war & peace 2War and peace.

I’m not referencing the book. I’m reflecting on two states of being that exist as polar opposites.

When you hear the word peace, what comes to mind? Webster defines peace as freedom from disturbance or violence. With peace, we expect harmony and order. As I repeat the word—“Peace, peace, peace”—I rest and sink into a place of tranquility.


As this word cycles through my mind, I become still. The notion of peace invokes memories, thoughts and feelings which provide reprieve. I am somehow released from thoughts of fear, worry and doubt. I no longer wrestle as I contemplate the issues of life.

I rest.

If we simply meditate on peace, does it manifest and become reality? Is it always this easily obtained?

If I happen upon two people engaged in hostile exchange and yell, “Peace!” will it descend and create harmony?

Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Jonathan Ferrell, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Ronald Johnson, Cedric Chapman,………were murdered.

They died as victims of unjust violence and racism, allegedly.


That word, synonymous with conflict and struggle, conjures within me feelings of angst and fear.

War is a state of armed conflict. Whoa! Armed conflict.

How do we fulfill the longing for peace in a world where war is a possibility? According to Flavius Vegetius Renatus, “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” Translation, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” In contrast, Jesus, in his sermon on the mount, promises, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.”

Must we wage war in the defense of peace?

Just War Theory, Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.) is a theological and philosophical giant whose writings deeply influenced the development of Western Christianity. Justo Gonzalez, in his The Story of Christianity, credits Augustine as, not only one of the great doctors of the Roman Catholic Church, but a theologian equally favored by Protestants (252).

Augustine thoughts that Christians should be pacifists, believing that war and violence were unjustifiable. However, Augustine also believed that “peacefulness in the face of a grave wrong that could only be stopped by violence” is sin. Furthermore, he believed that “defense of one’s self or others could be a necessity, especially when authorized by a legitimate authority.”

In short, the pursuit of peace must include the option to fight. Yet still, for Augustine, a just war could not be pre-emptive. We only engage in war as a defensive response that may restore peace. He called this the Just War Theory.

As history progressed, the Just War theory would eventually become the foundational precept behind the Church’s justification to instigate war.

On 12 November 2015, two suicide bombers detonated explosives in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, one that is inhabited mostly by Shia Muslims. The number of deaths ranges from 37 to 43. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks. The bombings were the worst terrorist attack in Beirut since the end of the Lebanese Civil War.

On the evening of 13 November 2015, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris, the capital of France, and its northern suburb, Saint-Denis. The attackers killed 130 people, including 89 at the Bataclan theatre, where they took hostages before engaging in a stand-off with police. The attacks were the deadliest on France since World War II, and the deadliest in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings in 2004. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying it was in retaliation for the French airstrikes on ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq.

The Crusades

The fall of Rome provided both opportunities and severe challenges for Christianity. One such challenge was the growing schism between western Christianity and eastern Christianity. The constant power struggle between the Western and Eastern episcopate over theology and papal authority left the Church divided and therefore vulnerable to the threat of national invasion.

In time a rising religion from the South came to conquer the Holy Lands. As Gonzalez notes, “Early in the seventh century, it seemed that order was about to restored in most of the ancient Roman Empire. Then something unexpected happened … a tidal wave of conquests arose that threatened to engulf the world” (289). These conquests resulted in the desolation of the Persian Empire and control of ancient Roman territories fell into the hands of Muslim Arabs. As a result, by mid-eighth century, Jerusalem, Antioch, Damascus, Alexandria and Carthage were under Muslim rule.

Feeling provoked to wrath, the Muslim invasions accelerated the militarization of Christianity. Two centuries later, these Christian soldiers launched an offensive against Islam through a series of invasions called the Crusades.

Though authorized by papal authority, some of the exploits of the Crusades can be characterized as both barbaric and merciless. Empowered by their battle cry, “God wills it,” the crusaders committed atrocities that contradicted the very doctrine they declared to uphold. While en route to Jerusalem, disorganized mobs trespassed and pillaged the land of fellow Christians. Some crusaders participated in the slaughter of innocent Jews as well as the rape and murder of captured women.

After a series of several campaigns against the Muslim regime, mistrust and enmity between Christian East and Christian West resurfaced and landed the final blow to the temporary unity established in the name of holy war.

While the Crusaders successfully recaptured the Holy Land for almost 100 years, in 1270 they were defeated and the Muslims regained occupancy of the Holy Lands. Conversely, following the Crusades, the Church reached its high point and transitioned into the Golden Age of Medieval Christianity, even as Europe witnessed significant growth and development.

Must we wage war in defense of peace?

When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to teach them by saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me.
Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.”                                                                      Matthew 5:1-12


This blog was written by seminarian Tamekeyo House-Griffin for a history course at Northern Seminary on Early and Medieval Christianity

Editor's PickIt has been my distinct privilege to direct the new Master of Arts in Worship program at Northern Seminary (Lombard, IL). It is also my joy to give thanks to the Lord for the recognition it now receives.

The November/December 2015 issue of Worship Leader magazine ranks our program one of the “Best of 2015” and awarded it “2015 Editor’s Pick.”

Our MAW program represents a partnership with the 10,000 Fathers Worship School led by Aaron Keyes in Atlanta, Georgia. For a decade, the 10,000 Fathers Worship School has offered worship leaders an alternative to a contemporary worship culture that is more about being professional than prophetic, to worship services that are more about production than presence, and to worship leading that is more about tours than tears.

Through our partnership, we seek to develop deeper and wider worship leaders who as growing disciples of Jesus Christ realize the difference between great concerts and the great commission, a great show and a great shepherd, gigs and growth, tours and tears, commitment to fans and commitment to family. In the end, we hope to send graduates throughout the world who are gifted to lead worship, equipped to do so with theological soundness, convicted to grow in both character and competency, and committed to doing it all for the goal of making disciples. We hope, in short, to shape the way the world worships.

Our MAW program is a part-time program designed to complement the life and ministry of worship leaders. It encourages students to build professional development into the rhythm of their lives and to dedicate that slice of life to the life-transforming experience of earning an advanced degree. It is hoped that such an approach will allow students to enjoy, absorb, and apply their educational experience to life and ministry.

Our MAW program also affirms the value of mentoring, peer accountability, friendship, and life together as disciples seeking personal and professional development. Hence, students form a cohort and progress together towards degree completion. Our “Pilot Cohort” began this past July. Our first official cohort will begin July 12, 2016. The cohort is filling up quickly but a limited number of seats are still available. If interested, contact us asap by requesting info here.

For more on this exciting partnership, check this out.



athanasiusOur last blog post focused on the construction of the biblical canon. It is fitting, then, that we focus this blog on Athanasius of Alexandria, as the first, complete list of canonical books for the early church is attributed to Athanasius. Just as important is the impact of Athanasius on our understanding of the incarnation of God in Jesus Messiah, the Trinity, and Christian orthodoxy (our generally accepted theology). Athanasius is recognized as the foremost defender of the orthodox faith during the fourth century.



Arian Controversy in Brief

By now, many of us have heard of the Nicene Creed; however, we are not always familiar with its original purpose. The Nicene Creed was written in response to the development of Arianism. In the early fourth century CE, a localized conflict between Alexander (the bishop of Alexandria), and Arius (one of his deacons) exploded into one of the most divisive issues of the early church.

Arius, defended the idea that God and Jesus were two different “people.” For Arius, Jesus became a moral exemplar, or example of perfected creation to which we should aspire. Jesus was made perfect through his suffering on the cross. He was created by God, not begotten. Since he was a part of the created order he could not have a divine (perfect) nature. He was the first adopted son of God, not the Son of God. This makes Jesus into some sort of a demigod, rather than co-equal with God. A common maxim of the followers of Arius was, “there was a time when the word was not.”

Arians gave three reasons for their denial of the divinity of Jesus. First, God is unoriginated: uncreated. If the Son is begotten by the Father, he cannot be unoriginated also; this is a property that cannot be transferred. Second, if the Father and the Son are of the same substance, then both must be unbegotten and unbegettable. The Son cannot be both begotten and unbegettable. Finally, if the Father and the Son share the same properties, then the Son will have become the Father to his own Son, repeating his own begetting, Father to Son, for eternity.

Arianism was no small heresy. Despite the ratification of the Nicene Creed, and the anathematization (declaration of heresy) of Arianism, the church was deeply divided. At first, Constantine was on the side of the orthodox, and banished adherents of Arianism from their cities. In short order he believed Arianism was the truth, and reversed his order for banishment; the Arians were allowed back into their cities, and the orthodox were banished instead. For the next sixty (or so) years, the Christology (theology of Jesus) of the church was in significant turmoil as imperial and church allegiances and interests changed.

Athanasius’ Struggle

In his book, The Doctors of the Church, Bernard McGinn writes, “Athanasius’ greatness rests in his unremitting opposition to Arius and his sympathizers.” (p. 27) In response to Arianism, Athanasius, while not considered the most rhetorically perfect theologian, developed on of the most consistent and thorough treatments of Christology in the early church. His writings against Arianism include On the Incarnation of the Word of God, Orations against the Arians, Apology against the Arians, and Letter on the Decrees of Nicaea.

Athanasius argued that the Arians had completely misunderstood the relationship of the Son to the Father. Athanasius explained that the Son and the Father shared the “substance of God-hood.” God the Father, and God the Son are both God. In a great mystery of being, Father, and Son are more than aspects of the same God, and yet less than separate entities. They are of the same substance, and nature, and yet are related to each other as distinct.

Ultimately, Athanasius’ argument against Arianism can be said to have three parts. First, one must understand the unchangeable nature of God. If God is unchangeable, then he has always been as he is now. If God has always been as he is now, then he has always been the Father. If God has always been the Father, then there can never have been a time without the Son. In Orations against the Arians, Athanasius wrote that the axiom of the Arians (There was a time when the word was not) robs “God of His Word [by saying] that He was once without His proper Word and Wisdom, and that the Light was once without radiance, and the Fountain was once barren and dry.”

Second, Athanasius explained that the core problem humankind faced was death caused by sin. Jesus’ work on the cross was to effect salvation from sin and death for humankind. Athanasius understood that this happened by joining humankind with a divine nature through Jesus Christ (a process called divinization). The only way this could happen was if Jesus was both fully human (which the Arians did not have a big problem with), and fully divine (which the Arians did not agree with at all). This is important for us because in this way Jesus is able to be tempted, and to resist temptation; retaining the potential to sin, while remaining sinless.

Finally, Athanasius reasoned that only God could fully reveal God. In much the same way that Paul writes, “Now we see in a mirror, dimly,” (1 Cor. 13:12), Athanasius argued that humankind can only dimly represent God. If part of the purpose of the incarnation of Jesus was to reveal the true nature of God, Jesus must be divine. In his Orations against the Arians, he wrote that God, “no longer…willed to be known by image and shadow of wisdom…made the true wisdom Itself to take flesh, and to become man, and to undergo the death of the cross.”

It is very easy to see, given the above review of Athanasius’ anti-Arian arguments, the monumental impact his writings had on the foundation of our Christian orthodoxy.


Athanasius served as bishop of Alexandria for forty-five years. During this time, he was exiled five times (totaling sixteen years) for his opposition to Arianism. Despite the trouble his orthodoxy caused him, he never gave up. In large part due to Athanasius’ stand for orthodoxy, Arianism was finally denounced at the Council of Constantinople in 381 CE, although he did not live to see it. Athanasius serves as an example of tireless service before the Lord, and demonstrates that although we may not see the fruits of our labors in this life, perseverance in the face of persecution can create great and lasting change.

Suggested Readings

For an excellent introduction to the writing of Athanasius read his Life of Antony.

For an understanding of Athanasius’ theology read On the Incarnation of the Word of God, and Orations against the Arians.

For a deeper reading on the life of Athanasius read Carol Beck’s chapter “Athanasius,” in the book, Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy (pp. 153-189).

This blog was written by seminarian Brandon Pritchard for a history course at Northern Seminary on early and Medieval Christianity

BibleThe Bible. Most of us have multiple copies of it on our bookshelves. We have multiple translations to choose from. We read it at home on our own, with our loved ones, and hear it read and interpreted in church each week. But did you ever stop to ask yourself where it came from?

You may answer, “God, of course!” And that is true. But God did not send the completed book that we have now down to earth via a heavenly messenger and plop it in the lap of early Christians. It was a much more “earthy,” human process, inspired by God’s Spirit. And this is what we would expect, given that this is God’s usual mode of interacting in the world – through humanity – with the supreme example being Jesus, God in human flesh!

So, come along with me as we explore the “earthy” process of canonization – the fancy theological word describing which writings were to be received by the church as authoritative for its life and thought.

Why Bother?

Why was it important for the church to have a list of accepted writings? There are at least two compelling reasons. First, early followers of Jesus already had the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. The books of the law (the Torah), the Prophets, and the Writings, were fully recognized by Jewish authorities as God’s revealed word, and Jesus often referred to and quoted them. God had given God’s people guidance, nourishment, and promises of a king to come through the written word across centuries and it was expected God would continue to communicate this way after Jesus announced the coming of his kingdom.

Second, from early in the second century certain groups formed and made claims that contradicted the commonly accepted apostolic teachings. One of these groups was started by a man named Marcion who rejected the Old Testament. He believed the God of the Old Testament was vindictive and punishing, clearly different from the loving Father of Jesus. He claimed that the only writings that were suitable for Christians were the letters of Paul and the Gospel of Luke. This was the first time anyone had suggested a list of approved books. This caused the early church to begin examining more closely how they decided which writings were to be used by the church.

The Gospels and Acts

In the decades following Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, those who had been with him and witnessed these things began writing them down. One of the “tests” that the early church used to discern which writings would be read in their public worship was that they had to be written by recognized apostles or witnesses, or someone associated with them. This is why the Gospels were the writings that gained the earliest acceptance by the church as inspired scripture. Acts, which was written by Luke as an extension to his Gospel, also received early recognition.
Justo Gonzalez, in his book, The Story of Christianity, points out that churches in various regions used particular Gospels associated with their tradition. “As contact among these churches developed, they began sharing their manuscripts and traditions, and thus the acceptance and use of a variety of Gospels came to be seen as a sign of the unity of the church” (p. 75). This was extremely important in the face of groups such as the Marcionites and Gnostics who claimed to have special revelation or who wanted to reject one or more of the recognized Gospels because it didn’t fit their theology. The convictions of the early church “were not based on the supposed witness of a single apostle or Gospel, but on the consensus of the entire apostolic tradition” (p. 76).

Paul’s Letters

The writings of Paul were also recognized very early in the life of the church as Spirit-inspired scripture. Paul wrote his letters to specific churches, usually to address questions they had about proper worship practices or to correct misunderstandings and even outright sin in the congregation. Copies of these letters were then circulated and read in surrounding churches. This practice met one of the other “tests” for canonicity: that of being widely accepted by the church and its leaders as inspired by God. The reason these letters made it into the Bible we have today is not because a few church leaders decided they contained the theology they wanted taught in the church. Instead, the theology of the church was formed by its use of these texts that had wide consensus among the people of God as being the standard for their life of faith.

The Other Letters and Revelation

By the end of the second century, within about 150 years of Jesus’ resurrection, the four Gospels, Acts, and Paul’s letters were firmly established as the core of the New Testament canon. The remaining books in today’s New Testament today had widespread usage throughout the church, although no specific list of authorized books was agreed upon. By the third and fourth centuries, leaders in the church wrote about and referred to the entire range of books we have now, though some had lists that left off one or two. It was in AD 367, that Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, wrote a letter that included the authoritative list of canonical books we have in our Bible today. There was little debate.

In summary, our New Testament came to us through the Spirit-inspired consensus and worship practice of the church at large, not through the decision of a select group of men.

This blog was written by seminarian Dawne M. Banks for a history course at Northern Seminary on early and Medieval Christianity

Leading with Strategic ThinkingThe pastor, by virtue of his or her position, will influence, to one degree or another, the life and ministry of a congregation. Many refer to this influence as leadership, though I prefer the former rather than the latter word, as the former word identifies the fruit of the latter.

The pastor influences the life of his or her congregation – actively or passively, intentionally or unintentionally, strategically or haphazardly. If done actively, intentionally and strategically, the pastor will discover many ways to biblically, authentically, and honorably influence the ministry of his or her congregation.

In their new book, Leading with Strategic Thinking, Aaron Olson and B.K. Simerson provide some handles for understanding the different ways individuals influence their spheres of responsibility. This book emerged from their research study of 300 Aon professionals and Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) students. Kate MacArthur offers a succinct book review here.

In Leading with Strategic Thinking, the authors describe four styles of leadership or influence. In addition, they encourage individuals to adapt their style for different situations, citing that the most effective leaders use the right leadership style at the right time. Here are the four styles identified by Olson and Simerson:

Visionary Leadership – This model is about leading with the power of an idea. It is best employed when the leader knows the preferred outcome and, then, motivates others to own it.

Directive Leadership – This model is best employed when both the process and the outcome are clear. The leader, then, guides the process to the preferred outcome.

Incubating Leadership – In this model the leader positions him or herself as one who empowers others to take the ball and run with it. It requires more prompting than prescribing, more guiding than driving.

Collaborative Leadership – In this model the leader takes his or her place among others as together they create processes and outcomes that could not be created alone. In other words, this style assumes that the answers are in the group.

Why is this book important to those called to pastors? Most people discover that they gravitate to one of style of leadership. It seems that it has even become common place for pastors to identify their leadership style and, then, limit themselves to that style.

But inevitably pastors will find themselves in situations where the best way to exercise positive influence requires a switch from their preferred style to one better suited for the situation. If they fail to make this switch, they will fail to influence their congregations in a positive manner. In some cases they will even bring great harm to the church and, perhaps, find themselves looking for a new field of service. (Do I have a witness?) In contrast, when pastors adapt their leadership style to each situation, they experience more effective ministry while enjoying the fruit of a healthier congregation.

SchutlzeThroughout my life, I have heard many people offer speeches. I’ve heard good and bad, interesting, funny, too long, and too short speeches. I’ve heard skilled people speak and those who sounded like they had never spoken before. I remember the great speeches. They seemed well planned with little error or disruption. But I wonder if the speaker, while preparing his or her speech, ever thought: “I have to be the best servant speaker that I can be.”

Yes, I said servant speaking. The phrase “servant speaking”, in my opinion, sums up the purpose of speaking. Quentin Schultze, in An Essential Guide to Public Speaking: Serving Your Audience with Faith, Skill, and Virtue, writes that we should use the gift of speech to serve others. In other words, we are to be “servant speakers.” But what is servant speaking and how do you become a servant speaker, especially if you are a speaker of the faith?

Servant speaking is about responsibility. If given the gift of speaking, then we have a responsibility to serve others. Everything starts with the gift of communication. “We should use the gift of communication wisely to form public associations such as neighborhood groups, city commissions, and nonprofit clubs.” Overall, servant speaking is about using a communication gift to speak up for other people. Servant speaking is not only about performing a great speech but helping others in certain situations. Schultze writes that a servant speaker must be ready to, “defend the essentials of the faith, empower the voiceless excluded from public discourse, expose wrongdoing, and repair others’ wrongly damaged reputations.” A good servant speaker listens well, prepares well, and addresses obstacles.

Some of the challenges that speakers face are fear, ego, and depending too much on talent. Fear can be one of the greatest problems for speakers because it can affect everything. One of my greatest fears during speaking is going blank. I know I can confront this fear by being prepared and by not being so hard on myself. My focus should be on the people I have come to serve.

I believe that a speaker can overcome fear by overcoming his or her ego. Schultze reminds his readers that ego can get in the way of any speaker, but often ego affects skilled speakers. Sometimes being too good at something causes a sense of arrogance. A servant speaker does not rule with ego. Servant speaking is about skill; but it is not all about skill.

At this point in my reading of Schultze’s book, I took many notes. I remember taking a public speaking class in college. The main focus of the class was developing speaking skills because with these skills, in a way, I was supposed to become a great public speaker. According to Schultze, “Rather than doing the hard work necessary to become good speakers, we can fall into the trap of looking for a few simple tricks of the trade. We search for new techniques that will impress audiences. These techniques become magical solutions to our speaking problems – like spoken abracadabras.”
In other words, skills are important but we have to really do our work as servant speakers; this is how we become good speakers.

So, along with skill, a servant speaker should prepare by doing the essential research that will produce a very thematic, unified speech. We need to be prepared to listen to others and most importantly yourself. How many people really listen to themselves before speaking to a crowd? This is not arrogant. If you really listen to yourself speak, you can better critique your speech before you speak before an audience. Also, you can better identify the purpose, meaning, strengths and weaknesses of your speech, sermon, prayer, or presentation. A servant speaker has a responsibility to be truthful. This can one of the greatest challenges for speakers because sometimes others do not want you to be honest. It is one thing to be a great speaker; but a speaker that is great and honest can be a threat.

As people of the Christian faith, we have the responsibility to speak truth. God’s word is true and we represent him. We cannot be servant speakers without being “truth-tellers.” Overall, servant speaking is about virtue. As a servant speaker, I should be more concerned with my character than my outside appearance. In other words, I can present myself as a good speaker, but who I am internally really shows my true speaking ability.

According to Schultze, being a Christian servant speaker means I must walk in the fruit of the Spirit because this makes me a great speaker. Character and skill are essential. From reading Quentin Schultze’s book, I feel that I have been given the answer to the nagging question: What is the true purpose of speaking? Honestly, I thought the answer would be more complicated but the answer is summed up in one word: Servant.

Guest blog by Brittani Pipes, Northern Seminary student and member of a class on worship entitled “Everything BUT Sermon and Song.”

SchutlzeEvery congregation has a liturgy, even those congregations which shy away from the word. For them, the word “liturgy” may seem like a dirty word… suggesting the Roman Catholic mass or the Episcopalian prayer book, accompanied by vestments, candles, and altars.” (D.G. Hart & John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship, 92). But the term “liturgy” could have more play, especially among Evangelicals.

The word derives from the Greek λειτουργια, transliterated as “leitourgia,” a word that means “the work of the people.” In contemporary conversations about worship, the word “liturgy,” refers to the collection of components within a ceremony, ritual, or service. While many self-identified “non-liturgical” congregations use the word as an adjective to describe a type of worship (i.e., formed worship), the noun simply refers to the order of actions or activities that take place during the weekly gathering of a local body of believers. So understood, the word liturgy includes a congregation’s coming and going and everything in between.

Surely we can agree that, so understood, every congregation has a liturgy and every congregation has liturgists, those individuals responsible for guiding the congregation through the liturgy from its beginning to its end. Up until about fifty years ago, the primary liturgist for American Evangelicals was the pastor, supported by an aptly trained organist who guided congregational singing and prompted actions like standing and sitting.

During the past thirty years or more, the pastor has begun to share responsibility as liturgist with one or more individuals. In my experience as a pastor, for example, the Associate Pastor often provided one or more prayers, a worship leader led congregational singing, and a member of the congregation offer a “Prayer for Illumination” and read the Scripture lesson. Your experience may be similar. If so, as a side note, you may have learned, as I did, that the congregation appreciates less than more when it comes to the number of people on the platform.

If every congregation has a liturgy and every congregation has liturgists, doesn’t it make sense to prepare individuals to serve as liturgists? Wouldn’t the witness and worship of the church be strengthened by encouraging those called by the Lord and His church to serve as liturgists?

Most Christian traditions, most notably Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism, seem to think so. My experience and research suggests, however, that Evangelicals and Pentecostals are less inclined to do so. Both of these traditions have exerted considerable energy in preparing sermons and songs for preachers and cantors (the traditional title for song leaders), but appear to have neglected those elements in the service other than sermon and song. (One notable exception to that trend has been the work of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, MI).

The lay of the land so described among Evangelicals and Pentecostals led me to create a course at Northern Seminary (Lombard, IL) entitled “Everything BUT Sermon and Song. Traditionally, seminarians commit considerable energy towards the preparation of and delivery of sermons. More recently, seminarians have dedicated considerable energy towards the discussion of congregational worship. In contrast, little attention has been given to the other elements of the weekly gathering, the most prominent of which is public prayer. This course has been designed to help students develop as liturgists, as those who plan and lead the weekly gatherings of God’s people. We hope to explore the basics of public speaking, the shape and power of liturgy, the public prayers of the gathered community, and the practice of liturgical leadership.

While preparing the syllabus for the course I discovered many excellent resources, such as the The Worship Sourcebook (Faith Alive Resources) and Kimberly Bracken Long’s The Worshiping Body: The Art of Leading Worship (Westminster John Know Press, 2009). I also discovered a great text from an unlikely source: An Essential Guide to Public Speaking: Serving Your Audience with Faith, Skill, and Virtue by Quentin Schultze who serves in the communications department at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan (Baker, 2006).

Without question, there are many similarities between effective public speaking and effective liturgical leadership. So I should not have been surprised to receive help from a book on the former for those involved in the latter. And Schultze caught my attention right away. In his “Introduction” Schultze notes that speech is God’s gift to humanity, and one that speech should be used to faithfully serve others, virtuously, and skillfully.

As I read those words, I wondered if the same could be said about the words used by liturgists. Isn’t speech God’s gift to liturgists? And should they not speak faithfully, virtuously and skillfully in the service of the Lord and His church? Of course they are and of course they should.

So in today’s blog I follow the lead of Quentin Schultze and encourage liturgists to function as virtuous servants who faithfully serve their congregations, in the biblical sense, and skillfully use verbal and nonverbal methods.

  • Serve Faithfully – To meet this outcome liturgists must cultivate a spirit of humility. Guiding the liturgy of God’s people, the Bride of Christ and temple of the Holy Spirit, requires humility to serve Christ and His church. If we draw attention to ourselves, we have failed (37-38).
  • Virtuous Service – To meet this outcome liturgists we must cultivate our hearts and seek to develop fruit of the Spirit. Then we will experience unity between our inner and outer selves. Then we will minimize the number of times our lives contradict our leadership of the liturgy (86).
  • “Crafting Artfully” – Too meet this outcome, we need to work hard at crafting liturgies characterized by “thematic unity, expressiveness, and situational fit” (57).

Schultze offers excellent tips towards achieving that last outcome. I have paraphrased and applied a few of them to the work of the liturgist:

  1. Plan your liturgy as a unified work of art – just as you select clothes to wear that go well together (58).
  2. “Enhance verbal expressiveness by varying your verbal pace, loudness, and frequency range” (65). Also, wisely use nonverbal means – such as arms, hands, and eyes – to express yourself (64).
  3. Remember, “not all topics, illustrations, gestures, and vocal styles are for all” congregations (67). It is given, then, that context shapes liturgies.

In conclusion, surely we can agree that every congregation has a liturgy and every congregation has liturgists. May we also agree that the weekly gatherings of local Christians will be strengthened, not only by giving the appropriate amount of attention to sermons and songs, but by doing the same for everything else that takes place in between a congregation’s coming and going?

GamblersDuring the season of Lent, I typically pull a dusty book of sermons off one of the shelves in my library. This year’s selection was The Gamblers at Golgotha and Other Sermons by Galbraith Hall Todd (Baker Books, 1957). Todd once served as pastor of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, as well as a lecturer in homiletics at the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia.

In The Gamblers at Golgotha, Todd offers fourteen sermons on the minor personalities associated with the passion of Jesus Christ. It’s a nice read and includes some nuggets that I share with you.

In his sermon on the “Donor of the Donkey” – It is an encouragement for servants of Christ, especially those engaged in the ministry and teaching of His Word to know that he purpose for which they are sent will be accomplished. God does not permit His Word to return unto Him void. The sermon which has been produced under the guidance of the Spirit of God will find persons who have been prepare din mind and hear and made receptive by the selfsame Spirit (11).

In “A Man Carrying a Jug of Water” – As we are called to fulfill tasks for which there is little or no recognition, but which contribute, far above our meager power to compute, to the kingdom of Christ, we should lift the ancient prayer of Moses, “Establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (26).

In “A Tale of Two Maids” – It is not identification with an outstanding position, name, or institution that merits honor but the gifts and graces of mind and heart which one brings to and demonstrates in the place (60).

In “That Choice Goes By Forever” – The gravest error of churches and clergy is that of falling into the disposition of Pilate, namely, that of wishing to content the multitude. The voice of the people can seldom be accepted as the voice of God, hence, the voice of truth and right (74).

In “Emotion on the Road to the Cross” – Jesus does not desire us to luxuriate in religious sentiment concerning Him and His cross. He longs to see tears, not of pit for Him in the spectacle of his suffering, but of contrition for our sins and of surrender to His claims on our souls (97).

In “Chosen in the Stead of Judas” – Apart from the casting of lots, the other aspects of the disciples’ method constitute a pattern for us in the many decisions with which we are confronted as individuals. We must us the reason, common sense, and the powers of judgment with which God has endowed us, lifting the earnest prayer that His directing hand will be upon us, controlling our minds and overruling all of the circumstances involved in the particular situation (133).

In “Chosen in the Stead of Judas” – God does not permit the taints and blunders of one of his servants or an entire generation of His people to arrest the progress of His kingdom in the world (137).

In “The Man Who Was Not Selected” – No matter how incommensurate with your capabilities is your place and how inadequate a theater for the manifestation of your talents it may seem, God in His wise providence has you in the place where He wills you to be and where you are most fitted to serve His cause (151).

rejoiceOf all the work we do in this world, how much of it causes Jesus Christ to rejoice?

We might hope that by doing everything as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:17), we cause Jesus Christ to rejoice. Perhaps, but the Bible doesn’t confirm that aspiration.

We might hope that by faithfully fulfilling our callings as a husband or father, a sister or a mother, a neighbor or friend, we cause Jesus Christ to rejoice. Perhaps, but the Bible doesn’t confirm that aspiration either.

What work in this world causes Jesus Christ to rejoice? In Luke 10, we find an answer to that question. There we discover that Jesus appointed seventy-two others to serve as ambassadors of the Gospel. Their mission? To heal the sick and proclaim that “the Kingdom of God is near” (:9). Jesus sent them out two by two with the promise that the “harvest is plentiful” (:2).

The seventy-two returned from their mission with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Moments later, Jesus, “full of joy through the Holy Spirit,” said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (21).

On November 17, 7136, Jonathan Edwards delivered a sermon based on that story from the life of Jesus. You may find this sermon among a collection of previously unpublished sermons by Jonathan Edwards entitled The Salvation of Souls. The volume was edited by Richard A. Bailey and Gregory A. Wills (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002).

The occasion for the November 17 sermon by Edwards was the ordination service of David White, pastor-elect of a newly organized congregation in Lambstown (now Hardwick), Massachusetts. White served as pastor of the Lambstown church until his death in 1784.

As was his custom, Edwards described the doctrine around which he constructed his sermon: “When those ministers of the Gospel that have been faithful and successful come to give an account of their success to their Lord that has sent them, Christ and they will rejoice together” (76). From that premise, Edwards offered several reasons why Christ rejoices on such an occasion.

  1. Christ will rejoice in the success of his ministers for their success yields praise to Jesus Christ (II Thessalonians 1:11-12).
  2. Christ will rejoice in the success of his ministers because he loves them.
  3. Christ will rejoice in the success of his ministers because their success is his success.

In the application section off his sermon, Edwards reminded David White and all present of this truth: Christ rejoices when pastors faithfully complete their mission as ambassadors of Christ; their “success” in the ministry causes Christ to rejoice.

Edwards study of the text led him to offer the following statement: “What an excellent and honorable employment must that be which is concerned about that which is so great and glorious in its end and issues as the joint and mutual gladness of the laborers and of him that is the Great Head of the church and the Lord of angels” (85).

What other employment produces such a glorious and blessed effect? “The very business of those that are called to this employment is to do that in which Christ exceedingly rejoices: The work of ministers is to rescue lost souls and bring them to eternal happiness, which is the work that Christ himself came into the world upon and shed his blood for. It is to be the instruments of Christ’s success in the work of redemption, which God looks on and speaks of as the most glorious of all his works” (86).

Edwards adds, “Every time that a faithful minister is an instrument of the conversion of any person, it brings a soul to espousals with Christ and occasions gladness in his heart and adds a jewel to his crown off rejoicing. And hereafter when they come to give an account to their Lord of their success, they shall then behold this crown of joy which they have set on Christ’s head, and Christ will at the same time give the same jewels to them to be their own crowns of rejoicing. And thus they shall have communion in the same crown of joy, which shows the exceeding blessedness of this work” (87).

In that Edwards writes as a Protestant in the Calvinist tradition, we may assume that he would agree that every Christian is a child of God, redeemed by Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit. He would surely affirm that there is no distinction in status between Christians since every Christ-follower, both laity and clergy alike, have been called to serve Christ as prophets, priests and kings. He would agree that all Christians, both clergy and laity alike, have been called by God to serve in this world.

But he is not willing to say that every “employment” causes Christ to rejoice. Instead, he notes that the Bible portrays Christ rejoicing when the seventy-two returned with a report of their successful mission. He also notes that Christ invites those same ministers to rejoice that our names are written in heaven (:20). He could have also brought in a few parables recorded in Luke 15 by which Jesus encourages us to rejoice with him when the lost are found (15:6, 9) for “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (10).

The purpose of this sermon by Edwards is not to minimize the contributions of those in “temporal employment.” Instead, it is to encourage pastors to complete their missions as ambassadors of Christ: “Though the work of the ministry be not ordinarily a work of such temporal advantage in this land as in some other places, nor as it has formerly been in this land, yet what cause have those that are employed in it and are faithful in it and in a measure successful to rejoice in it on account of these unspeakable spiritual and eternal honors and blessings that Christ has annexed to it” (87).

Truth be told, Edwards encouraged me when I read his sermon. He reminded me that, while every Christian has received one or more calls to service in the name of the Lord, few can claim with certainty that their service causes Christ to rejoice. As one who loves the Lord – at least, tries to – I love bringing joy to Christ.

I hope this brief summary encourages any pastor or any person considering pastoral ministry, as well as any person called to announce that the “kingdom is near.” While the work of the ministry doesn’t offer much in the realm of temporal advantage, Christ has annexed to it unspeakable spiritual and eternal honors. What we do as ministers of the Gospel causes Christ to rejoice – and not many people can say the same.

Transformation-in-text-webpage-711x200.jpgA few months ago, I met with a counselor as part of a ministry assessment for a spiritual formation class. He noticed that I had some unresolved issues that were affecting my behavior and recommended that I meet with a therapist. My initial thought was, “Thanks for the concern, but no thanks.” I had grown up with the impression that, since my sin had been forgiven, I simply needed to pray and have more faith when I felt into habitual sin.

Upon reflecting, though, I felt a deep sense responsibility to deal with my pain and sin. I knew I was headed for pastoral ministry, and I felt that I needed to do everything in my power to receive healing for the sake of my future congregation. I started meeting with a counselor and have begun to deal with deep-seated anxiety.

In the church where I grew up, my pastors did not place much emphasis on the their self-care; their priority was caring for the congregants. The congregants’ spiritual growth took precedence over their own.

It seems to me that my pastors’ mindset is a common one in the church. But is it the most biblical? After reading James’ W. Thompson book Pastoral Ministry According to Paul, I don’t think so.

Thompson explains that one of the primary roles of the Christian minister is to be a model of transformation. Drawing from the letter to the Philippians, Thompson explains that Christians live in anticipation of the complete transformation into the likeness of Christ at his return. In the meantime, they are transformed into his likeness as they identify increasingly with the cross, learning to love each other more (Thompson 2006, 50-53). This present transformation (sanctification) has begun in their baptism—their “death to sin and new existence in Christ,” as Romans 6—8 explains. Thus, to be sanctified, the church community must live in this new reality of baptism. The goal of ministers is “to guide the community toward this transformation” (101-105), and one of the primary ways they do that is by modeling it themselves (51, 161). The pastor, then, must be the Christian par excellence.

This picture of the pastor differs from many contemporary models. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of pastors’ failings. In recent months, Mark Driscoll’s intimidation tactics made headlines across the evangelical world. Even more recently, we heard about Heather Cook, an Episcopal bishop, killing a bicyclist while texting and driving intoxicated. We generally denounce such shortcomings, but often the root of them is not sought out.

A more socially acceptable trend is the pastor as the epitome of brokenness. Some churches, it seems, place more importance on the pastor’s transparency about his weaknesses—being a “sinner redeemed by grace”—than on his sanctification—being transformed more and more into Christ’s image. To be sure, sin does not disqualify a pastor, and it is commendable for her to be open about it (with discernment, of course), but she must also constantly seek to grow out of sinful habits—to mortify the flesh (Rom 8:13).

Both the high-profile sins and the romanticized brokenness of pastors are symptoms of the same problem: we as a church have often forgotten that ministers are to be models of the cross-shaped life. In some cases, we have valued the growth and administration of the church over the pastor’s personal needs, resulting in his burnout-fueled transgression. The self-care of the pastor has taken a back seat to the needs of the congregation, so there is little emphasis on his accountability and discipleship. In other cases, the doctrine of grace has been distorted to the point that the pastor who is struggling with habitual sin continues to lead, in spite of the hurt caused to herself and those around her.

I think that Thompson’s application of Paul reminds us that the best thing a pastor can do for her congregation is care for herself. Having died to sin and been raised to life in Christ, she should be an example to her parishioners in her present transformation, as she looks forward to her ultimate transformation at his return.

This blog was written by Phil Landin, a student at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, for his class on Pastoral Theology.

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