Come, Holy Spirit (2)

Think of it this way. It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder, on Jesus, who stands facing us. The Spirit’s message is never, “Look at Me; listen to Me; come to Me; get to know Me,’ but always, ‘Look at Him, and see His glory; listen to Him, and hear Him word; go to Him, and have life; get to know Him, and taste His gift of joy and peace.” The Spirit, we might say, is the matchmaker, the celestial marriage broker, whose role it is to bring us and Christ together and ensure that we stay together.

—J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 66

Come, Holy Spirit

If we ask the New Testament authors, “What is the nature of the Spirit’s work?” we receive a plethora of information. It is the Holy Spirit, for example, who is the One who makes God’s love real for us—”God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5). In a sense, it is He who stands at the threshold of the Christian life, for only He can enable us to embrace Christ as Savior and Lord—”no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Then, it is the Spirit who gives us the boldness to come into the presence of the awesome and almighty Maker of heaven and earth and call Him “Dear Father”—”God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:6). It is the Spirit who enables believers, from various racial, social and religious backgrounds, to find true unity in Christ and together worship God (Eph. 2:18). In fact, without the Spirit, worship and the glorification of Jesus Christ cannot take place (Phil. 3:3). And it is the Spirit who is the true Guarantor of orthodoxy (2 Tim. 1:14).

An excellent summary statement of the range of the Spirit’s work is Galatians 5:25, which speaks so plainly about the Spirit as the Source from which we are to live our lives: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” The Spirit thus undergirds and empowers the entirety of our lives as Christians. To paraphrase John 15:5: apart from the Holy Spirit, we can do nothing of any true eternal value.

—Michael A. G. Haykin, The God Who Draws Near: An Introduction To Biblical Spirituality, xix-xx

Ascended (6)

I think that one practical implication of the ascension for our corporate worship is that the general tone of the Lord’s Supper should be joyful and celebratory. When we receive the Lord’s Supper, we are not re-creating the Last Supper on the night before Jesus died. Rather, we meet in real time in the present with the risen, ascended, and glorified Christ! When we focus on the cross in our communion songs or meditations or prayers, it ought to be a joyful proclamation of the victory that he won in his death. On this side of the resurrection and ascension, we can now see the cross as the place where Jesus reigned, where he destroyed the old creation order and in doing so, released the world from its bondage to Sin, Death, and the Devil. And of course our communion songs and prayers and meditations should not only be about the cross but also about the resurrection, ascension, and the future fullness of the kingdom yet to come. And that means it is an occasion of supreme joy at the victory of God, of supreme hope in the coming consummation of the kingdom, and of supreme love for the presence of the ascended Christ.

—Michael Farley, Worship Reformation Network post

Ascended (5)

The dust of the earth is on the throne of the Majesty on high.

—Rev Prof John Duncan (1796-1870) (a minister of the Free Church of Scotland, a missionary to the Jews in Hungary, and Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages at New College, Edinburgh; he was affectionately called Rabbi Duncan because of his knowledge of Hebrew and his heart for the Jewish people)

Ascended (4)

The Ascension doctrine helps us to keep a balance between seeing God in Christ as “one of us” and Christ as “from the heart of God.” Too great an emphasis on the Incarnation can distort this balance, so that worship is centered exclusively on the human aspects of worship—our concerns, our needs, our agenda, and our material world. Worship, unless corrected by the dimension of heaven, can become earthbound. The Ascension doctrine reminds us that there is another dimension to worship. We join Christ—rather than Christ coming down to join us – in the eternal nature of heaven, and there our worship is caught up with that of the angels and archangels and the apostles of every generation.

—Peter Atkins, Ascension Now: Implications of Christ’s Ascension for Today’s Church, 83-4

Ascended! (3)

Q.  If you could name one theological theme that worship committees could well spend time reflecting on, what would it be?

A.  Christ’s ascension.

As our ascended Lord, Jesus not only receives our worship but also perfects our prayers. In fact, Jesus “always lives to intercede for us” (Heb. 7:25). Jesus (and not any other human worship leader) is the true lead worshiper. As we worship it is fitting to think of Jesus as active: praying for us, perfecting our prayers, giving us full access to God. This is pastorally significant because it welcomes us to offer worship even in weakness (Heb. 4:14-16).

Importantly, when we imagine what our ascended Lord is like, we need a balanced view, remembering the one who appears like both a Lion and Lamb (cf. Rev. 5), the one who is both cosmic Lord (Col. 1) but also “who has been tempted in every way, just like us” (Heb. 4:15).

As you study this theme, ask yourselves how well your congregation’s musical diet conveys these themes. Ask worshipers how they imagine what Jesus is doing today (we often fail to realize how active in prayer Jesus is today). Finally, ask whether and how your congregation celebrates Ascension Day. Most of us can do better at giving attention to this remarkable event.

And when we do celebrate Ascension, we need to do a better job of keeping in mind not only Christ’s ongoing role as King, but also his role as Priest (and Prophet). For more insights and practical suggestions on this theme, see Gerrit Scott Dawson’s Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation (Presbyterian and Reformed), and the fine article by Laura Smit in Reformed Worship 79.

—John D. Witvliet, Reformed Worship Issue #80 (June 2006)

Ascended! (2)

TODAY IS ASCENSION DAY!

How does Christ’s ascension into heaven benefit us?

First, He is our Advocate in heaven before His Father. [Rom 8:34; 1 John 2:1]

Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. [John 14:2; 17:24; Ephes 2:4-6] [As John Duncan put it, “The dust of the earth is on the throne of the Majesty on High.”]

Third, He sends us His Spirit as a counter-pledge, [John 14:16; Acts 2:33; 2 Cor 1:21, 22; 5:5] by whose power we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and not the things that are on earth. [Col 3:1-4]”

Heidelberg Catechism, Question 49

Make Music (10)

Augustine observes that when sacred words are joined to pleasant music, “our souls [animos] are moved and are more religiously and with a warmer devotion kindled to piety than if they are not so sung.” [Augustine, Confessions, X, xxxiii (49)]

——Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 632

Make Music (9)

Paul’s exhortation to sing, then, is bound up with his emphasis throughout the Epistle on the unity of the body of Christ. Music voices the shared life of the church. It is not accidental that the commands to sing in Eph. 5:19 lead on to the exhortation in verse 21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Music is both an image and a means of attaining to this unity. Structurally, the command to sing is the hinge connecting two sections of the epistle. Chapters 4 and 5 urge the Christians to put away the kind of self‐gratifying and self‐interested behavior that destroys community. The second half of Chapter 5 and the first half of Chapter 6 paint a picture of healthy community life, in which each member senses and responds to the needs of others.

—Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 643

Make Music (8)

Music, of course, does not remake us; the Holy Spirit does. But it seems possible that music may be one means by which the Holy Spirit makes us people who feel and respond. We are brought to our senses. We are drawn out of the darkness of self‐absorption and become aware of the world around us, our place within and responsibility to it. In song we move in a dance of sympathy with the others who are singing, and by the body are drawn out of ourselves and into the Body.

—Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 643

Make Music (7)

Sensitivity and responsiveness to the created order and to other human beings—this characterizes the Holy Spirit’s work among the children of light. It is also an apt description of what happens and what is required when we sing and make music well. As we sing together we attend to the activity of our own bodies in making sound, and we regard and respond to our own song as we hear it resonate in the space around us. We hear and attune ourselves to the sound of others’ voices. We respond not only to people, but to the physical qualities of he sound we are creating with others and the physical and acoustical properties of the space in which we sing. Moreover, we submit ourselves together to a tempo, a pattern of melody and rhythm, and we respond dynamically to the shape and movement of our musical interaction.

——Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 642

Make Music (6)

Music provides a compelling sounding image of life together; but it is a shared life in which the distinctive voice of the individual is not negated by communion with the other. In music, we encounter identity which preserves particularity. As we sing together, different sounds—your voice, and mine—occupy the same time and the same space, without obstructing or negating one another.

—Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 643

Make Music (5)

The unity of the Body of Christ is not a bland, undifferentiated uniformity, but a rich and manifold concord. Music is uniquely equipped to provide an aural image of this kind of community, in which union is not unanimity, nor multiplicity a cacophony. With every resonant sonority, music testifies to the possibility of this sort of life.

——Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 645

Make Music (3)

Paul’s view of music is not simply benign. Rather, he sees music as having a role to play in sanctification. One scholar of church music observes that the NT has relatively little to say about music, aside from “a stray remark in two of the Epistles about the singing of hymns and spiritual songs” (Eric Routley, Church Music and the Christian Faith, 15). Routley is referring to this passage in Ephesians and the parallel passage in Colossians. But this is certainly not a stray remark.

—Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 638‐39

Make Music (2)

There is an analogy of form between the sound of people singing together and the unity to which the church aspires, and for this reason music is a particularly apt vehicle for worship. In Ephesians 5, it is in connection with the command to be filled with the Holy Spirit that Paul urges his readers to sing. Music offers a sounding image of the kind of diversified unity brought about by the Holy Spirit—“simultaneous voices which are nevertheless also one voice.” “There are many parts, but one body,” is how Paul expresses the same ideal in 1 Corinthians (12:20). It is by the Spirit that Christians are baptized into one Body (1 Cor. 12:13); but it is also the Spirit who gives diverse gifts (1 Cor. 12:7‐11)—who gives to each part of the body its special function, to each voice its distinct part in the great chorus.

—Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 644

Make Music

Most of Ephesians 4 and all of Ephesians 5 address what it means to live as children of light, or more conventionally, what it means to live holy lives. Paul gives many commands and instructions, but ultimately men and women are made holy by the Spirit who is called Holy. Therefore Paul’s command in Eph. 5:18—“Be filled with the Holy Spirit”—is the culmination of these chapters, both rhetorically and theologically. The passive imperative—“be filled”—is followed by four subordinate participial clauses: (1) speaking to one another in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs; (2) singing and making music in your hearts; (3) giving thanks to the Lord; (4) submitting to one another. These participles are grammatically dependent upon the verb, and they give substance and content to the command to be filled with the Spirit. And remarkably, two of the four clauses—three of the five participles—have to do with making music.

—Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 639

Moving Our Affections

The duty of singing praises to God seems to be given wholly to excite and express religious affections. There is no other reason why we should express ourselves to God in verse rather than in prose and with music, except that these things have a tendency to move our affections.

—Jonathan Edwards (cited in Woods & Walrath, The Message in the Music, 121)

Stretch Them!

It is good for the seeker to know that there are riches in God’s truth far beyond his present grasp, riches treasured by Christians through the centuries, that he will never appreciate unless by God’s grace he adopts a whole new way of thinking.

—John Frame, Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defense, 23