Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Tradition of Anti-Traditionalism

1 Corinthians 11:2
Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.

Our culture has institutionalized the tradition of anti-traditionalism. Yesterday’s clothes are outmoded; yesterday’s ideas are passé. No sin is more grievous than being “behind the times.” Each new generation is expected to originate something totally new and eagerly jump on board the new train. Beanie babies have come and gone; Tickle me Elmos have lost their flare; Cabbage Patch dolls are a long-forgotten craze; and fidget spinners will soon lose their luster.

Unfortunately, the Church has imbibed much of this cultural food. Several years ago, I read a story about a Trinity Church in Connecticut. Trinity had been founded by folks who were dissatisfied with the traditions in the churches and who wanted something new, something hip, something relevant. However, ten years into their project they discovered something disconcerting: they had developed their own traditions. The Wall Street Journal remarked that “these churches were founded by people in rebellion against established institutions. Ten years down the road, they have become the establishment.” Consequently, the pastor decided to step down. “You don’t want to become ossified,” he said. “You have to keep thinking freshly on how to do church.”

Contrast this way of thinking with Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians in our text today: Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. Paul praises the Corinthians not for their novelty but for their faithfulness to that which they had been taught. In other words, the Word of God teaches us to value a godly inheritance – to take what is given in one generation and to pass down what is good and precious to the next; to tell our children and grandchildren the wonderful works of God so that they in turn can tell their children and grandchildren.

Popular culture, by design, rejects this idea--it plans for obsolescence. Who could imagine making special note in one’s will of your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Collection? Or your Garth Brooks CD set? The idea is absurd because these things are not meant to be handed down. Products and performers in pop culture are expected to have their day in the sun and then disappear, to be replaced by another. For this reason, it is critical that our worship not reflect the pop culture mentality, not reflect an opposition to a godly inheritance.

Paul’s words reveal that traditions are not inherently bad; in fact, as I have emphasized before, traditions are inevitable. It is only when our traditions undermine what is biblically important that they become destructive. And the tradition of anti-traditionalism is biblically destructive – the constant pursuit of some new style of worship, the longing to be relevant, the overthrowing of older generations because younger ones always know better – what do any of those things have to do with the Word of God?

As we gather to worship, therefore, let us do so with joy, celebrating the great work that the Spirit of God has done in leading and guiding His people to this day – treasuring what is good in our inheritance and passing those things down to the next generation. And the first thing the Spirit does in bringing us into the presence of our thrice holy God is awaken in us a sense of our own sin – in particular, our sin of undermining the Word of God through our traditions. So let us confess our sins to the Lord and, as you are able, let us kneel as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Father is Seeking Worshipers

John 4:23–24 (NKJV)
23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth.”

Last week we observed that Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman explained some of the changes in worship from the old to the new covenant. While old covenant worship was centralized in Jerusalem, new covenant worship has been spread throughout the earth; and while old covenant worship was simply monotheistic, new covenant worship is Trinitarian, gloriously monotheistic. Today I’d like us to meditate on Jesus’ remark that the Father is seeking such to worship Him.

In the history of Christianity, one of the names used to identify the weekly corporate gathering of the congregation is the Divine Service or the Lord’s Service. Unfortunately, we rarely use this term any longer, almost exclusively using the word “worship” to label our weekly gathering.

On one level, of course, using the label “worship” is entirely fitting. To worship God is to ascribe worth to Him – it is to announce that He is the Lord and Creator of all and is therefore worthy of all honor and glory and power. Each Lord’s Day we gather to worship the High and Exalted One, the One who has created us from nothing and who has redeemed us from destruction. As Jesus says in our text today, we gather to worship God the Father in the Name of His Son and by the power of His Spirit. Worship is a great term.

But the term “worship” can obscure a fundamental reality to which Jesus points us in our text: The Father is seeking such to worship Him. Jesus declares that when we come to worship the Lord, the reason that we have come is because God in His mercy has sought us out. Our worship, in other words, is a response to God’s action. Why are you here today? Because God sought you out, God summoned you here, God brought you here. We love because He first loved us. We serve God in worship because God first served us by bringing us here.

And this is why the title the “Lord’s Service” is so helpful. The title is intentionally ambiguous – is the “Lord’s Service” our service of the Lord – worshiping Him, honoring Him, and praising Him – or is it the Lord’s Service of His people – calling us together, comforting us from His Word, and feeding us at His Table? Biblically our gathering each Lord’s Day is both. He serves us and we serve Him. And whose service is primary? Whose service comes first? The Lord’s. For if He did not serve us by calling us here then we would not serve Him by worshiping Him.

Ought we not, therefore, to begin each Lord’s Day with gratitude and thankfulness? God has called us here; summoned us to enter His presence and worship Him in Spirit and Truth. So how have you responded to His summons? Are you here with an eager heart and mind? Or are you here cloudy and disinterested, so worn from the cares of the week that you cannot serve Him well?

Reminded that God has sought us out and served us in order that we might serve Him, let us confess that we often respond to His work with ingratitude and indifference rather than joy and delight. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant Worship

John 4:21-24 (NKJV)
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth.”

On this Trinity Sunday, I would like us to consider the words that Jesus speaks in this text and the way that they help us understand new covenant worship. Jesus is anticipating two changes in the worship of God’s people. Unfortunately, these changes are frequently misinterpreted. Many imagine that Jesus is contrasting the external, formal worship of the OT period with the heartfelt, internal worship of the New. At one time people worshiped externally, now all worship is “in spirit and truth” – that is, heartfelt and genuine.

The difficulty faced by this interpretation is not the insistence that worship must be heartfelt and genuine. That is most certainly true. The difficulty is that this was no less true in the OT than it is in the New. David declares in the psalter, “Sacrifice and burnt offering you did not desire, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Heartfelt, genuine worship was to characterize the OT no less than the New.

So what are the changes Jesus anticipated in His words to the Samaritan woman? There are two. First, Jesus insists that the corporate worship of the people of God would be decentralized. Remember that in the OT God’s people had a central sanctuary located at Jerusalem. As we will review today in the sermon, three times a year every male had to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to Mount Zion, and worship at the central sanctuary, offering sacrifices, feasting with God’s people, honoring the Lord. The Samaritans, for their part, refused to acknowledge the centrality of Jerusalem but likewise had a central sanctuary at Mount Gerizim. Here the Samaritans had their collective feasts. The woman asks Jesus – “You’re a prophet; so which is it? Mount Zion or Mount Gerizim?” Jesus responds, “Neither! In the Christian era, during My reign, God’s people are not required to gather for corporate worship at a central sanctuary – whether in Gerizim or Jerusalem or Rome. Rather, wherever the people of God gather together in My Name and lift My Name on high, there is Mount Zion, there is the City of God, there is the central sanctuary.” In other words, Jerusalem in Israel is no longer the center of God’s dealings with man; the heavenly Jerusalem, Mount Zion, the Church is the center.

Second, Jesus informs us that not only would corporate worship be decentralized, it would be explicitly Trinitarian. When Jesus rose from the dead and sent forth His Spirit, the worship of God’s people was forever transformed. It became explicitly Trinitarian – worshiping the Father in Spirit – the very Spirit whom Jesus promised would come and lead His people into all righteousness – and in Truth – the very Truth who took on human flesh and declared to His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday the Church has historically emphasized the Triune nature of God. It is this that Jesus does in our text. Worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth is not an exhortation to heartfelt, genuine worship – that exhortation had been given throughout the OT. Worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth is to worship the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And it was this transformation that Jesus anticipated and announced to the Samaritan woman. “The time is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.”

So what does this mean for us? It means that this morning as we gather together to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, as we gather to worship the Triune God, we are approaching the central sanctuary of God, the place where God dwells. Mount Zion is His dwelling place and it is this place to which we draw near every time we gather to worship the Lord together. Hebrews tells us, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born who are registered in heaven…” (Heb 12:22-23) And, like Isaiah, who entered the presence of God in the Temple, the first thing that should strike us is our own unworthiness – in ourselves, we are not worthy to be here. And so let us kneel and seek His forgiveness through Christ.