Archive for November 2013

Advent and Christmas Message   3 comments

Advent and Christmas Message

Above:  The Beginning of the Draft of This Post


And Mary said,

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior….

–Luke 1:46-47, The New Revised Standard Version:  Catholic Edition (1993)


One of the great virtues of High Churchmanship is having a well-developed sense of sacred time.  So, for example, the church calendars, with their cycles, tell us of salvation history.  We focus on one part of the narrative at a time.  Much of Protestantism, formed in rebellion against Medieval Roman Catholic excesses and errors, has thrown the proverbial baby out with the equally proverbial bath water, rejecting or minimizing improperly the sacred power of rituals and holy days.

Consider, O reader, the case of Christmas–not in the present tense, but through the late 1800s.  Puritans outlawed the celebration of Christmas when they governed England in the 1650s.  Their jure divino theology told them that since there was no biblical sanction for keeping Christmas, they ought not to do it–nor should anyone else.  On the other hand, the jure divino theology of other Calvinists allowed for keeping Christmas.  Jure divino was–and is–a matter of interpretation.  Lutherans, Anglicans, and Moravians kept Christmas.  Many Methodists on the U.S. frontier tried yet found that drunken revelry disrupted services.  Despite this Methodist pro-Christmas opinion, many members of the Free Methodist denomination persisted in anti-Christmas sentiment.  The holiday was too Roman Catholic, they said and existed without

the authority of God’s word.

Thus, as the December 19, 1888 issue of Free Methodist concluded,

We attach no holy significance to the day.

–Quoted in Leigh Eric Schmidt, Consumer Rites:  The Buying and Selling of American Holidays (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1995), page 180.  (The previous quote also comes from that magazine, quoted in the same book.)

Many Baptists also rejected the religious celebration of Christmas.  An 1875 issue of Baptist Teacher, a publication for Sunday School educators, contained the following editorial:

We believe in Christmas–not as a holy day but as a holiday and so we join with our juveniles with utmost heartiness of festal celebration….Stripped as it ought to be, of all pretensions of religious sanctity and simply regarded as a social and domestic institution–an occasion of housewarming, and heart-warming and innocent festivity–we welcome its coming with a hearty “All Hail.”

–Quoted in Schmidt, Consumer Rites, pages 179 and 180

Presbyterians, with their Puritan heritage, resisted celebrating Christmas for a long time.  In fact, some very strict Presbyterians still refuse to keep Christmas, citing their interpretation of jure divino theology.  (I have found some of their writings online.)  That attitude was more commonplace in the 1800s.  The Presbyterian Church in the United States, the old Southern Presbyterian Church, passed the following resolution at its 1899 General Assembly:

There is no warrant for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, but rather contrary (see Galatians iv.9-11; Colossians ii.16-21), and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of the gospel in Jesus Christ.

–Page 430 of the Journal of the General Assembly, 1899  (I copied the text of the resolution verbatim from an original copy of the Journal.)

I agree with Leigh Eric Schmidt:

It is not hard to see in this radical Protestant perspective a religious source for the very secularization of the holiday  that would eventually be so widely decried.  With the often jostling secularism of the Christmas bazaar, Protestant rigorists simply got what they had long wished for–Christmas as one more market day, a profane time or work and trade.

Consumer Rites, page 180

I affirm the power of rituals and church calendars.  And I have no fear of keeping a Roman Catholic holy day and season.  Thus I keep Advent (December 1-24) and Christmas (December 25-January 5).  I hold off on wishing people

Merry Christmas

often until close to Christmas Eve, for I value the time of preparation.  And I have no hostility or mere opposition to wishing anyone

Happy Holidays,

due to the concentrated holiday season in December.  This is about succinctness and respect in my mind; I am not a culture warrior.

Yet I cannot help but notice with dismay the increasingly early start of the end-of-year shopping season.  More retailers will open earlier on Thanksgiving Day this year.  Many stores display Christmas decorations before Halloween.  These are examples of worshiping at the high altar of the Almighty Dollar.

I refuse to participate in this.  In fact, I have completed my Christmas shopping–such as it was–mostly at thrift stores.  One problem with materialism is that it ignores a basic fact:  If I acquire an item, I must put it somewhere.  But what if I enjoy open space?

I encourage a different approach to the end of the year:  drop out quietly (or never opt in) and keep nearly four weeks of Advent and all twelve days of Christmas.  I invite you, O reader, to observe these holy seasons and to discover riches and treasures better than anything on sale on Black Friday.

Pax vobiscum!









Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013)   3 comments

Glory to God The Presbyterian Hymnal November 16, 2013

Above:  My Copy of the Hymnal


I am, in the words of someone I know, a “liturgy geek.”  I am also the kind of Episcopalian who, though closer to Lutheranism than to the Reformed tradition, understands U.S. Presbyterian history better than most U.S. Presbyterians.  Part of my family tree is Presbyterian, so that interest comes to me naturally, even though my spiritual type is Anglican-Lutheran-Catholic, in that order.  (Yes, I was born to be an Episcopalian, even though I had to convert to that denomination.)

My credentials for writing about U.S. Presbyterian worship are strong.  I have written at length on the topic at this weblog, focusing mostly on editions of the Book of Common Worship (1906, 1932, 1946, 1970/1972, and 1993).  My library includes official Presbyterian hymnals from 1874, 1901, 1927, 1933, 1955, 1972, 1990, and now 2013, not to mention all editions of the Book of Common Worship.  Reference works on U.S. Presbyterianism sit on shelves, as do copies of the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  Once upon a time I was on a track to become a historian of U.S. Presbyterianism, focusing on the prehistory of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) via analysis of the racist and reactionary magazine which midwifed it, but that path ended when my major professor at The University of Georgia (UGA) cut my doctoral program short seven years ago.  Perhaps it is for the best that I have taken a different path; I prefer to focus on the positive side.  But, in the words of an old song,

No, no, no, they can’t take that away from me.

I remain well-informed on U.S. Presbyterianism.  And I still have every note card documenting every editorial defense of racial segregation (usually recycled defenses of slavery) and every criticism of the Civil Rights Movement.  (At least the PCA General Assembly had the decency to apologize for such racism about ten years ago.  I give credit where it is due.)

Presbyterian Books November 16, 2013

Above:  The Presbyterian Hymnal (1990), Book of Common Worship (1993), and Glory to God (2013)

Some explanation of the background of Glory to God might help.  The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972) was a combination service book-hymnal, a successor to the 1946 Book of Common Worship and The Hymnal (1933) and The Hymnbook (1955).  Unfortunately, the organization of hymns in The 1972 volume was alphabetical order.  The Worshipbook‘s two immediate successors were The Presbyterian Hymnal:  Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs (1990) and Book of Common Worship (1993).  Now the latter volume has a new companion:  Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal.

The Presbyterian Hymnal (1990) broke new ground in U.S. Presbyterianism by using the church year as an organizing principle.  Thus “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” was hymn #1.  Glory to God, without abandoning the church year, subsumes it inside the organizing principle of salvation history, focusing primarily on what God has done, sequentially, in good Reformed fashion.  Thus Trinitiarian hymns lead.  The first hymn is “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!”  After the Trinitarian hymns come other sections (also under the heading, “God’s Mighty Acts”) labeled:

  • Creation and Providence;
  • God’s Covenant with Israel;
  • Jesus Christ;
  • Gift of the Holy Spirit;
  • The Church;
  • The Life of the Nations;
  • Christ’s Return and Judgment; and
  • A New Heaven and a New Earth.

Then the headings “The Church at Worship” and “Our Response to God,” each subdivided, follow.

The Theological Vision Statement explains the rationale for the salvation history theme:

This collection of hymns and songs, however, will be published different conditions than those that molded previous hymnals.  It will be offered in a world in which trust in human progress has been undermined and where ecclectic spiritualities often fail to satisfy deep spiritual hungers.  It will be used by worshipers who have not had life-long formation by Scripture and basic Christian doctrine, much less Reformed theology.  It is meant for a church marked by growing diversity in liturgical practice.  Moreover, it addresses a church divided by conflicts but nonetheless, we believe, longing for healing and then peace that is beyond understanding.

To inspire and embolden a church facing these formidable challenges, the overarching theme of this collection will be God’s powerful acts of creation, redemption, and final transformation.  It will also bespeak the human responses that God’s gracious acts make possible.  In other words, the framework for the collection will be the history of salvation.

Glory to God, page 926

Glory to God, unlike its 1990 predecessor, includes my favorite hymn, “I Bind Unto Myself Today.”  (Score one for the new book!)  In The Hymnal 1982, which I use each Sunday, that hymn has seven verses and fills three pages.  The Presbyterian version, however, has six verses and fills three pages.  The omitted verse follows:

I bind unto myself the power of the great love of cherubim;

the sweet “Well done” in judgment hour;

the service of the seraphim;

confessor’s faith, apostles’ word,

the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;

all good deeds done unto the Lord,

and purity of virgin souls.

The last two lines cross run afoul of Reformed and Lutheran theology, for the the current U.S. Lutheran hymnals I have checked which include this hymn also omit that verse.

Glory to God contains more services than most of its predecessors, with The Worshipbook (1972) being the exception.  

  1. The Presbyterian Hymnal (1874) and The New Psalms and Hymns (1901) offered just words, music, and indices.  
  2. The Presbyterian Hymnal (1927) included responsive readings.
  3. The Hymnal (1933) included responsive readings, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, one page of Opening Sentences, and the two-page Brief Statement of the Reformed Faith (1902, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.).
  4. The Hymnbook (1955) contained responsive readings plus a short section called “Aids to Worship,” which included Calls to Worship, Invocations, Prayers of Confession, Assurances of Pardon, Prayers of Thanksgiving, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed, and the Apostles’ Creed.  
  5. The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972) incorporated the entirety of The Worshipbook–Services (1970), really the fourth Book of Common Worship.
  6. And The Presbyterian Hymnal (1990) included the outline of the Service for the Lord’s Day (with texts) as well as the Creeds in English, Spanish, and Korean.
  7. Glory to God offers the Service for the Lord’s Day, the Sacrament of Baptism, Reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant, Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Prayer at the Close of Day.  These services are edited versions of the full forms from Book of Common Worship (1993), sometimes with material not in the 1993 volume.  The new hymnal also offers the Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the denominational Brief Statement of Faith in English, Spanish, and Korean.

I have read of some minor controversy regarding Glory to God online.  The hymnal committee, unable to acquire a copyright holder’s permission to alter a certain new hymn, chose to omit it.  C’est la vie.  The omitted hymn, in its unaltered form, affirmed the Penal Substitution understanding of the Atonement, a barbaric theology.  I am more of a Classic Theory of the Atonement man, so I have no problem with this editorial decision.  And I know that Presbyterians have been arguing about hymnals in North America since at least the 1750s, when the New York City congregation purchased an Isaac Watts hymnal which included hymns not based on Psalms.  Those who seek an argument will always find a basis for one.  I dislike contemporary praise music and most spirituals, preferring wordy European hymns.  Thus I would have made some choices which the hymnal committee did not.  But the book contains more meritorious content than dross, so I affirm the good and focus on it.

Among the meritorious aspects of Glory to God is its Lectionary Index, which lists hymns matched to the Revised Common Lectionary.  The three-year break-down by Sunday and holy day impresses me.  I think of The Book of Common Worship (Revised) (1932), with its lectionary barely deserving of that title, and realize how far these Presbyterians have come.

I look forward to exploring the riches of Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013) for years to come.








Revised slightly on November 19, 2013


We Are All Heretics (And Many of Us Are Also Orthodox)   1 comment


Above:  Part of the Nicene Creed, According to The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Below:  Part of the Nicene Creed, According to The Orthodox Study Bible (2008)

Eastern Orthodox


Great indeed, we confess is the mystery of our religion:

He was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated in the Spirit,

seen by angels,

preached among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory.

–1 Timothy 3:16, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)


Recently I completed the viewing of The Teaching Company’s 2008 thirty-six-part course, The History of Christian Theology.  The professor, Dr. Phillip Cary, of Eastern University, did an excellent job.  He was very well-informed.  He also expressed his opinions, labeling them as such.  I noticed that I disagreed with some of his subjective points.  That, however, did (and does) not bother me, for I never agree with anyone on everything;  I think too much to do that.

The bottom line regarding that course is that I look forward to watching it again and picking up details I missed the first time.  Cary is a skilled academic and an engaging speaker, one whom I like to watch.  I am, in fact, working my way through his 2004 course, Luther:  Gospel, Law, and Reformation.  Cary, a scholar of St. Augustine of Hippo, possesses an impressive grasp of comparative Christian theology.

I have spent time pondering the history of Christian theology regarding a series of disputed points and widely agreed-upon ones.  Hence topics ranging from imputed grace to baptismal regeneration to filoque (“…and the Son”) to details of Incarnational theology have been dancing vigorously upon my neurons.  (Please, O reader, do not tell the Free Lutherans that theological matters have been dancing inside my head; they would disapprove of the metaphor.)  I tell you, O reader, such material has been doing the Charleston and the Jitterbug upstairs.  (I am devout and punchy simultaneously.)

My standard of theological orthodoxy is God.  By that standard all of us are, to some extent, heretics.  I stand with the Eastern Orthodox on various points, including the insistence that we ought not to try to explain too much about certain points, such as some aspects of the Atonement.  Attempting to explain too much opens the door to heresy (as in trying to make sense of every detail of the Trinity) and minimizes the beauty of divine mystery.

Yet there is heresy and there is heresy.  Whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Father and the Son, for example, is a minor point.  One of those positions is erroneous.  I do not know or care which is correct.  My brain, however, is accustomed to prompting my mouth to say

and the Son

reflexively.  Crucial, however, are other points, such as affirming the Incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth.  A great and magnificent mystery surrounds that theological reality.  I would not have it any other way.

Regardless of how orthodox we are relative to God, we are all somewhat heretical.  That is unavoidable.  Yet, as Martin Luther understood well, we stand on the sure promises of Christ, which we have no right to disbelieve and in which we must trust faithfully if they are to benefit us.  Those promises, I argue, deal with matters weightier than filoque.