That we do in fact enter into God’s special presence in the midst of his gathered congregation must never be slighted or forgotten. True, God is present everywhere. But his omnipresence is not what I am referring to here. God has promised to be present with his people in a special sense when they gather on Sunday.
The one who skips church for the golf course or shopping mall or state park may not argue from God’s omnipresence to justify his not being in church. Sure, God is present on the golf course, just as he is present in hell. But this general presence of God doesn’t do the people in hell much good. God is present in heaven and hell, but he is not present in the same way in each of these locations. That is the difference.
Even if we cannot define it precisely, God is present in a special sense when his people gather as the church on the Lord’s Day. He is present there for us. This is the place, the location where he gathers his people around the Word and Sacraments. He has promised to be there for us when his people gather.
It is not so much that God was not present in, say, Damascus, when the pillar and fire led the people of Israel out of Egypt or when his presence filled the tabernacle upon its completion; rather, the Lord was at these appointed places in a special, life-giving way. Similarly, it is not that God is absent from the food court in the mall on Sunday; rather, he has promised to be present in a special way, the way of salvation and blessing, at the Communion Table in church. He has not promised to be in the mall on Sunday for you. Actually, he may be present there against you so that you could very well experience his judgment and curse, rather than his promise of blessing, life, and salvation.
Moreover, when we are in God’s special presence every week, receiving from him his promise through his Word and Sacraments, we can go forth out of church into the world with the full assurance that God will be with us and for us wherever we may be during the week. Without being in the Lord’s special presence we have no assurance of his omnipresent help in every situation and location. See Gen. 3:8; 4:16; Exod. 33:14-15; Deut. 4:37; Deut. 12:7, 18; 14:23; 15:20; Judges 18:6; 2 Kings 13:23; 17:18-23; Matt. 18:20; 1 Cor. 5:4; 11:18ff.; etc. (Jeffrey J. Meyers, The Lord’s Service [St. Louis: Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church, 1999], p. 45n8. I’ve added some paragraph divisions for easier reading).
Yesterday morning, John Bekkering (friend, elder, and realtor) came over. We signed some papers and then he put a lock-box on my door and a sign on the front lawn. I’m selling my house and moving to Grande Prairie, where I’ve taken a call to pastor Covenant Reformed Church, following in the footsteps of the eminent Bishop Bill DeJong, who has taken a call to Kansas City and who, incidentally, has published his first blog post in months!
The sign on my front lawn, though, is a sad reminder that I’m going to be leaving Lethbridge. I’ll preach my last sermon here on Sunday. I’ve been here for four years and I’m going to miss a lot of the people.
This afternoon, a couple came by to see the house. The comments I overheard seemed positive. I’m hoping that this place will sell quickly so that I can turn around and snag a place in Grande Prairie. Your prayers are appreciated.
Part of the reason why so many Christian worship services have no logic, no order, no movement, is because those who superintend those services of worship have not paid attention to the Bible’s main instruction in the formation of a worship service because that instruction is found in the Old Testament…. It is this disregard for the importance of what is done in the worship of God and the order or logic with which it is done that has led to the common pejorative use of the words “liturgy” and “liturgical” in many evangelical and even Reformed circles. This is a mistake in more ways than one. Every church service is a liturgy, if it has various elements in some arrangement. That is what liturgy is. Liturgical churches are churches that have thought about those elements and their proper order. Non-liturgical churches are those which have not. It is no compliment to say that a church is a non-liturgical church. It is the same thing as saying it is a church that gives little thought to how it worships God (Robert S. Rayburn, “Worship From the Whole Bible,” The Second Annual Conference on Worship: The Theology and Music of Reformed Worship, February 23-25, 1996 [Nashville: Covenant Presbyterian Church, 1996], pp. 22-23).
I feel vindicated. Never in my life have I imbibed eight glasses of water a day, and I’ve always suspected that that “requirement” was a myth. And now, at last, Heinz Valtin, a Dartmouth kidney specialist, has debunked that myth.
Martin Bucer was a man loved by all. He was a man who won friends wherever he turned, but only because it was his nature to make friends. He loved people. He loved the church fathers. He loved beer. He upheld the faith once for all given to the saints, and he upheld it with a smile. Bucer’s life was so laced with joyful orthodoxy that Roman Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc was forced to say in his book Characters of the Reformation, “I shall not touch upon the life and influence of Bucer lest the malleable reader come to believe that the Reformation had its own Chesterton.”
Often the giving of praise or glorifying of God is set over against the worshiper’s expectation of receiving anything from God in church…. Here let me say that not only is the super-spiritual-sounding assertion that “we just gather together to give praise to God, taking no interest in what we might get from him” unbiblical, it may also easily slip into doxological hubris.
For us, as creatures of God, there can be no such thing as “disinterested praise.” We simply cannot love or praise God for who he is apart from what he has given us or what we continue to receive from him. We are not his equals. The notion that pure love and worship of God can only be given when it is unmixed with thoughts of what we receive has no biblical grounding. To be sure, it sounds very spiritual and pious. It even comes across as self-denial. In fact, however, there is no such worship in the Bible for the simple fact that we cannot approach God as disinterested, self-sufficient beings. We are created beings. Dependent creatures. Beings who must continually receive both our life and redemption from God.
Our “worship” of God, for this reason, necessarily involves our passive reception of his gifts as well as our thanksgiving and petitions. We cannot pretend that we do not depend upon him. We will always be receivers and petitioners before God. Our receptive posture is as ineradicable as our nature as dependent creatures.
We must be served by him. Recognizing this is true spirituality. Opening oneself up to this is the first movement in our “worship,” indeed, the presupposition of all corporate worship. It is faith’s posture before our all-sufficient, beneficent Lord. Praise follows after this and alone can never be the exclusive purpose for our gathering together on the Lord’s Day (Jeffrey J. Meyers, The Lord’s Service [St. Louis: Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church, 1999], pp. 7-8. I’ve made a couple of corrections in punctuation and added some paragraph divisions for easier reading).
The Church today is in dire need of reformation. This is not said with any denominational exclusivity — the Reformed churches today need reformation as much as anyone else. I say this as one who embraces the richness of the Reformed faith, as will become apparent enough later. But at the same time, because of this Reformational commitment, it is still necessary to say that to be Reformed is not enough. We must certainly live up to what we have already attained, but together with this we must not be allowed to assume that the last significant attainment was in the middle of the seventeenth century. Semper reformanda is not something we should all chant together right up until someone actually tries it (Douglas Wilson, “Reformed” Is Not Enough, p. 13).