Preparing for Spiritual Battle
The elders asked me to present a message to help keep the congregation “oriented.” Over the last few years, we have instituted a number of changes in our liturgy of worship. What is the trajectory of this? What is our goal for this congregation? What is our vision for what all this will look like in the years to come?
Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air” (1 Cor. 14:6-9).
In this passage, the apostle Paul is talking about the gift of tongues, but the principle underlying his instruction here applies to more things than just the miraculous gift of an unknown language. If someone were to preach in a congregation in an unknown tongue that was not miraculously given to him, but which he rather learned by study, the same principles would still apply. And in the same way, if a congregation does not know the meaning of what they are doing or where they are going because their leaders don’t know, or won’t explain, or explain it badly, or explain it in high-octane theological jargon, the principle still remains the same.
The X On the Map That Says “You Are Here”:
The best way to summarize our doctrinal position is to say that we are evangelical and Reformed. We are evangelical because we believe that everyone must be converted to God in order to be right with Him, and that it is the intention of Jesus Christ that His Church effectually bring the message of salvation to the world. We are Reformed because we believe that God is sovereign over all things, including our salvation, our worship, our public life, our business practices, and our pursuit of the arts. Our church’s doctrinal commitments are summarized in a Book of Confessions, with the original Westminster Confession right at the center. This is what we have settled upon (after an interesting pilgrimage of many years). We have landed in the New World and are building our towns—we are not still island hopping.
The elders are committed to the covenant renewal model of worship—call, confession, consecration, communion, and commission. This is the structural backbone for each of our worship services, and you should consider this is a given. You can expect this structure to remain unchanged, while certain details within that structure are likely to change over time. The kinds of changes that may change from this point on would include things like variation in some of the minister/congregation responses, kneeling in confession, singing some things that are now spoken, and so on. But if you were to move away and come back in ten years, we believe you would still be largely familar with the service. We want these developments to remain firmly within the Presbyterian and Reformed orbit, and have no intention of the liturgy developing into some sort of Anglican Lite. There are good Calvinists who are Anglicans, and others who are in low church Bible churches, and “God bless them,” we say.
One area where we hope for significant and marked development is in the area of music. We have begun a good thing, but this is an area where we still have much to do. In the years to come, some of what we would like to see is this: 1. a situation where four-part harmonization in congregational singing becomes the norm, and not the exception; 2. increasing orchestral accompaniment for all the music; 3. creation of a church culture that makes parental provision of musical training for our children easy and rewarding, and not difficult; 4. more men in the choir; and 5. musicians who are employed by the church being seen as something other than a luxury.
We would like to build a sanctuary, as God gives us opportunity. In this, we are dealing with two basic factors—the fact that we would like to do this debt free and the fact that we have a climate where some people would file a complaint over every square foot and every last doorknob. But you should know that the elders and deacons have been actively pursuing leads and possibilities. This is much more of a priority than it may appear to be.
As mentioned in the previous point, we are dealing with a negative situation, created over the last three years or so by a handful of committed hostiles. But this creates an optical illusion, and we have to be careful not to fall for it. The behavior of this handful has created an enormous amount of good will toward us in the community at large. We want to take the resultant opportunity to pursue greater unity with other evangelical Christians in town, and reach out evangelistically to nonbelievers. We do want to have a public impact in our town, but we do not want to do this by “political” means. Authority flows to those who take responsibility through service, and this is what we want to do in every aspect of life.
We want our worship of God on the Lord’s Day to set a pattern, provide teaching, give inspiration, and establish a center of gravity for true community. As we recover true worship we are recovering worship that is potent. In worship, we glorify the name of Jesus Christ in heaven. We then ask, in line with the Lord’s prayer, for God to do on earth what is done in heaven—which in this case is to glorify the name of Jesus in Moscow as it has been glorified in heaven. When this is done in faith, as we are seeking to do it, the potency will be registered throughout the rest of week.
Here are some of the areas where this potency will be noticed. Please note that this is not a “to do” list, but rather a vision list. It is not the “new legalism,” but rather the prayer request list. Driven by worship, we are looking for a spirit of sabbath celebration, a rich musical culture with the psalms at the center of it, a robust commitment to Christian education, tight families that really like each other, functional parishes (HOH meetings and social life both), and all done in the context of a love for Jesus Christ.