I Believe In The Holy Spirit – Ballet in Church and The Emoji Defence

It’s the final battle in a bitter civil war. One side, a powerful army of well-trained soldiers from an oppressive regime, stand armed with the best weapons and death-dealing gear their scientists and engineers have to offer.

The other side, a ragtag bunch of outcasts and rebels, has come together to resist this corrupt and oppressive government. Rumour has it that they have a new weapon, capable of bringing all of the power of the regime to a crashing end.

The lines are drawn. Warriors gaze at each other across the battlefield, prepared for the struggle of their lives. The time has come. The rebel commander cries out “Draw your weapons!”

To a man, the rebel army pull out from behind them not swords, nunchucks, or rifles, but placards covered with all kinds of angry emojis. “Alright, men – it’s time to show these loyalist scum exactly what we feel about them!”

The battle begins, and you know what happens next. Completely unprepared and disarmed, the rebellion is soon crushed.

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Of course, this never happened. Such a thing would go down as one of the greatest blunders in military history. However, it is a scene that plays out in many Churches around the world every week; believers are encouraged to go into the battle against the world, their own flesh, and the Devil armed with pithy platitudes and shallow theology.

Recently, a controversy was ignited by video of a ballet performance that took place at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. I’ll preface my comments by saying that I don’t enjoy watching ballet, but I do appreciate the discipline and skill that it takes to do it well.

Many have sought to defend the dance by saying something along the lines of “Dances like this help people to connect to God by communicating in a medium that they understand and feel.” In a sense, the ballet is just like Emoji – they are images that communicate in a way that words cannot. We could call this line of reasoning ‘The Emoji Defence.’

Certainly, it is important for believers to understand and feel what goes on in a Church service. For too long, services (particularly in my own tradition) have been dreary affairs, with preachers presenting lectures with all the emotive power of a soggy noodle to the face.

The problem with the Emoji Defence is that it betrays an underlying premise that completely undermines the foundations of the Christian faith, and will ultimately diarm believers in their battle with an increasingly hostile world, weaken their struggle with sin, and whiteant the health of the Church as a whole. The rebellion will be crushed.

In Ephesians 6, God commands Christians “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”

This is the responsibility of all Christians, everywhere, at all times. At all times, we must be sitting under the authority of the Scriptures, faithfully defending against the attacks of the devil, living out our salvation in prayerful submission to God. No change, no compromise. The stakes are dire.

Key here is that the passage tells us that the sword of the Spirit is the Bible. The living, breathed out Word of God. When a believer hears the Word read and preached, prays the Word, and sings the Word, the Spirit is armed and ready to do His work in his or her life, and in turn, the believer is armed for battle. The Spirit, speaking only in the Word of God, is the one who can effectively communicate to a believer. The Bible is sufficient.

Why, then, should we include practices in our Church gatherings which distract from or undermine this truth? When someone says “This dance will allow the brothers and sisters here to really feel the message of God’s Word,” the underlying assumption is that the Spirit speaking is not enough. Is that really a message we want to pass on?

In a wonderfully pastoral section of 1 Timothy, Paul commands his young ministry partner:

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.

Notice the bolded sections here – Timothy is to be devoted to the public reading and preaching of Scripture, and to continue practicing these things, to the point where our English translations say he is ‘immersed’ in them. Paul rounds out this section by giving the reason for continuing in this public emphasis on the primacy of the Scriptures: “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” This is an issue of life and death.

So the question we should be asking when we include something in a worship service is “How does this communicate not only the content of the Word of God, but also that the Word is completely sufficient in the lives of believers? Am I disarming the Spirit? Am I undermining the congregation’s love for the Word? Am I showing that the Christian life is one which is ‘immersed’ in God’s Word? Does this element of our worship teach them to love the Bible, or to treat it as ‘good, but not best’?”

 

Regular meetings of God’s people where we read the Bible, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, and sing the Bible are very ordinary. They’re not flashy, clever, or ‘beautiful’ by worldly standards. But it is there that the power of the Spirit will be unleashed to equip Christians, not with ‘Emoji’, but the real thing – the very Words and power of God. Then they can stand and rebel fruitfully against the forces of the Devil. What could be better than that?

Your words were found, and I ate them,
    and your words became to me a joy
    and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
    O Lord, God of hosts.

Jeremiah 15:16

I Believe In The Holy Spirit – Ballet in Church and The Emoji Defence

A late-night guide to discussing the Sabbath (or any theology, really)

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When it comes to issues like the Sabbath, I feel that my position in recent years has become somewhat gooey. Something like a half-cooked muffin – I could probably look like I know what I think on the outside, but on the inside I’m all inconsistent and messy.

I managed to (thankfully) miss a debate on the Sabbath on a Facebook page I spend time on tonight, and as I flicked through the responses before bed (not recommended), I thought there was something I could possibly add to the discussion. Not by way of wading into the debate, but by pointing out some of the wacky and unhelpful ways in which evangelicals often participate in discussions such as these.

So, here they are.

First, there’s the ‘hakuna matata’ or ‘what, me worry?’ approach. This is the approach which says “Well, this isn’t the gospel, so why should we waste time talking about it?”

It sounds very holy and good, and it reflects a healthy desire to see the gospel as the main focus of our ministry, but it fails to account for the fact that there are more things in Scripture than just the gospel. Try this approach the next time a discussion about gay marriage or domestic violence comes up. Actually, don’t. It would be dumb.

Second, there’s the “driveby verse” approach. These helpful people jump into their cars and drive past the debate at 80km/h shouting out the window “Colossians two sixteeeeeen!” before disappearing without the slightest bit of explanation as to what they think that verse is saying.

Look, if you’re going to participate in any discussion helpfully, you’re going to need to say what you think. Revolutionary, I know. And honestly, when it comes to issues like this, Sabbatarians are well aware of these verses, and have opinions of their own about them. Read them and see.

Finally, there’s the “biblico-covenantal-Christological-systematic” approach. The aim here is to kick up enough rhetorical dust that your opponent has no other option than to bow to your superior intellect. You may hear these fine theologians saying things such as “I don’t feel this fits well within the Christological framework provided by a good grammatico-historical hermeneutic. It would overturn the warp and whoof of the rich tapestry woven throughout the unfolding mystery of the Christ event, would it not?”

I don’t have time for these guys. It’s best just to raise your eyebrows with an understanding look on your face and walk away before they explode.

Now, I post this with the full knowledge that I’ve contributed to discussions like this in the past. But, if you’ll join with me, I’d like to propose that we each take our right hand and bash our head repeatedly whilst saying “Don’t. Do. This. Again.”

Thanks for being patient with me. Job nineteen tweeeentyyyyy!

A late-night guide to discussing the Sabbath (or any theology, really)

Believers, Be Beautiful

It looks like the thing that will get me out of a blogging slump is a Trump presidency.

What a shock, eh? Yesterday as I woke up, I checked the bookies to see what the odds were. Even they had Trump at $5, whilst Hillary sat at a respectable $1.50. No chance, I thought.

What happened? Why was there such an upset? Many people were saying that there were a multitude of “shy Trump supporters” who never vocally supported Trump, but voted for him in droves. Or where a silent majority of people who had never voted before (and thus, were never polled) decided to come out of the woodwork and cast their vote. Others declare confidently that this was not a win for Trump, but a loss for Clinton.

I have no idea what the real story is. I’m not a Trump supporter, in fact, I think that he’s singularly unqualified for the role of President. But, as he’s won, I wish him well, and will pray for wisdom for him. But I was mulling the whole thing over this morning, and had a few thoughts that even us Aussie Christians should take from the election.

Throughout the campaign, Trump supporters had repeatedly been labeled as “Deplorables“, racists, homo- and xenophobes, stupid, idiots, and bigots. A few days before the election, a group of celebrities (via FunnyOrDie) released a expletive-filled rant disguised as “We Are The World”, with jewels like this:

An orange talking STD has driven me to this recording studio…

Donald Trump is human syphilis, we could be the antidote.

It’s when I watch things like this, I understand the Trump phenomenon. It makes me angry. It makes me want to give them the middle finger and vote Trump. Why is this so? I can’t stand the man, and I’m convinced that a Trump presidency will be bad for everybody (even here in Australia!). Why does it make me want to support Trump?

Because it’s ugly. It’s aggressive. It’s hypocritical. Trump’s (and the GOP’s) opponents have historically prided themselves on being the tolerant, loving, and caring option. And yet here they are, excoriating Trump and his supporters in terms that seem anything but tolerant, loving, or caring.

So, of course, protest happens. Trump gets elected. And Hillary’s supporters are left shocked and bewildered. Their tactics didn’t work.

Christians are no stranger to this bewilderment. For many years now, Western Christians have been observing a cultural shift away from Jesus, away from the Scriptures, away from the good news that God has come to save sinners, out of sheer mercy, grace and love. People seem to not want to hear it any more. And in response, many Christians have acted the same way – we’ve preached love, mercy, and grace, whilst being loveless, merciless, and graceless. We’ve been angry and aggressive with those who disagree. The leadership of our churches has been marked with hypocrisy, adultery, and bullying.

So, of course, protest happens. People reject Jesus. People see Jesus’ body acting with such anger at a culture shifting against them, and rightly reject it.

People are very simple creatures, deep down. We love things that are beautiful, and reject things that are ugly. Scolding moralism is ugly. Hypocritical aggression is ugly. It is an ugliness that not only repels, but hardens people against it. Beauty entices. It attracts, it intrigues and unites in wonder.

This is why Jesus says:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

Maybe it’s time that Christians reevaluated our tactics. Maybe it’s time we asked ourselves, as individuals and Churches, the question: “How am I showing that a life of faith and repentance in Jesus is not only right, but beautiful?” How is your marriage showing the beauty of the Christian life? The way you talk at work? The care you show for sinners?

If people are going to delight in Christ as He desires, then let’s show how full of delight He is. The brilliance of the Christian faith is that we can do this no matter our circumstances, no matter who is in charge of the country we live in.

Believers, Be Beautiful

When Church Sucks

Here’s a little secret that I’ll let you in on – sometimes it is very difficult to enjoy Church. I know, I know! I’m a pastor! I’m supposed to enjoy Church! Often for the Smith Clan, getting to Church on a Sunday morning involves a frenetic typhoon of clothes, toothpaste, and sermon pages, which slowly makes its way towards the front door until it explodes out onto the street.

What should we do when Church is difficult to enjoy? Does it mean that we are having a subpar experience? Is it somehow less ‘spiritual’ when you get home and realise that you have spent nearly all your time there worrying about your kids beating the other kids to death with the pew Bibles?

There’s a deadly mentality that has infected many evangelical Christians in Churches all around Australia – consumerism. We have unprecedented access to all kinds of entertainment these days – I remember when I first flicked through the things I could watch on Netflix. Show, after show, after show. If I didn’t find one program enjoyable, that’s ok, I can just turn it off and try the next one.

Christians can walk into Church with the same mentality – Church has to prove itself to us before we become willing to invest ourselves in it. The music must lift my spirits, the preaching must be ‘powerful’, and the fellowship must be ‘encouraging’ and ‘authentic’ (not too authentic, please – keep your personal issues at home).

If my experience of Church doesn’t tick these boxes, then I’ll continue to come (it’s the right thing to do!), but I’ll be unhappy. I’ll let myself soak in this unhappiness to the point where I will begin to see attending Church as a net loss in my week, something to be tolerated, until a better Church comes along. A better Church, with better music, better preaching, and better fellowship.

This me-centred approach to Church can completely undermine what Church is for – loving God, and loving one another. The gathered Church is the distilled Christian life – a place where God speaks, His people listen, and love and serve Him and one another. My focus should be on the worship of God and the good of others.

So when the music at Church sucks (and sometimes, it really, really can suck!), then I’ll sing my guts out. Why? Because the quality of the performance doesn’t affect the reality of the worship. When the preaching is cliched or lame, I’ll do my best to draw encouragement from it. I’ll wrestle with it and seek God’s blessing. When people seem weird and different, I’ll praise God that he hasn’t made the Church full of people like me.

Maybe then I’ll begin to understand the true nature of Church – it’s not there for my enjoyment, it’s there for God, his glory, and his praise. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to become bitter over the fact that Church isn’t better, we should be amazed by the grace of the one who is building this group of messy, fallen people into a beautiful bride for his Son, Jesus.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

When Church Sucks

Reformation Day – Calvin on Prayer

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Scripture with good reason enjoins us to use both [thanksgiving and petition] constantly. For as we have stated elsewhere, the weight of our poverty and the facts of experience proclaim that the tribulations which drive and press us from all sides are so many and so great that there is reason enough for us all continually to groan and sigh to God, and to beseech him as suppliants. For even if they be free of adversities, the guilt of their transgressions and the innumerable assaults of temptations ought still to goad even the holiest to seek a remedy. But in the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving there can be no interruption without sin, since God does not cease to heap benefits upon benefits in order to impel us, though slow and lazy, to gratefulness. In short, we are well-nigh overwhelmed by so great and so plenteous an outpouring of benefactions, by so many and mighty miracles discerned wherever one looks, that we never lack reason and occasion for praise and thanksgiving. – Institutes, III.xx.28

Reformation Day – Calvin on Prayer

Five Reasons Why Christians Should Be Interested In Eschatology

Probably one of my earliest exposures to eschatology was Arnie’s seminal classic End of Days. It’s got all the right elements – Gabriel Byrne playing Satan incarnate, Arnie as the broken-hearted-tough-as-nails detective, and Robin “OhMyGoshThe90sAreEnding” Tunney as the child of some mishmash Biblical prophecy. In this brilliantly executed scene, Arnie and a random priest give us a taste of their eschatological prowess.



Absurd, isn’t it? And yet, scenes like this seem to be what people think about whenever people start talking about “end times” and the return of Jesus. Whether it’s Nicolas Cage flying unmanned planes, or God losing faith in humans and sending angels to kill us all, Hollywood has turned eschatology into an absurdity. People tend to shy away from talking about the end times, but I want to give you five reasons today why Christians should study eschatology.

1. The Bible tells us that we should.

God gave us his word so that we could know what his plans are, and as we worked out last week, be comforted by them. If we are going to be faithful Christians, looking to God and seeking to understand who He is and what He is doing, then we should trust that he gave us those difficult passages in the Bible about the future for a reason.

2. Everybody “does” eschatology.

It’s everywhere. Not just in Hollywood, not just in the universities. You ask your average Aussie on the street what he or she thinks life is all about, you’re going to get an eschatological answer, even if it’s something along the lines of “live a good life, be well remembered by the people who come after you.” How much of our cultural debate these days is about “being on the right side of history”? History is going somewhere, everybody believes it. If we don’t listen to God when we think about eschatology, we’ll listen to the world.

3. Life can be discouraging.

As we said earlier, God tells us about the future so that we can be encouraged because life is discouraging. The Bible tells us that we still live in a fallen world, with broken relationships, households, workplaces, hobbies, pursuits, and environments. Without a clear grasp on where everything is going, then we’re going to be set adrift on the sea of our own feelings. Biblical eschatology acts like an anchor for us to hold onto in times of trouble.

4. It puts us back in God’s story.

The end of the Bible isn’t the end of God’s work in the world. The Bible tells us that God’s story continues, and it will continue until he decides to end it. We are always going to be tempted to think that God has forgotten us, that he is not interested in the ins and outs of our lives, the “small things” this blog is named after. But studying eschatology will remind us that God, the sovereign author of the world’s story, is intimately interested in his creation, and is moving things towards an inevitable climax and conclusion.

5. It reminds us the story isn’t finished yet.

Similar to the last point, God isn’t just working on the world. He’s working on us. We are not finished products. Our sanctification and growth is going to continue until the day we see Christ in glory. A thoroughly Biblical eschatology will determine how we approach the here and now. Being heavenly-minded doesn’t make us of no earthly use – in fact, a Biblical eschatology will make us people of great earthly use – living for the glory of God as we point others to Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who reigns until he puts all his enemies under his feet.

Question: Of course, there are more reasons Christians should be interested in eschatology. Can you think of any?

Five Reasons Why Christians Should Be Interested In Eschatology

Eschatology 101 – What is Eschatology?

Here’s an experiment – drop the word ‘eschatology’ into a sentence the next time you’re talking with someone. I’ll bet you have one of two reactions – either they’ll look at you like you’ve just shut the dictionary cat-style, or if they’ve heard of the word, they’ll think of people being secretly raptured while nobody else is looking, antichrists, armageddon, dragons, war, pestilence and so on.

Four Horsemen

So many Christians tend to shy away from thinking about eschatology. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be writing up why I think that every Christian should be interested in eschatology, and what the Bible has to say about it.

Ok, Vaughan – that makes sense. But what the heck is eschatology?

Thanks for asking.

Most simply, Christian Eschatology is studying what the Bible has to say about the future. The word itself just means “the study of the last things”.

It turns out, Jesus had a lot to say about the future, as did the apostles. Eschatology is the way that we, as responsible readers of the Bible, take all the things God says about the future and attempt to put them together.

When we do that, we ask questions like “what is this passage attempting to tell the original reader?”, “is this passage talking about an event far in the future, or an event that has already happened?”, “what is this passage attempting to tell me, a Gentile Christian living in the 21st Century?”

The most important thing to remember when we talk about eschatology is that when God tells us what is going to happen in the future, he does it to comfort us. In a beautiful New Testament passage on eschatology, Paul writes this:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.Therefore encourage one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV, emphasis added)

Verse 18 is the key here – while reading books like Revelation and Daniel can sometimes be scary, with terrifying images of war, plague, and judgement, God tells us about how the story is going to end because he wants us to be encouraged. He’s in control, and history unfolds according to his will.

Next week I’ll look at five reasons that Christians should be interested in eschatology.
Eschatology 101 – What is Eschatology?