Posts Tagged 'Evangelism'

Lord’s Day 26: Washed with Christ’s Blood and Spirit

Catechism and Psalter

Various views on the nature of the sacrament of baptism have divided the Christian church for centuries.  Is it necessary in order to be saved?  Should it be administered to children as well as to adults?  Beginning in Lord’s Day 26, the Heidelberg Catechism lays out a thorough Reformed blueprint of the nature and proper administration of baptism.  It’s to this Lord’s Day that we turn now in our continuing series here on URC Psalmody.

69 Q.  How does baptism remind you and assure you that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross is for you personally?

A.  In this way:
Christ instituted this outward washing
and with it gave the promise that,
as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body,
so certainly his blood and his Spirit
wash away all my soul’s impurity,
in other words, all my sins.

70 Q.  What does it mean to be washed with Christ’s blood and spirit?

A.  To be washed with Christ’s blood means
that God, by grace, has forgiven my sins
because of Christ’s blood
poured out for me in his sacrifice on the cross.

To be washed with Christ’s Spirit means
that the Holy Spirit has renewed me
and set me apart to be a member of Christ
so that more and more I become dead to sin
and increasingly live a holy and blameless life.

71 Q.  Where does Christ promise that we are washed with his blood and spirit as surely as we are washed with the water of baptism?

A.  In the institution of baptism where he says:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.”

“He who believes and is baptized will be saved;
but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

This promise is repeated when Scripture calls baptism
the washing of regeneration and
the washing away of sins.

Suggested Songs

96, “O God, the God That Saveth Me” (Psalm 51)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“[H]is blood and his Spirit wash away all my soul’s impurity, in other words, all my sins.”  Immediately the words of Psalm 51 come to mind: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (v. 7 ESV).  Blue Psalter Hymnal number 96 sets two of the psalmist’s requests against each other: “Remove my guilty stains” and “Now open Thou my lips.”  The second request comes after the first, much in the same way as baptism—the washing away of our sins—is followed in time by a public profession of faith.

O God, the God that saveth me,
Remove my guilty stains,
And I will sing Thy righteousness
In grateful, joyous strains.

O Lord, now open Thou my lips,
Long closed by sin and shame;
My mouth shall show before the world
The glory of Thy Name.

209, “Unto the Lord Lift Thankful Voices” (Psalm 105)

(Sung by the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir)

“God, by grace, has forgiven my sins because of Christ’s blood poured out for me in his sacrifice on the cross.”  Psalm 105:7-11 has long been traditionally sung in Dutch Reformed churches at baptisms, but even in its entirety this psalm fits well with the Catechism’s explanation of this sacrament, calling us to praise the Lord for revealing his salvation to us.

Seek ye Jehovah and His power,
Seek ye His presence every hour.
His works, so marvelous and great,
Remember still, and meditate
Upon the wonders of His hands,
The judgments which His mouth commands.

Jehovah’s truth will stand forever,
His covenant-bonds He will not sever;
The word of grace which He commands
To thousand generations stands;
The covenant made in days of old
With Abraham he doth uphold.

The Lord His covenant people planted
In lands of nations which He granted,
That they His statutes might observe,
Nor from His laws might ever swerve.
Let songs of praise to Him ascend,
And hallelujahs without end.

278, “How Good and Pleasant Is the Sight” (Psalm 133)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and West Sayville URC on Long Island, NY)

“[T]he Holy Spirit has renewed me and set me apart to be a member of Christ so that more and more I become dead to sin and increasingly live a holy and blameless life.”  In addition to symbolizing the cleansing of our sins, baptism sets us apart as members of Christ’s body, the church.  In its three short verses, Psalm 133 likens the fellowship of believers to a kind of anointing.

How good and pleasant is the sight
When brethren make it their delight
To dwell in blest accord;
Such love is like anointing oil
That consecrates for holy toil
The servants of the Lord.

Such love in peace and joy distils,
As o’er the slopes of Hermon’s hills
Refreshing dew descends;
The Lord commands His blessing there,
And they that walk in love shall share
In life that never ends.

134, “His Wide Dominion Shall Extend” (Psalm 72)

“‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’”  Baptism is not only a covenant sign for children of the family of God, it is also a necessary result of evangelism and conversion.  Psalm 72 reflects the continuing expansion of the kingdom of Christ in anticipation, as it were, of the Great Commission given by our Lord himself.

His wide dominion shall extend
From sea to utmost sea,
And unto earth’s remotest bounds
His peaceful rule shall be.

Yea, all the kings shall bow to Him,
His rule all nations hail;
He will regard the poor man’s cry
When other helpers fail.

The poor and needy He shall spare,
And save their souls from fear;
He shall redeem them from all wrong,
Their life to Him is dear.

So they shall live, and bring to Him
Their gifts of finest gold;
For Him shall constant prayer be made,
His praise each day be told.

–MRK

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Psalm 67: That Your Way May Be Known on Earth

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.

–Psalm 67:1, 2 (ESV)

Another school year is coming to a close, and ‘tis the season for “moving-up” ceremonies on many levels.  Even in the few minutes it took me to prepare to write this post, my Facebook news feed filled up with pictures of a recent seminary graduation ceremony.  It’s a time of change for everyone from kindergarteners to university grads, and with such times of change come opportunities not only to look back, but also to look forward.

Secular graduations don’t vary that much; usually they’re fluffily generic, placing all the emphasis on the accomplishments of the students and the importance of individuality.  It’s no wonder many a video has been made to poke fun at these ceremonies.  Sadly enough, I wouldn’t be surprised if many “Christian” graduations held the same priorities.

Graduation finds its proper context in Psalm 67.  This short and succinct song calls for God’s blessing upon his chosen people—a desire anyone can echo.  But the motive for this prayer is where Christianity radically departs from the priorities of the world.

The worldly mind says, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that we may grow in knowledge, and riches, and power—that we may make a name for ourselves—that our fame may ascend to the heavens.”  The psalmist says, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us”—why?—“that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.”

How humbling it is not only to acknowledge that all our blessings must come from God, but to request these blessings in order that we may be a shining light to a dark world!  The psalmist’s supreme desire is that all the peoples (v. 3) would see God’s grace on him and praise the Lord for it.  And this is not merely an individual song; it applies even more directly to God’s covenant people—Old Testament Israel, the New Testament church.  Psalm 67 ends with a bold recapitulation of its opening lines: “God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!”

Below, the graduating class of a Reformed Christian high school in Michigan sings the words of Psalm 67 as versified in the Psalter Hymnal.

121, “O God, to Us Show Mercy”

(Sung on YouTube and by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

Psalter Hymnal number 121 is a surpassingly accurate rendition of Psalm 67.  Perhaps there might be some adverse theological implications to replacing “saving power” with “saving grace” in the versification of v. 2, but this is a minor and easily correctable issue.   The poetry throughout is solid and beautiful.

The tune is AURELIA, commonly known as “The Church’s One Foundation,” but interestingly authored by Samuel S. Wesley as a new setting of “Jerusalem the Golden.”  It’s a reverent, pure, and fitting melody; I can’t make a single complaint.  The tune’s association with the church also serves as an added reminder of this song’s application to God’s covenant people.

Whether you’re graduating this year, or attending a celebration for someone who is, are your priorities settled?  Do you know why the Lord has placed you here, and what your single greatest calling is?  May we go forth realizing that by God’s grace we are witnesses to the world, and through all our lives may we take Psalm 67 to heart.

The Lord our God shall bless us,
Our God shall blessing send,
And all the earth shall fear Him
To its remotest end.

–MRK

Musical Salt and Light

Today, West Sayville Reformed Bible Church will be hosting its seventeenth annual Bible Conference on the topic of “Salt and Light: Christians in the Public Arena.”  In preparation for this conference I’ve been meditating a bit on the church’s interaction with the world.  (As I’ve recently mentioned, the feature article in the October 3rd issue of Christian Renewal is entitled “How the World Sees Us: A Distorted Reflection of the Church”—an excellent overview of this topic.)

Coincidentally, I was also recently listening to the recording of the Semper Reformanda conference hosted by Classis Eastern U. S. last October on “What Does a Healthy Church Look Like?”  Someone made the observation that to the world, the church of Christ speaks a foreign language.  Rev. Bill Boekestein of the URC in Carbondale, PA, was quick to add that the church also sings a foreign language.

Tying these two threads together, I pondered a bit on the effect of church music on unbelievers.  Followers of the contemporary “church growth” movement have typically advocated worship music with the same sound and feel as that of the world.  Attract them with the music, the thinking goes, and win them to Christ.  In the historic Reformed tradition we reject that approach, and rightly so.  But could it be that our worship music has just as profound an impact on non-Christian ears?

Psalm-singing is the complete antithesis of contemporary Christian music for the simple reason that it’s so different.  Latin chants, classical music, operas, jazz, rock-and-roll—whatever the musical tastes of an unbelieving listener, no other genre compares to simple psalm-singing in the common tongue.  When someone off the street walks into a Reformed worship service during a psalm or hymn, their reaction ought to be one of astonishment, or at least mild surprise.  Our music, like the rest of our worship, should attest to the fact that the church of Christ is radically set apart from the world.

With this in mind, how might we use the psalms as a unique way to evangelize our unbelieving family, friends, and neighbors?  It’s an open-ended question, and a hard one at that.  I don’t have the wisdom or experience to offer any concrete answer.  But I’d at least like to ask a few probing questions that might prove helpful:

Pastors:

  • Do you repeatedly explain to your congregation why the psalms are such an integral part of Christian worship?
  • Do you take time to clarify difficult words or phrases in the lyrics and point out the key themes?
  • Do you announce the songs clearly enough that even first-time visitors will know what songbook to use and what page to find?

Event coordinators and group leaders:

  • Do you incorporate psalm-singing into church activities besides worship?  This may sound extreme.  But consider the impact that a well-chosen psalm or two might have on a visitor to a Wednesday night Bible study, or a teen who attends their first youth group meeting.

Church members:

  • Do you sing the psalms as a family?
  • Are you, yourself, familiar with the psalms?  Are you able to bring them up from memory when applicable to teach or encourage a family member or friend?  Can you explain the psalms’ importance to anyone who asks?

My opinion here may be a bit strong, and perhaps it’s not as well-developed as it should be.  Nevertheless, I will present this closing statement for your consideration: I believe the contrast between the music of the world and the music of the church ought to be sharp enough to drop jaws.  Just like our Christ-centered worship and God-glorifying lifestyles, the simple singing of psalms should astonish our unbelieving friends and neighbors.  Biblical worship should sound like nothing they’ve ever heard before—and maybe, by God’s grace, it will be a sound they’ll hear for the rest of their lives.

–MRK


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