This is part two of a four-part blog series focusing on the season of Advent. For the next few weeks, Emmaus poets, writers and artists will share their work with us as we anticipate Christmas together.
Take a minute, church, and ponder the boundless beauty of Jesus.
He authored all origins. He clocked-in the entire cosmos. He permitted time to begin ticking. He has no ancestors, no roots, no source, no predecessors. He simply is, and has always been. He introduced time and space to one another. He inaugurated the entire universe. He is the founder of all foundations and beginnings – the first cause, the primary mover. No number can begin to quantify his eternality. It is impossible to wrap your mind around how long he has existed. But try to! Then sit in awe of the God-ness of your King.
This is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and God Himself.
He is the sustainer. He has always, for all time, held everything together – by His Word. He prepared and baked all laws of physics and thermodynamics and relativity, which continue to baffle the most brilliant brains in all of humanity. And He holds together the fibers of their brains while baffling them. Actually, He upholds every fiber of every object that ever existed. Just try to comprehend that last sentence. Every fiber. Every object. That ever existed. Adam and Eve’s bodies, your body, and everyone in between. Mountains, oceans, subatomic particles, and the manger he was born into. He sustains them all. Try to comprehend this, church! No wonder the heavenly beings have been singing to him for ages.
“Holy, holy, holy.” This is their song. This is the everlasting cadence of the beings of highest order. They surround Him, and cover their faces and prostrate themselves – which is the only proper response to His immeasurable glory and majesty. He is absolutely perfect. No accusation of sin can stick to Him. No ounce of imperfection has ever come from Him. He is totally pure. No sin has ever breached the barrier of His home in Heaven. He is unscathed, unstained and untouched by the ugliness of ungodliness. He has always been this way – from as long as time can remember and before.
Their song contains the correct lyrics – He is holy. Wholly holy.
This glorious, heavenly, eternal Jesus became infant Jesus. He had the opposite of a humble background. His resume, as a helpless baby, reads, “Creator of all things,” and “Sustainer of all life.” He is who made the Holy Night holy. He is the true Light. In him there is no darkness. At all. All darkness evacuates at the whisper of His name. It always has, for all time. Nothing can eclipse the radiance of His glory. Nothing. Try to wrap your brain around that thought! Darkness has never done anything but flee from Jesus. It is accustomed to it. Our Jesus – Jesus Christ, the true Light.
And this true Light, came into the world.
Whatever is beautiful, majestic, powerful, and worthy of commendation can be summed up in Jesus Christ. See this Jesus, praise this Jesus, prostrate yourself before this Jesus.
Take a minute, church, and ponder the boundless beauty and glory of Jesus.
In this painting I was trying to capture what reminds me of Jesus’ glory. I think of it with every sunrise and how we are surrounded by his eternal glory with each new morning. I chose nature because it is something that always makes me feel close to the Lord and makes me feel overwhelmed with his glory.
There is a Man whose flesh came second, I’ve heard.
Some say He holds the stars, as if His will
Grants Orion’s bow to sing and kill.
By second, they hint mortality deferred,
The lines of now and then and soon all blurred.
That is, great Time to Him tips his tall bill,
For ages move when He undrys his quill.
Strange still, I ask His name? They say “The Word”.
Mystery, and yet, informed by all this glory!
With God, was God, is God — ‘Ere moon ‘ere sun,
His life spilt and spelt Light for man’s story;
This is the Christ, begot from Heav’n, the Son.
As He makes bright Himself, clearly I see
He comes, first born, to offer birth to me.
*Christmas is about glory. Without an understanding of the eternal glory of Jesus Christ the Son, the manger is robbed of its poignance and power. There is no wonder in the lowly stable without the contrast of the magnificence of heaven. The magi and shepherds come to worship not just a baby, but also a glorious Son. But without God’s help, how can we comprehend the beauty of Jesus? All we see is a baby, meek and mild. We need revelation — as the shepherds heard the heavenly choir and the magi saw the heavenly star — in order to understand the weight of incarnation. God must make his glory know to us. I wanted my poem about glory to make the reader feel this need for divine revelation.
I’ve attempted to do this by telling a simple narrative with an unknown actor. The sonnet form chosen is written in iambic pentameter to bring form and structure to the poem (a symbol of the perfect nature of glory), and its two stanzas help move the narrative along by providing a distinct turn in tone. In the first stanza (called the octave, because of its eight lines), we are introduced to a anonymous inquisitor, taken aback by something he has heard. By comparing his perception of Christ to other god-like figures of Orion, and Father Time/Chronos, I illustrate how the speaker is confused at how this God-man could be both above time and above the universe itself, author of ages and God of gods. It all seems too much to be true, too much glory to synthesize down into one being.
The sestet (last six lines) changes tone from skeptical to enraptured. Suddenly the speaker’s eyes perceive that this man he has heard of is in fact the Christ, glorious beyond all compare. What happens to make this so? Well, it starts with the introduction of his name, “The Word”, in line 8. Keen readers will notice that lines 10-11 are a paraphrase of John 1:1-4. Only with the introduction of direct Scriptural language can the poem switch from rumor to revelation. The glory of the son is not just explained to our speaker, it is shown to him in the Bible. We see, then, in lines 13-14, that God is a God who reveals himself. His purpose is known only when he allows us to see. Part of the beauty of Christmas is that the glory that we have only heard of and long for becomes a glory we can glimpse. As God reveals himself in his sent Son, we are offered in Christ new life with new eyes. No longer is his glory strange and confusing, it is to be comprehended with awe and worship.
Here are 14 books that stood out to me from my 2017 readings. Perhaps they would be encouragements and challenges to you as well.
The Imperfect Disciple by Jared C. Wilson
Union With Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne
Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into Everyday Stuff of Life by Jeff Vanderstelt
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Work in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies
Gospel Eldership: Equipping a New Generation of Servant Leaders by Bob Thune
From Weakness to Strength by Scott Sauls
The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter
Marriage and the Ministry of the Gospel by Ray Ortlund Jr
Theology / Commentaries
John by RC Sproul
Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible by Stephen Dempster
Commentary on Galatians by Martin Luther
Racism in Kansas City: A Short History by G.S. Griffin
Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ by Rosaria Butterfield
This is Part 3 of a four-part blog on the Liturgy at Emmaus. Last week we looked at the Call to Worship, the Song of Praise, the Scripture Reading and the Songs of Response. This week we will look at Corporate and Private Confession, the Assurance of Pardon and the Song of Response.
Simply put, we confess corporately for at least three primary reasons:
(1) after reading about, and singing about, the glorious, holy, Triune God, and all that he has accomplished in the gospel, we are compelled to confess our sins. The gospel works itself out in our lives, and as we meditate on what God has done in Christ to interrupt our sin and rebellion and helpless, to die the death we should have died, and to bring us into his Father’s family as brothers and sisters, one of the works of the gospel is ongoing repentance. There is a contrast between who God is and who we are, and with the clearest view of that contrast—with a full awareness of the fact that we often persist in faithlessness despite God’s unshakable faithfulness—we repent. However, this kind of repentance isn’t a shame-filled, guilt-ridden kind which leaves groveling criminals trembling for fear of what the judge’s verdict might be, but a hopeful and genuinely sorrowful kind of repentance, which leaves a child humbly heart-broken over the fact that he has disobeyed his father.
(2) the whole of a Christian’s life is marked by continued repentance. We want for our corporate gatherings to, in a way, be a microcosm of the Christian life. Confessing and repenting corporately is a way for us to set a precedence and an expectation for what we do as a Church. We are teaching one another what kind of people we are—namely, that we are a confessing people; a people who bear their sins to one another and to God; a people who do not hide their sin but rather search for it, bring it out into clear daylight, and execute it in public; a people who never despise weakness and neediness on the one hand, and who never minimize the sinfulness of sin on the other. In confessing corporately, not only are we praying corporately (one of the necessary biblical mandates you will recall from a previous post), we are teaching each other what to do with sin—i.e., we shamelessly bring it to Jesus, the only one who can actually deal with it.
And (3) when we corporately confess our sins to God, with one mind and heart, we are owning the fact that we are not the hero of the story. Don’t miss the counterintuitive irony about the situation: after three songs of singing with hands in the air, bellowing with loud triumphant-sounding voices, we decide to corporately admit our failures and our neediness, and confess our sins to God. Our community is an oxymoron. It is an army of soldiers who fight by dying. We proudly come together to sing about how weak and desperate we are. With boldness and shameless enthusiasm, we are united by our utter allegiance to—and dependence upon—a King who conquers by being conquered. This is the folly of the cross, the power of God unto salvation, and it is helpful to be reminded of this fact week after week. Corporate confession is thus a corporate exercise in humility.
After we confess our sins corporately, we allow for such an act to set in and do the work on us at the individual level. This extended period of private, silent meditation is intended to be a period of unearthing. Week after week, we come together as a people who have been battered and bruised by sin (be it sins we see, sins committed against us, or sins we commit ourselves), and this period of the service is an opportunity—within the context of corporate worship—to do business with God. I fully expect that through the course of the preceding liturgical elements (call to worship, Scripture reading, corporate songs, corporate confession), God has been at work convicting his people and revealing idols. Because of this, it is important that we have the opportunity to respond to such conviction and revelation. So in private confession, we do just that.
Assurance of Pardon
The assurance of pardon is even more important than the confession itself, for it is the outright promise that those in Christ have a rock-solid justification. Despite the subjective reality of what we may be feeling when we confess our sins, the assurance of pardon reminds us that an objective reality has been holding us secure throughout—if we are in Christ, we are forgiven. In this way, the person who is leading the liturgy is speaking as an ambassador of Christ to administer priestly comfort and peace, and it is not presumptuous either, for the entire declaration is predicated not on the speaker, but on Christ and his atoning work. In this way, the assurance of pardon fits both under the command to read the Scripture, but also to teach/preach the Scripture; the speaker not only reads the text, he goes on to apply its various implications to the believers present (“your sins are forgiven through Christ!”).
Recently, I had a member ask me why we typically don’t give any warning with the assurance of pardon. “When you start reading Scripture, I’m not really sure what the procedure is,” he said, “like, are we still praying or not?” The abruptness of the assurance of pardon is, as you might expect, intentional. Why do we not say “amen” before administering the assurance of pardon? Simply this: we want for you to be interrupted by grace. We want for the very first thing you hear, almost in a disruptive sort of way, to be God’s gracious words of assurance for those who have been united to Christ by faith. This is, in and of itself, an opportunity for us to demonstrate the gospel once more; God did not wait for us to clean ourselves up and make ourselves presentable before taking it upon himself to redeem us, rather he came while we were still weak and enemies. Likewise, I have no intention of waiting to administer the assurance of pardon until after the congregation has divulged all of its sins to God. I want the congregation to hear the grace of God drowning out their sins like a bear-horn while their confessions are still on their lips. This why the assurance of pardon will often include something like, “those sins that you have just confessed, are already forgiven in Christ. They have been nailed to the cross and buried in the grave, and you are one with the resurrected Christ!”
Song of Thanksgiving
Does anything make more sense than this? I mean honestly, when we’ve just been interrupted with such grace—when we’ve had such a declaration of God’s kindness showered upon us as a people—singing a song of thanksgiving is just about the most logical thing we could do. So this song is typically one of the most explicitly gospel-rich songs we sing.
Next week we will continue our exploration of Emmaus’ liturgy by looking at the Sermon, Communion, the final Song of Response, and the Benediction.
This is Part 2 of a four-part blog on the Liturgy at Emmaus. Last week, I wrote a piece in which I developed our rationale, as a Church, for the primary elements of our corporate worship service. In this article, we’ll begin dissect each element in our actual liturgy.
Having looked at the governing principle behind our corporate worship services last week, I now want to shift our focus to address each of the particular elements in our weekly service. If you’ve spent any time at Emmaus, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that there’s a very predictable routine we go through every week. All of our services begin and end the exact same way, and there are a handful of things we do that are never absent. This routine is what we mean when we say liturgy, and every element matters. In reality, even “non-liturgical” Churches have liturgies—more times than not, it’s merely a liturgy that is absent-mindedly adopted. Opening song. Announcements. Greet your “neighbor.” Pass the bucket for tithe offerings. Two more songs. Sermon. Response song.
At Emmaus, we don’t want to do anything absent-mindedly; we want to have an explicitly biblical, gospel-drenched reason for everything that we do. In fact, when Pastor Josh, Pastor Ronni and Pastor Kevin were originally crafting the liturgical structure of our services, long before we began to even worship on a regular basis, they were pushed back to the drawing board on several occasions for the same resounding impulse: we need more gospel.
So at present, our services follow the following liturgical format:
• Call to Worship
• Song of Praise
• Scripture Reading
• Songs of Response
• Corporate Confession
• Private Confession
• Assurance of Pardon
• Song of Thanksgiving
• Song of Response
Below, I’ve broken down each element of our liturgy to explain we repeat such an activity week by week, and how it is intended to adorn the gospel.
Call to Worship
This is what begins our service. Of course, we often arrive before the call to worship to enjoy the company of one another, and on most weeks one of our pastors will make announcements, but the formal service doesn’t start until the call to worship. Why do we start this way? Because worship is essentially comprised of two elements: revelation and response. Worship is the act of responding to that which has been revealed. So if we truly gather together with the intention of worshiping our Triune God, we need see Him first! This is why the call to worship is always a Scripture reading. God has revealed himself through his Word, and if we intend to see Him—so that we can respond appropriately—we must look there.
The call to worship is also an act of mutual upbuilding. We are calling ourselves, and each other, to fix our eyes on God to see how glorious he is! It’s us saying to one another, “God is glorious and worthy of praise! Look at him! Isn’t he glorious and worthy of praise?! Yes! He is glorious and worthy of praise, so let’s praise him for his glory!” This is why the person leading in the call to worship will begin the call as an address to the congregation, and then the congregation will join the call as an address to the congregation and to God. We are starting with God, and unifying our voices around him in such a way that we are corporately affirming his worth to be the center of our attention.
So in the call to worship, we are simultaneously declaring to God that we consider Him worthy of the praise we are about to ascribe to Him, and we are asking for him to “incline [our hearts] to [his] testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” (Psalm 119:36). The call to worship is intrinsically a de-centering act; we are communicating from the outset that our gathering is about ascribing worth to God, not merely pleasing ourselves.
Song of Praise
After a call to worship, how could we not respond with a song of praise? This song is typically a song that intentionally focuses on the bigness of God. We are praising him for one of his divine attributes; his holiness, his power to create the cosmos or deliver his people, his unfathomable love, etc. It is a massive, unimaginably glorious God we have just been called to worship, so we gladly do just that. I’m tempted to go off into a tangent here about reverence, but I’ll simply say this: there is a reason why we rage against “glibness” in our services. You will find zero vanity in our songs. Joy? Yes. Exuberance? Absolutely. Cheesiness, presumption, or triviality? God forbid it! Why? Because we are worshiping God. If our songs aren’t marked by a palpable gravity, we may not be worshipping God. He has told us that acceptable worship in his sight is packaged in “reverence and awe,” (Heb. 12:28-29) so we dare not offer him anything less.
Again, this is supposed to be a central element for the gathered Church, so we want to do it often. Why read an extended package here, after the first song and before the second? Simply this: we want for Scripture to actually, functionally direct our service. It would be easy to read a passage of Scripture at the beginning, take credit for having a “biblically-based” service, and then run off and do whatever we please with the remainder of our time. But that’s not what we want. Rather, we want to sandwich our Scripture-filled songs with Scripture readings, Scriptural preaching and Scriptural obeying. In other words, we read right here in the service to indicate that Scripture isn’t merely the foundation of our service, it comprises the content of our service.
Song(s) of Response
Again, after we’ve read about this glorious God and what he has done, we are compelled to express his worth through song, so we’ll typically sing two more songs here. These songs may be songs of praise, thanksgiving, lamentation, or just meditations on the gospel. In any case, we want for all of our services to be marked by bloody songs that adorn Jesus, and this is often a great place to embody such a commitment.
Next week we will continue our exploration of Emmaus’ liturgy by looking at Corporate and Private Confession, Assurance of Pardon, and the Song of Thanksgiving.
This is Part 1 of a four-part blog on the Liturgy at Emmaus. This article will consist of our rationale, as a Church, for the primary elements of our corporate worship service, and Parts 2 through 4 will dissect each element in our actual liturgy.
In a recent sermon that Pastor Josh preached on Leviticus, I was reminded afresh why we worship the way that we do here at Emmaus. In this sermon, Josh summarized the story of Nadab and Abihu in chapter 10—the story of Aaron’s two sons who tried to worship God in an unauthorized way and were immediately struck dead for their presumptuous thinking. How arrogant is was for them to think that they were entitled to innovate ways of approaching God distinct from the meticulous prescription God had graciously given. “I told you how I desire to be worshipped,” God was saying, “if you truly desire to express your love and adoration for me in worship, you would simply obey my commands.” In this story we are given a stark picture of the holiness of God—we dare not approach him flippantly by any means other than those which he has provided.
What, you may be asking, does this have to do with how we conduct our worship gatherings at Emmaus? Could Sam really be saying that if we were to change the way we order our services, fire would come down from heaven and consume the Church? No, I am not saying that at all. In fact, the most relevant application of this story for 21st century Christians has to do not with our corporate gatherings, but with the exclusivity of Christ. This story tells us that God provides the means for communing with him, and a healthy fear of his holiness ought to compel us to stick to those means. In Leviticus 10, the means were the preceding (and proceeding) instructions for animal blood-sacrifices and ritualistic cleansings. Today, the means is the blood-sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:19-25). The primary application, therefore, is this: don’t you dare try to commune with God by virtue of anything but the blood of Jesus Christ—if you try to predicate your intimacy with this God on anything but the blood of the Lamb (your works, your sincerity, your piety, etc.), you are committing the same sin as Nadab and Abihu.
This is why we exhort one another so often to come to Christ with empty hands; to self-justify your hearing before God with your own works is not only foolish (you could never do enough to justify a hearing before such a holy God), it’s also blasphemous. It’s tantamount to saying that what you offer is better than (or improves upon) the blood of Jesus.
However, there is a secondary application to this story, which goes along with the first. At the very least, Leviticus 10 tells us that God cares about how people worship him. This is why we, as a church, generally identify with what theologians call the “Regulative Principle” of worship. This simply means that we want for Scripture to regulate not just the who of corporate worship, but the how of corporate worship. And by “regulate,” I don’t simply mean, “define what’s off limits.” Rather, I’m saying that Scripture has told us what Christians are to do when they gather together to worship, and as a principle, we are committed to doing only what Scripture commands.
And what does Scripture command for New Testament believers to do corporately? We are commanded to:
- Read the Scriptures (1 Tim. 4:13)
- Teach/Preach the Scriptures (1 Tim. 4:13, 2 Tim. 4:1-2)
- Pray (1 Tim. 2:1, Acts 2:42, 4:23-31)
- Sing (Col. 3:12-17)
- Participate in Communion/Baptism (1 Cor. 11:23-34, Acts 2:38, Matt. 28:19)
That’s it. That’s what we should be doing when we gather together corporately. Our liturgy should not include anything that doesn’t fit comfortably inside those five corporate commands. And by “comfortably,” I mean that we shouldn’t try to squeeze movie clips, dance routines, or that guy who throws paint on a canvas to depict what looks like nothing at all until he flips it right-side-up to reveal he was actually painting a very Caucasian Jesus, into the category of “teaching/preaching Scripture.” There’s not a single quote from The Office, for example, that could ever be followed up with “thus sayeth the Lord!”; a clip of The Office would be totally out of step with the purpose of the corporate worship gathering
Now, some churches may venture outside of these five elements that the New Testament explicitly commands. They may even do so without shifting from the gospel as their central point of emphasis. Should such churches anticipate facing a similar fate as Nadab and Abihu? I don’t think so. But I do think they are wrong not to subscribe to the Regulative Principle for three reasons.
This Is God’s Church
The Regulative Principle fosters a corporate understanding that a particular congregation belongs to God, while the alternative fosters a corporate understanding that a particular congregation belongs to the congregation (or, more often, the leadership of the congregation). God purchased the church with his own blood, and has subsequently placed her under the stewardship of elders (Acts 20:28). This means that church leaders cannot do with their flocks as they please, they do not own their churches. Emmaus does not belong to our pastors, she belongs to Jesus Christ. The regulative principle establishes an impulse among our Church leaders to ask, “What would the owner of this Church like for us to do?” I do not think the same could be said of the alternative principle, which merely looks to Scripture for prohibitions and then leaves the church to operate according to the whims of popular opinion or the fleeting charisma of personalities.
God’s Church Is Governed By God’s Word
The Regulative Principle reinforces the conviction that Christians live their lives positively directed by the Word of God, rather than merely guarded by the prohibitions of God’s Word. The alternative principle, in my estimation, inherently reinforces the natural sinful perspective that Christianity can be defined by what people are not allowed to do, and that life is ultimately to be governed according the autonomous whims of the individual. Conversely, the Regulative Principle is an object lesson in and of itself, teaching that Scripture does not merely set boundaries for how Christians should not live, but also directs Christians positively for how they should live. In other words, the Regulative Principle aids in the command to “let the word of Christ dwell richly in [the corporate midst].” (Colossians 1:16)
God Cares about How We Worship
The regulative principle assumes that God actually cares about how he is worshiped. Though our means of approaching God (the shed blood of Jesus) and Nadab and Abihu’s means of approaching God (the Levitical priestly offerings) are different, the God we are worshiping is one and the same, and thus the manner in which we worship him should be the same (i.e., with reverence and special attention to what he has said about proper worship). Further, Leviticus tells us what kind of God he is. He is a gracious God who provides what he requires (a means), and he is a holy God who cares about how he is worshiped.
On the cusp of the New Covenant’s arrival, Jesus informs the Samaritan woman at the well, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23) Notice, he does not say that the Father is seeking worshipers who worship him “however they see fit.” We want to look to the Word of God to see what Christ means when he says “in truth.” If we begin with self, and then merely look to Scripture for approval or disapproval, we do not cast the appropriate shroud of suspicion on the preferences of sinners—even if we are sinners who are saved by grace.
For these reasons, we have structured our service to hang only on that which Scripture commands. Next week, we’ll carefully dissect each element of our liturgy and explore the various purposes of our liturgical format.
You, Christian, experience grace in glorifying God. You are doing what you’re made to do when you’re glorifying the Father.
Listen to the sermon from last Sunday on iTunes or on our website.