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earlychurch

It’s always exciting to find artifacts and documents relating to the First and Second Century Christian church. We get a better understanding of what it was like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in the first three or four generations.

But there is something I hope we never find – a very specific liturgy. By that I mean a detailed order of worship (in other words, a record of what they did as they were gathered together to worship, including how long everything took).

Yes, it would be interesting to find such a document. It might even be informative. But, most likely, I think it would be dangerous. We would be strongly tempted to copy it and make it the iron-clad pattern for all of our worship services from that point forward. We might even assume we had found a Divinely-inspired order of worship.

But there is no Divinely-inspired order of worship available to us. The Bible (God’s inspired and authoritative Word) doesn’t provide one. Yes, there are elements of every worship service that are mentioned in Scripture – singing, prayer, giving, and the preaching of the Word, but there isn’t too much beyond that. If a liturgy was found, we wouldn’t have any way of knowing whether or not it was even their normal order. It could have been a special service. We simply don’t know, which is the point.

The absence of an established order of worship gives us flexibility. Worship services may vary from time to time and place to place, but the essential elements as well as the obligation to gather with other believers (Heb. 10:24-25) to worship God remains constant.  In this case, diversity can be a good thing.

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Sermon in a Sentence

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This morning I had the privilege of hearing Pastor Rick Elzinga preach on Psalm 95. Here is a summary of his sermon in one sentence: Our worship should be joyful, thankful, centered on God, which results in a softened heart that believes and obeys God.

What is the Gospel?

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Burk Parsons, Senior Pastor of St. Andrews Chapel and a Teaching Fellow at Ligonier Ministries, wrote this about the gospel:

The nineteenth-century Princeton theologian Charles Hodge said, “The gospel is so simple that small children can understand it, and it is so profound that studies by the wisest theologians will never exhaust its riches.” The gospel is absolutely fundamental to everything we believe, and it is at the very core of who we are as Christians. However, many professing Christians struggle to answer the simple question: What is the gospel? When I teach, I am astounded by how many of my students are unable to provide a biblically accurate explanation of what the gospel is, and, what’s more, what the gospel is not. If we don’t know what the gospel is, we are of all people the most to be pitied. For, if we can’t explain the gospel, then we can’t proclaim the gospel in evangelism so that sinners might be saved, and we in fact may not be saved ourselves. In our day, there are countless counterfeit gospels, both inside and outside the church. Much of what is on Christian television and on the shelves of Christian bookstores completely obscures the gospel, thereby making it another gospel, which is no gospel at all. Since Satan cannot destroy the gospel, as J.C. Ryle wrote, “he has too often neutralized its usefulness by addition, subtraction, or substitution.” It is vital we understand that just because a preacher talks about Jesus, the cross, and heaven, that does not mean he is preaching the gospel. And just because there is a church building on every corner does not mean the gospel is preached on every corner.

Fundamentally, the gospel is news. It’s good news—the good news about what our triune God has graciously accomplished for His people: The Father’s sending the Son, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, to live perfectly, fulfill the law, and die sacrificially, atoning for our sins, satisfying God’s wrath against us that we might not face an eternal hell, and raising Him from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the victorious announcement that God saves sinners. And even though the call of Jesus to “take up your cross and follow me,” “repent and believe,” “deny yourself,” and “keep my commandments” are necessary commands that directly follow the proclamation of the gospel, they are not in themselves the good news of what Jesus has accomplished. The gospel is not a summons to work harder to reach God— it’s the grand message of how God worked all things together for good to reach us. The gospel is good news, not good advice, just as J. Gresham Machen wrote: “What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news? That is the question that I ask of you.”

(Table talk, January 1, 1989)

Sermon in a Sentence

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This morning, I had the privilege of hearing Pastor Rick Elzinga preach on Psalm 88. The following is a summary of his sermon in one sentence: God understands our discouragement – if you have any doubt, simply look to the sufferings of Christ on behalf of His people.

Social Justice & the Gospel

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Many of us in the church have heard, or read,  a lot about “social justice” recently. Words such as “intersectionality,” “identity politics,” “white privilege,” and racism have been thrown around quite liberally.

This Leftist ideology (which some call Cultural Marxism) has made its way into the evangelical church through several popular websites, authors, pastors, and thinkers. In my opinion, it’s deadly and could have a devastating effect. In fact, we’ve already seen a few fractures which may take awhile to heal – if ever.

A document has been written and published to bring clarity to these issues. The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel was written by John MacArthur, Voddie Bauchum, Phil Johnson, and James White among others. It’s well-written, well-thought out and, most importantly, thoroughly biblical.

Part of the introduction says,

“Specifically, we are deeply concerned that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality. The Bible’s teaching on each of these subjects is being challenged under the broad and somewhat nebulous rubric of concern for “social justice.” If the doctrines of God’s Word are not uncompromisingly reasserted and defended at these points, there is every reason to anticipate that these dangerous ideas and corrupted moral values will spread their influence into other realms of biblical doctrines and principles.”

Please read it. You can also sign it if you’re so inclined (I did). This is an important time for the church in the United States.

God Needs No Defense?

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A surge of pious agreement overcame me the first time I heard someone confidently assert that “The word of God no more needs defense than does a lion in a cage. Just let the lion loose, and it will take care of itself!” There seemed something very right about that sentiment. It almost appeared irreverent to disagree with it.

Well, something about that assertion is indeed right. God is certainly not in need of anything – much less the puny efforts of any particular man or woman to defend His word. He is the Creator of heaven and earth, almighty in power, and sovereign in controlling all things. The Apostle Paul, when reasoning with the Athenian philosophers, made that very point: he declared that God is not worshiped with men’s hands “as though He needed any thing, seeing that He gives to all life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24). If God were ever to hunger, for instance, He would not need to tell us since the fullness of all creation is His (Ps. 50:12)! He depends upon nothing outside Himself, and everything outside of Him depends upon Him for its existence, qualities, abilities, accomplishments, and blessings. “In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

So it is obvious that God does not need our inadequate reasoning and our feeble attempts to defend His word. Nevertheless, the pious-sounding remark with which we began is still mistaken. It suggests that we should not concern ourselves with efforts at apologetics because God will directly take care of such matters Himself. The remark is just as mistaken as saying that God does not need us as evangelists (He could even make the stones to cry out, couldn’t He?) — and therefore efforts at evangelistic witness are unimportant. Or, a person might misguidedly think that, because God has the power and ability to provide his family with food and clothing without “help from us,” he does not need to go to work tomorrow.

Thinking like this is unbiblical. It confuses what God Himself needs from us and what God requires of us. It assumes that God ordains ends, but not means to those ends (or at least not the instrumentality of created means). There is no need for God to use our evangelistic witness, our daily work for a paycheck, or our defense of the faith — but He chooses to do so, and He calls us to apply ourselves to them. The Bible directs us to work, although God could provide for our families in other ways. The Bible directs us to evangelize, even though God could use other means to call sinners to Himself. And the Bible also directs us to defend the faith — not because God would be helpless without us, but because this is one of His ordained means of glorifying Himself and vindicating His truth.

Christ speaks to the church as a whole through Jude, commanding us to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). False and heretical teaching was threatening the church and its grasp of gospel truth. Jude very well knew that God was in sovereign control, and indeed that God would in time directly deal with wicked teachers, consigning them to everlasting condemnation. Still Jude also urged his readers themselves to contend with the error of false teaching, not sitting back and expecting that God would simply take care of it Himself.

Paul wrote to Titus that overseers (pastors and elders) in the church are required to be especially adept at refuting those who oppose the truth of God (Titus 1:9). However this is not merely the assigned task of ordained men. All believers are commanded to engage in it as well. Addressing himself to all members of the congregation, Peter penned the following command: “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to give an answer to anyone who asks from you a reason for the hope that is within you, yet with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). It is God Himself, speaking through Peter’s inspired words, who calls upon us as believers — each and every one of us — to be prepared to defend the faith in the face of challenges and questions which come from unbelievers — any one of them.

The necessity of apologetics is not a divine necessity: God can surely do His work without us. The necessity of apologetics is a moral necessity: God has chosen to do His work through us and called us to it. Apologetics is the special talent of some believers, and the interested hobby of others. But it is the God-ordained responsibility of all believers.

Greg Bahnsen, Ready to Reason

Sermon in a Sentence

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I had the privilege this morning of hearing Pastor Rick Elzinga and four other men preach a sermon called “Wisdom from the Aged.” Here is a summary of their sermon in one sentence: A commitment to God’s Word, His mercy and grace, discipline, and being a blessing will help you live for the Lord wherever He has placed you.