I don’t believe this discussion has meandered, appearances to the contrary. We began with what deficiency in the Reformed world we thought we were trying to address, and from that beginning we have talked about tradition, ecclesiology, apostasy, sacraments and more. With a few exceptions, we have pretty much covered the waterfront.
In this post, I would like to contextualize the broader debate. In all the things we have studied, and believe ourselves to have learned, our response has overwhelmingly been to implement these truths in our local churches. I acknowledged earlier that we were a movement, but a pretty low key movement — we have not taken the show on the road, trying to get all the Reformed churches in America to do it our way. To the extent we have become high profile, this has largely occurred because of the actions we have been forced to take in self-defense.
We return from conferences with ideas for modifying our liturgy back home. We read one another’s books, and we call one another with questions. But, at the end of the day, if the session approves it, the changes are made in our own churches, where we have the authority to implement them. We have not behaved in a way that would indicate we were on a crusade to fix the Reformed world. We have identified certain problems that we have not wanted to perpetuate in what we were doing, and we have been encouraging one another in that worthy endeavor.
We are not trying to make the Reformed world all better by insisting that others conform to what we are doing. How many times have FV folks brought charges against non-FV brothers at presbytery? None. How many seminary professors have we tried to force out of their positions? Again, none. How many resolutions have we brought to our presbyteries or assemblies that condemn other brothers in the Reformed world? None. In short, when measured by ecclesiastical means, our manner of “fixing” what we believe to be deficient in the Reformed world has been largely to mind our own business, and tend to our own corner of the vineyard. If others are hungry for what has fed us, they can buy our books, or come to a conference, or something like that — but over 95% of all the action is happening in our churches. And speaking for our congregation, the overwhelming majority of them do not know what the Federal Vision is. They come to church to worship God through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, and not to have a doctrinal pep rally directed at that other group across town.
So the place where we have implemented what we are talking about is in our worship on the Lord’s Day. The Federal Vision conversation is like a seminar in med school. Worship on the Lord’s Day is dealing with the actual patients. The two are related, but they may not look like each other at all. On the Internet, it can look like all we are doing is disputing. But I have a day job, and it consists of preparing sermons, counseling parishioners, teaching, meeting with the session, mediating conflicts, and all the rest of it. And all of this, including the time we have had to spend defending ourselves, has been turned back to focus on worship. Every seven days we have the privilege of laying a new foundation for a new week, and that foundation is the worship of the triune God.
Before our call to worship, we have a few brief announcements, along with a psalm lesson of the month — the entire congregation is learning to sing in four parts, and so we work on one psalm for a month. Then there is a meditation and preparation for worship, with the choir singing from the back.
The call to worship comes next, where I lift my arms and proclaim, “Let us worship the triune God.” The congregation stands: “Grace, mercy and peace to you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” “And also to you.” After a prayer of adoration, we sing the Sanctus, or the Gloria in Excelsis, or something comparable. There is a short exhortation, and we confess our sins together. I declare forgiveness in Christ, and we stand again and recite the Apostles Creed. Once a month, we sing the Creed. Immediately after the Creed, we recite that Lord’s Day lesson from the Heidelberg. We then sing several psalms or hymns, which is followed by our Scripture reading from the Old Testament, and then from the New. “The word of the Lord.” “Thanks be to God.” Then comes a time of prayer on behalf of the congreation led by three or four men. We sing another psalm or hymn, and this is followed by the expository message. After the message, we sing the Lord’s Prayer, and then the select offertory. The offering is collected in the back of the church beforehand, but is then brought down to the front while we are singing. We sing another psalm or hymn, at the end of which the elders come forward to distribute the elements of the Supper. A very short word is spoken over the Table. While the bread is being served, we sing and partake, and while the wine is being served, we sing and partake again. When we are done, the entire congregation stands and lifts their hands to sing the Gloria Patri, followed by the final charge and benediction.
This is the center of my world; this is the foundation of each week that God gives me to live. Growing up as an evangelical, I am accustomed to the parachurch world and certainly know what it is like — not like this! And so I have to confess it is a bit thick being told that we are not churchmen. It is like a stranger on a plane telling me I must not love my wife because when he met me ten minutes ago, I was traveling by myself. He can’t know enough to say something like that.
But speaking of travel, as I make my way around the country and visit with like-minded churches, the same kind of worship is happening everywhere. Moreover, the families participating in all this are young, and they are excited about it.
And when visitors come to visit us, they can taste and see if what we are doing is Christ-honoring or not. If we are adorning the doctrine we profess, to whatever extent we may be adorning it, it can only really be seen in the worship and communities of our local churches. So we welcome any of you all to come and worship with us, sitting down at the Table of the Lord together. That (and only that, I suspect) will really contextualize what we have been talking about here.
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