When the Old Testament Israelites traveled with the tabernacle, and when they camped around it, they could rightly say, “God is with us.” But the tabernacle was a shadow, a type, of something greater—Someone greater. Jesus is the true and greater tabernacle who came to dwell among sinners. He is Immanuel, God with us.
The opening of John’s Gospel contains some of the most epic words that have ever been written. The language in John 1:1–14 is beautiful and profound, and the main subject—the Word—concerns the one for whom and by whom all things were made.
In John 1:1–14, we learn that the Word always was, that the Word was before everything else, and that the Word came into the world like light—divine light. God’s speaking was at the same time a shining, and this light was revelation, the revelation of the incarnate Word.
When John tells us about what we call the incarnation, he says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
That whole verse is dense with wonderful things, but I only want to focus on one of them. The Word dwelt among us. Let’s think about that.
The verb dwelt is ἐσκήνωσεν, which is from the verb σκηνόω, and it means to dwell or encamp. This is why the Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the word σκηνη for tent or tabernacle. In the Old Testament, the presence of the tabernacle signaled the presence of Yahweh drawing near to the Israelites in their camp.
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By Daniel DeWitt — 5 months ago
Evangelism and disicpleship share an obligate symbiotic relationship, which, when empowered by the work of the Spirit, leads to the growth of the church. They are not enemies. They were never intended to be separated. And, like the Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert, the church, a Great Commission ecosystem, is planted in desolate places to offer salvation.
The Joshua tree is an iconic symbol of life in the Mojave Desert. It’s a tree straight out of a Dr. Suess story or ripped from a Vincent van Gogh painting. With its porcupine-like bark, spiky leaves, and topsy-turvy-arm-like branches, it looks like a clumsy giant towering over the barren, brown, sun-drenched landscape.
For me, pictures of the desert recall movie scenes with stranded travelers or run-away prisoners covered in sweat, drowning in sand, chasing elusive visions of an oasis on the horizon. That’s why the Joshua tree stands out. In an unforgiving environment, this tree means salvation. It offers shade and nutrition to a number of desert critters. Without it, they wouldn’t survive.
But as big of a deal as the Joshua tree is, it is dependent upon something very small. While the tree gives protection and nutrition to many, it wouldn’t make it for long were it not for a particular moth. Unlike other flowering trees, the Joshua tree doesn’t produce nectar to attract pollinators. The Yucca moth has reason to help the tree out with pollination. The moth’s babies eat the seeds from the flower of the tree for food in their first days of existence before they form cocoons.
Most pollination is kind of incidental. Bees like the nectar they pick up from flowers. They just happen to take on some pollen and carry it with them to the next flower as they search for another sugary treat. To them, their pollination is a bit of a happy accident. Since the Joshua tree is sans-nectar, this tree named for salvation is need of some saving itself.
Enter scene Yucca moth.
Not only do the Joshua trees not have nectar, they have very little pollen.
By Barry Waugh — 1 month ago
One thing both traditional and contemporary churches could agree on is the participation of church members in congregational singing. If unity cannot be found here, then the issues that divide are presuppositional and theological. The Church, whether Presbyterian or not, is divided about music, but it is certain that all of us will be singing the same words and tunes before the Throne, but could we not make an effort to unify on congregants singing in worship?
As was noted in the post, “Contemporary Christian Church Music,” which provided a transcription of an article by T. E. Peck and Stuart Robinson—worship of the Lord in song has been a controversial subject particularly since the gradual transition from exclusive psalmody in the eighteenth century to inclusion of hymns by composers such as Isaac Watts. The words of Ephesians 5:19, “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” have been interpreted differently by those using Psalms alone and those who include hymns with Psalms.
The transcription that follows is from the minutes of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, Old School, General Assembly of 1849, and it addresses this controversy. A committee had been appointed to make recommendations regarding church music, and it appears, though I am not certain, there were no ruling elders seated. The Committee on Church Music had been appointed the previous year by Moderator Alexander T. McGill but its membership changed as some appointees were excused and others were given their seats. When the report was submitted, it was signed by the following members:: John M. Krebs, (Rutgers Street Church, New York) James W. Alexander (Duane Street Church, New York), Daniel V. McLean (Freehold, New Jersey), William S. Plumer (Franklin Street Church, Baltimore), Gardiner Spring (Brick Church, New York), George Potts (University Place Church, New York), Willis Lord (Penn Square Church, Philadelphia), Charles C. Beatty (Second Church, Steubenville, Ohio), and William Jeffery (Bethany Church, Herriottsville, Pennsylvania).
What specifically was the committee to address regarding church music?
In 1843 the Old School Presbyterian Board of Publication issued Psalms and Hymns Adapted to Social, Private and Public Worship in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, which was printed in Philadelphia. It included the complete Psalter of Isaac Watts followed by 680 hymns. In a modern hymnal the music is provided with the words but in earlier hymnals, as with this one, only the words are given. Each hymn is headed with a few words describing its topic and a notation regarding the meter to which it is sung. The hymns are not titled. This seems unusual today given hymnals have the words and music for each one and a title, but the 1843 hymnal shows the transition from Psalm singing alone to Psalms and hymns. Psalms for singing simply had the number of the Psalm, the meter, and then the words. The brief preface to the 798-page collection expressed the hope that—
The collection itself comprehends what were supposed [assumed] to be the best hymns in the one now in use, with a large addition from other sources, and in sufficient variety, it is presumed, to meet all the wants of worshippers.
Unfortunately, the hymnal did not “meet all the wants of worshippers,” which resulted in the appointment of the Committee on Church Music. The instrument by which the church music issue came to the floor of the Assembly was an overture from the Synod of Philadelphia which the Committee on Bills and Overtures reviewed and then made its recommendation.
[To] report to the next General Assembly upon the general subject of congregational singing, suggesting such scriptural measures as may seem calculated to improve it, and such remedies of existing evils as the case may seem to require. The recommendation was adopted.
The primary concern for the Committee on Church Music was improving congregational singing during worship on the Lord’s Day. As an aside, it is interesting that the 1843 hymnal designates one section “For the Lord’s Day” and not “For the Sabbath,” as might be expected. The secondary concern for the Committee was “preparation of a book of tunes adapted to our present psalmody.” Presumably, the thinking was, if tunes were more singable for the average non-musically trained congregant to sing, then more people would sing.
Congregational participation in singing is clearly not a new problem. Robinson-Peck and the report of the Committee on Church Music that follows this introduction mention factors contributing to lack of participation such as overemphasizing the choir, viewing worship music as entertainment, and the use of hired professional non-congregation members to bolster (supplant?) the congregation. On several occasions, while traveling I have worshipped in other Presbyterian churches and noticed that people simply do not sing. It is not a matter of a few here and there not singing, but instead a few here and there are singing. This is true of churches whether they are considered traditional or contemporary (these terms are used reluctantly for convenience), but it seems the more music is emphasized in a service, ironically, the less the participation of the congregation. Though the number appears to be waning, there are churches that have singing congregants. I have the privilege of membership with a congregation that sings well with a skilled director and talented accompanists under the oversight of elders who are concerned for regulated worship. Worship is not a traditional vs. contemporary issue; worship is a theological issue in that its purpose is glorifying God as we enjoy Him within the limits of liturgy given in Scripture.
I said in my introduction to the Robinson-Peck post that the Old School took a moderate position regarding the issue of church music. What I mean by moderate is the Old School did not limit its worship music to Psalms, but instead combined hymns of contemporary composition with those of the past. The addition of hymns is not only appropriate but necessary. But this raises some questions. Which hymns are to be added? What is the standard to be used (of course, Scripture, but how)? Is there an essential core of hymns that must never be removed? Are there tunes that are unacceptable, and if so, what makes them unacceptable for worship (sexual beat, originally used with worldly or atheistic lyrics)? Can adding new hymns work against the goal of united congregational singing; can removing old hymns likewise reduce congregational singing? Are the older members of congregations to be left out as too much emphasis is placed on new words and tunes (the age demographic of the United States is increasing )? Those who sing the Psalms exclusively have an advantage because the words of their worship in music are fixed, but they too may face the challenge of congregants wanting the words of Psalms updated with more up-to-date tunes. Church history, unfortunately, is often the study of division whether it was the Christological issues of the ancient church, division with the Reformation, the Old and New Schools, and many others. The issue of church music divides us as well. However, one thing both traditional and contemporary churches could agree on is the participation of church members in congregational singing. If unity cannot be found here, then the issues that divide are presuppositional and theological. The Church, whether Presbyterian or not, is divided about music, but it is certain that all of us will be singing the same words and tunes before the Throne, but could we not make an effort to unify on congregants singing in worship.
With regard to the report that follows, I found some of the comments objectionable not necessarily because of what was said but because of the way it was said. The General Assembly is the highest earthly court of the Presbyterian Church and its decency and honor should be beyond the expected in all matters. Intemperance, personal attacks, sarcasm, smart-aleck jabs, and patronizing comments have no place in the Church in general but especially in gatherings of presbyters.
Report of The Committee on Church Music
The Committee on the subject of Sacred Music, appointed by the General Assembly last year (see Minutes, A. D. 1848, pp. 18 and 55) respectfully report, that six members of the Committee, viz. the Chairman, and Messrs. Plumer, Potts, Lord, McKinley, and McNair, met, agreeably to appointment at Philadelphia on the 20th day of February last, and proceeded to the consideration of the duty which had been confided to them. After making some progress therein, the Committee, having sat through three days, adjourned, referring the further prosecution and completion of the work to the members residing in the city of New York, and authorizing them to present the result of their labors to the next Assembly.
At the commencement of their sessions, the Committee were occupied with a question concerning the extent of their powers. The overture from the Synod of Philadelphia, (see overture, number 3, Minutes, 1848, p. 18,) contemplated the appointment of “a committee to take into consideration the subject of Church Music, with special reference to the preparation of a book of tunes adapted to our present psalmody.” The Assembly’s resolution, appointing the Committee, conferred upon it no other power, expressly, than “to report to the next General Assembly, upon the general subject of congregational singing, suggesting such scriptural measures as may seem calculated to improve it, and such remedies of existing evils as the case may seem to require.” While the overture appears to embrace two points, viz. a report upon the subject, and some provision for a book of tunes, the act of the Assembly authorizes a mere report, with suggestions on certain specified points, and makes no express reference to the preparation of a book of tunes.
On the first point submitted to their consideration, the Committee offer the following remarks:
There are different opinions, in various parts of the Church, in regard to the present state of congregational singing. What the taste and usages of the churches, in one section, may highly approve, other churches, possibly, would disapprove. Conformity, in all points of opinion and practice, is, perhaps—nay, most probably—unattainable. And, in cases wherein the differences arise, not in view of unmistakable decisions of the Bible, or of our Standards, but simply from considerations of taste, convenience, longer or shorter usage, and varying application, and, indeed, varying interpretation, of the notices of this subject which are contained in the sacred oracles, much must necessarily be left to the mutual forbearance and conceded Christian liberty of God’s people. These diversities may be either rendered more tolerable, or altogether removed, by increasing intercourse and communion, by frank and friendly comparison of views, and by the influence of that more extended public discussion, which the subject is evidently destined to receive. Without entering that discussion here, or indicating any opinion, beyond that which we have just expressed; the Committee deem it to be incumbent on them to notice some other points, on which, as it seems to them, there is occasion for present animadversion.
By Guy M. Richard — 2 years ago
Written by Guy M. Richard |
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Prayer is not preparation for the real work that leaders do. It is the real work. Prayer gives us access to God and to every help that we need to live the Christian life and to minister where God has placed us. For, as Paul said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
Prayer Is Our Lifeline on the Battlefront
Paul teaches us in Ephesians 6:10–20 that our lives will be characterized by war—not war against earthly powers and armies but war against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, [and] against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (v. 12). The devil and all who do his bidding, Paul says, are seeking to thwart the Lord’s work in the world by destroying his people, leading us astray, and rendering us ineffective.
But the Lord has not left us alone in our struggle. He has given everything we need to take our stand and fight. He has given us the “belt of truth,” the “breastplate of righteousness,” the “readiness” that comes from the “gospel of peace,” the “shield of faith,” the “helmet of salvation,” and the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (vv. 14–17). What is more, he has also given us access to him in prayer. That is why Paul encourages us to give ourselves to “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (v. 18). He knows that we are at war, and because we are, we need to be able to call in to our commanding General for help at every moment.
John Piper has helpfully referred to prayer as “a war- time walkie-talkie” that connects us to our commanding General and enables us to “call in firepower for conflict with a mortal enemy.”8 In speaking this way, Piper reminds us that we are not alone in our fight. It’s not that God has given us everything we need to make our stand and then left us to fend for ourselves. God has given us every- thing we need, and he has also given us ongoing access to himself. We have access to his limitless supplies of wisdom, power, and grace. We have access to all that he is, in and of himself, whenever and wherever we may need it. And that is a tremendous blessing!
Prayer is necessary precisely because you and I are at war. God has given us prayer so that we can survive. It is our lifeline that connects us to him. When we realize that, we will be more motivated to give ourselves to prayer and, specifically, to kingdom-focused prayer. Praying for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (see Matt. 6:10) is not simply an optional luxury when we are at war. It is an absolute necessity. It is life itself.
Given the importance of prayer as a lifeline to secure the help of our commanding General in our fight against Satan and his armies, it should be no surprise that the apostles give pride of place to the role of prayer in their exercise of leadership. They see that their primary responsibility is to “devote [themselves] to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Note the order—first prayer, then the ministry of the Word. Since the apostles were also elders in the church (see 1 Peter 5:1), what they say about the place of prayer in their own ministries applies to all those who serve as elders. In fact, I would apply it to every follower of Jesus, because we are all called to some kind of ministry, whether that takes place within our group of friends, our family, our workplace or community, or our church.
If everything we have said about the nature of the Christian life and the role of prayer in it is true, then it makes sense that those who take up the mantle of leadership would give first place to prayer. The degree to which we don’t is the degree to which we misunderstand what prayer is and why we should be doing it. Prayer is not preparation for the real work that leaders do. It is the real work. Prayer gives us access to God and to every help that we need to live the Christian life and to minister where God has placed us. For, as Paul said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
This is an excerpt from the chapter, “Prayer is Necessary” from Guy M. Richard’s book, “Persistent Prayer,” part of the Blessings of the Faith series. Pick up a copy of, “Persistent Prayer” for more gospel encouragement and practical tools for growing in prayer. Used with permission.