David de Bruyn

Reconciling Over Reverence- A Proposed Solution

We should agree to consult the church historic as a guide and standard for expressions of reverence. The prayers, songs, sermons, liturgies of Christians across 2000 years and five continents are neither infallible nor our final authority. They are, however, highly illuminating, instructive, and corrective, living as we do in an age of flippancy, irreverence and amusement. Their errors are likely not ours are are therefore highly visible to us and easily avoided. Our own errors are invisible to us, and seen more clearly when the contrast of earlier ages highlight our own deficiencies and faults. By allowing the church triumphant to have a voice at the table, our decisions on reverence will not be an echo chamber for our prejudices. We will hear what thousands of Christians before our time considered reverence to be.

Will Christians ever agree on whether certain acts of worship are reverent? In glory, perhaps, but on this side of Heaven, unanimity is impossible. A more modest goal is that thoughtful Christians should limit their discussion about reverence to those who agree on some basic principles. Proverbs warns against debating with fools and scoffers, and many a Christian has disobeyed this advice and found only angst, dishonour and wasted time. Serious discussion can be conducted only by serious people. What then should be the marks of serious-mindedness when it comes to discussing reverence?
First, we should agree that reverence toward God is required (Prov. 1:7, 9:10; Heb. 12:28-29). Few will disagree with this premise, but it is nonetheless important to state, since God Himself states it. We are not debating over a mere cosmetic preference, but over a fundamental posture towards God.
Second, we should agree that it is possible to be irreverent towards God. Again, this sounds pedantic and almost patronising to state, but it is important that we agree that somewhere on the worship spectrum people cross a line from acceptable to unacceptable worship. We may certainly disagree on where that point is, but if it is always further out than what people are actually doing, it may as well not exist. Sincerity and good intentions are ever taken by modern evangelicals to be the panacea for any perceived irreverence, and consequently few are ever charged with heteropathy. This is the equivalent of acquitting criminals by asking them if they meant to be evil, and releasing them if they answer “no”. No one thinks his evil is unwarranted evil; similarly, no one thinks he is being deliberately irreverent.
Third, we should agree that God’s Word regulates worship, and that the primary guard against irreverence is to restrict ourselves to what God commands by precept or inferred principle.
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On Baby Grands and Expensive Hymnals

Christians must continue to pursue the highest and best, even in the presence of dire need. No period of undisturbed tranquility is just over the horizon, the arrival of which will then permit a Golden Age of pursuing the best that has been thought or written. The time for beauty, higher learning, and the pursuit of excellence is now, whether we are in Monaco or Monrovia. If we, in the name of wartime-lifestyle-gospel-centred-radical-whatever-you-call-it, eschew beautiful instruments and quality hymnals, all that will happen is we will sing inferior songs on inferior instruments.

“Why this waste?” said the greediest member of the Twelve. Judas’s supposed concern with helping the poor and for efficient use of ministry finances was really a facade for his unvarnished envy. Judas wanted money, and like every jealous soul, disliked money being spent lavishly on someone else.
The sentiment that it is frivolous waste to spend money on anything except dire need is popular among some Christians. It’s an easy sentiment to have, even a lazy one, perhaps. What could be a better use of money than giving it to those who have the least, right? And what could be a more wasteful use of money than spending more on those who already have enough, correct? Such “automatic-entitlement” functions rather like the Left’s politics of victimization. Find a race, gender, or “sexual orientation” that has been supposedly oppressed, and such a group automatically receives the unassailable position of victim, requiring special treatment, and requiring no defense of its now-privileged status. The same Leftist sentimentalism often brews within Christianity, and bubbles out when spending is on anything except extreme need.
My church is not wealthy, relative to some others in the city. Our monthly budget is exactly half of some of our sister churches not far from us. Of course, that same budget is several times larger than some of the other churches we know and fellowship with. That’s simply life, and as anyone who understands biblical economics knows, inequality is not injustice.
But given our middle-sized budget, what justification is there for spending a considerable amount of the hard-earned and saved money of our church on a very expensive musical instrument, and on hard-cover hymnals?  How could we do this, amidst a sea of poverty? “Why this waste?” one might opine. Why not a few guitars and a simple Powerpoint projection?
One of the best answers comes from C.S. Lewis, in his essay “Learning in War-time.” Lewis faced a similar criticism during World War 2. What was the point of having scholars study medieval literature or Anglo-Saxon linguistics when there were Nazis bombing European cities? Wasn’t this an almost literal enactment of fiddling while Rome burned?
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Parsing Reverence with the Past

Our contemporary debate about expressions of reverence may not be a question of interchangeable external gestures between different “styles” of music and expression. It may be because, as secular writer John McWhorter suggests, our entire culture is discarding the formal for the colloquial, the reverent for the casual. We’ve become, as a people, irreverent.
Resolving the debate over expressions of reverence is difficult. More than one reason could account for a clash in expressions of reverence between ethnicities, or even between generations of people belonging to the same ethnicity or culture.
First, there can simply be ethnolinguistic differences. Gestures, like words, function as signs and symbols of deeper realities. Different words that point to the same reality are not contradictory. They merely require translation. One culture might see standing as respectful, while the other sees remaining seated as respectful. While it is impossible to do both at the same time, translation would enable the two cultures to see that respect was the goal of the differing gestures. This difference in expression for the same meaning is not fundamentally problematic for reverence. The next two reasons, however, are.
Second, there can ignorance over meaning. Children are often rude, not out of a desire to offend, but because of ignorance of the forms and conventions that characterise polite company. This ignorance often continues in adults and their sub-cultures, who grow older in total ignorance of the meaning of respect, reverence, and of the forms that express it. This ignorance does not constitute total innocence on their part, for the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, and self-understanding is an obligation laid upon every thinking man.
Imagine, for a moment, a biker gang that greets one another with an obscene hand gesture. They understand the offensiveness of the gesture in biker sub-culture, and delight in the very coarseness of making an insult into a greeting. By some strange machination of pop culture and mass media, this greeting finds its way into mainstream life, and after a few years, polite adults are now using this hand gesture to greet one another. Question: are the polite adults guilty of disrespect and coarseness? The answer is that they are, and they do not realise it. Their ignorance of the meaning of the gesture does not change its meaning; it only makes them foolish for adopting what they do not understand. This is true of musical forms, poetic forms, word connotations, slang, dress, body piercings or markings, hair, tone of voice and many other media of meaning. Now, it may be true that after many decades of use, the gesture is so widespread that its original obscene meaning fades altogether (assuming there was nothing obviously and intrinsically obscene in it). At this point, the culpability for using what was originally rude is no longer present. Except where the meaning is intrinsic, meaning does change with time.
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Recovering Reverence 9—Wholeheartedness

Otherness, openness, submissiveness, gratefulness, childlikeness and wholeheartedness make up what the Bible calls the fear of the Lord. Why? Because this is responding to the God who truly exists: the God who is infinitely great, and infinitely good.

“Let me seek Thee in longing, let me long for Thee in seeking; let me find Thee in love, and love Thee in finding.”—Anselm
Do not let your heart envy sinners, But be zealous for the fear of the LORD all the day…(Proverbs 23:17)
Fearing God is not only humbled and awed. It is also zealous. Reverent love pursues God vigorously. The fear of the Lord is irrepressibly zealous. Life, when unencumbered by the weakness that sin and the Fall have brought, pursues its holy desires, and is further enlivened thereby.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.(Proverbs 13:12)
Life freed from the corruption of sin and death pursues the highest good as its chief desire. It pursues the profit and pleasure of beauty. It is the mark of sin that it does not intensify our desires, but weakens them; it does not focus our desires, but dissipates them. Our waters run abroad in the streets instead of healthily gathered and focused (Proverbs 5:16-19).
Reverent love includes the earnest pursuit of God’s beauty, vigorously pursuing the sweetness of communion with God. Wholehearted seeking longs for God, and it enjoys both the longing and the finding, which increases the longing. Bernard of Clairvaux’s translated hymn captures this:
We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread,And long to feast upon Thee still;We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead,And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.
We think of the prophet Isaiah’s experience: first humbled, then open about his sin, then submissive, but once cleansed, what springs up is zealous seeking of God:
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”(Isaiah 6:8)
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Rescuing Reverence – 8 “Childlikeness”

Childlikeness lives with a simple trust that if God provides for lilies and sparrows, that he will provide for me if I work hard. It avoids the grief and complexity of pursuing riches for their own sake, or pursuing vainglory, and all the tiresome pomp and frippery that is needed to prop up and polish our image. It finds contentment in a simplicity of lifestyle, and does not become entangled with this world. 

Reverent love includes a deep sense of being a small, teachable, weak being who is yet alive and admiring God’s goodness. To be under the shadow and care of such a Father is to experience a profound kind of smallness, innocence and safety in his marvelous world. This experience is the aspect of reverence we call childlikeness.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)
Not only are Christians to receive everyone, from adults down to children, but we are to be like children. There is something to conversion itself which requires childlikeness.
What does Jesus mean by “becoming like a little child”? Because before we rush to say that children are pictures of purity and innocence, a myth started by the French sceptic Rousseau, common sense and experience tell us that this is not the case. Children can be very cruel and spiteful to one another. Children do not naturally serve others. Children push to the front of the line, and say “Me first” in screeching voices. Children can be proud, boastful, and supremely selfish.  What then does Jesus mean we are to imitate? Surely not the childishness of children, for childishness is something we want to outgrow. Indeed, Paul says spiritual childishness must be avoided: “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting…“(Ephesians 4:14)
There is a fundamental difference however, between being childish and childlike. Childishness is something not fully formed, that requires growth and correction.  But to speak of something as childlike refers to something that ought not to be lost.
Clyde Kilby’s resolutions illustrate some of the attitudes of the childlike. The first is wonder.

At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.

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Rescuing Reverence – 6 – Submissiveness

Submission lives in hope: hope that by submitting, we will find more goodness and reward and joy than had we pursued our own ends selfishly. As we yield to his authority, giving our loving attention, hoping in his promises and power, it must culminate in the act of seeking to please God in obedient choices. By making God’s will our own, we are demonstrating love.

The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverse mouth I hate. (Prov. 8:13)
The fear of the Lord begins with the humility of otherness. It continues with the honesty of openness. The third component of the reverent, fearful love of God is submissiveness.
“In brief: whether a man be good, better, or best of all; bad, worse, or worst of all; sinful or saved before God; it all lieth in this matter of obedience”, said the author of the Theologia Germanica.
Reverent love for God submits to God’s will. It acknowledges God as the supreme authority. Not only is He ultimate, not only is He omniscient and omnipresent, but he is sovereign. He is Lord.
In an age of personal autonomy and glorified rebellion, we might struggle to understand biblical submission. What exactly is it? Submission is coming under another’s will. Another word for will is desire, for what a man wills is what he desires. Whoever submits to God desires to match his own desires to God’s, to bring them under God’s, to give God’s desires final veto over his own. The life of faith is a life of re-moulding our desires to be Christ’s. While communing with God, we are conforming to his loves, and making them our own.
An Old Testament law provides a helpful illustration. The Hebrew indentured servant had the option to depart after his sixth year. But if he had come to admire, love and respect his master’s authority, he could publicly pledge his voluntary submission:
“But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ “then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever. (Exodus 21:5-6)
Here is the picture of our submission. We willingly and cheerfully give up self-direction, to dwell under the leadership of the Good Shepherd. Love is at the root of it, and it expresses itself in love.
The Hebrew servant came to trust in his master’s rule more than self-rule. He had come to place his hopes in another. The believer does the same thing with God. God has both the might and right to rule us, direct our lives, and lead us.
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Expository Preaching Is Necessary, But Not Sufficient

Expositional preaching requires a living context to be understood. While the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to make the right applications to a completely blinded heart, he usually uses the natural means of family, church, and human culture to give a context to truth. Barring common grace, much in modern culture is useless for teaching the right application of Scripture. That leaves redeemed families and gospel churches to put flesh on the bones of expository sermons.

I enjoy conferences for pastors and training workshops, and recommend them heartily. But I often return from them a little disturbed by the way expository preaching is viewed by some Christian leaders. According to them, expository preaching is the main ingredient for healthy Christianity, and the lack thereof is the reason for its sickness. If only, they say, all pastors were committed to expository preaching, the church would be reformed and revived.
I am committed to expository preaching. I have attempted it (however unsuccessfully) for over twenty years. We teach students in our seminary how to do expository preaching. I prefer to make the mainstay of my preaching expository series of books of the Bible. I believe expository preaching grows out of a conservative view of Scripture. If you believe that God has verbally inspired Scripture, making it the rule for all Christian life and practice, it follows that you submit to its meaning. Therefore, you desire to understand what has already been revealed, submit to it yourself, and make it plain to others. Expository preaching usually goes hand-in-glove with inerrancy, for when you believe the Bible has been given without error, you are fastidious in your approach to understand the very words of Scripture, not just the themes. Expository preaching also reveals a desire to preach the whole counsel of God, not our pet themes or popular topics.
But having said all that, I think many Christian leaders have a faith in expository preaching which is overblown and looks to expository preaching to do what it cannot accomplish by itself.
It is a tempting position to hold. After all, the Bible teaches us about worship. Surely if we preach expositionally, biblical worship will take place, right? The Bible speaks about what affections we should have for God. If we preach the whole counsel of God, won’t it automatically lead to ordinate affection?
Look around for the answer. You have any number of Reformed or conservative evangelicals who are committed to expository preaching, but who come out on almost opposite ends of the worship and affection spectrum.
This elephant-in-the-room fact leads many to relativize our applications of Scripture. If such good preachers who are so committed to biblical authority come out at completely different answers as to what it means to worship, it must be because we’re just talking about ‘styles’ and various ways of “contextualizing” the gospel. So as not to shake anyone’s faith in expository preaching as the be-all and end-all, the quite obvious disparity in worship and affections by those committed to expository preaching is played down in favor of a shared commitment to Reformed doctrine.
I think ignoring this disparity is part of the problem. It’s my contention that expository preaching is not a magic bullet, but it must be accompanied by something to have its desired effect.
The fact is, preaching occurs in a context.
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Rescuing Reverence – 4

Pride obscures our relationship with God by treating God as smaller than he actually is, and treating ourselves as greater than we actually are. Pride is a distortion of reality. God can no more work with pride than reason with a lunatic. Pride is a kind of moral madness, where we see ourselves as gods with intrinsic beauty. With pride goes unbelief, which is refusing to accept what God says about us, himself and reality. We can only love and reverence God rightly if we grant to God his true place of firstness in our lives.

At the heart of reverence, or holy love, are six components: otherness, openness, submissiveness, gratefulness, childlikeness, and wholeheartedness. To rescue reverence is to understand these in turn.
What is the fundamental obstacle to knowing and loving God? Self-worship. Pride and unbelief, the two sides of the coin of Self, are at the root of every sin, and therefore at the root of fleeing from God. Stubborn independence, guiltily skulking away, and refusing to find pleasure in his beauty come from the flesh’s desire to rule. Unbelieving pride is the mother of all sins, and the root of all spiritual malfunction.
If we are to worship God by knowing him, the absolute starting point is that we recognise he is God and we are not. Christianity broken down to its first principle is this: only one God exists, and he is not us. He is not a means to our own ends. We have been created to know and love him for who he is. If we are to love God as he is, we must deny ourselves, recognising that our lives do not revolve around ourselves, since we orbit the sun that is God, not the other way around. We must turn from trying to use God, or manipulate God, and come to him to love him as our only God. We must settle on the fact that there will be only one ultimate love in our lives, and it will be God. A failure to give God his place as God is at the root of all our problems.
This foundational attitude of loving God we could call otherness. It understands that the Great Choice of life is to acknowledge God’s claim on us, go out of ourselves, as Augustine put it, and acknowledge God’s claim on us. Our fundamental posture is oriented away from self towards the other: the Great Other Himself.
Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth. (Psa 115:1)
Otherness is to understand that life is not about self. Life is about going outside of ourselves to God. It is about him. He is God, we are not. He is the source, we are not. He is Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End. This is the starting point of the fear of the Lord.
A biblical word for otherness is humility.
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Rescuing Reverence – 3

To compare ourselves to God is to be humbled. The heart bows. Love for his beauty grows as we compare ourselves to the supreme, sovereign, holy, just, omnipresent, infinite, faithful, immutable, omnipotent God. The spiritual vertigo we feel when seeing the chasm between ourselves and God is the fear of the Lord. This is the confrontation with his greatness and goodness.

Loving God rightly means loving Him with a reverent love. To love God without the fear of the Lord is simply a made-up love, a love of some other object which we then call God. To truly encounter the God of Creation is to love Him with deep reverence.
In fact, if you do a word search in your Bible, and look up the words fear, awe, reverence, trembled, marvelled, bow, dread, terror, honour, and wonder, the results are many hundreds of verses. Far more, in fact, than verses which use the words love or treasure and worship. Why? Because the Bible knows how easily we misunderstand the word love. Scripture lays heavy emphasis on the kind of love we give God, because this is where most go wrong. We might understand that love means desire and delight or treasuring and valuing, but we fail to understand that to desire and delight a being like God is a unique kind of desire. It is a special kind of love. It is holy love, the love of the fear of the Lord.
By being in union with Christ, we are enabled to love God as God does. One of the wonders of the Incarnation is that by adding to himself a true human nature, Jesus loved God not only with the divine love of the eternal Son for the Father, but also with the human love of fearing God. Isaiah 11 predicts that Messiah will have the fear of the Lord.
Isaiah 11:1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. 3 His delight is in the fear of the LORD, (Isa. 11:1-3)
To be in positional union with Christ, and live that out, is to love God ultimately, and love God reverently. That’s because Jesus did so. He loved God ultimately, and according to his human nature, he loved God reverently.
So what is this fearing kind of love? Again, the Bible uses many different words to capture and describe this kind of fearing love. The best way to describe it is to say that it is the kind of love that responds to both the greatness and the goodness of God.
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Rescuing Reverence – 2

The only way to find the right fear of God is through the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ is where majestic holiness and infinite mercy find their perfect conjunction as far as man is concerned. It is in the gospel that men can look at blinding holiness and glorious love and see them in light of each other. When the gospel is rightly taught, there is neither the dilution of God’s wrath, power and majesty, nor a grudging admission or dismissive assent to God’s love, grace, and mercy. As surely as the Incarnation requires belief that Christ is truly God and truly man, so the gospel (and the doctrine of simplicity) requires we believe that God is infinitely great and infinitely good. 

Here’s a short test. What follows is a list of several words associated with fear. Which of these have to do with the fear of the Lord?
Horror, awe, terror, quiet, despair, seriousness, intimidation, dread, timidity, scariness, panic, astonishment, trepidation, anxiety, reverence. The exercise is not primarily to get it exactly “right”, for even these words carry connotations that will differ from person to person. Generally speaking, most thoughtful Christians will weed out the most negative and destructive of fears (despair, horror, panic) while retaining the ones that suggest seriousness.
Understanding the inner affection of reverence is as difficult as trying to define any human emotion. Our best chance of understanding it well is to begin negatively: eliminating the wrong kinds of fear on either end of the spectrum. From there, we will likely find the kind of fear the mixes elements of both sides.
What is the fear “spectrum”? On one extreme, we would have the kind of fear that a sinner would face should he experience the pure, unmitigated greatness of an infuriated omnipotent god, were that god his enemy. This fear would be terror and horror of the most agonising kind. Nothing except the despair of the sinner’s inevitable destruction looms over him. No hope is here, only panic, for there is nothing but threat to one’s being.
The opposite extreme would be the over-familiarity that a friend or relative might have with one in a position of authority. The position of authority is known to the friend, but the close relationship leads the friend to almost scoff at his position, as if it is an inside joke that such authority does not rule over friends. The ‘goodness’ of his friend, their relationship of friendship does not simply render his authority friendly; it neutralises it altogether.
Of these two, we know which is in the ascendancy today when it comes to worshipping God.
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