And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. - Genesis 17.7
And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. - Ezekiel 36.23-29a
I recently read an article by Kim Riddlebarger on the sacraments. In this article he defends the complementary and essential connection between Word and sacrament in worship. Something he said in the closing paragraph struck a chord:
In the gospel, God promises to save us from our sins, and in the sacraments he swears on his sovereign oath, “I am your God and you are my people!” This is why weak and struggling sinners should not be directed to look within to see whether or not our faith is of sufficient intensity, or if we have achieved sufficient personal holiness in order to participate. Rather, we need to look outside of ourselves and turn our gaze toward God’s gracious covenant promise. This is God’s way of comforting the downcast, strengthening faith, and conquering doubt.This is a beautiful reminder of the nature of God and how he interacts with his children. We live in a Christian culture where it seems so many people are trying to experience God through emotionalism. There is a plethora of clever slogans and sermon series aimed at being relevant and delivering the gospel in a contemporary way. Worship in many churches is aimed at pulling the heart strings and lifting us up to some ethereal plane. Christian culture has a "Christian" version of just about everything. I see bumper stickers for radio stations that promise to be "uplifting". Michael Horton commonly refers to this phenomenon as "moralistic therapeutic deism". Christianity is often portrayed as something where you should be "good" and "happy". But this doesn't take into account what the bible teaches about human nature, salvation, the role of the church, or our relationship to God.
How is the Christian to be good? How is the Christian to be happy? How is the Christian to conquer sin? The answer is not listening Christian radio (but if you want to, go for it, just be discerning). The answer is not to have some out of body type of experience with worship where you are emotionally lifted to heaven. The answer is not in how well you can relate to a non-believer. The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Where the gospel is preached, there you will find God. Where the sacraments are administered faithfully, there the holy spirit will seal the gospel on your heart and you will be lifted up to feast on Christ. It is wonderful and freeing to realize that the God who chose you to be his child has given us a means by which he seals us in his Son, and has given us a visible, tangible means by which we may be nourished and feast on the Manna of Heaven, the Bread of Life.
I believe one of the first steps to seeing a healthy church again will be when we take seriously the worship as designed by God, Word and sacrament. Understanding the pure preaching of the Word, the way that both law and gospel are designed for the unbeliever to turn to God and also for the believer to grow in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, will be a wonderful cure to many ills within the church. You do not have to be clever, you do not have to be relevant, you must read the Word and preach gospel, Christ crucified, along with the law, summed up by love God and love your neighbor. You do not need clever gimmicks, revival services, altar calls, rededications or anything else in order to bring us closer to God. Christ condescended to us. He became flesh and blood, he lived a holy life, he shed his body on the cross, he was raised from the dead. The work of salvation is finished. The sacraments find their meaning and efficacy in the person and work of Christ. Administration of the sacraments is God's way that we may be united to Christ and sealed with him and experience this wonderful promise. In baptism we are united with his death and resurrection. In the Lord's supper we feast upon Christ and are nourished again and again.
Let us become a church that preaches the Word and administers the sacraments rightly. There is nothing more important for us to find in a church than a body that does not burden itself with culture wars, politics, relevancy or anything that distracts us from the simple, biblical, healthy worship of Word and sacrament. When both of these are rightfully employed, worship will always be fundamentally not about us, but always about our covenant keeping God. We are the bride of Christ, gathered and kept for Himself by Himself, to the glory of Himself.