Audible Sacraments

Just as some of the Reformers spoke of the sacraments as God’s “visible words,” so sermons are supposed to be “audible sacraments.” They are not simply for the conveying of information. . . . They are not simply for exhortation, still less for entertainment. . . . Speaker and hearers alike are called to be people in whom, by the work of the Spirit, God’s word is once again audible to the heart as well as to the ears.

—N. T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God, 139

The Centre of His Purpose

God has founded His church as the very centre of His purpose in history. The rest of history is, in a sense, the scaffolding within which God is building His church. One day that scaffolding will be taken away and then there will stand fully revealed this glorious purpose of God in preparing a people for Himself.

—Eric J. Alexander, Our Great God and Saviour, 131

O Christ!

O Christ, what burdens bow’d Thy head!
Our load was laid on Thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead,
Didst bear all ill for me.
A victim led, Thy Blood was shed;
Now there’s no load for me.

The Holy One did hide His face;
O Christ, ‘twas hid from Thee:
Dumb darkness wrapped Thy soul a space,
The darkness due to me.
But now that face of radiant grace
Shines forth in light on me.

Death and the curse were in our cup:
O Christ, ‘Twas full for Thee!
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
‘Tis empty now for me.
That bitter cup, love drank it up;
Now blessing’s draught for me.

—Anne Ross Cousin (1824-1906)

You Are . . . that You May

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Peter piles up the privileges of God’s people here, calling them “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” These are great honours. But the higher the privilege, the greater the responsibility. And so he moves from saying, “you are,” to saying, “that you may.” “You are” these things in order “that you may declare the glory of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

—Eric J. Alexander, Our Great God and Saviour, 136

The Intention of the Heart

Scripture indicates that actions must be described not merely according to their empirical features but also according to the intentions they express and embody. The sacrificial worship of the temple in Jeremiah’s day doubtless looked much like the worship did in Solomon’s day, but Jeremiah claimed that their intention in worship was to escape the consequences of their wickedness (Jer 7:1-15). Empirically, their worship looked like “Israelite offering sacrifice,” but what was really happening was “Israelites wickedly seeking protection from God’s judgment” or “Israel seeking to bribe God.” According to Jesus, the externally righteous acts of the Pharisees and scribes could not be described as “piety” but only as “hypocrisy.” Paul claims that the Corinthians are not meeting for the Lord’s Supper because they had perverted the rite so profoundly. Though the Corinthians continued to eat bread and drink wine, Paul says that the riotous and uncharitable conduct of the Corinthians had turned this action into something else.

—Peter J. Leithart, “Synagogue or Temple? Models for the Christian Worship,” Westminster Theological Journal 63 (2002):122-23

Culture and Worship

Western Christians often speak as if the other rich, international cultures of the world have little relevance when we speak of God’s worship history with mankind. The music of heaven may indeed startle the Western ear.

—Dan Wilt, “Contemporary Worship” in Perspectives on Christian Worship, ed. J. Matthew Pinson, 


Style will always divide us if either party holds opinions on style deeply in one’s “core belief system” rather than more lightly in one’s “peripheral belief system.” Style can be a gateway, though it should never be considered a goal in and of itself. To attach our opinions to God in these matters seems to me to engender division and prejudice rather than open-hearted conversation.

—Dan Wilt , “Response to Michael Lawrence and Mark Dever,” in Perspectives on Christian Worship, ed. J. Matthew Pinson, 277


Getting Stuck

The truth is that none of us is really worshiping the way the early church originally worshiped. Thus, if we argue that we should not be influenced by culture, then we must recognize that most of us already have been (although the culture that influenced us might stem back to the 1500s). So many worship arguments—about style especially—lead to Christians getting stuck in one particular format of worship.

—Dan Kimball, “Emerging Worship” in Perspectives on Christian Worship, ed. J. Matthew Pinson. 299

The Gospel Unfolded

Johannes Nissen observes that “[t]he Book of Acts as a whole is the story of the gospel being unfolded, opened up, its beauty increasingly revealed as it is appropriated and reappropriated by culture after culture.” (Nissen, “Mission and Globalization,” p. 42) The encounter between the kosher Peter and the Gentile “outsider” Cornelius transformed both of their theological visions (Acts 10-11). In the Jerusalem Council, the church functioned as an intercultural hermeneutical community (Acts 15). The outcome was a new and fuller understanding of the Spirit’s work. Paul’s interaction with the pagan cultural and religious world in Athens (Acts 17) undoubtedly deepened his own grasp of the gospel and how to proclaim it.

—Dean Flemming, Contextualization in the New Testament, 312-313

Forming Agents

For Calvin—as for ancient Christian faith—the way to “put on” the virtues of Christ (Col. 3:12-15)
was to be immersed in the practices of prayer and worship (Col. 3:16-17). The worship practices
and spiritual disciplines of the church were the “paideutic repertoire” needed to form agents who
could carry out their mission and vocation in and for the world.

—James K.A. Smith, “‘Lift Up Your Hearts’: John Calvin’s Catholic Faith,” 12

With Us

Worship is not merely time with a deistic god who winds us up and then sends us
out on our own; we don’t enter worship for “top up” refueling to then leave as self-sufficient,
autonomous actors. Instead, the biblical vision is one of co-abiding presence and participation (“I
in you and you in me”).

—James K.A. Smith, “‘Lift Up Your Hearts’: John Calvin’s Catholic Faith,” 8 (


In and Out

If the church is a centrifuge, sending out image-bearers to take up their commission in God’s good-but-broken world, it must also be a community of practice that centripetally gathers for dispositional reformation.

—James K. A. Smith, “‘Lift Up Your Hearts’: John Calvin’s Catholic Faith,”


Jesus and the New Testament writers model a delicate dance between formulating the gospel in terms that make sense in their cultural worlds and at the same time calling those worlds into question in order to re-form them. Today it is possible to lose this balance in either direction. On the one hand, when we become too much at home in our culture we can begin “to transform the gospel in light of cultural values instead of the reverse.” The gospel of health and prosperity that is often preached in North American pulpits and propagated over the global media is an especially blatant example of such an uncritical accommodation to culture; it is syncretism dressed in a Sunday suit. On the other hand failing to tell and live out the sacred story in forms that both reflect and speak to a given culture will trivialize the good news and cause it to be perceived as irrelevant. The task of every Christian interpreter and communicator is to enable the Word of God, which is incarnated within particular cultural worlds in Scripture, to speak once again in ways that are both relevant to our own cultures and faithful to the biblical message.

—Dean Flemming, Contextualization in the New Testament, 308-309

God, Not Caesar, Is Lord

Worship is a central theme not only in chapters 4 and 5, but throughout Revelation.  Accompanying and interpreting God’s triumphs, scenes of heavenly worship break out repeatedly at critical junctures in the remainder of the book (e.g., Rev 7:11-17; 11:16-18; 15:3-4; 19:1-8).  For the churches of Roman Asia, worship is both a political and a religious act.  The worship of the one true God in heaven is set in sharp conflict with the idolatrous worship of the beast on earth (Rev 13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20), which is embodied for John’s Asian readers by the pervasive imperial cult.  When the community sings Revelation’s songs of worship it declares that God, not Caesar, is Lord.  The beast’s throne may appear to be mighty and eternal, but it cannot survive; it is but a whimpering parody of God the Almighty’s sovereign rule.  This is a note that John’s readers, whether threatened by Roman power or tempted through their own compromise to honor the beast, need to hear like a trumpet’s blare.

—Dean Flemming, Contextualization in the New Testament, 278