Saturday, June 25, 2011

Immanence and Worship Part I - Bapticostal?

A recent conversation with some friends led me to think about the relationship between our view of God's immanence and worship.  Since I've never actually sought to spend devoted time to thinking through this, starting this week I would like to take some time to outline how God's presence in time and space effects our practice in corporate worship.  Before I dive headlong into things though, I think it would be helpful to give a brief synopsis of my experience.  My aim is to make some of my presuppositions explicit, in hopes of giving you a better idea of where I might be going with all of this.  So, without further adieu...


After some consideration, I have determined that I have a somewhat odd background when it comes to thinking on God's immanence as well as his transcendence.  At certain points in my life, I think I've leaned too heavily on one or the other.  I grew up straight-laced Southern Baptist, an upbringing for which I am thankful in many ways; however, we Southern Baptists in the latter half of the 20th century seemed to be a schizophrenic lot when it came to thinking about the presence of God.  Generally, recent worship in the SBC has been greatly influenced by the Charismatic movement, which leans decidedly towards an emphasis on his immanence.  Yet we still have somehow managed to maintain our straight-laced worship habits.  I must admit it's a bit odd to see us Baptist folk worshiping to songs like "Fire Fall Down" by Hillsong and standing as straight and still as a pillar.  

During college, I began exploring the charismatic movement and Pentecostalism to a limited extent.  During my time in college I gained friendships with many brothers and sisters in Christ who hearken from the Pentecostal tradition of Christianity.  Though I never truly moved over to the Pentecostal camp of Christianity, my time spent there deeply impacted my thoughts on church worship.  It certainly gave me a much greater sensitivity and realization of the presence of God in the gathered church.  Though I have deep disagreements with many aspects of Pentecostal theology, they understand better than many that we worship a living God, in whom we "live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28)

Towards the end of college and the beginning of my time at seminary, I began moving back towards an emphasis on the transcendence of God in worship.  I think this had much to do with my progression into a more Reformed view of God's sovereignty.  Though I wouldn't say that was the entire reason, it was certainly a major factor in the transition.  This time gave me a much deeper appreciation for the our limits.  Though God is knowable, ultimately he is only knowable to the extent he chooses to make himself known to us.  It was during this period that I began to understand the vastness of God, that we will spend eternity getting to know him more each day.

Since that time, I have grown more towards a median state.  Ultimately, I think a healthy view of worship entails an equal emphasis on both the transcendence and immanence of God.  This is where I am now - influenced by one on each end of the spectrum, and by another standing awkwardly in between.  I'm aiming for a fourth way, an in-between stance sans awkwardness, if you will.  We can be exuberant in transcendence and solemn in immanence. We can focus equally on both...and not feel weird about it.  I'm convinced this is possible.  Perhaps you are as well, or perhaps you are not.  Either way, come along for the ride, Lord willing we will both learn something.

By the Spirit He is made knowable
And by His Word He is known


Monday, June 20, 2011

Philippians 1 - Joy from Suffering

A couple Sundays ago one of my pastors preached a sermon on 1 Corinthians 4 that was deeply challenging to me.  At this point, I'm still thinking through it all, but the core of the sermon was that our lives should look more like the Apostle Paul's life.  Obviously, Paul lived a difficult life that was full of suffering, yet it was also full of joy.  I'll admit, I was initially a bit skeptical of the idea of seeking to live a life in which suffering naturally follows, but I have since come to realize the selfish sinful nature playing a large role in that skepticism.

As a result of that sermon, I've decided to spend the next month in Philippians, meeting weekly with a brother (and hopefully some more, eventually) from my church to spend some time in it, seeking to submit myself to the Word of God in these matters.

Upon reading the first chapter, it is clear to me that the joy Paul experiences is not what many of us would initially consider joyful.  He is suffering.  His church is suffering.  Yet he rejoices!  He rejoices in their partnership in the gospel, that the gospel is being advanced, and finally that they are suffering for the gospel.  In fact, it has been "granted" to them by God.  This leads to an important conclusion - Paul is not joyful in spite of their sufferings for the gospel, he is joyful because they are suffering.

This begs the question - what could Paul possibly be thinking?  Really?  Is he a glutton for punishment or something?  Why should we rejoice because we are suffering?  Suffering is evil, is it not?

Well, yes.  Suffering is evil.  This is one of the purposes of the coming Kingdom - to end suffering once and for all.  But herein lies an important distinction to be made - we are not rejoicing because evil is being done, we are rejoicing because evil being done to us means the Lord is working in us.  Paul begins this book by writing about the work that God is doing in the Philippians, that he will "bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus" (1:6).  The perfect picture of God working by His Spirit is shown in our Lord Jesus Christ.  What was the conclusion of God's work in Christ in the Gospels?  If you answered "the Resurrection" then kudos.  So what came before the Resurrection?  Crucifixion.  Likewise, if the Lord is working in us, to live the cross-centered life that Paul is writing about and rejoicing in, we must pick up our cross.  We must suffer.  Our Lord Jesus suffered, Paul suffered, what makes us think our lives should look any different?

So, brothers and sisters, what then shall we do?  Simple, "let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ" (1:27).  If we seek to live like Christ, if we seek righteousness, if we desire ever-increasing outpourings of the Spirit of God on our life, if we seek any of the fruit of the Spirit, if we seek wisdom, if we seek humility, if we seek holiness, then we will be opposed.  We will suffer, because we live in a world that considers this folly.  But we can rest on this - "This is a clear sign of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God" (1:28).  By our suffering brought as a result of ever-increasing Christ-likeness, we can be sure of our salvation, and we can be sure that one day the unrighteous will be subjected to the glorious judgement of our Lord, and we will suffer no more.  

The seeds of Christianity were watered by the blood of the martyrs.  Worldwide, people living lives worthy of the gospel of Christ are being martyred.  Why are we different?  What does the lack of suffering in the American Church say about American Christianity?  What does a lack of suffering in my life say about my faith?  What does a lack of suffering in your life say about your faith?  Let us pray.  Let us entreat our God to cultivate the same faith in us that we see in our past and present brothers and sisters who were martyred.  Let us pray for the Holy Spirit of God to fall on us, for without the power of the Spirit, this kind of faith is impossible.

"The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pentecost, Me, and You

So, this is a response to my friend Zach's query as to the meaning of Pentecost.  I was originally going to leave a comment, but since I recently (and by recently I mean 5 minutes ago) started a blog, I figured I would spend some time thinking through what Pentecost means in general, and what it means to me in particular.

If you would like to read the original post that started resulted in this...check out Zach's blog here.

What is Pentecost?

Briefly, Pentecost is the beginning of the Church.  Apart from Pentecost, we are not the church, and we are gathering together with no purpose and no message.  Because of Pentecost, we can gather together as the Spirit-empowered people of God, and we are given the ability as citizens of the Kingdom to worship our Lord in "spirit and in truth."  The hour the apostle John wrote about comes at Pentecost, and where we once saw a timid grouping of disenfranchised followers, we now see powerful preachers of the Gospel.  The Spirit coming at Pentecost allows for a number of things to happen -

  • The creation of the New Testament Church (Acts 2)
  • Our adoption as sons and daughters of God (Ephesians 1)
  • Producing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5)
  • Blessing those who persecute us (Acts 7)
  • A de-emphasis on the importance of possessions (Acts 4)
  • Setting us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8)
  • Provides us wisdom (1 Cor. 2)
  • Spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12, Romans 12)

I could go on listing for some time, but I think that covers enough ground for now.  I may write an entry on each one I listed at some point...

Anyways, this doesn't quite answer the question Zach proposed - what does Pentecost mean to me?  So, now that we've noted some of the things Pentecost does, let's take a bit more of a subjective look at it.

What does Pentecost mean to me?

For me, Pentecost means several things -

First, is freedom.  Without the Spirit, Christ's work on the cross would never be applied.  Because the Spirit came, it has enabled me to be free to love selflessly, to be patient, to be joyful in failure and trials.  It has freed me from the bondage of an unsanctified will.  No longer must I live in slavery to the bondage of sin, God himself has indwelt me!  The struggles in this life against the flesh seem much less daunting knowing that the third person of the Trinity has indwelt me and is aiding me in fighting sin.  What a glorious and freeing thought to know that, because the Holy Spirit of God fell on the apostles, that same Spirit is within me fighting the sinful desires of the flesh!

Second, is a sense of belonging.  Because of the Spirit, I was adopted as a son of God.  Through this adoption, we are made citizens and co-heirs of the Kingdom with Christ.  Because the Spirit came, even in times of loneliness or despair I can recognize that because of the Spirit of the Lord, I am his son and an heir to His Kingdom.  This could be such an encouragement to so many believers, yet many never consider this - the Lord has made you his son, his daughter!  Because of Pentecost, I will always belong to a Father who will never pass away, will never cease to love, and never ceases to desire good for his children.  Even when my earthly father passes away, my heavenly Father will remain.

Third, I have a sense of great joy and affirmation in reality of the Gospel.  Seeing the work of the Spirit in myself and others within the Church bolsters my joy and affirms my belief.  Without Pentecost, possibly the greatest proof of the reality of the Gospel would never have come to pass - the Church.  Here, we see a place in which men and women from all walks of life can gather together and worship in unity despite socioeconomic differences, racial differences, and cultural differences.  If your church doesn't look like this, pray that like at Pentecost, the Spirit would move in your church to make it a community united by its diversity.

I may write more on this as I continue to ponder on it.  I guess I leave a similar question to you to ponder - what does Pentecost mean to you?

Something to say...

I started this blog because I'm bored.

There you have it, thanks to my boredom, you lucky reader(s) now have the opportunity, nay, the privilege, of reading my thoughts on whatever I deem fit to think about at the time.

Some of the topics you are likely to see covered on here include theology, current events, books, technology, and random ideas I may or may not have.  I do hope you reader(s) enjoy my soon-to-be-typed musings.  So, here goes nothing, I suppose.