Archive for the ‘Faith and Cinema 1970s’ Category

True Liberation III   Leave a comment

Above:   Moses Striking the Rock, by Pieter de Grebbel (1630)

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday after Easter, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Grant, we pray thee, O God, that we who have celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

may demonstrate his victory in our daily conduct and face the future unafraid;

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 122

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Exodus 17:1-6

1 John 5:1-12

John 21:1-12

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Doubting is frequently predictable.  Much of the time it is even justifiable.  Yet there is a difference between skepticism and grumbling.

I give the fishing Apostles in John 21 a gentle evaluation, for I can only imagine the psychological shock they were experiencing.  At such times returning to a familiar pattern can provide some comfort.  Jesus gently invites us to eat breakfast then to return to following him.

Exodus 17:1-7 provides one of two stories of Moses striking a rock, to release water; Numbers 20:1-13 offers the other one.  Exodus 17:1-7 is the story in which Moses had orders  to strike the rock; Numbers 20:1-13 is the story in which he had orders to speak to it.  The grumbling–murmuring–of the people in both stories is part of a pattern in the generation of Israelites, whom God liberated from Egypt; it indicates faithlessness, a selective memory, and a slave mentality.  There are three spiritual problems that remain ubiquitous, unfortunately.

True liberation can prove frightening.  One may think of the scene from the Life of Brian (1979), in which a formerly lame man Jesus had healed complains about no longer being lame as he pretends to be lame.  True liberation imposes responsibility upon the liberated grace is free, but far from cheap.

May we, by grace, rejoicing in our liberation via Jesus and accepting our responsibilities, follow him whose commandments are not burdensome.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY MARTYN DEXTER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HISTORIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABBO OF FLEURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRICE OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS TAVELIC AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Oh Fudge! Regarding Coarseness in the Mainstream of Society   Leave a comment

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Above:  Ralphie and a Bar of Lifebuoy Soap, from A Christmas Story (1983)

Screen Capture Taken by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The tongue is a flame too.  Among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a whole wicked world:  it infects the whole body; catching fire itself from hell, it sets fire to the whole wheel of creation.

–James 3:6, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Coarseness in society is as old as society.  All one has to do to document this fact is to read history, regardless of one’s society or nation-state.

In 2009 the Wisconsin Tourism Federation, founded in 1979, announced that it was changing its name to the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin, due to many bloggers and online critics behaving as they did because of the initials “WTF.”  The expression for which those letters stand has existed since at least 1985 and become increasingly commonplace via changes in technology.

I have noticed increasingly frequent coarseness in the mainstream of my society in the United States of America.  For years I have become offended at needless profanity in movies, podcasts, YouTube videos, and Facebook memes.  I recognized degrees of curse words.  “Hot damn,” for example, is an expression that does not bother me.  Likewise, Rhett Butler not giving a damn in Gone With the Wind (1939) carries the appropriate weight in that scene.  If he did not give a darn or simply did not care, that would carry too little weight.  Likewise, I can think of several things he might not have given that would have ruined the scene by being needlessly profane.  Recently, while watching X-Men:  Apocalypse (2016), I noticed young Magneto’s F-bomb when he met Apocalypse.  That word did nothing to improve the scene and actually detracted from it.  Yet, at the end of The Front (1976), when Howard Prince, the bookie who fronted for blacklisted screenwriters in the 1950s, tells a Congressional committee to do something physically impossible, that language fits the context nicely.  Those witch hunters, who trampled upon civil liberties, deserved such contempt.

My social ethics, being rooted in the Old and New Testaments, emphasize building up the common good.  I do not seek a society in which all content is G-rated, but I do desire a society in which profanity is scarce.  This is a matter of a revolution of moral values, of people thinking about others more often.

Furthermore, needlessly profanity indicates linguistic laziness.  One can make potent points using words repeatable in polite society. Doing so might even be eloquent.  Among my favorite movies is The Brothers O’Toole (1973), an underrated gem.  In one scene Michael O’Toole, portrayed by the great John Astin, wins a cussing contest he never entered.  He wins without using one curse word:

I have, in my time, visited three political conventions, four sessions of congress, and two homes for the criminally insane. I have known army generals, steam doctors, vegetarians, prohibitionists, and a female suffragette. But never, even in an Orangeman’s Day parade, have I seen such pure and stainless brainlessness as I now behold in you. The Almighty, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, has given the worm enough sense to turn with, and the barnacle can grasp whatever happens to be standing by. But you are equipped with a mental capacity smaller than you were born with. Here we are, benighted in the middle of a nowhere named Molly-Be-Damn – a dreary little rookery, Timothy, a squalid sty, a festering pustule on the face of the western slope. Bless the town and bless the people! Look at them – the rabble of this cantankerous community! Knaves and fools, louts and lardheads, the least of all God’s creatures, without enough push to pick the fleas off each other, abiding in putrefaction and inertia, curled up comfy in it like hogs in a mud hole! And while I, of all people, fret and sweat for a way to pull these Simple Simons out of the bog, you stand around making flatulent noises for the titillation of the vulgar mob. And while he’s bubbling himself, what are you doing, you pusillanimous pack of popcorn pickers? You clattered clutch of clucks? The town dilapidating around you, coasting downhill in a handcart to Hell while you stand about gaping for flies and going patty-cake with your hands!…All right, all right, all right! Fine! Keep it, and treasure it the way it is! For when all this trash has collapsed into one pile, and the howling wilderness has claimed its own again, I want you hicks to be happy, belching and spitting, laughing and singing, swinging from tree to tree, with your friend Soapy Sam here, the Uriah Heep of the hookworm belt, standing around below waiting to steal anything that falls to the ground. If a nut should drop and fall – leave it lying there. It’s probably my little brother Timothy.

That is much better than swearing frequently and publicly, is it not?

The coarsening of the mainstream of any society is detrimental to that society.  It lowers the bar and harms the morals of people.  This coarsening degrades the sense of public and private decency.  This is reversible, fortunately.  After all, society is people.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 21, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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How Long, O Lord?   1 comment

Herodian Temple with Antonia Fortress

Above:  The Herodian Temple and the Antonia Fortress

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Sovereign God, you turn your greatness into goodness for all the peoples on earth.

Shape us into willing servants of your kingdom,

and make us desire always and only your will,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 47:1-9 (Friday)

Isaiah 47:10-15 (Saturday)

Psalm 91:9-16 (Both Days)

Revelation 17:1-18 (Friday)

Luke 22:24-30 (Saturday)

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In the Life of Brian (1979), a brilliant spoof of organized religion and of old-school Biblical movies, but not of Jesus or the Bible, Jewish Palestinian rebels meet to discuss how little the Roman Empire has done for them.  The partisans come up with a long list, however.  The scene is funny, but it does not constitute a defense of imperialism.  The fact is that imperialism can bring many benefits to the conquered and occupied populations, but a host of indignities and abuses accompanies the benefits.  For all the roads, schools, bridges, and aqueducts, living under occupation comes with a psychological burden.  This reality indicates that the main beneficiary of imperialism is the imperial power.

On a literal level Isaiah 47 condemns the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire and Revelation 17 does the same with regard to the Roman Empire.  In a broader sense, however, they condemn all authorities based on violence, oppression, and hubris.  Such authorities exist, as some always have at any given time.  Names, locations, and ideological foundations change, but such tyranny has never ceased to exist since the dawn of human governments.

Our Lord and Savior rejected the standards of these authorities.  They claim to be benefactors, he said, but they are not.  Jesus went on to propose a different standard of greatness:  service.

But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and are called benefactors.  But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.

–Luke 22:25-27, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Psalm 91 seems too optimistic to me, for it speaks of the faithful finding deliverance (via God) from peril.  This happens sometimes and has occurred often, of course, but many of the faithful have become martyrs instead.  I think of the martyrs in Heaven in the Revelation of John asking “how long?”  Nevertheless, I affirm that God provides justice for the faithful eventually and that all violent regimes collapse in time–frequently too late for my taste, however.  That is an issue to take up with God faithfully, in the tradition of other Psalms and those martyrs from the Apocalypse of John.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.A.)

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/devotion-for-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-24-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Empires and the Kingdom of God   1 comment

Life of Brian 02

Above:  Palestinian Jewish Zealots in Life of Brian (1979)

A Screen Capture I Took via PowerDVD

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The Collect:

Holy and righteous God, you are the author of life,

and you adopt us to be your children.

Fill us with your words of life,

that we may live as witnesses of the resurrection of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 33

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The Assigned Readings:

Acts 3:1-10

Psalm 4

Luke 22:24-30

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Know that the LORD does wonders for the faithful;

when I call upon the LORD, he will hear me.

–Psalm 4:3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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One of the greatest scenes in cinema comes from Life of Brian (1979).  Jewish rebels have gathered to ask one vital question:

What have the Romans ever done for us?

Some of the rebels name benefits of Roman rule, prompting Reg, the leader, to say:

All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

Imperialism brings many benefits to the conquered and the occupied, but it does so at a high cost to those populations.  The operative question, then, is:

What does Roman occupation cost us?

If the accurate answer is freedom, the cost is too high.  If exploitation and tyranny are the costs for tangible benefits, one is correct to recognize which side gains more from the arrangement.

One purpose of the Kingdom of God in the Bible is to criticize earthly kingdoms and empires built on violence and exploitation.  The critique works well, especially with regard to the various Egyptian Empires, the Kingdom of Israel (united), the Kingdom of Israel (northern), the Kingdom of Judah (southern), the Assyrian Empire, the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Seleucid Empire, and the Roman Empire.  In the Kingdom of God the greatest person is the servant of all, not the one who rules, oppresses, and exploits.  Those who help people who can never repay them are especially great in the Kingdom of God.

I prefer the Kingdom of God, which, according to my understanding, has become partially realized, with the promise of complete realization in the future.  Until then we who follow God can participate in the Kingdom of God as we have it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 18, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARC BOEGNER, ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY SAYERS, NOVELIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/devotion-for-saturday-before-the-third-sunday-of-easter-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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“Lead Me, Guide Me”: The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1970-2000   18 comments

1974-1987 Dutch Reformed

Above:  My Copies of Psalter Hymnal Supplement (1974), Psalter Hymnal (1976), Rejoice in the Lord (1985), Worship the Lord (1987), and Psalter Hymnal (1987)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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U.S. DUTCH REFORMED LITURGY, PART VI

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Lead me, guide me, along the way,

for if you lead me I cannot stray.

–Doris M. Akers, 1953, Psalter Hymnal (1987), Hymn #544

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I.  PREFACE AND INTRODUCTION

The Guide to the U.S. Dutch Reformed Liturgy Series is here.

Sometimes my timing works out well.  This post covers (with a few exceptions) the time period 1970-2000.  And, helpfully, the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA or just CRC), held simultaneously in Pella, Iowa, adjourned recently.  I even watched some of the video coverage online and read updates on denominational websites.  If, as Philip Graham observed, journalism is the first draft of history, I get to wear my historian’s hat consistently for Part VI yet will have to change hats a few times in Part VII.  And knowledge of the very recent past informs my writing regarding events of 1970-2000.

Documenting my claims matters.  I have provided a bibliography of hardcopy sources at the end of this post.  And you, O reader, will find some of URLs behind text in places.  I have also derived information from official Minutes.  So, for the record, the Agendas for Synod and Acts of Synod of the CRCNA from 1970 to 1999 are here and those from 2000 forward are here.  I found the Acts and Proceedings of the General Synod of the RCA here.  And the Minutes of the Synod of the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) are here.

The period 1970-2000 was a time of turbulence for both the CRCNA and the RCA, which moved closer to each other.  As the RCA became more conservative and the CRCNA more diverse and progressive, the latter experienced schism in the 1990s.  Both denominations (the RCA and the CRCNA) struggled with the roles of women in the church and prepared and published new hymnals and liturgical forms.  And, by the end of the 1990s, both had facilitated the formation of union churches.

I need to be clear about one point before I proceed to the main body of the text.  The CRCNA was–and remains–a conservative denomination.  The same statement applies to the RCA.  This is not a story mainly about conservatives and liberals, although the RCA does have a liberal wing.  No, this is primarily an account of those who were–and remain–conservative and those who were–and remain–more conservative–sometimes even reactionary.

I write as an interested outsider–an Episcopalian raised a United Methodist in Georgia, U.S.A.  My sense of intellectual curiosity and my desire to get the facts straight propel me in this endeavor.   Thus I have “no dog in the fight,” although I do have and express opinions–sometimes in a snarky manner.  In fact, I have found elements with which to agree and admire and those with which to differ strongly in both the RCA and the CRCNA.  I tend to be a social-theological liberal on most issues and a liturgical conservative, actually.  Thus I support full legal and social equality for homosexuals in church and society, consider myself a feminist, do not mistake the Bible for a science book, abhor racism and imperialism, use The Book of Common Prayer (1979) happily, favor European classicism in hymnody, and recoil in horror at contemporary worship.  If I see a guitar in church, I hope in vain for a Spanish classical guitar performance.  The last time someone handed me a tambourine in hopes that I would use it (after the day’s sessions at an Episcopal Lay Ministries Conference in the Diocese of Georgia circa 2000), I returned the instrument promptly and without speaking.  My guiding principle regarding ethics is loving my neighbor as myself, thus I also have strong reservations regarding abortion mixed with libertarian concerns about the best way to reduce the number of incidents of that practice.

So, without further ado….

II.  THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS AND TENSIONS

Roman Catholicism places a high value on tradition.  But, as I learned at the Newman Center at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, in the early 2000s, Roman Catholicism has layers of tradition.   It clings to some traditions tenaciously, considering some revealed by God and therefore off-limits to change, yet alters others.  One can make the same analysis of the Reformed, heirs to their own traditions–those doctrines and practices others had passed down for generations.  Some in the CRCNA and the RCA were more attached to certain traditions than to others.  And some of these Reformed became detached from certain traditions over time.

Racism and Civil Rights

Racism can prove to be a difficult issue with which to wrestle.  Often one’s racism is subtle and unconscious.  If this holds true for individuals, how much more difficult an issue is it for institutions, cultures, and societies?

Both the CRCNA and the RCA have been and remain mainly White, for their ethnic heritage is Dutch.  The RCA had Americanized before the CRCNA broke away in 1857.  The CRCNA, a staunchly Dutch enclave for most of its first century of existence, came to embrace diversity and multiculturalism in the 1970s and 1980s.  Their 1984 and 1985 Synods even declared the first Sunday in October to be All Nations Heritage Sunday as a means of increasing awareness of racial and ethnic diversity in the denomination and of pursuing racial and ethnic reconciliation.  The Synod of 1986 expanded this to All Nations Heritage Week, which repeated annually.  Each year the focus shifted to a different racial or ethnic group in the CRCNA.

Both the CRCNA and the RCA addressed racism and racial-ethnic considerations within their ranks.  The RCA formed racial-ethnic Councils–Black (later African-American) in 1969, American Indian in 1972, Hispanic in 1974, and Asian-Pacific American in 1980.  Of these only the Black Council seemed to ruffle White feathers consistently.  Yes, the RCA General Synod of 1974 had recognized the need to avoid paternalism, but attachment to White privilege remained.  The 1978 report of the Black Council criticized the RCA’s Christian Action Commitee (CAC) report for being soft on the role of multinational corporations in financing Apartheid in the Republic of South Africa.  The General Synod, in response, approved the Black Council’s report and a motion to study the denomination’s investments in South Africa.  That report had also assigned blame within the RCA for racism and related problems.  Yes, the General Synod accepted that critique, but many in the RCA considered the Black Council beligerent and disruptive.

The CRCNA Synod of 1970 responded to a conference of African-American parishioners held at Chicago, Illinois, in March of that year.  Attendees to the Black Conference reported feeling misunderstood by the White majority.  They also complained that some official literature was not only irrelevant but offensive.  Racial discrimination (in violation of Synodical policy) at a CRC parochial school in Cicero, Illinois, also disturbed them.  They prepared a list of concrete proposals (scholarships, more leadership opportunities, et cetera) and asked for an alteration of Article 52 of the Church Order to permit the singing of non-authorized hymns at the discretion of congregational leaders.  The Synod of 1970 responded favorably to these actions, some of which required a few years to come to fruition.  The change in the Church Order occurred five years later, for example.  But, as the Synod of 1970 declared,

Recognition of different cultural patterns in certain minority groups suggest that flexibility in the choice of hymns should be given serious consideration.

The CRC Synod of 1971 created the Synodical Committee on Race Relations (SCORR).  This group did much.  It aided Church members in transracial adoptions, developed leaders from racial minorities, supported multiracial congregations, worked with churches in racial transition, proposed All Nations Heritage Sunday/Week, lobbied against Apartheid, et cetera.

Speaking of Apartheid….

One of the main criticisms of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) in the RCA and the CRCNA had been that the Council meddled in matters economic, social, and political.  This became an official complaint of the CRCNA and a grievance of the right wing of the RCA.  Yet both denominations, to their credit, condemned Apartheid.  On the other hand, their tactics were not always what they should have been.  But at least the denominations “meddled,” something the call of social justice required.  Loving one’s neighbor as oneself mandated “meddling” in this case.  Faith without works was dead.  (James 2:26)

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Above:  South African President F. W. de Klerk with Nelson Mandela, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1993

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2011634245/)

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-16052

Former President Nelson Mandela died in 2013.  I recall news reports from the time.  People from across the political spectrum in the U.S.A. praised the great man, a reconciler who did much to help the Republic of South Africa emerge from Apartheid.  Yet some on the conservative side of U.S. politics persisted in their condemnations of Mandela, as if the Cold War had not ended over twenty years prior.  Some prominent conservatives who had condemned Mandela and his African National Congress (ANC) in previous decades came to his defense in 2013, however.

These incidents reminded many of Cold War politics, which led many in the global West to defend the Apartheid-era government of South Africa and to denounce the ANC into the 1990s.  In 1985, for example, the RCA invited Oliver Tambo, President of the ANC, to address its 1986 General Synod, set to convene at the Crystal Cathedral.  Pastor Robert Schuller, who had condemned criticisms of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) decades before, barred Tambo from speaking at the church.  The ANC, some alleged, was a Soviet-funded terrorist organization.  Should the head of such a group address the RCA General Synod?  And Schuller argued that the denomination should stay out of politics.  Tambo accepted a different speaking engagement–at the United Nations Labor Organization, in Paris, France, at the same time as the RCA General Synod–and the ANC sent its Secretary-General, Alfred Nzo, to the General Synod instead.  Many in the RCA remained unsatisfied.

A proper understanding of Reformed ecclesiastical relationships relative to the U.S.A. and South Africa requires some knowledge of denominations.  Four South African denominations proved germane to the RCA and the CRCNA:

  1. The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (DRCSA),
  2. The Reformed Churches in South Africa (RCSA),
  3. The Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (DRCA), and
  4. The Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC).

The DRCA and the DRMC merged in 1994 to become the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA).

The CRCNA sent a letter to South African denominations in 1976.  It expressed concern regarding the Terrorism Act of 1967, by which the South African government arrested dissidents, many of whom died under suspicious circumstances while in detention.  The government reported an abnormally high rate of people dying by falling out of high windows and down flights of stairs, for example.  The CRC letter expressed concern that the government was using this law to oppress innocent people and persecute Christians and asked if the churches had expressed misgivings to the central government.  The White DRCSA, which made theological arguments for Apartheid, defended the law.  The RCSA, which had White, Black, and Colored members, replied that it was working for the revision of the law.  The CRCNA, emphasizing Biblical concepts of justice, approved the Koinonia Declaration (1977) (Acts of Synod, 1978, pp. 402-407), which condemned Apartheid, in 1978, the same year the denomination reported the replies from South African churches.

The CRCNA, which had longstanding ecclesiastical fellowship with the RCSA (rather the White national synod thereof), established the same relationship with the Black DRCA and the Colored DRMC in 1982, the same year it declined ecclesiastical fellowship with the White DRCSA.  The reason for that rejection was not to

seriously compromise our witness against racial discrimination and suggest an indifference to the plight of millions of nonwhite South Africans who suffer under the system of autogenous development which is supported and abetted by the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa.

The DRMC, on the other hand, had, in 1982, condemned Apartheid as a sin, a heresy, and

a mockery of the gospel.

There was a problem with the RCSA.  It justified Apartheid too.  To be precise, that White part of it (the national synod) with which the CRCNA discovered in 1989 it had ecclesiastical fellowship, supported Apartheid.  There were three other RCSA synods–two Black and one Colored–with which the CRCNA lacked ecclesiastical fellowship.  So the CRC sought that relationship with those three synods while it suspended ecclesiastical fellowship with the national synod.  This suspension had been in the works since 1985.  SCORR and others in the CRCNA had urged it prior to 1989, but the Synods had attempted persuasion first.

The CRCNA, which declared in 1987 that Apartheid was

in gross violation of biblical principles and a repudiation of Christian ethical imperatives,

declared in 1990 that the anti-Apartheid Belhar Confession (Acts of Synod, pp. 215-217) was consistent with Reformed Doctrine.  The RCA, by the way, commended that Confession in 2000 as a way to address racism within their denomination.  The Belhar Confession, a product of the old DRMC in South Africa, became a doctrinal standard of the RCA in 2010 and an Ecumenical Faith Declaration of the CRCNA two years later.

The CRCNA’s suspension of ecclesiastical fellowship with the RCSA’s White national synod hurt many feelings in the latter body.  This point arose repeatedly in the 1990s, even as the RCSA reformed itself racially in the post-Apartheid era.  In 2000 the CRCNA was still attempting to make peace with that group.

In 2000 the CRCNA was moving toward ecclesiastical fellowship with the DRCSA, which had apologized for having supporting Apartheid.

Also in 2000, both the RCA and the CRCNA had friendly relations with the URCSA.

Dancing in the Christian Reformed Church in North America

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Above:  Tango Tee, 1914

Image Copyright Holder = Puck Publishing Corporation

Artist = Walter Dean Goldbeck

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2011649774/)

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-28039

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Q:  Why don’t Fundamentalists have sex standing up?

A:  It might lead to dancing.

–An old joke

The CRCNA resolved in 1966 that movies and television programs were legitimate forms of entertainment, subject to Christian analysis.  Some in the denomination applied that reasoning to dancing, much to the chagrin of others in the CRC.  The Synod of 1971 adopted an overture to study “acceptable ways” for Christians to dance and rejected an opposing overture.  Six years later the Synod allowed regulated dances at church colleges.  At the Synod of 1978, however, some CRCNA members complained that such dancing was wrong.  It set a bad moral example, they said.  It smacked of worldliness, sexual stimulation, and other vices, they complained.  And, they continued, it caused offense to other Christians.  That Synod instructed the Calvin College Board of Trustees to hold no more dances until more study had concluded.  The Synod of 1980 sent the report, “Dance and the Christian Life” (Acts of Synod, pp. 448-466) to churches for study for two years.  This document affirmed much dancing.

The CRCNA made great strides toward removing the proverbial long pole from its equally proverbial intestinal tract (No wonder so many people had such difficulty dancing, much less sitting!) at the Synod of 1982.  “Dance and the Christian Life” (Acts of Synod, pp. 556-575) said in part:

In the most basic sense the human capacity to dance roots in creation.  God gave us bodies that are instruments of sense and motion and made us capable of responding to musical themes and rhythmical movement.  This capacity is rooted in creation, not in the fall.

The report called on Christians to use dancing to honor God.  Ballet and traditional folk dances were acceptable, but ballroom dancing was morally troublesome and disco was out of the question.  Any narcissistic or sexually suggestive form of dance was unacceptable, according to the report.

So, if dancing should honor God, was liturgical dancing acceptable?  The Synod of 1985, scotched the question, saying that liturgical dancing would distract from the centrality of the Word in worship.

War and Peace

The Cold War distorted U.S. foreign policy regarding human rights.  The U.S. Government supported brutal regimes which sent death squads to victimize innocent civilians.  But at least those governments were not Communist!

Consider, O reader, the case of El Salvador.  The right-wing dictatorship killed innocent civilians regularly and fought a Leftist rebellion.  One man who spoke out vocally and frequently against his government was Oscar Romero, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador.  For his troubles the government assassinated him on Sunday, March 24, 1980, at the end of his homily.  In that homily Romero had quoted “The Church in the Modern World,” a Vatican II document:

God’s reign is already present on our earth in mystery.  When the Lord comes, it will be brought to perfection.

Then he had continued:

That is the hope that inspires Christians.  We know that every effort to better society, especially when injustice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.

The RCA General Synod of 1981 requested that the Reagan Administration cut off aid to the government of El Salvador.  This was far from a unanimous decision, for some delegates thought that the denomination should stay out of politics.  Others suspected that the supporters of the overture wanted the Communists to win.

The CRCNA Synods took a less direct approach to such matters.  The Synod of 1975 approved a report, “Ethical Decisions About War” (Acts of Synod, pp. 518-533), which allowed for conscientious objection but not for going underground or fleeing the country except in the most extreme cases.  And, in 1982, the Synod adopted summary statements of “Guidelines for Justifiable Warfare” (Acts of Synod, pp. 104-105) and sent them to the Prime Minister of Canada, the President of the United States, and the Secretary General of the United Nations.

The National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, and the World Council of Churches

Within the RCA much opposition to the denomination’s membership in the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the National Council of Churches (NCC) stemmed from the Cold War and the fear of Communism.  Some even alleged that the Council, if not Communist, were at least soft on Communism.  And the trope that the Councils meddled in matters social, political, and economic was commonplace.  As I have documented, however, some of the critics who leveled the latter charge supported church opposition to Apartheid, which was social, political, and economic.  In such cases the charge of hypocrisy was appropriate.  The allegation of insensitivity to injustice was apt for those who opposed anti-Apartheid efforts by churches.

The RCA General Synods of 1971, 1973, and 1983 rejected overtures to leave the NCC and the WCC, but the denomination did not require any congregation to provide financial support for them.  Interestingly, the shift in the RCA was such that, in 2000, the General Synod, while not seeking to leave the NCC and the WCC, favored affiliating with the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) should that body amend its Constitution to accept denominations affiliated with the NCC and/or the WCC.

The CRCNA was never going to join the NCC and/or the WCC, but it sent observers to WCC gatherings and had an observer on the NCC’s Faith and Order Commission throughout the 1980s and 1990s.  The CRCNA also recognized WCC affiliates as members of the body of Christ.  This was an improvement over a former position of that denomination, wherein WCC affiliates were sects so far as the CRC was concerned.  (A “sect” seems to be a religious group of which one disapproves strongly.)

The CRCNA’s natural inclination was to rejoin the NAE, which it did on October 5, 1988.  (I found the date in Acts of Synod, 1989.  Oddly enough, the last time I checked the denominational website, it was uncertain of the date.)  This re-affiliation was a long time in coming.  The CRCNA, trying to preserve the purity of its Reformed witness, had withdrawn in 1951.  The creation of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible in the 1960s and the 1970s had brought the denomination into cooperation with the NAE.  A report to the CRCNA Synod of 1970 approved of CRCNA agencies’ cooperation with agencies of NAE affiliates.  That Synod also encouraged such collaboration.  Nevertheless, the CRC’s Interchurch Relations Committee was not yet ready to make a recommendation regarding rejoining the NAE.  That Committee did make that recommendation in 1987, however.  The report rebutted the allegation that membership would dilute the CRCNA’s Reformed witness by pointing out that the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) were members.  The CRCNA had ecclesiastical fellowship with both of them and had, in the 1950s and 1960s, considered merging with the latter.

Homosexuality and Homophobia

On March 19, 2008, on the Demorest, Georgia, campus of Piedmont College, I attended a presentation by Dr. Stephen Brookfield, a specialist in critical thinking and a professor at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota.  (Yes, I still have the handout, on which I wrote the date.)  Brookfield said one thing which has remained with me:  Our most basic assumptions are those we do not think of as assumptions.

Many assumptions regarding homosexual orientation (a psychological category which did not exist until the 1800s) have proven to be false.  Until 1973 the American Psychological Association considered homosexuality a disorder.  One accepted explanation of causation was bad parenting.  Thus homosexual orientation was allegedly an affliction–not a choice, though–for which therapy was the compassionate response.  The assumption was that homosexuals were abnormal people at best.  According to those who considered the orientation a choice homosexuals were perverts who needed to repent of their sin–amend their manner of life.

But what if sexual orientation is neither a disorder nor a choice nor a sin?  Many people did not consider this possibility, for their most basic assumptions were those they did not consider to be assumptions, regardless of evidence.

Both the CRCNA and the RCA refused to ordain practicing homosexuals, but there were differences in the denominational positions.  The RCA General Synod of 1974 rejected a proposal to provide “compassionate support” of homosexuals in the life of the denomination and affirmed the traditional rejection of homosexuality instead.  A variety of opinions existed within the RCA.  Should homosexuals have all the same rights as other people?  Or is homosexuality a sinful condition.  Or is it akin to a handicap, therefore not sinful?  In 1978 and 1979 the RCA Theological Commission proposed that homosexuality is not a choice and that homosexuals should have the same civil rights as other people.  The General Synod referred the report to congregations for study and avoided the issue for a few years.

The specter of homophobia reared its head in the context of AIDS in the 1980s.  The 1987 General Synod favored AIDS education.  Yet, as letters to the editor in the denominational Church Herald magazine proved, many members of the RCA blamed the victims and used homophobic rhetoric.  AIDS was divine retribution for sinful activities, they said.  That was a position the General Synod of 1988 contradicted, although not unanimously.  The following year the General Synod, after much debate, accepted a recommendation that the RCA

create a climate within the church whereby all persons will be truly accepted and treated as God’s children.

Then came the 1990s.  The General Synod of 1990 rejected an overture to adopt the 1978-1979 report and adopted instead the position that

the practicing homosexual lifestyle is contrary to scripture, while at the same time encouraging love and sensitivity toward such persons as fellow human beings.

By the 1990s, however, many members of the RCA had concluded that sexual orientation was a biological given , not a disorder, choice, or sin.  (Can there be sin without choice?)  The position of the denomination remained unchanged, though.  The 1994 General Synod, without reversing the 1990 decision, called upon RCA members and congregations to repent for not living up to pastoral statements regarding homosexuals.  It also advised RCA members to pray and to learn and grow in ministry.  Six years later the General Synod passed overtures rebuking the United Church of Christ (UCC), with which the RCA was in full communion, for ordaining practicing homosexuals.

Canada legalized homosexual acts between consenting adults in 1969.  In that context and the context of the position of the psychological profession regarding homosexuality at the time the CRCNA Synod of 1970 approved an overture declaring that

Homosexuality is a growing problem in today’s society

and authorizing a study of “Homosexual Problems” with an eye toward considering

a genuinely Christian and rehabilitative attitude toward these members.

That overture also noted the existence of a range of attitudes toward homosexuals among members of the CRCNA.

The Synod of 1973 defined the CRCNA’s position regarding homosexuality and homosexuals.  Subsequent acts of Synod over the years referred people to the decision of 1973.  That ruling said that, among other things:

  1. Homosexuality is a sexual disorder “for which the homosexual may himself bear only a minimal responsibility;”
  2. Christ died for homosexuals too;
  3. Homosexual practice is incompatible with the will of God as the Bible reveals that will;
  4. The Church must treat homosexuals as it treats all other sinners, everyone being sinful;
  5. The Church must help homosexuals live chaste lives;
  6. The Church must help homosexuals overcome their “disorder;” and
  7. Parents should not act so as to contribute to homosexual orientation in their children.

The Synod of 1999 affirmed the 1973 report and added to it “Direction about and for Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members” (Agenda for Synod, pp. 237-279).  The approved version of this document softened some language so as to avoid even the appearance of casting aspersion upon anyone, but it did not contradict the dated causation theory present in the 1973 report.  The following year the Synod rejected an overture complaining that the church was soft on homosexuality.

Evolution

The CRCNA made an unambiguous statement about Evolution in 1991.  After much debate the denomination went on record as opposing the possibility of evolutionary forebears of human beings.  Debate continued, of course, and the CRCNA reversed that position in 2010.  Constant since 1991 has been the position that all theology and science is properly subservient to the Bible and to Reformed confessions of faith.

Opposition to Evolution was one factor in the drafting of Our World Belongs to God:  A Contemporary Testimony (Acts of Synod, 1983, pp. 410-421; Acts of Synod, 1986, pp. 843-856); secularism was another.  This document, revised in 2008, has the potential for liturgical us, as in setting parts of it to music.  Nevertheless, a survey from 1986 revealed that few congregations used it liturgically.  The explanatory note in Our Faith (2013) reads in part:

While not having confessional status it is meant to give a hymn-like expression of our faith within the heritage of the Reformed confessions, especially addressing issues that confront the church today.

If one reads portions of the testimony as poetic theology, there is no conflict between it and science.

Roman Catholicism

The Cold War between the Roman Catholic Church and much of Protestantism has ended.  As I type these words I think of examples of cooperation and dialogue, including many involving Evangelicals.  Billy Graham knew and respected Pope John Paul II, for example.  Mainliners tended to arrive at this place of respectful disagreement on many points and cooperation on others ahead of many Evangelicals, but at least those who have become more open have done so.  Rome has also opened up since Vatican II, so the process of rethinking old prejudices has occurred on several fronts.  Unfortunately, many have yet to settle upon this “live and let live” position of dialogue, acceptance, and tolerance.

The RCA and the CRCNA have the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) as part of their heritage.  In the 1975 CRC translation Question 80 reads:

How does the Lord’s Supper differ from the Roman Catholic Mass?

The Answer begins:

The Lord’s Supper declares to us

that all our sins are completely forgiven

through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ,

which he himself accomplished on the cross once for all.

It also declares to us

that the Holy Spirit grafts us into Christ,

Who with his true body

is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father

where he wants us to worship him.

In Our Faith (2013) the text continues inside brackets:

But the Mass teaches

that the living and the dead

do not have their sins forgiven

through the suffering of Christ

unless Christ is still offered for them daily by the priests.

It also teaches

that Christ is bodily present

under the form of bread and wine

where Christ is therefore to be worshiped.

Thus the Mass is basically

nothing but a denial

of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ

and a condemnable idolatry.

The CRCNA Synod of 1998 rejected an overture to remove Question and Answer 80 from confessional status.  Yet that same Synod sought dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church to clarify the current doctrine of the Mass.  Thus, with the dialogue concluded, the Synod of 2004 removed Question and Answer 80 from confessional status in the CRCNA.  Then the Synod of 2006 placed the last three paragraphs of the Answer inside brackets

to indicate that they do not accurately reflect the official teaching and practice of the Roman Catholic Church and are no longer confessionally binding on members of the CRC,

as a footnote in Our Faith (2013) indicates.  More of that footnote informs the reader that the RCA

retains the original text, choosing to recognize that the catechism was written within a historical context which may not accurately describe the Roman Catholic Church’s current stance.

So, can we move on from the 1500s now?

Roles of Women and Language for God

Gender–the social, economic, cultural, and political implications of anatomy–is a major issue in theology.  It relates to sexual orientation, which I have, of course, covered already in this post.  It also pertains to the roles of women in the church and how one speaks and writes of God.

Both the RCA and the CRCNA wrestled with the roles of women in the church during the period this post covers.  And both opened all church offices to women.  The fact that the RCA did this first ought not to surprise any observant reader of this post and/or its predecessors in the series.  The RCA heard the first overture to permit women to serve as elders and deacons in congregations at the General Synod of 1918.  That overture failed because the General Synod decided that approving the measure would cause division in the denomination–harm out of proportion to any good which would result.  The issue recurred during the ensuing decades, failing time after time.  The General Synod of 1942 cited the prohibition against female elders and deacons while rejecting an overture to ordain women as ministers.  Then, in 1958, the General Synod declared that there was no Biblical reason to exclude women from church offices.  Nevertheless, the RCA opened the offices to elder and deacon to women in 1972–fourteen years later–and the ranks of the clergy in 1979.

In 1972, over the strong objections of many and to the great joy of others, the RCA struck the Book of Church Order provision designating elders and deacons as “males.”  Traditionalists liked up their counter-arguments:

  1. Scripture forbids a woman to hold authority over a man;
  2. The change in the Book of Church Order is unconstitutional;
  3. The change will prove to be divisive; and
  4. Women are not biologically fit to lead men.

Point #1 was a sexist reading of the Bible.  Point #2 was a matter for the denomination to decide.  Point #3 was moot, for the refusal to open church offices to women had already proved divisive, as protests at the General Synod of 1969 proved.  And, as for Point #4, all I have to say is one name:  Boudicca (died in 61 C.E.), the English Celtic warrior queen who fought the Romans.

Next came the movement to ordain women as ministers.  The Book of Church Order did not restrict candidates for the ministry to “males,” for it referred to “persons.”  Thus the first ordination of a woman to the ministry and installation as pastor of a church occurred in October 1973.  Other irregular ordinations followed over the next six years as the debate over whether women were “persons’ for the purpose for ordination to the ministry occurred.  In 1980, one year after the official approval of the ordination of women as ministers, the General Synod instituted the “conscience clause” for those who opposed the practice.  The denomination removed that clause in 2013.

A 1992 survey revealed the East-Midwest/West split in the RCA regarding female ministers, elders, and deacons.  In the East, where just under a third of the members lived, 90% of parishioners favored female deacons and elders and 80% supported female ministers.  Yet, in the Midwest and the West, where the majority of members lived, two-thirds of the parishioners favored female deacons and elders and barely half supported female ministers.

The CRCNA followed a long path to opening church offices to women.  The Synod of 1973, like the RCA General Synod of 1958, determined that there was no Biblical justification for excluding women from church offices.  A 1975 report to the CRCNA agreed.  The CRCNA studied the issue for ten more years before declaring in 1985 that male headship over women prohibited females from holding church offices.  Four years later, however, the CRCNA opened up non-ordained church offices to women.  The Synod of 1990 opened all church offices to women theoretically, but theory became reality five years later.  Despite that fact, not all the CRCNA Classes had consented to the ordination of women in 2010.

Women have a long way to go before they achieve equality in the life of the church in the CRCNA and the RCA.  According to surveys in 2000, resistance to female leadership roles in the church was stronger in the CRCNA than in the RCA.  78% of RCA parishioners and clergy favored female ministers, compared to the 48% approval rating in the CRCNA.  Likewise, 44% of CRCNA congregations prohibited female deacons, 62% barred female elders, and 71% forbade female ministers, in contrast to the corresponding numbers in the RCA–13%, 14%, and 18%, respectively.

Dame Julian(a) of Norwich (circa 1342-circa 1417), the English mystic and solitary nun, wrote:

Also, as truly as God is our Father, so as truly is God our Mother.  And he shows in all and namely in these sweet words, where he says, “I it am.”  That is to say, “I it am, the might and goodness of Fatherhood;  I it am, the wisdom and kindness of Motherhood; I it am, the light and the grace, that is all blessed love; I it am, the Trinity; I it am, the Unity; I it am, the high sovereign goodness of all manner of things; I it am, that makes you to love; I it am, that makes you to long, the endless fullness of all true desires.”

If the saint could have traveled in a time machine to the CRCNA Synods of 1991 and 1997, she would have been disappointed.  The Synod of 1991, recognizing that human gender concepts do not apply to God, declared nevertheless that “over-correcting” for previous uses of masculine language for God compromises

essential biblical teaching of God the Father and God the Son.

The Synod of 1997 confirmed the preservation of masculine language for God (Acts of Synod, pp. 265-372) in worship and official literature.

Dogma (1999)

Above:  Alanis Morissette as God in Dogma (1999)

A screen capture I took via PowerDVD from a legal DVD

I can guess what some in the CRCNA thought about Alanis Morissette’s portrayal of God in Dogma (1999).

The Christian Reformed Church in North America in the 1990s

Relatively liberal tendencies in the CRCNA–as evidenced by debates over Evolution and the move toward the opening of church offices to women–led to a tumultuous decade for the denomination as opponents inside and outside the tent assailed it.  Part of the CRCNA’s right wing defected and several traditionally friendly denominations turned on the CRC.

Sturm und Drang had become so severe at the end of 1992 that independent churches composed of dissident former CRCNA parishioners had started to form.  Some of these congregations affiliated with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), with which the CRC had explored organic union in the 1960s, until the OPC nixed that plan.  By the end of 1994 thirty-two congregations had left the CRCNA outright.  In the middle and late 1990s the OPC, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and the Korean American Presbyterian Church (KAPC) not only blessed out the CRCNA for ordaining women but severed ecclesiastical relations with it.  The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) expressed concerns yet did not sever relations.  In 1997 the PCA, the OPC, the RPCNA, the KAPC, the ARPC, and the rump Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), at the time the other six members of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), which the CRCNA had helped to found in the middle 1970s, voted to suspend the membership of the CRCNA in that body.  (The continuing RCUS is the remnant of the original U.S. German Reformed Church/RCUS, which existed from 1793 to 1934, and whose legacy lives primarily in the United Church of Christ.)

Meanwhile, in 1995, the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA), which chose that name the following year, organized.  Forty-two congregations had representation at the inaugural meeting.  The URCNA adopted the liturgical forms in the 1976 edition of the 1959 Psalter Hymnal in 1996 and modified the Form of Subscription to the Canons of Dort the following year.  The OPC established a relationship with the URCNA in 1997 and, in time, became its partner in creating a new psalter-hymnal (perhaps due for publication in late 2016) to succeed the Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976) in most URCNA congregations and the Trinity Hymnal–Revised Edition (1990) in the OPC.

The CRCNA moved closer to other ecumenical partners.  The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), which had broken away from the old United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA) in 1981 ahead of the 1983 merger which formed the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)], remained in ecclesiastical fellowship with the CRCNA.  The EPC had tried unsuccessfully and repeatedly to join NAPARC, which rejected those requests because the denomination’s policy of allowing women to hold all church offices, at the discretion of congregations.  (The EPC Book of Order speaks of church office holders as “persons” also.)  And relations with the RCA improved.  In 1989 the General Synod of the RCA and the Synod of the CRCNA met concurrently on the campus of Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, complete with two joint worship services.  By the end of the 1990s both denominations had facilitated the formation of union congregations, especially in communities where one larger congregation could minister more effectively than two smaller ones.

The times were changing, as were the CRCNA and the RCA.

III.  LITURGICAL DEVELOPMENTS AND TENSIONS

Rationales

There exists a tension between tradition and innovation in liturgy.  To change nothing transforms liturgy into a museum exhibit, but to reject tradition because it is old and that which is new is “in” is the opposite error.  There is also a question of theology:  Why do we do x, y, and z in that order and according to a certain schedule?  This is where tradition enters the picture.  Perhaps one’s tradition is younger than another tradition, so switching to the second option, although new to one, is actually more traditional.  Maybe the theological logic of that is much more sound than the theological logic one grew up learning to follow and to which one adheres.

I make these points to state my case that we who follow any given  liturgy need to think about why we do what we do.  Going on liturgical autopilot is a common strategy and a terrible idea.  Perhaps it explains why so many people fail to understand beautiful patterns of worship and therefore reject them for schlocky modes of worship–reject gold in favor of dross.

Speaking of dross….

The rationale for abandoning tradition for “seeker services” and other forms of traditional worship has been that

the words, symbols, and ritual actions deriving from the classic liturgical forms of the Reformers and of the broader catholic traditions are no longer relevant or accessible to contemporary churchgoers.

–Christopher Dorn, in James Hart Brumm, ed., Liturgy Among the Thorns:  Essays on Worship in the Reformed Church in America, 2007, page 44

Dan Copp, writing in the Introduction to The Church Rituals Handbook, Second Edition, a 2009 resource of the Church of the Nazarne, made an excellent case for keeping the rituals anyway:

For the disciple of Jesus, rituals serve to remind us of who we are and whose we are….Sometimes we hesitate to engage in church rituals because of those around us who are not yet disciples of Jesus.  We wonder if they would understand or be put off by the ritual.  Yet, we believe that they, too, are “exiles” who yearn for and do not yet recognize the “cadences of home.”

U.S. Lutheran minister and liturgical scholar Frank C. Senn, in Christian Liturgy:  Catholic and Evangelical (1997), pages 701-702, wrote a damning critique of postmodern liturgy:

Up until the influence of Pietism and Revivalism in the eighteenth century, hymn texts primarily rehearsed the story of salvation and reinforced doctrine.  The more personal and subjective lyrics of the pietistic hymns and revival songs can be regarded as ancestors of the kind of contemporary Christian songs that have been in vogue since the 1960s:  the pep rally-type folk songs of the 1960s and 1970s (“We are one in the Spirit,” “Sons of God”), the “Voice of God” songs of the 1970s and 1980s that gave God a “softer image” (“On eagle’s wings,” “Be not afraid”), and the “glory and praise” songs of the 1980s and 1990s that, with a soft rock character, have all but expelled any music from the church that sounds “churchy.”  Through two centuries, from evangelical pietism to contemporary Christian music, the emphasis has been on one’s personal relationship to Jesus or God rather than on what God has done for all humanity in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.  Not only has the image of a “community of salvation” been lost in the texts, but the difficulty of intervals and rhythms in the tunes, and the increasing reliance on electronic instruments (e.g., organs, keyboards, guitars, basses, etc.) has lost the community in actuality, since the employment of popular musical styles in worship has diminished the level and vigor of congregational singing.  Using songs that can only be effectively rendered by soloists, choirs, or combos contributes further to the idea of worship as entertainment.  While the situation has been far worse in contemporary American Roman Catholicism than in mainline Protestant denominations, which still rely heavily on sturdy classical hymns meant for congregational singing, the Catholic folk tradition is being rapidly imported into Protestant worship and could accomplish the same consequences:  killing congregational participation and doing little to increase biblical or doctrinal literacy.

Now I, with those dire words (sadly, an accurate assessment), I launch into an explanation of liturgical forms in the CRCNA and the RCA from 1970 to 2000.

Forms Old, New, and Revised

The CRCNA revised the translations of old forms and produced new forms, which complemented their predecessors.  Thanks to technology one may read the current forms here.  In the 1980s the CRCNA began to publish a loose-leaf Service Book, so that interested people, such as ministers, could keep track of new forms, provisional and otherwise.

In 1990 the CRCNA Worship Committee conducted a survey.  It yielded the following, among other results:

  1. There was a growing interest in the church year and in the lectionary;
  2. It was common for ministers to ignore denominational forms for services and to improvise worship materials;
  3. “Seeker services”  and other forms of contemporary worship had become more commonplace;
  4. Celebration of the Lord’s Supper was becoming more frequent; and
  5. Most services emphasized the sermon.

Some of those results might seem mutually exclusive except for the fact of congregational diversity within the denomination.

Which modern translations of the Bible might pastors use in worship?  The CRC had approved the Revised Standard Version (RSV) in 1969, over a decade after labeling it a faithless and hopelessly liberal and modernistic translation.  (O, how things changed so quickly!)  The Synod of 1980 approved the New International Version (NIV), which existed because of the denomination.  In 1986 the CRCNA replaced the translation of the Lord’s Prayer in services and the Heidelberg Catechism with the new vernacular NIV text, as opposed to the older RSV rendering.  The CRC approved the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) in 1992, rejected the New King James Version (NKJV) in 1998, and turned down the New Living Translation (NLT) in 1999.

CRC Publications conducted a worship survey, the results of which appeared in its 1991 report to the Synod.  A few of the results were that, of the responding congregations:

  1. 47% used Our World Belongs to God:  A Contemporary Testimony seldom or never;
  2. 83% had NIV pew Bibles and 15% had RSV pew Bibles;
  3. 56% had Psalter Hymnal (1987) in the pews and 35% had Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976) in the pews; and
  4. 52% never used the Common Lectionary.

Those results place the 1990 survey numbers in context.

The Synod of 1997, attuned to troublesome aspects of contemporary worship which Frank C. Senn criticized so ably, adopted a report, “Authentic Worship in a Changing Culture” (Acts of Synod, pp. 93-144).  Two key conclusions were the wisdom of avoiding excessive individualism in worship and of not making worship too therapeutic.  Following the denominational forms–in their variety, with options for celebrating the sacraments, for example–more often would have had the effect of heeding that advice.

The RCA, whose Liturgy past and present is available online here, published its new Liturgy, Worship the Lord, an eighty-five-page long red paperback book, in 1987.  That volume contained the following:

  1. Order of Worship for the Lord’s Day (1968);
  2. The Sacrament of Baptism (changed in 1995);
  3. Reception into Communicant Membership (absent from the 2005 Liturgy);
  4. The Ordination and Installation of Elders and Deacons (changed in 2001);
  5. Preparatory Exhortation Before the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper (changed in 1995);
  6. The Order of Worship for Christian Marriage (changed in 2002);
  7. Orders for Christian Healing (1984);
  8. The Order of Worship for Christian Burial (changed in 2002);
  9. The Ordination and Installation of a Minister of the Word (changed in 2001 and renamed to indicate a Minister of Word and Sacrament);
  10. Reception into the Classis and Installation of a Minister of the Word (changed in 2001 and renamed to indicate a Minister of Word and Sacrament);
  11. Directory for Reception into the Classis and Installation into a Specialized Ministry (changed in 2001);
  12. The Directory for Worship (1986); and
  13. Our Song of Hope:  A Confession of Faith (1978).

The form for Reception into Communicant Membership, based on that for Baptism, had two parts–the meeting with the church elders and the ritual in the context of the congregation, whereby one promised to accept the church’s guidance.

The Order for Worship, which one also found in the back of the Rejoice in the Lord (1985) hymnal, built the:   Lord’s Supper into the Sunday service by default and included the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed, a prayer of confession and the assurance of pardon, and the Decalogue.  Most congregations did not celebrate the sacrament weekly, though.

Our Song of Hope:  A Confession of Faith (1978) was the product of people who hoped that congregations would use it liturgically.  Certainly its closing prayer indicated sound theology of corporate worship:

Come, Lord Jesus.

We are open to your Spirit.

We await your full presence.

Our world finds rest in you alone.

The use of the first person plural form was–and remains–appropriate, as does the content.

The denomination authorized other services after the publication of Worship the Lord (1987) and prior to the debut of Worship the Lord:  The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America (2005).  They were:

  1. Preparatory Services I and II:  Before the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1995);
  2. The Service of Farewell and Godspeed for Pastor and Congregation (1994);
  3. Blessing–Prayer of Godspeed:  A Service of Farewell (1993), for parishioners about to move away;
  4. The Lord’s Supper in Home and Hospital (1990); and
  5. Celebration for the Home (1994), the blessing of a new home and its owners; a rite adopted form the Episcopal Book of Occasional Services; and
  6. Worship at the Closing of a Church (1994).

Of course, preparing, authorizing, and publishing such forms did not guarantee that a minister would use them when they fit particular circumstances.

Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Small Children

My previous statement applies to the CRCNA also.  The denomination approved new forms, reworded old ones, and prepared new abbreviated forms of extant ones.  I will not catalogue them in this paragraph, but I will list many of them during my discussions of Psalter Hymnal Supplement (1974), Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976), and Psalter Hymnal (1987).  One of these forms was the Communion Service from 1968.  Yet few congregations used it through 1972.  The CRCNA had capable liturgists writing and revising forms for services, but how many parishioners and congregations cared?

The theology of liturgy regarding Baptism and the Lord’s Supper played out differently in the CRCNA and the RCA.  Should children who, although baptized as infants, take Communion before having made a public profession of faith?  This argument was one of inclusion versus purity, and one of the historic hallmarks of the CRCNA had been to preserve purity.  The RCA, however, had manifested an inclusive “we are family and can disagree agreeably” attitude often, at least officially, as a matter of history.  So, is the table of the Lord just for the fully committed or does Jesus welcome everybody?  The RCA, at the General Synod of 1988, chose the inclusive policy by a narrow margin (139-132) and made the decision optional, leaving the matter to the discretion of congregational leaders.  The next year’s General Synod affirmed this course of action.  The CRCNA, however, decided in 1988 that only children who had made a public profession of faith may partake of the sacrament.  The Synod of 1993 preferred that this public profession take place in conjunction with the child’s first Communion.  Two years later the Synod adopted a form for a child’s public profession of faith (Acts of Synod, 1995, pp. 715-716).

Psalter Hymnal Supplement (1974) and Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976)

The CRCNA had published its most recent hymnal–the Centennial Edition–in 1959.  Much had changed in the church musically since then, however.  The old debate had been Psalms versus hymns, but the singing of Psalms–one of the reasons for founding the CRCNA in 1857–was considerably less popular than ever in the denomination.  (O, the irony of a foundational reason for the founding of a denomination becoming irrelevant!)  The new debate was the singing of authorized hymns versus the singing of unauthorized hymns.

The CRCNA published Psalter Hymnal Supplement in 1974.  The first edition contained sixty-three hymns; the second edition (1976) had sixty-four.  There were some traditional hymns, but most offerings were contemporary or otherwise non-traditional for a denomination with a strong Dutch heritage.  The book, which proved unpopular, seemed inadequate compared to other volumes with more selections.  On the other hand, the hymns in the Supplement adhered to a principle the Synod of 1972 had endorsed:

Worship is a corporate activity.  The songs sung in the public worship service should reflect that corporate unity and not be too individualistic an expression of spiritual experience.

That was–and remains–a correct principle.  Other hymnals, such as Hymns for the Living Church (1974) and Hymns for the Family of God (1976), went overboard with the use of the first person singular pronouns.  Morgan F. Simmons was correct when he wrote circa 1990 that these non-denominational Evangelical hymnals were “examples of narcissistic religion” which offered “solipsistic fare.”  (Quotes from The Confessional Mosaic, 1990, page 182)

The Supplement also contained the following:

  1. The Heidelberg Catechism (1973 translation);
  2. The Report of the Liturgical Commission (1968);
  3. Forms for the Baptism of Children (1971 and 1973);
  4. Form for the Public Profession of Faith (1972);
  5. Forms for the Ordination of Ministers of the Word, the Ordination of a Foreign Missionary, the Ordination of a Home Missionary, and the Ordination of a Teacher of Theology (1971).

The Synod of 1975 permitted local church boards to, with discretion, supplement the Psalter Hymnal (1959) and the Psalter Hymnal Supplement with hymns from other sources in response to a 1970 request of African-American members of the denomination.  And there was change in the Psalter Hymnal in 1976, when the CRCNA published a new edition with updated liturgical content in the back.  The hymns remained unchanged, however, so this was properly the Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976).  Congregational diversity in the realm of hymnody had become a reality.  In 1980 80% of CRC congregations supplemented the Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976) with other volumes–fifty in all–some of them local creations of legally dubious status.

Psalter Hymnal (1987)

Work on the gray Psalter Hymnal (1987), which started to appear in pews in the Spring of 1988, began in 1977.  It expanded the number and range of approved musical offerings.  The 1959/1976 hymnal had 493 selections, but the 1987 volume had 641, for example.  Psalter Hymnal (1987) included a new and complete metrical Psalter as well as hymns from Asian, Hispanic, Native American, and African-American cultures.  One of these hymns influenced the title of this post.

There was more than hymns and service in the Psalter Hymnal (1987).  The Psalter Hymnal Handbook (1998) also refers to the following:

  1. The three ecumenical creeds–Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian;
  2. The Belgic Confession;
  3. The Canons of Dort and the Form of Subscription thereto;
  4. The Heidelberg Catechism;
  5. The Form for Baptism (1981);
  6. The Forms of Baptism of Children (1973 and 1976);
  7. The Forms of Baptism of Adults (1976 and 1978);
  8. The Form for the Public Profession of Faith (1986 revision);
  9. The Form for the Public Profession of Faith (children, 1995, so added to later printings);
  10. The Service of Word and Sacrament (1981);
  11. The Form for the Preparatory Exhortation for the Lord’s Supper (1981; no longer required as of 1988);
  12. The form for the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1964 and 1964/1968);
  13. The Forms for Excommunication and Readmission (1982);
  14. The Forms for the Ordination and Installation of Ministers of the Word (1971 and 1986);
  15. The Form for the Ordination of Evangelists (1979);
  16. The Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons (1982);
  17. The Forms for Marriage (the traditional service and 1979 rite);
  18. The Responsive Readings of the Law (1981); and
  19. Our World Belongs to God:  A Contemporary Testimony (1986).

Some copies of the Psalter Hymnal (1987) contain more of this content than others.  My copy, for example, omits all of the above except for the ecumenical creeds.

Rejoice in the Lord:  A Hymn Companion to the Scriptures (1985)

The time for hymnal revision came around again in the RCA in the late 1970s.  The Hymnbook (1955) was aging, and much had changed musically in the church since the middle 1950s.  Of course, official hymnal status meant little in the RCA, the vast majority of whose congregations had ignored the Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920), a joint project with the old Reformed Church in the United States (1793-1934).  The Hymnbook, however, had been popular in the East of the RCA, if not in its Midwestern portion.  A 1983 survey revealed that RCA congregations used a total of forty-three hymnals.  Could a new official hymnal function in that capacity meaningfully?

Work on Rejoice in the Lord (1985) started in 1978, one year later than the creation of the Psalter Hymnal (1987) commenced.  Rejoice was first solo official hymnal for the RCA since the much-ignored Hymns of the Church (1869).  A report the General Synod of 1979 defined the goals of the hymnal committee:

  1. To produce a “Reformed hymnal of excellence,” excellence entailing the centrality of the psalmody, the maintenance of “Biblical and theological integrity” as a standard for selecting hymns, and the avoidance “of the ephemeral and the trendy;” and
  2. To create a hymnal which will “prove to be a unifying factor in our denominational life.”

The committee succeeded in its first goal and failed in the second.  That, I suspect, indicated more about the RCA than its hymnal committee.

The committee hired the Reverend Doctor Erik Routley (1917-1982) to edit the book.  Routley, originally an English Congregationalist minister who, by denominational mergers, had been part of the United Reformed Church (British) since 1972, had written hymns.  In the U.S.A., where he had lived since 1975, the non-denominational Hymnal Supplement (1984) included seven of them and Hymnal Supplement II (1987) contained four.  Eight of Routley’s hymns appeared in Rejoice in the Lord.  He was one of the greatest hymnodists of his time, so choosing him to edit the hymnal was a sensible decision.  So far, so good.

The hymnal’s subtitle, A Hymn Companion to the Scriptures, indicated the organizational plan for the hymns.  As the Preface informed the reader:

The plan of the book is very simple:  the canonical order of the Bible has provided the outline of hymns.  The hymns begin where the Bible begins–with God’s act of creation–and they conclude where the Bible concludes–with the great vision of God’s eternal city.  (Quote from page 7)

So far, so good.

Yet the hymnal proved more popular outside the RCA than inside it.  Only seven percent of RCA congregations adopted Rejoice in the Lord, which therefore did not function effectively as a denominational hymnal.  And my copy bears on its cover the stamped name of a congregation of the United Church of Christ.  Rejoice in the Lord was certainly superior to The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ (1974), which had only 313 hymns.

Toward the Future Hymnody

The RCA and the CRCNA were moving closer to each other in the 1990s, as I have established in this post.  Part of this mutual movement was collaboration on hymnals–one to supplement Rejoice in the Lord (1985) and bevy of other books out of which RCA congregations sang as well as the Psalter Hymnal (1987) of the CRCNA.  Thus it came to pass that, in 1996, the two denominations started work on what became Sing!  A New Creation (2001), a volume of 294 hymns–contemporary, multicultural, and ecumenical songs, many of them of the variety to which drives Frank C. Senn and I up one side of the liturgical wall and down the other.  This was a preview of things to come–namely Lift Up Your Hearts (2013), the current main official hymnal of the RCA and the CRCNA.

That, however, is a story for the next installment in this series.

IV.  CONCLUSION

The RCA and the CRCNA experienced much change and turmoil from 1970 to 2000.  The former nearly came apart at the seams in 1969-1970 and the latter suffered from schism and rejection by former ecclesiastical allies in the 1990s.  Liturgically, both denominations diversified and began to converge, so far as official hymnals were concerned.  This latter fact was either good or bad, depending on one’s preference in hymnody.  But at least the old RCA-CRCNA animosities were fading away.  That was undoubtedly a positive development.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY OF HARDCOPY SOURCES

Alexander, J. Neil.  This Far by Grace:  A Bishop’s Journey Through Questions about Homosexuality.  Cambridge, MA:  Cowley Publications, 2003.

Brink, Emily R., and Bert Polman, eds.  Psalter Hymnal Handbook.  Grand Rapids, MI:  CRC Publications, 1998.

Britannica Book of the Year 1970.  Chicago, IL:  Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1970.

Brumm, James Hart, ed.  Liturgy Among the Thorns:  Essays on Worship in the Reformed Church in America.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 57.

Coalter, Milton J., et al, eds.  The Confessional Mosaic:  Presbyterians and Twentieth-Century Theology.  Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990.

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints.  New York, NY:  Church Publishing, 2010.

The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ.  Philadelphia, PA:  United Church Press, 1974.

Hymnal Supplement.  Carol Stream, IL:  Agape, 1984.

Hymnal Supplement II.  Carol Stream, IL:  Agape, 1987.

The Hymnbook.  Richmond, VA:  John Knox Press, 1955.

Hymns for the Family of God.  Nashville, TN:  Paragon Associates, 1976.

Hymns for the Living Church.  Carol Stream, IL:  Hope Publishing Company, 1974.

Japinga, Lynn.  Loyalty and Loss:  The Reformed Church in America, 1945-1994.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 77.

Lift Up Your Hearts:  Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2013.

Middledorf, Jesse C.  The Church Rituals Handbook.  Second Edition.  Kansas City, MO:  Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2009.

Our Faith:  Ecumenical Creeds, Reformed Confessions, and Other Resources; Including the Doctrinal Standards of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2013.

Psalter Hymnal.  Grand Rapids, MI:  CRC Publications, 1987.

Psalter Hymnal:  Doctrinal Standards and Liturgy of the Christian Reformed Church.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Board of Publication of the Christian Reformed Church, 1976.

Psalter Hymnal Supplement with Liturgical Studies and Forms.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Board of Publications of the Christian Reformed Church, 1974.

Rejoice in the Lord:  A Hymn Companion to the Scriptures.  Edited by Erik Routley.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985.

Romero, Oscar.  The Violence of Love:  The Pastoral Wisdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero.  Compiled and Translated by James R. Brockman, S.J.  San Francisco, CA:  Harper & Row, 1988.

Schuppert, Mildred W.  A Digest and Index of the Minutes of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America, 1906-1957.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 8.

___________.  A Digest and Index of the Minutes of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America, 1958-1977.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 7.

Senn, Frank C.  Christian Liturgy:  Catholic and Evangelical.  Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 1997.

Sing!  A New Creation.  Grand Rapids, MI:  CRC Publications, 2001.

Smidt, Corwin, et al.  Divided By a Common Heritage:  The Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America at the Beginning of the New Millennium.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 54.

Trinity Hymnal–Revised Edition.  Suwanee, GA:  Great Commission Publications, 1990.

Worship the Lord.  Edited by James R. Esther and Donald J. Bruggink.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.

Worship the Lord:  The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America.  New York, NY:  Reformed Church Press, 2005.

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 22, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 7–THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBAN, FIRST ENGLISH MARTYR

THE FEAST OF THE INAUGURATION OF THE UNITING CHURCH OF AUSTRALIA, 1977

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN FISHER, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF ROCHESTER

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF NOLA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Posted June 22, 2014 by neatnik2009 in Faith and Cinema 1970s, Faith and Cinema 1980s, Faith and Cinema 1990s, Faith and Cinema 2000s, James 2, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Predecessors, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Predecessors' Offshoots, Reformed (General), United Church of Christ

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God, Who Is Attracted To Us   1 comment

Above:  Jessica Lange as Angelique in All That Jazz (1979)

(The image is a screen capture from a DVD of the movie.)

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Deuteronomy 10:12-21 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

(Moses speaking)

And now, Israel, what is YHWH, your God, asking from you except to fear YHWH, your God, to go in all His ways, and to love Him with all your heart and soul, to observe YHWH’s commandments and His laws that I command you today to be good for you.  Here, YHWH, your god, has the skies–and the skies of the skies!–the earth and everything that’s in it.  Only, YHWH was attracted to your fathers, to love them, and He chose their seed after them:  you, out of all the peoples, as it is this day.  So you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and you shall not harden your necks anymore.  Because YHWH, your God:  He is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty; and the awesome God, who won’t be partial and won’t take a bribe, doing judgment for an orphan and a widow and loving an alien, to give him bread and a garment.  So you shall love the alien, because you were aliens in the land of Egypt.  You shall fear YHWH, your God, you shall serve Him, and you shall cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.  He is your splendor, and He is your God, who did these great and awesome things for you that your eyes have seen.  Your fathers went down to Egypt with seventy persons, and now YWHH your God, has made you  like the stars of the skies for multitude.

Psalm 148 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hallelujah!

Praise the LORD from the heavens;

praise him in the heights.

2 Praise him, all you angels of his;

praise him, all his host.

3 Praise him, sun and moon;

praise him, all you shining stars.

Praise him, heaven of heavens,

and you waters above the heavens.

5 Let them praise the Name of the LORD;

for he commanded, and they were created.

He made them stand fast for ever and ever;

he gave them a law which shall not pass away.

Praise the LORD from the earth,

you sea-monsters and all deeps;

8 Fire and hail, snow and fog,

tempestuous wind, doing his will;

9 Mountains and all hills,

fruit trees and cedars;

10 Wild beasts and all cattle,

creeping things and winged birds;

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,

princes and all rulers of the world;

12 Young man and maidens,

old and young together.

13 Let them praise the Name of the LORD,

for his Name only is exalted,

his splendor is over earth and heaven.

14 He has raised up strength for his people

and praise for all his loyal servants,

the children of Israel, a people who are near him.

Hallelujah!

Matthew 17:22-27 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

As they went together in Galilee, Jesus told them,

The Son of Man is going to be handed over to the power of men, and they will kill him.  And on the third day he will be raised to life again.

This greatly distressed the disciples.

Then when they arrived at Capernaum the Temple tax-collectors came up and said to Peter,

Your master doesn’t pay Temple-tax, we presume?

Peter replied,

Oh, yes, he does!

Later when he went into the house, Jesus anticipated what he was going to say.

What do you think, Simon?

he said.

Whom do the kings of this world get their tolls and taxes from–their own family or from others?

Peter replied,

From others.

Jesus told him,

Then the family is exempt.  Yet we don’t want to give offence to these people, so go down to the lake and throw in your hook.  Take the first fish that bites, open his mouth and you’ll find a silver coin.  Take that and give it to them, for both of us.

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The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The word “awesome” has lost much of its power in my North American culture. It is, in its older English form, related to “awful,” which used to mean “full of awe.”   Hence “awesome” means “inspiring awe.”  So the word is far more profound than one might think after hearing “Totally awesome, dude!” too many times.

The speaker in Deuteronomy is Moses, at least in literature.  He reminds the Israelites, who are about to enter the promised land, of the greatness, mercy, and power of God, who has made them what they are.  And God asks that they obey him, for his commands are for their own good.  This is God, who, as Professor Richard Elliott translates a verse,

was attracted to your fathers, to love them…and their seed after them.

Much of Christian tradition has not dealt well with even the hint of human sexuality.  So the idea of God being attracted to people might seem jarring.  But I find it rather comforting.  When I read that verse while typing it, my mind turned to All That Jazz (1979) and Father Andrew Greeley’s analysis of it in his 1990 book, The Catholic Myth:  The Behavior and Beliefs of American Catholics (New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons).  The late Roy Scheider plays Joe Gideon, a Broadway show producer.  Joe is also a shallow man drinks too much, takes too many pills, and has troubled relationships with women and his daughter.  Through it all, Angelique, whose true identity is vague, speaks to him–sometimes in comfort, other times in reproof, and still other times mockingly.  But she is there at the end, as Joe, now dead, travels down the tunnel, toward the light, where she is waiting.  Is she God? She might be.  She is certainly attracted to Joe Gideon.

Father Greeley has a wonderful footnote on page 252:

I take consolation in the hope that God, when finally encountered, will be even more spectacular than Jessica Lange.   She’d better be.

As God is attracted to us, we ought to reciprocate.  Saints, especially female ones whose writings have come down to us, have understood this principle well.  This becomes easier for men when using a female image of God.  And why not?  God exists beyond human concepts of sex and gender; let us not become distracted by metaphors.  As for me, I will be content if God is only as spectacular as Jessica Lange.

The laws of God speak of our obligations to each other.  Honoring these is part of demonstrating one’s love for God.  The text from Deuteronomy singles out the treatment of aliens and reminds the Israelites that they used to be aliens in Egypt.  So they ought to treat the aliens in their midst with great respect.  This is a timeless principle, one that all people would do well to honor with words and deeds.  I wonder how better the debates over immigration policies in more than one nation (such as my own, the United States of America) would be if this principle set the tone.  God is attracted to the foreigners, too.

Speaking of obligations to each other, the text from Matthew addresses a specific tax.  The temple tax had its origin in Exodus 30:11-16.  Each Jew at least twenty years old had to pay half a shekel per year.  Subsequent time and tradition altered the amount and led to disagreements about whether the Temple tax ought to be voluntary or mandatory, and whether was supposed to an annual payment or a one-time gift.  Pharisees understood it as a mandatory annual tax; Sadducees thought it was voluntary, and Essenes understood it as a one-time donation.  Jesus paid the tax miraculously in the story, but not before making a point about a king’s tribute, and the fact the royal family does not pay such a tax.

This is a vital clue.  History tells us that Roman forces destroyed the Temple at Jerusalem in 7o C.E., but that the Empire imposed a new tax in the place of the Temple tax afterward, for the purpose of supporting the new Temple of Jupiter, which took the place of the former Jewish Temple.  And the writing of the Gospel of Matthew postdates that event.  So the original audience of that Gospel would have thought of that Roman tax.  Paul had written about freedom in Christ as well as the necessity to avoid abusing one’s spiritual freedom so as to harm others.  For example, he knew that other gods did not exist, so it might seem to be a shame to let perfectly good food dedicated to said deities go uneaten.  But others did not know that there is only one God.  So, for their sake, Paul advocated not eating such food.

So this is a difficult passage.  Does it mean that the Hebrew Christians after 70 C.E. had an obligation to pay the new, odious Roman tax?  Is this a hard teaching about the obligations of citizenship, even under occupation?  There are layers of Biblical analysis, and the purpose of this weblog is devotional.  So I choose to remain focused on that.  In this case, this mandate entails thinking about mutual obligations.

We humans have obligations to each other, and our freedoms are not absolute.  Think about traffic laws; they serve the common good.  This is a mundane example, but it makes a point.  A healthy spiritual ethic balances individual freedom and the common good; it tramples neither.  After all, God is attracted to all of us.

It is easy to grasp this concept when pondering people one likes, with whom one agrees, and who are like one.  But this can be challenging when thinking and speaking of those who do not fit any of those descriptions.  I find it challenging much of the time.  You, O reader, might not be so different from me in this regard.  But let us think more about what happened to Thomas Merton one day.  While standing on an urban sidewalk, he looked around and realized that he loved everybody.  This ethic defined his life from that moment forward.  May it define ours, too.  After all, God is attracted to us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 3, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS KASATKIN, ORTHODOX ARCHBISHOP OF ALL JAPAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSKAR, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF HAMBURG-BREMEN

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI PIERLUIGI DA PALESTRINA, COMPOSER OF SACRED MUSIC

THE FEAST OF MILLARD FULLER, FOUNDER OF HABITAT FOR HUMANITY

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on February 3, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/week-of-proper-14-monday-year-1/

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