“We have no idea why we are here, where we are supposed to go, and how we are to conduct ourselves on the way. But in the meantime, our government schools solemnly teach third graders how to use condoms. Countless fathers desert their wives and children. Pastors dishonor their calling through their rampant adulteries. Thieving representatives of a thieving people plunder the widow. The drunkards of Ephraim puke on the table. For those who have eyes, the approaching night is clearly the kind which cannot be danced away” (Mother Kirk, p. 15).
[Speaking of Matt. 18:1-9] “The first thing to notice is how the disciples’ lapse into mimetic rivalry evoked from Jesus a discourse on scandal and scandalizing. As I said, it seems at first a non sequitur. From the mimetic point of view, however, it is the perfect response. Jesus recognized his disciples anxiety about their relative social standing for what it was: an indication that they were becoming ‘stumbling blocks’ for one another. They were becoming envious and rivalrous. Ironically, Jesus here uses imagery that is scandalous in the conventional sense of being shocking in order to stress the dangers of scandal in the scriptural sense of something that arouses envious, covetous, or rivalrous desire” (Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, p. 210).
As a congregation we have grown a great deal over the years. We are very grateful for what God has given us, and we are even more grateful for what He has taken away from us. By faith, we trust that as the years go by, we will grow our roots even deeper into that grace.
“And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ. As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead”
The apostle Paul is concerned that the Colossian church not be dragged into plausible errors (v. 4). Although he is away from them, yet his spirit is together with them. He rejoices to see their order (v. 5), along with the steadfastness of their faith in Jesus. Being a Christian is to be conducted on the same principles as becoming a Christian was (v. 6). They have been taught the faith at the root, and they are well established (v. 7). We can tell if they are connected to this root by the fruit, which is thanksgiving. Watch out for those men who were educated past their intelligence, and who would spoil you through worldliness of mind (v. 8). Reject this kind of thing on the basis of the Incarnation (v. 9), which is not the same thing as rejecting it because of intellectual laziness. Christ is now the head over all principalties and powers, and we Christians are complete in Him (v. 10), which places us over those principalities and powers as well. God has made us kings and priests on the earth. We were set apart to Him by means of spiritual circumcision (v. 11), which is identified with baptism (v. 12). In that baptism, we are raised with Him by the same power that raised Him from the dead.
Beholding Your Order
We have commented before on the import of an important word in verse 5 here. Should worship be spontaneous, free-flowing, stream of consciousness? No. The apostle rejoices to see the order of the Colossian church. The word here is taxos, and refers to a military discipline. To get the same effect, we could render it as regimentation. Liturgical worship is defined, disciplined, planned, and ordered. But, having defined it this way, as we ought to, we have to keep in mind that this kind of discipline creates its own set of temptations. As a Christian church trying to establish a robust pattern of covenant renewal worship, we need to be oriented to the next temptations, not the temptations of ten years ago. It is the curve up ahead that will get us, not the curve in the road three miles back.
We are acutely aware of the problems of mob worship, as opposed to the ordered worship that we want to have, and which St. Paul commends here. But are we so foolish as to think that there are no errors associated with “regimentation”? Not at all, and hence these comments.
Love Your Bibles:
As we stand to hear the Scriptures read, it is fully appropriate to simply listen. The Word of God heard is having a different effect than the Scriptures simply read. But because we have sermon outlines, and an order of service, it is quite possible to get through an entire service without having to open your Bibles once. Now intellectually this might be quiet defensible—but it is still not a good liturgical statement (Acts 17:11). Don’t follow along in your Bibles like you are reading a contract offered you by a salesman whose honesty you suspect. You should follow along because, like the Bereans, you are excited by what is there. At the same time, raising another liturgical issue, some of you are not following along in your Bibles at all because you have five kids and you are trying to maintain moral order in your row. Do so more and more. We are not superstitious about our liturgical practice of reading the Bible. You are to have a high view of the worship of the Church, but do not allow the church to get between you and our Bible.
We have rightly moved away from rambling, extemporaneous praying. When we come to pray to the Lord, more often than not whoever is praying has written this prayer out beforehand. But beware of falling into a false understanding of this. We readily equate enthusiasm in prayer with cluelessness, and preparedness with lethargy. Practicing your martial arts moves beforehand is a planned activity, but there comes a time when you are actually in the fight. And then, all the preparedness ought to come together with focus and discipline and emotional strength. Far too often liturgical worship is conducted like the droning of a fly against the window at the far end of the museum. Formal liturgy, if it is to avoid being an insult to God, has to be robust.
Wine At the Table:
The Lord Jesus established this meal, and He did so with wine and bread. He did what He did for scriptural reasons, and yet, in the nineteenth century, the temperance movement in the United States did a great deal of damage to this God-given drink. It has been established beyond all reasonable doubt that the Lord established this meal with wine, and not with grape juice. That being the case, the elders would like to move (sometime in the foreseeable future) to having only wine available in the trays.
Remember What We Do:
Every week we ascend into the heavenly places in order to worship God the Father in the name of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. This begins with the call to worship, where the heavens open and we are taken up in the power of the Spirit. We acknowledge our sinfulness first, confessing our sins, knowing that we are approaching a holy God.We consecrate ourselves to God, by hearing His Word, and by offering up to Him all that we have and are. Having done so, we sit down at Table with our Lord, and we have communion with Him. This is a service of covenant renewal. And when it has occurred, you are blessed, and commissioned, and sent out into the world to advance the cause of God’s kingdom. It is by this means, rendered in faith, that God establishes His work in the world. But remember that He does this, not just through us having the right forms, but also the right hearts, fervent in zeal.
Minister: Lift up your hearts!
Congregation: We lift them up to the Lord!
Hear my cry, O God;
Attend to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth,
My voice goes out to You.
When my heart is overwhelmed,
Lead me O God,
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
You have always been my shelter,
A strong tower against the foe.
I will live in Your tabernacle,
I will dwell with You forever.
I trust in the shelter of Your wings.
Consider these things.
O God, Your heard the vows I made,
You granted me a legacy,
An heritage of those who fear Your name.
You lengthen the days of the king’s life,
His years go out to generations.
He shall abide in Your presence forever,
Prepare Your mercy and truth,
Which alone can preserve him there.
So I sing praise to Your name,
And I do it forever,
That I may perform my vows
As a daily office.
And so, gracious Father, we worship You now through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end, amen.
Christians have been living in exile for far too many years. This exile is the exile of an arbitrary dualism, one that separates our private faith and the public faith. This is the heresy of modernity, and the political expression of that heresy is the ideal of liberal democracy. According to this heresy, what you believe as a matter of religious principle must not have any public impact whatever. Christians are allowed to participate in the public processes, but the price of admission is a willingness to embrace a schizophrenic faith, with the lordship of Jesus kept indoors at all times.
For over a century, Christians generally have been complicit with this. And so long as the secularists were willing to conform their external behavior to certain tenets that were thought to be expressions of our common humanity, but which were actually leftovers from the previous Christian era, we thought the compromise would not be too costly.
But it remains true that God is not mocked, and men will always reap what they sow. We are the generation of Christians living in the time of harvest, and the harvest will not be pleasant. The way out is not activism, but rather repentance. We must see what the issues are, and we must repent.
In the providence of God, in our day, what is left of the Western world is confronted with two significant threats. The first is the wave of Islamic immigration, primarily in Europe. But their weapons are not boxcutters, but rather babies. The second threat is the secular American empire, run by hard, pragmatic pagans. These pagans running the show will do what pagans running the show have always done, which is to act wickedly, and if we continue to cling to our schizophrenia, we cannot pretend to be astonished at the results.
We present the gospel to both forms of unbelief, and we call all the nations to kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and we perish in the way. Our means of doing this is worship.
In our nation, this week is set apart as Thanksgiving week. We, of all people, should be prepared to overflow with gratitude to God as we gather together with family and friends to rejoice before Him. We do this, not because we have substituted a cultural holiday for what the Lord requires, but because for many years now we have been celebrating Thanksgiving on a weekly basis here, at this Table. This is the Eucharistic Table, or, directly rendered, this is the Table of Thanksgiving.
So this Table defines and directs what we do at every other table. If we have been coming to this Table as we ought, then when it comes to familial and national expressions of thanksgiving, which are certainly right and proper, we will really know how to get into it.
Here we thank God for our salvation, for the forgiveness of sin, for a complete cleansing, for our acceptance with Him, for our justification in the resurrection of Jesus. This puts everything in perspective—but perspective does not annihilate all the other things we have to be thankful for. This coming Thursday you will say a prayer thanking God for the turkey, and ham, and mashed potatoes, and gravy, and stuffing, and cranberry sauce, and green beans, and rolls, and honey butter, and more pies than you can take in. That prayer will represent, as a covenant representative, your gratitude for harvest, good weather, your jobs, your safety, peace in the land, your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, and far more than you can reckon.
Thanksgiving is a duty in which it is necessary to fail. Thanksgiving always staggers and falls under the weight of what God has actually given to us. There is no way to do it justice. So this is a glorious and honorable failure, but we do not settle for that. We want to fail better at this next year. And failing better means coming to the Table of the Lord to be strengthened in our gladness, joy, and thanksgiving — week after week. Come then.
Here is an interesting and valuable article on American Empire, N.T. Wright, the emergent church, and Pauline studies (HT: Justin Taylor).
And here are just a couple of random (and brief) observations on the same general subject. I am not going to argue for these; I am just going to say them.
1. It is self-evident to me that America has become an empire (of sorts), and that the New Testament provides us with a pattern as we seek to operate as consistent Christians within the confines of empire, supporting the powers that be as needed, and challenging them prophetically as needed.
2. The challenge to empire in the NT is presented in the name of the Lord Jesus, and is done through the Church. It is not done on behalf of and in the name of aggrieved Parthians, disenfranchised Scythians, post-colonial tinpot dictators complaining about the loan policies of the World Bank, or UN health workers urging a more expansive condom distribution policy.
3. Those who want the American empire to behave itself, and yet who have an allergic reaction to all forms of “Constantinianism,” want something that has never been and never will be. As much as they like to pretend otherwise, anti-Constantinians don’t really believe in speaking truth to power. They believe in speaking limp nostrums to power, or cheesy bromides to power, or sentimental cliches to power. And power laughs and does what it wants. The pagans running the show will behave as pagans always have until and unless they submit to the saving and authoritative grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. Submitting to the lordship of Jesus Christ is not the same thing as trendy leftism. Sorry. See number two again.
5. The only genuine postmodernism possible is theonomic postmillennialism. This is not a cute debating trick. It is a serious point, easier to dismiss with a secularized and nonchalant laugh than it is to answer. True postmodernism is not possible until all the postmodernists are dead.
6. And last, although I write as a Christian, a conservative, and a Calvinist, in that order, everything I argue for here is deeply rooted in the blues.
Our Father and God, You are the God who has promised to show us the covenant. We thank You that we are in the covenant, but we seek more than this—we ask that You would show us the covenant, in accordance with all Your promises. We sit down at this meal, ready to thank You for it, but we are not just thanking You for the food, the wine, the fellowship, the laughter, and all the rest. We do thank You for these things, but in addition we thank You for keeping Your promises to us as You give them. We thank You for all the generations to come where You will keep, with different households, and different foods and wines, the same promises. We thank You for all of it,
IN THE NAME OF JESUS, AMEN.