Our church just finished a month-long sermon series on the church and worship, and this was the definition of worship we used:
“Worship is the fitting and delightful response of God’s people to him, our Creator and Redeemer, for what he has done, for his glory in creation and redemption, through Christ, by the power and direction of Jesus himself through his Holy Spirit.”
It relies on the definitions provided by Gibson (Reformational and dogmatic) and Block (biblical-theological) in this wonderful little list.
In its 1986 position paper on the Holy Spirit, the EPC affirms the gifts of the Holy Spirit as described in the New Testament are valid for the church today. The EPC is self-consciously charismatic, though expressly not Pentecostal. Along with the ordination of women, the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the other issue the EPC points to as a “non-essential” where there can be disagreement among its churches. Yet, even in the position paper there are limitations placed on what the EPC teaches to be valid expressions of spiritual gifts. It holds that the new birth of Christians and baptism of the Holy Spirit are the same thing (thus ruling out baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second work of grace) and that the manifestation of specific spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of tongues, is unnecessary for salvation. In short, there are boundaries on the view and practice of charismatic gifts in the EPC.
Beyond the explicit statements in the position paper, the Westminster Confession (WCF) and Catechisms also speak to the subject. While the modern charismatic movement has its origins in the early 20th century, the Reformers addressed many of the same topics as they encountered them in Roman Catholicism and the mystic evangelicalism of their day. Calvin’s Institutes famously begins by contrasting the false miracles of Rome with the sufficiency of scripture. The Westminster Standards have much to say on the subject of charismatic gifts, and though they are most compatible with a cessationist view on the miraculous gifts, there is a degree of freedom for charismatic expression. My intent is not to evaluate exegetical arguments or to provide historical criticism, but to examine the ways that the Westminster Standards bound the view and practice of charismatic gifts in the EPC…
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'”
How is Revelation 7:9-10 fulfilled? By the consummation of all things, when Christ returns and gathers his people into one congregation. By the worship of the church now, because Christ has already raised all his people together with him before the Father as one worshiping congregation.
Revelation 7:9-10 is fulfilled, now, and will be fulfilled later, because Christ has accomplished salvation. Revelation 7:9-10 is not accomplished by local congregations embodying any kind of demographic diversity, any more than it is fulfilled by wearing white robes or holding onto palm branches. Local congregations participate in the fulfillment of Revelation 7:9-10 by being faithful to our savior, through joining our voices together in worship with the heavenly, spiritual, and eschatological congregation. How is Revelation 7:9 modeled by the local church? By faithfulness to our confession of praise to our God and Lamb.
This is one of those posts that should have been written months ago when COVID-19 was starting to have an effect on large gatherings, but still remains relevant as churches begin the process of reopening for Sunday worship. When the coronavirus hit, state governments began banning large gatherings out of caution in order to prevent the spread of the disease, with most states banning congregational worship as a subset of these large gatherings. The question that needed to be asked then, and still needs to be asked now since COVID-19 has not evaporated and new quarantines are still a possibility, is, What duty does the church have to still meet in the face of plagues and government restrictions? Scripture teaches on the subjects of gathering for corporate worship, loving your neighbor, and submitting to the government, and so I will examine these three pertinent topics to answer this question.
The Duty to Meet For Worship
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:24-25). These verses encapsulate the biblical teaching that the regular gathering of Christians for worship ought to be normative for the life of the believer and not set aside. This characterized the life of the church in scripture (e.g. Acts 2:42, 13:42, 20:7-10; 1 Cor. 16:1-2) and remains the duty of Christians today…
I reread J. I. Packer’s classic Knowing God last week for the first time since my teenage years. It was an overlong return, and well worth the read. Something I had not recalled, and was pleasantly surprised to find, was the Anglican Packer’s rejection of the use of images of God in worship. The edition of Knowing God I reread was from 1993, and Packer had faced so much pushback on his original position that he included an additional section in that chapter explaining why he had not changed his mind in the 20 years since the book’s original publication. So, evidently, this was a significant enough feature of the book to have warranted a lot of attention, and yet I had managed to forget it. The thing I was delighted to find in Packer’s argument was that his conclusion generally overlapped with my own: Images of God, including depictions of Christ, should not be used in worship; ambivalence in regards to the appropriateness of images of God for didactic purposes outside of worship; and finding prudent uses of images of God in art limited but acceptable.
Packer lays out his argument in these ways…