Now first off, I happen to like Tim. We’ve met maybe once or twice, though I doubt he knows who I am, but I happen to like his — what shall we say — cussedness. I think I heard him preach once, and I think he was a little weepy but I still imagine him preaching with a spittoon next to the pulpit and a wad in his cheek. In other words, I appreciate Tim’s directness, his forthrightness. And I appreciate it specifically because I don’t think Tim’s a jerk at all (that’s a compliment). Even though he might get suspected of being angry or bitter or belligerent. I don’t get that feeling at all. Or if he’s a tad feisty, it’s more like a high school boy ready for a tussle, a little sparring. He might like to deck you sure, but he’d do it with a big grin on his face. He’d dump a bucket of cold water on your head even if you hadn’t signed up for the ALS challenge if he thought you needed it, if he thought it’d be good for your soul.
And that leads to the second reason I like Tim. It’s because he’s a shepherd of sheep. He loves his people and he loves the sheep of God. I hardly know him, but the little that I’ve seen and read and heard, I don’t get the sense that he somehow enjoys calling people out just for the sake of argument or looking theologically superior or biblically buff. He’s not just playing games. I get the sense that he loves Jesus, takes his calling seriously, and believes in the existence of wolves and snakes and false teachers. He’s got a whip, and he isn’t afraid to use it. Looks to me like he’s been calling folks out in the PCA for a while for being pansies and cowards and compromisers, and if he’s been mistaken about his targets a few times, I still suspect, we could use three more of him in that denomination. So God bless him and may his tribe increase.
I also like Tim because he’s one of Doug Wilson’s friends. I trust Doug’s judgment when it comes to friends, and since Doug is one of my fathers in the faith, I’m required by God not to forsake the friend of my father (Pr. 27:10). And while I’m on references, I might as well drop a plug for Tim’s dad’s book The Gospel Blimp, which is a collection of modern parables full of the right kind of wit and wisdom for our day. All that to say, I’m happy to hear Tim out. I’m happy to hear his concerns.
At the same time, Peter Leithart is one of my other fathers in the faith. He raised me on his knee and taught me the Bible when I hardly knew my right hand from my left. He taught me to love the Bible, to love the language of the Bible, to love its poetry, its beauty, its story. And for him, Covenant Renewal Worship was a natural overflow of loving the contours of Scripture. Peter taught me that liturgical worship was first and foremost Scripture-saturated worship. I formally inherited this love of Bible and biblical worship when I was called to Trinity Reformed Church, the church he planted, and his love and joy and wisdom still haunts us (in all the most wonderful ways). And I guess that makes Jim Jordan one of my godfathers and Jeff Meyers is like a really cool uncle I’ve met but hardly know (but who takes awesome pictures and loves guns). And the fact of the matter is that every one of these men has in various respects some of the same qualities that I’ve already listed to be admired in a man like Tim Bayly. They’ve all got some cussedness too. They aren’t lightweights and they aren’t pushovers and they love Jesus and His Church and the sheep they teach and have influence over.
So with all that in mind, I just want to say two things. Well, ok, more like four or five.
First, when it comes to the current topics of the Federal Vision or liturgy or sacraments, I stand gladly with what I’ve been given, with what I’ve inherited. The anemic American Church needs a thick gospel, a gospel of word and deed, a full throated gospel, a gospel that kicks like a shotgun and burns like bourbon. And that gospel needs a worship that is heavy enough to handle it, heavy enough to hold it up. We need a biblical worship that is deep and rich and militant, and that means more than a lecture and three songs, that means more than rock songs with Jesus lyrics. But we don’t have to make this up as we go along. In fact, we must not make it up as we go along. We must obey Jesus. But He told us exactly what to do. He told us to proclaim the gospel, and He told us to proclaim with words and bread and wine and water. He told us to pray constantly. He told us to forgive sins. He told us to sing psalms like an army going to war. He told us to take the nations, to baptize and disciple them all. And He told us how to get the job done: word, sacrament, forgiveness, covenant, faith, obedience, love, psalms, etc.
And what I’ve found in the rich bible-soaked worship called covenant renewal is a pastoral garage built on a thick slab of concrete, loaded with tools to get the job done. And that thick slab of concrete has a Latin name called Sola Scriptura. It means taking the Bible seriously. It means taking all of the Bible seriously. It means letting all the pointy and sharp edges stick out. It means letting Jesus be the Lord of His Word and letting Him take you wherever He pleases. Salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone, by His grace alone, and all the glory and praise to the Triune God alone. But that faith works by love and is never alone. And baptism saves — not the removal of dirt from the body — but a clean conscience that answers to God. And the covenant is real communion with the God of heaven: let God be true and every man a liar. Let the chips fall where they may, let the Spirit sort out the loose ends, and let the haters hate.
But secondly, and for all that, I think Tim is the right kind of sparring partner. Even if he’s wrong about latent lutheranism, about creeping sacramentalism, about whatever. He’s the right kind of friend who doesn’t pull punches, who isn’t about politics, who doesn’t just tow the party line. We can’t let this kind of feedback embitter us, annoy us, or frustrate us. Iron sharpens iron, and it usually does it with lots of heat and sparks flying. The death of any movement or renewal is the end of discussion, the end of debate, the end of hard questions. The birth of reformation is always full of the big questions, big debates, big disagreements. It’s robust, lively, over the top, in your face, but death is silence, death is the faint murmur of affirmation and agreement and assurance and the beep, beep, beep of the machines keeping a body alive. To the law and to the testimony, to the Scriptures, to the confessions, to the fathers. There’s nothing to resent, nothing to threaten. Let’s sharpen our swords.
I’m not eager to give up anything that I’ve received from the Lord. Thankfulness for the kindness that Jesus has shown to me through the fathers in my life makes me too glad to drop anything I’ve been handed along the way. But if it’s one thing my fathers have taught me it’s that God does new things. He takes perfectly good things and breaks them open to make new and better things. He broke a perfectly good man open and ripped out his rib and made a creature called woman. It was bloody and messy and probably pretty painful, but the results were astonishing. Nobody expected that. So I for one welcome the challenge offered by Tim. We love the same Jesus, we love the same Church, we are called to be Shepherds of various parts of the flock. So bring it on. Show us where we’re wrong, brother. Take us to Scripture. Take us to the best of the Reformed tradition. Show us the sheep that have gone missing.
As it happens, I think Tim is wrong about some things, but I think he has a point about some others. I don’t think it’s crazy to raise concerns about high liturgy and high sacramentalism when that’s where our emphasis has been. When you sign up for math class, you get math problems. When you become Reformed, you get Reformed problems. When you embrace biblical worship, you get the temptations and problems that come with it. That shouldn’t surprise us, and we should be on the look out for people getting the whole thing upside down or backwards. We have said that the glory of biblical liturgy is Bible saturation. That means letting the Word cut wherever it wants. And Isaiah has some harsh things to say about empty ceremonies, as does Hosea and Amos, and Jesus warns about loving long robes and fancy hats, and come to think about it lots of the Bible warns about this kind of thing. Paul says to examine yourself to make sure you are in the faith, and he warns against false brothers, wolves in sheepskins, charlatans, liars, pigs returning to the mire, dogs returning to vomit. In other words, if we’re doing it right, if we’re doing Covenant Renewal Worship right, we should be harder on ourselves than all of Pastor Tim’s blog posts combined. On the other hand, if you take the objective covenantal view of the sacraments and turn it into a wood chipper to run all of Scripture through, glaring at anybody that asks you about it, you’ve just cut off the limb of the tree you were building your nifty house on and thereby prove the point Tim is making.
I agree with Chesterton. We should not tear any fence down until we know who put it up and why. And as I grow older I can feel my conservation instincts only increasing, but faithfulness here and now means tending the fences that are here and now without neglecting the weightier matters of the law. I doubt Tim would honestly counsel any firmly committed Covenant Renewal guy to just scrap everything and do what Tim’s church does. That would just make it worse. What we need is a thoughtful, prayerful rumble. Notice that I did not say dialogue. To Hell with dialogues.
Lastly, I would be a fool to refer to all of these spiritual fathers without reference to my own biological father who has been my greatest spiritual father. If it’s one thing that my dad has taught me over the years by word and example it’s that God’s favorite thing is to save sinners. His favorite thing is grace. He loves to take the childish, foolish things of the world and display His power and glory in them. I grew up knocking on doors, handing out Christian literature, and watching my dad faithfully preach the grace of Jesus to lost, miserable sinners. My grandpa is a Marine Vet of World War II and worked on oil rigs all his life; my dad did the very next best thing and played hockey in Alaska and later went back to plant a church. And if I could be anything when I grow up it would be to have my grandfather’s Marine and oil rig cussedness and my dad’s evangelistic zeal.
And at the end of the day that will be the proof in the pudding: the blind receiving sight, the deaf hearing for the first time, slaves set free, the dead raised, sins forgiven, regenerate hearts, lives transformed, sinners saved. And I’m talking about saved-saved, elect-from-before-the-foundation-of-the-world-saved, Holy Ghost saved, you-can’t-snatch-these-sheep-from-His-hand-saved. In some cases, we may find that God is pleased to use somewhat different means just to prove that He can, just to show off His glory. But I suspect that we will also find along the way that we have honing to do, that our blades can drive deeper, that the grace can come sharper, and that by the power of the Spirit communities and generations and yes, our worship, can become more faithful and more potent.
It’s still early. The sun has just come up over the horizon. We’ve got hundreds of generations to go before we get to a thousand. There’s plenty of work to be done, and there’s still plenty to learn. For my money, I’ll be out on the university campus this weekend open-air preaching, playing the fool, proclaiming the wisdom of God, and yes, Pastor Tim, I’ll probably be wearing a collar but don’t you worry: I’ll be telling the old, old story about an old rugged cross and nothing but the blood of Jesus.