Reclaiming a Biblical Pattern of Worship?

Last week Andrew Wilson’s latest book on the merger of eucharistic and charismatic worship landed in the mailbox and I think it presents a clear, if brief, argument for a wise way or pursuing a biblical expression of the church.

Wilson, well known to those in the “Reformed” and continuationist camp (holding to more Calvinistic theology and the belief that the miraculous gifting of the Holy Spirit continues today), invites the church to go both deeper and higher in a way that sounds nearly unfeasible but is actually quite intriguing.

Spirit and Sacrament is a “theological vision for the church that treasures all of God’s gifts, the eucharistic and charismatic, beginning with charis (grace) and culminating in chara (joy).” Marrying the passion of the church for the sacraments (communion, baptism as examples) along with historic creeds and prayers of the church with “low church” expressions where the gifts of the Spirit are passionately pursued.

Given my background and doctrinal positions, the book speaks to my desires in the life of the church but to be fair, it has enough to make each side anxious toward what could come of such a vision.

Wilson warmly persuades those unlikely to call their way of doing church “liturgical” to recognize their own liturgy and inject more of the tested and biblically taught things that adorn the gospel. A call to worship, reciting a creed, call and response, the reading of Scripture (apart from the sermon), and confession etc.

At the same time, he attempts to bring an embrace and fervent pursuit of supernatural gifts to places typically more reserved and cautious.

While ardent cessationists (those that presume the gifts ended with the end of biblical canon or ministry of the original apostles) will not be convinced, since Wilson takes just a brief moment to present a Charismatic basis, the interaction with the church fathers’ experience of the miraculous is worthwhile.

Throughout I was struck that what Wilson is presenting is a full-bodied biblical church. This is the model of the New Testament and should be a rich way forward for the church.

Wilson says this way of worship is aspirational, not descriptive, and aspire toward it we should. All said I imagine this little book will become the start of an increasing call to such things and it is something that I welcome with expectancy.

Here are some key quotes from the book:

“The historic church has always been more “charismatic” than either the cautious conservatives or sectarian enthusiasts have been willing to admit.”

“It must be possible to lament and celebrate, be serious and joyful, at the same time. It is important to consider how this kind of both/and can be cultivated and how being Eucharismatic can help us.”

“Gifts… are like vessels that carry us back to our homeland; they should be enjoyed, but only in that they are taking us to our true source of joy and our true love.”

“We need to plunge ourselves into the depths of our tradition, so as to spring to new heights. Down, into historic prayers. Up, into spontaneous ones. Down, into confession of sin. Up, into the celebration of forgiveness. Down, into the creeds. Up, into the choruses. Down, into knowing God’s presence in the sacraments. Up, into feeling God’s presence in song. Call, and response. Friday, then Sunday. Kneel, then jump.”

“The sacraments should be at the heart of our corporate worship, not peripheral and occasional interruptions to it.”

“If you want to be gospel-centered, be Table-centered. If you want to be truly evangelical, be eucharistic.”

“The chief actor in the sanctification of the believer is not a message, but a Messenger: a person who can be grieved or honored, not just a word that can be rejected or believed.”

“We are under the same covenant as our first-century brothers and sisters, and as such, we should assume that what the apostles taught them, they would also teach us.”

“It is possible, and in fact required of us, both to earnestly desire spiritual gifts – knowledge, wisdom, faith, prophecy, languages, interpretation, distinguishing spirits, teaching, healing, miracles, helping, administering, leading, giving, showing mercy – and to do so with scriptural wisdom, so as to build us the body, serve the common good, love one another, and exalt the risen Christ.”

The Story of Everything

downloadEverything in your life is meaningful and is part of a grander story being told. It is the story that God is weaving together and you get to play a part in it, that is if you recognize you are just part not the main character.

Jared Wilson’s recent offering of The Story of Everything: How You, Your Pets, and the Swiss Alps Fit into God’s Plan for the World helps us recognize the story and the value of all the things, the everything, and God’s purpose in them.

Wilson follows the words of the preacher in Ecclesiastes and gives us a clear sense of the weight we could be placing on things in our lives and exactly how meaningful they are in light of the love of the Creator and his care for us.

There is something for everyone in this enjoyable book. For the young woman planning a life after school, to the husband living for things other than his wife and family, for the pastor looking to leave behind a lasting legacy. All will be challenged and comforted by the grace and glory of God as Wilson unpacks it for us.

In reading The Story of Everything we get a taste of God’s intervention and plan in all corners of life by evaluating our existence, pain, relaxation, loves and even how governments do their part. We are left not in a place of desperation but of hope, ultimately in the story and the divine author. Jesus’ work and reign make everything worthwhile and allows us to understand it all the more. And I hope you decide to see yourself in the story.

If you are still forming your reading list for the year I can highly recommend The Story of Everything. 

Here are a few choice quotes from the book:

“The world is broken, yes, but God has a plan. And God’s plan has always included making sense of all the incomprehensible events that disrupt our own.”

“Grace is the secret of the universe. And the reason grace is the secret of the universe is because it brings to creation the very thing that creation has been craving since everything went haywire.”

“It can be a scary proposition, but we ought to face the very real possibility that, whatever God is doing with the universe and as much as he loves us, we are not the main point.”

“We can expect, in fact, that all our animal friends will join us in the new heavens and new earth. Since grace is true, we can assume this includes snakes. And even cats, I guess.”

“We resolve to be honorable citizens in this world because we are citizens of another, and we resolve to boldly speak truth to power because we must obey God rather than men, and we resolve to know nothing except Christ and him crucified, because he is the hope of the politically idolatrous world.”

“When we say things like “this world is not my home,” we should not mean that this world is not the place God has called us to live out his kingdom. I mean, here we are. Where else are we going to live? The biblical forecast of the new heavens and new earth shows us that this world is our home—at least, the transformed version of it that is still to come.”

“Some Christians believe in America so much that it is clear where their belief really lies: America. But it is Christ who is King, it is Christ who is God, it is Christ who is our only hope. And God’s plan for the world, America included, is to saturate every nook and cranny, every deep sea trench, and every highest mountain peak with the radiance of his glory. Let that be our dream.”

“At the cross of Christ, the wrath of God owed to sinners is absorbed, satisfied, and set aside for all eternity. Dead and done with. His anger is gone; his love remains and it endures. The loving-kindness of our Lord is everlasting. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies are new every morning.”

“Our sex is so awkward, really. It is a great grace that God has given it to us but a great grace that we can be so bad at something that is still so helpful for the building up of our marriages, the health of our families, the endurance and stability of the marital institution in society, the joy even of our churches, and the glory of Christ Jesus. If we will put a stake in the heart of our self-sovereignty and embrace the gracious yoke of God’s sovereign story.”

“For those found at this appointed time clothed in the righteousness of Christ—meaning, they have placed their faith in Jesus’s perfect obedience, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection for their salvation—they will pass that test of judgment into the joys of heaven, the spiritual place where the triune God lives in all his visible, manifest splendor.”

How the world knows

To this day I can remember the interview with the deacon at the Assemblies of God church I grew up in. My family, of which I am gladly the youngest child, had just completed the multi-week membership class and we were taking the plunge to become members of the church. Its just what your do as a Christian, right?

Thankfully, for the reputation of the church, I was only made a “junior member” and had to wait until I was 18 to obtain full membership. In the ensuing years, I actually became a gospel believing and professing Christian and have been a “member” at a few churches. I have to put that in quotes because each church had its own understanding of membership (from none, to name only to actual, accountable membership). And now as a pastor of a church in transition, membership is an important part of the life of our church going forward.

I will one day tell stories of the guy that left the church because he couldn’t be considered for eldership because he refused to be a member, or the time that only “leaders” could be members and that was just for insurance reasons… But the purpose of this post is to recommend the little book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman. This short book is a perfect primer for church membership for churches thinking through the process of having members, those thinking membership isn’t biblical and everyone in-between.

Leeman knows church membership. He has written more extensive material like his book The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love (I still have the copy Michael Lawrence gave me when I was part of a church plant that was toying with membership). This new volume is part of the vastly beneficial 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series and it brings church membership to the digestible and biblical level.

Leeman’s writing is casual in this books and many of the stories are from his experience in church life. The book is accessible and worth a read. Here are some choice quotes:

“We’ll start with what the local church is not. If you are a Christian, the local church is not a club. It is not a voluntary organization where membership is optional for you. It is not a friendly group of people who share an interest in religious things and so gather weekly to talk about the divine.”

“A local church is a group of Christians who regularly gather in Christ’s name to officially affirm and oversee one another’s membership in Jesus Christ and his kingdom through gospel preaching and gospel ordinances.”

“It’s true that a Christian must choose to join a church, but that does not make it a voluntary organization. We are, in fact, obligated to choose a local church just as we are obligated to choose Christ. Having chosen Christ, a Christian has no choice but to choose a church to join.”

“How should we respond to the person who claims to belong to the body of Christ universally but never actually joins a body of Christ on earth? We should say the is self-deceived and should repent.”

“Churches must not look for the people who are never jerks, but for the people who admit that they are jerks and are willing to fight it.”

“It’s not as if there is some area of our life that is exempt from considering the interests of others better than our own. Specifically, we should give ourselves to our churches publicly, physically, socially, affectionately, financially, vocationally, ethically, and spiritually.”

Leeman also gives you helpful insights into church discipline and if membership should look the same at each church. One area I would like to hear more on is member longevity and committing to a church, through membership, for a long time.

Grab the book. It’s helpful.