Posts Tagged 'Truth'

Sing Gently

Gentle ReformationA few months ago, Christian blogger Tim Challies listed Gentle Reformation, one of the only blogs I can even claim to regularly read, as one of his favorite blogs of 2016. It was a moment in the spotlight for the gracious authors of an ordinary and rather humble website, something they compared to winning the cyber version of an Oscar or an Emmy.

On one hand, I try not to put too much stock in online announcements like this. In the blogosphere, we can easily slip into our own imaginative reality in which a “like” and a “share” are equivalent to a laudatory review in the New York Times. But on the other hand, I think the authors of Gentle Reformation are on to something, and I’m glad a widely-read blogger publicly thanked them for it.

Gentle Reformation’s “About” page expresses three goals: to be persuasive rather than polemical, to be pastoral rather than pejorative, and to consider people in the pews rather than just professors and pastors. In other words, the blog exists because its authors recognize and seek to respond to several pitfalls that are especially prevalent in the Reformed and Presbyterian faith.

The first pitfall is the temptation of pride. Hard as it is to admit, we Reformed folk have the habit of turning the “only comfort in life and in death” of the Heidelberg Catechism into a surly self-confidence that shifts the attention from the finished work of Christ back to ourselves. How ironic that our Calvinistic theology that magnifies the grace of God can be turned to boost our own egos instead! Aware of this pitfall, the authors of Gentle Reformation have revealed a consistently humble and winsome tone in their writing.

Another temptation is to call out the bad without pointing instead to the good. In his recent book The Happy Christian, Free Reformed minister David Murray notes excessive negativity as a besetting problem for Christians as well as for our culture at large. Reading Gentle Reformation is refreshing because its dominant theme is one of encouragement rather than criticism.

Finally, bloggers—including Christian bloggers—often fall into patterns of technical jargon or lofty language that alienate readers. In the case of Reformed sites, the terms may include “neo-Kuyperianism” or Latin phrases from the Apostles’ Creed (and there is a place for such discussions), but the effects on readers are often the same. From what I have seen, Gentle Reformation consciously avoids this kind of jargon, instead creating articles that Christians in all walks of life can enjoy reading.

I feel the implications of these pitfalls pretty strongly with regard to psalm-singing as well. It is easy to lapse into discussions about short meter and formal-equivalence-versus-functional-equivalence that would leave many readers reeling. It is easy to lament the losses church music has suffered in the 21st century without suggesting gracious, practical, and positive ways to generate more enthusiasm for the psalms. And it is especially easy to look down on those who have a supposedly “less developed” understanding of worship.

Gentle Reformation serves as an inspiration for me as a fellow blogger to address these pitfalls more intentionally. More broadly, I think its example ought to challenge all of us in our everyday conversations, particularly with regard to psalm-singing. I’ve heard many arguments for the psalms that take the low road of dogmatism and condescension rather than the high road of gentle persuasion with brotherly love. That’s part of the reason URC Psalmody has never taken a position on exclusive psalmody or a cappella singing. Our point is to encourage readers to sing the psalms more, not to engender strife about hymns and instruments.

The example set by Geneva College also comes to my mind. Geneva holds to the practice of singing psalms exclusively and a cappella in chapel. And as the denominational college of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, Geneva could easily define itself as the pro-psalm-and-anti-hymn-and-praise-chorus Christian college, with some powerful Scriptural and historical arguments to back it up. But that’s not at all the approach I’ve seen. Rather, I’ve seen the college gently disciple its students and professors in the practice of psalm-singing, week after week, year after year. Although many students won’t be won over by the time they graduate, I know many others who affirm that they developed a new and genuine love for the psalms thanks to Geneva. (You’ll hear from one of them later this week.)

I suppose the point of this post is merely to ponder out loud what a “Gentle Reformation” approach to psalm-singing might look like. I’m happy to hear your thoughts. I do know that these examples and many others remind us to emulate the chief example of our Savior, whose every word was full of grace and truth.

–MRK

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Lord’s Day 43: I Should Love the Truth

Catechism and Psalter

Once again we turn to the Ten Commandments and their treatment in the Heidelberg Catechism for the next installment in our nearly-complete URC Psalmody series.  Today’s focus is the ninth commandment (via Lord’s Day 43), which concerns false testimony against our neighbors.

112 Q.  What is God’s will for us in the ninth commandment?

A.  God’s will is that I
never give false testimony against anyone,
twist no one’s words,
not gossip or slander,
nor join in condemning anyone
without a hearing or without a just cause.

Rather, in court and everywhere else,
I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind;
these are devices the devil himself uses,
and they would call down on me God’s intense anger.
I should love the truth,
speak it candidly,
and openly acknowledge it.
And I should do what I can
to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.

Suggested Songs

17, “Help, Lord, for Those Who Love Thee Fail” (Psalm 12)

“God’s will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause.”  Although the imprecatory psalms do call for God’s judgment on the wicked, often their primary motive is to emphasize the danger of sin itself.  Psalm 12 concerns itself, as the Psalter Hymnal puts it, with “flattering lips” and “boasting mouths” that spew forth lies.  In contrast to these rebellious liars, the psalmist praises the Lord for his “pure words” (v. 6, ESV), and reassures himself that “you will guard us from this generation forever” (v. 7).

Help, Lord, for those who love Thee fail,
Thy faithful ones fall from the ranks,
And leave the liars to their tale,
False gratitude and treacherous thanks.

Lord, may those flattering lips be lashed,
The boasting mouths stripped of their pride,
Those tongues that murmur unabashed,
Who is this God? We shall abide!

And what He saith is purified
Like silver, sevenfold assayed.
Though by this evil age defied,
His word of truth shall be obeyed.

His promises shall stand secure,
His saints are safe, though ill betide;
He will protect His humble poor,
Though rogues are honored far and wide.

60, “Be Thou My Helper in the Strife” (Psalm 35)

(Sung by West Sayville URC on Long Island, New York)

“Lying and deceit of every kind…are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God’s intense anger.”  In Psalm 35 David laments the affliction he has undergone from those who bear false witness against him, but he looks expectantly to the Lord for justice and salvation.

Unrighteous witnesses have stood
And told of crimes beyond belief;
Returning evil for my good,
They overwhelm my soul with grief.
When in affliction they were sad,
I wept and made their grief my own;
But in my trouble they are glad
And strive that I may be o’erthrown.

O Lord, how long wilt Thou delay?
My soul for Thy salvation waits;
My thankfulness I will display
Amid the crowds that throng Thy gates.
Let not my enemies rejoice
And wrongfully exult o’er me;
They speak not peace, but lift their voice
To trouble those that peaceful be.

97, “O Mighty Man, Why Wilt Thou Boast” (Psalm 52)

“I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it.”  Grave judgment lies in store for those who love “evil more than good,” according to the Psalter Hymnal’s versification of Psalm 52.  In Christ’s words, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matt. 12:34, 35).

O mighty man, why wilt thou boast
Thyself in hateful cruelty,
When God Almighty is most kind,
And ever merciful is He?

Thy tongue deviseth wickedness,
A weapon treacherous and keen;
Thou lovest evil more than good,
And falsehood in thy sight is clean.

Since, O thou false, deceitful tongue,
In deadly words thou findest joy,
The Lord shall pluck thee from thy place
And all thy wickedness destroy.

63, “Fret Not Thyself, Nor Envious Be” (Psalm 37)

“I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.”  Once again we conclude our study of this commandment with a call to wisdom from Psalm 37.  Envying the wicked for the prosperity they gain through fraud and deceit will only drag the Christian into depression and despair.  Rather, we ought to “Trust in the Lord and still do well,” in confidence that to the Lord our way is known.  “And to thy heart He will accord/The good it would possess.”

Fret not thyself, nor envious be,
When wicked workers thou shalt see,
Who prosper in their way;
For like the grass they perish soon,
And, like the herb cut down at noon,
They wither in a day.

Trust in the Lord and still do well,
Within the land securely dwell,
Feed on His faithfulness;
Delight thee also in the Lord,
And to thy heart He will accord
The good it would possess.

Yea, to the Lord thy way is known;
Confide in Him who on the throne
Abides in power divine;
Thy righteousness He shall display;
Resplendent as the light of day,
It shall unclouded shine.

–MRK


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