Category Archives: Philosophy of Ministry

Singing Psalms and Hymns

Throughout our worship services we sing songs to the Lord. Singing has always been a practice of God’s people, going back to when Israel sang a beautiful hymn of praise to God after being delivered from Egypt by passing through the Red Sea,

“I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him…” (Ex. 15:1–2).

We also have the example of King David, who composed over 70 psalms and appointed 4,000 musicians and 288 singers to “offer praises to the LORD” in the temple (1 Chron. 23:5, 25:7). Over and over again the psalms (which themselves are songs) tell God’s people to sing unto the Lord (Ps. 33:3, 98:4–6).

In the New Testament, we find Jesus and the disciples singing “a hymn” after the Last Supper (Mk. 14:26), which scholars believe to have most likely been the Hallel psalms (113–118) which were sung when celebrating Passover. In Acts 4:25 the believers “lifted their voices together to God” and quoted Psalm 2 and later on we read of St Paul and Silas singing hymns together while in prison (Acts 16:25). Throughout the Epistles we are instructed to address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:18, Col. 3:16) and to sing praise when cheerful (Jas. 5:13).

This practice of singing was described by John Calvin as a type of public prayer offered to the Lord.[1] We do not sing during our worship services to sprinkle in some art or entertainment. Nor do we use song merely as a pedagogical tool to convey doctrine the way a sermon does. Instead, the church sings psalms and hymns to praise and glorify God our Lord, for “psalmody is not primarily thematic, decorative, or didactic, but doxological.[2]

Continue reading

Child Communion

Much more controversial than the doctrine of paedobaptism today is the doctrine of paedocommunion, or child communion. While welcoming children to partake of the Lord’s Supper is a practice found in the ancient Church, today very few Presbyterian or Reformed churches allow it. However, there are good biblical reasons for allowing covenant children to join the rest of God’s people at His table. But because this practice was not re-established by the Reformers, is rejected in many Reformed denominations today, and would be out of line for someone who subscribes without exception to the Westminster Standards; we ought to be humble in our support of this practice and not schismatic. We must recognize that advocation for paedocommunion would be part of a commitment to semper reformanda, always reforming our life and doctrine. As Reformed Christians we do indeed believe that the work of the Reformation and the subsequent confessional doctrines are part of God’s work in maturing and refining His church. However, we do not believe that the Reformers had the opportunities or the need to address every doctrinal issue, nor were they infallible. Scripture alone must be our highest authority. So now let’s turn to four arguments for welcoming covenant children to partake of the Lord’s Supper.[1]

Continue reading

Lord’s Supper

Having considered the sacrament of baptism, now let’s turn to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. As we have already noted, there are two parts of a sacrament: the outward and visible sign, and the inward and spiritual grace thereby signified (WLC 163). In the Lord’s Supper, the outward visible signs are bread and wine—consecrated, broken, poured, distributed, and received.[1] The inward spiritual grace signified is Christ crucified for us and all of His benefits for us—including union with Him, the indwelling of the Spirit, adoption by the Father, regeneration, justification, sanctification, and future glorification.[2]

Continue reading

Baptism

Introduction

The first sacrament to consider is baptism, for through baptism men, women, and children enter into the church. Baptism is not only what admits an individual into the church, but is also “a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life” (WCF 28.1). In baptism, individuals are washed with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as was commanded and instituted by Christ in the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19).

Continue reading

Preaching and Hearing the Word

Introduction

“The Word is truly the soul of the church.”[1] And the preaching of the Word is an essential element of worship that was largely recovered during the Reformation. We find the preaching of the Word not only in Scripture (1 Cor. 14:26, Acts 2:42), but also among the early church in the prolific sermons of Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory the Great, Gregory of Nazanzius, Chrysostom, and others—all of which the Reformers were familiar.[2] Therefore, John Calvin wrote that “it was a principle of long standing in the church that the primary duties of the bishop were to feed his people with the Word of God.”[3]

Continue reading

Covenant Renewal Worship

Introduction

Hughes Oliphant Old began his book on worship with this sentence: “We worship God because God created us to worship him. Worship is at the center of our existence, at the heart of our reason for being.”[1] The worship of God is indeed at the heart of our reason for being, and therefore worship is also the primary function of the church of Christ. Through the blood of Jesus, we have been granted the privilege of entering the holy place of God (Heb. 10:19–22). We now worship where the Jews feared to tread, through the mediation of Christ, at Mount Zion and the city of the living God (Heb. 12:18–22). And so like St John, Christians are caught up in the Spirit every Lord’s Day to worship their Triune God (Rev. 1:10).

Every week in our Lord’s Day worship services, we follow a consistent liturgical pattern which has been called covenant renewal worship. This pattern follows the worship of God’s people in the Old Testament, where there were three different kinds of sacrifices: guilt offering, ascension (or burnt) offering, and peace offering. The worship service begins with a call to worship and ends with a commissioning. It is called “covenant renewal” not because the covenant expires every week (it is eternal), but because the covenant is a living contract and relationship, which God is pleased to renew with us weekly. This renewal is not like the renewal of a yearly contract, but instead is like how sexual communion renews the marriage covenant or a meal renews the body.[2]

Continue reading

Elders, Deacons, and Broader Assemblies

Christ is the Head of the church and the source of all its authority (Mt. 23:10, Jn. 13:13, 1 Cor. 12:5, Eph. 1:20–23; 4:11–12, 5:23–24). Therefore, the appointed officers of the church derive their own authority from Christ and in turn must be humble in submission to Him and His Word in all things. 

In the New Testament we find two ordinary offices of church government: elder and deacon. The non-regular, or “extraordinary offices” would be that of apostles, prophets, and evangelists. Because the extraordinary offices are believed to have ceased and are not held by officers today, we will only explore the offices of elder and deacon. 

It is important to note that while the basics of church governance can be clearly deduced from Scripture, some of the exact details are not. The Westminster Confession of Faith acknowledges this when it states that there are some circumstances concerning the government of the church “which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word…” (WCF 1.6). Therefore, some of what follows, such as the types of distinctions among elders or the ordering of broader assemblies, will differ in details in various Reformed churches.

Continue reading

Confessions

Much of what we have already considered regarding creeds can be said regarding confessions. In the Reformed faith, confessions refer to the comprehensive documents concerning doctrine composed by the Protestant Reformers and their successors. Like the creeds from the early church, confessions carry an authority that is subordinate to Scripture. They are not infallible and can err and be improved on. 

Some argue that confessions serve to create doctrinal division within the church. But this is not so. Doctrinal differences already exist because Scripture requires interpretation and harmonization. Rather than escalating division, confessions rather serve to create unity—they unite Christians to a common understanding of Scripture. They create doctrinal “fences” that keep ministers and churches together within what is believed to be biblical doctrine.

Continue reading

Creeds

As we continue to consider the role of tradition in the church, one of the first places to start is with the ecumenical creeds. As we have seen, “No creed but the Bible” is itself a creed, and a poor one at that. Nobody is actually capable of living according to that… creed. You can pretend that Scripture is all you use for doctrine and right living, but if you take a step back, you’ll discover that you (and your church) absolutely have a creed. It may be unwritten, but it comes out in the sermons, in the liturgy, in the Sunday School lessons, and in the home. The alternative to this is to acknowledge that God has created us in such a way that we must interpret Scripture—and thus confess what we believe in creeds, embrace tradition, and joyfully study and proclaim what the church throughout the ages has established.

Continue reading