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Deeper Roots
Are we "Under Orders?"

Redeemer Traverse City • February 27, 2020

December 11, 2019

Pastor Scott Korljan



 In 1896 Princeton Professor B.B. Warfield published a short article in a denominational publication entitled "Under Orders." As I read this piece, I couldn't help but be reminded of what Ecclesiastes tells us, "there is nothing new under the sun." Although so many things have changed in the 120 years since this article was first published, the central point remains as relevant (perhaps more so?) than ever for Christians living in 21st century America.  

The main point of his article was to say that the most fundamental difference between a Christian and the non-Christian is that a Christian lives his life under orders. Just as a solider in the military lives under orders from an authority higher than himself, "Christians are like soldiers, they are under orders." His point is that Christians do not have the final say in their life, that is given to God. Christians live under an external authority other than ourselves. By contrast, most pagan religions and secular people fundamentally govern themselves. They have no orders to obey other than the ones they give to themselves, no higher authority in their lives but themselves.

Certainly Warfield is correct to point this out as the fundamental difference between a Christian and non-Christian view of reality. As Christians, we believe that God has spoken to us in his Word, and that Word reveals to us what we are to believe about him, and what duties he requires of us (WSC # 3). As Christians, we are called to order our lives underneath that authoritative word. The non-Christian, by contrast, "obeys no orders but his own, he is self-governed."  

 In the article, Warfield goes on to talk about the goodness and benefits of being under orders. Instead of being a negative, Warfield believes that living life under God's authority is part of what gives us self-respect, dignity, and worth as we live our lives in this world. However, he also acknowledges that this idea of being under external authority is at odds with much theological opinion of the day, and certainly at odds with the culture. And what I found to be most relevant, he observes that this pagan idea of being under our own authority, has always sought to engraft itself to Christianity. Indeed, many variations of Christianity that he was facing in the late 19th century called on Christians to look to their own power of intellect or to the inner voice inside themselves in order to determine what to believe and how to live. Even though they continued to call themselves Christians, and continued to appeal to the Bible and to Jesus, yet ultimately they only believed and lived out what they determined was best for them. The rest was ignored or discarded. His conclusion is worth quoting in full:

The finger is put here directly upon the ulcer. It is possible to talk much about Christ and yet to betray him. The point is not to whom we attribute our guidance. The point is from whom we receive our orders. Do we accept Jesus' statements and obey his command simply because Jesus affirms them and gives them? Or do we accept and obey because and only so far as we judge them ourselves to be wise and true? Are we under orders...or after all, are we in the position of the heathen, of whom it is said that they don't obey no orders, except they is their own.

 

As I said, there is nothing new under the sun. And while we could lament at length the radical individualism and the rejection of authority we see in our culture, the greater problem is the extent to which the pagan idea he speaks of has engrafted itself to American Christianity. Today we see many denominations that claim the name of Christ, and yet clearly are not "under orders." Even in denominations and churches that hold to biblical authority, many Christians in those churches do not live their lives under orders. Even the secular word sees the inconsistency when we pick and choose the verses and moral teaching of Jesus that we want to believe and live out, while rejecting other parts that we don't like as much, or that would require too much personal sacrifice or discomfort to keep. If that is the case, then Jesus may be our life coach, our cheerleader, but he is not our King. We are our own King. In conservative churches this engrafted paganism tends to use the language of personal experience. We appeal to our personal experience, our inner feelings of "peace," to justify believing or living in a way contrary to what our King says. This has always been a danger, no less a writer than Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned of it in his book Life Together, saying "How often we hear innumerable arguments from life and from experience put forward as the basis for our most crucial decisions, but the argument of Scripture is missing, and this authority would perhaps point in exactly the opposite direction." I once read an article by the late R.C. Sproul, in which he laments the number of Christians who use their personal experience as a trump card over God’s word. He wrote:

“...every day many Christians subject the Word of God to their experience. Too often, when our experience conflicts with the Word of God, we set aside the Scriptures...Sometimes we try to cover up our reliance on experience with more orthodox-sounding language. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard Christians tell me that the Holy Spirit led them to do things Scripture clearly forbids or that God gave them peace about their decision to act in a way that is clearly contrary to the law of God. “

 It is not always easy to live life under orders, and we all face temptations to be our own King. Indeed, that was the temptation that came to Adam and Eve, and it was so powerful that they failed. We must constantly be on guard against this sin. We must fight to remember that our God is a good king, a king who sacrifices and sent his son for us, and therefore living under his orders, even when those orders conflict with our own experience, is ultimately not only for his glory, but for our great good both in this life and the life to come.  

Read more
Are we "Under Orders?"

Redeemer Traverse City • February 27, 2020

December 11, 2019

Pastor Scott Korljan



 In 1896 Princeton Professor B.B. Warfield published a short article in a denominational publication entitled "Under Orders." As I read this piece, I couldn't help but be reminded of what Ecclesiastes tells us, "there is nothing new under the sun." Although so many things have changed in the 120 years since this article was first published, the central point remains as relevant (perhaps more so?) than ever for Christians living in 21st century America.  

The main point of his article was to say that the most fundamental difference between a Christian and the non-Christian is that a Christian lives his life under orders. Just as a solider in the military lives under orders from an authority higher than himself, "Christians are like soldiers, they are under orders." His point is that Christians do not have the final say in their life, that is given to God. Christians live under an external authority other than ourselves. By contrast, most pagan religions and secular people fundamentally govern themselves. They have no orders to obey other than the ones they give to themselves, no higher authority in their lives but themselves.

Certainly Warfield is correct to point this out as the fundamental difference between a Christian and non-Christian view of reality. As Christians, we believe that God has spoken to us in his Word, and that Word reveals to us what we are to believe about him, and what duties he requires of us (WSC # 3). As Christians, we are called to order our lives underneath that authoritative word. The non-Christian, by contrast, "obeys no orders but his own, he is self-governed."  

 In the article, Warfield goes on to talk about the goodness and benefits of being under orders. Instead of being a negative, Warfield believes that living life under God's authority is part of what gives us self-respect, dignity, and worth as we live our lives in this world. However, he also acknowledges that this idea of being under external authority is at odds with much theological opinion of the day, and certainly at odds with the culture. And what I found to be most relevant, he observes that this pagan idea of being under our own authority, has always sought to engraft itself to Christianity. Indeed, many variations of Christianity that he was facing in the late 19th century called on Christians to look to their own power of intellect or to the inner voice inside themselves in order to determine what to believe and how to live. Even though they continued to call themselves Christians, and continued to appeal to the Bible and to Jesus, yet ultimately they only believed and lived out what they determined was best for them. The rest was ignored or discarded. His conclusion is worth quoting in full:

The finger is put here directly upon the ulcer. It is possible to talk much about Christ and yet to betray him. The point is not to whom we attribute our guidance. The point is from whom we receive our orders. Do we accept Jesus' statements and obey his command simply because Jesus affirms them and gives them? Or do we accept and obey because and only so far as we judge them ourselves to be wise and true? Are we under orders...or after all, are we in the position of the heathen, of whom it is said that they don't obey no orders, except they is their own.

 

As I said, there is nothing new under the sun. And while we could lament at length the radical individualism and the rejection of authority we see in our culture, the greater problem is the extent to which the pagan idea he speaks of has engrafted itself to American Christianity. Today we see many denominations that claim the name of Christ, and yet clearly are not "under orders." Even in denominations and churches that hold to biblical authority, many Christians in those churches do not live their lives under orders. Even the secular word sees the inconsistency when we pick and choose the verses and moral teaching of Jesus that we want to believe and live out, while rejecting other parts that we don't like as much, or that would require too much personal sacrifice or discomfort to keep. If that is the case, then Jesus may be our life coach, our cheerleader, but he is not our King. We are our own King. In conservative churches this engrafted paganism tends to use the language of personal experience. We appeal to our personal experience, our inner feelings of "peace," to justify believing or living in a way contrary to what our King says. This has always been a danger, no less a writer than Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned of it in his book Life Together, saying "How often we hear innumerable arguments from life and from experience put forward as the basis for our most crucial decisions, but the argument of Scripture is missing, and this authority would perhaps point in exactly the opposite direction." I once read an article by the late R.C. Sproul, in which he laments the number of Christians who use their personal experience as a trump card over God’s word. He wrote:

“...every day many Christians subject the Word of God to their experience. Too often, when our experience conflicts with the Word of God, we set aside the Scriptures...Sometimes we try to cover up our reliance on experience with more orthodox-sounding language. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard Christians tell me that the Holy Spirit led them to do things Scripture clearly forbids or that God gave them peace about their decision to act in a way that is clearly contrary to the law of God. “

 It is not always easy to live life under orders, and we all face temptations to be our own King. Indeed, that was the temptation that came to Adam and Eve, and it was so powerful that they failed. We must constantly be on guard against this sin. We must fight to remember that our God is a good king, a king who sacrifices and sent his son for us, and therefore living under his orders, even when those orders conflict with our own experience, is ultimately not only for his glory, but for our great good both in this life and the life to come.  

Read more
Does it matter what we wear to Church? Part 2

Redeemer Traverse City • February 27, 2020

June 13, 2019

Scott Korljan


In the first post, we acknowledged that Christians often have strong opinions on what kind of dress should be worn to church, both sides appealing to scriptural principals in support. Is there a way to move beyond the impasse? I think so. In this post, I offer three reflections to help move the debate forward.

First, I believe all sides can agree that the central issue is the attitude of our hearts and the humility of our Spirits when we come to worship. The Bible does indeed teach that the worship of God is of incredible importance, privilege, and is not something that should be undertaken with a casual attitude. We should approach God with “reverence and awe,” as the author of Hebrews states. No matter what we wear to worship, in other words, there should be no such thing as "casual worship." Coming into the presence of the living God is never casual. 

Second, both sides should be challenged to see that there are dangers no matter what one wears to worship. Those who advocate more formal dress need to be reminded that formal dress does not necessarily entail a respectful attitude toward God either. You can be casual in your worship even if you are dressed very formally. You can easily wear a suit and tie to church for lots of reasons other than a desire to respect God and enter reverent worship. Perhaps you just want to show off your new suit? As one writer put’s it “Elaborate, showy attire may reflect a prideful, elitist, egocentric display of wealth, status, and power.” Or perhaps you dress up merely because of a traditionalist sentiment and “that’s what you have always done.[1]  On the other hand, those who advocate "casual" dress need to check their own hearts as well. In and of itself, there is nothing that suggests that dressing casual helps us approach God more authentically or honestly. You can dress casually just to be cool, just to rebel, just to show off your style. And maybe your dressing casually does actually display a casual attitude towards God? At the end of the day, advocates of both positions need to be challenged to take a hard look at themselves. Clothing does not commend us to God. No matter what we wear, we must check our attitudes so that what Jesus warned about is not true of us, that we honor him with our lips (and our clothes) while our hearts are far from him. The truth is, whether we dress casual or formal, there is always the temptation to be focused on what we (and others) are wearing rather than who we are worshipping.

Third, we need to embrace our reformed heritage of Christian liberty. We have a whole chapter in our confession on the topic, but suffice to say for now the idea is that where God has not bound the conscious, we have no authority to bind the conscious of others. Where God speaks clearly on an issue, we must enforce without compromise. But where God has not spoken, that is a matter of Christian liberty and no Christian has the right to say that ‘their way’ is God’s way. I believe this is where we must land on this issue of what to wear in worship. God has spoken clearly about the attitude and respect with which we must approach him in worship, and we must teach on that, and call people to prepare themselves to enter worship in this way. But, he has nowhere indicated what kind of clothing is or is not appropriate. God has not made a connection between the proper heart attitude and proper attire, and if God has not done so, neither should we.[2] It may be that casual dress indicates an improper attitude towards God, but not necessarily. It may be that formal dress displays a hypocritical approach to God, but not necessarily.

We all have a tendency to elevate our own convictions on an issue to biblical truth and then condemn others for it. This is exactly the sin of Judgmentalism that Bridges warns about. He writes, “It is easy to become judgemental toward anyone whose opinons are different from ours. And then we hide our judgementalism under the cloak of Christian convictions.” Calvin also pointedly addressed the tendency we have to do this, writing of the pride we often have that leads us to “willingly compel the world to copy (our) example. If anything please us, we forthwith desire to make it law, that others may live according to our pleasure."[3]  We must all fight the tendency in ourselves to fall into this trap. We are free to have and live by our own convictions, but must be careful not to make our own preferences (which are almost always based on our own cultural location, personal histories, and upbringing) equal to God’s law. This is how Bridges ends up handling the issue of what to wear to church. He writes, “Reverence for God, I finally concluded, is not a matter of dress: it’s a matter of the heart...Now it’s true that casual dress may reflect a casual attitude toward God, but I cannot discern that.”

In conclusion, we must keep before ourselves what worship is, the privilege of approaching God, and the reverence and humility with which we must approach.[4] Yet any kind of required dress code or unspoken “expectation” in a church for what people should wear must be resisted. We all have ideas about what is “appropriate dress” for church (and some of us have very strong views!) but we need to temper that with the humility that acknowledges that God simply has not spoken on this issue, and that I should be more concerned about my own heart in coming to worship then that of the clothing of my brother or sister. 

 

[1] Further, who gets to define what “formal dress” actually is? This is another problem with this whole discussion. Once you say that you must dress “formally” for worship, what does that mean exactly? What we consider “formal” is not necessarily formal in another culture or setting. Do we expect our brothers and sisters in Africa to wear a suit and tie? You see, once we begin making rules where God has not, we have to keep making them, and no matter how well intentioned the result is always a pharisaical legalism. 

[2] Give the fact that the Gospel is going to be preached to all nations and peoples and is supposed to break down traditional barriers of politics, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class, we can see how wise God’s silence is on this issue. 

[3] Commentary on Matthew 9:14

[4] At Redeemer, we already do this in various ways, and our whole liturgy is designed in such a way as to emphasize the seriousness of coming to God in worship. 

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Does it matter what we wear to church?

Redeemer Traverse City • February 27, 2020

June 8, 2019


Scott Korljan


It is funny (in a sad way) that such a seemingly minor issue has generated so much controversy in the Christian church, but it has. So potentially divisive has this issue been, that Jerry Bridges warns about it directly, mentioning it in his well known book Respectable sins in the chapter on “Judgementalism.”1 Other big name evangelical Christian leaders and publications have also had to weigh in on this issue in the last decade, including Desiring God ministries, Christianity today, and the Christian Post.

There are two major positions in this ongoing exchange. On the one hand, there are those who believe that people should “dress up” to go to church as a sign of respect for God and maintaining reverence in worship. Bridges, for example, writes that he grew up in an environment where it was expected that men wore jackets and women wore dresses to church. When he began to see people who dressed more casually, his immediate thought was “didn’t they have any reverence for God? Would they dress so casually if there were going to an audience with the president?”2 On the other hand, there are those who believe that the clothing we wear doesn’t matter to God, God calls as we are, wants us to come authentically as we are, and what matters is sincerity of heart. Thus the debate: those who desire more formality in dress believe that casual clothes are disrespectful and display an irreverent attitude towards God. Those who don’t care believe that God calls us to come as who we are, which is a more authentic way of approaching God than dressing up in a way you never would otherwise. 

The first question to ask is what does the Bible say about it? If the Bible speaks to this issue, then of course it is our authority and we submit to it. But when we search the Scriptures, we find that there is absolutely nothing that speaks directly to this issue.3 Bridges is certainly right when he concludes “There is nothing in the Bible that tells us what we ought to wear to church.” Next, we consider any broader biblical considerations about worship that might inform our answer to this question. On this point the advocates of both approaches make appeals to certain biblical themes and texts. Those who favor a more formal dress approach ask questions such as “Doesn’t the Bible teach that we must approach God with “reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28)? And does not the entirety of Scripture seem to suggest that approaching the Holy, Triune God is not something to be done casually, but is in fact one of the highest privileges of the Christian life? And are we not called to present our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1)? And does this not all suggest that we should dress in a way that indicates that the worship of God is an incredibly important and significant event?” Therefore, should we not avoid dressing in a way that would suggest that the worship of God is an event with no more significance then going to a baseball game, or the beach?

Advocates of a more casual dress approach appeal to text such as 1 Samuel 16:7, “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." Or John 4, when Jesus says that true worship is done “in Spirit and in Truth.” The main point being that God cares much more about our inner attitude and heart when we come to worship then what we wear. And in fact, an excessive concern about “dressing up” may convey a hypocritical and pharisaical attitude which certainly does not please God.

Is there a way to move beyond the impasse? I think so, but that will be the subject of the next post...

 

[1] Bridges, Jerry.  Respectable Sins

[2] Ibid.

[3] The only specific reference to clothing in a worship service in the N.T. occurs in James 2:1-4. There the apostle rebukes the church for making distinctions between visitors who come in wearing nice clothing and those who come in wearing poor/shabby clothing. Apparently the church was giving special treatment to visitors who had the appearance of wealth (gold ring and fine clothing) and neglecting those who had the appearance of poverty (shabby clothing). While this passage doesn’t directly address what one should wear to worship, it does indicate that (1) the church should hopefully be a place where people of very different socio-economic status and class gather together to worship God (and thus we should expect some difference in clothing) and (2) showing partiality and making distinctions between people based on what they wear is (at best) not a healthy practice for a church, and could be outright sin. 

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The Flexibility of Reverent Worship

Redeemer Traverse City • February 27, 2020

July 25, 2019 by Scott Korljan


In the previous post on reverent worship, we concluded that worship that is acceptable to God is worship that is regulated by the truth of God's word, and worship done with true sincerity of heart. As a follow up, this post examines the flexibility of reverent worship. Even in its strictest form, the Bible and our theological tradition allow for a great deal of flexibility and adaptibility in how we worship God. To put it another way, "reverent" worship, worship done both in spirit and truth, can look and feel very different, and yet still be fully biblical and reformed. Truly reverent worship has more than one mold, and can take a variety of expressions in the life of a local church. Churches in the PCA for example sometimes have very different worship services, but that doesn't mean that one church service is more faithful or more reverent than another church. 

It is important to understand the distinction between "Elements" and "Circumstances" of worship as taught in WCF chapters 1 & 21. An "Element" is according to our Confession an essential part of the public worship service that cannot be removed. A "circumstance" refers to things that the Bible does not directly address concerning public worship, and so are to be governed by Christian wisdom. For example, preaching, sacraments, prayer, and singing, are all elements of worship according to WCF 21. If we remove the reading and preaching of the Bible from our worship service, it is no longer true worship according to God's word. Elements are CORE to having truly biblical worship. Circumstances, however, are things that are not CORE, and areas in which churches have flexibility to make decisions.  

Let's walk through a few areas of our current worship service and separate what is CORE (elements) from what is NOT CORE (circumstances)

Liturgy / Order of Worship

What is Core: Our service includes in some way all of the elements of worship, such as the four mentioned above.

What is Not Core: Any specific order of service. Neither the Bible, our confession, nor BCO gives a specific order or arrangement of the elements in the service. We have structured those elements in our weekly service in a certain way (which we like!), but that is not the only way to do it. We would have freedom to structure our service in other ways if we wanted to. Our book of church order is incredibly clear on this point: 

BCO 47-6 "The Lord Jesus Christ has prescribed no fixed forms for public worship but, in the interest of life and power in worship, has given his church a large measure of liberty in this matter."  

 

Preaching of God's Word 

What is CORE: That we have Biblically faithful preaching that does not shy away from the whole counsel of God.  

What is NOT CORE: How the preaching is carried out week to week. For example,

 

Singing of Hymns, Psalms, and spiritual Songs

What is Core: Congregational singing of songs, hymns and spiritual songs that are biblically based and spiritually edifying.

What is Not Core: How the singing is carried out, for example,

  • Any particular musical style or instrument.
  • Newer vs. older songs
  • Singing Leadership or not. Singing leadership was a common feature in the Old Testament, King David himself appointing singing leaders for the people of God.
  • Singing from Hymnals or music on a screen
  • Whether or not music is included with the words 

 

Administration of Sacraments:

What is Core: The faithful administration of the Sacraments in accordance with N.T. and our BCO. 

What is Not Core:

  • The manner/mode in which the elements are distributed to the congregation. Our book of church order leaves a great deal of latitude. We must distribute the bread and wine to the congregation, but no details or form given as to how this should be done. Congregations are free to pass trays of bread and wine through the congregation, have the congregation come up front to receive directly from minister, have smaller groups gather around tables in the sanctuary, etc.   
  • Who distributes the elements to the congregation. The BCO is clear that a minister must preside over the words of institution and consecration of the elements, but that is all that is stipulated. Who exactly should distribute the bread and wine to the congregation is left open. At our church we typically have the Elders upfront helping, but there is no requirement that it be an Elder. 
  • The frequency of Communion. We prefer to have it weekly of course, but nothing in the Bible, our confession, or our BCO demands weekly observance. Most churches do not have it weekly. Our BCO says that it should be observed "frequently" but leaves that to be defined by the session of the church.  

To summarize, even for churches like ours that are committed to the regulative principal of worship (only doing in public worship what we see in Scripture), there is still an incredible amount of freedom in many areas of worship that churches can make different decisions on, and which are still consistent with fully Biblical and reformed worship. The things that are NOT CORE does not mean they are unimportant or that they should not be given serious thought and consideration, but they are areas that our reformed confessions and book of church order have wisely given much latitude for churches to have flexibility and freedom. 

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Does it matter what we wear to Church? Part 2

Redeemer Traverse City • February 27, 2020

June 13, 2019

In the first post, we acknowledged that Christians often have strong opinions on what kind of dress should be worn to church, both sides appealing to scriptural principals in support. Is there a way to move beyond the impasse? I think so. In this post, I offer three reflections to help move the debate forward.

First, I believe all sides can agree that the central issue is the attitude of our hearts and the humility of our Spirits when we come to worship. The Bible does indeed teach that the worship of God is of incredible importance, privilege, and is not something that should be undertaken with a casual attitude. We should approach God with “reverence and awe,” as the author of Hebrews states. No matter what we wear to worship, in other words, there should be no such thing as "casual worship." Coming into the presence of the living God is never casual. 

Second, both sides should be challenged to see that there are dangers no matter what one wears to worship. Those who advocate more formal dress need to be reminded that formal dress does not necessarily entail a respectful attitude toward God either. You can be casual in your worship even if you are dressed very formally. You can easily wear a suit and tie to church for lots of reasons other than a desire to respect God and enter reverent worship. Perhaps you just want to show off your new suit? As one writer put’s it “Elaborate, showy attire may reflect a prideful, elitist, egocentric display of wealth, status, and power.” Or perhaps you dress up merely because of a traditionalist sentiment and “that’s what you have always done.[1]  On the other hand, those who advocate "casual" dress need to check their own hearts as well. In and of itself, there is nothing that suggests that dressing casual helps us approach God more authentically or honestly. You can dress casually just to be cool, just to rebel, just to show off your style. And maybe your dressing casually does actually display a casual attitude towards God? At the end of the day, advocates of both positions need to be challenged to take a hard look at themselves. Clothing does not commend us to God. No matter what we wear, we must check our attitudes so that what Jesus warned about is not true of us, that we honor him with our lips (and our clothes) while our hearts are far from him. The truth is, whether we dress casual or formal, there is always the temptation to be focused on what we (and others) are wearing rather than who we are worshipping.

Third, we need to embrace our reformed heritage of Christian liberty. We have a whole chapter in our confession on the topic, but suffice to say for now the idea is that where God has not bound the conscious, we have no authority to bind the conscious of others. Where God speaks clearly on an issue, we must enforce without compromise. But where God has not spoken, that is a matter of Christian liberty and no Christian has the right to say that ‘their way’ is God’s way. I believe this is where we must land on this issue of what to wear in worship. God has spoken clearly about the attitude and respect with which we must approach him in worship, and we must teach on that, and call people to prepare themselves to enter worship in this way. But, he has nowhere indicated what kind of clothing is or is not appropriate. God has not made a connection between the proper heart attitude and proper attire, and if God has not done so, neither should we.[2] It may be that casual dress indicates an improper attitude towards God, but not necessarily. It may be that formal dress displays a hypocritical approach to God, but not necessarily.

We all have a tendency to elevate our own convictions on an issue to biblical truth and then condemn others for it. This is exactly the sin of Judgmentalism that Bridges warns about. He writes, “It is easy to become judgemental toward anyone whose opinons are different from ours. And then we hide our judgementalism under the cloak of Christian convictions.” Calvin also pointedly addressed the tendency we have to do this, writing of the pride we often have that leads us to “willingly compel the world to copy (our) example. If anything please us, we forthwith desire to make it law, that others may live according to our pleasure."[3]  We must all fight the tendency in ourselves to fall into this trap. We are free to have and live by our own convictions, but must be careful not to make our own preferences (which are almost always based on our own cultural location, personal histories, and upbringing) equal to God’s law. This is how Bridges ends up handling the issue of what to wear to church. He writes, “Reverence for God, I finally concluded, is not a matter of dress: it’s a matter of the heart...Now it’s true that casual dress may reflect a casual attitude toward God, but I cannot discern that.”

In conclusion, we must keep before ourselves what worship is, the privilege of approaching God, and the reverence and humility with which we must approach.[4] Yet any kind of required dress code or unspoken “expectation” in a church for what people should wear must be resisted. We all have ideas about what is “appropriate dress” for church (and some of us have very strong views!) but we need to temper that with the humility that acknowledges that God simply has not spoken on this issue, and that I should be more concerned about my own heart in coming to worship then that of the clothing of my brother or sister. 

 

[1] Further, who gets to define what “formal dress” actually is? This is another problem with this whole discussion. Once you say that you must dress “formally” for worship, what does that mean exactly? What we consider “formal” is not necessarily formal in another culture or setting. Do we expect our brothers and sisters in Africa to wear a suit and tie? You see, once we begin making rules where God has not, we have to keep making them, and no matter how well intentioned the result is always a pharisaical legalism. 

[2] Give the fact that the Gospel is going to be preached to all nations and peoples and is supposed to break down traditional barriers of politics, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class, we can see how wise God’s silence is on this issue. 

[3] Commentary on Matthew 9:14

[4] At Redeemer, we already do this in various ways, and our whole liturgy is designed in such a way as to emphasize the seriousness of coming to God in worship. 

Read more
Does it matter what we wear to church?

Redeemer Traverse City • February 27, 2020

June 8, 2019


It is funny (in a sad way) that such a seemingly minor issue has generated so much controversy in the Christian church, but it has. So potentially divisive has this issue been, that Jerry Bridges warns about it directly, mentioning it in his well known book Respectable sins in the chapter on “Judgementalism.”[1] Other big name evangelical Christian leaders and publications have also had to weigh in on this issue in the last decade, including Desiring God ministries, Christianity today, and the Christian Post.

There are two major positions in this ongoing exchange. On the one hand, there are those who believe that people should “dress up” to go to church as a sign of respect for God and maintaining reverence in worship. Bridges, for example, writes that he grew up in an environment where it was expected that men wore jackets and women wore dresses to church. When he began to see people who dressed more casually, his immediate thought was “didn’t they have any reverence for God? Would they dress so casually if there were going to an audience with the president?”[2] On the other hand, there are those who believe that the clothing we wear doesn’t matter to God, God calls as we are, wants us to come authentically as we are, and what matters is sincerity of heart. Thus the debate: those who desire more formality in dress believe that casual clothes are disrespectful and display an irreverent attitude towards God. Those who don’t care believe that God calls us to come as who we are, which is a more authentic way of approaching God than dressing up in a way you never would otherwise. 

The first question to ask is what does the Bible say about it? If the Bible speaks to this issue, then of course it is our authority and we submit to it. But when we search the Scriptures, we find that there is absolutely nothing that speaks directly to this issue.[3] Bridges is certainly right when he concludes “There is nothing in the Bible that tells us what we ought to wear to church.” Next, we consider any broader biblical considerations about worship that might inform our answer to this question. On this point the advocates of both approaches make appeals to certain biblical themes and texts. Those who favor a more formal dress approach ask questions such as “Doesn’t the Bible teach that we must approach God with “reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28)? And does not the entirety of Scripture seem to suggest that approaching the Holy, Triune God is not something to be done casually, but is in fact one of the highest privileges of the Christian life? And are we not called to present our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1)? And does this not all suggest that we should dress in a way that indicates that the worship of God is an incredibly important and significant event?” Therefore, should we not avoid dressing in a way that would suggest that the worship of God is an event with no more significance then going to a baseball game, or the beach?

Advocates of a more casual dress approach appeal to text such as 1 Samuel 16:7, “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." Or John 4, when Jesus says that true worship is done “in Spirit and in Truth.” The main point being that God cares much more about our inner attitude and heart when we come to worship then what we wear. And in fact, an excessive concern about “dressing up” may convey a hypocritical and pharisaical attitude which certainly does not please God.

Is there a way to move beyond the impasse? I think so, but that will be the subject of the next post...

 

[1] Bridges, Jerry.  Respectable Sins

[2] Ibid.

[3] The only specific reference to clothing in a worship service in the N.T. occurs in James 2:1-4. There the apostle rebukes the church for making distinctions between visitors who come in wearing nice clothing and those who come in wearing poor/shabby clothing. Apparently the church was giving special treatment to visitors who had the appearance of wealth (gold ring and fine clothing) and neglecting those who had the appearance of poverty (shabby clothing). While this passage doesn’t directly address what one should wear to worship, it does indicate that (1) the church should hopefully be a place where people of very different socio-economic status and class gather together to worship God (and thus we should expect some difference in clothing) and (2) showing partiality and making distinctions between people based on what they wear is (at best) not a healthy practice for a church, and could be outright sin. 

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Understanding Historic Calvinism and the Confessional Revisions of 1903

Redeemer Traverse City • February 27, 2020

October 18, 2019


I have written before regarding the way that historic and confessional Calvinism, and particularly the doctrine concerning predestination, is often misunderstood and misused today. So much so, that I rarely now identify myself as a Calvinist. If someone asks me if I or the church believe in Calvinism, I always ask them to explain to me what they mean by “Calvinism” before I answer. Most of the time, I find that what they understand as Calvinism is not at all what historic and confessional reformed theology actually teaches.  

Not surprisingly, questions about Calvinism and similar types of misunderstanding are not unique to our time. As the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun. I was reminded of this recently after reading an essay by B.B. Warfield analyzing the changes made to the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1903 by the Presbyterian Church. In that year, the church approved several changes to the Confession, adding a "Declaratory Statement" to some sections, adding new chapters on the Holy Spirit and Love of God, and making some deletions to certain sections. For this blog, I want to focus exclusively on the added declaratory statement, and specifically the portion which address the teaching of chapter 3 of the Confession dealing with God's decree of election.  

Why did the church feel it was necessary to do this? The answer from the statement is as follows: "...the desire has been formally expressed for a disavowal by the Church of certain inferences drawn from statements in the Confession of faith." In other words, the church added the statement in order to repudiate the many false inferences from the doctrine of election that were used as a basis of attacking the doctrine of election as set forth in the confession.  

What might some of these false inferences be? The statement continues:

“First. With references to Chapter III of the Confession of Faith: That concerning those who are saved in Christ, the doctrine of God’s eternal decree is held in harmony with the doctrine of his love to all mankind, his gift of his Son to be the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, and his readiness to bestow his saving grace on all who seek it. That concerning those who perish, the doctrine of Gods eternal decree is held in harmony with the doctrine that God desires not the death of any sinner, but has provided in Christ a salvation sufficient for all, adapted to all, and freely offered in the gospel to all: that men are fully responsible for their treatment of Gods gracious offer, and that no man is condemned except on the ground of his sin.” 

 We can see here a number of false inferences that the church wanted to deny with respect to its teaching on predestination and election. 

  • The inference that if election is true, God does not love all mankind
  • The inference that if election is true, Jesus was not given for the sins of the whole world
  • The inference that if election is true, God wants some people to go to hell or will not give his grace to those who seek 
  • The inferences that if election is true, then there is no free offer of the Gospel for all.
  • The inference that if election is true, men are not responsible for their sin or for their response to God's gracious offer.
  • The inference that if election is true, men go to hell because God did not elect them

As I said, there is nothing new under the sun. These same assertions continue to be repeated today as a basis for rejecting the biblical teaching of God's eternal decree. Often when someone tells me that they have a problem with Calvinism, and I ask them what it is, they repeat one of the points above. But what we learn here is that historic and confessional teaching on predestination does not actually teach any of these things, these are all false inferences. Notice how the prefatory statement does not change or repudiate any of the teaching of chapter 3 itself, it merely clarifies that the confessional teaching in chapter three is held by the church in full "harmony" with all of the other doctrines expressed. The statement says in effect, that historic and confessional Calvinism regarding predestination does not deny and is not inconsistent at all with truth that God loves all mankind, that there is a free offer of the Gospel, etc.  

Warfield is surely right when he summarizes the intent of this statement as follows: "The first section of the "Declaratory Statement" appears then to be nothing other than a sharp repudiation of the ordinary Arminian assault on the doctrine of the Decree, and puts in a brief form the common Calvinistic response to this assault." Warfield then shows very thoroughly from history that the prefatory statement is fully in line with what reformed theologians like John Calvin, Francis Turretin, Charles Hodge, and many others, actually taught. Just as one example, he quotes John Calvin from his commentary on the Gospel of John, "The heavenly Father loves the human race, and would not have them perish."  

To be sure, there are real issues and points of disagreement between Calvinism and Arminianism as theological systems. However, the prefatory statement of 1903 is helpful because it exposes how prone we are to draw false inferences from the doctrine of election that neither scripture no historic Calvinism has ever taught. As Calvin himself wrote, the doctrine of predestination is a "labyrinth from which the mind of man is wholly incapable of extricating itself... Let this, therefore, be our sacred rule, not to seek to know anything about it except which Scripture teaches us. Where the lord closes his holy mouth, let us also stop our minds from going on further." In other words we must affirm God's election because the Bible teaches it, but we must at the same time be very careful not to engage in unwarranted speculation on drawing inferences from that doctrine that the Bible itself does not draw, rather we must stay firmly fixed on God's word and what it reveals to us.  

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Election and Evangelism?

Redeemer Traverse City • February 27, 2020

November 8, 2019

By Pastor Scott Korljan


If God has already chosen beforehand those who will be saved, does it matter if we evangelize? Is there really urgency? Isn't it true that God will find a way to bring his "elect" to himself?  

For those churches and Christians who believe that the Bible teaches the doctrine of Election, this is a very important question. It is often assumed by those who do not, that Christians who hold this view take a very low view of evangelism, and rarely practice it. Unfortunately, there may be some truth to this perception. In conversations with reformed Christians over the years, I have heard several times a narrative that goes something like this. "I used to share my faith all the time, but then I became reformed and now that I realize it’s not up to me to save someone, I have far less energy to do it." Or, as I have recently had someone tell me: "if I’m being honest, believing in Election does NOT encourage me to step out of my comfort zone and try to bring others to Christ. Yes, I know that I don’t know who the elect are, and so I should tell all about the love of Christ because I could save one of the elect, but then I think, 'But they are the elect, they will find a way.' I am much more encouraged to go out and witness if I do not believe in Election, because then I might actually reach the lost, not just the already chosen."

These are honest responses, and many reformed Christians struggle in varying degrees with the same kind of thoughts. We know that we shouldn't have this struggle, that God calls us to share the hope within us, but the fact remains that practically speaking the doctrine of election seems to reduce the necessity and priority of evangelism for us. We don't care as much. It just doesn't seem like we need to.  

How do we move forward? In what follows, I will merely summarize what J.I. Packer masterfully says in his classic book "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God." Addressing this very issue, Packer makes two points which address our struggle. 

 

First, the Sovereignty of God in grace does not affect the nature, necessity, duty, or urgency of Evangelism

We should not be held back by the thought that if they are not elect, they will not believe us, and our efforts to convert them will fail. That is true; but it is none of our business, and should make no difference to our action...our calling as Christians is not to love God’s elect, and them only, but to love our neighbor, irrespective of whether he is elect or not.

This is a very important point, and one that bears emphasis. If we find ourselves questioning the necessity of sharing our faith because we believe in Election, it is clear evidence that we have badly perverted the Bible's teaching on Election. Election is a difficult doctrine, and as our own confession states must be "handled with great care." It is easy to allow this doctrine to take us places and draw inferences and conclusions that the Bible never does, and downplaying the necessity of evangelism is one of them. As I have written elsewhere, God does not give election as a grid by which we are to view people. The Bible is very clear not only in our responsibility to share the hope that is within us, but also that sharing the hope within us actually matters! This is why Paul can say in Romans 10, "How can they call upon him whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without someone preaching to them?"  

Second, the sovereignty of God in grace gives us our only hope of success in evangelism

Far from making evangelism pointless, the sovereignty of God in Grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility- indeed the certainty-that evangelism will be fruitful

Apart from God's promise that he will call people to himself, nobody will ever choose to come to him. This is because, in our sinfulness, no human being will actually choose to follow God through Christ. We want to be our own masters, our own Lord's. Therefore, as Jesus himself taught, unless a man is born again, unless the Father opens our heart to draw us to himself, nobody will come. But, God promises to do this! Therefore, we can have confidence that when we share our faith, God will work and people will respond. Thus, as Packer states, Election should increase our boldness in evangelism. Packer writes: “Christ has saved you, and that should be enough to convince you that He can save anyone. So persevere in presenting Christ...you are not on a fool’s errand. You are not wasting either your time or theirs." Election should make us patient in evangelism. "We are often tempted to lose interest and give up if no immediate response...the idea that a single sermon or a single conversation ought to suffice for the conversion of anyone is really silly.” Finally,  Election should make us prayerful in evangelism. Only God is able to give men new hearts. The evangelistic commission is a commission not only to preach but to pray.

May God give us a renewed desire, and many opportunities, to boldly, patiently, and prayerfully share the hope that is within us.  

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How to teach our kids Christianity? Start with the BIG 3

Redeemer Traverse City • February 27, 2020

January 31, 2019

Scott Korljan


As Christian parents we have the desire and responsibility to our children to "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:4). We know that teaching them the content and doctrines of the Christian faith, while certainly not everything, is an important part of fulfilling this responsibility. But where to begin? What to do? Books on children's ministry are endless, children's Bible's come in thousands of varieties, and it can all seem overwhelming. How do I know I am teaching them the right things? In an age when biblical and doctrinal literacy are at all-time lows (at least in America), these are important questions.

Fortunately, we don't have to reinvent the wheel. We can stand on the generations of Christians that have come before us, and on the tested and tried methods that they recommend to us. When we look back, what we find is consistent testimony to what I will call the BIG 3: The Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. When previous generations of Christians sought to train their children (and new converts) in the faith, it is to the BIG 3 that they routinely turned.

I recently read several short treatises by some of the early reformers, and it was striking to me how often they highlighted the BIG 3 as being of critical importance in their program for training children and discipling believers. Consider the quote below by Martin Luther along these lines as representative (with added highlights): 

This instruction or direction I know not how to put in a clearer or better way than has been done since the beginning of Christendom and retained to our own day, namely in these three, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Our Father. These three contain simply and briefly, about everything a Christian needs to know, This instruction must be given...from the pulpit at stated times...and repeated or read aloud evenings and mornings in the homes for the children if we want to train them as Christians. They should not merely learn to say the words by heart, as heretofore, but with each part they should be asked questions and give answer, what each part means and how they understand it...Let none think himself too wise for this and despise such child’s play. ...If we wish to train children, we must become children with them. Would to God such child's play were widely practiced. In a short time we would have a wealth of Christian people, souls becoming rich in Scripture.

Notice that Luther is simply advocating for what we call the process of catechism. Taking central truths of the Christian faith, teaching them to our children through question and answer format, and then dialoguing with them about the meaning of them. Further, notice how Luther understands that we might be tempted to disdain this (seeing it as “child’s play”) approach and look for some bigger, better, or less time consuming way. But, as Luther noted, this practice is well worth the investment and goes all the way back to the earliest centuries of the church.

I share this with you hopefully as an encouragement to parents. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to what and how we can help our children learn the Christian faith. The BIG 3 offers a wonderful starting place, and both the Westminster Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism contain teaching in this format on the Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s prayer. This is also why we have a catechesis program in the church and recite the Lord’s prayer and Apostles Creed regularly in Sunday worship. It’s not just as an expression of our belief (though it is that), it is also a way we teach and disciple ourselves and our children.

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17th Century Advice on How to Read the Bible Well (Not as a Consumer)

Redeemer Traverse City • February 27, 2020

May 23, 2019

Scott Korljan


As Christians we know how important it is for us to grow in our understanding of God's word. The Bible itself tells us repeatedly how important it is for us to be a people shaped by the Word of God. As we recently saw in 1 Peter, the apostle commands us to "long" for the word as infants long for milk. That is a striking image and makes a powerful point of how necessary the Bible is for our growth as Christians. 

That being said, the topic of this post is to give some advice on HOW to read your bible. Sometimes we have so much emphasis (and rightly so) on reading the Scripture, that we don't think about how it is to be read so that it is most profitable for us. And certainly, how we read it matters. The Bible is not a magic book such that simply opening it and skimming our eyes over the words imparts spiritual benefit. We must read it well if we would benefit. But how do we do that? Fortunately, we are not the first generation of Christians to wrestle with this question, so let me draw your attention to some ancient advice from our larger catechism. 

WLC Q 157 ”How is the Word of God to be read?"

Answer: "The Holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer."  

Let me suggest 4 principals for reading our Bibles well that flow out of this direction from the catechism as it applies to our very hectic and buys lives today.  

  1. Preparation is important for reading the bible

If we are not getting much out of our reading, it may be that are preparation is inadequate. The Bible is not just any book, it is the very Word of God which speaks to us today. Taking time, as the catechism encourages us, to prayerfully ask God to open up his word for us, to be attentive to his voice, and to calm and quiet our busy minds so that we can focus on what he says, is important. 

  1. Read the bible with full attention

We live in a distracted age, and as many writers (both Christian and non-Christian) have observed, the internet has taught us to scroll and skim as quickly as possible and made it more difficult for us to do deep reading of any text. We are much better at scanning and skimming, trying to pick out pertinent information in as little time as possible. Reading with full concentration and attention is difficult for us. When we come to the word of God, however, this is exactly what we must try to cultivate. Distracted, skimming reading, will not be of great benefit to us. We must read, as the catechism reminds us, with "diligence." I recently heard a Christian leader comment on how the I-phone alone has decimated the spiritual disciplines for many Christians. Even when they read, they are checking their phones, their thoughts distracted by always being connected. Put the I-phone away!  

 

  1. Read the Bible Exhaustively 

 All of the Bible is God's word to us, and profitable for our instruction and growth in godliness (2 Tim 3:15-16). Therefore, it should be our desire to read and understand the full "matter and scope of them." That is, we should want to know the scriptures from cover to cover, exhaustively. While daily devotionals that pick out a verse or two can be a great help, it is important for Christians to read the entire Bible, books at a time, so that we can understand the overall story line of the Bible and how each book fits into God's one plan of redemption. This takes discipline on our part, as each of us naturally are much more prone to only read the parts of the Bible we find easier to understand or "inspiring," but in doing so we miss much of what God has to say to us.

Many years ago in his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer made this same observation, stating his concern that for many believers "the Scripture reading consists only of a few, brief selected verses, which are to form the guiding thought of the day." While he acknowledges that these kind of devotionals can be "a real blessing to all who have ever used them," yet he goes on to say that "there can be equally little doubt that brief verses cannot and should not take the place of reading the Scripture as a whole. The verse for the day is still not the Holy Scripture...Holy Scripture is more than a watchword...It is Gods revealed word for all men, for all times. Holy Scripture does not consist of individual passages; it is a unit and is intended to be used as such." 

  1. Read the Bible to Listen to God's Voice  

We have to remember every time we come to the Scripture that it is, as the catechism says we come to "the very word of God." That means that we are not merely reading words on a page, but hearing the voice of God speaking to us. In other words, the goal of reading the Bible is to be passionate hearers of God's word. We should not read the Bible impersonally, just to gather information as we might read any other book. We read the Bible as one in relationship with God who is speaking to us through his Word. Sometimes in an effort to read as much as possible as quickly as possible, we find ourselves in the position of having read the scripture but not really listened to the scripture. We came to the Scripture in the posture of a consumer, not of a listener. We must read the Bible not only to gain more head knowledge (although that is important), but because in the Scripture we hear the voice of our Savior and “taste and see that he is good” (1 Peter 2:1-3).

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