Posts Tagged 'Salvation'



A Look at Liturgy: The Decalogue

The Decalogue

Over the past few weeks we’ve been looking at some characteristic elements of the Reformed worship service. Today’s post brings us to perhaps the most distinctive feature of Dutch Reformed liturgy: the reading of the Ten Commandments (decalogue, “ten words”) in the service.

In theory, there is a basic theological rationale for the use of the decalogue in worship: “it testifies to the Calvinist respect for the unity of the covenant” (Report of Liturgical Committee, Psalter Hymnal Supplement 100)—though even Calvinists do not always agree on the nature of the covenant. In practice, however, this justification leaves some questions unanswered. For instance, why do the Ten Commandments not appear in the worship of other Protestant churches that uphold the unity of the covenant of grace?

The answer to this question is mostly one of history and tradition. It was John Calvin who “planted the decalogue in the liturgy” without leaving much explanation why, and it had come to be a fixture in Dutch Reformed worship by the time of Abraham Kuyper in the 19th century. “By that time,” the Liturgical Committee comments, “the law seemed liturgically inexpendable, and liturgically undefined.”

In West Sayville’s liturgy the Ten Commandments fall under the heading of “God’s Will for Our Lives,” and occasionally they are replaced in the worship service with another Scripture reading that urges us onward in “the dying-away of the old self, and the coming-to-life of the new” (Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 33, Q&A 88). Following the reading of the decalogue or an alternate passage, our pastor offers a prayer of confession and reads another text as the “Assurance of Pardon,” and then the congregation sings a penitential psalm or hymn. Presented as God’s will for his people, the reading of the decalogue prompts us to confess how drastically we fall short of its perfection, but also to recognize Christ’s fulfillment of the law and go forth in grateful obedience to him.

This use of the Ten Commandments in worship, which I have to assume is fairly typical in United Reformed churches, reflects all three of the functions of the law listed in the Liturgical Committee’s report:

  1. “It could serve as a catalyst to confession.…It is the holy finger of God pointing to ‘me’ as the one who fails in his life to reflect the character of God.”
  2. “It could serve as a summons to the life of gratitude.”
  3. “It could also serve as a reading from Scripture…[that] consistently stresses instruction in the obligations of the Christian.”

While it is important to pinpoint the purpose of the decalogue in worship, the Liturgical Committee also provides an important qualification: “[W]e must remember, of course, that the Lord is free to use His law, at any moment, to achieve whatever purpose He wishes. If He wills to use His law of a given Sunday morning to convict one worshipper of sin, summon another to obedience, and at the same time inspire another to a grateful hallelujah, no liturgical definition of the law’s function will inhibit him.”

So should Reformed churches keep the decalogue in their worship services? In my experience, at least, the weekly reading of the Ten Commandments helps to anchor our worship in the blazing light of God’s holiness. If it is to have this effect, however, the decalogue must never be separated from the message of the gospel. Apart from confessing our sin, rejoicing in Christ’s salvation, and filling our lives with grateful obedience, the Ten Commandments become a highway to moralism and works-righteousness. Treat the decalogue as a checklist or one of those ubiquitous online quizzes (“I scored 8/10 this past week!”), and your life in Christ will wither. But respond to God’s law by confessing your natural misery and taking refuge in the finished work of Jesus Christ, and the Ten Commandments will spur on what the Catechism so beautifully describes as “wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a delight to do every kind of good as God wants us to” (Q&A 90).

O blessed Lord, teach me Thy law,
Thy righteous judgments I declare;
Thy testimonies make me glad,
For they are wealth beyond compare.
Upon Thy precepts and Thy ways
My heart will meditate with awe;
Thy Word shall be my chief delight,
And I will not forget Thy law.

–MRK

–quotes from the Psalter Hymnal Supplement are from pp. 100, 101

A Look at Liturgy: The Votum

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth

“Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

If you attend a United Reformed church, it’s likely you hear these words from Psalm 124 every week at the opening of morning worship. Although this is a common way to begin worship in our churches, it’s actually fairly unique to the Dutch Reformed tradition. What are the origins of this statement (often called the “votum”), and what does it mean?

In the Psalter Hymnal Supplement the Liturgical Committee of the Christian Reformed Church comments on the term “votum,” “No one is quite sure how this awkward Latin word crept into and managed to stay in a Reformed liturgy that otherwise kept itself clean of Romanist vocabulary.…The word itself seems to mean a ‘wish’ or ‘desire’ and so, perhaps, is roughly similar to an invocation.”

What makes the story of the votum even more unusual is its history. According to the Liturgical Committee, this verse (Psalm 124:8) was originally recited whispered privately by the priest during the Roman Catholic mass. “Thus, it was not the beginning of the people’s worship; it was part of the priest’s private preparation for worship. The words were taken over by Calvin to begin the morning worship for all the people. He did not tell us why he used the words; our liturgical rationale is, in a sense, after the fact.” And today Reformed churches differ widely with regard to the votum; many replace or combine it with a “call to worship” or an “invocation.” In West Sayville our morning service opens with a call to worship from an appropriate passage of Scripture, followed by a song of praise, then the votum and God’s greeting.

So what justifies the use of the votum in opening public worship? This explanation comes from the Agenda for Synod 1920 of the Christian Reformed Church: “This ‘Votum’ is not meant to be a prayer for divine aid, but rather a solemn declaration that God is in the midst of His people with His saving grace.”

The scriptural context of the votum sheds some light on its application to Christian worship. Psalm 124 is a song of Israel’s deliverance, opening with a vivid picture of the fate that would have befallen them “if it had not been the LORD who was on our side”:

then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.

–vv. 3-5 ESV

Instead of leaving them to their destruction, the Lord mightily delivered his people, freeing them from their bondage in Egypt. With joy and relief they could exclaim, “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped!” (v. 7)—proceeding to state their continued dependence on the Lord in the words that have become our votum.

We, too, lay in bondage in a spiritual Egypt of sin and death. We deserved the torrent of God’s righteous judgment to sweep us away and the punishment of sin to overwhelm us. But he delivered us, even more mightily than he delivered the Israelites, by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. The Lord was on our side, and he deserves all our praise!

For the church of Christ, stating that “our help is in the name of the LORD” acknowledges our profound need and complete dependence on our heavenly Father. We do not come into his presence in our own strength or because of our own merit, but because of his saving grace and only with his sustaining help. We are gathered not as the righteous, but as the sinners the Son of Man came to call to repentance. Yet despite our unworthiness, we appear in God’s courts with confidence. He has no need of our worship, but he delights in it. The almighty Creator of the universe is present wherever his people gather in his name—and thus we can say, not only in acknowledgment of our need but also in joyful assurance, “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

And that, perhaps above anything else, is reason enough to keep the votum in Reformed worship.

–MRK

–quotes from the Psalter Hymnal Supplement are from p. 92

Lord’s Day 44: Only a Small Beginning

Catechism and Psalter

The Heidelberg Catechism expounds upon the Ten Commandments uniquely by demonstrating how they encompass every area of moral living.  Even the tenth commandment, which we’ll study today, relates to the whole law by stating “that not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in my heart.”  Such an interpretation is devastating because it condemns every one of us.  But Lord’s Day 44 digs deeper than the mere prohibition of this commandment by asking and answering a difficult question: Why do the Ten Commandments still matter if we can’t obey them perfectly?  As always, the answer points to the glory of our gracious God.

113 Q.  What is God’s will for us in the tenth commandment?

A.  That not even the slightest thought or desire
contrary to any one of God’s commandments
should ever arise in my heart.

Rather, with all my heart
I should always hate sin
and take pleasure in whatever is right.

114 Q.  But can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly?

A.  No.
In this life even the holiest
have only a small beginning of this obedience.

Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose,
they do begin to live
according to all, not only some,
of God’s commandments.

115 Q.  No one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly: why then does God want them preached so pointedly?

A.  First, so that the longer we live
the more we may come to know our sinfulness
and the more eagerly look to Christ
for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.

Second, so that,
while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit,
we may never stop striving
to be renewed more and more after God’s image,
until after this lie we reach our goal:
perfection.

Suggested Songs

237, “How Shall the Young Direct Their Way” (Psalm 119)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON, and by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“Not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in my heart.”  Like the apostle Paul, we realize that the law condemns us without exception.  “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Romans 7:18 ESV).  But like Paul, we as Christians also “delight in the law of God” in our inner being (v. 23), and attest that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12 ESV).  We gladly echo the words of the psalmist in Psalm 119:9-16, as versified in the blue Psalter Hymnal:

O blessed Lord, teach me Thy law,
Thy righteous judgments I declare;
Thy testimonies make me glad,
For they are wealth beyond compare.
Upon Thy precepts and Thy ways
My heart will meditate with awe;
Thy Word shall be my chief delight,
And I will not forget Thy law.

248, “How I Love Thy Law, O Lord” (Psalm 119)

“With all my heart I should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.”  Psalm 119:97-104 expresses the joy of those who make God’s law their delight:

While my heart Thy Word obeys,
I am kept from evil ways;
From Thy law, with Thee to guide,
I have never turned aside.
Sweeter are Thy words to me
Than all other good can be;
Safe I walk, Thy truth my light,
Hating falsehood, loving right.

152, “Remember Not, O God” (Psalm 79)

(Sung by Trinity URC in St. Catharines, ON, and by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience.”  Let’s be honest: the Catechism’s analysis of the Ten Commandments can be profoundly disturbing.  Can anyone fulfill the expectations of God’s law?  Even as we understand that we are saved by grace, not by works, what kind of obedience does Christ expect of us?

Thankfully, the answer the Catechism provides rests in God, not in us.  The Ten Commandments, it says, are to be preached so pointedly “so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.”  And, as the end of Psalm 79 reminds us, God will not remember those sins against us.

Remember not, O God,
The sins of long ago;
In tender mercy visit us,
Distressed and humbled low.

O Lord, our Savior, help,
And glorify Thy Name;
Deliver us from all our sins
And take away our shame.

Then, safe within Thy fold,
We will exalt Thy Name;
Our thankful hearts with songs of joy
Thy goodness will proclaim.

272, “Out of the Depths of Sadness” (Psalm 130)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON)

The Ten Commandments bring us face-to-face with the spiritual battle each of us must fight.  Our sinful natures have been conquered, but they have not yet been annihilated.  The Christian life is a constant struggle against vicious enemies on every side, including our own fallen flesh.  But we serve a gracious Savior who “will redeem Israel from all his iniquities,” as Psalm 130 teaches.  “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:56, 57).

Out of the depths of sadness,
O LORD, I cried to Thee;
Thou who canst fill with gladness,
Lend now Thine ear to me.
O Fount of consolation,
Attend unto my cry,
Hear Thou my supplication
And to my help draw nigh.

If Thou shouldst mark transgression,
O Lord, who then could stand?
For evil and oppression
Are found on every hand.
But Thou dost pardon fully
All our iniquity,
That we may serve Thee truly
And fear Thy majesty.

I wait for God to hide me;
My soul, with longing stirred,
Shall hope, whate’er betide me,
In His unfailing word.
My soul waits for Jehovah
With more intense desire
Than watchers for the morning
To dawn of day aspire.

Hope in the Lord, O nation!
For with Him there is grace
And plenteous salvation
For all who seek His face.
He shall redeem His people,
His chosen Israel,
From all their sin and evil,
And all their gloom dispel.

–MRK

RYS’s Tribute to the Heidelberg Catechism

The 2013 Reformed Youth Services Convention met at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, MN.

The 2013 Reformed Youth Services Convention met at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, MN.

For the first time in its history, the ministry of Reformed Youth Services has made available to the public the audio from its 2013 International Convention, as well as the videos from its Talent Show.  The theme of the convention this past year was “Mission Possible,” based on I Timothy ii.3, 4; this year’s keynote speakers were both excellent and challenged their young audience to live their lives as servants, soldiers, and sojourners of Christ the King.

You can find links to the convention sessions in the side navigation of Reformed Youth Services’s website, or read more about the event in the July 31/August 21 issue of Christian Renewal magazine.  My purpose in mentioning the RYS convention, however, is to point you specifically to this year’s choir selection.

This year Mrs. Kathy Arrick, the wife of Rev. Steve Arrick of the Zeltenreich URC in Lancaster County, PA, directed the convention choir.  The anthem she selected was an old one, unlike the choir’s selections in previous years; but, as she explained, it had a unique message.  Mrs. Arrick specifically picked this song to coincide with the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism.

The anthem “The Potter and the Clay” opens with these poignant lines:

Lord, I have tried to go my own way,
Wandering alone day after day.

This acknowledgment of “how great my sin and misery are” is followed by a powerful reminder of the fact that “I am not my own”: as the three-part harmony explodes, the choir cries, “Now I am Yours!  Guide me, I pray.  You are the Potter, Lord; I am the clay.”

Note the rest of these Biblically-rooted lyrics as you listen to the rest of the anthem.  The choir finally concludes:

Held in Your hand, I thankfully pray:
You are the Potter, Lord;
I am the clay.

Enjoy the video at this link or embedded below.

All glory be to Jesus Christ, our faithful Savior!

–MRK

Lord’s Day 32: To Be like Himself

Catechism and Psalter

We’ve fallen a bit behind in our series on the Heidelberg Catechism here on URC Psalmody, but it is interesting to note that as we enter the last third of 2013 (the year that marks the document’s 450th birthday), we also enter upon the last third of the Catechism.  Lord’s Days 1-4 set forth the sad truth about our sin; Lord’s Days 5-31 dealt with the glory of our salvation.  The remaining 21 Lord’s Days address the Christian’s grateful life of service.  With an overwhelming sense of joy, Lord’s Day 32 expounds upon the very first question and answer’s declaration that “Christ, by his Holy Spirit…makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

86 Q.  We have been delivered from our misery by God’s grace alone through Christ and not because we have earned it: why then must we still do good?

A.  To be sure, Christ has redeemed us by his blood.
But we do good because
Christ by his Spirit is also renewing us to be like himself,
so that in all our living
we may show that we are thankful to God
for all he has done for us,
and so that he may be praised through us.

And we do good
so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits,
and so that by our godly living
our neighbors may be won over to Christ.

87 Q.  Can those be saved who do not turn to God from their ungrateful and impenitent ways?

A.  By no means.
Scripture tells us that
no unchaste person,
no idolater, adulterer, thief,
no covetous person,
no drunkard, slanderer, robber,
or the like
is going to inherit the kingdom of God.

Suggested Songs

180, “It Is Good to Sing Thy Praises” (Psalm 92)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“Christ has redeemed us by his blood.  But we do good because Christ by his Spirit is also renewing us to be like himself.”  For a glorious exposition of these wonderful words, we need look no further than the paraphrase of Psalm 92 in number 180 of the blue Psalter Hymnal.  The second stanza praises the works God’s hands have wrought, and the third rejoices that his boundless grace will nourish the righteous.  If there is a single psalm that adequately summarizes the Christian’s response of gratitude, it may well be Psalm 92.

It is good to sing Thy praises
And to thank Thee, O Most High,
Showing forth Thy loving-kindness
When the morning lights the sky.
It is good when night is falling
Of Thy faithfulness to tell,
While with sweet, melodious praises
Songs of adoration swell.

Thou hast filled my heart with gladness
Through the works Thy hands have wrought;
Thou hast made my life victorious,
Great Thy works and deep Thy thought.
Thou, O Lord, on high exalted,
Reignest evermore in might;
All Thine enemies shall perish,
Sin be banished from Thy sight.

But the good shall live before Thee,
Planted in Thy dwelling-place,
Fruitful trees and ever verdant,
Nourished by Thy boundless grace.
In His goodness to the righteous
God His righteousness displays;
God my rock, my strength and refuge,
Just and true are all His ways.

230, “What Shall I Render to the Lord” (Psalm 116)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“[W]e do good…so that in all our living we may show that we are thankful to God for all he has done for us, and so that he may be praised through us.”  Psalm 116 is a song of salvation which we’ve already connected to previous Lord’s Days of the Catechism.  Here its last section points us to consider how we may rightly give thanks to God for his many blessings.

What shall I render to the Lord
For all His benefits to me?
How shall my soul, by grace restored,
Give worthy thanks, O Lord, to Thee?

His saints the Lord delights to save,
Their death is precious in His sight;
He has redeemed me from the grave,
And in His service I delight.

With thankful heart I offer now
My gift, and call upon God’s Name;
Before His saints I pay my vow
And here my gratitude proclaim.

Within His house, the house of prayer,
I dedicate myself to God;
Let all His saints His grace declare
And join to sound His praise abroad.

120, “Come, All Ye People, Bless Our God” (Psalm 66)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“And we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ.”  This last sentence of question and answer 86 calls to mind the exhortation of I Peter 2:11, 12 (ESV):

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Not only do our good works assure us of the validity of our faith, the Holy Spirit also uses them to convict our unbelieving neighbors of their need for a Savior.  Further, as Psalm 66 shows, our grateful response to God encourages the entire body of Christ.

Come, all ye people, bless our God
And tell His glorious praise abroad,
Who holds our souls in life,
Who never lets our feet be moved
And, though our faith He oft has proved,
Upholds us in the strife.

We come with offerings to His house,
And here we pay the solemn vows
We uttered in distress;
To Him our all we dedicate,
To Him we wholly consecrate
The lives His mercies bless.

Come, hear, all ye that fear the Lord,
While I with grateful heart record
What God has done for me;
I cried to Him in deep distress,
And now His wondrous grace I bless,
For He has set me free.

174, “O Teach Thou Us to Count Our Days” (Psalm 90)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir)

“[N]o unchaste person, no idolater, adulterer, thief, no covetous person, no drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like is going to inherit the kingdom of God.”  Although the Catechism has already covered this ground, it backs up to emphasize unequivocally that, in the words of the apostle, “faith apart from works is dead” (Jas. 2:26).  With this perspective we may well exclaim with the psalmist Moses, “O teach Thou us to count our days/And set our hearts on wisdom’s ways!”

Psalm 90 ought to make us tremble at the realization of our frailty, but it should also give us comfort.  The psalm ends with a cry for God to “establish the works of our hands upon us,” a plea fulfilled in the words of I Corinthians 15:58:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

So let there be on us bestowed
The beauty of the Lord our God;
The work accomplished by our hand
Establish Thou, and make it stand;
Yea, let our hopeful labor be
Established evermore by Thee,
Established evermore by Thee.

–MRK


Welcome to URC Psalmody

We hope you'll join us as we discuss music, worship, the psalms, the church, and much more here on URC Psalmody. You can learn about the purpose of this blog here. We look forward to to seeing you in the discussions!

With this feature, just enter your email address and you'll receive notifications of new posts on URC Psalmody by email!

Join 214 other followers

Categories