Know the Creeds, Confession, and Catechisms, Part 1

This morning we use the Apostles’ Creed as a means of confessing (Creed comes from the Latin credo meaning “I believe”) our faith in Christ. Sometimes the use of creeds and confessions and catechisms gives some folks pause. Why not just use the Bible? A fair question, for sure.

Originally used as baptismal professions and as instruction for new converts, historic creeds and confessions and catechisms give us the opportunity to “…learn alongside the saints and doctors and martyrs how to give ear to the gospel” (John Webster). In other words, they allow us to attach ourselves to the church’s doctrinal development over the course of the centuries. They invite us to be Christians in the best and broadest sense. We are not alone here. We are not the creators of our dogma. Rather, we are united in the great stream … Read More »

The Great Diaglogue

Liturgies are like excuses: Everybody’s got one. Simply put, liturgy is what people do when they worship. So no matter how much a church may insist that there is no liturgy, one will inevitably emerge. It has to be this way because, as James K.A. Smith has noted, we are liturgical animals. This is how God has wired us—for life and worship.

Equally important to recognize is that liturgies are shaped by a theological paradigm. What is it that shapes, most fundamentally and at the most basic level, our worship? The answer, it would seem is grace.

Liturgies are like excuses – everybody’s got one.

At the heart of God’s graciousness toward us is his voluntary condescension wherein he bridges the great gulf which exists between us and him. In other words, he comes to us as evidenced most clearly in the incarnation … Read More »

Lent

You probably noticed the bulletins changed colors again. That is not an attempt to be stylish or even to mix things up. Rather, it reflects the changing of the church calendar. Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the day when millions of Christians attend church and were reminded of their mortality—the dust that marks their foreheads reminding them that they too are dust and that it will be to dust that they will return (Genesis 3:19). More importantly, though, Ash Wednesday is the first day of the forty-day season called Lent. Actually, it’s really not forty days but forty-six. Don’t believe me? Go to the calendar and count. Begin with Ash Wednesday and end with the day before Easter. It’s forty-six days. Why all this talk about forty days then? Go back the calendar and count the Sundays of Lent. Begin … Read More »

Infant Baptism IS Baptism

If I have heard it once I have heard it a thousand times: so-called reformed Christians tripping over themselves with apology after apology about how poorly the reformed church does evangelism. Related to this is the tried and true self-deprecation: we need to see more adult baptisms. Perhaps the one that turns my stomach the most is when people say things like, “the evangelicals win people to Christ and we disciple them.” Not true. None of it. I’m calling what needs to be called. Here I’m going to challenge the assertion that the reformed church is bad at evangelism by thinking about baptism.

“the evangelicals win people to Christ and we disciple them.” Not true. None of it.

It has been my pleasure and privilege to baptize more adult converts into Christ and his church than I ever would have … Read More »

The Public Reading of Scripture – Presbyterian Style

In 2011, the session of the church that I pastor sought to educate and assist the members of the church regarding proposed changes that we had decided to make to an important aspect of our corporate worship services. Prior to these changes, unordained men would regularly lead the congregation in the public reading of Scripture and prayer. Desiring to bring our worship into greater conformity with our doctrinal standards and historic Reformed practice, our Session passed a motion limiting the public reading of Scripture to the minister who is preaching.

Since we are a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America, some within the congregation rightfully and insightfully raised the question about the propriety of this change in light of Book of Church Order 50.2. That section reads: “The reading of the Holy Scripture in the congregation is a part of the public worship … Read More »

Prayer – Ecclesiastes 11:1 – 12:8

Historically Christians have used set prayers to learn how to pray and to be guided in this most holy endeavor. Examples of this come from the Bible itself. Jesus famously gave the Lord’s prayer in response to the request of the disciples to teach them to pray. Christians have been following his lead ever since.

This passage in Ecclesiastes is about living life in the midst of the unknown and uncertain. Rather than being timid, we venture out in generosity, joy, and godliness.

I have included some of my favorite prayers related to those themes, with the hope that you might find them helpful and useful for your journey in the midst of this vapor of uncertainty we call life.

For Joy

O God, who hast made the heaven and the earth and all that is good and lovely therein, and has … Read More »

Mark 5:13-16

When John the Baptist burst onto the scene he did so with a simple and alarming message: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Mark and Luke call it the kingdom of God, Matthew the kingdom of heaven. All three refer to the same thing: the reign of God. That is, the fulfillment of the promises of the OT when God would once and for all display his sovereignty in the redemption of his people.

Like John the Baptist, Jesus, too, makes this his central focus, his singular message. After his baptism and after his temptation in the wilderness he takes his seat on the mount and his first words are, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. What follows is what we have come to call the beatitudes (5:2-12); kingdom norms that … Read More »

The Office of Deacon

This morning we are blessed as we receive three deacons into the ministry of our church. “The office of deacon is set forth in the Scriptures as ordinary and perpetual in the Church” (Book of Church Order). In the NT the ministry of deacons is presented alongside that of the elder/overseers (in Greek two words are used interchangeably to refer to the office of elder (presbuteros and episkopos). For example, addressing the Philippians, Paul says, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus: To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers (episkopois) and deacons (1:1). Likewise, in 1 Tim. 3 the qualifications for the offices of the church are listed, first for the elders (1 Tim. 3:1-7) and then for the deacons and their wives (3:8-13)

The word translated deacon in the NT is a very … Read More »

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

I’m not a huge fan of certain segments of Christendom attempting arbitrarily to add dates to the church calendar. Usually the attempts represent pet doctrines and hobby horses representing small segments of the church which will likely be gone within a generation. Additionally, it is usually the case that such attempts are so culturally specific that it’s impossible for them to applied to the millions of Christians not residing in the Unites States. For example, not many years ago a group proposed making one Sunday Pulpit Freedom Sunday, a Sunday when politics and pertinent political issues were to be freely spoken of in the church’s divine service.

In my opinion there are a number of problems with attempting to single out certain cultural issues on a particular Sunday, but one irony is worth highlighting. It is ironic that special Sundays are … Read More »

Ordinary Time

You perhaps noticed that the bulletins changed colors last week from the gold of Christmastide to the familiar green of ordinary time. While some regard the brief period beginning with Epiphany and ending with the Feast of the Presentation on February 2 as Epiphanytide, most, however, see the Sunday after Epiphany as being part of Ordinary time.

The calendar is structured around three cycles: preparation (Advent, Lent), celebration (Christmas, Easter), and realization (the time after Pentecost and Epiphany). During preparation, we do just that. We fast and pray. We spiritually prepare for the coming reality. During celebration, we do just that. We feast and play. We spiritually exult in the fulfillment of what we have been waiting for. During realization we practice all of the implication of the reality we have experience.

Unfortunately, some hear the words, Ordinary time, and think of … Read More »