This past week, my family and I moved from Monroe, LA to Charleston, SC. As we prepared for this move over the past couple of weeks, my wife and I reminisced on our short time in Monroe (we were there for about a year) and the work that God has done within us during our short stay in Louisiana. We remembered the financial struggles that we had and the time we spent church shopping until the Lord opened the door for us to join a church. Even though our time with this church was short, we are deeply grateful for the fellowship and friends that we developed. Many members of the congregations opened their homes and lives to us as a young couple and gave us godly wisdom and instruction that definitely needed.
Personally, I will remember my time in Monroe because it was my first experience in a Reformed church. There were many negative stereotypes that I’ve heard over time about Reformed churches (Reformed churches are full of spiritually dead, overly intellectual people; Reformed churches stifle the work of the Spirit because of their liturgies; Reformed people care more about doctrine than spiritual life; etc) so when I joined this church, I was prepared for whatever the experience may be. Contrary to negative stereotypes, my time in this church was deeply enriching and fueled my spiritual development in many ways.
First, I’m very grateful for the liturgical nature of Sunday worship. In particular, I’m very grateful for the thoughtfulness that goes into preparing the liturgical nature of worship. The impression that I received from others is that churches with formal liturgies are simply telling the congregation to read off of the program, causing the congregation to become disconnected from worship as they follow these formalities. Unfortunately, this is a common stereotype because nothing could be further from the truth. My experience was the complete opposite. When I attended some Pentecostal and Charismatic churches as a younger Christian, I was always the person who felt out of touch with the worship service. There were many times when the minister would “feel the Spirit” and many unplanned and random things would occur. Sometimes, we would sing a praise chorus repetitively for 5-10 minutes; other times, the minister would forego his prepared sermon and simply have time of “prophesying” or “speaking a rhema word”. It was my experience at this Reformed church that confronted me on what worship truly is. I was taught growing up (not explicitly, but by the actions of the worship leaders) that worship is an experience whereby the worshiper gets something from God. It was at this church where I learned that worship is centered upon God, designated for God, and regulated by God. In reading the liturgy before service, I was struck with the sense that we were preparing to worship the Triune God of scripture.
The seriousness and meticulousness of the liturgy seemed more consistent with God’s self-disclosure in the scriptures. We don’t simply give to God whatever we want and expect Him to receive it. Rather, we are called to offer to God acceptable worship with “reverence and awe” (cf. Hebrews 12:28). This attitude was also reflected in the songs selected for corporate worship. As a musician, I’m aware that the choice of songs in worship reflects a great deal on a church’s view of God. In my background, many of the songs that were chosen just simply did not have much depth. They were chosen because it was easy for the congregation to pick it up. In other cases, the songs focused more on the musical accompaniment and solos rather than the content of the lyrics. My experience in this Reformed church introduced me to congregational singing of hymns, where the content of the songs was brought to the center and the congregation sung in one voice. The song selection for worship reflected the meticulousness of the liturgy and the great doctrines of scripture are proclaimed through song. One of my favorite songs set to congregational singing that illustrates this point is How Sweet and Awesome is the Place, a song that praises God for His grace in election and calling.
Second, I greatly appreciate the preaching of the Word. The sermon wasn’t an accessory to worship, but it was the focal point of worship. Again, the meticulousness and depth of the sermon reflected the overall carefulness of the liturgy. It was clear that there was great prayer, study, and labor used in the preparation of these sermons. The sermons weren’t made to get us excited about God or to learn a new catch phrase for the week, but the sermons were designed to instruct us from the scripture. It was at this church that I understood that the heart of preaching is the exposition and application of the Word with the power of the Holy Spirit. Since the Word is the voice of the Spirit, preaching means letting the scriptures speak for themselves. There’s no need for innovation in preaching because the Holy Spirit is alive in His Church. The Holy Spirit spoke again through the written word and was at work in the hearts of the hearers. This means that the emphasis of preaching is to clearly understand what the Holy Spirit is communicating through the scriptures.
In my past background, there were those who said that the preachers who diligently prepare their sermons tend to quench the Holy Spirit since they don’t allow the Spirit to move in their sermons. I would strongly disagree with this assessment because the work of the Spirit today is seen very clearly in illumination. The Spirit and the Word in preaching are not contrary to each other, but they work together and inform each other. Careful preparation is needed so that the Holy Spirit can work through the Word. A quote from Richard Baxter summarizes this point:
If we give to reason, memory, study, books, methods, forms, etc., but their proper place in subordination to Christ and to His Spirit, they are so far from being quenchers of the Spirit, that they are necessary in their places, and such means as we must use, if ever we will expect the Spirit’s help. He that hath both the Spirit of sanctification, and acquired gifts of knowledge together, is the complete Christian, and likely to know much more, than he that hath either of these alone.
My family is quite grateful for the fellowship that we received in Monroe and we’ve grown much since joining a Reformed church. Our prayer is that God would knit our hearts together with other believers while in Charleston.