Why Do We Sing?

Why do we sing in church? Do we sing because it makes us feel good? Do we sing to put on a performance and showcase how talented of a musician we are? No, we sing to worship the Lord. God didn’t say we have to have the best voice, or that we have to perfectly understand how to harmonize during a worship song, but He did say that we need to lift up our voices to praise Him. We get to make a joyful noise for the Lord, as the Psalmist says:

Oh, come let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
-Psalm 95:1-2

The Potential Pride of Worship

It’s Sunday morning. You are either about to lead the church in worship, or you are about to join the congregation in singing. Now stop. Where is your heart? 

Are you thinking about how your outfit looks and how excited you are that so many people are in the congregation to hear you sing? Are you standing among the congregation thinking judgmentally about the elderly couple in the back who sing “way too loudly?” Or, are you focusing your eyes and your heart on the Lord? Are you praying that the Lord will use the words you sing to hopefully soften the heart of someone to understand the good news of the gospel? Are you thinking about the Scripture you are about to proclaim through song? 

In the book Sing, Keith and Kristyn Getty make the point that congregational singing can be a “radical witness to the world.” Coming together as a body of believers and whole-heartedly praising  God will not only be impactful in our personal relationship with the Lord, but it also enables us to inspire non-believers to meet with our Savior through song. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians:

Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.
-Ephesians 5:19

Christian singing should begin with the heart. Next time you are about to sing in church, pause for a moment, and have a heart check. Pray that the Lord will align your heart’s desires with His will during worship. 

Created to Sing

Oftentimes, during worship, we may feel self-conscious. 

Now stop. The Lord created each of us to be able to sing. He didn’t create each of us to be able to become a famous singer, but He did create us to be able to make a joyful noise. So, sing loudly! Be bold as you proclaim the truth of the gospel. It pleases the Lord to hear his children coming together as a body of believers and singing praises to Him. The Lord doesn’t want just the “best” or most confident singers to be heard during worship, He desires to hear each of our individual voices. 

A church that sings is a healthy church. Yes, the worship team should be heard so that the congregation knows which words to sing next and what the melodic line sounds like. The worship team acts as the shepherds and the congregation members are the sheep. However, the sheep should also be heard. It fills the hearts of worship leaders to hear their congregation singing along with them. Each voice coming together to sound as one, unified in the name of Christ, is incredibly beautiful.

The Significance of Worship

It is midway through the worship service, and you feel like you are just going through the motions. You are physically at church and singing the words on the screen, but your mind is in a thousand different places. 

Now stop. Music in the church has had quite the journey. At one point, the Protestant church didn’t allow music because church leaders believed it would distract from the service. Then music became available in the church service again, but only for worship leaders and pastors to take part in. 

Music wasn’t accessible to the members of the congregation. However, Martin Luther did not like that. He wanted everyone to be able to sing in church. He understood that God created us to enjoy beautiful things, and so Luther found it unreasonable that we couldn’t enjoy music in the very place that people were coming to meet with God. He even stated, “If you want to train your children in the faith, give them the songs of the faith.” 

Now, think about what your worship experience would be like without music. Yes, we would still get to hear the sermon and Scripture from the Bible, which are both incredibly important, but there is something missing. The element that music brings in isn’t just an “ice breaker” to half-heartedly take part in at the beginning of the service. It is a way to focus our heart and mind on the Lord as we enter a time of worship. Music is powerful, and it allows you to sing to the Lord what is on your heart, and it is also a way for you to understand the words of Scripture through the line of a melody. Sometimes hearing a certain ringing chord or perfect harmony can create a space for you to come and meet with God. 

Why We Sing

We sing because God created and calls us to do so. Yes, worship should take place in church, but truthfully, our whole lives should be worship. We should wake up each morning with a song of praise on our hearts that we are ready to sing from the rooftops. 

I want to encourage you before the next time you sing from the pews in church, or lead a congregation in worship to think about these things: What are you singing? How does what you are singing point you to Jesus? And then, go sing loudly. It is a gift and a joy to sing to the Lord. It is a gift and a joy to be able to stand alongside your brothers and sisters in Christ and sing to the Lord. Singing worship songs doesn’t mean that you put aside what’s on your heart while you sing. Singing in worship means that you bring what’s on your heart, and as you sing you lay those things down at the feet of our Savior. 

Keep singing, friends. It’s how I feel the most connected to the Lord, and I hope it will help you feel connected to Him too. In the words of Martin Luther, 

Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.

Christian Unity Despite Theological Differences

It is crucial for Christians to know that, within the Church, not all Christians are doctrinally unified. Ideally, all Christians would believe the same doctrine and the idea of disagreements would be foreign to the Church. It is God’s will that we reflect the perfect unity of the Father and Son (John 17:11). However, so long as we live in this world which is devastated by sin, there will be errors in our understanding of God and His commands. One day we will have perfect unity in Heaven but we must fight to obey Christ’s command for us to be unified with other believers in the meantime. 

The first step towards obeying this command is being able to recognize our Christian siblings. Below, I will discuss how we can identify our siblings in Christ by our shared faith in the gospel. After that, I will discuss how we can relate to our Christian siblings who share these beliefs but differ on things which are not the gospel.

Although the information below is foundational to the faith, we must be careful not to turn this into a quiz someone must pass before you worship with them. Not knowing all the details of the gospel, or not being able to articulate them well is not an indicator that they are unbelievers. We become Christians long before we become theologians. Remember, it is possible to have our minds filled with true doctrine while we remain as spiritually immature as new converts. Let us pray for grace and wisdom in applying the information below.

The Glorious Gospel: Our Basis for Unity

Christians must affirm the Bible as the word of God. The contents of the 66 canonical books are not the product of lofty human thoughts, nor are they a flawed collection of human attempts to write what God told them. Just as 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (see John 10:27, 2 Peter 1:21). The Bible is the only book in which God has chosen to speak clearly to His people. Thus, it is vital for all aspects of the Christian life.

Another essential belief is that the God of the Bible is the only God who exists. He is not one of many gods (Isaiah 44:6). This God, the only one who exists, is triune. This means He is one infinite being shared by three distinct persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each distinct person fully shares the essence of God which means they are each fully God, but they are not separate gods. Christians must agree on who God is so they can unite themselves under His rule and worship Him together (Exodus 20:3-6).

As our next essential, we have the gospel. Monotheism and the inerrancy of the Bible—mentioned above—are necessary for us to believe the gospel which is revealed to us by the one true God of Scripture. The gospel is the means by which people enter in relationship with God (Romans 1:16). A rejection of the gospel which reconciles us to God by faith alone is spiritually fatal. Every detail of the gospel is important (Galatians 1:7-9).

To understand the gospel, we must understand the nature of mankind. From birth, all people are corrupted by sin, and consequently, they walk in disobedience against God. We all intentionally sought what was contrary to the will of our creator, and for that rebellion we incurred the righteous judgment of God. God cannot turn a blind eye to sin because He is righteous, and wickedness cannot go unpunished (Proverbs 17:15, Colossians 3:5-7). 

Fortunately for us, God in His great love and mercy, sent His Son, the second person of the Trinity, to suffer in place of those who would believe. He was born into the world through a virgin, and while He remained fully God, He took on flesh to become fully man. The Son lived a perfect life, perfectly keeping all the holy rules we broke, and He was crushed by the wrath of God which we deserved (1 John 2:2, Ephesians 1:5). By His sacrifice, He paid for all His people’s past, present, and future sins. After His death, He was resurrected on the third day, and He ascended to the Father’s right hand in Heaven to intercede for us (Romans 8:34).

It was God’s eternal plan to save His undeserving people in this way. Because the perfect obedience needed to please God was performed by Jesus Christ, salvation does not involve any of our obedience. It does not include baptism, church attendance, or anything else we do. We simply confess that we have sinned against a holy God and plead His forgiveness. By simple faith, we receive forgiveness. We are renewed in such a way that we want to love and obey God after we put our faith in Him (Romans 3-4, Ezekiel 36:25-27).

If you have not obeyed the Lord’s command to turn from sin and find reconciliation in Jesus Christ, I invite you to do so now. Please flee the wrath to come and put your faith in Christ. He is the only way to God (John 14:6). This gospel is powerful to save evil sinners like you and me. It is the basis for unity for all Christians, but it is also the only path to eternal life with God.

What if We Differ on Non-Essential Doctrines?

Non-essentials are doctrines that do not alter the gospel which unifies all Christians. Examples of these would be how a church’s government should be structured, who should be baptized, and whether we can sing contemporary-style music, or if we should only sing Psalms. It is a mistake to think these doctrines are unimportant because they all affect how we worship God. Some of them, such as beliefs about sacraments and church government structure, will prevent us from worshiping in the same church, but they should never keep us from affectionately loving each other and having fellowship outside the church building. 

When meeting people with different views on non-gospel issues, focus on the fact that you have a common faith. The gospel that has brought you both to God has made you into one spiritual body under the headship of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). Acknowledge glorifying God and serving His people as your common mission, and diligently look for ways to commune. If you’re a Presbyterian and you have friends who are Baptists, find ways to have fellowship. You may not attend the same church because of your differing convictions, but you can certainly evangelize together, pray together, or simply enjoy a meal together. There are people with differing theological views on this very website that you visited to read this article. We are united by the gospel, and we have banded together to edify fellow Christians and spread the gospel. The ways in which we can work with people who differ over non-essential doctrines are innumerable. We just have to be willing to look for them.

Our interactions with believers who have different convictions should not be dominated by heated exchanges and controversy. Continuous quarreling rarely, if ever, changes one’s doctrinal views. With that said, I am not discouraging respectful debates. Discussion encourages people to scour the Scriptures and evaluate their beliefs. If we take the Bible seriously, we will want to see eye-to-eye with other believers. Our only option for striving toward the goal of theological unity is to have loving, educated discussion aimed toward building up the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:29-32). 

The Basis of Our Unity

Remember that we are not ultimately unified on the basis of our shared theological beliefs. The blood of Jesus Christ, applied by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, brings us all to the same God (1 Peter 3:18). With this in mind, pursue your Christian family who is faithful to the same gospel and pray that God will work through you all together. Our basis for unity is much stronger than our non-essential reasons for separation. One day we will not have to struggle with these differences, but until that day we must intentionally seek fellowship with our Christian siblings united under the one gospel.

How Worship Forms the People of God

Every Sunday, millions of people walk into churches across the world to hear a message, sing, and pray. Unfortunately, in the United States, we have created a culture around going to church in order that we might be put into a better mood, feel happier, and “experience” the presence of God in a new way and then post about it on our social media. There is now a surge of phrases emerging in conversations on the sidewalk outside of our churches, phrases like: “I didn’t feel it today,” or “I couldn’t sing that song again, we sang it last week.”

Like many things in our consumer-focused society, we have made worship about us, our preferences, and our feelings. Emily Zell recently wrote that “it becomes problematic when we come to worship for the sake of an emotional high” (emphasis added). If we come to church or set aside quiet time with our chief motivation being to get a “spiritual high,” we are doing a disservice to ourselves. Worship (in this article worship references both corporate worship and how we live our lives) forms the people of God by providing us with a proper theology which in turn reorients our motivations.

Worship and Our Feelings

We have a kind, loving heavenly Father who desires that we know and enjoy him. We have been given the unique opportunity to worship the Father in particular and personal ways. It is important to note that there is a place for our feelings and our emotions in our times of worship. 

For instance, recently we have had several articles come out about the season of Advent. The seasons of the church calendar aim to stir in our hearts different emotions and mental images to push us to see a specific aspect of Christ during that season. In advent, the Scripture plans we read or songs we sing are trying to get us to feel a sense of longing, of desire for Christ to return again. When our singing or reading is accompanied by feelings it is easier for us to continue in doing those disciplines everyday and it helps us to dive deeper into a personal relationship with the Lord. However important our feelings are to God, they are not the purpose of our worship.

The Value of Corporate Worship

A.W. Tozer says, “What we think about when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” We need corporate worship because in the church, we pray, sing songs, and listen to sermons that all build our theology (what we believe about God). Corporate worship gives us accountability with other believers in our community. By consistently attending the same church and placing ourselves under the doctrine of our churches, we are committing to reflect the beliefs of the church and more importantly, the teachings of the Bible. Thankfully, when we stop reflecting those things or when we miss church consistently, we have people who know us and are able to lovingly draw us back to the kindness of the Father. In this way, through good community and sound corporate worship, we are slowly formed to be compassionate, loving believers who walk humbly with one another and with God. 

We Worship with Our Lives

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
-Romans 12:1

In addition so worship in our church services, we worship the Father with how we, as believers, live our lives. Worship is formative and manifests in a myriad of ways. We worship the Lord in how we do our homework, how we fold our laundry, how we greet people on our college campuses, and even in how we run on the treadmill. Each of these things is worship because each of these things and every small detail of our lives glorifies the Lord in how it represents His character or brings to light our desperate need for a savior, Jesus Christ. 

There will be times when we need to pray or need to read our Bible for the first time in a while but we don’t seem to have a desire to do so. When we submit to what we know about God’s character, and when we pray even a one sentence prayer or simply open our Bible to a chapter we’ve read a dozen times, we are submitting to Him and developing obedience that helps to form us into a better light bearer of Christ’s Word. 

Our Response

In other segments of our “How ____________ forms the people of God” series we have explored the topics of community, liturgy, and prayer. Each of these practices helps form our worship which in turn forms us. Intentional community forms the people of God by providing us with accountability for how we live our lives. With gospel-centered community, we are able to make our day-to-day lives look more like Jesus’ and less like our broken ones. Through liturgy (consistent routines that shape our lives) we create patterns that help us to make time in our busy schedules to dive into the Word of God—even in times where it is hard or perhaps painful. Prayer allows us to enter into the throne room of God and petition Him about every burden, joy, fear, excitement, or trouble with a promise of peace in our souls.

Each of these practices helps form our daily lives, which forms our worship, shaping us as well. Let us now go, keeping in mind the prize set before us, to glorify the Father and one day be made perfect in His presence.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 3:12-14

How Children’s Bibles Form the People of God

We never graduate from the gospel, but I think sometimes we try to do so. We pursue theological knowledge and sift through Scripture that defends our latest point or that speaks to our current life situation. One pastor says, 

If you were in love and could only speak to your loved one in emails, you would never read those emails and say, “Wow. I’m right.” You would read those emails and feel so loved and become more enthralled with your love every time you read them.

Unfortunately, this experience of deep love through Bible reading is not as common of an experience as is should be. It is so easy to start to treat the Bible as a textbook to glean information from or a rule book to tell us what to do, but it is so much more than that. Our hearts need more than random verses and obscure theological distinctions. 

Our Hearts Need the Biblical Narrative 

When Jesus meets Cleopas on the Road to Emmaus, he finds him sad and disappointed. The Savior he thought would set everything right was dead (or so he thought). Haven’t we all felt this at some point? We felt disappointed by God and felt like he didn’t come through for us. Because we all understand what Cleopas has gone through, we need to see how Jesus met him in that situation. Jesus went all the way back to the story of Moses and explained how God always keeps his promises and how He, Jesus, was the fulfillment of all of it. In our times of deep disappointment and confusion, we must do the same. We need to go back to the biblical narrative and remember God’s overwhelming faithfulness and radical love for us, His children. Sally Lloyd-Jones, in the Jesus Storybook Bible, writes, 

The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure…There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture. 

We need to be consistently reminded of the big story of the Bible, because it reminds us that God is always working in way more significant ways than it seems. He always has a bigger plan in mind, and it is always for our good. When we zoom out to see this story as a whole, we can trace his hand throughout history. We can’t always trace His hand in our lives, but, as Charles Spurgeon says, “When you cannot trace his hand, you can always trust his heart.” We can know God’s heart when we see how he has been working since day one to bring his people into his family. 

One way to meditate on the biblical narrative as a whole is through children’s bibles. Children’s bibles, in many less words than the Bible itself, take our hands and guide us through the story of the Bible, and in most cases, explicitly show us how “every story whispers his name.” We need to be reminded of this because we need to be reminded of God’s sovereignty over all things. 

Children’s Bibles are for Everyone

It is quite clear how children’s bibles are beneficial for children. They introduce children at a young age to the stories of Scripture. Yet, they are also deeply beneficial for adults. We need to be reminded of the deep and important truths that we try to deem “introductory.” They are useful to adults both new to faith and who have known Christ for years and years. Children’s bibles can be a sweet and wonderful tool to introduce new believers, or people unsure of what the Bible story even is, to the gospel. However, if we believe that we never graduate from the gospel (or from the biblical narrative) then we will believe that we need to go back to basics consistently, no matter our age or spiritual maturity. Therefore, children’s bibles can be beneficial for mature Christians as well.

We Need to Go Back to Basics

We need things spoken to us simply. An English professor of mine said, “Writers like long sentences. Readers like short sentences.” And this is so true. We need someone to explain important truths to us in simple ways. We think we need to like only upper level, difficult biblical truths, and yes, there is a place for that, but there is also a place to go back to a childlike wonder. When Paul distinguishes between Christians who need milk and Christians who need meat, we must remember that we still should eat our meat with a glass of milk near to help us digest it and to remind us that we were once beginners in our understanding too. And that even after all of the meat we could ever eat, we will always need milk as well. We never graduate from our need for the basic truths of the Gospel. As Marty Machowski says in The Gospel Story Bible

You see, the gospel is not something we hear once, believe, and never need to hear again. We need to hear the good news about Jesus over and over. Paul never tired of sharing the gospel and telling people about Jesus and how he died for our sins so that we should be forgiven.

We also should never tire of hearing this beautiful story, and children’s bibles offer that to us. We need to be reminded of our childlike need for God to meet us in our daily lives. We need to be reminded of our need for a rescuer, and that God loves us, as Sally Lloyd-Jones says, with a “Never stopping, never-giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”

We need need. The Jesus Storybook Bible displays this beautifully in the story of Naaman, who thought that he did not need cleansing in the Jordan River, even though he had leprosy: “All Naaman needed was nothing. And that was the one thing that Naaman didn’t have.”

We need to be keenly aware of our needs like children are. We must learn again and again how to sit at Jesus’s feet and hear the beautiful story that he has been telling all along. The need to be reminded of the truth of the gospel is never something we can or will outgrow. Reading children’s bibles can be a reminder that we will never grow out of our childlike need for our Father. Jesus says just this to his disciples in the gospel of Matthew:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
-Matthew 18:1-4

Do we have the humility to become like children and marvel at Jesus and his most beautiful story? It is a humility and wonder to which we are called. It’s a humility that comes from acknowledging our childlike need for Christ. 

We need the biblical narrative. We need the gospel. And we need it told to us plainly and often. Children’s bibles can offer that to us in a unique and precious way. Let us never feel like we have grown too old or too advanced not to marvel at this Big Story, where every individual story whispers the name of Jesus.

Advent: Worthier than All

That I might know Him and the power of His resurrection
-Philippians 3: 10

It is the season of Advent again, and with this comes the busyness of Christmas time. This means long lists of gifts to buy and things to do. Far too often, this distracts us from what we ought to be doing during this time—beholding the glory of Christ. 

The season of Advent is about God who became flesh, emptied His glory, and perfectly obeyed the father. This is one of the most essential focal points of Scripture, yet how are we preparing our hearts for Him during this season? In the midst of this Christmas season, are we letting our hearts dwell on the person of Christ? 

While I was considering this question for myself one morning, I was struck with three questions that were worth asking myself. It’s easy for me to be distracted and to get carried away with worries that are not edifying; however, these questions, in sum, reveal three hard spiritual truths that I have been wrestling with this semester. The Lord has been faithful to reveal these to me, and I hope that by sharing them you are able to refocus your heart as well. I pray that in this season, we may be able to truly focus on the incarnation of Christ and his future glory, and I hope that this will change our hearts and bring us more into obedience and holiness.

Am I Willing? 

This is a question that has been on my mind throughout the semester. I ask myself, am I willing to give up all for the sake of Christ? Do I truly believe He is better than anything this world can offer? 

Alongside this question a passage from 2 Samuel comes to my mind. In this passage, David builds an Altar to the Lord as the Lord had commanded him. However, in order to build an altar, David is required to buy the threshing floor. David insists on paying the full price for the threshing floor as he says: “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that which costs me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24).

Here we see an example of obedience that I hope is inspiring to you. If we truly believe that Christ is worthier than all else than we should be willing to give up all for the sake of obeying Christ. He is more worthy than anything this world could offer us. He is better than any worldly pleasure. 

George Whitefiled, in his sermon titled Contemplating Christmas, describes this when he states that, “you can never [be in] want when the love of the Lord Jesus Christ is the subject. So let Jesus be the subject.”

Beholding the glory of Christ is better than anything else we could ask for or want, and being satisfied in the love of our Father is all we need. This is because we were created for worship, and we were made to find our delight in Him and Him alone

David says in one of the final Psalms,, “You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psalm 145:16). He is all we need. His love is satisfying of our every desire. But do we believe this? May we rest in this truth and be willing to give up all we have in obedience to Christ. 

Am I Longing?

Not only should we ask ourselves if we’re willing, but are we longing? Are we longing for the day of Christ’s return? Or are we finding our satisfaction in the pleasures of this world? A passage in Romans 8 comes to my mind when I think about this:

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
-Romans 8:22-23

The good things of this world and the beauty of His creation are nothing in comparison to the glory of Christ that will be revealed to us one day. Everything in this life that is good is a shadow of what is to come if we are reconciled to God through Christ Jesus our Savior. 

In order to behold Christ and His incarnation we need to believe this.  Through Christ, all things are being made new, and this is the hope that we have as believers: we are new creations. The hope we have is revealed to us in the transformation of ourselves, and it is a glimpse of what is to come. One day, we will stand before God, guiltless and clothed fully in His righteousness. One day, we will not struggle with our sin or shame anymore, and we will be fully equipped and happy to glorify God eternally. This is what we have hope in and our hope is anchored in the incarnation of Christ and His work on the cross. 

Am I Ready? 

And lastly, am I ready for Christ’s return? Am I actively pursuing holiness in my life? This is a question we must ask ourselves as believers every day. This is not an easy question for me, or anyone, as we so easily see our failures. I so easily see my spiritual laziness and areas in my life that I am not laying before the Lord. 

Recently, I have been reading Disciplines of Grace by Jerry Bridges and it has been eye opening to understand both the pursuit of holiness yet the dependence on Christ in that very pursuit. Bridges describes man’s primary purpose to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. In order to do this, He writes:

The most important dimension [of glorifying God and enjoying Him] is our wholehearted obedience: our desire to obey Him with all our heart, soul, and mind.

This is how we glorify God, this is how we as believers can find satisfaction in Christ and Christ alone. I pray that we can be filled with obedience to Christ, and a willingness to pursue righteousness. Not because righteousness is what we rely on for salvation, but because our holiness gives glory to the name of God. Ultimately, this is for the act of bringing glory to the father. 

May we lay down all we have before our Savior Jesus Christ. For he is more worthy than anything else in this world. Let’s be willing to sing the lyrics of Crown Him with genuine hearts:

It’s not my life to live
It’s not my song to sing
All I have is His
For all eternity
It’s not my righteousness
It’s not my faithfulness
All I have is His
For all eternity
And we will
Crown Him, crown Him
King of glory
Crown Him, crown Him
Lord of all.

Let us behold Christ and the love of our Father this Christmas season. May we be willing to give up all we have, may we long for the return of Christ, and may we prepare for His return through our pursuit of holiness. All other priorities fail in comparison to recognizing the goodness and glory of Christ. We will fail in our willingness, longing and readiness for Christ, but let us fix our eyes on the One who meets us in our failures and is able to keep us from stumbling. In our failures, His righteousness continues to cover us.

Advent: Waiting for the King

One of the things that I decided to do during Advent this season is to read through the Jesus Storybook Bible advent reading plan. This has been so sweet because it has reminded how extensive the build up to the incarnation really was. Humankind was waiting for Jesus for such a long time. The moment that Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, we were promised that a Savior was coming. In Genesis 3:15 when God is talking to the serpent He says, 

I will put enmity between you and the woman
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.
-Genesis 3:15

We are immediately promised that someone will come and though Satan will hurt him, this Promised One will defeat Satan for good. Sally Lloyd-Jones paraphrases it beautifully: 

Before they left the garden, God whispered a promise to Adam and Eve: “It will not always be so! I will come to rescue you! And when I do, I’m going to do battle against the snake. I’ll get rid of the sin and the dark and the sadness you let in here. I’m coming back for you.” 

Since that moment, everyone had been waiting for the Promised One. And more and more clues kept appearing as to exactly what he would do and what he would be like. God provided a ram as a sacrifice for Abraham. This showed us that God is faithful to provide a sacrifice. The Levitical laws illustrated for us the cost of being close to God. It showed us that the blood of a spotless lamb needed to be shed to make atonement for us. Judges showed us that we were in need of a Perfect Deliverer because the Israelites kept turning away. Isaiah prophesied that a child would be born and that the government would be on his shoulder. 

And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.
-Isaiah 9:6-7

The list goes on and on. People were waiting for generations for this Promised One that would come to set everything right again. 

And then he came. As a helpless baby born in a feeding trough. And as the story unfolds we see him fulfill prophecy after prophecy after prophecy. All that time of waiting, God was writing a story. This Great Author was weaving it all into a masterpiece. And looking back it is so clear that every story was whispering Jesus’s name. 

This big story is so important to remember and meditate on because it changes everything about how we view our lives. 

Advent Informs Our Waiting

We almost always feel like we are in a season of waiting. We always seem to be looking ahead to the next stage of life, or looking for something to make our current stage of life better. We wait for a spouse, a job, clarity for our future, and so many other things. And if we are in Christ, then we are awaiting His return. We are waiting for Him to come and make all things new and to dwell with us. 

Similarly, God’s people waited centuries for the Promised One to arrive. They longed for the Messiah to come and battle the evil one. They longed for deliverance. And it felt like God wasn’t answering them. It felt like God had forgotten His promises. One place we glimpse this frustration is in the prophet Malachi 1:2: “‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’” 

For those of us following the story of the Old Testament, we see how completely ridiculous it was for the Israelites to say this to God. He is steadfast and faithful to a faithless people. And yet they say to Him, “How have you loved us?” as if it hasn’t been clear since the beginning. 

And yet we are so quick to question God. We feel the agony of waiting and we look to God and dare to ask how he has loved us. We seem to have chronic covenant amnesia. We forget how faithful God is to us and that He is always working for His glory and our good. 

When we take time to remember that God is always on time and has been since the beginning of the world, we can remember that God will also always be on time in our own lives. Not only have we seen His faithfulness in our own lives, but we have seen it in the big story of the world. We can trust his timeline because we serve a God who sees and knows everything, is always working for His glory and our good, and always keeps his promises. 

Trusting God with Our Story

At its core, Christmas is a reminder that God always keeps his promises. The baby in the manger that we sing about is God’s covenant faithfulness in flesh. And this baby is a reminder that God is always at work even when it feels like he is not. Looking back on the story of the world, we can see God’s hand through all things. 

The same is true for our own story. But sometimes it seems like trusting God’s faithfulness is harder for us. We see that God has been at work in this big story, and yet when it comes to our own story it is so easy to doubt the promises of God. When our lives do not turn out like we expected, we look to God and say, “How have you loved me?” It is in these moments that we have to zoom out. We need to be reminded that God is worth trusting with our story because God is the perfect Author. 

This is what Christmas reminds us: if we can trust God with the biggest story ever, we can trust him with our own story too. We must ask Him to pry our fingers off of our expectations and control, and trust Him with our story. We can do this because just as God has control over the story of the whole word, he has control over our story too. And this is worth resting in. 

So this Christmas, remember that God is always at work, both in the big story of the world and in your story. Rest in the truth that just as God has been at work since day one in the story of the world, he has been at work since day one in our stories too.

How Liturgy Forms the People of God

Liturgy is the way we learn to put on Christ.
-James K.A. Smith

What is Liturgy? 

While this may be a simplistic definition, we can think of liturgy as any sort of routine that shapes our hearts. I would argue then, that any routine at all is liturgy, because any routine is heart-shaping. Many say that what we think and feel affects what we do. This is incredibly true, but it is also true the other way around. As Matthew Lee Anderson says, “We are also changed from the outside in.” What we do affects what we think and feel. Liturgy is inherently formative. This makes it worth exploring and considering. 

We Live Liturgical Lives

Any sort of routine you and I have in our daily lives is a form of liturgy. Tish Harrison Warren writes in Liturgy of the Ordinary, “the crucible of our formation is in the monotony of our daily routines.” If we look at our phone the very first thing in the morning (which I am incredibly guilty of), we tell ourselves the message that the world will fall apart if we are not informed and connected. If we watch a romantic movie every single day, we tell ourselves that the only way to happiness is to be in love. The list goes on and on. Whether we realize it or not, our routines shape us. Lauren Winner discusses her practice of fasting every Wednesday and she writes, 

Both moments of obedience and disobedience shape us. When I say no to the mac and cheese that I want, I learn a little bit more that my desires are not in charge. This shapes me.

Our liturgical lives are the same way, and every moment of obedience and disobedience shapes us little by little. 

Liturgy and Participation

Liturgy also reminds us that worship is not about us and our comfort. By us, the congregation, having to stand up, sit down, read the call to worship, and more, we are reminded that worship is not about us. Worship shapes us, but it is not directed at us. It is so easy to come into a worship service as a consumer of feelings. However, we are called to come to church in order to ascribe glory to Christ. By having to stand up, sit down, and participate in more ways than just singing, we not only let the liturgy seep into our hearts more by means of participation, but we are reminded (whether consciously or subconsciously) that worship is not about our comfort or entertainment, but about God. 

Liturgy and Our Feelings

I do not mean to say that worship does not affect or shape us, or that it cannot result in feelings of deep connection. Worship indeed should feed and nourish our souls, but it becomes problematic when we go to worship for the sake of an emotional high.  However, we have tended to make an effect that worship can have into the ultimate goal. This puts our preferences on the throne instead of God. We need to remember that He is the one on the throne, and that we were ultimately made as beings to worship him. The Westminster Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” with the answer “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Our chief end is to glorify and enjoy God. This act of glorifying Him can result in deep feelings of connection and joy, but if we try to side step the purpose of worship in pursuit of feelings alone, we have missed the point. Right worship is for God, and as our hearts continue to be shaped by the liturgy of our service, our hearts continue to be put in the way of experiencing and feeling His love and His delight in us. We were made to be worshippers, so ascribing glory to God can lead us to feeling deeper connection with Him. C.S. Lewis writes, 

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.

We are liturgical beings, and we are feeling beings. These are not mutually exclusive, and they in fact go quite hand in hand. God made us to have feelings. God made us to experience him. And liturgy can be a beautiful avenue to put ourselves in the way of experiencing him in an emotional way. The problem comes not when we feel or when we don’t feel, the problem comes when we approach worship as the pursuit of feelings. In his book, Union with Christ, Rankin Wilbourne captures this beautifully when he describes “the doldrums,” times when we don’t feel or experience God. He writes: 

When you remember that you are not looking for an experience (which may or may not come) but communing with God who is always there; when you remember that there will be doldrums, then you can be assured that the most important times of meditation and prayer, worship, and community may in fact be the times you enjoy them the least. Take heart.

Wilbourne is on to something so important. Feeling is a part of life, and feelings are good gifts from God, and not things to ignore. But, if we enter into worship and liturgy in pursuit of certain feelings, worship will be largely unpredictable, because our feelings often change. If we go into worship in pursuit of marveling at a God who never changes, we then see that God is worthy of our praise no matter where our feelings are that day, and that worshipping God even when we don’t feel like can at times have an effect on how we felt going into worship. Charles Spurgeon writes, 

Sometimes, if you begin to sing in a halfhearted mood, you can sing yourself up the ladder. Singing will often make the heart rise.

This is not guaranteed, and should not be the end of worship in itself, but it is also not out of the question. We bring our feelings and our worries into worship, and God is faithful to do with them what he wills. Bringing our feelings (or lack of feelings) to worship helps us reframe them in light of God’s faithfulness.  

Liturgy and our Heart 

In his book, You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith writes,

Worship works from the top down, you might say. In worship we don’t just come to show God our devotion and give him our praise; we are called to worship because in this encounter God (re)makes and molds us top-down. Worship is the arena in which God recalibrates our hearts, reforms our desires, and rehabituates our loves. Worship isn’t just something we do; it is where God does something to us. Worship is the heart of discipleship because it is the gymnasium in which God retrains our hearts.

Because our lives are liturgical and because liturgy shapes us, our worship services can serve as a training ground for how we live out our week and how we shape the liturgy of our lives. Nick McDonald, the RUF pastor at the University of Missouri says, “If you don’t feel Christianity, do Christianity.” Our worship services can be a way to do just that. We walk into church and the liturgy has been shaped for us, and God can use that in radical ways. Not only is worship not about us, but worship forms us. 

So we need to take it seriously and be discerning when it comes to how our church thinks about liturgy. We need to be walked through the gospel truth (and participate in it) every week. Our hearts need to be shaped by it and feel it. We need something to model, and we need to be asking the question, “How can I put myself in the way of being shaped and sanctified by how I form my routine. We need to take hold of what forms our hearts. 

Authenticity vs. Liturgy

Many Christians struggle with wanting to flee from legalism. This fear is not a wrong one, but it can easily be taken to the extreme. Christians often do not read their Bibles, or form some sort of routine for getting in the word because they do not want to “offer up empty sacrifices.” Again, this fear is not inherently wrong, but what we must remember is that our routine affects our hearts. What may start off as unexcited routine can become rich time of intimacy with God. 

It is also important to remember that if the liturgy of your day does not include time with God, it will include something else. You can’t escape liturgy, and there’s no such thing as “neutral time.” Our routine is always shaping us, so let us do our best to shape our liturgies to point us to Christ. 

Because liturgy is formative, let us embrace routine with excitement and thoughtfulness. We are changed from the outside in, and because of this, we must look seriously at what we do in both our worship services and our lives. We must not only examine our actions but also the effects that our actions have on our hearts. In this we will embrace that God has made us liturgical beings: people of habit that are shaped from the outside in as well as the inside out.

How Catechesis Forms the People of God

Catechesis is Inevitable

We are always being catechized. The world is feeding us questions and answers all the time. We are swimming in questions as simple as, “What should you eat for lunch?” and as serious as, “What is the purpose of life?” We are also swimming in answers. Every movie or show we watch, every book we read, every conversation we have gives us questions and answers.  If we do not catechize our children and ourselves, the world will.

If this is true, we need to be intentional, especially in the church, of teaching people how to ask good questions and find good answers. Catechesis is a valuable means towards this end. 

Catechisms Function Like Our Minds

The church needs catechisms because catechisms meet us where we are. They speak to the very format in which our brains work. We tend to think in questions and answers. “What is this feeling? Hunger.” “How do I make it go away? Eat food.” “What food should I eat? Pizza.” The list goes on. 

In this very way, catechisms fill our minds with what we need and want. When someone is made to memorize a statement of faith, it can be harder to memorize and harder to apply because they do not know what question this statement of faith is answering. With catechisms, we are able to grasp both questions that we need to consider, and answers to which the Bible points. 

Questions Matter

In his book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi writes of his early life growing up in Islam. When he writes on the first time the question, “Is Jesus God?” comes up in conversation, he immediately feels deep guilt and shame and apologizes to Allah immediately for even questioning him for a moment. 

When I first read that, I felt a deep gratitude for the fact that we serve a God that allows us to ask questions. They are all over Scripture. In fact, it is incredibly important to explore the nature of questions in the Bible and in the Christian life. An excellent book on this topic is Matthew Lee Anderson’s The End of our Exploring. He discusses the first question ever asked: “Did God really say to not eat of the tree?” (Genesis 3:1) and God’s question after the Fall of Adam and Eve by asking, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9).  

By the first question being from the serpent, we learn that our questions are not free from the reign of sin. But God also uses questions to meet us in our shame. Anderson beautifully states: 

The question, ‘Where are you?’ expresses an interest in Adam and Eve, Even from the beginning in the moment of our sin, God does not only want to be Lord over us but God with and among us. Relationships demand mutual self-disclosure…By posing a question, God moves toward Adam and Eve and gives them the opportunity to speak with Him. His question rebuilds the ground between them that their sin had ruptured…It is the first moment of God’s redemptive activity: in asking, God reminds us that He will listen as we speak, even if we utter a confession. And the question helps Adam and Eve find themselves by acknowledging where they had gone to.

And these are just the first two questions in Scripture. They are all over the Bible. From David asking, “How long, O Lord?” (cf. Psalm 13) to Peter saying to Jesus, “O Lord, to whom else shall we go?” (John 6:68). Questions are everywhere. We must know how to ask good questions, and learn to embrace the “exploration” that comes with question asking. 

Catechisms Teach Us Questions and Answers

By offering a list of questions, and not just a list of statements, catechisms model how to question well. We learn the kinds of questions to ask, as well as learn that it is good to be asking questions such as, “What is our only hope in life and death?” or “What is the chief end of man?” These are huge questions, and catechisms ask them for us. It is almost inevitable to ask questions such as these in life, whether spoken or not. Catechisms affirm our wonderings and show us what it looks like to bring those into discussion, to bring them into the light. 

However, catechisms do not leave us in our questions. They provide answers to the significant questions in life and in our walk with Christ. By catechisms providing us both questions and answers, our questions are validated and a starting point is given. We have a home base answer to go explore more fully. It is never a good idea to take catechisms as canonized scripture, but they can be a helpful resource. We must always rely on Scripture to point us toward questions and answers, but catechisms are  incredibly helpful, and shape how we learn to hide important biblical truths in our hearts. 

Catechisms Order Our Knowledge

Matthew Lee Anderson writes, 

I was never catechized, and I feel the lack of it now and then. In fact, I would say that my theological education has proceeded in something of a haphazard fashion: I have generally followed my interests, rather than a set programme of learning, and the result is that I have somewhat serious thoughts about a wide range of issuesbut little depth on many of them…This way of proceeding has some advantages, but I think they generally pale to the benefits that come from a more disciplined, rigorous approach…It seems to me that undertaking a catechetical process allows one to establish a coherent framework of answers out of which one can inquire and explore. Having a robust architecture developed within our minds allows us to put details in place that we would never notice or observe otherwise.

Anderson’s own personal story helps us see the benefits of catechisms as resources to provide a framework for our knowledge. In having a set of questions and answers that range a variety of theological points, we get to dip our feet into many different concepts, and put them in conversation with each other. 

The New City Catechism, a more recent catechism, is a helpful example of this. Even the first two questions follow a logical progression and put different doctrines in context. 

Question 1: “What is our only hope in life and death? That we are not our own but belong body and soul, both in life and in death, to God and to our savior Jesus Christ.”

Question 2: “What is God? God is the creator and sustainer of everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.” 

In just these first two questions, we not only learn important biblical principles, but we learn how to ask questions, and what questions should follow new information. In Question 1, we learn that we are not our own but belong to God. It logically follows, then, that we would want to learn more about who God is and what he is like. If we belong to someone else, we naturally would like to know more about them. We also see how the view of our own hope shifts when we know more about God. 

J.I Packer writes,

…superficial smatterings of truth, blurry notions about God and godliness, and thoughtlessness about the issues of living—career-wise, community-wise, family-wise, and church-wise—are all too often the marks of evangelical congregations today.

Catechisms are incredibly significant and helpful in having a larger framework of essential theology, as well as learning how they inform each other. 

Catechisms Create Dialogue

The introduction to the New City Catechism says 

The catechetical discipline of memorization drives concepts deeper into the heart and naturally holds students more accountable to master the material than do typical discipleship courses. Finally, the practice of question-answer recitation brings instructors and students into a naturally interactive, dialogical process of learning.

When we are taught how to question and how to answer, we can begin to build confidence in bringing to the surface our own questions and doubts. Catechisms model dialogue, an essential aspect of the Christian life. We bring our questions both to God and to each other. By having questions and answers modeled, we can make questions and dialogue a much more commonplace aspect of our lives together in the church. Jesus came down to earth and had dialogue with his people. This matters, and we should do likewise.

Puritanism and the History of Thought

We frequently ponder the theological brilliance of the Puritans. There remains something spiritually satisfying and intellectually stimulating in their writings. The discourse of brilliant minds, such as Jonathan Edwards and John Bunyan, often takes the reader on a historical pilgrimage to times of great doctrinal thought. The intellect of the Puritans is inspiring. In this article, I will discuss the ways in which Puritan thought offers an example for modern Christians. 

Intellectualism and Contemporary Christianity 

In one of the most formative, although rather simple, expositions of the Christian faith, C.S. Lewis states, in Mere Christianity, that “[in becoming a Christian] you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains in all.” Ideally, the Christian utopia is not one infested with simpletons. Rather, it is one of great academic and intellectual stimulation. Christianity treasures the mind. The seemingly infinite number of doctrines and complexity of Scripture’s mysteries propel the Christian to a state of theological and intellectual exploration. There is something within the believer, regardless of one’s educational background, that vigorously urges him or her to discover the truth. This is why Lewis states that “an uneducated believer like Bunyan was able to write a book that has astonished the whole world.” In short, Christianity elevates our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.  

The study of apologetics is one example of Christian intellectual stimulation. Christians are called to “be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). The Christian must be wholly inclined to defend the faith from the Scriptures and in conventional reason. More often than not, the Christian will find him or herself using reason to make sense of the Scriptures.

The aim of this section is to point out that Christians today do not think. Really, we do not know how to think. Throughout contemporary history, the Evangelical movement has squandered the virtues of reason and scholarship. Generally, contemporary Christians have a superficial knowledge of the Scriptures. But, many today lack the ability to justify their beliefs from the perspectives of various disciplines. This article will not offer foolproof solutions to these issues. Rather, the following discourse will look to understand the intellectual heritage of the Puritans and their subsequent mark on contemporary education.  

Puritanism and Classicism

The Puritans were scholars. While rightfully understood as experts in biblical interpretation and leading proponents of Calvinism in the Americas, the Puritans did not refrain from studying natural sciences, the arts, or the humanities. Ironically resembling aspects of Catholic Scholasticism, the Puritans held the study of the classics in high regard. Henry Dunster, an established clergyman and the first president of Harvard College, vigorously defended the study of the classics against those who wished that they be excluded from the curriculum. Dunster passionately indicates that, regardless of any present heathenism, the classics astutely convey human and spiritual realitiespresented in various conversational dialogueswhich are later applied and understood under the canopy of Scripture. In a characteristically providential fashion, Puritans believed that biblical truth was interwoven in the realm of literature. 

The connection between the Puritans and that of the “pagan” writers was primarily due to similarities between the concept of the law of nature and the Gospel accounts. Also, many Puritans believed the likeness between the two was subject to the Greek and Roman plagiarization of Jewish lore. Nevertheless, the Puritans respected the classics for their lyrical eloquence and projection of truth. Increase Mather, a figurehead Puritan theologian and preacher, echoes the Puritan conviction of classicism when he states, “ the interest of Religion and good Literature, hath risen and fallen together.” 

Classicism and the Gospel 

How exactly did the Puritans employ their knowledge of classic literature? A deepened understanding of ancient Roman and Greek thought was considered an integral support for properly preaching and sharing the gospelbecause all other forms of thought hinged upon the precepts of the ancient world. Classicism provided a middle ground in discussing the beliefs of Christianity, for both the Christian and non-Christian. This way, there remains an underlying system of understanding both can build upon. It was not uncommon for the convert to bow before Christ after a convincing gospel presentation that reflected values of classical literature and was also biblically sound.  

Citations and references to the classical scholars were abundant in sermons. The classics were often quoted in order to give a congregation, who would be familiar with such literature, a different way of understanding or viewing a certain biblical point. The Puritans found themselves incorporating the work of Plutarch, Seneca, Plato, and Aristotle. Additionally, the political and social structure of Massachusetts Bay was heavily influenced by classical thought. 

Ultimately, the Puritan take on Classicism was furthered from medievalist attitudes. In that, all of society was understood to be governed as one unified organism. There was no reason to suggest that the intellectual sentiments of the day could not effectively intermix with the nature of the gospel. From this perspective, the medievalist and the Puritan would both affirm the significance of an intellectual and a theological comprehension of the gospel. Yet, the Puritans did not go as far as suggesting that the philosophical presuppositions of the ancient should be rigorously applied to every single aspect of life. Rather, they held to sola scriptura (Scripture alone) in ways that medievalists did not. 

The Puritans and Us

Contemporary theological groups have failed where the Puritans have flourished. Identifying with the tenets of Puritanism not only meant reading the Institutes and The Bondage of the Will but also delving into Virgil’s Aeneid and Plato’s Republic. Puritans understood that their theological roots were not solely founded upon the minds of the Reformation. Rather, they were reflective enough to apprehend that their theological convictions were first steeped in the philosophical principles of ancient “pagan” authors and the Jewish tradition. 

Today, we moderns fail in apprehending the importance of how history and literature have shaped and influenced the Christian tradition. The contemporary evangelical movement places a heavy emphasis on reading the theological minds of years past but falls short in promoting an adept comprehension of the classics. Although the act of intermixing aspects of classicism with the message of the gospel may create a hindrance for today’s believer, the Puritans persisted in cherishing compartments of knowledge that we neglect treasuring throughout our spiritual lives.     

Certainly, a deepened comprehension of the work of the classics does not constitute authentic Christianity. Nor does such an understanding remain a necessary prerequisite for presenting the gospel message. However, it does form a knowledgeable and intellectually relatable Christian. Modernity has certainly diluted the waters of Christian intellectualism. Through the contemporary reign of “self-help spirituality,” the Christian has traded biblical, historical, and literary forms of genuine knowledge for diluted forms of emotional stability. In this way, the Christian may find solace in the example of Puritanism.

Puritanism as a Political Concept

In the eyes of the Puritan New England majority, theology translated best into all areas of life. As we have previously asserted, the Calvinistic tendencies of Puritanism created a number of significant implications for society. The theological thought of Puritanism not only impacted the religious sphere of life but, rather, all areas of society. The spiritual was not and could not be separated from the secular.

Understanding Basic Puritan Political Thought  

To Puritans, it seemed virtually non-Christian to assert that one could separate the theological from the temporal. In other words, the theological aspects of life were not just one slice of the pie but the pie itself. Thus, this cohesive formation of theology fostered the pivotal Puritanistic belief that God governed humanity as one unified body rather than two separate organisms. God’s uniformal governance could not be neglected.  

A Puritan who found himself working as a tradesman did not merely view himself as a tradesman but a theologian disguised as a tradesman. Through his vocation, he was ultimately on mission and not business. The theological implications of God’s rule could not be separated from the reality of everyday life and politics. 

Total Depravity and Puritan Life

To best understand the Puritan political theory, we must first wrestle through the waters of total depravity. For the majority of seventeenth-century New England, a thorough understanding of human nature has proved to be an instrumental piece of knowledge in the task of grasping how the world functioned. This apparent instrumental piece of knowledge hinged upon the idea that human nature lacked any sense of natural virtue.

Children were not taught to disobey, slander their parents, or crudely function in their own self-interest. These attributes were a result of the fall and, therefore, embedded naturally within humanity. The only scapegoat, in finding freeing from such dreadful bondage, was through God’s mercy of regeneration. This traditionally Calvinistic way of understanding the rhythm of humanity profoundly impacted Puritan politics. In fact, a large majority of Puritan theologians asserted that God’s people were best governed not by an “orthodox” conceptualization of democracy—although Massassuchetts Bay would come to accept some form of democracy amidst the revolutionary period—but through the governing principles of God’s law.

The Massachusetts Bay Legislative Structure 

The political structure of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was quite complex. Through the colony’s royal charter, instituted under the reign of King Charles I, highfalutin Puritan politicians were granted the right to establish a “Great and General Court.” All legislative, administrative, and judicial duties were to be held within this institution. During the court’s first meeting in October of 1630, a lonely total of eight representatives took action to establish the Council of Assistants. A subsection under the canopy of the General Court, the Council of Assistants would theoretically function as a pre-Revolutionary Senate. Although, prior to 1644, the Council sat collectively with representatives from the General Court. 

In 1642, a court case regarding a widow’s missing pig was reversed by the General Court and then later that very bill was vetoed by assistants. It was here that representatives resolutely decided that the Council should sit separately from the Court, as an upper house. Therefore, the General Court, otherwise known as the House of Deputies, operated as a pre-Revolutionary House of Representatives while the Council of Assistants closely resembled our modern Senate. Yet, the subjection of the Council of Assistants did not negate the fact that both bodies must agree, via majority voting sessions within each chamber, before legislation could be passed.

Understanding the Theocracy  

Why, then, is the political structure of Massachusetts Bay commonly understood as a theocracy? The theocratic tendencies of Puritan New England are best recognized when looking at the key requirements for political office. In that, not everyone could be a state representative in colonial Massachusetts. Those of African descent, ethnic minorities, women, and those who did not acquiesce to the statutory form of theology were restricted from holding public office. In short, holding office was dependant upon satisfactory meeting these requirements.  

Political representatives, who happened to be of the Puritan creed, believed that the government should dutifully enforce a universal law that was properly molded by the inerrant Word of God. Thus, anyone who broke the law was not only violating the authority of the sovereign but also disregarding God’s will in the process. In this way, God actively played a part in the everyday affairs of humanity. The implementation of a biblically-oriented political structure was, in a strictly Puritan view, a prerequisite in Winthrop’s utopian pursuit of a “city upon a hill.” 

Puritans believed that a theocracy was best for the believers’ own personal battle with holiness and the collective’s wellbeing as a spiritual unity. This system was not only fixed to keep colonists in check with everyday law, but it also served as a spiritual check for Christians who desired to serve God with reverence and awe. Laws regarding the regulation of church attendance, protection of theological ideas, condemnation of trivial practices, and the protection of the Sabbath are all examples of rules established in order to promote the spiritual welfare of the state. 

An Unfortunate Irony 

The enforcement of a theocratic structure, along with the numerous theological requirements for political office, created a social rhythm marked by an expansive scope of government and limited freedom of conscience. Puritans ironically reasserted a “medieval” political Catholicism when they institutionalized a religious government that chastised those who did fall in line with the beliefs of the theological majority. The irony of Massachusetts Bay is best understood as the accidental implementation of the very aspects of medieval Catholicism, such as a limited focus on individual interpretation of Scripture, that the Puritans’ spiritual forefathers—being the European Reformers—sought to separate themselves from.  

Rather than adhering to Tertullian’s idea that religion “is of human right and natural liberty,” Puritans deviated from the political genius of their ancient church fathers and simulated an environment in which the conscience was subject to spiritual tyranny. To reference Tertullian’s treatise Ad Scapulam, religion was not treated as someone’s ius humanum (human right) or within one’s potestas naturalis (natural capability) for Puritan Massachusetts. The chief end of both governing houses of colonial Massachusetts, both the Council of Assistances and the General Court, was a commitment to the idea that society must remain theologically pure. 

Synthesis and Conclusion 

Seventeenth-century Puritan political theology engineered a social fabric that resolutely intertwined all things together. The things of Caesar were the things of God and vice versa. There was no clear distinction between the two. Although we may understand this muddled formation of a society to be an idea of the past, does any such thing resemble it today? I speak, of course, not of modern politics. But, rather, of social and political church structure.     

Have church governments entrapped faithful believers under a nonsensical canopy of perpetual ignorance? Is freedom of conscience really viewed as a virtue in today’s protestant church culture? As we may pridefully scoff at the foolish collapse of Massachusetts Bay, let us first consider our own culture. Do we truly value the freedom of thought that Christ speaks of when he urges us to love God with our whole mind? Do the blinding stage lights of contemporary evangelicalism hinder our ability to reasonably glorify and understand the Divine? 

These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves. As we dive further into the history of Puritanism, let us more accurately make connections between the past and the present. History, accurately understood, is not merely the study of the past. More precisely, history is the lens through which we may view the present.