations — as they go back to the weak and beggarly elements of ceremonial and symbolic worship. As believers under the New Covenant we are supposed to worship in the realm of ‘spirit and truth’, not in the realm of the material and representational, as our Old Testament brothers and sisters did.

Many churches today, that call themselves Reformed, are clamoring for a return to ceremonial worship. They call this ‘liturgical revival’. If such churches were really serious in their claim to be Biblical, they would be consistent enough to go all the way, by adopting the whole Old Testament system. They would then have a choir made up of people from the tribe of Levi. They would gather an entire orchestra instead of just a combo of their own choice. They would even advocate the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple. And if they did, I could at least respect them for being consistent. But, of course, the truth is that these ‘weak and beggarly elements’ have no legitimate place in new covenant worship. We have no need of choirs, orchestras, robes, candles, incense, dancing, or dramatic performance. Why? Because these shadowy representations only obscure the reality of our New Testament privilege; the privilege of going each Lord’s Day — in the faithful observance of the commanded exercises of God’s worship — right into the heavenly places and the presence of Jesus. May the Lord revive and reform His church again so that it will stop going back to the weak and beggarly elements of Old Testament worship, and recover again the simplicity and beauty of spiritual worship.

What then should our attitude be in the face of this awesome privilege? Are we at liberty to do as we please, to fashion our own ‘style’ of worship, whereas the people of God in Old Testament times had to be sure that they worshipped God only as He commanded? No, the truth lies in the opposite direction: we — above all — should abhor and shun all these innovations. Is this not what underlies the following warning? “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven. . . . Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” (12:25, 28-29) If we dare to invent our own way of worship, when God has told us from heaven what He requires, our sin will be much greater than that of Israelites under the old covenant. The way of worship under the new covenant has now been instituted by the Lord Jesus. Unlike the shadowy worship of old, this worship will never be superseded until our Lord’s second coming. How audacious and daring for any of us, then, to presume to change what He has commanded!

We rest our case — primarily — on the kind of Biblical data that we have tried to summarize briefly above. But it is worthy of notice that the regulative principle also agrees with many other vital Biblical principles of the Reformed Faith. We therefore include, at this point, a very brief statement of these principles as they bear on this issue.

C. Other Biblical Principles

[1] The ‘Sola Scriptura’ principle.

It is the teaching of the Reformed Confessions that the holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the inspired Word of God, ‘the only infallible rule of faith and practice,’ and that the Bible, alone, is sufficient. This clearly implies that everything we do in the worship of God must be authorized in the Scriptures.

[2] The doctrine of Christ’s headship.

Christ is the only King and head of the Church, and therefore the only lawgiver. This clearly implies that He alone has the right to determine the content of worship. The regulative principle is the application of the principle of the sole headship of Christ within the realm of worship.

[3] The doctrine of liberty.

It is the teaching of the Bible — and the Reformed Confessions — that “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and that He has left it free from doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to His word, or beside it, if matters of faith or worship.”(22) Whenever a Reformed Church imposes any practice which is not commanded by God a tyranny is imposed on God’s people.

[4] The doctrine of man’s total depravity.

Man, by nature (and on account of the fall), is corrupt (or depraved) in every aspect of his being. Even in the regenerate man the motions of sin remain in his members. Therefore, nothing that man invents for himself can possibly be free of contamination, or worthy of being offered to the Lord in worship. Even the Apostles (who were divinely inspired) did not presume to originate anything in the worship of God themselves, but passed on to us exactly what they were given.(23) How, then, could we possibly be so vain as to think that we could improve on what they conveyed to us?

It is our conviction that these doctrines are true, and that they are central to the Church’s faithful Biblical witness. It is also self-evident that they imply the regulative principle of worship. If we hold to the regulative principle of worship, we can do justice to these Biblical teachings. Without this regulative principle, we do not even begin to do justice to these Scriptural doctrines.

Appendix A: How This Principle Was Originally Applied in the Reformed Churches

It is clear, from the great Reformed Confessions and Catechisms, that the Reformed Churches — in the fervor that characterized them in the beginning — were determined to worship God in the way that He has commanded, without any additions invented by men, and without any subtractions. What, then, were some of the ways in which this principle came to expression? What were some of the corruptions found in the worship of the medieval church which now were excluded?

[1] The observance of days other than the Lord’s Day.

“During the early days of the Reformation some Reformed localities observed only Sunday. All special days sanctioned and revered by Rome were set aside. Zwingli and Calvin both encouraged the rejection of all ecclesiastical festive days. In Geneva all special days were discontinued as soon as the Reformation took a firm hold in that city. Already before the arrival of Calvin in Geneva this had been accomplished under the leadership of Farel and Viret. But Calvin agreed heartily.”(24) In the light of the position of the Reformers, “we are not surprised that the Synod of Dort, 1574, held that the weekly Sabbath alone should be observed.”(25) The same position was also taken by John Knox, and the Reformed Church of Scotland. However, in the Netherlands “early Reformed Synods yielded increasingly to pressure from without regarding the observation of ‘Christian festivals.’ The government of the Netherlands made something like legal holidays out of these festivals, and so the Churches, although not favoring the observation of these days, for practical reasons ruled as they did. To prevent people from spending these days in worldliness they introduced Church services for these festive occasions.”(26)

It was, in other words, the intention and desire of the Reformed Churches, at first, to faithfully adhere to the regulative principle in this matter. But then because of pressure from without the principle was compromised for ‘expedient’ reasons.

[2] The use of the Psalter.

It cannot be argued that the exclusive use of the Psalms, in worship, was ever entirely universal in the Reformed Churches. Some, including Calvin’s church in Geneva, sang at least a few other songs (such as a version of the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer). But even so, the centrality of the inspired psalms in Reformed worship was such that they received the overwhelming emphasis. And to this day, in some churches of the Reformed family, it is still the inspired Psalter which is sung exclusively, on the ground that these alone are commanded.

This is a subject that I began to study many years ago, and from my research two things have greatly impressed me. First, I have never seen any exegetical proof that God wants us to produce our own hymns in order to sing them in worship instead of the inspired psalms He has provided. As a matter of fact the arguments that I have seen, defending the prevailing practice today, always seem to me to stand on a Lutheran foundation. Instead of attempting to prove that present practice is commanded by God, there is usually a subtle shift to the argument that ‘it is not forbidden.’ But I believe this utterly fails to meet the criterion set down in the Scripture. In the second place it is simply an historical fact that the great change, in substituting uninspired hymns for the inspired psalms, was not the result of new discoveries in the content of Scripture. It was not a reluctant change compelled by careful exegesis. At least this is true in the several instances of this innovation in the history of the Reformed Churches known to the writer. No, the change came, rather, by way of giving in to increasing popular demand — it was a change made to please the people. I once had opportunity to discuss this subject with an elderly minister of the old United Presbyterian denomination. I asked him what brought that church to change its stand on the exclusive use of psalms in worship, as it did in the 1925 creedal revision. His answer was both interesting and revealing. He said the church had already started, some years before, to celebrate such days as Christmas. After these had become well-entrenched, he said, the pressure began to grow to bring in ‘appropriate’ music.

[3] Pictures and visual symbols.

We should certainly mention the use of religious statues, pictures and symbols. These were also rejected firmly by Reformers such as Knox, Zwingli and Calvin. The Heidelberg Catechism says: “God neither can nor may be visibly represented,” and that “we must not be wiser than God, who will not have His people taught by dumb images, but by the living preaching of His Word.” (Question and Answer 97 and 98) Even so recently as a hundred years ago, Reformed people still understood the regulative principle enough to remain negative toward these representations. However, in an address entitled “The Antithesis between Symbolism and Revelation,” presented to the Presbyterian Historical Society, Abraham Kuyper warned of a subtle trend already at work then, which was weakening this sense of awareness. Kuyper spoke of “the symbolical tide . . . undermining in the most dangerous way the very foundation of all Calvinistic Churches.” Kuyper put it like this: “the principle of Symbolism and that of Calvinism are just the reverse of one another.” We would add only this comment: the regulative principle taught in the Word of God is the only safeguard against it.

Appendix B: The Defense of Present-Day Practice in Reformed Churches

I came to feel the weight of the biblical, confessional and historical data supporting the regulative principle soon after I graduated from seminary in 1952. But, for many years, it was almost impossible to interest anyone in a serious discussion of the regulative principle of divine worship. I believe the primary reason for this has been, quite simply, inertia. When people are comfortable with things as they are, it is hard to get them to reconsider. After all, why create problems? For many, therefore, the strongest possible argument on this subject is an emotional statement affirming the status quo. In the face of this kind of argument, I was forced to the reluctant conclusion that the regulative principle was quite dead in most Reformed denominations. Churches still gave lip service to it. But what convinced me that the principle no longer ‘lived’ in most Reformed Churches was the kind of reasons — or arguments — put forth in defense of present-day practice. Some did not even pretend to rest on biblical data. Others appealed, in a more general way, to the ‘broad teaching’ of Scripture.

First, we may consider the argument from analogy. An example of this kind of argument is that since we are not given certain prescribed prayers in the Bible, neither should we feel confined to the inspired psalms. The problem I have with this argument is that I find no basis for it in Scripture. To the contrary, what I find is that God has given a different command for each of the elements of authorized worship. Our Lord did not leave us without specific instruction concerning prayer, just as He did not leave us without such instruction concerning our singing. What He did was to teach what is commonly called ‘the Lord’s Prayer,’ saying that we should pray “in this manner” (Matt. 6:9). The prayer, in other words, is a pattern for us, which we are commanded to follow. And that is not all. For as Paul the Apostle reminds us, “We do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom. 8:26-27) So we not only have a general pattern that we are commanded to follow, but we also have a specific promise of the help of the Spirit — on the spot, so to speak — as we follow that pattern. But there is no such provision for ‘on the spot help’ in composing our own songs for worship. To the contrary, the same Apostle commanded the Ephesian and Colossian believers — not to compose their own spiritual psalms, hymns and songs, but — to sing the ones they already had in the Bible.(27)

The argument from analogy is not valid. We may not argue, for instance, that all may preach because all may sing in divine worship. Or, for that matter, neither may we argue that only a few may sing because only a few are permitted to preach the Word to God’s people. The argument is made that since in preaching the preacher does not confine himself to the very words of Scripture, there is no need to do so when it comes to singing. What this overlooks is the fact that ministers are commanded to expound — or to explain — the text of the Scripture in preaching. But nowhere is the same command given with respect to singing.

Perhaps the most attractive argument against the exclusive use of psalms in worship, and for the production and use of modern hymns, is the argument from the history of salvation. It is argued that, in the past, whenever there was a great new era of revelation, it called forth an outpouring of new songs. This being the case, it is argued, there is today also a great need for new songs, additional to those in the Psalter, to celebrate the content of the greatest revelation of all, which came in the incarnation of Christ. My problem with this argument is that if this was true the New Testament itself would have just such a new book of praise. After all, if there was need for such, surely the Apostles would have been the first to realize it. And, being divinely inspired men, they would have been the best qualified to supply that need. Yet the undeniable fact is that we do not have a New Testament book of psalms. Instead, we have Paul’s instruction to sing the pneumatic psalms, hymns and songs that they already had the Apostolic Churches, in their Septuagint version of the Bible.

This argument from the history of salvation is erroneous. It assumes the very thing that needs to be proven. It assumes that the Old Testament Psalter is inadequate for God’s new covenant people. It assumes the need for something better. And then, further, it also assumes the competence of uninspired men today to supply what is supposedly need. I cannot see that any of these assumptions are valid.

Conclusion

Does all this sound discouraging? Well, it certainly would be if there was no improvement in sight. But there is. In recent years — in my experience at least — not a few younger Christian people seem to sense that something is seriously wrong. Being confronted with ‘the chaos of modern worship practices’ they have come to see the need for a valid principle of discrimination, by which to distinguish between things that are holy and good, and things that are worthless and vile. What really is pleasing to God, and what should be rejected? When people want to innovate this, or that, in the worship of God, how are we to give them a convincing answer? My point is that the situation today is driving many — willingly or unwillingly — to reconsider the stand of our fathers. Could it be that they were right after all, when they stressed this principle so strongly? The encouraging thing is that there are not a few in the rising generation who are taking a new and serious look at this question. May the Lord enable many to come back to this Biblical standard.

Things not commanded by God are now deeply entrenched in most of the Reformed Churches. It will take a new reformation to change this. But that day will not come unless we who are Reformed pastors at least begin raising the issue.

Notes
(1) The Biblical Doctrine of Worship (Pittsburgh: Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, 1974), p. 50.
(2) How many Presbyterians today are aware of the fact that the Westminster Confession of Faith (XXI.iv), prescribes “the singing of psalms” in public worship?
(3) “And the Lord respected Abel and his offering.” (Gen. 4:4) “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain . . . .” (Heb. 11:4)
(4) The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of those truths which “by good and necessary inference may be deduced from Scripture” (I.vi). We see no reason why the same principle would not have been operative in Abel’s time, too, on the basis of such revelation as had been given by God.
(5) “For since the Apostle refers the dignity of Abel’s accepted sacrifice to faith, it follows, first, that he had not offered it without the command of God (Heb. 11:4). Secondly, it has been true from the beginning of the world, that obedience is better than sacrifices (I Sam. 15:22), and is the parent of all virtues. Hence it also follows, that man had been taught by God what was pleasing to Him.” John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 1:192-93).
(6) John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.viii.
(7) John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses, 2:107.
(8) John Calvin, Selected Works, 1:34.
(9) Ibid., p. 115.
(10) Calvin: “Their crime is specified, viz., that they offered incense in a different way from that which God had prescribed, and consequently, although they may have erred from ignorance, still they were convicted by God’s commandment of having negligently set about what was worthy of greater attention. . . . Let us learn, therefore, so to attend to God’s command as not to corrupt His worship by any strange inventions.” Calvin’s Commentaries, 2:431-32.
(11) “Four worthless men wickedly endeavor to overthrow Moses and Aaron; and straightway two hundred and fifty persons are ready to follow them . . . hence we must be the more cautious, lest any bugbears (larvae) should deceive us into making rash innovations.” Calvin’s Commentaries, 3:100.
(12) “The Levites, or more particularly the Kohathites, were expressly commanded to bear the ark. The manner of bearing it was also commanded. . . . They were forbidden to touch the ark upon pain of death. . . . And it deserves consideration that those heathen had not been killed for handling the ark, while for doing the same thing God’s people, who should have known better, were taught an awful lesson.” John Girardeau, Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church, p. 18.
(13) “David’s intention was right enough, no fault can be found with that; but right things must be done in a right way. . . . All the way through this incident, we see that there was no taking heed to the commands of God, and to the rules which He had laid down. The people brought will-worship to God, instead of that which He had ordained. What do I mean by will-worship? I mean, any kind of worship which is not prescribed in God’s own Word. . . . Inasmuch, therefore, as these people did not show any reverence for God by consulting His record of the rules which He had laid down for their guidance, — seeming to think that, whatever pleased them must please Him,–whatever kind of worship they chose to make up would be quite sufficient for the Lord God of Israel, — therefore, it ended in failure. . . . How I wish that all religious denominations would bring their ordinances and forms of worship to the supreme test of the New Testament. . . . But, alas! they know that so much would have to be put away that is now delightful to the flesh, that, I fear me, we shall be long before we bring all to worship God after His own order.” C. H. Spurgeon, a sermon on “The Lesson of Uzzah.”
(14) Commenting on this statement, Calvin says: “There is then no other argument needed to condemn superstitions, than that they are not commanded by God: for when men allow themselves to worship God according to their own fancies, and attend not to His commands, they pervert true religion.” Calvin’s Commentaries, 9:414.
(15) “By these words [“in vain do they worship me,” etc.], all kinds of will-worship (ethelothreskeia), as Paul calls it (Col. 2:23), are plainly condemned. For, as we have said, since God chooses to be worshipped in no other way than according to his own appointment, he cannot endure new modes of worship to be devised.” Calvin’s Commentaries, 16:253.
(16) Calvin’s Commentaries, 17:150-164.
(17) “If worship must be consonant with the nature of God, it must be in accord with what God has revealed himself to be and regulated as to content and mode by the revelation God has given in holy Scripture. The sanction enunciated (‘in spirit and truth’) excludes all human invention and imagination and warns us against the offense and peril of offering strange fire unto the Lord.” John Murray, “The Worship of God in the Four Gospels,” in The Biblical Doctrine of Worship, p. 93.
(18) “Jesus does not suggest in these words . . . that we are permitted to teach what he has not forbidden, but rather implies that we will neither add to nor take from what He has commanded.” Norman Shepherd, “The Biblical Basis for the Regulative Principle of Worship,” in The Biblical Doctrine of Worship, p. 44.
(19) Calvin, loc. cit., p. 390.
(20) “Do we wonder that Paul should be afraid that he had labored in vain, that the gospel would henceforth be of no service? And since that very description of impiety is now supported by Popery, what sort of Christ or what sort of gospel does it retain? So far as respects the binding of consciences, they enforce the observance of days with not less severity than was done by Moses. They consider holidays, not less than the false prophets did, to be a part of the worship of God. . . . The Papists must therefore be held equally censurable with the false apostles; and with this additional aggravation, that, while the former proposed to keep those days which had been appointed by the law of God, the latter enjoy days, rashly stamped with their own seal, to be observed as most holy.” Calvin’s Commentaries, 21:125.
(21) “Observe,” says Calvin “of what colors this show consists, according to Paul. He makes mention of three — self-invented worship, humidity, and neglect of the body. . . . Paul, however, bids farewell to those disguises, for what is in high esteem among men is often an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15) . . . . For it should be a settled point among all the pious, that the worship of God ought not to be measured according to our views; and that . . . any kind of service is not lawful, simply on the ground that it is agreeable to us.” Calvin’s Commentaries, 21:201-02.
(22) Westminster Confession of Faith, XX.ii.
(23) Note, for example, Paul’s statement in I Cor. 11:23, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you . . . .”
(24) Monsma and Van Dellen, The Church Order Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1941), p. 273).
(25) Ibid.
(26) Ibid., p 274.
(27) It is a noteworthy fact that these three terms (psalmos, hymnois, and odais) were used in the titles of the Psalms in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, which was the Bible used in the Apostolic Churches.


Legacy Arts: What’s Been Left & What We Will Leave

September 3, 2012
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Everyday that parents are around their kids or pawning their kids off to some secluded place, a legacy is being left. Everytime adults are spending time around kids in a group setting, a legacy is being left. Kids pick up on our actions, our favorite words, our sincerity, and our tendency to keep things from them (because they’re too young to understand) more than we know. Every Sunday that a pastor makes it known that parents can now place their kids in a nursery, or the usher points the kids to the youth ministry room, or the long-standing member simply knows when it’s time to escort their kids to the play area whether they like it or not, a legacy is being left. I have interacted with my fair share of kids who have and will tell me things they’d never tell their parent because of the relationships the parents have built with their own children. Make no mistake about it, a legacy is being left.

Now I understand most don’t side with me on my view of how the church relegates children to the outer gates of the church family in efforts to teach them ‘on their level’ in a helpful way, but nonetheless truth is truth, and we must not allow traditionalism to triumph over truth. So the question must be, what legacy will we leave?

Psalm 78 is a psalm solely about leaving a legacy. It’s a historical psalm that captures/recounts selected events of Israel’s history starting with the Exodus and capping off with the reign of David. This entire psalm screams of God’s faithfulness with his covenant people who sinned and forgot about the glorious grace pardoned unto them throughout it all. But what’s so remarkable are the first 8 verses, of which we’ll look at, that show how important legacies are in families and in the family of faith, the church.

Our Fathers Told Us

It’s a great likelihood that at some point of your growing up even till this present year, you’ve sat around a large group of your family and have listened to stories that predate your being on this earth. And they were good stories, funny stories, sad stories, long stories, and so on. But they were informative! Not only that, they were purposefully told to you and other small children because the parents knew that passing on your family’s legacy is of great importance. Without it, you can’t tell your kids about how the family has endured this and survived that, and then they pass it on to their kids. It’s all done to give kids a sense of history and pride. And somewhere along the way, we’ve abandoned this spiritually.

In Psalm 78:1-3, the writer is just as intentional as our parents’ parents were. “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!” What he’s about to say is good for you to hear. It’s imperative that my people listen up. Then he runs down a skeletal outline of what he intends to say: “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us.” His parents were faithful to teach him about his history and how God is directly intertwined in it, and so he’s been taught to do the same thing. He’s been taught the value of a legacy and he is going to leave a legacy to be valued.

Precisely because his fathers told him and the other Jewish kids, they have vowed to follow in their footsteps. After all, isn’t that what parents always say about their kids? Despite the common refrain “I want them to have things I never had” used by parents, they want their kids to learn values from them and repeat them with their kids, but like I stated earlier, the ball is being dropped quite too often when it comes to telling them about God throughout their childhood. The Psalm writer goes on to say this: “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” Oh how I wish this psalm was read, believed, and practiced in our churches and homes today. Stop hiding biblical truth from your children and the kids with whom you interact. Start encouraging parents to share glorious deeds about God with their kids. Pray for them to do this. It’s not the responsibility of the nursery, children, and youth teachers to obey this. It’s the parents!

Will Fathers Tell Them?

Statistics show us quite often how many single parent homes there are presently. I get that. Most single parent homes consist of mothers and her children. I get that. Does that give her the right to disobey scripture by not teaching her children about God? If you believe it does, help you. The command is simple: if you are a parent, teach your child. End of story. Circumstances will differ, but the command never does. Should homes with two working parents get a pass from God for not obeying scripture? Nope. This may come off like I’m being so cut and dry, but it’s not me I promise you.

“He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel.” What testimony was established and what law was appointed? I’m glad you asked. Both can be answered by texts in Genesis. Genesis 17:7 says “and I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” Genesis 18:19 says “for I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” God established a covenant testimony with Abraham and his offspring and appointed that Abraham command his children to obey the law of God. In other words, this has been going on with God’s people for a really long time.

Back to the text. The psalm writer highlighted God’s instruction in Genesis for us so that we’d understand the next thing he will instruct parents to do.

Which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

This is the legacy God commands parents to leave with their children. A multigenerational legacy. As we value God, our hope in him, his works, and his ways, we will faithfully teach them to children for the purpose of them obeying and in like manner teaching their children who aren’t even born yet.

But the psalm writer points out yet another reason why parents teach their kids this testimony and law; so they won’t be like their ancestral fathers. This can be seen as a negative, and it should be, but before we write it off as such, let’s think this through. There are people in our family that our parents warned us about and exhorted us to not follow them, believe them, imitate them, and so forth. And our parents had our best interests in mind as they told us this. They didn’t want to steer us wrong and leave us without discerning minds. The psalm writer is communicating the same thing. Parents are to teach their kids how to obey God, follow him, and teach their kids to do the same; not be like their family members who are stubborn and rebellious or like the believers who chose to not obey this teaching. Don’t be like the ones whose heart wasn’t tied to the Lord in any way. Instead be faithful and obedient. The goal is to raise godly children who set their hope in God.

Sure this isn’t some guaranteed process that will spring forth obedient children simply because you took this psalm to heart. But your obedience to God’s word doesn’t demand it. God has called parents to trust him and be faithful just like he calls children to trust him and be faithful. In true family history examples, we all have those who did right and are spoken of in great detail with honor versus the ones who did wrong and are only mentioned as a warning.

As God commanded Abraham, the father of many nations, to leave his children with a godly legacy, so may we in the church today recite and put into practice God’s commands for parents to teach their own children and leave them with a godly legacy. We’ve had far too much of a godless legacy being left within the covenant community. It’s time to return to what the Bible says, trust God and be faithful to obey.