King Jesus's Supremacy In The Church (Part 2)March 2, 2023 Ecclesiology
Note: This is part 2 in a 4 part series. Click here to read part 1.
King Jesus's Supremacy In Gathered Worship
The Doxological Church
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav'nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
That simple, little hymn is known as the Doxology. A brief song about the glory of the Truine God. In Gregg Allison's book on the doctrine of the church, Sojourners & Strangers, he argues that the church should have a doxological orientation. That is, everything we do should be aimed at the glory of God. And this includes our practice of gathered worship.
In this article, I want to show you why I think Allison is spot on by focusing on Ephesians 2:1-9. In these verses, Paul is reminding believers of who they were before Christ and of the glorious Gospel by which they have been saved. And so we see in this passage two movements: (1) We were dead in our sin, & (2) we have been made alive in Christ.
Dead In Sin (Ephesians 2:1-3)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Here Paul reminds us of how desperate our spiritual condition was before God saved us. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We had no spiritual life in us. Our deadened hearts loved sin and were repulsed by the things of God. Indeed, we were underneath His wrath. Even though it may not be fun to think about, it's so important that we grapple with this. Until we have some inkling of the seriousness of our sin, the Gospel will never be glorious to us. I think that's the reason why Paul often reminded churches of their spiritual condition pre-conversion... so that they would be reminded afresh of Christ's finished work and be continually astonished by it. And that's what's happening here in verses 1-3. He wants us to be sobered by the depths of our own depravity. But he does this to set us up for the relief of the Gospel that comes in verses 4-9.
Made Alive In Christ (Ephesians 2:4-9)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
It's right when we begin to despair over our sinful condition that Paul then hits us with these two astounding words in verse 4, "...But God". God, Paul says, is rich in mercy. And He made us alive with Christ, not because we were upright, moral people or lived in the right neighborhood, or sent our kids to the right school, but... because of the great love with which He loved us. We have been saved because in grace, God reached out to us to make us His own.
But why did He do this? Paul says in verse 7, so that (indicator of a purpose statement) in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. In other words, when the new heavens and new earth come (Rev. 21:1-4) and we are standing shoulder to shoulder beholding the beauty of King Jesus, we will not boast that we are there because we were good enough or smart enough or strong enough or anyting like that. We will boast that we are there because God was gracious and kind to undeserving sinners like us. Listen to the song of heaven:
"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain..." (Rev. 5:12)... "To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" (Rev. 5:13).
Heaven will be doxological. And so too the church must be doxological. Oriented to the glory of God.
If the worship of heaven will be centered on God and the Lamb who was slain (and it will be)... and if the church is intended to offer a forestaste of this coming reality (and it is)... then our gathered worship must likewise be centered on God and the Lamb who was slain.
That's why... (1) We begin our services with quiet prayer. We want to give ourselves time to settle our hearts and really think about what we are doing as a church family. We are preparing to worship our glorious and holy God together.
And that's why... (2) We have implemented a Call-To-Worship Scripture reading. Since God has saved us, He is the One who invites us to worship Him. And this simple Scripture reading is intended to shift our thoughts upward to the Truine God of the Bible.
And that's why... (3) We have now included a time of confession of sin and assurance of pardon. Since Christ's death for sinners should be at the blazing center of our worship, we need to be reminded each week that, yes, we are sinners (confession) and, yes, our sins have been forgiven because Jesus's work is totally sufficient (assurance).
And that's why... (4) Me and Pastor Chris select songs by first asking questions like the following:
- Does this song primarily celebrate how glorious God is or how special I am? In other words, is this song God-centered or man-centered?
- Is this song rich with Christian doctrine or is it generic enough that a Muslim could sing along without any issue?
- Does this song help us grasp the Gospel narrative? Or to put it another way, if this song got stuck in a member's head later in the day, would it help her / him to be reminded of the Gospel?
- Does this song lend itself to hearty congregational singing? According to Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, it is through the whole church singing together that Jesus is most glorified and God's people most edified. And just imagine what it will be like one day in the new heavens and new earth to hear all of God's people from all times and all places singing loudly together worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Heaven will be doxological. So let's be a church whose times of gathered worship are the same.
But What About Verse 10?
When some of you read that I was only planning to cover the first nine verses, you immediately thought I should include verse 10. And I agree. Here's how Paul ends the passage:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
In this passage, we learn that we were dead in our sin (Eph. 2:1-3), God made us alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4-9), and He then transforms our lives (Eph. 2:10). I think the order here is important. It is as we remember the Gospel that God transforms us and we find in ourselves a desire to pursue good works. I believe that when Jesus reigns supreme in gathered worship, it will likewise be used of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives when we leave and go back into the world. Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 3:18:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Paul's argurment here is that as we behold the glory of Christ, we are transformed into the image of Christ. That's why our gatherings are centered around helping us behold King Jesus through singing the Word, praying the Word, reading the Word, preaching the Word, and seeing the Word through baptism and the Lord's Supper.
I love you, Five Points. And I look forward to the years ahead as the Lord continues His work of making us all more like Christ as we behold Him together.