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Monday, August 26, 2013

Psalms for the Christians suffering under Islam, and for the conversion of the Muslims



In the past several years I have developed a heart to pray for the people of Islam. Specifically for their conversion into the gospel of Jesus and away from the stifling legalism and cruelty of  the Muslim religion. I have shared many of these psalms on Facebook, but I believe it is now a good time to gather some of them and present them as a blog posting.

I am hopeful many of you will share some of these with others. Perhaps reading them in prayer groups as you intercede for the Islamic peoples or the Christians suffering persecution under various Islamic regimes. For those of you in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition, it might be a good idea to pray some of these psalms during the "Prayers of the People" of the Sunday liturgy. For those in a more "free church" tradition, perhaps Wednesday night prayer service would be appropriate.

Feel free to use them in any prayerful setting. Even better, write your own to share with your prayer group and church. For hints on psalm writings check out my earlier blog posting HERE. Now some of you will read these psalms and think, "I can do better." WONDERFUL! Go to it!


Psalm for the Copts in Egypt

Protect your People in Egypt oh Lord.
Give succor to those chosen ones who live by the banks of the Nile
Men filed with murder and hate attack their churches
Demon-filled assassins bomb their homes.

Let these attacks be costly to the Kingdom of Satan, oh Lord.
Let a thousand convert for every Copt who loses his life.

Send your angles, strong and armed, to your saints in that ancient land
Let every Copt feel the presence of the Holy Ones
And have assurance of his deliverance.

Let a revival break out in every church in Egypt,
And the Holy Spirit fall without measure,
With dancing in the Spirit and prophecies from on high.

 Let the Muslims of Egypt see and wonder
Let them see healings flow from Coptic churches in torrents greater than the Nile
Let the people of Islam be envious

By your grace, bring them understand that the Koran is not the word of God
And that it cannot bring healing to the nations.


Psalm for the Ministry of Fr. Botros

Bless and empower with your Spirit Fr. Botros.
Let his programs spread the Light of the Gospel
And dissipate the darkness of Islam

Let his message go unimpeded by satellite and webcam,
Repeated on laptops and IPhones.
Let no place in the Muslim world be able to hide from it.
Let the peoples tune in out of curiosity and despair,

And come to salvation and hope
But the millions…one at a time.
They will turn to their true savior.

Let Islam fall in the twinkling of an eye
Let the pundits of the West be astounded
As they see your grace in action.

(On the ministry of Fr. Botros, see my earlier blog posting HERE.

Psalm for the Syrian Christians
(August, 2012)
Protect Christians in Syria oh Lord
And give help to the ancient churches of Damascus.
They are a remnant of churches long ago,
Of Christians who have praised your name from the time of the Apostles.

Now overrun by the sons of Islam
Persecuted, marginalized and despised in their own country.

But now Lord…
Let the Church of Syria arise!
Now pour out upon them your Holy Spirit
Fill them with the powers of the Kingdom long dormant and forgotten.
That with new boldness they may proclaim Christ and the cross.
And have signs and wonders follow.

Let the Church in Syria arise!

That where Alawi kills Sunni and Sunni murders Alawi,
The Church might be a shining light amidst the darkness of war
And a bath of love in a sea of hate. 

Let the Church of Syria arise!

Let the Muslims of Syria wonder:
“Why do these Christians not kill and hate like us?
Is it about that…man on the cross?”
Let the Church in Syria arise!

By the name of Jesus let limbs be restored, wounds vanished
And traumatized minds made whole.
Let the sons of Islam say, “Truly, the Koran proclaims Jesus is healer,
But might he be also the Son of God?”

 Let the Church of Syria arise!
Let your churches in Syria be flooded by new inquires
And filled by those disillusioned and exhausted with jihad,
That they would have their taste of peace and love,
And feast upon the bread of life, and the blood of the savior.

Let the Church of Syria arise!

Psalm for the People of Pakistan
On the occasion of the truck bomb that killed a hundred persons at the soccer field
Let the TV videos show the killed and maimed
Let nothing be hid, of the ghastly assault
Let Al-Jazeera show them again and again
Let the people of the Muslim World be amazed
Let them suffer consternation in their hearts
Let them murmur among themselves
Thinking their own hearts
Is this Islam? Is this what we want in the great Caliphate?
Give grace, power and anointing to the message of Fr. Botros
Let his programs shower down from the heavens,
And come from the satellites to everywhere in the Muslim world
Give him the best of translators
That every program be repeated
To reach the Muslims everywhere
Thank you Lord that in the twinkling of an eye
The Giant of Islam will be overthrown
New Churches formed in Algerian, Iran and
everywhere that the deceptive crescent casts its shadow
What a joy, it will be, to see these new churches.
With customs, colors and liturgies from all the Arab nations.
Baptism by the hundreds of thousands, and Holy Communions by the hundreds millions.
Psalm for the Iranians
On the occasion of the mass protests In the “holy city” of Qom at the funeral the Ayatollah Montazemi
Throngs shout “death to the Dictator’
Anger, green ribbons, tear gas and police batons.
Screams of the afflicted, cries “death to the Dictator!”
Thirty years ago, it was “Death to America”
They longed for an Islamic state
For Men of Islam to lead them into
Justice, holiness and prosperity 
The Islamic republic came
But with corruption, brutality and impoverishment.
The Iranians received what they prayed for,
But not what they imagined.
Thank you Lord that the lesson is now broadcast
In Lebanon, Egypt and all throughout the Muslim world.
They have seen police and militias beating their own people
And have learned of the terror in the prisons.
You hand, oh Lord led them to the failure of their dreams
And the shattering of their illusions
Let the sufferings of the crowds, the tortures of the imprisoned
Now flower in understanding and a new longing
For Jesus, Son of God and savior
For the Bible, the true Word of God
For the Kingdom of God in Iran
Guide the peoples of Iran and the Muslim world.
Let them to think clearly, see rightly.
The problem is the Koran,
There is no remedy in Islam
Bless and empower with your Spirit Fr. Botros.
Let his program spread the Light of the Gospel
And dissipate the darkness of Islam
Let his message go unimpeded by satellite and webcam
Let no place in the Muslim world be able to hide from it
Let the peoples tune in out of curiosity and despair,
And come to salvation and hope
But the millions…one at a time.
They will turn to their true savior.
Let Islam fall in the twinkling of an eye
Let the pundits of the West be astounded
As they see your grace in action and do not understand
Psalm on the occasion of the slaughter in Uganda
July 12, 2010
Let it be costly, oh Lord
Let the demonic kingdom reap much ruin
And the darkness lose its sting.
Let the demons over Islam not celebrate.
Nor rejoice in the innocent blood of soccer fans
Cut down in their celebration and fellowship
Let the demons know that this carnage was ruinous to their plans
Let them see how millions in Islam will be sickened and repulsed
Multitudes will say “Enough of Islam, this is not God’s way.”
Open their eyes to know that the Koran is the book of violence
And the root of evil.
Let them be freed by the millions into the Gospel of liberty
Let them flee from bondage into grace and joy,
As they see the Bible is your word.
Let the demons know that this was a costly defeat,
Like the cross at Calvary long ago.

I have been writing psalms for perhaps 15 years ever since I was introduced to the discipline of personal psalm writing at a CFO camp back in the early 1980s. It has been my intension to follow the biblical pattern of the psalms (which frees the writer of having to devise rhymes), and I delight in naming my collection "The Psalms of William, son of George" as away of honoring my father, George De Arteaga (1911-1973).



He gave the family a wonderful example of Catholic devotion and kindness to others.  Of the four children he raised, one became a nun, and another an Anglican priest. See my earlier blog posting for the story about how my sister became a nun HERE.

Below is a picture taken with a Kodak box camera, of my father holding me right after the great blizzard of 1948 in New York City.



Now go write some psalms...

Announcement:

The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my latest book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.




The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE You can purchase the print version at a discount from the publisher HERE

My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together.  It may be purchased HERE.

Watching God Work: The Stuff of Miracles by [DeArteaga, Carolyn Koontz]

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Devil’s victory in Salem: Combating witchcraft without the gifts of the Spirit


 Myth as reality:

             For the average American, Puritanism is synonymous with the Salem witchcraft trials. And the most popular account of the Salem witch trials is the 1952 play by Arthur Miller, The Crucible. It is still assigned reading in many high school and college English courses.  It was also made into a movie that was seen by millions. The reality is that The Crucible is a distorted and historically inaccurate account of the trials. In it Miller presents the liberal, materialist perspective - that nothing supernatural took place in Salem. For Miller, the young girls who accused others of witchcraft faked their curse induced torments for various reasons, as in increased attention or sexual longings. Miller took the liberty to make one of the original thirteen-year-old accusers into a seventeen year old in order to play out more credibly his hypothesis of sexual longings. Miller’s presentation represents the view of most text-book histories (and sadly many Christians). [1]          

            A few things must be noted to put the trials in proper perspective. All Christian of 17th Century believed that witchcraft was real and deserving of capital punishment. The procedures used in English courts and the Puritans were much superior to many European nations, where often mob rule disposed of the accused before any sort of trial.[2]  The horror movie motif of a mob attacking a vampire and driving a stake through his heart represents an echo of this. The European mob vs. witch scenario parallels the current situation in much of Africa, where persons accused of witchcraft are often lynched by angry mobs.[3] 

            In the 1950s, when Miller researched and wrote his play, only a few scholars took witchcraft seriously, or had studied it extensively. But since the 1960’s, when Wicca and other witches “came out,” and the whole occult scene blossomed, there has developed a much better understanding of witchcraft and its history.[4]

            It is now clear that witchcraft and witch covens were common in Europe from the earliest days of Christianity. The covens were derived from the “left over” Paganism from the incomplete and haphazard way in which various European peoples were evangelized. The most extreme example of this being the Gypsy peoples, the Romani, who were never evangelized at all, and to this day regularly practice witchcraft and occultism. The early monk missionaries of Northern Europe often focused on converting local kings and tribal leaders, who then forced all their subjects to be baptized. This seemed like a good policy, and it certainly produced great numbers of baptized “Christians.” But it left resentful Pagan followers in place, baptized but unconverted, to go underground and continue their rites and religion.[5]

            Unfortunately, the Catholic Church allowed this situation to go on uncorrected for centuries. As a result, Medieval Catholics were often quite open to all sorts of divination, occult, and superstitious practices that blended with their more orthodox Sunday practices. Most churchmen looked upon witchcraft as delusion and something that could be lived with - a curious resonance with modern secular views. This parallels much Catholic practice in Latin America, where churchmen there often allow indigenous occult rituals and worship to go on without much opposition – as long as the people baptize their children and sometimes show up for Sunday services.

            In Europe, the Church’s tolerance of witchcraft began to change under the medieval papacy of John XXII (1316-1334). He had a true discernment that witchcraft was serious, and believed that its rites were “demonic sacraments” capable of real spiritual effectiveness and harm. In 1320 set up a commission to make witchcraft a “heresy” that could be dealt with by the Inquisition.[6]  This was a theological blunder, as witches are not heretics properly speaking, but non-Christians.  In any case, Catholic logic, that anyone baptized was a Christian , placed witches and sorcerers in the “Church,” and thus under the Church’s jurisdiction. The local inquisitors then attacked the problem with all of their rational, legal and investigative tools that they had used against heretics (including, of course, interrogation by torture).  But nothing in the theology or practice of the Church could be a substitute for the gift of discernment of spirits that had been largely lost to the Church since the 4th Century.[7]

            By 1484 the famous textbook guide on witch hunting, the Malleus Maleficiarum, had been compiled and published. Thus began the official witch-hunting period of late medieval Europe. No one noticed that the New Testament pattern of countering witchcraft and sorcery with the power of the Spirit by temporary immobilization, as modeled by Paul (Acts 13:6-12). More correctly, no one imagined that such a thing was possible in the Church Age. Many innocent persons died as a result of this spiritual incapacity (and real witches too). In recent decades a mythology has arisen via the radical feminists, who often have no concern for the truth, that up to nine million witches were burned from the Middle Ages to modern times.[8] This is a ridiculous and fantastic number, the real number being in the thousands – not counting mob vigilantism.

 Understanding the Salem Witchcraft Trials:

            To return to the to the Salem witch trials, we can now appreciate the tremendous work done by the recently deceased scholar, Chadwick Hansen, professor emeritus of English at the University of Illinois, in his work Witchcraft in Salem.[9] Building on the new scholarship that took witchcraft seriously, he meticulously researched the Salem trials from the manuscript evidence of the trials, and studied newer archeological findings. Yes, archeological investigations had found witchcraft paraphernalia in Salem such as voodoo like dolls stuffed with goat’s hair. His careful analysis of all the evidence showed that there was indeed true witchcraft in Salem, and that some of the executed were indeed guilty.

            Hansen’s landmark work comes short only in not affirming that supernatural events really did happen at Salem. Rather he believed that witchcraft worked because it victims had “faith” in the power of witchcraft and responded psychosomatically to the claims and curses of local witches. This is a step forward from the traditional 19th and 20th Century views that it was all fake, and that Cotton Mather, the judge, was a cruel fanatic, and the judicial system ridiculous – the view of Miller’s The Crucible.

            But even Hansen admits that the documents reported certain events that are hard to reduce to psychosomatic behavior. The victims were often forced by unseen hands into bodily contortions not humanly possible. This is a far cry from Miller’s “The Crucible,” where easily faked gasping and shouting signifies the victims’ torments. In fact, unnatural contortions have been a constant sign of demonic activity. The film “The Exorcists” shows this dramatically when the inhabiting demon twists the possessed person’s head 360° - an unforgettable scene in the picture. At Salem there were records of victim levitations, and inexplicable marks on the victim’s bodies, again, as pictured in “The Exorcist.” All of this is truly representative of paranormal events that happen during severe possession or demonic attack and exorcisms.[10] 

            Perhaps Hansen was reluctant to call the witches at Salem demonically empowered out of prudence. Doing so would have discredited his fine work within academic circles and much of the public. As it is, his work has revolutionized the understanding of the Salem trials, and has influenced subsequent scholarship.[11]

            A major factor that made the Salem trials so awful was the breakdown of proper rules of evidence. Both Catholic and Protestant witch investigators of the period understood that “spectral evidence” was inadmissible evidence. Specifically, at Salem the girl victims claimed that their attacks began and were continued by ghost-like apparitions of real persons in the locality. Churchmen had long known that Satan can disguise himself as an “Angel of Light” ( 2 Cor. 11:14) and of any person.  Thus, that a ghost looking just like “Mrs. A” who attacks the victim does not prove that Mrs. A is really behind the attack. It might be just an attempt by the demonic to create confusion and accuse an innocent person.

            Cotton Mather, the leading cleric of the area wrote to Judge John Richards, one of the judges of the trials that spectral evidence was deceitful and treacherous, and admissible evidence must be from other sources, as in the physical evidence of witch paraphernalia or especially confessions.


And yet I most humbly beg you that in the management of the affair in your worthy hands, you do not lay more stress upon pure specter testimony than it will bear. When you are satisfied or have good plain legal evidence that the Demons which molest our poor neighbors do indeed represent such and such people to the sufferers. Thought this be a presumption, yet I suppose you will not reckon it is conviction that people so represented are witches to be immediately exterminated. It is very certain that the Devils have sometimes represented the shapes of persons not only innocent but very virtuous…[12]


            Unfortunately, in the course of the trials, and in the very court room, the young victims were constantly attacked, forced into contortions, etc. -  and the authorities panicked. The victims’ piteous cries seemed too hideous to disregard, and several persons were convicted by spectral evidence alone.[13]

 Is there a Biblical response to witchcraft?

            But even if all of the wisdom of Catholic and Protestant anti-witch procedures had been followed, the trials would have all fallen short of New Testament standards. Specifically, there was no congregation in Massachusetts, or anywhere else in Christendom for that matter, that could function as any of Paul’s Spirit-empowered congregations as described in 1 Cor. 12-14. Such a congregation would include persons gifted in exorcism and healing, and with the gift of discernment of spirits. That latter gift, exercised by tested and reliable persons, would have at the very least avoided the errors of false spectral evidence. Other members of the congregation would have used tongues to wage spiritual warfare, etc. This was impossible at the time as the Protestant doctrine of cessationism, central to its theology, had declared the gifts of the Spirit as non-existent in the post-Apostolic church, and the practice of the gifts of the Spirit  as heretical or vain “enthusiasm.”[14]  It would take the rise of Pentecostalism at the dawn of the 20th Century before cessationism was seriously challenged in the Protestant world. Only at that time would congregations began forming in which all of the gifts of the Spirit were present on a regular basis.  Even today, a century after the birthing of Pentecostalism, such congregations are rare. That is, the majority of Pentecostal and charismatic churches in the “First World” often have substantial healing and deliverance ministries, but do not systematically teach or cultivate discernment of spirits.[15]

 But there is another level of dealing with sorcery and witchcraft described in the New Testament that is thus far beyond the practice, or even the imagination of many Spirit-filled Christians. It is described in Acts 13: 6-12.

They [Paul and Barnabas] traveled through the whole island [of Cyprus] until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God.  But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said,  “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”

Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand.  When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

            Paul simply commanded  a temporary immobilization upon the sorcerer. This is inconceivable in terms of present day theologies, even “full-Gospel’ ones, and certainly there are many caveats and questions never asked by theologians and commentators. But the biblical model is there, and as America goes further into its “post-modern” era and witchcraft becomes bolder, Christians may have to think further about it.  In any case, the limitations of contemporary theology are not the main issue of this posting. Rather I wanted to clarify why the so called Puritan “failure” or “scandal” at Salem was not what many Christian imagine. Certainly it should not hamper their appropriation of the great and valuable works of Puritan theologians and writers.

 Addendum:
The Jan. 2015 edition of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research dedicated its entire edition to the issue of witchcraft and its real presence in the contemporary world. The link is HERE

A news report for Al-Jazeera shows how mob recently murdered a woman in rural India on the suspicion of witchcraft. HERE


Announcement:

The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my latest book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.




The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE You can purchase the print version at a discount from the publisher HERE

My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together.  It may be purchased HERE.

Watching God Work: The Stuff of Miracles by [DeArteaga, Carolyn Koontz]

NOTE: This posting is an excerpt of a longer article entitled, "Puritanism: A legacy disdained by historians and sullied with the Devil's victory in Salem," in Pneuma Review, 16, #3 (Summer 2013


[1] See the discussion of Miller’s distorted analysis fully described in: David C. Downing’s excellent articles, “The Mystery of Spirit Possession”  parts 1 and 2, Books and Culture, Jan. 1, 1997.
[2] Jeffrey Burton Russell, “Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany,” Church History, 76 #2 (June, 2007) 411-413.
[3] Peter Jenkins, “Notes From the Global Church,” Christian Century, 125 (Dec. 2, 2008), 45.
[4] See the multiple works by Jeffrey Burtan Russell, especially his Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1972).
[5] Russell , Witchcraft
[6] Isabel Iribarren, “From Black Magic to Heresy: A doctrinal leap in the pontificate of John XXII,” Church History, 75 (March 2007), 32-60.
[7] Many of the saints and mystics had the gifts of the Spirit, including discernment of spirits, although that Pentecostal terminology was not used. See the classic work by the Jesuit theologian Augustin Poulain, The Graces of Interior Prayer. (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910), modern editions available. Unfortunately, the gifts of the Spirit were unknown in normal parish life, nor were they understood as a repeatable and normal gifting for Christian life, as in discerning witchcraft.
[8] Irving Hexham, “The Invention of Modern Witchcraft,” Books and Culture  (Jan./Feb. 2004).
[9] Chadwick Hansen, Witchcraft in Salem (New York: G. Braziller, 1969). Available in paperback. Hansen passed away in 2011.
[10] William Blatty’s “The Exorcist,” both movie and book, was not just an imaginary “horror” story and movie, but a carefully researched work based on real cases. The prime case that William Blatty used as his model was of a fourteen year old boy, and took place in 1948. Blatty had access to the extensive notes left by the prime exorcist, a Jesuit priest, just as in the movie. See: Dr. Clifford Wilson’s account in his, Crash Goes the Exorcist (Burnt Hill: Word of Truth, 1974), chapter 1, “The Background –A real life story.”  Like Regan in the movie, the boy in question cursed in ancient languages, and had writing appear on his skin. The horrific head turning did not occur in the boy’s case, but has happened in other severe cases of possession, and can be documented in the literature of Catholic exorcisms. See: William Peter Blatty, I’ll Tell Them I Remember You (New York: W.W. Norton, 1973). For an Evangelical perspective on extreme phenomenon of the possessed, see: Merrill F. Unger, What Demons Can Do to Saints (Chicago: Moody Press, 1977), 132-133. On the reality of demonic spiritual phenomenon really happening in the Salem Witchcraft trials see the more recent study: Larry Gragg’s, The Salem Witch Crisis (New York: Prager, 1992), Chapter 1, “Mists of Darkness.”
[11]On the central role of Hansen’s work see: R.D. Stock, “Salem Witchcraft and Spiritual Evil: A Century of Non-Whig Revisionism,” Christianity and Literature, 42 #1 (Autumn 1992), 141-156.
[12] Cited in Hansen, Salem,  p.132.
[13] For a details discussion of this misuse of spectral evidence see: Dean George Lampros, “Season of Anguish: The formal Proceedings conducted During the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692,” Westminster Theological Journal, 56, (1994) 303-327
[14] On the tragedy of cessationism, see my Quenching the Spirit (Lake Mary: Creation House, 1996) and Jon Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993).
[15] In my four decades of living and ministering in charismatic and Pentecostal churches in the United States I have seen only a few congregations that operated in all of the gifts of the Spirit. The literature indicated that churches in the “Third World” where witchcraft is often ever present, do much better on discernment of spirits – they have to!

Monday, August 5, 2013

How to Write a Personal Psalm (Obeying 1 Cor 14:26-33)


The Art and Discipline of Writing Psalms:


Writing a personal psalm is what  St. Paul commands and expects from members of his churches.  We see this multiple times in his Epistles. Nowhere more clearly that in 1 Cor 14:26-33  where Paul places psalms as part of the ongoing prophetic, exhorting and teaching ministry that Christians are mandated give to one another.
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.  If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret;  but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.  But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted;  and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets;  for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. (NASB)
This is repeated in Ephesians 5:18-20
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;
And again in Coll. 3:16
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
These passages seem strange to us. They are certainly not executed in church services or even in most home fellowship groups. The pattern of church service since the 3rd Century has ignored what Paul mandated. The norm has been to "do church" with a liturgy and order of worship that imitated the Jewish synagogue service plus Holy Communion - the universal pattern for Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. In modern Evangelical Protestantism the communion service is included only periodically. But in every tradition in Christendom the priest or minister is the center of revelation and teaching, not the lay person as mandated by Paul.

My friend, Dr. Jon Ruthven, of Regent University, has just published a book carefully documenting how in both the Old and New Testament the Believer, not just the religious elites, is encouraged to proclaim and share the revelations and inspirations they have received from God. Paul's epistles are the highpoint of this Bible-wide trend. (Jon Ruthven, What's Wrong with Protestant Theology (Tulsa: Word and Spirit Press, 2013) available HERE.

In a manuscript that is currently bouncing back and forth between my editor and me, I discuss why Paul's injunctions were  ignored and forgotten. Principally, because Paul's writings were not universally accepted as scripture for several centuries, by which time the liturgy and church service were firmly in place, and a "momentum of churchadoxy" overruled adjusting the liturgies as they had been developed.

In an earlier blog posting I suggested that since the rise of Pentecostalism and its recovery of the word gifts of the Spirit, we can at least understand what Paul was talking about in 1 Cor. 12 to 14.  HERE. With this recovered understanding we can begin to obey what the Holy Spirit through him mandated as a core church service.

In that blog I also suggested that  we don't have to give up the traditional church service which we are so used to, but merely make way for greater revelatory participation of the lay people in the service, as in prophetic words, tongues and interpretations, etc. For instance, many Christians traditions have a section for the "prayers of the people," or some such period, which could be expanded to include all that Paul encouraged.
This blog will focus on one aspect of this lay participation, psalm writing, which is just one way in which the believer is supposed to bring revelation, edification and teaching to the brethren. 
In our age, when poetry is no longer at the center of our education, nor even a major part of it, Paul's mandate that Believers should write psalms seems almost bizarre. Not so in in New Testament times. In Antiquity, especially in the Gentile world where Paul established his churches, poetry was at the center of education. In that world Homer's Odyssey and Iliad were given a veneration close to what we would give scripture. All of which is to say personal poetic writing was a not a rare activity to the people Paul wrote to.

Yet somehow the Church as a whole did not take the hint. There is no evidence that the early liturgies allowed for a layperson to participate, as in, "I believe the Holy Spirit has given me this Psalm...."  Similarly, when monasticism arose in the Egyptian desert the monks' prayers gravitated to the biblical psalms, and became quickly the core of their prayer life. That continues to this day wherever monasticism thrives. But there is no evidence that there was any cultivation of new psalm writing. Again, Paul's mandate was ignored.

The Reformation brought a great burst in creative and new psalms by way of Luther's hymns, many of which continue to bless our hymn singing. Some mistakenly believe this was a "first" in Christendom - new hymns to be sung in the public service in the language of the people (i.e. not Latin), but actually the Moravians had been doing that even earlier than Luther.

So this is closer to what Paul wanted, but still limited to the clergy.  (I don't know much about Moravian hymn writing, as for instance, was anyone permitted to compose and introduce a hymn?) The Anglican Church of the English Reformation was especially slow on new hymn writing,  Instead it insisted that the only hymns permitted in church services were to be English translations of the biblical Psalms.  Even in the 18th Century much of the clergy criticized the new Wesleyan hymns as presumptuous and unbiblical!

But ultimately, it was the contributions of the Wesley brothers, especially Charles, which made original hymn writing respectable, But note, even though new hymns could be introduced, the process was clergy driven and controlled, with very careful attention to doctrine, etc. For instance, John Wesley was careful to edit the hymns of his more talented brother Charles for any doctrinal errors before they were released for the Methodists. Note how much care and fuss is involved every time a denomination changes or upgrades it hymnal. And there is in fact good reason to be careful. No church wants to publicly sing heretical lyrics that are printed and distributed by the millions.

So was Paul na├»ve in allowing everyone in his churches to contribute?  I suppose a diehard cessationist would say personal psalms, and prophecy, tongues, etc., were only for the New Testament churches.  This is not acceptable to us in the Renewalist churches (Pentecostal/charismatic/ New Wave, etc.). We interpret  Paul's letters as eternally and universally valid.

But this also raises a serious issue. What if Ms. Sussy Doe, a new convert, wants to sing a new psalm she just wrote:

God's love is so great
His arms embrace us all
It matters not to Him
Who we love and how.
Just put in all your love and passion
And the Lord will make it well.

Oh oh, something is wrong. Go back to the well screened hymnal and forget Paul?  Actually Paul provides the answer to this problem, and to the problem of erroneous prophetic utterances, in I Cor. 14:29. "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment." Presumably, the "others" are the more mature and biblically informed members of the congregation. Paul does not stop lay revelation because of the threat of error and spiritual immaturity, rather, he emplaces a barrier of discernment that the congregation will know and respect.

Which brings us back to the point I made in the earlier blog I mentioned. If we are going to attempt to do church as mandated by Paul, then the minister or priest in charge will have to be quipped with the gift of discernment (and tact). As in, "Thank you Ms. Doe, that is a great first attempt, but God does make boundaries about certain types of love. But thank you."

In the months that I experimented in "doing church" as Paul, I allowed a particular psalm or song to be preformed one time, and if orthodox and useful as prayer, I would say something like, "OK, we can all say amen to Jack's psalm."  Or, "Hey, that was so good, do it again as we all go to an attitude of prayer and pray it."

All of which is to say there are ways for the layperson to share his/her attempts to hear from the Lord, and be obedient to the best pattern of the New Testament, without damaging the core doctrines and discipline of the Church.

Hints on Psalm writing:

There is no better way of getting started in writing personal psalms than - getting started. It is not rocket science. There is no such thing as a bad first attempt. Many of you are parents and remember how proud you were when your three year old brought his/her first crayon drawing of a duck - though it looked more like a dead roach. So too, we have a heavenly Father who would be delighted in our first attempts at psalm writing, no matter how awkward.

In the Biblical psalms God has provided us with a pattern that makes new psalms easy. They do not depend on talent in rhyming. Rather just say something twice in slightly ways. It is easy. Psalm 37 demonstrates the point well:

Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.
Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.
 For evildoers will be cut off,
But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.
Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more;
And you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there.
But the humble will inherit the land
And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
It helps to pick a topic that represents your passion or compassion. I believe that the Lord places in our hearts various and varied prayer concerns. Mine is for the conversion of the Islamic peoples, and I find that writing psalms on that topic natural to me. For instance, I have written several on occasions of particularly bloody acts of terrorism. In fact, these incidents are disgusting to many moderate Muslims, and I believe the Holy Spirit is using them to bring further conversions. Here is one I wrote recently:

Let the Pakistanis connect the dots

Mayhem in Pakistan, as the demons rejoice.
Death and carnage for the evil ones to celebrate.

One day a girl’s collage is attacked.
The next a funeral procession is bombed.
Bodies lie everywhere, of those who did no wrong.
The innocent are slaughtered without remorse.
Assassinated as they sought an education,
And killed as they grieved those who were murdered.

The Demons dance in jubilation,
And celebrate every act of devastation,
As the Kingdom of the Dark One is expanded
And his reign on earth grows day by day.

But Let the Spirit of the most high God bring this to an end.
By his power, and for that name above all names,
Let the people of Pakistan begin to wonder about Islam
And consider if the Koran is indeed the word of God.

Let them think: “Why do Muslims kill each other?
Why do the followers of Islam murder the innocent?”
Let the Holy Spirit guide them in there musings
And clarify their thoughts as they wonder and grieve.

Let them think unthinkable thoughts
And meditate about the unimaginable.
“Perhaps the crucified one is really the son of God?
The one who said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Perhaps His Kingdom can bring us peace and joy.”

Send visions to the sons and daughters of Pakistan,
And increasing numbers of dreams from heaven.
Let them see the Son of God in his glory and acclaim,
“You are the one to save us.”

Let the demons be astounded as their kingdom melts away,
One soul at a time… to the millions,
As the Bible is downloaded from the web.
And the Jesus Film played on iPhones and laptops in every home,

Even where the Taliban reign with an iron hand.
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.
As the demons stop their dance of jubilation
And end it in in utter consternation.

In writing psalms it is important to note your emotions. Emotions are God given. They energize our sense of good/evil. Of course being ruled by emotions is an entirely different thing. But things that "get under our skin" may be God telling us to turn to prayer - and psalm writing.

I would urge a caveat here. Beware of political emotions and political psalms. Such psalms, as in criticizing "Obamacare" etc., may be fun to write for some persons, but they have no place in a church service. There are sincere Christians on both sides of the political divide.
Writing honestly:

A psalm that is written to impress other will certainly not impress God. It is important to be honest in our psalms and share with God both the good times and the bad. Here is one of my lamentations. I wrote it after my current book manuscript was rejected after a six month process. Another publisher had offered me a contract and then reneged on the contract - something non-Christians publishers do not do!

Psalm of Lamentation

(July 2011)



Lord, I feel abandoned and forlorn

Like your son upon the Cross who cried out

“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?’


But I trust that what I have labored these years,

And written in care and diligence is pleasing to You.

That from the foundations of the Earth that is the work

You set me to do…


I wrote ******** for help and thus far nothing…

***** has forgotten what I did for the renewal.


Lord I am willing to do the foot-work of proposals

And call upon publishing houses,

But that takes time and effort.

Time from the other books you have given me to write


Let your hand now open doers for me

For my plays, and works,

That I might be released to work efficiently, edifying the Church,

Churning out books and plays for your Kingdom.

That those things which you have tasked me may flow

To the glory of your name and expansion of your Kingdom

I praise you Lord and trust you.
Blessed be your name!

Do a personal Psalm book:

I like to go all out for things. I have found psalm writing such a comfort that I made a special three hole binder for them. I gave the binder the biblically sounding title, "The Psalms of William, Son of George." I believe my dad George as well as my heavenly Father  both look down from heaven and are pleased with this.
 

Further Resources:

These are two really great web sources on writing psalms:

Blog "My song in the Night" by Bobby and Kristen Gilles, HERE
On taking a leap and singing a psalm : HERE

Share your psalms on this blog.

Addendum: 

This is an article from the New Yorker on how the Terrorists of ISIS use psalms to encourage each other and evangelize for their cause. Satan well knows the power of a psalm! HERE

Christians need to do better! 

Announcement:

The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my latest book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.





The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE You can purchase the print version at a discount from the publisher HERE

My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together.  It may be purchased HERE.

Watching God Work: The Stuff of Miracles by [DeArteaga, Carolyn Koontz]