Admonishment and Astonishment
Confession of sin is the second main heading of our liturgy every Lord’s Day service. We acknowledge our sins and seek forgiveness for sake of restored fellowship before we continue to meet with God in worship. If confession clears the way, why not do it first?
We could. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with confessing at the very beginning. But here are a couple other thoughts.
First, our service starts at the same time every Sunday, so, unless you sin on the walk in from the car—which is possible—you can confess personal sin before we start. You should wash your hands before grabbing your handle on the worship battering ram as we take a swing at the gates of hell. The more we are ready individually, the more we can confess corporately. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything before confession is warm-up worship until the signal can be unblocked.
Second, and this is more significant, confession comes after the call to worship and a couple songs of praise because it puts us in context of who we’re confessing to. Praise is not just what we have to do, but reminds us with whom we have to do.
A call to confession doesn’t always require explicit reference to the Lord’s holiness, though He is holy, holy, holy. Any man who encounters God is humbled by God’s glory. God’s righteousness and law convict us, but so does His power and grace.
Jacob was afraid after God met him and reassured him of protection and promised prosperity (Genesis 28:17). Peter asked Jesus to depart after Jesus made fishing nets overfull, not after a sermon on total depravity (Luke 5:8). Any attribute of God rightly considered, enough that we recognize due praise to Him for it, is sufficient to bring us to a place of submission. We confess not just when we’re admonished but when we’re astonished.
February 8, 2021
Like a Threadbare Sweater
There are still limits of appropriateness for given situations for sake of truth, goodness, and beauty, as well as formality and majesty. We’re not bringing Lady Gaga before the Lord’s throne. But even in our own Christian heritage, we’ve made missteps. For example, the sing-songy way Psalm 42 is usually sung forsakes a style that fits the content.
Seriously. Watch/listen to this. Compare it to the desperation in the actual song. This isn’t the still waters of Psalm 23, this is almost dead from missing-worship dehydration.
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
So much of contemporary singing is like a threadbare sweater, see-through and anything but flattering. In much of the Contemporary Christian Music industry, the only ones more girly than the women are the men. It’s not a good look. And it doesn’t fit.
What about the tone around the Lord’s Table? What fits?
There are many passages that proclaim the good news, but consider this declaration from Paul:
[David] says also in another psalm,
“‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’
For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:35–39)
Jesus is risen from the dead. Your sins are forgiven. You are free from the law. In Christ is salvation for the ends of the earth. What is the proper timbre for remembering those truths at the Table?
Though Solomon didn’t mean it about the Lord’s Supper, it applies: “Eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart” (Ecclesiastes 9:7).
February 3, 2021
A Heavy Hand
The Psalms include some of the deepest, most desperate confessions of sin found in Scripture. The poetic form, and presumably the original key of the music, must have communicated both the heaviness of conviction and the relief of forgiveness. No man is permitted into God’s presence unless his sin is pardoned, so it is not surprising to find these confession songs as part of the congregations’s worship.
King David, a man known for his musical skill and for his disastrous sin, wrote in Psalm 32:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
David uses three different words for disobedience. “Transgression” concerns revolt or rebellion against God’s law. “Sin” emphasizes missing the mark, failing to live up to God’s law. And “iniquity” stresses a twisting away or deviation from God’s law. All three make a man guilty, and “deceit” is an attempt to make others, or perhaps God Himself, believe we’re more righteous than we are.
Forgiveness as a great blessing because holding on to sin is a grueling condition.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
God sees, God knows, and God humbles those who attempt to cover their sin with silence rather than have it covered by His sacrifice. Sturdy bones “waste away,” they are worn out through “groaning.” The groaning results from God’s “heavy hand,” His personal pressing on the hearts of His people. Why does He do that? Because they can’t be happy/blessed unless their sin is acknowledged, atoned for, and absolved. God will reprove us unto repentance so that we can worship in His presence where there is fullness of joy.
February 1, 2021
Brave New Unhappiness
It is hard to believe that this is our tenth Information Night for ECS. I’ve been to all of them, I’ve said some words at all of them, and I can say with certainty that the tenth looks nothing like the first. That night we didn’t have any students, no cute Kindergarteners in sweater-vests, no fun fish sound-offs from Second Graders. We had some ideas, but they were as concrete as a Plato’s view on the afterlife, which is to say, not very substantial.
A lot has happened in a decade, and I have a better idea of what we’re doing, and what we’re trying to do. I also have a better idea of the limits of a “talk” about classical Christian education and what we want that to look like at ECS. But all that leads me to the point I want to share tonight: I am more unhappy than ever. And what’s more, if you choose to send your students to ECS, we will do everything we can so that they, and you, experience the same thing.
This kind of unhappy begs for a bit of context, some explanation, and I’ve got two sources in my mind for what I mean.
The first source is Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopian novel Brave New World. Have you read it? Orwell took a different route with his 1984 (published 1949), let alone Lewis’ That Hideous Strength (1945) (and Lewis is the best of the three). Huxley imagines the World State where science and data and reproductive technology and entertainment have enabled the government to eliminate all the inconveniences and pains of life. Big Brother isn’t so much a threat to make you disappear as in 1894, but rather to medicate you so that your worries disappear. It’s like a Johnson & Johnson baby-shampoo regime: no more tears tyranny.
Near the end of the book there are two chapters (chapters 16 and 17) of 151-proof ideology presented in a Socratic-ish dialogue in the office of the head of the World State, known as the “Controller,” a man named Mustapha Mond, and another man named John, simply called the “Savage,” who is one of the few natural-born men in the story. The Controller calmly reasons that the Old and New Testaments are unnecessary, as is Shakespeare, that salvation comes in a pill called soma, that the government can provide every comfort necessary. Then the Savage replies:
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.” “In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
The more you know, the more you’ve tasted, less you can be manipulated or conditioned, and the more unhappy you set yourself up to be.
My second source is from the Old Testament, by a man who called himself a Preacher, or perhaps he could be better called a pundit, or a sage.
“In much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” (Ecclesiastes 1:18)
The sage was Solomon, gifted by God with great human wisdom, wisdom which he applied to learn even more. His proverbial conclusion is that wisdom is a grief-giver, wisdom harasses the mind with a clearer picture of what’s wrong. The second line is about sorrow; it is a coordinate action, the more gold you put in the bag the heavier it is to carry.
So I am unhappy like the savage, and I get the lesson of the sage. In our day it is harder to tell them apart.
ECS is a project that claims the right, even more, we claim the responsibility, to be unhappy.
Some of us are unhappy that we didn’t get an education like this. How much different or better might we have done?
We are unhappy with how our government sees us as so easily pacified, satisfied with stimulus checks and streaming video. Perhaps you remember the scene in “The Matrix” when the traitor, Cypher, says he’d rather enjoy the imaginary steak his mind convinces him is real than to be real, and be unhappy: “Ignorance is bliss.” God says, though, “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,” (Proverbs 3:13), and He knows best.
Dorothy Sayers warned in her essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” that we would need better education to ward off all the propaganda. She could not have imagined the success of “15 days to flatten the curve.” The Ministry of Truth has been working double-plus shifts.
We are unhappy that the State celebrates their legislative attempts to turn 220lb boys with pony tails into star women’s soccer players. We are unhappy that we can’t have civil debates about anything, that we can’t ask and expect answers about mandates that violate our constitution. We are unhappy that no one seems to remember the past, let alone learn from it. We could have learned about religious liberty, we could have learned about how fear often spoils freedom. We could have learned that communism has been tried, and found everyone wanting.
Our mission at ECS is as follows:
We commend the works of the Lord to another generation with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.
Because we take that seriously, we are unhappy that we have so much ground that needs to be recovered, and now defended, with still so much more ground that needs to be covered.
We use the tools of classical education to help us. Though “classical” can have a number of forms, it certainly includes recognizing that we are not the first humans on the planet to know anything. We receive (and rejoice in) the truths about subjects and verbs, about sorts of fish, about suffrage and Jesus’ suffering for our salvation. In the Trivium, the “three ways,” these truths are part of the grammar, and there is grammar for every subject. Things happened leading up to and in 1776 that have objective reality, and we’re not trying to rewrite it. 2 + 2 = the same thing, every time, and that’s not because of systemic racism; God said, and it was four.
In the Trivium there is also an emphasis on logic or dialectic, where ideas are debated, rules of argumentation are learned, and fallacies exposed. It’s more than just heat, more than just feeling, and more than just throwing bricks through storefront windows in the name of justice. Dialectic is a method for teaching subjects, and is itself a subject especially suited for those junior-high students who are probably already contrarian; why not make it constructive, or at least less annoying?
The Trivium is capped with rhetoric, where the truths have been gathered and sorted and then adorned. Whether in writing or in speeches or in some other form of expression, truth is shown with great allure. Grammar is like learning the names of notes on the staff, logic is like discerning the difference when it’s sharp or flat, and rhetoric is like making it sing.
At ECS, we’re happily addressing our unhappiness. We have teachers who love the Lord, who love their students, who love the Word and all the things that God has made.
So in this respect our school is not a “safe” space, it’s not trouble-free. We have God, and poetry, and inconvenience, and tears, and good, and sin. And the evangel. This is a project for brave new unhappiness, or from the other side of the coin, a brave new happiness, as we remember that laughter is war, and Jesus is Lord of it all.
The above is roughly what I said at our school’s annual Information Night last evening.
January 27, 2021