“Safe In The Arms Of God”

I love books. Books help me to learn and grow. Likewise, I like to make book recommendations. Today I am making book recommendation for anyone who has ever suffered through a miscarriage, a stillborn, or the death of a young child.  

One of the most devastating, tragic events we can experience is the untimely death of a child. Filled with emotional agony, many questions flood the mind of those suffering, namely the question “where is my child now?” In his book, Safe in the Arms of God, John MacArthur approaches this emotionally-filled question with the mind of a Bible scholar and the heart of a pastor. Yes, pastors and church leaders are called upon to offer hope and comfort to those who are suffering, but they must do so in a way that faithfully reflects God’s word. MacArthur’s attempt at this balance is beautifully achieved in this concise book. 

MacArthur shares an experience he had with a woman whose baby had just died. MacArthur offered comfort to the women by assuring her that her baby was in heaven with God. Afterwards, he questioned himself, “Had I spoken to her what could be supported by God’s Word? Or had I spoken to her only what I thought would calm and comfort her in the emotional desperation of that moment?”  This experienced spurred MacArthur to study what the Scripture truly taught about the death of children. 

MacArthur affirms that in the midst of depression caused by tragic events such as the death of a child, what individuals need is the truth of God’s Word. Followers of Christ must be adamant that our beliefs come from the Bible. The Bible must be the lens through which we view that world, even tragedy and suffering. MacArthur writes, “Those who are grieving deserve a compassionate answer rooted in the truth of Scripture.” 

Believing that life begins at conception, MacArthur offers six truths about every baby that is true regardless of the amount of time they live: 1) God knows everything about you before your conception, 2) God is actively involved in your life, 3) God will never cease to have knowledge of you, 4) God is never limited in His understanding, 5) God is your personal Creator, and 6) God personally planned your destiny. Each of these ideas is true of every living soul ever created. Since infants are truly people, whether or not they make it out of the womb alive, God has a purpose for them. He explains, “God created your child. God loved your child and continues to love your child. God’s purpose and destiny for your child are fulfilled perfectly, even if the child dies.” 

MacArthur’s desire is that parents would understand that God makes claim on all children. Speaking explicitly about the children sacrificed in Baal worship, MacArthur affirms, “The sacrificed children of Baal worshipers were not cursed or held guilty along with their parents for evil rejection of the true God. Though the parents were guilty, the little ones were innocent. God is just and will not punish the innocent.” (cf. Jeremiah 19:4-7)

At the same time, MacArthur recognizes he must remain consistent with other portions of the Bible and his theological understanding of salvation. Little children are not righteous in and other themselves. Nor should the term “innocent” be misconstrued that children are born without the stain of sin passed down from Adam (cf. Romans 5:12, 18) Using the infant son of Jeroboam as an illustration, MacArthur explains, “Whatever [the reason for God saving him], it was nothing that was meritorious for salvation (Romans 8:7-8); but God, being gracious, set His favor on the child and preserved him from the dishonorable death that represented divine judgment.” MacArthur reaffirms that salvation is only possible only through Jesus Christ. “God has chosen those who will be saved, including those who die in infancy. They are not saved not on their own initiative, but by His sovereign choice, through grace alone.” MacArthur is not claiming that babies who die in infancy go to heaven because they are somehow perfect; rather, they are among those whom Christ redeems through His sacrificial work upon the cross.

“Why did my child have to die?” MacArthur points out that the world is fallen and broken as a result of sin. Yet Christians can be sure that God is working in every circumstance and is bringing about good even when good is difficult to discern (cf. Romans 8:28). He concludes, “I do not know the precise reasons God allowed your baby to die, but I do know that if you will allow Him to do His work in you and through you, you will learn some eternally valuable lessons and grow in ways that are spiritually and eternally beneficial.”

At the emotional plea of a parent asking if they will see their child again, MacArthur doesn’t try to flood the moment with mere emotion but wants people to find hope in objective truth. He implores readers to examine their own hearts to discern whether they truly have faith in Christ.  He writes, “Your child will greet you in eternity one day only if you have believed in and received Christ Jesus as your personal Savior.” While other writers may be tempted to address this question differently, MacArthur does not want to give a false sense of security to anyone. Instead, he leads those who are suffering right to the cross of Christ.

The many accounts of people who have suffered the loss of a child make this book an approachable tool for those in such a situation. However, the strength of the book lies in the solid biblical foundation and astute theological reasoning. MacArthur not only offers biblical examples, but he applies solid exegesis to rightly understand what the text is saying and how it applies to the topic at hand.

This short book is packed full with biblical truth and pastoral comfort. MacArthur does an exceptional job at finding the balance between truth and peace. In fact, MacArthur correctly shows that truth brings peace. While the pain and suffering that people go through after the loss of a child may seem insurmountable, knowing Christ and His Word will guide those going through the healing process. MacArthur’s contribution to this difficult subject is a welcomed and needed resource to the church.

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“By The Book”

“Some assembly required.” I have come to despise these words! However, I have accepted that fact that when we get new things for the kids, mom and dad are going to have to spend some time putting it together. I open the box, look at the pieces, and try to decide whether or not I can put it together without the instructions. Sometime the picture on the box is enough information. But sometimes it’s not and… I’ve learned the hard way.

            Similarly, last week we discussed the corporate worship of the local church and how the Bible must be the guide for every aspect of worship. This idea is generally referred to as the regulative principle of worship. Today, I’d like to open the instruction book, the Bible, in order to get a glimpse of this principle in action. 

            The easiest way summarize the principle is to say that local churches ought to read the Bible, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, sing the Bible, and see the Bible. Evangelical churches affirm that the Bible is the inspired word of God and is vital to the church, but the limited use of the Bible in every aspect of worship seems to be in opposition to such a profession. The Apostle Paul implored his protégé Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Churches should want the Bible to take center stage in the worship of the church because when the Bible is read, the voice of God is heard. Theologians Ligon Duncan and Terry Johnson explain, “Worship services in which the formal reading of God’s word is absent is a self-imposed famine of the word”. According to Johnson and Duncan, scriptural reading is not an option, but is precisely what God calls for in His word.

            Likewise, faithful Bible exposition should be at the center of Christian worship. While the landscape of American Evangelicalism would lead you to believe that music style and presentation is of the greatest importance, Dr. Albert Mohler agrees with the Reformers who “were convinced that the heart of true biblical worship was the preaching of the word of God”. Mohler defines expositional preaching as “preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible”. This point is so vital to Christian worship because, as Mohler puts it, “God is most beautifully praised when his people hear his word, love his word, and obey his word”.

            Prayer, both private and corporate, has been an aspect of biblical worship throughout the history of God’s people. While worship is about hearing from God through His word, worship also entails calling out to God in prayer. Daniel Block explains how “prayer is essentially a verbal act of faith” as one is trusting that God hears and acts upon their prayers. Tracing a canonical picture of prayer, one can see examples of the various types of prayers given by different people including Abraham’s servant (Genesis 24:12), Moses (Exodus 32:11), and Joshua (Joshua 10). Each time, similar patterns emerge as trust in God and His provision is expressed. Prayer is a way that one not only makes requests but also confesses sin, delivers thanksgiving, and learns to align ones will with God’s will. Prayers filled with biblical language are good ways to learn more about God, teach truths about God, but also to help filter our own thoughts and prayers by what God has given to His people.  

            What is the role of music in worship? This topic is very important in contemporary discussions because, as Daniel Block explains, “Music has become arguably the most divisive factor in North American evangelicalism”. Music has always been an important part of life. Whether to express joy or sadness, music is an avenue for emoting. Likewise, music has always been an aspect in the worship of God. When God led His people out of the bondage of Egypt their response was to worship Him through song and dance (Exodus 15). Music has the distinct ability to inspire hope, motivate love, and energize ones faith. However, when Israel sinned by created a false god, they also worshiped the idol through song and dance (Exodus 32). Music can be used for good but also for evil. Music was used at the dedication of the temple, Jesus sang with His disciples, and Paul and Silas sang out to God while in a jail cell.

            The question is, “How can Christians use music appropriately?” Our music must show our submission to God, our response to His goodness, and the centrality of Christ and the cross. When our music become a means to glorify God and not simply a way for individuals to “feel good”, we will begin to enhance our worship and use music correctly. Our music must be chosen wisely and with biblical warrant. Even our music is to be under the authority of the Bible.

            Finally, one can “see” the Bible through the proper use of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is a symbol of unity between the believer and Christ. Congregations should celebrate the baptism of individuals and use that time as a reminder of what Christ has done for everyone who belongs to Him. Likewise, churches should regularly participate in the Lord’s Supper as a vital aspect of corporate worship directly commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ. These two ordinances are essential to our worship. 

            While church leaders may desire to be clever in order to come up with “new and improved” ways to worship, we should rather look at what God Himself has given to the church in order that we may worship Him in the ways that He desires. True worship is always by the Book. 

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Worshiping God According to the Word”

Recently a headline about Union Theological Seminary in NYC caught my attention. It said, “Union Students Confess to Plants.” The article explained that during a chapel gathering, students spent the time sitting on the floor before a number of plants. One student explained what happened in a tweet, “Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.” Now this seems strange to many, especially coming from a school which purports to train Christian ministers. However, it touches upon an important issue: namely, how are Christians to worship? While I am not insinuating that these students were worshiping the plants (at least I hope not), it is notable that this happened during a time set aside for corporate worship.

A chapel service held at Union Seminary in New York City on Sept. 17, 2019 in which students confessed to plants. | Twitter/Union Seminary

            The idea that local churches are to gather together in order to corporately worship God is important; but the principle matter here is how Christians are to worship. Does it matter what elements of worship take place within the church? Are Christians permitted to worship God however they see fit, so long as their hearts are in the right place? Finally, does God care about how His people come before Him in worship? Writing in Give Praise to God, theologian Ligon Duncan argues that God certainly does care! Further, he asserts that God has provided all the resources needed for worship within the pages of Scripture. He writes, “God’s Word itself must supply the principles and patterns and content for Christian worship. True Christian worship is by the book.”

            Duncan explains the historic unity between Protestants when it came to following the biblical patterns of worship. The reformed church led by Calvin, the Scottish tradition under Knox, the Puritans, the Baptists, and the Congregationalists all used the Bible alone as the guide for corporate worship. These ideals merely grew out of the church’s understanding of sola scripture, that the Bible alone is the authoritative means through which God directs His church. Because of this, the church must heed its instructions concerning worship. Duncan explains, “The Bible alone ultimately directs the form and content of Christian worship.”

            “This strong and special emphasis on the corporate worship of God being founded positively on the directions of Scripture came to be known as the regulative principle,” writes Duncan. The regulative principle states that God dictates the activities and practices of true worship through biblical warrant. Duncan writes, “That warrant may come in the form of explicit directives, implicit requirements, the general principles of Scripture, positive commands, examples, and things derived from good and necessary consequences.” The regulative principle is the key to biblical worship.

            The Bible itself lays the foundation of the regulative principle throughout the Old and New Testaments. In Exodus during tabernacle worship, we see how the detailed instructions for both the creation of the instruments of worship and the implementation of worship are direct indicators that God does indeed care about how He is worshiped. Duncan explains, “God’s plan, not the people’s creativity, nor even that of the artisans who would build it, was to be determinative in the making of the place where His people would meet Him.” It was these and other passages that were instrumental in formulating the regulative principle in minds of various reformed thinkers.

            Finally, Duncan explores what the New Testament has to say regarding the regulative principle worship. This is first seen in Jesus’ rejection and critique of Pharisaic worship. While Pharisees are generally regarded as being too legalistic in their understanding of the law, Jesus rebukes them for putting the traditions of men before the law of God. He questions them, “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3) The man-made traditions had become more important than God’s revealed will. Duncan notes, “It is [the Pharisees’] laxity about God’s law and their tenuous casuistry that undermined the prime force of the moral law and drew His ire.” In rejecting the Pharisaic worship, Jesus shows that He cares about the how of worship as directed by the unadulterated Word of God.

            Especially helpful is Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth. As they struggled with the assembly of worship, the Apostle Paul has no qualms with giving directions. Duncan writes, “Paul is perfectly willing to regulate the form and content of charismatic worship” as it was happening in Corinth. This is an important insight as Paul is pointing out there are right and wrong ways to approach God in worship.

            Before his letter to the church, the Corinthians were worshiping incorrectly; that is, not in line with the Word of God. Paul had to step in to regulate what was unregulated. Paul gives directives on what is to happen in the corporate worship (cf. 1 Cor. 14:27-28) and even on who can do what in the assembly (cf. 1 Cor. 14:34-35). Duncan concludes that Paul’s interaction with the Corinthian church is an example of the regulative principle in action. “The major thrust of this whole passage is that God cares very much how we worship; He cares not just about our attitudes and motives, but about our actions and order.”

            The regulative principle is not simply a doctrinal position held by particular Christian traditions; rather, the regulative principle is derived from the Scripture. The idea that the church is to base its worship practices solely on the direct teaching of the Bible is to be believed because it is in the Bible. Therefore, to disregard the regulative principle is to disregard the Word of God.  Next week, we will examine the specific elements of worship Scripture lays out for us, and how the form and content of our worship can be applied in a way that honors and glorifies God.

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe