Martin Luther

In Defense of Hymns

In Defense of Hymns

It is probably because of my background that hymns never felt boring or old to me. I grew up in a megachurch where we sang the popular fare of choruses of the day. “Awesome God,” “As the Deer,” and “Shout to the Lord” were the songs of my childhood.

It was in college that I really experienced hymns for the first time and they felt so fresh and different from what I grew up with. I attended an historic Congregational church replete with eighteenth century pews, an organ, and a hymn board. It was there that I began to learn of the rich treasure trove of hymns the church had been blessed with by centuries of saints.

The church I attended in seminary and then went on to be a pastor at for eight years incorporated at least two hymns in every service, sung in the traditional style, with organ accompaniment. New Life, where I currently serve as a pastor, has a modern style of worship, but even so, we still have not set hymns aside. While we typically sing updated versions, we still sing hymns about twice a month.

In the coming weeks I will defend modern worship, but before I go there, I want to defend holding onto hymns. Whether or not you sing modern worship as well, I would encourage you to continue to sing hymns.

Why would we hold onto music that is so antiquated? We don’t still wear wigs and corsets, why would we sing music from a bygone era?

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

Everyone suffers. And yet perhaps because of the age in which we live, there have been few cultures that have struggled more with suffering than ours. I’m currently reading a popular book on loss and I’m struck by how vapid the wisdom of our age is in the face of suffering.

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is, quite simply, the best book on suffering that I’ve read. Keller deals with the subject philosophically, theologically, and practically. Each treatment is successful on its own, and combined they pack a unique punch as Keller engages mind and heart alike.

Timothy Keller is such a unique author. His books range from the incredibly accessible: The Prodigal God and Counterfeit Gods, to the slightly more rigorous, but still very accessible apologetic, The Reason for God, to the more rigorous practitioner’s guides such as Generous Justice or Preaching. Part of Timothy Keller’s unique gifting is his ability to write so well in each of these genres. Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is the most rigorous book by Keller to date and yet the book is every bit as well written as any of his best.

Contemporary westerners are repelled by suffering and death. On the stage of world history, our fear of death is abnormal. Keller quotes an author at The New York Times Magazine, who, after the tragic sniper shootings in the Washington DC area reflected, “The fact is, staving off our own death is one of our favorite national pastimes. Whether it’s exercise, checking our cholesterol or having a mammogram, we are always hedging against mortality. [And yet] despite our best intentions, it is still, for the most part, random. And it is absolutely coming.”[i] This aversion to suffering and death is a cultural blind spot and means that we naturally approach the topic with naiveté.

The Promise 80% of Christians Miss Out On

The Promise 80% of Christians Miss Out On

600 years ago a church service looked far different than it does today.

The Medieval mass truly was a performance. The priest was turned away from the congregation for most of the congregation and spoke (by some reports mumbled is a more appropriate description) the service in Latin, a language the commoners didn’t speak and often the priests themselves didn’t speak.[i] The congregants observed the mass in silence. There was no participation.

600 years later much has changed. And yet much remains the same.

In the American evangelical church, our liturgy looks about as different from the liturgy of the church of the Middle Ages as you could imagine (and yes, while we don’t have a formalized liturgy, we share a collective informal liturgy – you can go to just about any evangelical church in America this weekend and expect a similar service). But church, as much as ever, is an experience those who attend come to watch. And like the church in the Middle Ages, we also are struggling with attendance, with a faithful church goer now coming to service a mere twice a month.[ii]

Always Being Reformed

Always Being Reformed

Today we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. But unlike the work of Christ on the cross, this side of heaven, God’s work on his church will never be finished. We celebrate the Reformation, but, by the power of God, we are always being reformed.[i]

1500 years after Christ had called to the church to a radical resurrection-faith, the church had sold that cruciform grace for a religion that was more about moral conformity, more about earning your way into God’s favor, than it was about the transformative grace that flowed from a Savior who died and was resurrected that we might be multiplied into his children.[ii] We are always in danger of missing out on what God is doing with us. But reformation is always one open heart away.

The year was 1516 and a 33 year old professor was teaching a class on the book of Romans[iii] at a small university in the small town of Wittenberg, Germany: population 2,000. He was pierced by these truths: that salvation was a gift of God, secured by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The shocking truth that we must be righteous to be saved, but that righteousness could only come from God rocked this monk’s world.[iv]

This Week's Recommendations (Reformation Day Edition)

This Week's Recommendations (Reformation Day Edition)

Next week we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg church. This event set off a series of events that would culminate in the Protestant Reformation and the church as we know it today. This week's recommendations point us to those events.

1.     How the Protestant Reformation Started: This is a great summary of the transformative events of 500 years ago in Germany, " You probably know at least one thing about Martin Luther: that he nailed the 95 theses to a church door and defied the Roman Catholic Church. This was Luther’s declaration of independence from Rome. The truth is, this is historically inaccurate. Yes, October 31, 1517, would turn out to be the first hint that the Western world was about to be turned upside down. But Luther’s act on October 31, 1517 was not an act of rebellion. It was, in fact, just the opposite. It was the act of a dutiful son of mother church."

2.     A Brief History of the Father of the Reformation: Vance Christie shares the beginning of Luther's story, "October, 2017, marks the 500thanniversary of the igniting of what became known as the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther is generally considered the father of the Reformation. Luther’s nailing his “95 Theses” to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, is commonly cited as the event that sparked reformation fires. While there had been other reformers and reformation efforts before Luther, he certainly was the leading human instrument in the much fuller reformation movement that God brought about in Luther’s era."

3.      John Wycliffe: The Morning Star of the Reformation: Vance Christie shares the story of John Wycliffe, who lived a century before the Protestant Reformation began and who, in his life, paved the way for the work of the Reformation. Christie reports, “Wycliffe challenged a wide range of medieval beliefs and practices: pardons, indulgences, absolutions, pilgrimages, the worship of images, the adoration of the saints and the distinction between venial and mortal sins. He gained the greatest opposition by rejecting the doctrine of transubstantiation, the belief that in Christian Communion the bread and wine (or juice) become the actual body and blood of Christ. Wycliffe believed, rather, that the bread and wine are symbols of Christ’s body and blood, that Christ is present in the communion elements sacramentally but not materially.”

4.      The Reformation PiggyBackers: And now for a smile: Luther was having a splendid Reformation Day. Until those pesky other protestants start trying to improve his Reformation.

Consuming Worship

Consuming Worship

Last week we took a more positive turn as we considered how our identity as consumers impacts our devotional lives. We continue in that positive direction as we consider our experience as corporate and individual worshipers in today’s consumeristic environment.

Throughout this series I have tried to provide a broader comparative historic context. The inclusion of songs in worship was present from the earliest days of the church. Paul incorporates what appear to be familiar songs in his writing, John shares songs in Revelation, and of course the Psalms provided a hymn book for the early church. The earliest house church discovered in Syria dates to the early 3rd century AD and is covered with beautiful frescoes. The church from the very beginning was worshiping artistically.