friend in Pennsylvania about troubling developments in Virginia. There were reasons to worry about oppressive British taxes, of course, but that was not Madison’s primary concern in this letter. The “worst” news he had to deliver was that the “diabolical Hell conceived principle of persecution” was raging in the colony. “There are at this [time] . . . not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in [jail] for publishing their religious sentiments. . . . Pray for liberty of conscience to revive among us.” While today we tend to think of early America as a bastion of religious liberty, many in the colonial era lamented its absence.
No one suffered more persecution than Baptists. They were the most likely “well meaning” Christians to be thrown in jail on the eve of the American Revolution. While leaders like Madison and Thomas Jefferson learned much about the need for religious freedom from “Enlightened” authors such as John Locke, their deepest convictions about liberty of conscience came from watching it being denied to fellow Americans.
What Set Baptists Apart
Baptists caught the brunt of persecution because of their unusual practices and brash style. Baptists had begun to appear in early seventeenth-century England, and were present in America by the early colonial period. Insisting that the baptism of believers by immersion was the biblical mode, they were fighting an uphill battle in the religious culture of the day. With few exceptions, Christians had taught for a millennium that baptism was meant for infants. Infant baptism introduced a child into the covenanted community of the church, and hopefully put them on the path of salvation. Depriving babies of that blessing seemed tantamount to child abuse, the Baptists’ persecutors believed.
Baptists were among the most fractious of all dissenters. They refused to attend the state-backed churches of England or America, or to pay religious taxes to support those churches. They flamboyantly violated rules that required dissenters to secure licenses from the government to preach. Sometimes local authorities would not agree to have these dissenters preach at all. Regardless, Baptist itinerants traveled throughout the colonies, often holding outdoor baptismal services in rivers and lakes, drawing crowds of mockers.
The Troublers of Churches
Baptists, Quakers, and other nonconformists suffered discrimination and maltreatment in the American colonies that believers today in places from China to Nigeria would find strangely familiar. In 1651, for example, a man named Obadiah Holmes, accused of proselytizing for the Baptists, was taken from his cell at Boston’s prison to receive a punishment of thirty lashes with a three-corded whip. Holmes had been alone in prison for weeks, struggling to come to terms with the impending travail. But the day of his whipping, an unusual calm came over him. Although his captors tried to keep him from speaking, he would not be silent.
“I am now come to be baptized in afflictions by your hands,” Holmes said, “that so I may have further fellowship with my Lord, and am not ashamed of his sufferings, for by his stripes am I healed.” Holmes was tied to a post. The officer tasked with meting out Holmes’s sentence spit on his hands, took up a whip, and began flailing him with all his might. Still, Holmes felt the presence of God as at no other time in his life. The pain of the scourging lifted away. When they untied him, Holmes stood up and smiled. “You have struck me as with roses,” he chided them.
A 1645 Massachusetts law had specifically banned Baptists from the colony, calling them “the incendiaries of commonwealths” and “the troublers of churches in all places.” Quakers sometimes endured even rougher treatment than that faced by Baptists. Massachusetts expelled several Quaker missionaries in the late 1650s, warning them not to come back. Three did return, and Massachusetts executed them by hanging.
Freedom for Some
Colonial America did have an embryonic tradition of religious liberty, of course. Rhode Island founder Roger Williams had been expelled from Massachusetts for criticizing that colony’s mingling of state and church. Accordingly, when he started his new colony, he mandated that Rhode Island would not sponsor any particular Christian denomination. No one would suffer persecution for their beliefs or religious practices there. Likewise, William Penn’s Pennsylvania, founded in the 1680s, offered religious liberty not only to persecuted Quakers, but to a host of Christian sects.
By 1700, many of the worst aspects of persecution against dissenters in England and America had ended, but most of the colonies (like England) still had official denominations. New radical movements emerging from the Great Awakening of the 1740s ran afoul of the “established” church’s requirements, and a new wave of American persecution began.
The Persecution Progresses
The great New England Baptist pastor and historian Isaac Backus recorded numerous instances of the harassment of Baptists in Connecticut and Massachusetts during the mid-1700s. When Baptists of Sturbridge, Massachusetts refused to pay to support the Congregationalist Church, authorities imprisoned some of them for tax evasion, while from other Baptists they seized property including livestock, tools, pots, and pans.
Madison’s and Jefferson’s Virginia saw the era’s worst outbreak of persecution against Baptists. During the 1760s and 1770s, more than thirty Baptist pastors were jailed for illegal preaching in the colony. Many more Baptists suffered violence and intimidation. Itinerant Baptist preacher James Ireland was among those arrested, but even jail time would not shut him up. His friends and supporters came to listen to him preach through the cell grate. Some of these were African American Christians, whom white authorities dragged away to be whipped. Ireland’s tormenters devised other means to keep him quiet — some burned noxious materials to drive away his audience. Some even urinated on him as he spoke to the crowd.
Our Costly, Fragile Freedom
The troubles in Virginia generated a backlash, as Enlightened elites and evangelical Christians alike called for a new era of religious freedom. That reaction birthed the most important statutes regarding religious liberty in American history. Backed by legions of Baptists and other evangelicals, Madison and Jefferson finally secured the adoption of the Bill for Establishing Religious Liberty in 1786, stopping formal support for the Church of England and promising an end to religious persecution. That law was the critical precedent for Madison’s religion clauses in the First Amendment, which committed the new nation to “free exercise of religion” and prohibited Congress from establishing a national denomination.
America has historically set the global pace for religious liberty, though even in America that freedom was hard won. Long before secularism took hold in America, persecution was already part of the American story. Where religious freedoms failed the Baptists, they endured oppression for their theological commitments. Every generation of Christians should be prepared for it. “A servant is not greater than his master,” said Jesus. “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
We should also be thankful life in America today for Baptists is not as oppressive as earlier generations faced. But neither should we indulge the fantasy that religious liberty is permanently secure. If there was a time when free exercise of religion was viciously denied to many Americans, we would be foolish to think that this could never happen again.
My heart leapt when I read the theme for this edition of Worship Leader magazine. For one of my life’s greatest privileges has been serving as a worship pastor, and with this responsibility my eyes have been opened to so many different facets of what the job really requires, as opposed to what I imagined it required.
I believe in my heart of hearts that the worship pastor of a team does not have to be the most talented, the most eloquent, the most gifted writer—although to be skillful at your craft is a must. But this role is truly all about care.
The worship pastor must care that people have an understanding of why we worship and not just how we worship; the worship pastor must carry the heart of the church and its leadership tenderly with great respect and unyielding support. The worship pastor must love the team and their families more for who they are and their journey in Christ than for what they do for the church.
Yes, the worship pastor is shepherd first, musician second—a true worshiper, one who leads with skill, wisdom, and godly devotion.
I have written my Top Ten teaching thoughts for worship pastors to share with their teams—to give you some absolutes to pass on to those entrusted to your care.
1. The Worship of God Is Holy
God is not common; hence worship is not a gig, not a right to prove our abilities, not an opportunity to sing our favorite songs. We worship because he is a holy God, and we the created—made for his pleasure—worship and serve the Creator because he alone is worthy.
2. Regarding Excellence
We bring our finest, because we care that our sacrifice is truthful and brought with integrity of heart. The first fight in the Bible was about a worship offering (Gen 4), and to this day, people bicker and disagree about what is genuine worship. No matter how we present our worship, only God knows the true intent of our pursuit of him. And it is in the authentic pursuit of him that we find excellence in worship.
3. Authentic Lives of Worship
We train in so many things consistently, but nothing can replace each individual’s commitment to an authentic life as a worshiper. So that when your inner life is revealed, what is seen and what is unseen by humans is one and the same.
Bill Hybels wrote a great book called Who You Are When No One’s looking. Work at making sure that you are one person: the person we publicly know, and the person God privately knows.
4. Serve the Lord With Gladness (Ps 100)
Gladness is not just an emotion; gladness is a byproduct of joy, which is substance, a fruit of the spirit. You can literally live on it. Joy puts others at rest.
“He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart” (Eccl 5:20).
5. Worship Is Not Just a Lifestyle.
Worship is our life’s response to the grandeur and magnificence of our God. Worship as a lifestyle sounds like we would treat the Cross of Christ casually. But our ability to enter his courts and live in his presence actually cost God his all—for us. Never treat his worship as a lifestyle option.
6. Build a Culture That Embraces the New
We see that the Levites were trained and skilled in making music before the Lord (1 Chr 25:7). Never compare or be skillful for the sake of it, yet always encourage people to be developing their gifts, to try new things, new ideas. Be vigilant to train and grow and strive for freshness in all that you have been given, for the glory of his name. As the Scripture says:
- Sing new songs (Isa 42:10).
- You will be called by a new name (Isa 62:2).
- I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them (Ezek 11:19)
New songs, new day, new start, new hope, new mercy, new possibilities, new ideas, new ways, new people, God says “new heaven and a new earth,” “ new covenant,” “new self,” “new heart,” “new command,” “new creation”… new, new, new!
7. God’s Presence Is Great Power
Our role is to declare and announce that God is here. If we just play and lead to please the ears of man and satisfy our own desires to play/sing, and march into services without a holy awareness of his presence and magnificence then we rob people of their spiritual inheritance. Lead people to the courts of our God.
8. We enter “his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (Ps 100:4)
This sequence is God’s idea, not just the delight of all sanguines worldwide. Be confident to lead people in the high praise of our God. Announce that our God reigns.
9. Speak a Kingdom Culture
If your team knows how to play music but the culture is one of negativity, defeat, resistance, offence, pride, lack of self esteem, jealousy, even of unbelief, then your team will never grow together into a culture that is based on kingdom principles. Kingdom music is crafted in the heart of a human being who gets a glimpse—a taste —or hears the sound of the kingdom of God.
10. People of Prayer
It is a very presumptuous person who thinks you can live an effective Christian life without prayer. Prayer is our lifeline; prayer is our first language; prayer is our direct access. This is made clear in the Psalms—a magnificent book of prayers that teaches us so much about our language before our God. Enter with thanksgiving, bring him everything, love him, adore him, ask of him; this is the language of prayer. As you develop your life of prayer, you are developing your life of faith—and your life of worship.
OK lovely ones, I could pour out my heart on this topic for days, but that’s it for now. Never forget the honor it is to worship our King,
Love always, Darlene.
This is not the time for Christian timidity. This is not the time for Christian silence. This is not the time for Christian retreat. This is a time for Christian boldness. It is a time to speak.
Into a world that considers any exclusive truth claim to be the height of bigotry, we must lovingly speak that Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [him]” (John 14:6).
Into a world that has rejected God’s objective meaning for marriage, opening the door to a wide range of perversities, we must lovingly speak that it was God who said, “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5).
Into a world that has embraced the horrific lie that to kill a child is an act of compassion to his mother, we must lovingly speak that God alone has the right to give and take life and that we shall not murder (Job 1:21; Exodus 20:13).
Speak Sanity Into the Madman’s World
Into a world that has repressed the truth and asserted the glorious order and fine tuning of the universe, the biological richness of earth, and the rational mind of man to comprehend quasars and quarks are the products of eons of chaos, unintelligent macroevolution, and unimaginable odds, we must lovingly speak that “what can be known about God is plain to [us], because God has shown it to [us]. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So [we] are without excuse” (Romans 1:19–20).
A world that embraces the rejection of truth, the destruction of marriage, the extermination of the innocents, and the veneration of a mindless, value-less “creator” is the world of a madman. It is the devil’s playground (1 John 5:19). It is an insane nightmare.
But on “those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2). The return to sanity, the end of the nightmare, is Jesus Christ, “the light of the world” (John 8:12).
And it is precisely when the dark descends that the light is most needed. We must shine the light.
Our Dishonor May Be God’s Answer to Our Prayers
We have prayed for Jesus to shine in this world. We have prayed for the completion of world evangelization. And now we in the West are seeing our societies grow increasingly hostile toward the gospel. Some of us are bewildered. Some are discouraged.
But we must bear in mind that God often answers our prayers in unexpected ways.
For what do we see in the New Testament? We see that human beings perceive the love of God in the gospel of Christ most clearly in this dark world, not through the prosperity of his servants, but through their suffering.
First, it was our Lord himself. The cross was the most evil and most righteous, most hateful and most loving, most profane and most holy event in all of human, indeed cosmic, history. Then the gospel began to spread to Samaria and all Judea and to other regions following the death of Stephen. Then the gospel spread through Asia Minor and into Europe through Paul and his band who suffered more than most of us can imagine (2 Corinthians 11:23–28).
Testifying and suffering — it is the motif of all of redemptive history. It is God’s chosen method to display his love and spread his gospel. The earliest Christians even rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).
That might seem strange to us Westerners. But that’s because we’re strange in redemptive history. Most of us have not had to endure dishonor for bearing the name Christian.
But we have prayed for the gospel to spread through our nations and the world. Looking at redemptive history, should we be surprised if God answers our prayers by counting us worthy to suffer dishonor for his name? What if the cross of our dishonor is a means to the salvation of millions?
Jesus did say, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). And he told us, “You will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. . . . [A]nd because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:9, 12).
And Paul prepared us too: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12–13).
If It’s Costly to Speak, It Must Be Valuable
So what are we to do as increasing dishonor comes to us? We are to do just what the early disciples did: keep speaking. When the governing authorities charged them to stop preaching the gospel, the apostles replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20).
It is precisely when it is personally costly to speak, and we still speak, that people listen to what we have to say. When it’s costly to deliver a message, the message must be costly. For people only pay dearly for what is valuable. Paying dearly glorifies the valuable thing. And no message is more valuable than the gospel of Jesus.
So keep speaking. Relentlessly keep speaking. Relentlessly keep speaking, not to win a culture war, but to win souls. Relentlessly keep speaking to win souls because you love souls.
And as we keep speaking, we should not expect to measure our success by immediate circumstantial improvement. In our short-term context, the gospel may appear to lose ground and evil appear to have the momentum. That is often how circumstances appeared to saints throughout history. But in fact, the gospel has only ever continually spread through the world, despite the mad devil’s best attempts to stamp it out.
So keep speaking the gospel. It is going to win. Jesus promised it would: “The one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:13–14).
Note this, we will have to endure. That means suffering and dishonor. But the gospel will be preached to the whole world.
God will answer our prayers, first by causing us to endure, and then bringing the end. Then Jesus will deliver the kingdom to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24). And then, pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
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