Monday, November 6, 2017

News and Good News

The horrible, sickening slaughter of the saints of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., reminds us such evil acts sadly are part of a world where sin is present, prevalent and powerful. Only the triumphant return of King Jesus will cleanse this world of wickedness.

Such a gospel-focused view is only part of the Christian response to this murderous rampage, however. We lament it. We mourn with those who lost members of their nuclear and spiritual families. We intercede for them and those injured. We pray for a church that has been decimated. We petition God for a pastor who ministers to the grieving while he grieves himself. We pray for the advance of the gospel.

Those of us who are elders also pray and ponder how we, as shepherds, can provide for the physical safety of the flock that gathers for corporate worship each Sunday. The elders of our church value your prayers at this time.

We also seek to think and guide others biblically in the wake of such an atrocity. Some already have written wise, helpful words. Undoubtedly, others will.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), wrote a column for The Washington Post on why such shootings don't intimidate the church. In it, he wrote, "To eradicate churches, our opponents will need a better strategy. They should see that Christianity can be easier suffocated with comfort, to the point that we forget who we are, than it can be terrorized with violence." You can read it here.

John Piper of Desiring God wrote here on the ministry of our Savior to those who suffer such cruel blows.

Phillip Bethancourt, the ERLC's executive vice president, provided thoughts here on how parents can discuss such an event with their children.

Our ability to prevent such wicked actions toward others and ourselves is limited. But we have good news that provides us with hope. We need not be fearful. All who trust in Christ have a confident expectation of not only His righteous, peaceful reign in the future but His unshakable grip on us now and forever.

Yesterday was International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Here are some news reports about persecution and other matters of interest to evangelical Christians:

1. U.S. to help persecuted without U.N. -- Vice President Mike Pence recently announced the United States will work directly with private organizations and not just the United Nations to help Christians and other religious minorities suffering at the hands of ISIS.

2. Syrian woman testifies to wickedness of men and sufficiency of Christ -- The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative recently shared a testimony from a Syrian woman named Haya. A mother of four, she and her family were captured by terrorists who committed great atrocities against their community. She shared, “Even though I lost everything, I gained Christ.” Warning: This includes descriptions of great evil against human beings.

3. Hindu-dominated Nepal bans conversion -- The government of Nepal passed a law last month that prohibits conversion from one religion to another. In a mostly Hindu country, this act threatens Christians and churches, as well as their evangelism and ministry.

4. Republicans' tax proposal would eliminate adoption tax credit -- The GOP tax reform plan unveiled last week in the U.S. House of Representatives excludes a tax credit for adoptions that has existed for 20 years. The credit has helped many couples adopt, and its elimination would result in fewer children being placed in families permanently, adoption advocates say. In addition, the ACLU is seeking to prevent faith-based adoption agencies in Michigan from refusing to place children with same-sex couples.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Reformation and a singing church

'St Ebbes 11:45 Service' photo (c) 2011, Jimmy and Sasha Reade - license: may overlook at least one benefit of the Protestant Reformation: Congregational singing. This day -- the first after the 500th anniversary of the event that ignited the Reformation -- is a good time to ponder the lasting impact of that movement of God on music in the church.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door Oct. 31, 1517, congregational singing was prohibited in the Roman Catholic Church.

"What many people do not know is that while Luther's 95 Theses of theology may have opened the floodgates for the Reformation, his insistence upon a return to, and celebration of, the sacred act of congregational singing in the people's known language built the community apparatus that kept those floodgates open for years to come," modern hymn writer Keith Getty said yesterday in a news release.

Getty -- co-writer of such songs as "In Christ Alone" and "The Power of the Cross" -- said Luther believed a truly biblical church is one in which every Christian participates in corporate worship, including singing.

"Luther had come to realize what his ancient predecessors had always known: God's people are catechized by what they sing," Getty said. "A preacher can teach what the Bible means, but people 'carry out' the Bible by the songs they sing. Singing affects people's minds, emotions, hearts, memories, prayer lives -- and ultimately, their thoughts and spoken words."

Singing by the entire church gathered for worship is consistent with the many appeals in Psalms, the example of Jesus and His disciples on the night before He was crucified (Matt. 26:30) and the apostle Paul's instructions to churches (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16). It is consistent with the truth the entire church is to worship when it is gathered, not just some who are leading. It is consistent with what we have said since we began meeting as a body of believers -- corporate worship is for participants, not spectators.

We practiced this again last Sunday, when we sang hymns from centuries ago -- such as "And Can It Be?" and "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" -- and hymns and songs from the last 20 years, including "In Christ Alone" and "Ancient Words." And as we sang, we confessed common beliefs of the Christian faith we share. We also proclaimed the gospel.

Think with me how we declared in morning and evening the joyous news that salvation is in Christ and His work alone as our substitute, not in any merit or works we would offer:

-- "Could my tears forever flow, could my zeal no languor know, these for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone. In my hand no price I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling" from "Rock of Ages."

-- "Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied; for ev’ry sin on Him was laid -- here in the death of Christ I live" from "In Christ Alone."

-- "Therefore my trust is in the Lord, and not in mine own merit; on Him my soul shall rest, His word upholds my fainting spirit; His promised mercy is my fort, my comfort and my sweet support" from "Psalm 130 (From Depths of Woe)."

-- "The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend, the agonies of Calvary; You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son, who drank the bitter cup reserved for me" from "Jesus, Thank You."

The gospel recovered in the Reformation is the gospel we proclaim in our singing together. May we do so each Sunday "with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God" (Col. 3:16b).