Paperthin Hymn. Christ is Risen. Matt Maher

Christ is Risen

Let no one caught in sin remain
Inside the lie of inward shame
But fix our eyes upon the cross
And run to Him who showed great love
And bled for us
Freely You’ve bled for us

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, Come awake
Come and rise up from the grave
Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, Come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

Beneath the weight of all our sin
You bowed to none but heaven’s wil
No Scheme of hell, no scoffer’s crown
No burden great can hold you down
In strength you reign
Forever let your church proclaim

O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light
The glory of God has defeated the night

O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light
Our God is not dead
He’s alive! He’s alive!

REFLECTIONS

What a great song! I had never head of it  until we sung it at the Fellowship Baptist Church this past Sunday, and I was immediately struck by a certain portion of the lyrics.

Christ is risen from the dead

Trampling over death by death

Come awake, Come awake

Come and rise up from the grave

That is a unique phraseology that is familiar to me, as I remember reading about it in a commentary on John Chrystosom’s famous Pashal homily of the early 5th century. It is taken from a line from the Pashal troparion [ie, an ancient Easter hymn that very short and typically chanted] which is well known in most Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox Church traditions, the sum of which is

Christ is risen from the dead,

Trampling down death by death,

And upon those in the tombs

Bestowing life!”

Not just that, but I thought I heard that phrase a bit earlier than the 5th century in some obscure setting. I checked my library, and I found it. There was a man in the late 2nd century named Theodotus the Shoemaker, who was an early Christian writer from Byzantium. Though denounced as a heretic by one of the early Popes, [with good reason, I would argue]  he too used the phrase “death by death” in referring to baptism in some of his gnostic/Valentinian writings.

So while I love that lyric, I’m also somewhat aware that it is not so much the act of death that conquered death, as it was Jesus rising from the death. Seeing as how that statement is linked in the first line, its fair to make the latter statement without being theologically imprecise. All in all though a very good song, and one I heartily enjoy and recommend. Oh, and the last part is clearly a riff on 1 Corinthians 15.

But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.  O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;  but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 54-57.

Mistaking gratification for God

There is a fundamental error in the typical North American, seeker-sensitive/ mainline protestant/ non-denomination denomination/mainstream evangelical Church.. It is the assumption  that unbelievers outside the Church are desperately seeking for God- that they’ve a God-shaped hole they’re desperately trying to fill. People will look at their neighbours, coworkers, acquaintances and say “Well what about this guy I know? He’s seeking after God.”

No. You don’t see that. Instead what they see all around are people that are searching for peace of mind, happiness, release from guilt, satisfaction, intellectual and emotional fulfillment,  meaning, significance and purpose in their lives.

Well meaning Christians watch their friends and neighbors searching desperately for these things and they conclude “Well, the only thing that can give them that is Christ”. And so they assume that since they’re searching for that which only God can give them- the benefits of God and his grace, that they therefore must be seeking after him.

That is a step too far, and yet this confusion and is the foundation of their beliefs, and is reflected in their methodology, ecclesiology, soteriology, and everything else in between. The church factory and seeker sensitive approach to baiting and then herding goats has, in this manner, failed on almost every level.  It doesn’t work, because the dirty little secret is that people don’t seek after God.

The biblical testimony makes this clear enough, that mankind is dead in their trespasses and sins and that no one seeks after him. In their selfishness and sin they seek after temporal common graces- poorly- in the hope that they might find some respite from those very effects of their selfishness and sin. There is no God-shaped hole, only a mass of  pride and sin that suppresses the knowledge of God in unrighteousness. There are no seekers, only rebels.

Instead what we find in the ordo solutis is that it God who gives people the faith to believe. God inclines peoples hearts towards him [ this idea of libertarian free will be damned] and only then will they have the ability to repent and believe. Christ in his glory and mercy saves some- the ones that God has given him- and these people will never be snatched from his hand.

A man will be saved not because he found who he was seeking for, but rather because God decreed that who He was looking for would be found.

 

How worship music destroyed me. From bitterness to blessing

I remember going off to youth events such as YC, Richter, Revolution, Re;vive, and worshiping for hours to what I had considered back then phenomenal worship music. It was loud, it was catchy, it was about my love for Jesus, and some songs would last over half an hour. Rhythmic. Pulsating. They would build and build and then when we could not bear it any longer- when the weight of our tears and composure were straining at the seams, it would come crashing down in a crescendo of key changes and pure white hot bliss.

In the aftermath I would feel warm and spiritually buzzed. I felt drained, spent, and yet so very, very happy. In those moments I felt close to God, and when people said “The spirit really showed up” I couldn’t help but echo that statement, as I knew exactly what they meant. I remember being a teen and later a young adult in a church which had a very talented worship team, and while perhaps not to the same degree as the big conferences, they were usually able to match the intensity and whip me and my friends up into a frenzy. More often than not all they needed was the right Hillsong song and we were good to go.

But those moments of being buzzed and feeling close to God did not last too long. We would have youth on Friday and I was high all night. That feeling would wane a little on Saturday, got a small uptick on Sunday, sag on Monday, and then by Tuesday it had all but dissipated. I did not feel close to God. I did not feel spiritual. Half the time I didn’t even feel like a Christian. I found myself longing for that spiritual high that I felt.  Instead of basking in it I found myself chasing it. Needing it. Coveting it.  I found myself counting the hours until Friday would come, so that I could worship and get back those feelings that I had lost. On Friday I was loved by God and I knew he was happy with me- on Monday I was depressed and sensed his disapproval. On Friday he was pleased with me- on Monday his disappointment was tangible.  Because after all, if God and I were tight then I wouldn’t be feeling so disconnected from him, but would feel the same way I did during worship. This was, upon much reflection, a very strange time.

Yet in the years since then I have learned some valuable lessons. Chief among them is the realization than an emotional high is no substitute for true spirituality. No one tells Church-kids that, but its true. I’ve learned that absent knowledge, even the worship of Christ can be used as a weapon against me by the enemy. That when we treat the worship high like heroin in an addicts hands, people are going to get hurt. I’ve learned that oftentimes worship music can be little more than manipulation, and is used that way to varying degrees consciously or unconsciously. I’ve learned that most variations of the expression “the holy spirit really showed up” in particularly intense worship session is a Christological joke and is theological poison. I’ve learned that a kid can attend youth group, spend two hours in heaving sobs while on her knees with hands raised, and not once have tasted anything close to a true, legitimate encounter with the Holy Spirit. I’ve learned those experiences can mess her up, and that same kid can, after youth is over, turn around and smoke a joint and have sex with her boyfriend, the last two hours seemingly forgotten. I’ve learned that the point of worship can be not to teach doctrine and to deepen our knowledge of God, but rather to recite silly and shallow lyrics about nothing.

I’ve learned that chasing the emotional high can crush a soul. That it makes people think such experiences are normative for the Christian life, and when they fail to experience it consistently, grow bitter and disillusioned. That it can foster depression and angst and whets the sharpening stone for the knife that slaughters the sheep. That instead of developing depth it breeds shallowness, immaturity, and confusion. I’ve learned that worship can become the biggest draw for the church, and that worship nights will steamroll over bible studies and adult Sunday school. That a church oftentimes will pour much more resources, energy, thought and time into making a killer worship service than they will into developing deep, thoughtful, meaty, mature, theologically precise and provoking bible studies.

I’ve learned that parents and pastors will send their children away to youth group and conferences without ensuring that they have solid teaching on what worship is, how it functions, and how it relates to the gospel and god’s pleasure with you. There are no warnings of “Don’t mistake the spiritual high for biblical sanctification. Its not real! Ibut rather will tacitly endorse that sort of confusion. They’ll let the seedy underbelly of mainstream evangelical goofiness swallow up their kids and spit up out the bones, and they they’ll wonder why their sons and daughters left the church after highschool.

I’ve learned that there are tons of people out there like me who have been burned by this sort of thing- who have been beat up and are fellow bruised reeds- victims of men and women with good intentions and  no discernment who thought they were doing us a favor, who should have known better.

Lastly, I’ve learned that worship is beautiful and that giving praise to Christ is satisfying. That giving him glory is right. That honoring him is freeing and rejoicing with him is like a warm blanket to the soul.  That communicating with our Savior though this medium is a wonderful and powerful thing. That when we worship in spirit and in truth we will grow through it. In the years since then I’ve been blessed to understand that the emotions and feelings that can be associated with worship are no substitute for the actual work of the Holy Spirit in our life, even as those feelings and emotions can be a very important part of it.

Most importantly, I’ve learned  that God’s pleasure in me is not predicated upon my moral behavior or in some hype and emotional subtext I feel, but rather on the cross of Christ, which is the kindness of God that leads me to repentance.

Phil Johnson vs. Mark Driscoll

Phil Johnson over at teampyro has written a measured and excellent response to Mark Driscoll’s pornographic divinations. There is a growing backlash against Mark for his attacks on cessasionist theology and I appreciate the timely word from Phil to offer a counterpoint to what I would consider a really weird and aberrant teaching.