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Anger is tricky.
I’ve heard many sermons throughout my life. I remember very few. I assume that it reflects upon my retention skills rather than the lack of poignancy of most preaching. Perhaps you, too, remember few of the numerous sermons you’ve heard. Yet there are those moments in time, those lines that come amid profound sermons that grab hold of you.
This is one of those lines I’ll never forget. A student preacher delivered this to a gathering of eight people. All of us assembled in a small chapel, awaiting our turn to preach for a class. Students aren’t yet expected to speak with profoundness; students are expected to be students. But those poignant, simple words still ring aloud in my head: “God is not angry with me.” Those words speak peace and comfort. They are beautiful and necessary words. Yet they beg the question . . .
Then why is God so angry?
The Old Testament is full of instances when God grew angry at the people of Israel. Rightly so, the people of Israel were often stubborn, prone to worshiping lesser gods, lacked faith on many occasions, and frequently disobeyed God’s direct words. Their actions incited God to anger. Sin has that effect on a holy God. God gets upset when we fall prey to lies that over promise and under deliver. Good fathers don’t get angry with their children when they make mistakes; they get angry about the decisions their kids make, because fathers know the consequences of those decisions.
In fact, if God never got angry, then we should be worried. The Bible says, “The Lord loves those he corrects, just like a father who treats his son with favor” (Proverbs 3:12).
Are we any better than the people of Israel? We sin. Let’s hope that God cares just as much for us.
I grew up afraid of letting my father down. Really, who doesn’t? While he never placed undue expectations upon me, I just wanted to make him proud. Since I became a father to two stepdaughters, I see everything differently. I quickly realized that the disappointment and anger good fathers express when their children mess up is not directed at their children but at their decisions. For my teenage daughters, I see past the present. I see the traits that are developed from habitually not cleaning up after yourself and the dangers of dating that particular teenage boy.
God gets angry because God sees the results of our actions before we do.
Anger is tricky. God gets angry, but God isn’t angry with us.
Dirty, Little Sin
As Christians, we process grief; we show love; we understand compassion; we accept forgiveness; yet when it comes to anger, we reject it as not being useful or holy. There simply is no use for anger in many Christians’ worldviews. We often get told to just “let it go,” “get over it,” or “count to ten.” Anger is treated like a dirty, little secret that needs to be kept quiet, not to be addressed, and to be kept hidden from the world.
Anger exists as the ultimate evil. Happiness exists as the ultimate good. So be happy. This is the philosophy that is often associated with anger.
God gets angry. Why can’t we? There must be more to anger than simply being a forbidden emotion. God doesn’t make humanity in God’s own image and then deny us the ability to be human. Being truly human is to fully embrace who God made us to be. If God gets angry, perhaps we ought to get angry, too.
Anger is tricky. Yes, it possesses both danger and destruction; but so does love. In the next few chapters, I will discuss from a biblical perspective what anger is, how God gets angry, when we need anger, and when we need to let go of anger.
More than Peace—Shalom
When I hear that word, I think of it as a greeting, something similar to “Aloha,” or “Live long and prosper.” Yet shalom exists as a fundamental understanding of God’s purpose as presented in the Old Testament. Shalom connotes peace, rightness, truth, and balance. This is God’s plan for humanity, to live in shalom with one another, with ourselves, and with God.
In conjunction to shalom, every Jewish person in the Old Testament possessed a ga‘al. A ga‘al was a family member or friend who served as a “redeemer” and whose purpose was to restore shalom when it was broken. This serves as a key principle to understanding the proper uses of anger. In Genesis 14, Abraham served as the ga‘al when Lot was abducted by the local warlord. Abraham and his servants rescued and restored Lot’s family. Imagine Abraham’s anger when he discovered Lot’s capture. The prerequisite for any good ga‘al is caring for someone enough to be incensed at the breaking of his or her shalom. Jesus serves as our ga‘al; and so as Christ followers, we are to be Christ to the world. This means that we are in the restoring peace business.
Anger always alerts us to the breaking of shalom. Now, anger can cause the destruction of peace, rightness, truth, and balance in our relationships; or it can cause the reconstruction of peace, rightness, truth, and balance in our relationships. Either way, it brings to our attention that something needs to be addressed, accepted, fixed, repaired, or changed. The New Testament further deepens the idea of anger over the Old Testament understanding of “an eye for an eye.” Anger doesn’t have to equal violence. Jesus gives us other ways to deal with problems, besides digressing to a 5 year old in a pinching contest. He teaches that forgiveness is coupled with indignation and that prayer is the greatest outlet for frustration.
In preparing for this book, I became awakened to my own anger. I had no idea that I had been carrying around so much anger for certain people and about certain situations. If anger is a dirty, little secret, you forget that you possess it. It’s not until you own up to it that you can address it. By owning up to my own anger, I realized that I have been “doing anger” all wrong.
There is a constructive way to use anger. Conversely, there is a destructive way to use anger. Guess with which of these two practices I found myself engaged?
Which do you practice?
Notice that I chose the word use instead of deal in referring to anger. We deal with the common cold. We use a tool. We have a capacity for anger for a reason. Let’s discover what that reason is.
I want to reclaim anger. The Bible tells us that God gets angry. Even Jesus expressed his anger from time to time. (Don’t ever abuse the poor in the name of God.) Constructive uses of this emotion are modeled for us by the Divine. On the other hand, find any TV show labeled “reality”; and you will find any number of destructive examples of anger.
Sin corrupts healthy things. Sin changes love into lust, passion into envy, success into pride.
Sin corrupts anger, too. So let’s learn what the psalmist meant by “Be angry, and do not sin” (Psalm 4:4, NKJV). In doing so, may we reclaim, in some small part, what it means to be human!
This is the first chapter of a book Reclaiming Anger in the CONVERGE Bible Studies series.
Michael Hawn, a professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology, uses two basic categories when speaking about music in the church: cyclical and sequential. Cyclical music is typically made up of short texts supported by a simple melody that is easy to pick up by ear, and lends itself to both repetition and innovation. A good example might be the song “Isn’t He?” Sequential music is inherently literary in its form, is teleological in its structure (the “payoff” is at the end), and is often more musically complex. An example is “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” While the songs of the church don’t always fall neatly into these two categories, they are a helpful way to think about what we sing in worship. More specifically, I find it interesting to use these two categories to consider how contemporary worship music has changed over the last several decades.
“I Love You, Lord” was number three on CCLI’s (Christian Copyright Licensing International) “Top 25” list of the most popular contemporary worship songs in 1997. It is another great example of a cyclical song. The lyrics and the melody are clearly very simple, making it very easy to pick up. The song is seldom sung only once through, but is repeated several times, often with subtle innovations. Unlike a hymn, such as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” the few lines are complete in themselves. While some might be tempted to immediately label a song like “I Love You, Lord” as shallow, it’s important to appreciate that, in many congregations, the singing of cyclical songs is undergirded by a strong theology of the Spirit. For many, the repetition is a spiritual enactment of an encounter with God.
The song at the number twenty spot in the most recent “Top 25” list sounds quite a bit different from “I Love You, Lord.” Joel Houston’s (of Hillsong United) composition, “The Stand” is a much more complex song—musically and lyrically. The verses have a quality similar to sequential music. They build off of each other as they push the singer toward the end of the song. With the addition of the pre-chorus, “So what could I say, etc.,” the song becomes much more musically complex. At the same time, the ending is very similar to a cyclical song—in many ways functioning just like “I Love You, Lord.” The simple lines are sustained by a tune whose melody line hovers around the same note. This “tag” is repeated several times and is the climactic ending to the song.
This quick comparison should highlight what is intuitive to many of us—namely, that contemporary worship music sounds different (lyrically and musically) than it did just fifteen years ago. While the comparison between “I Love You, Lord” and “The Stand” might be an extreme example, it does highlight the fact that modern worship music has morphed into a form somewhere between cyclical and sequential. Without suggesting that there is any clear benefit or deficiency in this development, let me offer a few concluding thoughts about this trend.
“I Love You, Lord” is easier to pick up than “The Stand.” This is not to say that a song like “The Stand” isn’t catchy—its popularity is clearly indicated by its position in the “Top 25” list. If someone had never heard either of the two songs and was asked to sing them in congregational worship, though, it would be much easier to join in on “I Love You, Lord.” This should be an important consideration when introducing a song like “The Stand” to a congregation. You run a greater risk of inhibiting congregational participation, at least the first time you sing “The Stand.”
For those of us ministering in multi-generational contexts, we should also consider that a song like “The Stand” is more difficult for older generations to learn. My eighty-year-old grandmother, who initially loved contemporary worship, frequently laments how many of the new worship songs are difficult to learn.
2. Greater Sophistication
On the other hand, as new songs begin to adopt many of the characteristics of sequential music, they are benefiting from a greater musical and lyrical sophistication. For example, there is an advantage of having to wait for a “pay off” in a song. It not only provides the potential for greater depth in the lyrics, but it communicates something essential to our faith—that the story of God’s salvation in Christ is moving toward an ending itself.
3. Musical Challenge
It’s difficult to pull off a song like “The Stand” with two acoustic guitars and a djembe. On the other hand, you don’t have to have any instruments for “I Love You, Lord,” to go over well. While I appreciate many of the changes that groups like Hillsong United have ushered into the contemporary worship music scene, one of the unintended consequences has been that many worship teams seek to mimic the sound of these popular bands without careful consideration of their own context. Many fail to understand that it requires a good drummer, bassist, keyboard player, and a couple guitarists to reproduce the musical sound of “The Stand.” As songs move away from the cyclical format they often depend upon a greater musical complexity that is not always within the reach of your average church worship band.
While the changing sound of contemporary worship may be obvious to many, the conversation about the pros and cons of this shift is just getting started. What other observations might be made?
This post is a chapter from Dr. Timothy Tennent’s book, 30 Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith available for purchase from our store. This resource makes for a great teaching tool in local churches, especially for catechesis purposes. We’re featuring a chapter each week in hopes of encouraging you to pick up the book and share it with others as well.
For many people, including Christians, the final judgment of God might appear to be incongruent with the God of grace, forgiveness, and love which we have seen so powerfully in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. We often downplay the Scriptures about God’s judgment or relegate the topic to the God of the Old Testament. However, this is not how the Bible portrays the theme of God’s judgment. Rather, the judgment of God is the final vindication of God’s righteousness. It is a good and glorious thing, for final judgment is the time when God will set all things right. Jesus himself spoke of it quite often right in the pages of the New Testament. This final vindication involves two main things.
First, Judgment Day will reveal and make known all sins. The secrets of everyone’s heart will be revealed. Romans 2:16 says, “This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets.” Every thought, every idle word, every deed—even deeds done in absolute secrecy—will be made known and laid bare. Jesus said in Luke 12:2–3 “there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” Crimes which people thought they had “gotten away with” will suddenly be known. All sins will be revealed and publicly exposed.
This is actually good news, because it means that everything will be “set right.” We all know that the courts of human justice have severe limitations. There are crimes which never go punished, and there are crimes for which no human punishment seems fully adequate. This is why it does not make sense to say that God “would never judge anyone, he only forgives.” Crucial to the biblical doctrine of God’s love is that all things will eventually be made right. God’s love for those who have been wronged, and God’s love for righteousness and truth, are one and the same with his determination to set everything right in the end, which is what judgment is. A New Creation where wickedness was still allowed to flourish would not be a place in which we long to dwell. Love without justice is mere sentimentality.
Judgment at the end of time must be seen and understood in the larger context that God has taken upon himself, through Christ, the just sentence of judgment which sinners deserved. Jesus bore our sins on the cross. He accepted the full weight of the guilty verdict. Now, through the gospel, the entire world is invited to receive that gift of grace. Jesus has already borne the judgment of the entire world, and that is where the forgiveness and grace of God are made manifest. However, for those who do not accept Jesus Christ, they must stand before the bar of God’s justice and render a full account of their own lives, receiving the due penalty for every thought or deed.
Second, Judgment Day will vindicate the faith of the church. Praise God that the record of sins is not the only book in heaven. There is another book which has a record of all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. For the believer, Judgment Day is transformed from a day of fear and trial into a day of vindication and joy. The Scripture says that the name of that other book is known as the Lamb’s Book of Life. That book will reveal the names of those people whose sins have already been paid for because we have trusted in the provision offered through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The church will be vindicated, not because we are without sin, but because of our perseverance in faith. This is the truth celebrated in the song which says, “he paid a debt, he did not owe; I owed a debt, I could not pay; Christ Jesus came and washed my sins away!” The people of God will be rewarded for their faithfulness and it will be a day of great joy and celebration. In the Scriptures we do not see the people of God dreading the Day of Judgment. Rather, we see them praying for that day to come, and longing for the time when God will finally set all things right.
1 Corinthians 3:11–15
1 Thessalonians 4:13–18
2 Thessalonians 1:5–10
2 Timothy 4:1
In the first class I took in seminary, the professor made an almost casual suggestion that remains perhaps the single most important piece of advice I received in my theological education. For every semester of seminary, he said, we should read the works of one Church Father to become grounded in the great tradition. At the time, I was a 23-year-old kid with a calling to ministry, but little else. I assumed the only text I needed in seminary was the Bible and, to that point, my theological reading had consisted of the writings of a couple of guys named Joshua. I had no idea who these Fathers were.
Now a professor of theology myself, I have come to see that my experience as a young seminarian is anything but unique. Most Protestants I meet, whether in the classroom or in the local church, are unacquainted with the writings of the Church Fathers. Piously, we might say this ignorance stems from a sola scriptura methodological principle that remains a part of the Protestant DNA. However, the Protestants I know who are intentional about discipleship read voraciously from the best seller list of their local Christian bookstore and rarely interpret Scripture without reference to their Bible’s footnotes. It seems we read plenty of things to help us understand the meaning of Scripture. Unfortunately, however, most Protestants do not look behind the twenty-first century, much less the sixteenth, for their interpretive guides. Thankfully, I had a professor who led me elsewhere, and, taking his advice, I began to explore this foreign and exotic world. Ironically, the name to which I first turned, Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130 C.E. – 200 C.E.i), is best known precisely for his insight that Scripture demands an interpretive guide.
A late second century bishop of modern day Lyons in France, Irenaeus was faced with the considerable challenge posed to the infant Church by the various theological traditions known to history as “Gnostics.” These groups claimed to possess a secret, salvific knowledge taught to a select few by Jesus Christ which entailed the distinction between the good God whom Jesus revealed and the evil creator known to Israel, the dismissal of material creation as evil, and the rejection of the Hebrew Scriptures as authoritative revelation. While this secret knowledge was contained in the Scriptures, the Gnostics claimed that a special, allegorical lens was needed to unlock it.
As a bishop, familiar with the teachings and traditions of churches in several different geographical locations, Irenaeus was able to discern the vacuity of the Gnostics’ theological claims. Surprisingly, however, he agreed with their methodological assumption that the Scriptures required a lens—the ancient word is regula (rule)—through which to be understood. Without such a regula, or, in the case of the Gnostics, with the wrong regula, Scripture would inevitably be misunderstood and misappropriated. Put another way, we need to read things to understand Scripture, but we need to read the right things.
Unfortunately, such a hermeneutical principle risks obscuring Scripture by making the interpretive regula, as opposed to Scripture, the true authority. Nevertheless, in Irenaeus’ work, the opposite occurs. Indeed, to read Irenaeus is to read nothing more than a masterful retelling of Scripture. In his able hands, we see the blossoming of Scripture as a coherent narrative revealing the one God who works in all things, both in creation and redemption, both in Israel and the Church, both in the Old and New Covenants, both in the Son and the Spirit. We thus find God’s original creation not destroyed, but restored in the work of Jesus Christ who reveals not a previously unknown God, but the physical face of a previously unseen God. As Irenaeus puts it, “Thus [Christ] showed that the God who made the earth and commanded it to bear fruit, and who established the waters and produced the springs, this same [God] bestows upon the human race the blessing of food and the favor of drink through His Son in these last times—the incomprehensible through the comprehensible, and the invisible through the visible, since He does not exist outside of the Father, but in His bosom” (Adv. Haer. 3.11.5).
Thus, Irenaeus shows us that the Church’s regula, unlike the Gnostics’ secretive, allegorical key, is not foreign to Scripture but arises from it, in concert with it, revealing its inner logic and beauty. Indeed, the nature of the Church’s regula is precisely to point beyond itself, to place the focus on Scripture.
Twenty-first century Christians are in no less need of a regula than were second century Christians. But like those persuaded by the Gnostics, we often reach for the wrong things. In reality, the best regula we have are the writings that many have never heard of, the writings of the Church Fathers. To read their writings is to witness Scripture shining forth its brilliance. To know their lives is to see Scripture performed in the manner intended, a manner that produces holiness.
Of course, for the Fathers to serve as our regula, we need first to spend time in their company. Therefore, in a series of forthcoming blogposts at Seedbed, I will introduce readers to these early figures. My hope is that these posts will merely serve as a primer, leading to a greater engagement and reading of their works, where the true wisdom can be gained. What I suspect is that in being led to the Fathers, we will always be led to Scripture.
“I’ve got something that I want you to pray about…”
When someone speaks these words to a friend or pastor, it’s normally out of personal need or an urgent and distressing situation. This need or situation will usually elicit a caring and loving response. If you are a pastor and you hear these words come from one of your denominational leaders, well, let’s just say that you never know what’s coming next or how it could change your life.
Upon receiving my credentials with the Assemblies of God, my Sectional Presbyter, who is also the pastor of the church I attended, presented the opportunity for me to plant an Assembly of God church in Wilmore. As there were no traditional Pentecostal churches in Wilmore, I immediately knew that this was the right thing to do. The wheels were put in motion to begin the church, named Every Nation Assembly of God. However, this wouldn’t be an ordinary church plant.
If Wesleyanism had a holy city, Wilmore would certainly be a candidate. Methodism is the main denomination in this area with several churches, a university, and a seminary with Methodist roots. While the Assemblies of God (and other classical Pentecostal denominations) certainly have a heritage in the Wesleyan Holiness revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries, they have never claimed to be a Wesleyan denomination. This is a mistake as Pentecostalism has much to learn, or rediscover, from its Wesleyan roots, and vice versa. The Seedbed
While obtaining a seminary degree from a Wesleyan school, I had the unique opportunity to combine my Assemblies of God background with my Wesleyan-influenced education in this new church plant. I knew that there were certain elements of both traditions that I would want to incorporate in a local congregation. The main components from the Assemblies of God is worshiping without any time constraints and allowing the Holy Spirit to move within the service. The main component from Wesleyanism is a more concentrated focus on the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.
Many churches, Pentecostal or not, do not practice Holy Communion more than once a month, once a quarter, or even once a year. A popular argument for this is that Communion has the potential to lose its meaning and simply become another thing that the congregation does week after week if practiced more frequently. This caution is valid, as Communion should be kept sacred and there’s a risk in cheapening it. However, I believe the greater risk comes in not celebrating it enough.
In his sermon “The Duty of Constant Communion,” John Wesley expounds that it is in fact a duty of each believer to take Communion as often as he or she can (four to five times a week). In Luke 22:19, Jesus tells the disciples to celebrate this Communion in remembrance of Him, and this remembrance leads to the “strengthening and refreshing of our souls.” As we partake of the body and blood of our Lord, we remind ourselves of the great price that our Savior paid for us. We are encouraged by the wonderful gift of grace we’ve been given, and it would do our souls well to be reminded of that as often as possible.
Additionally, the Table unites us in ways that sermons and singing cannot do. Even if you are worshiping in the same building with people that you may not like, you still must come to the Table alongside them. God has offered the gift of salvation to all people, and all people are welcome to the Table.
Furthermore, the Table is a place where broken and hungry sinners can have a meal with the Master. Just as Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners in their homes, Jesus desires to eat at the Table with those who seek but have not yet found. He offers Himself to all those who would come and eat of His body and drink of His blood. The Table can serve as such an evangelistic tool if we would only take the risk of offering it to the world as often as possible.
Surely mainline churches have much to learn from Pentecostal worship and the Holy Spirit’s current work as patterned in the book of Acts. In the same way, Pentecostal churches ought to be open to learning from the rich tradition of their predecessors. Every Nation Assembly of God will be rediscovering its Wesleyan heritage by celebrating Holy Communion every week, and I’d like to extend the invitation to you and your congregation to do the same.
I want you to pray about it.