Fear and Faith: Some thoughts on the General Election

I think we can all agree elections and election campaigning are extremely divisive. Many worry about the outcome of the election. Meanwhile the politicians sling insults at each other, sharing untruthful and misleading memes and videos to try and win more support. They declaim the other side as evil and wrong, ‘we are the only ones that are right’. Love and godliness in any shape or form is conspicuous by its absence, as is any heart-felt calling out to God.

It’s almost impossible not to be involved in it in some shape or form. So in such a divisive and mean-spirited environment how should Christians act?

The Christian’s Calling

Our main calling in life is to glorify God and to spread the message of the gospel of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes this calling includes involvement in politics, other times it doesn’t. Yes it is important that Christians play an active role in proceedings and, where possible, act as a force for good in shaping our future as a country. But I believe we must be very careful in all our discussions and debates not to do anything to stir up hatred, anger, or otherwise bring dishonour to the name of Jesus Christ. We must not act like a bull in a china shop with all guns blazing; instead we should be gentle and considerate, especially when others disagree with our views. We should disagree well and amicably.

Above all else, above journalists, politicians and prime ministers, above our political allegiances we have an allegiance to the Almighty Sovereign God who takes a meaningful and merciful interest in all the goings-on in the world; indeed, God is in complete control. Whilst His people continue to cry out to Him, He will not leave us alone to wrack and ruin, indeed God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5). This fact should unify us. I know Christians on all sides of the political spectrum (examples of these include the Conservative Christian Fellowship and Christians on the Left), but we don’t let our politics define us or divide us, instead we have unity in Christ.

We should not put our faith in any political leader however good they might seem, even though may talk a lot of good, promise a lot of things and perhaps have a profession of faith. At the end of the day they will let us down, they are human and all human beings fail. Their promises will most likely be proven empty and hollow. Instead we should put all our faith in our great and Almighty God, that He might be glorified even through such a discordant environment. He will never let us down, ever. The Bible, the ultimate authority on life, says quite simply:

“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. [But] blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.” (Psalm 146:3-4).

Pray

We are called to pray for all leaders and for all those in positions of authority, whatever we might personally think about them, their supporters or their policies. The Bible says:

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people –for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

We should pray for guidance and wisdom for the party leaders and other leading figures. We should pray for a government that brings glory to God’s name by being peaceful, loving, merciful, just, free, honourable and humble and preserving freedom of religion, so that we can freely proclaim our Saviour to the world.

Prime ministers, parties and individuals come and go. The Bible says:

“All men are like grass,
and all the glory of man is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures for ever.” (1 Peter 2:4).

Where we would despair and fear we should know that God is in control and seek to feel and witness His loving arms surrounding us. We shouldn’t expect much from this election, we shouldn’t worry about how things might turn out, we should never fear man and all his plans, rather more fear and trust God (Proverbs 29:25, Matthew 10:28). We should vote (it’s our democratic right and duty after all), and we should use our conscience and prayerfully consider everything (The Christian Institute offer some helpful resources) before casting our vote. Then, whatever happens, we should just remember Psalm 20:7:

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

 

Looking Heavenwards

As Christians we are merely passing through this world, on towards a better place.  When we reach Heaven there won’t be any politics, just glory, and that is something we can look forward to.

No matter who is in power or who wins, they can’t fix everything in the world  because it’s a fallen world, broken to its core.  No party will make this world better, it won’t really make a big difference (although people can quite easily mess it up even more!). What will make a difference is how we live our lives. We should fix our eyes on Jesus and love our neighbour as ourselves.  If we want to make this world a better place, then we must love and act as Jesus acted, rather than having fanciful notions that our political heroes can perfect the world. We already have a hero, a champion who has changed the world, with the biggest revolution ever; His name is Jesus Christ!

Too many times do we put our hope and faith in man to achieve things that they will fail at. We must put our faith and hope in God, and in God alone.

 

Old Hymns, weird words: Is ‘traditional’ worship stuck in the past?

Welcome to, what is intended to be a three-post series on music worship in and out of church. Essentially, our two styles of worship today can be broadly labelled ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’. The aim of these posts is to explore both, and to address certain divisions which differing worship styles have caused. My aim is not to merely bash both of them, but to look at what best glorifies the Lord and helps us to grow as believers. We start off focusing on traditional worship, mainly hymns and psalms unaccompanied or with an organ or piano.

I must stress that no offence is meant to anyone, but that a dialogue may begin, and perhaps we can listen to each other. I feel I have been led by the Spirit to talk about such things, He has laid unity on my heart and I feel a burning desire to write this.

Before we move on, let’s just get a bit of focus – what is the purpose of worship? It is to glorify God and His Son, our mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Along with the Bible and prayer it is a primary means of growing in Christ, by His grace.

“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!” – Psalm 150:6.

“O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together!” (Psalm 34:3)

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Ephesians 5:18b-20.

Worship of course is not just music, it is our lives. We are meant to delight in the Lord, to live out lives that represent Christ.  But in terms of music, it’s meant to a celebration, a joyous occasion, a spiritual praise to God and thanks to Him who has done so much for us.  It’s there to help us focus our eyes on Him, to get us engaged with Him.  Worship should be about praising Jesus and the Father, lifting them all up above the noise of the world regardless of our situation.  In doing so, we should also feel closer to God, and feel his presence.  Worship should not be based on ourselves, on what we are used to, or what we have grown up with, it’s not to be stuck in the past, but should be continuing to edifying Jesus.

The problem with the modern day church is that music has become one of the most divisive issues of our times. We argue, we have become arrogant and it’s ridiculous.  Let’s put Jesus back into the heart of everything we do.

Traditional Worship can be great

Traditional worship is perhaps best represented by the hymns of Wesley, Newton, Cowper and Watts, men greatly blessed by the Holy Spirit, in their teaching and hymn writing. Their lives show a real passion for Jesus and this can be seen in their works.  In some ways they were the Chris Tomlin’s, the Matt Redman’s, the Lloyd-Jones’ of their times.  Their lives are an inspiration to us, but of course through it all it was God using them, like He uses people today.  When we look at their hymns, we should realise that it is God speaking to them, to us, that the words in their hymns are rich and can benefit us as believers, in our blessings and in our sufferings.

Traditional worship should never be ignored or shelved. The deep and powerful words of an old hymn really allow us to learn more of our God.  Hymns help us to explore God and to understand what He’s all about.  In sum, most hymns feed us a little bit of doctrine and that is good.  They help us grow in faith and in our walk with Christ, acting as watchwords for our lives.  The same can be said with psalms, which are of course found in the Bible.  Their richness should never be underestimated, and should be welcomed by all churches, even those with a more ‘modern’ outlook on worship. They are great blessings which should be treasured.

When we look at the style of music typically used in ‘traditional’ worship, a simple piano or organ allows us to focus on the words, it’s a less instrumental form of worship and one that can be very effective. Even today in modern churches, the piano is still an important instrument!  The difference being is that traditional worship favours it being played unaccompanied with no worship leaders, guitars or drums.  The focus is put onto the congregation and their voices lifting God up.

 

Traditional worship can be not so great

So far, so good, but traditional worship has its flaws, and hopefully by bringing them to your attention, the church can address the issues. By not addressing them, we risk alienating younger folk, as well as missing out on rich spiritual blessings.

Most of the hymns in traditional hymnbooks come from roughly between 1700 and 1900. Common criticisms are that the language is askew, the tunes old hat and the joy of the Lord, which is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10b), in the congregation seems to be lacking.

Sometimes when you look at some of the wording, you feel like you need an eighteenth century dictionary just to understand it! Or sometimes the tune is so slow or hard to sing and that it just does not stir the heart. The singing is poor and halting; everybody sings in low monotones. Does traditional worship really engage the congregation anymore?  Do we focus on this style because of tradition?  And why do we insist of only having a piano/organ instrument?  What did the church do before this invention?  It must have been very hard for them! I wonder how the early church coped without Charles Wesley’s hymns and their hymn books; perhaps they used music and songs from their own time.  The problem with today is that tradition has been added to Jesus and our worship stifled.  It’s got to the point where we think that if Christians sing modern choruses or songs they are backsliding or not true followers of Jesus.  We puff ourselves up, desiring wordy songs and head-knowledge and putting others down, not realising that choruses and modern worship can be just a blessing as the old hymns.  The beauty of worship is not in the eloquence of the words sung but in singing from the bottom of our hearts! Whether we’re singing a shallow chorus or a deep hymn, this is what really matters. Words are important however; this is something we shall consider in another article.

We must be careful not to keep ourselves in the past and decline to engage with our own time. Hymns are great, the words inspiring, but our failure to modernise, the failure to see past tradition, the failure to really sing aloud from the heart, and the fact that we’re not ‘allowed’ to enjoy ourselves in song can make worship boring and tedious.  The failure to recognise that worship is to God, and Him alone, is dangerous; we are swayed by words and traditions, and not by adoration of Jesus.

People often moan at modern-day tunes (which I shall come to next time!), about how the focus is on the tune and the instruments. What they fail to realise, however, is that they do the exact same thing with traditional music, they covert a tune, they covert the instrument and at the end of the day, are like their modern counterparts. Not dissimilar to that of the heavily-harmonised Latin chants (which sound great but are in a foreign tongue), which were very prevalent until the Reformers and men like the Wesley’s unlocked worship for the masses. Well-known tunes combined with powerful Spirit-inspired words – the result: a spiritual explosion!

If we don’t modernise and worship God in the language of our day, then surely we’re no better than those who read and sung in Latin!

 

The ‘Psalms only’ camp

I have always been confused by certain churches which only sing psalms. They are indeed a rich blessing to those who read or sing them, even many hymns and spiritual songs are based on them.  However, they restrict worship, like traditional worship in all its forms, puts God in a box and says this is how you like worship because it’s all I have known.  Paul in the New Testament likely quotes songs that were sung by the early church in his letters (e.g. Ephesians 5:14, 2 Timothy 2:11-13,Revelation 19:6-8). People were constantly writing new songs and poems to praise God.  So we should understand that music in all its forms can be praise to God.  Do not put God into a box, and don’t judge your brothers and sisters in Christ by their music tastes. Read Psalm 150!

Why do we in church, stand so rigid, sing out of key, and generally looked tired or bored? One reason is maybe we stayed up to late the night before, but another reason is because we never let God stir us.  Our emotions should represent what our heart fills.  In the church, we stand to attention, arms folded, without flinching a muscle.  We certainly are not celebrating Jesus and his life.  It can be such a sad sight, and one that is not encouraging.  Christians, we need to be awake in worship, our forefathers never did this standing-rigid nonsense.  It certainly wasn’t like this.  We have let society, our culture; expectation and pressure make us like stuffed animals.  Wake up!  Come to life! Sing with gusto the wonders of His grace!

Yes, but it’s what people want

Finally, hymns are sung because people expect it, because we think their looking for a ‘traditional–style’ church. If we are making ourselves ‘fashionable’ to a type of person, we are doing it wrong.  Our focus should always be about praising Jesus and God, giving Him our praise. Everything else is secondary.  We should never do something because people expect it (itching ears anyone? [2 Timothy 4:3-4]); but because we love Jesus.  If we focus our lives and worship on Christ and lose ourselves in praise and adoration, then surely God will work in us and revival will come.

I think we may find that modern and traditional worship should go hand in hand. But as I conclude this post on traditional worship, let me remind you to look at the old stuff, read it, engage with it.  Modernise the tune if you must, but we can learn so much from them if used correctly. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what tune we use, what tongue or language we worship God with, English, Swahili, even bird-song. He will be glorified, and ultimately, one way or another, every knee will bow to His name.  At the same time, traditional churches, do not be afraid of modernising, and do not rely on traditions, do not add things to Jesus.  I think when I come to the concluding series, the word ‘balance’, as is key in all the posts found on this blog, will be used and I think in worship we need to find this balance.  I love traditional worship, my background is mainly in traditional worship, but I believe we are missing out.

To modern worship leaders, open a hymn book; be inspired by the words that you read. Include hymns in worship; lead the congregation in amazing praise to Jesus, the father and the spirit.  Do not be stifled by tradition, but let this be a new era for the church, where old meets new, where the Lord is lifted high, and where we can reach a greater level of unity and not trifling differences separate us.  However we worship: if Christ is central and God is glorified, praise Him!

Why the Charismatic Church and the Reformed Church need each other!

Someone recently lent me a book by Martyn Lloyd-Jones entitled What is an Evangelical? Needless to say, it had a profound impact on me.  I found I agreed with most of what the author said, whilst also disagreeing with him on certain points.  In some ‘Reformed’ circles, this man is put on a high pedal stool, which annoys me greatly, however he was a man greatly blessed in ministry and wisdom.  Many thanks to Josh for lending it to me, it has been a great inspiration!

Evangelicalism: Primary and Secondary issues

What is an Evangelical? © ICM books
What is an Evangelical? © ICM books

The whole point of the book (a series of lectures given in 1971), is to define what an Evangelical is; that they are one who focuses on the whole truth of the gospel, not jeopardising the primary issues, such as the Cross and the Resurrection, etc. He also is keen to point out a lot of matters which are not primary issues such as Calvinism, how the Spirit works, baptism, prophetic interpretation etc.… with which a lot of Christians can get carried away with and divided by.

When I read this, I was extremely glad when the author noted the secondary issues that should not get in the way of unity amongst Evangelicals. I would add to this, colour of church doors, the type of worship music that we use, whether or not we have pews, or the version of the Bible that we use. There are so many little divisions that keep us from this unity.  I am also very glad that he notes of primary issues that we must focus on, and that we should be careful of those who vary from us on these primary truths.  The Catholic Church for example, in doctrine on primary truths, varies lot and we must be careful.   However Lloyd-Jones’ view on creation I think can be a red-herring, and a hindrance to real issues. Ultimately, how God created the world is neither here nor there when it comes to salvation. It doesn’t bother me, what bothers me is Jesus and his Word being proclaimed in our land.

Nonetheless, unity in the church is a topic Lloyd-Jones focuses on and I would like to take it even further, that the many denominations need to have further unity. In doctrine we will differ on these secondary issues, but with all our aims in evangelising, in spreading the good news, we must unite, as this infighting is just us letting sin control us.

Doctrine and Feeling: the Balancing Act

Lloyd-Jones attacks both intellectualism and emotionalism in these series of lectures. Both, he feels, hinder the work of the Gospel and our walk with the Lord. He notes that especially those in Reformed circles, if they feel the Spirit and are baptised in the Spirit they feel they have to become Pentecostal, which he states is not the case!  How true is this!  All Christians should welcome such a wonderful gift and should not feel inclined to change denomination because of it!  In this, he notes that there has to be knowledge of doctrine, which warns us of the danger of ecumenicalism.  That because we think we feel the Spirit does not mean that doctrine no longer matters, it does!  That’s why there is still an important divide between Catholics and Protestants, etc… What Lloyd-Jones notes, is that both the Spirit and doctrine are vital for our modern day church.  That either going too far one way will become very dangerous and I totally agree with this.  I will later go into the Reformed-Charismatic movement as a way of reaching the balance, but for now it is important to note that balance is always needed in the church.

Lloyd-Jones notes of the danger of the growing ecumenical movement that he saw rise during his lifetime. As Christians, we need to be careful of sharing with other churches which vary from the primary issues of the gospel.  The Catholic Church and some other denominations need to be kept apart from fellowship for our own good.  How can we share evangelism platforms with those who compromise  on fundamentals?  Share a platform with those who do not believe in a personal relationship with God, who believe in an infallible man called a Pope and pray to Mary? The poor woman would turn in her grave, if only she knew!  I am not saying that there are not Christians amongst the Catholic Church, far be it from me to say such things, but certainly the leadership and structure of the Catholic Church should never be met in fellowship, they are incredibly dangerous.  I sometimes feel as though we think ecumenical movements are the only way to achieve unity.  That idea is wrong, we can have unity in fellowship with our denominations, evangelize together, but we have to recognize our differences and stop trying to water down and compromise on doctrine.

He writes that the church has to be constantly reforming. This is an interesting notion and one that I fully understand.  The church should not be relying on its traditions to survive; it should rather be looking forward, and constantly improving itself, adapting to new challenges and situations, and most importantly continually growing in the Lord.

Reformed and Charismatics: where’s the in-between?

I would know like to move onto an article that discusses unity in an interesting way. The term ‘Reformed Charismatic’ might surprise a few, but I think it is wonderful. By it, we see a church desiring to learn the word, whilst acknowledging the wonderful and powerful work of the Holy Spirit.

If you have read my post on Calvinism, you would know that I am deeply against labels. However, a recent post by the Gospel Coalition really stood out to me. ‘Why Charismatics and Calvinists Need Each Other’. I now aim to explain what the author means by the term ‘Reformed Charismatic’ and why I indeed agree with him.

To me, in simplistic terms, Reformed (Calvinist) churches focus on doctrine but can tread into problems with intellectualism, whilst Charismatic churches focuses on the Spirit, but can tread in dangerous waters regarding emotionalism. Both broadly describe themselves as ‘Evangelical.’ There is no balance in either of these camps. Having emotion and doctrine is no bad thing; God has given us emotions that allow us to express ourselves when words cannot.  God has given us doctrine to grow closer to Him.

The church needs to embrace both these. The Spirit is real, the gifts God give are real, and God is unchanging, so why would he suddenly withdraw them from us?  The gifts are wonderful, and experiencing God is a fantastic experience that can stir our heart to praise Him more. Interestingly, many ultra-Reformed-types love the writing of Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards, however, it can be noted that he describes of incredible encounters and experiences with God, the like of which some would denounce today.

At the same time, doctrinal knowledge is needed. To keep us from wandering from God, to help us know more of him and to really grow as his children.  To generalise the church here, we have gone to one extreme or the other, rather than desiring both.  We have become scared of doctrine, or we have become scared of accepting the Spirit, of losing control and letting God use us.  What we need to be is unafraid and let God work; we need to desire to learn more of him, whilst we long for his spirit to fill us, to overwhelm us, so that like the old Puritan John Flavel who knew ‘more of heaven from one experience with the Lord than all the books and sermons he had ever read’; or as D.L. Moody, “Stay thy hand Lord! Or the vessel will break!”

The dangers of both extremes are real, between stiff-upper-lip hermit hyper-Calvinists and bewildered Charismatics living for weekly-experiences and healings, perpetually worried about losing their salvation or grieving the Spirit.

Even in our worship we must see a balance. Now I do aim to do an article of worship later on in more detail; but even in our worship we must reform.  In many Reformed circles, the organ and hymns are seen as the right way, that praising God can only be done this way; it keeps the emotions under control and is right and proper.  In Charismatic circles, having the most up-to-date music, with choruses, and a variety of instruments is seen as the best way to praise God.  That God can only work when music is used and that music is the only way we can praise God can sometimes be the message shown.  Now both are naïve in their understanding of God, but both can be good forms of worship.  To the Reformed, I say, do not box God up and tell him what proper worship is, and do not be scared of your emotions, neither should you hinder the use of God’s gifts he has given people, nor not allow other instruments or new songs into the church.  To the Charismatic church I say, don’t let your emotions go unchecked, don’t be afraid of the old stuff and don’t get carried away by the music alone.  We need authentic worship that comes from our heart.  If both types of churches embraced each other’s style, with an authentic heart then maybe we would really see God work more and more!

Is what I’m saying ecumenical? Hardly!  Churches will always have disagreements over secondary issues, but when it comes to Evangelical Reformed and Charismatic churches, we agree on so much, and the denominations agree on so much.  By being a Reformed Charismatic, perhaps we can move to a position where the churches can come together to evangelise and fellowship more, presenting a unified Body of Christ, resplendent and effective in evangelism, ‘salt and light’.  It will keep us aware of the doctrinal truth of the Bible, and thus aware of heresies such as the Roman Catholic Church, whilst engaging with so many more churches around us.  It will allow us to have a church that is filled with the Spirit, and one that is strong in the word of God.

Concluding thoughts

We must learn to come together in unity; we must immediately pray for this unity and get rid of the animosity in the church and we must learn to accept our differences. May our prayer be the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane as John 17: 22-23 states ‘I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. May we be like Christ as Philippians 2:1-5 says Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’

Therefore to conclude, I think Lloyd-Jones’ lectures in What is an Evangelical? are as relevant today as they were then.  We need to see the dangers of certain movements, and of the liberal churches that are around.  We however, must move away from our extremes of intellectualism and emotionalism, and focus once again on the Gospel truth.  We need to embrace the Spirit, long for the baptism of the Spirit, for the gifts, whilst also having a strong knowledge of the biblical truths.  We need to be accepting of our differences, except when Gospel fundamentals are impinged on.  Although I am wary of labels, perhaps calling ourselves a Reformed Charismatic is a start in bringing a unity between Reformed and Charismatic churches, whilst also bringing together the gospel truths once more.  May you be blessed and may God burn in your hearts brothers and sisters!