Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dog Fighting

This is an old meditation I read again and decided to post.

1 Cor 9:9-10. 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? 10 Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.”

Much ink has been spilt and much furor unleashed in the past several weeks here in North Idaho and throughout the nation. Condemnation has come from all directions: actors, athletes, farmers, politicians, writers. The collective conscience has awoken. “Cruel, insidious, monstrous, criminal, immoral”, these are only a few of the words of censure that have been leveled.

What is it that has caused such a stir in our otherwise calm demeanor? What activity has inspired such prophetic ire? Is it the systematic termination of human life in our abortion clinics? Is it the repeated lying, cheating, and stealing practiced by our public officials? Is it the rank idolatry of our populace? The exploitation of the poor and needy by our welfare state? Or perhaps the exploitation practiced by the Indian Casinos? Or the extreme fighting sponsored in and by them? Is it the widespread growth of prostitution? The explosion of pornography via the internet? The lies and deceit practiced by homosexuals to advocate their perversity in America? No, the nefarious practice that has animated the cultural conscience is dog fighting. It seems that Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has landed himself in a heap of trouble for organizing dog fights at his mansion.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Dog-fighting is a bad thing - for the Scriptures tell us that the righteous man cares for the life of his beast. But the idea that dog fighting is the activity that should be animating the moral consciousness of the public in our day is absurd.

When a culture loses its moral compass, it inevitably strikes out with Puritanical indignation at random “sins” in order to hide the very real sense of guilt and pollution that it senses as a result of its transgression of God’s law. As R.J. Rushdoony in his book, Politics of Guilt and Pity, says, “The guilty person [or culture] conceals a greater crime by open profession of a lesser one.” The question for any civilization is not whether it will be indignant – the question is what it will be indignant over. And what is our culture indignant over? Dog-fighting. Global warming. Homo-phobia. Smoking. Trans-fats. How does this compare to the Scriptural priorities? Should we follow the fad? Should we jump on the band wagon and say, “Yeah, crucify Michael Vick! Let him be the scapegoat for our sin.”

Well Paul offers us a bit of perspective in the text before us today by citing the OT regulation regarding muzzling oxen. “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” God had declared through Moses. And Paul asks, “Is God really concerned about oxen?” Now on one level the answer, of course, is yes – He is. He created the oxen, He gave this regulation regarding the oxen; He expected His regulation to be obeyed. But Paul notes that in another, more important sense, God is not concerned about oxen at all – the regulation serves to highlight the importance of principles that apply to people – those made in the image of God. And what is this principle? That those who labor should enjoy the fruit of their labor. That is why God says don’t muzzle the ox.

And so, why should we oppose dog fighting? Because it highlights the barbarity so prevalent among the men and women in our culture today. What else explains the rise of extreme sports? The rise of battered women? The popularity of reality TV shows like Survivor? Do we really need to repent of dog-fighting? Or do we rather need to repent of the greater sin of hating and despising other men and women who are made in the image of the Triune God, which God we have abandoned that we might bow before our idols?

Reminded of our tendency to hide our guilt under the show of moral indignation, let us kneel and seek God’s forgiveness and cleansing.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Learned Servant

Hebrews 4:11-13 (NKJV)11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Much has transpired in the last week. We have moved out of the time of Advent and into the time of Christmas. And in the season of Christmas we celebrate! We celebrate the arrival of the long anticipated One; we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promises in the life and death of His Son, in the work of His Servant.

Last Sunday we noted that Jesus was called to be a Learned Servant. He was called to meditate and muse upon the Word of God. The Servant of the Lord was awakened morning by morning by His Lord, his ear was awakened to hear as the learned. And so we found that in the ministry of our Lord Jesus, He spent thirty years in preparation, thirty years studying the Word of God and meditating upon it, so that He might fulfill three years of ministry and achieve that which the Father had set before Him. And during His earthly ministry He kept His eyes fixed upon the promises of God – and this enabled Him to endure the pain and sorrow and humiliation through which His path took Him.

Our text in Hebrews today urges us to have this same type of faith. We are to be diligent to enter the rest of God – the final rest when heaven and earth will be one and God will be all in all. We are to strive to enter into this very rest, to keep our eyes fixed on the goal. Even as Jesus, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, we are to keep our eyes fixed on the joy, the rest set before us.

But notice the next thing the author of Hebrews tells us. He directs us to the Word of God, which is able to slice and dice us, able to show us our faults and illumine our shortcomings. Why direct us here? Why direct us to the Word? Because this is the same place that our Lord went to direct His own walk with His Father. He was a student of the Word of God. He allowed the Word of God to make and fashion Him into the type of man His Father desired Him to be. And though He was free from sin, free from the necessity of going back and redoing things that he had messed up, He nevertheless grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man through the things that He learned in the Word.

And so the author of Hebrews directs us to be students of the Word of God. We are called to be disciples. To hear what He says to us that we might correct our faults and that we might be reminded of the great promises that He has made to us.

Reminded of our calling to be learned disciples, let us kneel and confess that we have failed to meditate on His Word as we ought.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Now is the Day of Salvation

2 Corinthians 6:1-2 (NKJV)1 We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Last week we noted that the Servant Songs of Isaiah serve not only as descriptions of the ministry of our Lord and Savior but also, frequently, as commissions for us. The character of our Lord is to be lived out in the life of His people.

But perhaps we have gotten ahead of ourselves? Did the New Testament really think that these Servant Songs with their lavish promises were being fulfilled through Jesus? Perhaps these things weren’t going to be fulfilled for many years yet to come. It is this suggestion that Paul’s words today completely undermine. He has just finished discussing the purpose of the death of Jesus. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. And so God is urging us, through His preachers, through His Church – be reconciled to God. Paul concludes this thought with our words today –

We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the
grace of God in vain.
Paul urges His audience not to delay in calling upon the Lord to save them, to deliver them. They were not to be distracted by the deceitfulness of sin or by the winsome words of others but rather to trust in the Lord and believe His Word. To prove His point, Paul quotes from one of the Servant Songs. “In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.”

The questions this raises are who is “I” and who is “you”? The answers are that “I” is God and “you” is the Servant of the Lord. Listen to the passage:

Isaiah 49:8 (NKJV)8 Thus says the Lord: “In an acceptable time I have heard You, And in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You As a covenant to the people, To restore the earth, To cause them to inherit the desolate heritages; that you may say to the prisoners, ‘Go forth,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’”
So the question we posed at the beginning was this – does the New Testament teach that these lavish promises of restoring the earth, of rescuing prisoners and giving sight to the blind, are being fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus? Well what does Paul declare in our text today?

Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
The long promised restoration from exile is upon us. God has acted to deliver His people from their sin; He has lifted up the cross as a standard to the nations and is, by His Spirit, drawing all men to it. And so the call to us is the same – don’t miss out. Don’t miss God’s call and fail to join ranks with His people. He is remaking the world through His Christ – will you be part of this new world of life and joy or will you continue to dwell in the old world of death and war?

Reminded that we often fail to keep the contrast between the world that God has introduced in Christ and the world as it once existed in death; reminded that we too often coddle our sins, coddle the path of death; let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Descriptions and Commissions

Acts 13:46-48 (NKJV)Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you [Jews] first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

In the passage before us today, we find Paul making use of the Servant Songs of Isaiah, the very texts that we are studying in this season of Advent. Paul vindicates his ministry to the Gentiles by applying the statement of the Servant Song to himself and to Barnabas. “I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.” The question we should be asking is, “How can Paul do that?”

After all, these Servant Songs, as we saw last week, speak clearly of the ministry of our Lord and Savior Jesus. He is the Servant of the Lord. But Paul doesn’t apply the words of the Song to Jesus; rather, he applies the words to Barnabas and to himself. He declares that the Servant Song is being fulfilled in his ministry, in the life of the Church. The Church is called to be a light to the Gentiles, to be for salvation to the ends of the earth. How can this be?

What Paul reveals is that in the Servant Songs we have not only descriptions of what our Lord and Savior Jesus was like but also commissions of what we as the people of God are to be. The Church, after all, is the body of Christ. And so the descriptions of what our Lord was like are simultaneously descriptions of what we are to be like.

So what did we learn last week in our survey of the first Servant Song, in our study of Isaiah 42? We learned that Jesus was humble, gracious, and patient. He does not raise His voice in the street, He does not break the bruised reed, and he will not fail nor grow discouraged until he has established justice in the earth. This is who our Savior was.

If what Paul says is true, then alongside these descriptions of our Lord come commissions for us as the people of God. We are to be humble. We are to be gracious. We are to be patient. Yet I fear that frequently it is not so. Frequently we draw attention to ourselves; frequently we wound those in need of healing; frequently we grow discouraged in our tasks.

Consider the calling to be gracious. Our Lord does not quench the smoking flax, he does not break the bruised reed. What of us? How do we treat those in need of encouragement around us? Siblings, brothers and sisters, how do you use your words with one another? Do you use your words to build up or to tear down? To plant or to uproot? The Lord calls us to the former and in the life of our Lord exhibits how it is done – have we done it? Whether we are speaking with our spouses, our parents, our children, or our siblings – are we gracious? Are we encouraging those around us or are we breaking them down? Are we breaking the bruised reed, quenching the smoking flax? “Let no corrupt word,” Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 4:29, “proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”

Reminded of our calling to imitate that Great Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ, let us kneel and let us confess our failure to do so to the Lord.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Rule of St. Benedict

Monasticism is quite a mixed bag in the history of the Church. Nevertheless, a fresh reading of The Rule of St. Benedict has impressed me anew with an appreciation for the zeal of these men. What struck me most as I read was the way in which the monastic orders were politically subversive without being politically concerned at all. The Rule specifies that advancement in responsibility within the order is entirely dependent upon personal merit. Consequently, neither freemen nor serfs were to be treated differently - all were equal before the Rule. Likewise, when important decisions were to be made, the Rule specifies that the opinion of all the brothers - even the youngest - was to be sought out since the younger brothers frequently had good ideas. These notions, particularly the first, were quite revolutionary in their time. In a sense the monasteries created an alternative model of society within the larger society. As such they performed the valuable function of highlighting what life could be like if the broader society would cease its warlike depredations and give itself up to peaceful endeavors.

Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright

Surprised by Hope, written by the Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright, is a superb analysis of the New Testament doctrine of the Christian hope. Not only does Wright discuss the biblical analysis of the future hope but also discusses how this hope should shape Christian thinking and conduct in the here and now. Few analyses of the future are as fresh, invigorating, and stimulating as Wright's book.

Wright hammers again and again at the Gnostic tendency in modern Christendom which identifies heaven as our final dwelling. As a junior high school teacher, I often found it humorous and humbling while teaching early church history to query my students on various points of Christian doctrine. One of the issues most misunderstood was the resurrection of the body. Our churches simply are not teaching it! Whenever I would endeavor to convince the students that heaven is not our final destination, that in point of fact these bodies would be raised from the dead, one would think I was from the moon. Our children are simply not getting the message - and if our children are not getting the message it means that we are not teaching it.

As Wright argues so forcefully in this book, the New Testament has far less to say about life after death than about life after life after death. While acknowledging the blessedness of those who die in the Lord, the New Testament is much more concerned with the consummation of all things when our bodies shall be raised and we shall be transformed into the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ - not only in terms of our character but also in our bodies. These bodies will be raised immortal.

Further, Wright does a phenomenal job discussing the new heavens and the new earth. He insists that in Christ the power of the age to come, the power of the renewed creation, is present in the here and now. Through the Spirit, the resurrection life of Christ is alive in the Church. And so we are called as the people of God to live in light of what God has promised ultimately to do. We are to live in light of the promises of God to renew all things.

This entails both moral reformation and societal transformation. While I have problems with some of Wright's analyses of how this societal transformation should flesh itself out, his insistence that the coming of the Kingdom of God produces a certain type of culture is a much needed corrective to the shallowness of Christian thinking on these matters. When Isaiah envisions the work of the Servant of God, he talks about the culture that the Kingdom of God creates (cf. Is 61). These are the types of things that Jesus is in the business of doing through His people.

While avoiding traditional millennial terminology, Wright's book is very earthy and postmillennial. It does a great job emphasizing the meaning and implication of the Lord's Prayer. If we really do pray, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven", then we need to expect that God will answer! We are praying for the growth of the Kingdom of God and the expanding impact of the will of God on earth. And these are the things which we as the people of God are to exhibit and incarnate.

Read and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dualisms in The Shack

Well after much procrastination and delay, I finally picked up my copy of The Shack by William P. Young and read it. So where does one start with any kind of analysis?

One should always start, of course, with positive comments and attempt to be fair. So my attempt to be fair and appreciative: The story was in itself engaging. Young's attempt to portray the dynamism in the relationship among the persons of the Trinity was ambitious. Perhaps the most insightful portions revolved around Mack's failure to trust the goodness of God and the nature of emotions.

During a conversation in which Mack is wrestling with the injustice which has been perpetrated on his daughter, the Father figure "Papa" remarks: "The real underlying flaw in your life, Mackenzie, is that you don't think that I am good. If you knew I was good and that everything - the means, the ends, and all the processes of individual lives - is all covered by my goodness, then while you might not always understand what I am doing, you would trust me. But you don't." To which I would only say, Amen. We frequently doubt the goodness of God displayed in the face of Christ - and this doubting is no piety but impiety.

Also profitable was his handling of emotions. When Mack asks for help understanding emotions, Sarayu responds, "Paradigms power perception and perceptions power emotions. Most emotions are responses to perception - what you think is true about a given situation. If your perception is false, then your emotional response to it will be false too." Peter calls us to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts - and our hearts include not only what we think and what we do but also how we feel. Every area of our lives is to be subject to the Lordship of Christ, including our emotions. So, once again, Amen.

These were highlights for me from the book. Problems? Well there are many. The book is pervasively Arminian. As a good lover of Pauline and Augustinian election (cf. Eph 1), I find this troubling and ultimately an empty solution to the problems the main character faces. Young's conception of the Trinity is problematic, verging on modalism. He has a hard time with masculinity and so begins his tale by presenting God in female imagery - something Scripture avoids intentionally. This problem with masculinity is pervasive throughout the book. These criticisms have been made compellingly and winsomely by Tim Challies and Doug Wilson.

The single most pervasive problem in the book was Young's tendency to draw various dualisms between "relationship" and whatever phenomenon he doesn't particularly like. So he has a dualsim between rules and relationship (198), between roles and relationship (148), between institutions and relationship (178), between hierarchy and relationship (124), between religion and relationship (179). While the last has been extremely popular in evangelicalism for many years, the other dualisms are related much more to modern American culture than to any sort of biblical wisdom.

Take, as one example, his dualism between rules and relationship. Frequently we find the author criticizing the notion of a rules based faith and insisting instead on the need for a relationship free from such shackles. A rule based faith is inherently anti-Christian and destructive.

Now on the one hand there is certainly a legitimate distinction to be made here. We are not to pursue the law of God, the statutes of God, the (dare we say it) rules of God with any kind of merit mentality. We do not keep the law of the Lord as some means to earn God’s favor. Rather as those who stand in a right relationship with God, we hunger and thirst for His commands.

Consider the way in which the Servant of the Lord approaches the commands of God in Isaiah 50:4ff. He listens to the Word of God, meditates upon it, and in faith obeys what the Lord has revealed. He obeys in the knowledge that the Lord will help Him, that he will not be ashamed. His labor is not in vain in light of the promises of God.

But The Shack proceeds far beyond this legitimate Scriptural insight and instead embraces the modern dualism between rules and relationships. Scripture embraces no such dualism. The Servant of Isaiah is characterized by being attentive to the teaching, the doctrine, the rules and laws of His Master. In addition, we find in verse 10 of the Song that we are exhorted to give ear to the Word of the Servant.

Note the attitude toward the law that is reflected in the calls of Isaiah to "Listen" after this Servant Song. Isaiah 51:4 declares

“Listen to Me, My people; And give ear to Me, O My nation: For law will proceed from Me, And I will make My justice rest As a light of the peoples.”

Law will proceed from Him (cf. Isaiah 2:1ff) - and this is a good thing. The Scriptures certainly do recognize that adherence to rules simply because they are rules is deficient and inadequate. It also confesses that the goal of piety is to move beyond the simple recitation of rules to the internalization of those rules. This is the whole point of Psalm 119. We also see it in the passage we are examining in Isaiah. Look at 51:7-8:

“Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, You people in whose heart is My law: Do not fear the reproach of men, Nor be afraid of their insults. For the moth will eat them up like a garment, And the worm will eat them like wool; But My righteousness will be forever, And My salvation from generation to generation.”

Rules and relationships are not contrary to one another, in other words, but complementary to one another. We experience this in any relationship. When a relationship is just starting or when it has been rocky and is beginning to recover, simple rules are where things start. “OK,” the counselor will advise, “don’t do that anymore, do this instead.” Obviously the relationship should not stop there – the knowledge should grow and deepen so that the laws become internalized, so that they become habits of behavior. But when you’ve got bad habits, the initial destruction of them comes via baby steps of obedience, putting to death old habits and giving life to new habits. Scripture knows no dualism between rules and relationship.

We could likewise analyze the various other dualisms that Young has established, demonstrating that each of them has far less to do with biblical wisdom than with modern American culture. The danger of this approach to "relationship" is that it makes "relationship" a new idol - and God is not particularly fond of idols. And this is my final critique of the book - the god displayed in its pages simply cannot deal with the portrayal of God in the Scriptures, especially the prophets. Young's god is not sovereign, not holy, not just. He is all about "hanging-out." But the God of Scripture? He is the High and Holy One, the Lord God is His Name.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Singing for the Kingdom

Isaiah 51:9-11 (NKJV)9 Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, In the generations of old. Are You not the arm that cut Rahab apart, And wounded the serpent? 10 Are You not the One who dried up the sea, The waters of the great deep; That made the depths of the sea a road For the redeemed to cross over? 11 So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

In our passage today Isaiah calls upon the Lord to fulfill the promises that He is making through Isaiah himself. The Lord has promised through the prophet Isaiah to rescue His people from exile; indeed, not only to rescue His people from exile but to rescue the entire earth. And so Isaiah, seeing the promise, longing for its fulfillment calls out to the Lord in the midst of writing these promises – Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord!

Isaiah calls to the Lord’s mind His previous acts of deliverance and implores Him to act again. Was it not You, Lord, who acted to destroy Egypt, was it not You who dried up the Red Sea, who made the depths of the sea a road for Israel to cross upon? Yes it was You, Lord, who did this.

And so Isaiah calls upon this same Lord, the Lord who delivered Israel from Egypt and who was presently revealing His purposes to Isaiah – Awake! Awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord!

And this brothers is the heart of true prayer. The heart of true prayer is to consider the promises of God and then ask Him, plead with Him, urge Him to do the very things that He has promised to do. Lord, act! Lord, save!

Today is the second Sunday of Advent – the beginning of the Church calendar. In this time we have the immense privilege of recalling the cries of our fathers – Lord awake! Lord act! Do that which you have promised.

But we too find ourselves in this position. For the Lord has yet to fulfill all His promises. The Lord has yet to fill the earth with the knowledge of His name, yet to spread justice to all the ends of the earth. And so we are instructed by our Lord Jesus to cry out, Lord awake! Lord act! Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven! Vindicate your Name, O Lord! Rescue your people!

One of the chief ways that we as the people of God issue these cries is in our singing – we praise the Lord who has acted and beseech Him yet to act! And this is what Isaiah tells us. “So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, And come to Zion with singing.” For what was the response of Israel following the Exodus? Miriam and the daughters of Israel composed a song and praised the Lord for his deliverance. But now Isaiah is asking for more – deliver us yet again. Israel praised the Lord for His deliverance and looked forward to deliverances yet to come. And we, brothers and sisters, are in a similar position. Christ has come – Hallelujah! Christ has yet to extend His rule throughout the earth – Maranatha!

You’ll notice that the hymns and psalms we have chosen for Advent are endeavoring to give expression to this reality. We are endeavoring to be consistent with the thrust of the season. And so as you sing – consider. Why are we singing what we are singing? Is the song a song of praise for deliverance accomplished or is it one of deliverance desired or is it one of both? For we as the people of God have the immense privilege of celebrating the incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and of praying that His Kingdom would reach its full fruition. We are praying as we sing, Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

And so how ought we to sing? Well, what is the tone of Isaiah’s call? Awake! Awake, put on strength O arm of the Lord! Is it not one of passion, conviction, entreaty, hunger, robustness?

Reminded that we are yet in need of the Lord’s mercy, that the Lord has exhorted us to sing and pray for the full arrival of His Kingdom, let us kneel and confess our complacency to the Lord.

Changing the Liturgy

Matthew 15:1-6 (NKJV)1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” 3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— 6 then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.

The passage before us in Matthew should be very familiar. We have recently explored Mark’s telling of this same event. But Matthew’s emphasis falls differently thank Mark’s – Matthew wants to make sure that his readers always keep before them an essential distinction – there are those things that are human traditions and there are those that are commandments of God. When we fail to make the distinction between these two things we inevitably run the danger, which the Pharisees failed to avoid, of substituting human traditions for the Word of God or of imagining that our own traditions have equal weight with the Word of God.

Traditions are not inherently bad. In fact, traditions are inevitable. They are one of those things that we cannot avoid. And when we try to avoid having traditions we simply end up with a new tradition – namely, not having traditions. Traditions then are not the problem.

The problem arises when we don’t make a distinction between our traditions and God’s commands and we soon become incapable of differentiating them. This then leads us to the point where our traditions take precedence over the Word of God and we find ourselves incapable of seeing the way in which our traditions actually undermine the Word of God. This was the situation of the Pharisees. So much did they laud their traditions, that they could no longer see the way in which their traditions were making the Word of God of no effect.

This morning we have instituted a change in our call to worship and it is always good on such occasions to understand why we have done so. Among the various reasons – which would include the beginning of the Advent season this Lord’s Day – one of the central ones is reinforcing the distinction between the Word of God and our traditions. We are firmly convinced that our basic order of worship is reflective of biblical principles. We are just as firmly convinced that the details of our worship, while also reflective of biblical principles, are nowhere absolutely commanded in the Word of God. They are our own local traditions. And so, as a means of ruffling feathers and making sure that we don’t get so set in our ways that we imagine all the little details of our liturgy are found in Deuteronomy somewhere, we periodically change the liturgy.

And so, as we come into the presence of our Lord this day, let us remember to draw the distinction between the commandments of God and the traditions of men – and let us confess to our Lord that we have too often failed to make this distinction.